Build A Foundation (Ideas) And Show Strength (Hustle)

Hated packed lunches with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I was a kid. Got twenty-five cents for milk money, which I used to buy candy at a local grocery on the way to school every morning. I then sold the candy to my classmates and made enough profit to buy lunch at the cafeteria. This was my first real hustle.

Now, I am much more driven by an idea – something that solves a problem. In my mind, generating new ideas is the number one priority of a business (at least one that I am part of). Meeting customer and investor expectations and battling with competitors are also priorities. (And this is where hustling creeps in.)

Ideas and the Hustle
Ideas and the Hustle

Hustling is a popular topic in the media these days.[i] The skill of ‘hustling’ has its place; you want to have hustlers on your team. Some pros of hustling include: gaining consensus faster, removing the dogma of too many rules, and building on  momentum. There are problems when everyone just ‘goes with the flow’, however. Deep, meaningful thinking and reflection is ignored. Because there is a race to completion, proper discovery does not occur. I prefer having a team of thinkers (idea actualizers), than a team of hustlers.

Delivering on an idea and hustling often accompany each other. Ideas are rooted in rational thinking, while hustling is often managing perceptions and finding ways to gain an edge. To give a hustler due credit, getting leverage involves clever maneuvering.

  • Microsoft’s idea is an operating system – create a layer between hardware and software. The hustle is locking partners in contracts. It extinguished all competition for Microsoft. It also set a battlefield for hardware manufacturers.
  • Apple’s idea is to build one of a kind, smart products: IMac, Ipod, Ipad, Iphone, etc. The hustle is product linking. For example, with their new watch, you must also have an IPhone. (Similar linkage with ITunes and the IPod.)
  • Google’s idea is a search algorithm superior to all others. The hustle is capturing an audience with a free service, then selling access to it with targeted campaigns. AdWords is paid advertising to the right and at the top of searches; albeit also a good idea, it put companies in fierce competition to get on the first page of a SERP (“search engine results page”). It is now a huge revenue generator.

Some interesting conclusions regarding an idea and the hustle.

  • Actualizing an idea comes first. You need something to hustle. Google made headway with AdWords around three years after the search engine was first released.
  • An idea is what a leader and company talk about. The hustle occurs behind the scenes and only becomes public when needed – attracting investors.  Bill Gates talked about how great Windows was, not about putting PC makers on their knees.
  • Ideas get richer and deeper. Tangential ideas circulate. A hustle has an expiration date.
  • Ideas are based on rational thinking. Hustles are often based on perceptions. A smart hustle is to get someone with clout to endorse a product or service, regardless of the depth and breadth behind it – nothing more than PR.
  • Ideas are about solving a problem. Hustles are about turning a profit.

[i] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-most-important-skill-learn-syllabus-albert-mba-pharmd-jd?trk=object-title

Original Image © Depositphoto/ oxygen64 #41916069

Actualizing An Idea

I am motivated by the flow of ideas and enjoy the whole process of actualizing them; starting with idea generation and conceptualization, then application development and project management, and finally marketing, selling and delivering on the idea. I love talking ideas. It is my belief that ideas are the cornerstone of any successful endeavor.

Idea Concept
Idea Concept

 

I  am fortunate to have read the book Make Your Idea Matter by Bernadette Jiwa; it resonates with me on many dimensions. As the title suggests, her main objective is to help us move an idea into something successful. I will share some of her insights and my reflections.

Ideas are formed in the mind but triumph in the heart… If you want people to act, you must make them feel.

You may come up with an idea in the shower, in the car, or as you go to bed. It starts as something tiny – a tweak to something that already exists. But if you become passionate about an idea and decide to actualize it, you connect to it on an emotional level – start feeling sensations in your heart and gut as you talk about it. As you convince others, you reach them personally. Following through on an idea is a soulful experience.

What makes a product, service, cause, or idea fly is the ability to understand its relevance to real people and to sell that.

An idea without a foundation never really impacts an audience. Like it or not, you have to answer a WIFM (“what’s in it for me”) for each and every person you are trying to reach. Otherwise you might get an applause for a great idea, but no one jumping on your bandwagon. For example, with a personal website concept, two WIFMs are: job seekers improve their chances of getting employed and personal branders have a platform to take ownership of an online identity – a requirement these days.

No matter what you’re pitching, selling, or talking about, talk to one person.

At every opportunity, you want others to listen and respond to your idea. Ideally, they become evangelists who spread the word. But perhaps they just share nuggets of advice. I like bouncing an idea during a random encounter or conversation; it is an opportunity to get honest, unadulterated comments.

Ideas that matter, spread.

This is why I think ideas are an integral part of a company strategy. If you have a great idea, then it sells itself. Sure, it can be difficult and costly to get early adoption (though using social media helps). An idea has the potential to go viral.

Some of my concluding thoughts on delivering on an idea:

  • A standout idea is a beacon. Everyone is attracted to it, friends and foes.
  • Protect an idea contractually. But also be ready for an emotional tax.
  • Someone has the ‘seed idea’, but as it gains momentum, get everyone to contribute.
  • Create a perpetual system of generating new ideas originating from an initial concept.
  • Recognize and reward each person who makes a contribution.
  • Feedback – good or bad – is always worthwhile.

What’s the Rush in Putting up a Personal Website?

One clear signal I get from students and professionals is that they want to build a personal website fast. So companies offering these services advertise how quickly you can have it up and running. Let’s say the average time is to have one up in five minutes. My issue with convenience and haste is the cost it might have on your reputation. A personal website significantly impacts your online personal brand (aura and identity in particular), so I advise getting everything right before publishing it. However, I acknowledge most professionals do not want to waste any time.

According to a survey I conducted in early 2014, seventy-one percent of Millennials are ‘not sure a personal website is worth the expense’ (time and money).[i] Considering there are many free services out there, time becomes the big factor.

My business education is tugging at me saying you must meet your customer needs, and my IT designer experience- Steve Jobs inspired – is tugging at me saying you can tell the customer what they need. Believe me, I know you must have a solid relationship with your customer base and listen to their requests.

Developing Strategies
Developing Strategies

Nevertheless, I think the best way to think about building a personal website is to consider when taking shortcuts are appropriate. Here are some of the ways companies speed up the process in starting a personal website:

Importing information from a LinkedIn profile. This feature is necessary because it not only saves time, but also reduces errors. As you retype information in a website interface, there is a natural tendency for typos.

Use of stock images for style and layout. It is easy to retrieve stock images (where you pay to use an image someone else created without any direct input from you). This is fast and easy. However, using images you or a you-guided photographer creates is more meaningful. Perhaps use stock images to get your website up, but get your own images in the long-run.

Uploading content. A big component of a personal website is getting your content on the server; this includes photo galleries, documents, presentations, videos, etc. It is helpful if the uploading process is quick and painless. A great feature is to directly link to online storage drives such as DropBox, Google Drive, or Microsoft One Drive.

Using AI to generate style and aesthetics for you. One company has developed AI that automatically generates the style and layout of your website for you – no templates. Albeit an interesting concept, this has dangerous implications. Should you rely on AI to tell your story for you? Should you rely on AI to peg your personal brand? Perhaps this is an added convenience customers want, but personally, I would rather decide how to represent myself and not depend on an algorithm. I compare it to a representation in the physical world – dressing up everyday. Do you want a computer telling you what to wear? (Perhaps?!!)

Integrated with social media. Much of your online presence already exists on your social media accounts, so you want widgets that display related content. Bringing in social media feeds quickly adds substance to your personal website.

To conclude, think about a company building its website. Does it want to put something up as fast as it can? Is it not concerned how every graphic and wording is crafted as a portrayal of the company brand? To some extent, a professional should have similar expectations and care with his or her website. A personal website is the cornerstone of an effective online personal brand.

[i] Ryan Frischmann. Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura, and Identity. (July 2014).

Original Image © Depositphoto/  fotoskat #2990674 and  bevangoldswain  #14778925

Adopting a ‘Company Culture’

As the idea of a “company culture” evolves, we are starting to define it based on the behaviors of workers. Previously, trendy companies came up with catchy mission statements that were meant to capture the meaning of their existence. Just ask a baby boomer. They will tell you “company culture” is something puppet-mastered by the CEO of the company and most of the workers don’t buy into it. But now, “company culture” connotes something deeper. It is a reflection of the purpose, values, behaviors, and strategies of an entire organization.

In The Culture Engine, S. Chris Edmonds suggests that leadership creates a standing constitution defining each of these elements in relation to the company’s trajectory. Everyone is expected to follow it as the law of the company.[i] And this is only the beginning, in the near future, we dig much, much deeper. Everything we do will be measured. As we work, our micro-behaviors – eye movements, twitches, etc. – are monitored by productivity technologies (some of which already exist).[ii] Leaders will have access to our inner-most emotions. Personally, I think these futuristic applications are excessive (but then again, perhaps I am like a baby-boomer making sense of where we are now).

Constitution
(The graphic is meant to illustrate concepts in the blog. Though it represents my values, it does not necessarily represent the values of TheProfessionalWebsite.)

I created a constitution according to Edmonds’ suggested approach. I found it to be worthwhile. There are some generalities. For example, I bet most companies value teamwork and describe some similar behavior expectations. Another example, all technology companies value innovativeness. But it really comes down to defining the behaviors; this involves addressing subtleties and working through the fine-print definitions with an inner circle. Once the constitution is ready, the benefit comes in getting an entire company living and breathing every word of it. Throughout the book, Edmonds provides ample evidence adopting a company culture pays off. Here is one stat:

His clients have experienced a ’35-40 percent engagement gains in 12 to 18 months’ (page 30). (Higher engagement increases creativity and productivity.)

Gregg Lederman is an expert on organizational branding. Love the story about how he rebranded an iconic ice cream parlor in Rochester. Buckman’s was seemingly on its last legs when Gregg and his partner took it over. They decided to take control of their customers’ experience: “Think summer, baseball, dirt, grass, ice cream!” Their plan involved breaking things down into behaviors and expectations (similar to a constitution):

We made the company mindset meaningful to employees by translating it into fifteen nonnegotiable behaviors that every employee could and should do.[iii]

Altogether, getting a company to adopt a culture based on behaviors and expectations is a strong step forward. It is something most companies did not think of twenty years ago. You cannot control your workers’ attitudes and perceptions, but you can control how they behave (point made by Edmonds). Moreover, new technologies are making all of these desired workers’ behaviors measurable and accessible to management. For example, every sales pitch a person makes can be caught on video, phone records, and online communications and then be dissected by someone in management. In the future, it will be interesting to see how “micro-analysis” of behaviors impacts the relationship between workers and their leaders. No one likes to be micro-managed, yet it is worth getting a company culture right. Edmonds makes clear that once the constitution is ratified, those who do not follow it should be asked to leave the company!

My tidbit… Regarding company culture, everyone should have similar internal and external behaviors. In other words, practice what you preach to customers. Workers should use the services your company offers and practice the underlying methodologies.

[i] S. Chris Edmonds. The Culture Engine. (Wiley, 2014).

[ii] http://www.wsj.com/articles/in-people-analytics-youre-not-a-human-youre-a-data-point-1424133771

[iii] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/best-practices-drive-results-gregg-lederman

Fishing An Idea

Conversations revolve around talking either ideas or perceptions. I think most people are comfortable picking one or the other and sticking to it. When does chasing an idea conflict with winning consensus?

Fishing An Idea
Fishing An Idea

An idea is a statement that begs to be rationalized. It is often a solution to a problem. For example, in 1980s, Steve Jobs had the idea: “Every person should have access to a personal computer.” You challenge this idea/hypothesis by coming up with the needs of the average person and doing a market study. (This example comes to mind because I just watched Jobs the movie.)

Some people like to talk ideas. They have analytical minds. They revel in sharing perspectives, philosophizing on societal impact, and debating for the best argument. There is comfort in being confined to rules based on rationality. Arguments are challenged with logic, hypothesis testing, and statistics and probability.

A perception is a response that begs to be voted on. For example, last week there was sufficient discussion about the impact a CEO’s religious views would have on the company’s image. It is almost impossible to rationalize whether the former CEO should have been pressured to resign, so you weigh the public response.

Some people like to talk perceptions. They have sensory minds. They like to connect with others. The rules are to follow social graces. A winning argument is often subjective and one that builds consensus.

There is not necessarily a clear, overall benefit in choosing one preference over the other, though there are surely situational benefits. Personally, I think there should be clear segues when you move from talking ideas to perceptions and vice-versa. Moreover, you may want to converse with people based on their preference so they are in their comfort zone. This is what good leaders already do.

The popular Myers Briggs Personality test gives some validity to what I am trying to say.[i] There are four personality types, which ask the following questions:

  • Are you an introvert or extrovert?
  • How do you process information (sensory or intuition)?
  • What motivates you when you make a decision (thinking or feeling)? This has the strongest linkage to my discussion above. A thinking personality type looks to logic when making a decision. A feeling personality type looks to people and communication when making a decision.
  • Do you prefer organization and order or are you open to new information and options?

There was an interesting quote in the NY Times about Mozilla’s former CEO:

(he) is a very analytic person who got into a situation he did not have the social skills to navigate.[ii]

[i] http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/my-mbti-results/

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/technology/personality-and-change-inflamed-crisis-at-mozilla.html

A Leader’s Vision

To be successful a leader must develop a forward-looking vision, something he or she can communicate effectively to teams and partners that motivates them to participate in a future. (This is something Jon Mertz hammers on in his recent blog. He discusses why a leader needs aspirational vision).[i] I got to thinking of other aspects of a leader’s vision.

Leader's Vision
Leader’s Vision

Returns take time. Actualizing a vision often takes many, many years. It takes time to create a team, raise funds, build a service or product, and gain market traction. Do not be cavalier about a return on investment, yet understand your vision might take many years to manifest with rewards coming much later.

Stick to your guns. Standby the core principles of your vision. You might have to change course and adapt to other perspectives regarding some of them. However, conviction is a requirement in fending off competitors and naysayers. Personally, I enjoy being challenged; some of my best work comes when I respond to a challenge or capitalize on a missed opportunity by a competitor.

Buttress your vision. It takes additional time to obtain auxiliary support mechanisms like a patent or book, but it is worth the investment for two reasons. First, it establishes credibility. You may have critics who are smarter, more ambitious than you, so winning them over requires proof. Second, it provides some protection. People listening to your vision might think they can do better and try to.

Every idea and concept matters in communicating your vision. Let’s say you communicate your vision in 400 words. Obviously, every single word serves a purpose. Moreover, as you share your vision, teach it so your influencers can say it back to you verbatim. (Perhaps even make this a requirement with your inner circle.) If someone misses a single point of the vision, its value can be seriously diminished and reflect poorly on you.

Always voice your vision. In a presentation, convince your management team to back the core themes of your vision. In an email, motivate a project manager overseeing a team of core developers building your service. In an executive summary, compel investors to fund the implementation of your service. Having a vision is respectable and contagious so don’t be afraid in spreading the word.

Rally the troops behind the vision. Work to get consensus with your key influencers, so be willing to tweak or modify your initial vision based on their ideas. Be ready for squabbles. Ultimately, it is powerful having a team in synch with your vision where they speak, teach, and breathe it.

Details matter during implementation. Delivering on your vision is critical for success. Steve Jobs comes to mind. He sat in as programmers were developing his visionary products. Every little, minute feature makes a difference. Arguably, this might be the most important responsibility for a leader. Once you lose a first to market competitive advantage (if you have it), the implementation makes or breaks you.

[i] Jon Mertz. http://www.thindifference.com/2014/03/26/vision-incite/

Original Background Copyright DepositPhoto #34770691 tolokonov