Crafting that Compelling Story – A 3-Point Cheat Sheet

Regardless of our job role, one skill every one of us needs is storytelling. The truth is we are all born with it, but let’s just say some of us are a little rougher around the edges. Having spent most of my time around tech folks, I suspect we probably beat this skill out of them which is why so many presentations we sit through or documents we read, make us at the very least drowsy — some even maybe put us in a coma. These same people, when you observe them talking to friends or colleagues can be great raconteurs. Some of this comes from just not having performance anxiety that presentations induce in all of us. So without having a few libations how do we spin a good yarn? And particularly in a business context how do ensure that we’ve provided our listeners or readers something of value – that elusive takeaway?

Here’s what I’ve learned.

A. Begin with the end in mind I’ll use the example of a seminar or webinar that you intend to host. Write down the one takeaway that your listener or audience walks away with – it could range from broad statements or highly specific

  • Entrepreneurship is hard – so you’d better be certain, what it is your passion? And why you are doing this?
  • Good leaders recognize strategy is as much about deciding what NOT to do, as it is about what it is you’ll do
  • Writing 1000 words every day is the key to finishing your book – then all you have to do is edit it
  • Measuring ROI on your GIS project can seem hard but it’s not rocket science – here’s how our customers are doing it

B. Use the power of three  While scientists and psychologists thought that the human brain can hold only 5-7 things at a time, newer research suggests that number might actually be (gasp) 4! So why risk it? I find if you break down things into three chunks, they are a lot easier to hold at least in my easily distracted mind. Now break it down into three chunks. Sticking with the entrepreneurship or leadership theme,

  • Context: Set the stage – often best set as a story – that usually illustrates or reinforces a widely held belief. How Steve Jobs had a mythical touch when building products or how Unilever or P&G were masters of strategy leading to their success; Or why government projects are always a boondoggle, like the Big Dig in Boston
  • Counterpoint – core premise: Is that really the case? Here are eight products that Steve Jobs launched with much fanfare and failed miserably at; here are the huge missteps P&G made and here’s what we’ve learned from NASA’s space mission, which has had minuscule failure rates – so here’s the takeaway – entrepreneurship is hard, there will be naysayers, you’ll fail before you succeed, so you’d better know what your passion is about, if you wanna be able to stick with it
  • Break it down: Offer an actionable set of things that they can do – how can they realize this core premise you’ve made? Maybe it’s a checklist – that helps them understand themselves better? It’s reading of case studies – of how other entrepreneurs succeeded (or better yet failed and recovered), followed by a checklist.

This can work, whether the topic’s losing weight, giving a speech, or how to measure the return-on-investment on a project.

C. Challenge your audience This is what we marketers term the Call to action!  This could be as simple as inviting questions that allows them to challenge your assertions or having them take the first step (“What will you do differently tomorrow morning, because of what you learned here”) The key here is that this doesn’t remain your story but one that compels them to action – ideally an action that benefits them. Of course, if it benefits you whether purely psychically (I did some good!) or professionally (lands you a consulting gig or job) that’s icing on the cake. As my father tried to teach me, “Give first before you ask.”

Here’s a great presentation on how one technical guy (Claudio Perrone aka AgileSensei) went from being just a dude to a compelling storyteller to even cynical technical folks).

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What I’ve been reading this last week

books-education-school-literature-51342.jpegAs with so many other folks,  I’m trying to spend less time on my phone and computer reading the news obsessively. Yet there’s ever more great reading out there and accessible in ways we haven’t had before. But discovering, reading, assimilating and internalizing even a fraction of what we’d like is hard.  Yes, technology like Pocket and GoodReads help, but it’s still a firehose.

Om Malik, tech journalist and blogger extraordinaire has always been a regular source of great readings as has Brad Feld, venture capitalist, and all-around inspiring human. Inspired by their example, I’ve resolved to share interesting things that I’m reading each month. Hopefully, you’ll find it interesting and useful. Share your own thoughts on what you’ve been reading and enjoying.

Practice learning from history  Despite trying to maintain a reading diet low in politics, I found this piece I’m a law professor, and I teach my students how to destroy American democracy by Ozan Varol fascinating. Despite its click-bait title, Ozan’s premise draws from a business strategy formulation process at Merck. CEO Kenneth Frazier wanting to promote innovation asked his employees “to generate ideas to destroy Merck and figure out how to put Merck out of business. The executives then reversed their roles and crafted strategies to avert these threats.

When Ozan had his class run a similar exercise, he states “The exercise made the urgency of action clear. In this century, the threat to democracy will come, not from military coups or openly repressive dictators, but from elected politicians in seemingly democratic countries who gradually roll out an authoritarian agenda. The students realized the importance of remaining vigilant against these strategies and actively resisting them through legal, political, and social means.” Read the full piece here.

“What privacy?” in the era of Alexa Om is the one who turned me on to this Gizmodo article  The House That Spied on Me by Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu. On one hand, I was fascinated by how much a journalist is prepared to do and (over) share for a story and on the other scared witless by the amount of data that’s being gathered and shared shredding any last illusions I had about privacy. The scariest part for me personally is the sheer number of my friends, who seem to have made Alexa and her competitors an integral part of their lives. Read the full piece here.

Before the rest of us feel too comfortable read this bonus piece on how fitness trackers share information that you might not want them to.

Skilling ourselves One of the joys of working young people is that I learn a lot from them. In turn, you get to see them handling, sometimes better and at other times no worse, issues we’ve faced in our own lives. Of course, a common question that pops up from nearly everyone – from young adults to middle-aged folks, is the issue of what do I want in life? I found this article on Don’t Know What You Want? Improve These 7 Universal Skills by Darius Foroux quite useful. If like many others you’re still looking for your true purpose. Check out the complete article here.

In summary

3 Tips to Hold Fast To Your Dreams

“How will your company become a billion-dollar company?” An analyst at a venture capitalist firm, likely a freshly minted MBA, posed this question to me. I tried to keep my temper in check and answered “Never.” You’d think I’d slapped him across the face – “Then I’m afraid there’s no point in talking to us.”

I was a still a relatively new entrepreneur. It seemed like all I heard was NO. Worse yet, people kept telling me why it wasn’t going to work. Not just venture capitalists but prospective partners, friends, and relatives.

That’s when I learned that You’ve gotta Hold Fast To Your Dreams.

Even my father, a man who loved me, inspired me and most importantly lent me a lot of money had the “Talk” with me. “Son, sometimes businesses fail. Just because your business failed doesn’t mean you have failed.

If you have a wonderful and supportive wife, you are still likely to face questions – “Honey, I want you to pursue your passions. But I hope you realize we have two young kids and no income

You’ve gotta Hold Fast To Your Dreams.

In my case, there was a happy ending – my company first survived, then it thrived – okay mildly thrived and then we got lucky and we were able to sell the company for a tidy sum. Now you might think, “Nah Sri, you are just a lucky fellah.” And I’ll tell you I’m a lucky fella – but only because I held fast to my dreams.

It was film producer Samuel Goldwyn who said: “The harder I worked the luckier I got.

Is holding on to your dreams easy? No.
There will always be naysayers. People will put you down.
You will doubt yourself. “How do you know that you are not being just plain pig-headed?” You don’t.

Here are three things I’ve learned:
Dream BIG. And write your dreams down. Ask yourself why this is your dream.
Read biographies – read other’s life stories – those who have achieved amazing things. Most importantly,
Surround yourself with people who love you and care about you. But who will speak the truth and keep you honest

And Hold on To Your Dreams.


Two weeks ago I spoke and wrote about the inspiring story of my grandfather, who epitomized what holding on to your dreams can help you achieve. You can read it here.

Hold Fast To Your Dreams

As an entrepreneur, you are likely to face any number of obstacles. Worse yet will be the naysayers around you – people who don’t believe in you or what you are trying to get done. Even friends and family – well-intentioned as they may be will doubt, question and even actively discourage you. So it’s really important to Hold Fast To Your Dreams.

I realize that the challenges I’ve faced are hardly worth boasting about. My life has been one of relative privilege. But the lessons I’ve learned from my father‘s life and that of my grandfather, his father in law are a living testament to why you should hold fast to your dreams. I’ll share one story – that of my grandfather who Held Fast To His Dreams well past his nineties.

A rough start
My grandfather was born in 1902. His father died of tuberculosis barely two months before he was born. His widowed mother, then barely 19, moved back to her father’s home in a village in south-western India, another mouth to be fed. Then at age 2 my grandpa contracts polio. His left leg is permanently shortened. When it’s time to go to school, his grandfather says, “What’s this crippled boy going to do with school?” I’m sure he was not a cruel man, but those were the times they lived in.

My grandfather even at that age never gave up on his dream to making something of his life. One day the schoolmaster showed up at his grandfather’s house. “Why have you come?” he was asked. “Your child has been showing up in school, so I’ve come to collect the fees.”

More Deserving Candidates
When my grandfather graduated from high school, he had to come to the city for college. When he appeared for an interview, the head of the department told him, “You are a cripple. Why do you want to study science? You’ll not be able to stand up and do all the laboratory work. I can give the seat to a more “deserving” candidate.” My grandfather was not happy, but he did not give up his dream. He enrolled in English and tutored other kids to pay his way through school, even as he lived in a “Mission” home for poor boys.

By the time he graduated with a Master’s in English, my grandpa had been teaching & tutoring for several years. So rather than work for someone, he turned into a tutoring entrepreneur and eventually started his own private college – whose motto was “Under the Minerva roof, you are failure proof.”

Dream Achieved?
It looked like grandfather’s dream of making something of himself, and liberating his mother from poverty and dependency on others had come true. He was a renowned Shakespeare scholar – his Minerva notes were sold across the Commonwealth from Kenya in Africa to Australia in Oceania. He’d also gotten married and over time fathered ten kids – yep 10! Five girls, the fourth of whom was my mom and 5 boys.

Setbacks again
Just as it looked like all was going well, his wife died in childbirth leaving behind twelve kids, ten of his own and two grandkids. But as he was fond of saying “Ambition is made of sterner stuff.” He had his daughters and sons put through college and most of them married – more grandchildren were on the way, and it looked like normalcy was back. But a year after I was born, my grandfather was in a car accident, and he lost the use of his other leg and his right hand. Now at age 62, he was confined to a wheelchair and 100% dependent on others.

I think you can safely guess he still had things he wanted to do and he held fast to his dreams. He did not give up his dreams.

  • He studied classical Indian dance and became an expert who every dancer of repute consulted on their latest projects.
  • He built a house in which a wheel-chair bound person could live by themselves – this was in the early 70s.
  • He became an educator for nurses who worked with the “handicapped” as they were called then.

By the time my grandpa passed in 1995, chess grandmasters, dance divas, Sanskrit scholars and hundreds of others’ lives had been touched by him. And the thousands who’d been through his college eulogized his memory.

I can’t think of a better example of what “Holding fast to your dreams” can achieve.

 

Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow

Langston Hughes

Is Your Business Hurting ‘Coz You Confuse Marketing & Sales?

There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words. Thomas Reid

SALE

Photo credit: Gerard Stolk (vers Noel)

The trouble with most of us who speak in the English language is that we assume that people actually understand what we are saying. This last semester, as I set out to teach a course on International Marketing, I happened to ask the class casually, “How many of you understand the difference between marketing & sales?” The faces,  more than the raised hands, clearly communicated the confusion over the two. So as I set out to clarify the difference, I learned a thing or two and reckoned I’ll share that with you.

Let’s get the basics out of the way. And in the interest of not reinventing the wheel, I’ll share what I reckoned was a good definition from Diffen.com. As they summarize it

Marketing The goal is to generate awareness and interest in the product/service and create leads or prospects, by influencing the perception and behavior of the target customer group.

Selling is focused on converting prospects to actual paying customers. Sales involve directly interacting with the prospects to persuade them to purchase the product.

This means the activities done by marketing and sales can be quite distinct

Marketing
  • consumer research to identify the needs of the customers
  • product development – designing innovative products to meet existing or latent needs
  • advertising and digital marketing the products to raise awareness and build the brand.
  • pricing products and services to maximize long-term revenue.
Sales focused on converting prospects to actual paying customers. Sales involve directly interacting with the prospects to persuade them to purchase the product.

So far so good. Now that we are clear about definitions, does this help us figure out when does your business require marketing (or sales) and how much of it does it require? As we set out to answer this for some examples, I realized that there was some nuance to this, especially when it came to a matter of

  • target customers – are yours’ consumers or other businesses
  • sales channels – do you sell direct or through channels

Of course, neither of the above is an either/or answer. You could have both consumer and business sales (think airlines, catering or training classes) and could be both direct or channel (advertising, over-the-counter medications).

While the role of marketing remains building awareness and generating demand – its relative contribution and nature of activities depend on which of these combinations your business falls into. With the rise of internet and e-commerce, certain categories of consumer-targeted businesses can operate without any sales force at all. Similarly, business-focused sales channels, which are businesses themselves such as aggregators or distributors, rely primarily on the marketing of their principals to drive demand. Even these folks have to market themselves to stand out from their competition.

Here’s a useful framework (and some examples) to think about this. What is the product or service you are selling and to whom are you selling it and how will you sell it to them? And what marketing will be directed towards whom? And what sorts of sales activities and personnel will you need to meet your goals?

Market_Sales_Channel_Customer

Here are two different examples of companies that sell primarily to consumers (airlines, cars) or businesses (Facebook ads) and what they do for sales & marketing. Of course, all these businesses serve both consumers and businesses to varying degrees.

Delta_Facebook_Mktg_Sales

I’d love to hear how this looks for your business. Happy hunting.

References
“Marketing vs Sales.” Diffen.com. Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 18 Aug 2017.< http://www.diffen.com/difference/Marketing_vs_Sales >

Yet Another Tip To Make Decisions Faster

In an earlier post, I’d shared the insight that separating WHAT it is you want to do (your decision) from WHEN you’d implement it can make the entire decision-making process easier. The human mind, certainly mine, fickle as it is, finds numerous ways to avoid making decisions. Take the case of wanting to quit your job, which seems a perennial favorite with young aspiring entrepreneurs.

WHAT: I’d like to quit my job – I’m sick and tired of it and want to do a startup.

BUT, how will I let my family/wife/significant other, know? The thought of having to convince stakeholders, especially if they are family – who we fear will not be receptive or supportive – puts the kibosh on even making the decision.

So step back and recognize the WHAT of a decision is the most important – and neither the WHEN will I implement the decision nor HOW will I implement the decision should come into play, while trying to make a decision. Of course, they are relevant such as

WHAT: I want to fire that guy who’s being a jerk to everyone else

HOW: Talk to him, if necessary with HR present. Ask him questions on how he perceives his own behavior. Provide him feedback on what you’ve observed. Put him on a 90-day improvement plan.

WHEN: By June 30th of this year

As you can see the HOW may require a fair amount of work – may involve others and will definitely influence the WHEN. None of this should put off making your decision – WHAT it is you want to do.

 

3 Steps For Handling Marketing Disasters Better

For marketers and leaders as communicators, these last few days have been a textbook case of how NOT to handle something. As one creative twitter user put it

I’ll admit playing Monday morning quarterback is easy. Yet the PR fiasco of how United (and it’s CEO) handled communication with its customers, employees and the world at large, could have been avoided with a touch of personal authenticity and a little faster. And the White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s own travails could have been averted, with a little more care, and just taking some additional time before hitting the SEND button. (For those who missed it, three separate clarifications – stated, re-stated, re-re-stated, within a matter of minutes before a full-blown apology on cable television)

So what lessons can we draw as leaders and communicators

Be authentic
How would you act if this happened in person? If someone tripped over your leg or you happened to push them at the post-office or at a crosswalk? Despite the litigious society we live in, most reasonable folks would inquire after the other party, “Are you alright?” Covering for the company or your own rear with corporate speak such as “I apologize for having for having to re-accommodate these customers,” and then blaming the victim “…he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent” are both neither good nor smart.

Be timely
United’s CEO finally a full day later made this statement, “I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.” What a difference offering such an apology front would have made! In many ways, the Sean Spicer’s apology at the end of a relatively disastrous day in which he made comparisons between the Assad regime and Hitler, was a good example of timely and unequivocal apology. Unfortunately, in his case, his past flubs and history of misstatements likely undercut what otherwise appeared to be both genuine and textbook case of public contrition.

Be deliberate
As earlier attempts at clarification by both United’s CEO and the White House spokesperson demonstrated, little thought or deliberation seemed to have gone into their response. In Spicer’s case within 30 minutes, he sent three clarifications on what he had attempted to communicate with his Hitler comparison, with each further muddying waters. This was a clear case of not stepping back before hitting the SEND key. Deliberation does not mean delay or not timely – it primarily means the application of your mind – invariably it means not doing things as a reaction or in the throes of strong emotion.

In summary, acting in a Timely manner, while staying Authentic and being Deliberate in our actions is important for our communications to be effective. Think TAD!

Values – Putting Them Into Practice

Culture in organizations has been a favorite topic of mine for many years.  The recent discussions of harassment in Uber and Thinkx or the management style of the Trump Organization are all rooted in the underlying culture of these organizations. Most organizations have a vision, mission and even set of values identified – and even displayed in public place. Yet, like many of our own new year resolutions, shall we say, there’s often a gap between what’s stated and intended and the reality employees, customers, and partners experience. So how you build the culture you seek in your organization through a set of values.

Dan Rockwell (aka Leadership Freak) whom I’ve followed religiously for several years now, shows a simple yet effective way to put your values into practice. Such a practice will help you build the culture you seek. Here’s the bulletized version of Dan’s method (I’d call it the 3As) that he discusses in the video below.

  • Articulate your value
  • Act on that value – such as in a specific behavior
  • Applaud the behavior – recognize and highlight when people act on it

Decisions – A Secret to Make Them Easier

“Do you think I should just quit?”

This is a question that comes up with surprising frequency. It’s not just prospective entrepreneurs who ask such questions.

“Should I fire him?” is another one I get asked frequently. This is often with a high-performing but a hard-to-get-along employee.

As leaders, managers, and individuals we are constantly having to make decisions. Decisions, that all too often don’t seem easy to make. They may have too high a cost – one that makes it daunting, even if it’s a simple Yes or No decision. Some would argue there are no simple decisions, especially when it comes to matters of people or organizations. And when a decision is hard to make, we invariably postpone it.

Rarely does such procrastination make things easier.

One simple secret to make such decision-making easier, is to separate the what from the when.

Most people, conflate what they intend to do (“the decision”) with when they will implement the decision.   In other words, if you decide to quit your job, when do you have to give notice? The thought of giving notice, is itself daunting and keeps you from making a decision about your job. The moment you recognize that these are two distinct things – “Should you quit?” and “When should you quit?” – you will find it easier to make the decision about your job.  This works from the simplest “Do we go on a vacation?” to “Do we fire this customer.”

Try it today and let me know how it works for you.

4 Steps to Better Care of Your Entrepreneurial Heart

Heart

Photo frankvanroon

The Ohio State University sends out a daily news update to its students and faculty. For Valentine’s day, one of the articles they shared in the daily mail was on how to take better care of your heart – or as they put it “4 simple steps to a healthy heart

 It struck me how appropriate this advice – useful for any person, is particularly relevant to entrepreneurs – who all too often – skip meals, and even if they don’t skip meals end up snacking unhealthily, run around in a high state of stress and all too often are desk-bound and sedentary. If that’s you (it certainly was me), that’s not a really good way to take care of your heart and health.
The four simple ways to take better care of your heart they recommend are:

eating healthy in my case this began by becoming conscious of what it is I put in my mouth – my meetings seemed to be accompanied with drinking endless cups of tea or coffee (with large doses of sugar in them) and snacking on cookies (or biscuits). Simply replacing such snacking with a water or green tea made a huge difference. I’ve written elsewhere how eating healthy also helped me drop 15 kgs (33 lbs) elsewhere.

being active I’ve begun using a simple 15-45 minute (Pomodoro) timer on my laptop and mobile phone so that I don’t spend 3 or 4 hours sitting on a chair. Additionally, I try to put in between 2-4 miles of walking a day – usually sneaking away at lunch time. Try holding at least some of your 2-person meetings as a walking meeting, in a nearby park – you get some exercise and mind find your meetings go way better.

managing stress many of us when younger were like “What me stress?”  But whether we feel stressed or not, the every day pulls and pressures of our jobs and lives do cause us stress. Conscious deep breathing, when you take that 5-minute break, walking around, mindfulness exercises or good old exercise are all good ways to manage stress. Of course, one key indicator for me personally is when my snacking desire increases, it’s usually a good indicator of being stressed.

avoiding tobacco here’s the good news – eating well, exercising and managing stress are all good ways to overcome habits, that you’d like to lose. Not having been a smoker, I’m hardly an expert in this area. But do what you can to avoid tobacco or seek help to quit smoking.

You can read the original article here.