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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to Confront Yourself Without Condemning Yourself, Part 1

As if you weren’t already assailed with enough negativity, criticism and confrontation from outside sources, I am now going to ask you to start confronting yourself.

Ugh. Who wants to do that? People hate confronting themselves.

They’re afraid that they’ll hate what they see.
They’re scared that they’ll have to take responsibility.
They’re terrified that they’ll have to make some changes.

Nah. It’s much easier to turn my eyes outward. I’ll just stick with that, you think.

BUT HERE’S THE SECRET: This isn’t about narcissistic self-obsession.

It’s about confident self-acceptance.
It’s about cementing self-connection.
It’s about conscious self-exploration.
It’s about continuous self-improvement.

As long as you’re wiling to attend to yourself coolly, courageously and compassionately; and as long as you’re willing to do some inner work, self-confrontation is one of the smartest, healthiest practices you could ever embed into your daily life.

Whether you’re an individual – or an organization – here’s a list of six ways (read the next six here!) to confront yourself without condemning yourself:
1. Clear the air. I write early. Very early. Sometimes clocking in between three and five in the morning. And the motivation behind this insanity is simple: At that time of day, the world isn’t awake yet.

Which means it’s very quiet. Which means there’s nothing for me to do but listen to the sound of my truth. And that’s when the best material comes spilling out: When your pen is drenched in blood.

That’s all creativity is anyway – active listening. And you don’t have to be a writer to practice this form of self-confrontation. The secret is to clear the air. To create a space where the mental and psychic acoustics are bright, clean and sharp.

Even if you’re not in the mood to listen to yourself. Especially if you’re not in the mood to listen to yourself. That’s probably when you need it most. As long as you promise not to beat yourself up when you hear something you don’t like. How can you eliminate the clatter and invite the clarity?

2. Align with things that will never lie to you. The hardest part about hot yoga isn’t the heat. Or the humidity. Or the fact that you spend ninety minutes in a sweaty room surrounded by half-naked strangers twisting their bodies into positions that would make Cirque du Soleil blush.

The real challenge is the self-confrontation. Did I mention there were mirrors everywhere? And that you have to stare at yourself, in silence, the whole time?

Ugh. Talk about things that will never lie to you. Those mirrors can be brutal. In fact, many first-time students (even some veterans!) can’t hold their gaze for more than a few seconds.

Which makes sense. It takes courage to willingly meet yourself over and over again. And the thought of having to confront your (physical) truth – consistently and objectively for such long periods of time – is one of the reasons many people never come back.

Personally, that’s exactly why I come back. Four days a week. Every week. I crave it like a stoner craves White Castle. Because it’s a chance to align with that which will never lie to me (my body) and force myself to come face to face with my truth.

Even if I’m feeling like a worthless piece of crap. What’s the longest period of time you’ve spent staring at yourself in the mirror?

3. Confront the number. Here’s the smartest weight management strategy I’ve ever practiced: Get on the scale. Every week. Same time. Write down my weight on a chart on the wall. Then look at that number every day.

Lost twelve pounds and kept it off.

Now, here’s what’s fascinating: Depending on how well I ate during the week, I might be excited, terrified or indifferent about confronting the number come Sunday morning.

But I always confront it. No matter what. Without judgment. Without evaluation. Without appraisal. What’s more, sometimes during the week I’ll catch myself mid-bite or mid-meal thinking:

“Damn it. I know I’m going to have to weigh myself in three days. Better pass on that twelfth piece of key lime pie.”

That’s the cool thing about self-confrontation: Even the mere anticipation of confronting your numerical truth can modify choices and behaviors in the meantime.

I wonder what quantitative metrics you could install to your weekly regiment to accomplish the same. Maybe accountability partner phone calls? Written records of activity level? Public charts of progress? How will you confront the number?

4. Use visual reminders. People love to ask me if I wear a nametag to remember who I am. And as facetious as their playful remark usually is, it finally occurred to me a few years ago:

Wait a minute. That’s exactly why I wear a nametag.

Because it’s easy to forget who you are. Sometimes you get so wrapped in who you think you are, who other people think you are, or who you want other people to think you are – that you overlook your own truth.

That’s the benefit of regular self-confrontation: To assist you in getting (and staying) over yourself. To remind you how you roll. And while you don’t need to wear a nametag to do so, you might consider using something tangible as a visual cue to induce ongoing self-confrontation.

As Oriah wrote in The Dance, “Self-acceptance is a practice, a willingness to slowly expand your ability to see yourself as you are and simply be with what you see.” How could you paint yourself into a confrontational corner?

5. Face your monster. You have demons and skeletons just like everyone else. But you also have your main monster. You know the one.

It’s that big, hairy, seven-eyed, ten-legged creepizoid thing hibernating in the deepest recesses of your heart, nagging and biting and scraping and drooling, whose sole purpose of existence is to prevent you from becoming great.

Yes. That one. And like a schoolyard bully, your monster’s power source comes from your fear of him. Which means that, without fear, he can’t touch you.

Which means the first step is to confront him and say, “You don’t scare me anymore.” The cool part is, once you take that first courageous confrontational step, you cripple 80% of your monster’s strength.

Which means that the second (and final) step is to simply take your index finger, poke him in the chest and watch him tumble to the ground like the punk ass he really is. What’s your monster?

6. Turn the tables. “What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us,” says Herman Hessee, author of the cult-classic Siddhartha. “And if you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself.”

Here’s a helpful practice for doing so: Next time you observe someone acting in a manner you don’t approve of, just flip it.

Instead of instantly judging, “Wow, check out this guy at the table next to me. What a putz!” You might think to yourself, “Whom in my life do I treat this way?”

Or, next time something terrible happens to you, ask yourself:

*What is it in me that might be causing this situation?
*What did I do, innately, that attracted this into my life?
*What have I done to contribute to this discomfort I’m now feeling?

Learn to face yourself head on. Then, whatever your truth wants to serve up at that particular moment, accept it without complaint. How can you use your current experience as a mirror?

LOOK, MAN: I know self-confrontation is like pulling teeth – your own teeth. And without Novocain, either.

But if you can’t be honest with yourself, what else is there?

We turn to Joseph Campbell’s book, Reflections on the Art of Living, in which he wrote:

“Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for.”

Go meet yourself.
Attend to your truth coolly, courageously and compassionately.
Even if you don’t like what you see.

You’ll thank you.

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scott@hellomynameisscott.com

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

10 Strategies Stop Acting Like an Expert and Start Being a Thought Leader

This is all Google’s fault.

Think about it:

We have unlimited shelf space on which to share our ideas.

We have ubiquitous and instantaneous access to infinite knowledge.

We have completely democratized information, entertainment and media.

We have shattered the barriers to entry for previously impossible endeavors.

And we have allowed choice saturation to flatten the playing field, thus making thousands of niches as economically attractive as the mainstream.

THE RESULT: Everyone’s an expert.

Literally. I don’t mean that in the cliché sort of way.

WHAT I’M SAYING IS: With the right tools, the right resources and the right strategy, pretty much anyone in the world could position herself an expert (on anything!) in about a month.

Which brings me to my thesis:
Experts are morons.

Just think about the last time you watched the news.

For seven minutes, you were subjected to the verbal diarrhea of some “expert” who invited himself onto the show to shamelessly promote his mediocre book written on the latest “hot issue” that he did a bunch of amateur “research” on but never actually experienced himself.

That’s an expert.
Anyone can be one.
And it’s no longer going to cut it in the marketplace.

HERE’S THE REALITY: If you want to reach the people who matter, if you want to deploy your message into to the marketplace, and if you want to create some serious change that moves the needle of the world, being an expert is not the answer.

Instead, I challenge you to be a thought leader.

What’s the difference between the two?

I’m glad you asked.

1. Definition. An expert is a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field. For her, it’s all about the person, her brain and the wisdom that comes from it. A thought leader is a trusted source that moves people with innovative ideas. For her it’s all about the message, its cause and the tribe that sustains it.

2. Nomination. Experts are experts because they say they are. It’s all about marketshare. And all you have to do is go to their website to see how much of an expert they claim to be. Thought leaders are thought leaders because the world says they are. It’s more about mindshare. And all you have to do is go to Google to see how much of an expert the marketplace claims them are.

3. Disposition Experts are smart, creative people who have lots of ideas. And they accumulate knowledge from other people’s resources for the purposes of memorization and monetization. Thought leaders are intellectual, innovative people who actually execute ideas. And they extract universal truths from their own experience for the purpose democratization and exploration.

4. Content. Experts memorize facts and technical knowledge. They lick the seal and tell you what to think about the envelope. Thought leaders notice connections and patterns. They push the envelope by ripping it open and challenge you to rethink your illusions about what’s inside of it.

5. Surroundings. An expert is an island. He puts himself up on a pedestal above the audience. And he capitalizes on the power of his brain to put a stake in the ground. A thought leader is building a following. He builds a platform to cement an ongoing relationship with his audience. And capitalizes on the power of his community to push the ideas forward.

6. Structure. Experts assign formulas. Their material is non-updatable, unshakable and inelastic. Their attitude is inflexible, choreographed, canned, insincere, inauthentic and preplanned. They’re often resisted, debated and create defensiveness. And their rigid, rote learning limits people’s possibilities and stifles their creativity. Thought leaders suggest practices. Their material comes in the form of simple, doable and human actions. Their actions insinuate instead of impose. They’re adaptable and applicable to various situations and individuals. And their work is easily digested, self-evident, non-threatening and encourage people’s creativity.

7. Derivation. Experts are answer-driven. They’re finished learning the material. And they puke regurgitated wisdom, give excellent book reports and peddle plagiarized insight. This helps them make money. Thought leaders are question-driven. They lead the dialogue on the evolution of the material. And they deliver actionable lessons that passed through the test of their personal experience. This helps them make history.

8. Publishing. Experts have written. They published their knowledge – at some point in the past – because was good for their career, attracted some attention and left a trail of digital breadcrumbs back to their website so people could hire them for high-end consulting jobs. Thought leaders are always writing. And they continue to syndicate their wisdom – every single day – because it contributes to their ongoing body of work, validates their existence and leaves a literary footprint to inspire future generations to execute what matters.

9. Delivery. Experts prove themselves; thought leaders express themselves. Experts strive for approval; thought leaders allow for refusal. Experts proclaim their superiority; thought leaders embody their fabulousness. Experts demand their rights, thought leaders deploy their gifts. Experts talk smack; though leaders do acts. Experts play to the crowd; thought leaders play for the sake of playing. Experts win with lip service through swell argument; thought leaders win with foot service through swift action. And experts advise people from the outside; while thought leaders inspire people from the inside.

10. Modality. The final differentiator between an expert and a though leader is the overall approach they take to life and work. First, experts believe things. And talk about things. And sometimes even do things. And they survive on a steady diet of orthodoxy, or, the right thoughts. They practice what they preach, but the message they preach isn’t necessarily the dominant truth of their life. Thought leaders, on the other hand, simply are. It’s less about believing and talking and doing and more about just being. They survive on a steady diet of orthopraxy, or, the right actions. They preach what they practice, and the gap between their onstage performance and backstage reality is non-existent.

That’s why I challenged you to stop acting like an expert and start being a thought leader.

Because that’s what it really comes down to:

Experts persuade, pontificate and profit through doing. Because they're full of themselves.

Thought leaders inspire, infect and influence through being. Because they're sharing themselves.

Take your pick.

P.S. Special thanks to all the thought leaders on my Facebook page whose ideas helped inspire this post!

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
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scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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Friday, August 27, 2010

6 Things Most Young Leaders Overlook

You can know the business.
You can understand the people.
You can master the technology.

But if you’re not the world’s expert on yourself, succeeding as a young leader is going to feel like boxing an iceberg.

Today we’re going to explore seven personal and professional development strategies that most young leaders overlook:

1. Don’t be stopped by not knowing how. “But I’m not ready. I don’t know what I’m doing. And I don’t know the first thing about leading this organization.”

What’s your point? Who says you need to be ready? And who says you need to do know what you’re doing?

Leadership doesn’t necessarily require those things. In fact, if you’re a young leader and landed in your role unexpectedly, knowing how might not be an option right now. For now, here are a few pills of reassurance to swallow.
One: You’re never ready. Nobody is. If they were, they would have taken action earlier.

Two: Knowing how is overrated. What matters is that you know why, and that you surround yourself with smarter, more experienced people who do know how.

Three: You’ll figure out how to do what you need to do along the way. Or, if you don’t, ask. Or, if you can’t, surrender to screwing up quickly and quietly – then learn your lesson and move on.

In the words of Selling Power CEO, Gerhard Gschwandtner, “We need to let go of the notion that we will ever get to any fixed point in our lifetime. The best thing we can hope for is to become more agile so we can avoid becoming a victim of change and become masters at successful transitions.” When was the last time you proceeded successfully without knowing how?

2. Build a galaxy of mentors. It’s impossible to meet the demands of your constituency if you’re not challenged and supported by your mentors. And not just one mentor – a galaxy of them.

First, casual mentors: You chat informally. You meet on an as-needed basis. You have lunches, hang out and take walks together. They talk; you listen. They share ideas; you write them down. They ask tricky questions; you spend months pondering the answers.

Second, formal mentors: You meet on a regular basis. You have structured discussions. You set goals, parameters and expectations for the relationship. They give you assignments; you return with homework. They expect a certain degree of commitment; you do what they say. They (sometimes) charge a fee; you gladly pay them for their wisdom.

Lastly, indirect mentors. You rarely meet in person. You learn by reading and gleaning. You might not even know each other. They write books; you read, highlight and learn. They do stuff really well; you watch, take notes and relate. They set the standard in your industry; you follow their lead.

Remember: One mentor isn’t enough. These are the different types of wise counsel you might consider keeping. Whose ship flies in your galaxy of mentors?

3. Submit to being stripped of your cynicism. During the months leading up to my induction as the president of a struggling organization, my friend Bill interrupted my stream of complaints and asked, “Have you always been this cynical?”

Ouch. Didn’t even realize I was coming off that way. But Bill was right: Cynicism was an outfit that didn’t look good on me. And his honest comment was precisely the kick in the pants I needed to strip myself of such negativity.

From that moment on, I promised myself that I would challenge the currents that create negativity or risk condemning myself to perpetual frustration. And now, instead of being cynical, I’m aggressively skeptical. Huge difference. Cynicism, in the words of Henry Rollins, is intellectual cowardice of not having to deal with what is.

Skepticism, on the other hand, is grounded in persistent objectivity and intelligent inquiry. Much better choice. Ultimately, people will notice – and be affected – the way you choose to shape your energy. Better watch what fumes you give off. When you walk into a room, how does it change?

4. Nothing is more followable than stunning clarity of purpose. It’s a surge of momentum in the right direction. That’s the consequence of conscious design. Like I mentioned before, knowing why trumps knowing how. The key is regularly asking yourself a series of purpose-oriented questions.

And while this doesn’t automatically pinpoint your purpose for you – it does create the conditions under which vision is most likely to occur. Then all you have to do is work backwards from that space of clarity. First ask, “If everybody did exactly what I said, what would the world look like?”

Second, ask, “Is what I’m doing right now giving people the tools they need to build that world? And third ask, “Am I teaching people how to use those tools profitably?

Do that, and your purpose will become following. As long as you remember one caveat: People buy into the visionary before the vision. Clarity of purpose is wasted if the person holding it isn’t likeable. What three things are you doing regularly that don’t serve or support your vision?

5. Fear is the prerequisite of bravery. Without fear, you wouldn’t be human. But, try to escape fear – and you’ll do nothing but inflame the agony. My suggestion is: Use it. Turn toward it. Accept fear’s bid, throw your shoulder into it and mold that fear into something beautiful. I discovered this in yoga class, specifically, Camel Pose.

This challenging, vulnerable, back-bending posture terrified me for years. So much so that I never even attempted it. I just defaulted to my mat without even giving it a chance. But one afternoon, my instructor challenged me. She said, “If you’re scared of this posture, that means your body needs it. Try redirecting your fear into a new course and see what happens."

Eventually, I figured: All right. What the hell.

So I plunged backwards, hand in hand with the fear and achieved the full expression of the posture. First time ever. And the crazy part was: It wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. By the time the posture was over I was like, “That was it? That’s what I’ve been losing sleep over for two years?”

That’s what fear does to you: It fools you into believing that it’s as big as your ego says it is. But it’s not. Because your ego is a pathological liar. Kind of like that famous quotation by Roosevelt, which I happen to think, is wrong. Because as a young leader, the only thing you have to fear is the fear of fear itself.

Once you realize that, your capacity to succeed will skyrocket. As long as you remember: While flinching is totally human and perfectly in order, your people are looking at your face to see where the organization is going. So, if you do plan to crap your pants, just make sure nobody can see the skid marks. Are you willing to flinch in private?

6. You will rise to eminence through ambition, toil and blood. But it has to be your blood. Don’t expect to succeed as a leader if you plan to play pitch-perfect cover versions of the previous leader’s hit single.

Instead, throw your hat into the ring. Stop depending on time to bring change. Take control of the clock, roundhouse kick the doors of opportunity open and make something different happen.

That’s the approach I took in my professional association last year. As a new, young board, we were tired of waiting for permission (from people who didn’t even matter anyway) to try something completely new.

Eventually, I just got pissed off and said, “You know what? Screw it. Let’s just implement the radical change and see what happens. We have so little lose that it would be dumb (not) to shift our approach.”

To our delight – and to the delight of our members – it worked. Our new programming schedule and restructured meeting agenda blew everyone away. Even if that meant a few of us on the leadership team had to bleed. Hey, it’s not called the razor’s edge for nothing.

Ultimately, I learned that if you take strategic risks while still respecting organizational tradition, you don’t end up making stupid gambles. As long as you remember: There are no cover bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Are you the echo or the origin?

REMEMBER: To know yourself is to lead yourself; and to lead yourself is to lead others.



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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What It Feels Like to be an Impostor and to Overcome It Like a Champ

There must be some kind of mistake.

I can’t believe this is my job.
I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this.
I can’t believe I haven’t been found out yet.
I can’t believe nobody has exposed me as inadequate.
I can’t believe people haven’t caught on to how clueless I (really) am.
I can’t believe I’ve deceived the world into believing that I know what I’m doing.

I’m a fraud.

A complete impostor.

This is clearly a coup, and I just know that at any second, I’m going to slip up and blow my cover.

Then, it’s only a matter of time before the world spots my shortcomings, wises up and boots me out.

Ever had that conversation with yourself?
That guilty feeling that you’re getting away with something?


It’s called The Impostor Syndrome.

And it’s a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Pioneered by clinical psychologists Clance and Imes in 1978, the term was coined in the publication Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice.

Now, although The Impostor Syndrome isn’t an officially recognized as a psychological disorder, you can ask any entrepreneur, consultant, artist or writer in the world – they’ve been there.

I know I have.
According a 2008 article in Science Careers, regardless of what level of success people may have achieved – and regardless of external proof of their competence – they remain convinced internally that they don’t deserve the success they’ve achieved and are actually frauds.

Yep. Been there too.

BUT HERE’S THE GOOD NEWS: If you feel like an impostor, you’re probably doing something right.

It means you’re risking.
It means you’re stretching.
It means you’re successful.

It also means that you’re not so arrogant as to assume that you’ve got it all figured out.

Feeling like a fraud is, in many ways, a right of passage. It comes with the entrepreneurial territory. And thankfully, it’s an effective form of self-pressure to help you get over – and stay over – yourself.

Unfortunately, nobody tells you this when you start your business.

Sure, you hear about the long hours. And that you won’t make any money in the beginning. And that you’ll have to make sacrifices and leave old friends behind.

But nobody warns you that you’re going to mentally torture yourself eight times a day.

Nobody tells you what it feels like to sit in an office across the table from the Marketing Director a million-dollar company who’s about to entrust his entire budget to a some scrappy entrepreneur who’s really just waiting for the camera crew to pop out from behind the wall and say, “You’ve been punked!”

Not exactly something they teach at Harvard Business School.

Next time you find yourself feeling like a fraud, consider these ideas to help bring you back to reality.

1. An occasional undercurrent of self-doubt is healthy. While some people maintain more self-efficacy than others, everyone has their doubts. And this is a good thing

Doubt protects you. Doubt is a warning system. Doubt keeps you humble. Doubt inspires you to become better. Doubt motivates you to achieve great things. Doubt gives you permission to explore alternatives. Doubt helps you keep checks and balances on yourself. And doubt forces you to examine what you think and why you think it.

Be careful not to underrate it. Think of it as useful timidity. Accept it as a symbol of success and leverage it to your advantage. What are you questioning?

2. You’re not alone. “Sometimes I wake up before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud. They’re going to fire me. I’m fat. I’m ugly.” Those are the words of Academy Award Winner, Kate Winslet.

And that’s just one example. Odds are, every entrepreneurial colleague you have has been there before, is currently there, or will be there soon. Whom do you know that also feels like an impostor?

3. Territory, not hierarchy. Resist the desire to constantly judge your success against the achievements of others. This is a hierarchical approach that creates an endless, destructive loop of not good enoughness.

Approaching your work territorially, however, is what Steven Pressfield recommends in my favorite book, The War of Art. “Territorial creatives understand that the sustenance comes from the act itself, not from the impression it makes on others.” Which way do you work?

4. Stop deflecting praise. Next time someone congratulates you on your success, try receiving it gracefully. Don't deflect and justify positive feedback with nonchalant, false-humility driven comments like, “I really lucked out,” “The planets must have been aligned,” or “You just have to sleep the with the right people.”

Simply say, “Thank you.” That’s it. Two words. I know – it’s unbelievably hard. If you really have to, you might try my standard line: “Thank you. I was really happy with the way that one turned out.” How well do you receive?

5. Audit your process. Write a step-by-step guide on something you take for granted.

“If there’s a process you take for granted that you don’t often see other companies writing about, break it down into a step-by-step guide,” says Amy Harrison of Copywriting That Counts.“What seems normal to you might just elevate you to expert status in someone else’s eyes.”

Which of your “duh!” moments will become other people’s “omg!” moments?

6. Spy on yourself. When was the last time you took an honest glance at what you’ve accomplished in your career? Answer: Too long ago.

Try this: Accumulate massive evidence. Chronologically depict your achievements in a Career Trajectory Map Illustrate how far you’ve come since the beginning. Next, step outside of yourself and view your achievements objectively.

Then, ask these questions: Could an imposter (really) have accomplished all this? If you met you for the first time – and saw this map – what would you think of you?

This exercise builds healthy amounts of self-confidence without overrating your abilities. I just did this myself and it rocked my self-doubting world back into order. Are you willing to confront your success?

ULTIMATELY: You can’t keep trying to eradicate feelings of inadequacy.

They’re not going to go away. In fact, the more successful you become, the more those feelings will creep in.

Fortunately, feeling like a fraud is one of the best indicators of your legitimacy.

Just know: There is no courage without the presence of fear. Fear is the prerequisite of bravery and bravery is the precursor to power.

It’s not some kind of mistake.

You really are successful. You deserve this.

In fact, if you don’t feel like an imposter (at least) some of the time, you’re probably not stretching enough.

LET ME ASK YA THIS…
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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to be a Breath of Fresh Air

“Your combination is: One, two, three, four, five? That's the stupidest combination I've ever heard in my life! That’s the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage!”

Name that movie.

Spaceballs, of course.

My brother and I grew up on this film. And to this day, we can still recite the entire script, line by line.

If you’re not familiar with the movie, here’s a quick synopsis:

Spaceballs is a 1987 science fiction spoof in which Planet Spaceball, led by President Skroob (Mel Brooks) has wasted all of its air, leaving the inhabitants to survive off canned oxygen called Perri-air. Ingeniously, Skroob sends Lord Helmet (Rick Moranis) to steal Planet Druidia’s abundant supply of air to replenish their own, and only Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) can stop them.

Now, even though the movie is a spoof, there’s still a powerful life lesson to be learned from Spaceballs:

When you’re known as a breath of fresh air, the people who matter will come in droves to inhale.

Customers.
Coworkers.
Employees.
Supervisors.
Board members.

Whoever comprises your constituency, nothing serves them better than making yourself a breath of fresh air.

Here’s how:
1. Embrace your outsiderness. Being an outsider gives you an inside track. For three reasons.

First, outsiders can be truly objective. They have little or no bias. They can recognize patterns immediately. They have no stake in the company or organization. They don’t bring vested interests to an existing problem. They can explore the structure of an organization with fresh eyes. And they’re not viewed as a threat, which diffuses defensiveness and increases willingness to listen.

Secondly, outsiders don’t face traditional barriers. They’re unaware of common creative blocks. They’re not subject internal politics of the organization. And they’re able to explore assumptions the organization that were never considered or taken for granted.

Finally, outsiders can deliver independent thought. Their thinking patterns are different. They’re detached from the outcomes. They’re not so close to the situation and therefore have limited agendas. And their wealth of diverse background experience applies cross-industrially.

Ultimately, people are tired of listening to the same messages from the same people. Embrace your outsiderness today and move into a position of value tomorrow.

Remember: It’s a lot easier to break the limit when you don’t know the limit exists. And sometimes it takes a person who knows nothing to change everything. Are you willing to admit that you’re not part of the club?

2. Embody the extinct. Just out of curiosity, I recently googled the phrase, “What’s lacking is a sense of...” Across all industries, the most common item that came up was “urgency” or “immediacy.”

Interesting. Perhaps the acceleration of technology combined with our hyperspeed culture is the wakeup call companies need to increase their average response time. Just one example.

Either way, if you want to become a breath of fresh air, become a living example of what’s lacking in the rest of the world. Conduct research on your own – either online or person – to find out what’s extinct in your world. Then position yourself as the opposite.

For example, few professional speakers post their fees publicly on their website. And that’s exactly why I post mine: To embody the transparency that’s sorely lacking in my industry. The best part is: My clients love it. What obsolete value are you making obligatory?

3. Dumbing down is stepping up. A few books into my career as a writer, my editor informed me that most of material was written at a fifth or sixth grade level.

And I asked her, “Is that good?”

To which she replied, “Absolutely! Twelve years old the level most adults read at.”

Now, admittedly, this attribute of my writing isn’t so much a strategy as it is representative that I never really matured past twelve years old. But I’ll take it.

Either way, it works for my readers. And that’s what matters.

Lesson learned: Stop cluttering your interface. Whether that’s in person, online or on the phone, remove whatever surrounding complexity you can from the way people experience you and your message.

Slow things down from the usual hectic pace. Let your audience breathe. As a writer (and don’t act like you’re not a writer – everyone’s a writer), your best tool for accomplishing this is with the Flesch-Kincaid Tests.

They’re easily found on most word processing grammar checks. And they’re designed to measure comprehension difficulty and readability when reading a passage of contemporary academic English.

Remember: What’s the point of being fresh air if you don’t give people adequate pauses to inhale? It’s time to step it up by dumbing down. What metrics will you use to simplify your message?

4. Perspective is priceless. My friend Marcus writes books and gives lectures to healthcare professionals. But, not because he’s an expert on patient care. Or a doctor. Or a medical researcher.

Rather, because after a tragic auto accident, Marcus spent two years of his life restricted to a hospital bed, a feeding tube and respirator. You can’t teach perspective like that.

And that’s why, when Marcus delivers his message – from the page or the stage – the same breath of fresh air that re-inflated his once failing lungs now fills the hearts of the people in his audience. No wonder he gets invited back every year.

Lesson learned: The keener your perspective, the fresher your breath. Your challenge is twofold: First, to wreck your car. Just kidding. Marcus made me put that joke in.

Seriously: Figure out which of your unique experiences have afforded you with the deepest amount of perspective. Then, creatively deliver your message from that perspective. How will your worldview add a new dimension to the overall picture?

5. Create an original and unique experience. Don’t tell me there’s nothing new under the sun – it’s 864,938 miles in diameter. If you can’t say something new, you’re not trying very hard.

All you have to do is tell the truth – your truth. Not Benjamin Franklin’s truth. Not Rumi’s truth. Your truth. Stop being a vending machine of other people’s quotations. Instead, start spouting the wisdom of your life. It’s there, waiting to be excavated.

The cool part is, honesty is so rare that it’s become remarkable. And when you dip your pen in your own blood, it’s always new – because it’s your original and unique experience.

Focus on crafting your messages with clients and coworkers from that space. You’ll expel more fresh air than the Sears home appliance department. Are you the origin or the echo?

6. Don’t just break the mold – shatter it. Make the mainstream to pee in their pleated pants and tremble in their penny loafers. How? By violating people’s schemas.

According to the bestselling book, Made to Stick, a schema is a collection of generic properties about an idea or category. Your challenge is to upset those patterns. To make your messages, conversations and ideas a radical departure from traditional labels.

George Carlin was a master at this. Not only did his comedy entertain us – it challenged and provoked us to rethink and unlearn. So much so, that in 1972, his monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” led to a Supreme Court decision that helped established the extent to which the FCC would regular speech on broadcast television.

Nearly forty years later, Carlin’s regulation still carries weight today.

Lesson learned: Sweep away the stifling odor of the multitude. Refuse to fall into the same clichés as – or satisfy the unquestioned conventions of – the mediocre masses. What boundaries are you bending?

7. Sell less – solve more. That’s the biggest mistake made by businesses that use social media: They’re so busy trying to make money that they disregarded their duty to solve problems.

I’m not saying making money is wrong. But if direct monetization is your primary modality, people will smell it quickly and walk away.

Instead, I challenge you to position yourself as The Answer. To use social media as a listening platform to gain insight into what drives your customers up the wall. My friend Chris is a master of this.

“Every person who comments on my blog gets a phone call from me. And the best part is, nobody expects it. And that’s exactly what makes it a breath of fresh air. Because I’m offering myself as a resource – instead of hurling myself as a salesperson.”

What pervasive, expensive, real and urgent problem does your business solve – better, faster, smarter and cheaper than the other guys?

8. Differentiate through your emphasis. During a recent trip to Australia, I had the pleasure of flying on Virgin Airlines. Let me paint a picture for you:

Dance music blasting from the check-in area. Approachable service islands with brightly colored displays. Employees who were young, energetic and attractive – who, by the way, actually walked out from behind their desks to shake your hand, introduce themselves and welcome you to Virgin.

Then, once we boarded the plane, the experience continued. More music. More fun. And more employees who were laughing, joking and overall, (actually) enjoying their jobs. Hell, even the safety demonstration video was kind of cute.

Talk about a breath of fresh air. I said to the flight attendant, “Wow. Airline companies back in the states could learn a lot from your team – you guys look like you’re legitimately having a good time!”

And like clockwork, she replied, “At Virgin, it’s kind of hard not to.”

Not surprisingly, Virgin won several airline industry awards in 2009: Best Premium Economy in the World, Best Transatlantic Airline, Best International Airline, Best International Airline for Inflight Entertainment and Best Frequent Flyer Program.

Lesson learned: Provide an outlet to unconventional approaches. Not only will you become a breath of fresh air, you’ll become the best in the air. What do you emphasize that your competitors overlook?

REMEMBER: If you want to make a name for yourself, be conscious about what you’re breathing into people.

The choice is yours: You can lump yourself into the mediocre masses as (yet another) company that blows smoke up people’s asses.

Or, you can position yourself as a breath of fresh air, so the people who matter will come in droves to inhale.

Maybe Spaceballs was onto something.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How to be Taken Seriously by People Twice Your Age

“I’m old enough to be your mother!”

Think about the last time somebody at work said this to you.

How did it make you feel?

Young?
Annoyed?
Insecure?
Unsuccessful?
Ready to jump out the window?

Probably all of the above. As someone who hears this comment on a daily basis, I know how you feel. It’s tough being the youngest person in the office, isn’t it?

But that’s the reality. According to a recent USA TODAY article, Generation Y is a force of as many as seventy million people taking their place in an increasingly multi-generational workplace.

“This age group is moving into the labor force during a time of major demographic change, as companies around the USA face an aging workforce."

“Sixty-year-olds are working beside 20-year-olds. Freshly minted college graduates are overseeing employees old enough to be their parents. And new job entrants are changing careers faster than college students change their majors, creating frustration for employers struggling to retain and recruit talented high-performers.”


THE QUESTION IS: How are you supposed to be taken seriously when you’re the youngest person in the room?

SHORT ANSWER: Being proactive and powerful without coming off as arrogant and annoying.

LONG ANSWER: Today I’m going to teach you exactly how to do that.
And please note, what you’re about to read is not another rapid-fire list of simplistic, superficial pseudo-advice that any schmuck with more than two weeks of job experience could tell you.

In fact, we should probably just get that stuff out of the way now:

Exude powerful body language. Dress for success. Avoid spelling errors. Show up to work on time. Don’t photocopy your ass during business hours. Articulate your words clearly. Smile – but not too often. Have a firm handshake. Respect your elders. Remove your spiked dog collar before meeting with the company president. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Okay, I feel better. Now we can get cracking on the ideas that matter. Here’s a compendium of practices and strategies to be taken seriously by people twice your age:

1. Take seriously the things that matter. If you want people twice your age to take you seriously, the first step is to stop taking yourself so seriously. Obviously, not at the expense of respect or professionalism. Becoming a poster boy for apathy rarely gets you anywhere.

Instead, the secret is pinpointing the non-negotiable values in your life that are worth taking seriously – health, job, career, family, growth, honesty, whatever – then making sure your behavior reinforces that constitution.

That’s what people notice. That’s what people remember. That’s what people respect. Someone with enough strength to be simultaneously self-effacing and self-confident.

And admittedly, as a young professional, this is a difficult balance to strike. When you’re working tirelessly to make a name for yourself, it’s easy to get snared into the seductive trap of self-importance.

Ultimately, if you truly want people to take you seriously, don’t just get over yourself – stay over yourself. How are you educating yourself in the language of humility?

2. Make the invisible inescapable. After a recent speech in Melbourne, I stopped by the city art museum to see the Titanic exhibition. Other than the replicated iceberg you could touch (so cool!) the most powerful moment of the tour was walking through the Crew Room.

We explored dozens of bios and portraits of these beefy, diligent, hardworking men – seventy-five percent of whom went down with the ship. And I learned that they shoveled 825 tons of coal a day.

That’s over a million and a half pounds. And above the memorial of the crewmembers that perished in the crash, the epitaph read:

“The task is vital, the labor is invisible and the work is an endless cycle.”

What about you? What percentage of your work is unseen by the masses?

If you want to get people to take you seriously, here’s my suggestion: Make your invisible work inescapable to the people who matter. Otherwise all your time and toil will go unnoticed. What vital tasks are you turning into viral videos?

3. Perspective is the rein and rudder. That was Leo da Vinci’s philosophy. And whether you’re working on a painting or in project management, the same principle of perspective applies.

Take my cousin, Avery, for example. He’s fourteen. Recently, he said something that completely blew the lid off my brain. During family dinner one Sunday, I asked him to email me the name of a particular video game he mentioned.

And I swear to God – you can’t make this stuff up – here’s what came out of his mouth:

“Email? That takes forever!”

Talk about perspective. I couldn’t believe my ears. But Avery’s comment was spot-on. Apparently, people under the age of twenty don’t email. Takes too long. They text, instant message or use Facebook. That’s how they communicate. Email is the new snail mail. Unbelievable. And all Avery did was say a few words.

Lesson learned: The ability to deliver powerful perspective wrapped in a concise package, to the right people, at the right time, is priceless. More often than not, simile is the perfect tool for doing so.

For example, whenever I want to make a point about the increasing irrelevancy of libraries, I’ll say, “A library? Is that like Netflix for books?” As much as it pains me as an author to say that, it usually drives home the perspective pretty well. What drives yours?

4. Craft a sincere story regarding your journey – then broadcast it. First, take some time to physically write out your unique story:

*What crucial decisions changed everything?
*What questions did you ask yourself along the way?
*How many times did you stumble?
*Who was there to help you dust off your pants?

These are the things that matter.

Second, represent this story three-dimensionally. Write it out. Share pictures. Tell the story on video. Whatever medium works for you.

Finally, connect with as many media outlets – mainstream or amateur – to broadcast that story with the world. Because when everybody knows your story, you win. Just as long as your story is engaging, remarkable and relevant.

Remember: When people understand where you came from, they’re more likely to believe in where you’re going. Do decision makers know your story?

5. Present what you do as a legitimate source of income. Money attracts attention. Period. I’m not saying it’s the most important thing in the world, but there is a direct relationship between profitability and legitimacy. Especially when barriers to entry continue to crumble.

Anyone can start a company. The question is: How much revenue is actually coming in?

Anyone can become an expert. The question is: What profit centers are you converting your expertise into?

Anyone can build a following. The question is: How are you converting followers into dollars?

If you can’t spit out (somewhat) quantitative answers to these questions, you lose. Your goal is to reveal enough financial evidence of your success that people nod their heads in approbation; but not so much that they tilt their heads in aggravation.

I remember the first time I experience the power of this strategy. It was 2005, and my company was just starting to turn a profit. During a television interview, the news anchor casually mentioned that I had converted the idea of wearing a nametag into six-figure enterprise.

I didn’t ask him to say that, he just did. And wouldn’t you know it? That was the one part of the interview that everyone commented on. Huh. I guess money really does lend itself (rim shot) to credibility. How are you reinforcing you economical legitimacy?

6. Enthusiasm is a gift – use it while you can. Last night I met the owner of a local cheese company. Intrigued, I asked him, “What does someone’s favorite cheese say about her personality?”

For the next ten minutes, our table listened to Adam rant enthusiastically about all things cheesy. From manufacturing to cooking to milking the goats correctly, it was quite possibly the most fascinating conversation I’ve had in six months. Even the people at our table – twice his age – were engaged with rapt interest.

Do you think they’ll take him seriously next time they throw a wine and cheese party? Absolutely.

Lesson learned: Never underestimate the power of enthusiasm. As a young professional, your energy is your greatest asset – use it. Every day. Speak with passion or risk being unheard.

Just remember two caveats: First, be careful not to overdo it. People can’t take you seriously if they’re too busy trying to figure out it what brand of crack you’ve been smoking.

Secondly, be sure to match enthusiasm with accuracy. If your energy isn’t supported with truthfulness, you’re nothing but a passionate incompetent. How are you leveraging your youthful energy?

7. Monitor the consistency of your virtual personality. The Internet is forever. Everything matters, everybody’s watching and everything’s a performance. Which, isn’t that hard to do if the character you’re playing is you.

So, for the love of Google, be careful what you share with the world. If your online performance isn’t an accurate mirror of your offline reality, you lose. And don’t act like it could never happen to you. Self-incrimination is an easy mistake made by smart people every day.

And the danger is: It’s cumulative. Which means the more often you do it – that is, the more often you position yourself online in a negative light – the less likely people are to take you seriously.

“You know, Julie made a good point during today’s meeting,” the boss says. “Then again, Julie’s status update from last night says she pounded fifteen shots of Jäger in thirty minutes. No wonder she puked into the paper shredder this morning.”

Lesson learned: Avoid sloppy mistakes that make rejecting you easy. Be careful what you publish. Do you want to become known for what you’re about to post?”

8. Replace bitching with evidence. Yes, it’s frustrating to work at an office primarily populated by people who grew up on vinyl and Vietnam. And it’s even more frustrating when those people don’t take you seriously.

But don’t default to shedding tears just to prove your salt. Instead, focus on sharing tangible proof. When you have a problem, complaint or issue, calmly present your issue to the powers that be in a quantitative, organized, legitimate and nuts and bolts fashion.

That’s the type of presentation style that older generations respond to. Plus, by pressing the off button on the water works, you avoid getting lumped into stereotype of being a whiner.

This brings me to Psychology Today, which published an article in the May 2010 issue called, Generation Y or Generation Whine?

According to the piece, those born between 1982 and 2002 are turning the country into a nation of wimps. “Entitled, spoiled, whiney and unable to take criticism,” are just a few of the other terms used to describe my generation.

Obviously, this is a gross generalization. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only publication spouting such stereotypes. It seems like every week you come across another magazine or newspaper spreading similar stories.

As such, do whatever you can to prevent putting yourself in that category. Bitching isn’t the answer – evidence is. How much of it is your case presenting?

9. Show massive gratitude to the people who took risks on you. Success never comes unassisted. Ever. If you’re lucky enough to find a champion, somebody to go to bat for you – thank her sincerely. If possible, in person.

Here’s what you do: Take her aside, look her straight in the eye and say:

“Julie, you put your ass on the line for me, and want you to know how much I appreciate it. Thanks for believing in me. You support was essential, and I wouldn’t be here without you. I promise to keep you updated with my progress.”

But it doesn’t end there. Gratitude is isn’t just a few honest words – it’s a calendar of consistent action. And it functions as a thank you in perpetuity to the people who took personal and professional risks to help underwrite your success. Who did you thank yesterday?

10. Wear your commitment like an iron skin. As a Gen-Xer, I come from a commitment-averse generation. Here’s why:

Because of our instant gratification culture, we’re impatient.
Because of our privileged upbringing, we developed a mediocre work ethic.
Because of our self-reliant, entrepreneurial bent, we don’t offer loyalty easily.
Because of our abundance of choices, we’re quick to quit and pursue something better.

No wonder we can’t stick with anything for very long. From college majors to new jobs to romantic relationships, stick-to-itiveness isn’t exactly our forte.

For that reason, stick-to-itiveness is a non-negotiable pre-requisite for being taken seriously. What’s more, commitment isn’t something you do – it’s something you are. You don’t need to get a nametag tattooed on your chest like I did.

But you do need to memorialize your commitment and stand proud to the general gaze of the world. That’s the tricky part. That whole “every day” thing. Because while it takes guts to stick yourself out there – it takes gusto to keep yourself out there. How do you wear your commitment?

11. Show people that you aren’t going away. Reliable. Predictable. Dependable. Consistent. That’s the big-picture secret to being taken seriously: Making sure your actions provide people with irrefutable proof that you’re in it for the long haul.

That’s one of the reasons I publish so many books. Not just because writing is my religion. Not just because I have volumes to say. And not just because books are extremely profitable for my business.

But also because with every new book that comes out, I reinforce to people that I’m not going away.

That I’m not just another a one-hit-wonder, flash-in-the-pan bullshit artist. Like comedy legend George Carlin, your challenge is to show people that your “prime” will last for forty years. That should perk people’s ears up. What are you doing to last?

REMEMBER: Being taken seriously is serious business.

Your generation isn’t the future of the workforce – it’s the present.

If you want to be taken seriously by people twice your age, commit to implementing these strategies on a daily basis.

That way, next time Phyllis from accounting grumbles, “I’m old enough to be your mother!” you can just look at her with confidence and say, “What’s your point?”

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Monday, August 23, 2010

6 Ways to be an Exponent of Your Industry

What do Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Lorne Michaels, Lily Tomlin, George Carlin, Bill Cosby and Tina Fey all have in common?

Two things.

FIRST: Each of these individuals was presented with the inaugural Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

In 1998, The Kennedy Center organized this “Celebration of Humor” and established the Mark Twain Prize to recognize those who create humor from their uniquely American experiences.

Cool.
SECOND: Each of the individuals who won this award was nominated because they were considered to be “among world's greatest exponents of humor.”

The Kennedy Center, as the nation’s center for the performing arts, recognizes and presents all disciplines of the performing arts including opera, jazz, theater, ballet and dance, as well as symphony and all kinds of smaller musical ensembles performing every imaginable kind of music.

Very cool.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t be a product of your industry – be the exponent of it.

Here’s how:

1. An exponent is someone who expounds. Explaining is for tour guides. Your goal is to reveal all the gory details. To interpret. To democratize.

Which means you can’t just be smart – you need to be an intellectual. A mental omnivore. And it is incumbent upon you to generate your own Personal Philosophy, Theory of the Universe and School of Thought.

Otherwise you’re nothing but a ditto of the professionals who have come before you – and a measly asterisk of the professionals who come after you. How do you break it down for people?

2. An exponent is someone who advocates. Whatever industry, arena or field you represent, champion it to the world. Like it was your own child.

Infect people with your enthusiasm. Gush the way you would after coming home from your first date. Passionately and publicly profess that what you and your contemporaries do, matters.

And remind people that the purpose you serve is necessary to the world. As Sir William Martin Conway explained in his 1915 book, The Crowd in Peace and War, “Exponents are those who instinctively voice the collective cry of the crowd.” What are you an evangelist for?

3. An exponent is someone who raises the bar. Expect better results. Demand an upgrade in quality. Wage a war again mediocrity. Speak your mind in ways other shrink from.

And, hold yourself and your colleagues accountable for work that matters, work that evokes, work that invites criticism and work that challenges the status quo. Are you willing to lead the campaign to reject all that is average, boring and unremarkable?

4. An exponent is someone who transforms. Find out what isn’t working anymore – then burn it. Find out what doesn’t matter anymore – then delete it. Find out who isn’t contributing anymore – then sever them. And find out what rules don’t apply anymore – then change them.

Now, if you think this sounds simplistic, you’re right: It is. But that doesn’t make it easy. Truth is: Exponential transforming is so change-oriented; you’re going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Otherwise, no upgrades will be made. What are you no longer being governed by?

5. An exponent is someone who makes history. With every idea you have, ask yourself, “Has this ever been done before?” Odds are, it has.

Which means your challenge is to ask another question: “What slight modification, combination, juxtaposition or unique spin could I put on this to make it the first of its kind?”

Another approach is to think, “What current successful ideas could I combine to create an entirely new animal that nobody’s ever seen before?” Do this, and you won’t just make money – you’ll make history. Are you going for the sales books or the record books?

6. An exponent is someone who embodies the consummate example. Create a profile of what you believe to be – and what the industry, as a whole believes to be – the characteristics of an ideal professional.

Now, this is not to suggest a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter formula into which we all evolve. Rather, it’s a collection of unshakable character components we might all aspire to embody. For whom are you a role model?

ULTIMATELY: It boils down to the legacy you want to leave behind.

Take George Carlin, for example. He won the Mark Twain Award one year after his death on June 22, 2008. History records him as one of the heroes of American stand-up comedy. More importantly, his official obituary writes the following:

“Taking his place in a lineage that includes Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, Carlin was an outspoken exponent of explosive material.”

What about you? How will you be remembered?

The choice is yours.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

How to Position Yourself as the Answer

People use the Internet for one thing – and one thing only.

Pornography.

Just kidding. (Actually, not really.)

TRUTH IS: People use the Internet to solve a problem.

That’s it.

That’s the number one thing typed into Google: A question.

How do you hunt elk?
How do you write a book?
How do you start your own membership website?
How do you successfully stalk your ex-girlfriend on Facebook with her finding out?

Hypothetically, of course.

Besides, she ain’t going to find out. Stalking isn’t illegal if you change your name, right?

Anyway. People use the Internet to ask questions and solve problems. Got it.

WHAT I WANT TO KNOW IS: What are you the answer to? What pervasive, expensive, real and urgent problem does your business solve – better, faster, smarter and cheaper than the other guys?

Because if you can’t answer those questions, you lose.

When you’re the answer, you can name your price.
When you’re the answer, you enhance your referability.
When you’re the answer, you position yourself as a Thought Leader.

When you’re the answer, people come to you.
When you’re the answer, people talk about you.
When you’re the answer, people come back to you.

Today we’re going to talk about how to position yourself, your brand and your organization as such:
1. Ask people you trust. Find ten people you trust – whose opinions matter – and ask them to reflect your value back to you. Specifically ask them, “What do you think I’m the answer to?”

The cool part about running this exercise is, their impressions might not be what you think. That’s the tricky thing about self-awareness: It’s rare that you define your own value. You’re simply too close to the subject to make an objective assessment.

“Sit in the assembly of the honest,” as The Bhagavad-Gita instructs. Then, ask people to reveal what you’re too close, too in love, too blind or too proud to see. Are you standing on a whale fishing for minnows?

2. Nothing beats raw experience. If all you’ve done is read a few hundred books and morphed yourself into a walking vending machine of quotations from a bunch of dead white guys, you’re not the answer – you’re a parrot. A hack. A ditto.

The only thing you’ll ever be the answer to is the occasional question during a drunken game of Trivial Pursuit. Which is great for parties but useless for profits.

Instead, you need hit the streets. Walk the factory floors. Scour the company warehouse. Get into people’s living rooms. Whatever displacement strategy will school you in the ways of the world.

The point is: You can’t solve people’s problems sitting in your office all day. Poet John Lecarre was onto something when he said, “A desk is a dangerous place to rule the world.” Are you interactive, reactive and proactive – or just googling all day?

3. Focus groups are amateurs. Don’t just learn about your customers’ business – learn about their brain. Try their heads on. Learn to think like them and you’ll be able to provide more customized service.

Fortunately, social media provides you with an all-you-can-eat buffet of options for doing so. That’s the biggest misconception: People assume social media is for selling. It’s not – it’s for solving. It’s a perpetual listening platform that will give you more insight into people’s brains that a hundred focus groups combined.

The hard part is, using social media for that purpose forces you to face reality with an open mind and even more open heart. But that’s the only way to hear with clean ears.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn that you’re spending millions of dollars positioning yourself as the answer to a problem nobody’s trying to solve. Are you fulfilling a compelling need for your target market or projecting onto that market what you think they should want?

4. The speed of the response is the response. If you plan to position yourself as the answer, you need to get back to people quickly. Especially if their problem is expensive and urgent.

And, even if you don’t have the answer right away, ping people back anyway. Let them know you’ve taken ownership of the problem and they can relax.

If possible, do this personally. Give people no choice but to deal directly with you. Either in person, over the phone or via email. But not with some bullshit autoresponder that lies to people, informing them that their call is very important to you, and that you’ll get back to them in the order in which their call was received.

Instead, use their first name and tell people you’re personally on the case. Doing research, making calls, uncovering stones, kissing babies, licking toads – whatever it takes to find the answer.

Then, once you strike gold, don’t just reconnect – reinforce the fact that you kept your promise. This reminds people of your ability to deliver answers consistently. How many unread emails are currently sitting in your inbox, collecting virtual dust?

5. Even when you say no, you’re still marketing. Let’s say someone approaches you with a problem. And you know you don’t have the solution. No worries. Respond by saying:

“I have no idea. This is outside of my scope of expertise. Fortunately, here are three people I trust who have answers for you.”

By doing so, you’re still the answer. Maybe not the answer people were looking for. But you still pointed them in the right direction. You still positioned yourself as a resource.

What’s more, your willingness to divulge your ignorance demonstrates honesty, character and approachability. People will notice. Are you willing to defer when you’ve surpassed the perimeter of your competence?

6. Audit the answer-ness of your platform. When I redesigned my website, I made a simple request to my web team, “The first thing I want users to feel when they arrive on my homepage is: They’ve to the right place. The search is over. My site is going to help them get unstuck.”

The result was beautiful. Seriously, if it were humanly possible to have sex with a website, I would totally bone www.hellomynameisscott.com.

For you, gather every marketing piece you have out there: Websites, collateral materials, social media profiles, business cards and the like. Then, ask yourself:

*Is it a website or a destination?
*Does it leave the impression of value or vanity?
*When people first arrive, does it scream, “Look at me!” or “This is for you!”

Ask these questions today. When was the last time you audited the answer-ness of your platform?

7. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. In Larry Winget’s book, The Idiot Factor, he makes a powerful point about being the answer:

“Don’t give me instructions on how to build a watch – just tell me what time it is.”

People screw this up all the time. They have no restraint when it comes to dispensing answers. And instead of cutting to the chase and solving the problem that was presented to them, they pontificate. The monologue. And they parade their storehouse of wisdom around the room like a trophy wife at ten-year reunion.

Meanwhile, the poor sucker who asked them the question in the first place thinks, “Dude, I just needed one letter – not the whole alphabet.”

Lesson learned: Brevity is eloquence. No need to deploy every weapon you have. Like my mentor says, “Pastors need to learn how to preach one sermon at a time.” Are you vomiting when spitting would suffice?

8. Publicize your ability to recognize patterns. That’s what makes you a recognized thought leader – not just a random expert. If you truly want to radiate usefulness, if you want be the answer, learn to recognize patterns before anyone else.

Notice things and give them names. Create a new glossary of terms to be melded into your industry’s lexicon. And then, sign your name to it and share it with the world.

That’s the missing piece for most people: They’re too selfish with our knowledge. And if you want people to remember you as being the answer, you’ve got to give yourself away.

Don’t worry: The greatest things given away always multiply. And the more you give away for free, the wealthier you will be. What patterns do you excel at recognizing?

FINAL NOTE: Positioning yourself as the answer only works if you commit to living up to that label consistently.

The most notable example comes from the world of basketball.

When Allen Iverson was traded to the Philadelphia 76er’s, his nickname became “The Answer.”

Why?

According to an ESPN article, Iverson was the answer to all of the 76er’s questions:

*When will we be good again?
*When will we have another superstar?
*When will we win another championship?

Now, according to a Sports Illustrated article, Iverson’s nickname of “The Answer” is a clear reflection of his many talents and dominating performances on the court.

In fact, he lived up to his moniker throughout the first year of his career, averaging 23.5 points per game for Philadelphia. And as a result, Iverson captured the Rookie of the Year.

Since then, he’s become an eleven-time all star. AI still averages 26.7 points a game, making him one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history.

LESSON LEARNED: If you want to position yourself as the answer – online or off – it requires a dedicated effort.

Otherwise your dominance will crumble.

In which case, pornography might actually end up being your next career move.

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

11 Ways to Discipline Yourself Without Destroying Yourself

Forget about luck.
Forget about talent.
Forget about creativity.
Forget about intelligence.

Discipline is all that counts.

Discipline is the great differentiator.
Discipline is the unsung hero of success.
Discipline is the bridge between ambition and achievement.

But.

Discipline doesn’t mean disrespecting yourself.
Discipline doesn’t mean adding more stress to your day.
Discipline doesn’t mean over-regimenting every minute of your life.

The secret is disciplining yourself without destroying yourself.

Here’s how:
1. Get the faucet flowing. Here’s how I start every day of my life: Wake up early. Shower. Clock in. Sit down at my computer. Open a blank document. Puke out three-pages of stream of consciousness free writing. Recite my incantation. Get to work.

That’s how I get the creative faucets flowing. That’s how I fuel my discipline. And the advantage to writing morning pages is, according to Artist’s Way pioneer, Julia Cameron:

“It’s a time out. A ritual of reflection. A morning meditation. Your first check-in of the day. And your gripe session for working out grudges.”

Your challenge is to create a similar ritual to help get the faucet flowing. What you’ll discover is that discipline significantly easier if you have a trigger to activate the process. What’s yours?

2. Start small. Discipline is a gradual process. You can’t jump into the deep end on day one. Otherwise your lungs will fill with water before you learn how to swim.

My suggestion is to tackle small challenges that are close your limit – but not past. This stretches your capacity and rewards you with small victories to bolster your confidence.

For example, when I wrote my first book in 2001, I disciplined myself to write for fifteen minutes a day. That’s it. A mere 1/1000th of my day.

Nine years later, I now write between four and seven hours a day. Sometimes more. All because I started small and patiently grew it big. Are you willing to make gradual progress with your discipline?

3. Enter the cycle. If you want to discipline yourself to do something you’re not especially fond of – working out every morning, for example – consider this cycle.

First you hate it, mainly because you suck at. But then you start doing it for while. Which means you get better at it. And then you like it more. Which means you want to do it more. And then you do start to do it more. Then you get better at it. Then you like it more.

And then the cycle repeats itself. Forever.

The best part is, your discipline grows stronger with every revolution. What are you willing to wait to get good at?

4. Trust the process. Whatever you’re currently disciplining yourself to do, there comes a point where you have to affirm:

“Look, I might not like doing this right now. But I have great faith. I honor and trust the process. And I know it’s going to pay dividends. And sure, I might not know what those dividends are yet. Or when they’re going to surface. But when they do, I’ll know that the wait was well worth it.”

It’s a kind of like giving birth: “You can’t fight the contractions – you just have to trust the process.”

At least, that’s what I’m assuming. I’ve never actually given birth. Although I did used to work at Applebee’s, where I was once forced to clean up the remains of a customer whose water broke at the table. Swear to God.

Anyway, when you do this, you allow your primal self to do what it needs to do and lead you in the right direction. Learn to surrender to the process. Let it have its way with you. Are you willing to let process take over?

5. Lower the threat level. Discipline breeds discipline. Just ask any high school basketball coach: Students who play on a team tend to achieve higher academic scores than those who don’t. Why? Because their discipline multiplies.

For example, practicing free throws in the afternoon makes it easier to practice calculus equations later that evening. After all, their minds are already conditioned for consistency – all they have to do is change gears.

I’m not suggesting you pick up basketball as a means to accomplishing your professional goals. Instead, consider disciplining yourself elsewhere first – preferably in a smaller, less threatening venues where the consistency and stick-to-itiveness requirements are lower – you make it easier for yourself to win.

It’s kind of a side door approach, but it works. Personally, I used my nametag to lower the threat level. I first began disciplining myself to wear it every day ten years ago. Over time, it helped paved the way for more difficult daily disciplines like writing, meditation and exercise.

But only because I started small first. What awaits you in the refining fire of discipline?

6. Dare to be a beginner. “Never too late, never too old, never too bad and never too sick to do this yoga and start from scratch again.” That’s the mantra of yoga legend, Bikram Choudhury.

Interestingly, the word “discipline” comes from the Latin discipulus, which means, “student.” This suggests a few things.

First: Declare your incompetence. Admit what you know you don’t know.

Second: Learn to love mistakes. After all, a mistake ceases to become a mistake the moment you learn from it.

Third: Try not to be too hard on yourself. Let go of the self-criticisms that make discipline a big bite to swallow.

Fourth: Be patient. Every great chess player was once a beginner.

Remember: If the road to victory were smooth, everyone would already be there. Are you prepared to zero out your board?

7. Ritualize your process. First of all, turning something into ritual prevents you from saying, “Why the hell am I doing this?” Secondly, whether you say a prayer, light some candles or lock yourself in your Trans-Am and blast Whitesnake at full volume, rituals excite you about the discipline process. They create a sacred space for you to think about what you’re about to do.

Thirdly, although rituals only last for a few seconds – or a few minutes – the simple act of ritualizing your process turns into a discipline victory itself.

Finally, rituals, when practiced regularly over time, become the invoking force. Even if you don’t look forward to the act itself – you always look forward to the ritual. How do you ritualize your discipline?

8. Evolve behaviors into non-negotiatiables. The best way to discipline yourself to do something is to make it a non-negotiable. A non-thought. Here’s how the timeline goes:

First you never do it.
Then you sometimes do it.
Then it starts to become a habit.
Then it becomes something you’re disciplined to.
And eventually, after months (sometimes years!) of work, it morphs into a non-negotiable.

And that’s when you’re golden. That’s when you’re unstoppable. Because you no longer think about – it’s just something you do. And if you don’t, your whole day goes to hell.

That’s the point: To achieve self-sustaining momentum and make yourself positively addicted to do the process. How could you set yourself up so you never have to discipline yourself again?

9. Desire is irrelevant. Of course you don’t want to go to the gym. But you will anyway. Because you know your body will thank you tomorrow. And of course you don’t want to come in an hour earlier. But you will anyway. Because you know the people who matter will notice.

Easier said than done. Unfortunately, delayed gratification isn’t exactly your strong suit. Especially in a society that gives you everything you want in six seconds.

The challenge is making sure your lack of desire to do something is outweighed by the benefit of doing it. My suggestion: Use visual reinforcements to keep that ratio in check. Surround yourself with pictures, images and other reminders of the positive outcome of your discipline.

This will help inspire a vision of the future and, most likely, annoy your spouse to no end. Good. Maybe this will inspire him to drag his lazy carcass to gym too. Have you learned to love what’s good for you?

10. Make a public commitment. My friend Andy once said, “The best way finish your next book is to sell a thousand copies of it first.”

This paints you into an accountable corner. You wouldn’t want to let your readers down, would you? Second, by building a deadline into your schedule, you put healthy pressure on yourself to execute. You wouldn’t want to let yourself down, would you?

Finally, by illuminating the light at the end of the tunnel, you discipline yourself to work backwards. This prevents misallocation of energy. Ultimately, when you add these three attributes together – then multiply them with the coefficient of public declaration, you’ll have no choice by to discipline yourself.

Otherwise you risk pissing off the people who count – including you. To whom are you communicating your commitment?

11. Fuel your discipline with a firm why. People always have time for what’s important to them. Or, if they don’t have the time, they make the time.

As such, the best way to discipline yourself to do something is to take full ownership of – and visually remind yourself of – your reason for doing it. Otherwise your motivation drops off the face of the earth like Brian Dunkleman.

For example, on the wall above my desk is an email I received years ago from one of my readers:

“Dear Scott. My name is Rose. I’m seventy years old. And for the past few years, I’ve been having a very difficult time moving my bowels. Fortunately, since I started reading your blog each morning, I am now regular. Apparently, daily, hysterical laughter is exactly what I needed to get things going. Thanks!”

That’s right – I change lives. And I look at this letter every day. Because it reinforces why I do what I do: To help old ladies poop.

That’s your challenge: To firm up your why. Because when you do, it’s a million times easier to slog through something if you’ve convinced yourself that that something matters. Have you aligned energy with priority?

REMEMBER: Discipline doesn’t just make the man – it makes the man money.

Start today.

Even if you start small.
Even if you start slowly.
Even if you start scared.

You can still discipline yourself without destroying yourself.

LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What awaits you in the refining fire of discipline?

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* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The James Bond Guide to Making It Out Alive

Sean Connery was wrong.

“Shaken, not stirred,” he said to the bartender.

GUESS WHAT: Neither of those are good options.

Sure, they’re fine for martinis.

But not for life.

HERE’S WHY: When tragedy strikes, when heartbreak hits and when tough times settle in, stillness is the only place from which to take profitable action.

Not shaken. Not stirred.

Just still.

That’s how you respond to the crap the world hurls at you.

Whatever pain you’re currently experiencing, here’s a list of helpful practices to make sure you make it out alive:
1. Discard the dress of the past. Dwell not on the dreadful torments of what happened. The past is so last week. Stop trying to let go and start allowing yourself to recognize what’s already gone.

Comb the damage field and spot the usefulness of what happened – then move on. Even if that means capsizing your own ship.

You’ll find that doing so isn’t so scary when you’re ready, willing, able and excited to swim. What is your past prologue to?

2. Give yourself permission to feel miserable. Instead of outrunning your truth, consider sitting closer to the things you’re trying to move away from. Like Oriah suggested in The Dance, “Whatever it is you don’t want to be with, confront that.”

Then, if you start to feel like crap, so be it. Let that river flow. It’s normal, healthy and cleansing. Plus, when you respond to your specific human needs of the moment, you end up feeling that much more alive. And then your pain becomes wisdom. “The greater the torment the sweeter the glory,” as Seneca remarked.

That’s the best part: The more it hurts, the more you hear; the more you hear, the more you learn; and the more you learn, the more exquisitely you’re shaped by experience.

But only if you cure your allergy to reality. What’s convenient for your ego is devastating to your existence. Make the right choice. Are you ready to dig a misery hole and jump in with both feet?

3. Maintain a diverse portfolio of happiness. That’s the advice of Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. “When you do so, nobody or no thing can knock you off course,” he says.

And he’s right: When you assume a baseline posture of abundance, bad situations don’t threaten you. Your challenge is to become more aware of your entire horizon. And know that just because “this sucks,” doesn’t mean, “life sucks.”

Like The Tao of Abundance taught me, “The world you see is a reflection of the condition of your mind.” What’s that world reflecting back to you?

4. Establish an expectation-free support structure. You never know how strong – or how weak – your support structure is until your world crumbles into a million bloody pieces. Your goal is to find:

The people that will provide proactive reassurance.
The people that will be whatever gets you through.
The people you don’t need permission to hate yourself in front of.

Not the seven hundred “friends” you have on Facebook. Those aren’t friends – those are friendlies. And not the thousands of “connections” you have on LinkedIn and Twitter. Those aren’t friends – those are fans. Colleagues. Connections.

I’m talking about your real friends:

The people who know who you really are.
The people who will gladly sit with you in companionable silence.
The people who will enthusiastically carry you to the other side of the wall.
The people who will reflect the best, highest version of who you are.
The people who, if you called them at two in the morning, would answer the phone with, “Are you okay?” and not, “Do you know how late it is?”

Those are your friends. Who has a lifetime pass with you?

5. Make frequent withdrawal requests. Speaking of your friends: Did you know that the people who love you want nothing more than the opportunity to show you how much they love you? Believe it. That’s why they signed up in the first place: To be a source of support.

Next time you find yourself in the throes of mental, physical or emotional affliction, don’t shrink from soliciting that support. Say to people:

“Look man, my life is kind of a shitstorm right now. And I’m gonna be fine, but what I really need is about two hours of your time to talk and vent and cry. What day is convenient for you this week?”

Remember: When you’re tossed and tattered by the fury of the tempest, don’t hesitate the call the Coast Guard. That’s why they’re there. Are you making enough withdrawals from your relationship bank accounts?

6. Approach life creatively, not reactively. Instead of suffocating under the burden of reaction, propel yourself into the heart of creation.

That’s the key to transitioning from victim to victory: It’s all about how you shape your energy. That not only determines if you’ll make it out alive, but also how alive you are when you rise up from underneath rubble.

Remember: There’s a key difference between reacting and responding: The first is a reflex – the second is a choice. Do you face problems or do problems face you?

7. Try not caring in small doses. There’s nothing more liberating saying, “Ah screw it!” – and not feeling guilty afterward. That’s the cool thing about reckless abandon, says Seth Godin: “There is always time to be sensible later.”

My suggestion: Practice a little selective apathy. It’s good for the soul. And I don’t mean blow your life savings at the casino or get pissed at the pub and drive home recklessly. Not caring only works when you do so in a way that doesn’t disrespect or hurt people. Including you.

Look: You’ve been through hell – you deserve this. Find safe places to not care. Just promise not to make it a habit. Are you willing to temporarily become selectively apathetic?

8. Dive into hard work willingly. When you’re downbeaten by the storms of fate, never underestimate the power of staying busy. Learn to disappear. Learn to lose yourself. And learn to let your ego fall away completely.

When you enter into the cocoon of concentration, you release your sense of self. And sometimes that’s the smartest thing you can do: Distract yourself from yourself.

Remember: When you stay insatiably proactive in occupying your mind, body and spirit with activities you enjoy, misery has no choice but to stand in line and wait. Could your schedule be busier this week?

9. Keep pulling your triggers for joy. During my last bout with misery, I took Dave Barry’s advice: “Never stop laughing.”

You might try the same: Keep your funny bone engaged. Humor is, by far, the highest achievement of human eloquence. It’s also your best friend for making it out alive.

Because while hardship forces you in with tears – humor busts you out with happiness. Remember: If you constantly nourish the needs of your soul, nobody can touch you. How many tokens of beauty and joy are present in your life?

10. Allow people to speak into your life. You’ve already learned about support systems and withdrawals. The final component to the interpersonal side of misery management is receiving the voice of others.

Not just their words. Not just their ideas. Their voice. That’s the difference between allowing people to talk about your life and allowing them to speak into your life: One uses vocals, the other uses voice. Remember that distinction.

And one more thing: Whomever you let speak into your life, be sure they’re right people. Otherwise you trap yourself on the endless, sweaty treadmill of being what the wrong people want you to be. And that’s always a crappy workout. Whose voice is speaking into your life?

11. Displace the impact. In a recent blog post, Seth Godin wrote, “In a long distance race, everyone gets tired. The winner is the runner who figures out where to put the tired, figures out how to store it away until after the race is over. Sure, he's tired. Everyone is. That's not the point. The point is to run.”

That’s the hallmark of heroic misery management: Displacing the impact. Like the martial arts master who practices how to somersault over the concrete, your challenge is to find somewhere else, some other use, for the heartsickness you feel.

Personally, I use my misery to inform my work. As a writer, I don’t just put pen to paper – I put pain to paper. I write the tired out of me. And as a result, my books aren’t printed with ink – they’re printed with blood. Which makes for a hell of an interesting read.

Remember: Creativity is the indispensible instrument for enduring poverty. How will you displace the impact of your pain?

REMEMBER: Not shaken. Not stirred. Just still.

That’s how you make it out alive.

James Bond was an rookie.

LET ME ASK YA THIS…
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* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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