"Bring us your problems"

We’re far more aware of our problems than our opportunities. Our problems nag at us, annoy us and paralyze us.

Every organization wrestles with its problems, and is eager to solve them.

When you generously invite people to bring you their problems, they might just do that.

Solving problems—actually solving them, not just claiming you do—solving perceived, urgent problems, is a surefire way to get the world to beat a path to your door. [HT to Adrian for the photo.]

       

Gradually and then suddenly

This is how companies die, how brands wither and, more cheefully in the other direction, how careers are made.

Gradually, because every day opportunities are missed, little bits of value are lost, customers become unentranced. We don’t notice so much, because hey, there’s a profit. Profit covers many sins. Of course, one day, once the foundation is rotted and the support is gone, so is the profit. Suddenly, apparently quite suddenly, it all falls apart.

It didn’t happen suddenly, you just noticed it suddenly.

The flipside works the same way. Trust is earned, value is delivered, concepts are learned. Day by day we improve and build an asset, but none of it seems to be paying off. Until one day, quite suddenly, we become the ten-year overnight success.

This is the way it works, but we too often make the mistake of focusing on the ‘suddenly’ part. The media writes about suddenly, we notice suddenly, we talk about suddenly.

That doesn’t mean that gradually isn’t important. In fact, it’s the only part you can actually do something about.

[HT to Hemingway  (and, as I just saw, my friend Steve) for the riff.]

       

How to draw an owl

The problem with most business and leadership advice is that it’s a little like this:

How to draw an owl

The two circles aren’t the point. Getting the two circles right is a good idea, but lots of people manage that part. No, the difficult part is learning to see what an owl looks like. Drawing an owl involves thousands of small decisions, each based on the answer to just one question, “what does the owl look like?” If you can’t see it (in your mind, not with your eyes), you can’t draw it.

There are hundreds of thousands of bullet points and rules of thumb about how to lead people, how to start and run a company, how to market, how to sell and how to do work that matters. Most of them involve drawing two circles. (HT to Stefano for the owl).

Before any of these step by step approaches work, it helps a lot to learn to see. When someone does this job well, what does it look like? When you’ve created a relationship that works, what does it feel like?

Incubator programs and coaching work their best not when they teach people which circles to draw, but when they engage in interactive learning after you’ve gone ahead and drawn your circle. The iterative process of drawing and erasing and drawing some more is how we learn to see the world.

       

Not a gift

Here are attributes many of us value in co-workers, bosses, employees, friends and vendors:

  • Honest
  • Punctual
  • Curious
  • Proactive
  • Flexible
  • Thoughtful
  • Generous
  • Fun
  • Committed
  • Respectful
  • Organized
  • Interested
  • Creative
  • Likable
  • Positive

you get the idea. These are things that turn someone from ordinary into a star. They are even attributes we now assign to our favorite brands, treating them like trusted or respected friends.

Someone who is likable, honest, curious and thoughtful is easy to think of as gifted. This natural charisma and care is worth seeking out in the people we choose to work with.

The thing is, it’s a copout to call these things gifts. You might be born with a headstart in one area or another, you might be raised in a culture or with parents that reinforce some of these things, but these are attitudes, and attitudes can be taught, and they can be learned.

The question, then, is do you care enough to take them on? It’s not fair to say, “I’m not respectful” or “I’m not creative.” It is honest and clear to say, “I choose not to be honest,” or “I don’t want to do the work to be organized.”

We can own these things. What a privilege. (HT Zig).

       

Is the new Kindle Zero the sign of things to come?

AmazonfreelogoIt was always going to happen, but most of us didn’t think it would happen so soon. Every Kindle has been cheaper than the one before it…

This afternoon, Amazon is going to announce the Kindle Zero, (screenshot) the first ebook reader that’s free (to Prime members, of which there are millions). If you want one, you should hurry, because free goes quick… (here’s a sneak preview of the prototype Zero)

The trend has been clear–electronic devices always get cheaper, and locking people into a platform has always been profitable. Hotmail, search engines… free is the driver of attention.

Beyond the surprise of leaping into the free reader, though, are the announcements from Random House and Wiley that 10% of their titles (the ones that used to be free) will now come with a cash incentive. (HT to Kevin for the original idea).

Read a book, get paid in cash. This is beyond free.

People have long treated reading books as a chore, as work, as something to do as little as possible. Now, for the first time, you can get paid for the drudgery of reading.

What this means is simple: you can now order 150 books and a new Kindle and get paid more than $3,000 just for accepting them and reading them when you can. Dense, difficult books like Russian tragedies and others earn you even more, up to $45. Per book. And of course, how-to books earn you hundreds of dollars each, but you do have to read them.

Of course there will be ads. Once it’s free, you’re not the customer any more, you’re the product.

As a pioneer in free ebooks more than ten years ago, I feel like I have to keep up, hence my announcement today that to go with the new Kindle Zero, the free edition of my new book comes with a new Buick LeSabre or a large fig newton, your choice. While supplies last, one per customer.

Curiosity was framed

Avoid it at your peril. The cat’s not even sick. (HT to C. J. Cherryh)

If you don’t know how it works, find out.

If you’re not sure if it will work, try it.
If it doesn’t make sense, play with it until it does.

If it’s not broken, break it.

If it might not be true, find out.

And most of all, if someone says it is none of your business, prove them wrong.

A figment

It seems like the only thing you can be a figment of is someone’s imagination.

Andy Warhol wanted the word FIGMENT etched on his tombstone. He understood that the only place he actually existed (and will exist forever) is in the imagination of other people.

No, the falling tree in the empty forest makes no noise, and your project or your brand doesn’t exist except as a figment in someone else’s imagination. The challenge, then, isn’t to worry so much about what’s happening in the real world, outside, but to work overtime to be sure you exist in the figment world, inside.

You don’t need proof. You need belief. (HT to Rick Hyman).