Your first day

wrestling meet2I called home from a business trip to check in with my kids. It was the day my son had intra-squad matches, wrestle-offs, to determine who would claim the varsity positions on his team. The conversation went like this:

Me: How’d it go?

Favorite son: Mom, you missed it. Today was the first day of my undefeated season.

Not only did I love the clever way my son had told me he had secured his varsity spot, but I REALLY loved his attitude. He wasn’t being cocky or arrogant; he was telling me that he had marked the first day of working toward his goal–and his first success in that measure.

If we don’t go in expecting to win, our chances of actually doing it plummet. We don’t often win by accident. We win when we identify a goal and work hard to get there.

Will he have an undefeated season? I can’t tell you that, but I do know this. If he loses a match, the next win that follows will be the start of his undefeated rest of the season.

Today’s your first day. Believe it.

Actions speak louder

megaphoneSeveral years ago when I separated from my husband, I bought three CDs. Unlike the Veggie Tales and Anne Kaffeekanne discs with which I usually stocked my car, these were for me. It shouldn’t have been a big deal; I just wanted to surround myself with something that made me happy.

I listened to those CDs a lot in the car, both when I was alone and when my kids were with me. I didn’t think much about it until one day one of them asked, “Mom, why didn’t you like music until after Dad left?”

That question stopped me short. I had always liked music. Why did they think I hadn’t? I realized then that everything I had played in the car up until that time had either been their choice or their dad’s choice. I had just gone along with it.

I learned an important lesson that day about non-verbal communication. As much as I focus on it at work and in others, it doesn’t stop at five o’clock or in the presence of my family. I am–we all are–on all the time. Words do matter, but actions speak volumes.

Now that I’ve been reminded, what do I need to change?

Persistence vs. perseverance

perseverance2“Mom, isn’t there some rule of salesperson etiquette that says when a customer tells you ‘no’ three times, you stop trying to sell him something?”

My son asked me that question last night as we left a store. We had just purchased a mirror for his room, and the sales clerk wanted to partially bag it to offer some protection from the freezing rain outside. She asked us every way possible, and we politely declined each time. We finally capitulated when we realized that the scene would go on forever otherwise. That woman just wouldn’t quit.

One the surface, I totally agree with my son. She kept pushing; we kept saying no. She eventually got her way, but we left feeling mildly annoyed. Annoying your customers doesn’t seem like an effective long-term sales practice. Somewhere there’s a line a salesperson just doesn’t cross–and it’s called respect.

On the other hand, the world is filled with stories of people who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, people whose perseverance eventually earned them wild success.

So what’s the right path?

Actually, I don’t think the answer is that complicated; I think an effective salesperson (and we’re all selling something, right?) does both. When a customer says no, particularly when he says it repeatedly, a salesperson has to honor that. Continuing to push is not only inappropriate, it’s also disrespectful. And it’s lazy.

That’s where the two strategies converge. Instead of pushing, pushing, pushing, a salesperson should back off and reevaluate. Something about his pitch isn’t working. When it becomes clear that it doesn’t appeal to the customer, the salesperson should look at the issue from the customer’s view and make sure he’s speaking the customer’s language–and in ways that are meaningful to the customer. The salesperson needs to find a new strategy, and that takes work.

The key is that we’re trying to capture the customer, not the sale. When we look at it that way, we should be willing to take a few NOs in the short term to get to the bigger YES in the long term. It’s the difference between being persistent and being perseverant.

Excuses, excuses

Estel-Rumsfield03One of the most useful quotes I’ve ever heard went over like a lead balloon when it was originally articulated:

You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to
have at a later time. –Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense, December 2004

Although it may have been an ill-advised retort to the question presented (google it if you don’t remember), I have often used those words to guide my actions at work, at home, everywhere.

It came to mind again after I spent a couple of days in planning meetings. As we attempted to converge on the projects that would take precedence in the coming year, I noticed that much of the ensuing conversation centered on why we couldn’t accomplish those things today. Well, we could if we had this… or We won’t be able to do that until… There was always something we didn’t have that seemed to hamper our progress.

That’s when I thought of Rumsfeld.

All of the goals we had identified were important. The outcomes were necessary to our success. Were we really willing to forgo that success for a tool? In my (not-so-humble) opinion, there should have been two facets to the discussion. First, what do we need to accomplish and how do we get there with today’s “army.” Second, what tools could we buy, develop, or implement to make accomplishing our mission easier OR sustain it when we get there, i.e. how could we beef up our army along the way?

Too often we want to use what we DON’T have as an excuse. Instead, we should evaluate what we DO have and how we can use it to accomplish our goals. Sure, we can add tools as we go, but we need to start TODAY. If we wait until we have all our ducks in a row, technology or circumstances will change and we’ll have to find new ducks. Of one thing I’m absolutely certain: if we don’t start, we’ll never get anything done.

Forget the excuses; go to war.

Have it your way

burger kingYesterday must have been one of those days. I don’t know what got into me, but I took it upon myself to provide Burger King some feedback at the corporate level.

I was trying to be nutritionally responsible and plan my lunch, so I looked up the stats on the salad I wanted. Unfortunately, BK had listed the composite totals for the salad, with no breakout for each ingredient. Since I always leave off the blue cheese and only use half the dressing–both of which have a significant impact on the nutritional values of the salad–it was important to me to know how those broke down. Other fast food sites do this, so I knew it wasn’t a far-out idea.

Feeling like Holly Helpful, I decided to pass my suggestion along to BK. After all, their “Have it your way” motto has been stuck in my head for years; I was sure this would make sense to them. Besides that, their competition was doing it. I massaged all of this into the maximum 500-word limit and submitted it via BK’s online contact form. I had done my good deed for the day, end of story. Or so I thought.

A few hours later, an email from BK guest relations dropped into my inbox. A bit surprised but pleased they had responded, I opened the message. It read:

Dear Tammy Davis,

Thank you for taking the time to contact BURGER KING restaurants Guest
Relations with your inquiry.

All of our nutritional and allergen information can be found at the website below:

http://www.bk.com/en/us/menu-nutrition/index.html

We value your patronage and look forward to serving you in the near
future.

Sincerely,
BURGER KING restaurants Guest Relations

What a bummer. Clearly they hadn’t really read my message. I told them I had reviewed exactly the site they referenced and had found it lacking. Pointing me back to it only told me they didn’t get it. Instead, I wish they had responded with, Thanks for your suggestion. We’ll look into whether it makes sense for us at this time. In fact, NO response would have been better in this case.

These days marketers talk about customer interaction, responsiveness, and online conversations. What we often forget, however, is that interaction is not enough in itself; it must be meaningful interaction to be valuable. Don’t just send me an answer. Send me an answer that makes sense and addresses my question–or don’t send one at all.

Breaking news

newspaperI’m a diehard newspaper-in-print subscriber. Every morning in the wee hours, my dauntless delivery person deposits all the news that’s fit to print in my paper box. The paper waits for me there, sometimes hours, sometimes days, until I retrieve it.

A lazy Sunday and a mail holiday on Monday kept me in the warm confines of my house, so three newspapers waited for me when I finally made the trek to the box on Tuesday. I laid the papers on the counter without a second glance, and a few hours later I moved them all, still folded and unread, to the recycling bin.

That wasn’t the first time.

In fact, this has pretty much been my normal routine for the past several years. Occasionally, when there’s a big to-do in my community, I’ll scour the pages for information, but generally, I’ve already gotten my fill online by the time I get around to looking at my paper. And frankly, I don’t sit around a lot looking for an activity to accompany my cup of coffee. Nonetheless, I just can’t bring myself to cancel my subscription.

I’m a boon for someone doing a marketing case study on purchase motivation (or for a shrink). Someone trying to sell me a subscription might tout the affordable price, the portability of the medium, the convenience of delivery, the ability to find and review local events in one place, and even its multifunctionality when I need, say, wrapping paper. I could offer arguments for and against all of these, but none of these reasons hits the mark on why I maintain my newspaper subscription.

After a lot of self-reflection, I came to this: having a newspaper delivered to my house makes me feel like a grown-up. Seriously. It’s part of the archetype of the American dream–a house in suburbia, a couple of kids, lots of creature comforts, and padding to the mailbox in your robe and slippers to get your newspaper, perhaps chatting with the neighbor who’s doing it, too.

Even though I’ve never made it to my mailbox in my robe–though sweats and a tank top aren’t out of the question on a quiet Sunday morning–nor have I chatted with a neighbor, my newspaper still conjures up these feelings. I buy it because it’s a symbol.

It makes no financial sense for me to continue to transfer my daily paper from my mailbox to my recycling bin without opening it, but I probably will. Although I’ve exposed my own illogic, I don’t think I’m that different from most people. Everyone has a newspaper, something he buys for illogical reasons. We can’t forget that when we’re trying to sell a product, market a service, attract people to a venue, or just make a convincing argument. Sometimes the things that motivate people aren’t the things that make sense. Instead of ignoring those things, why not appeal to them? Think about it.

I have a dream

mlk memorialToday is the day my country celebrates the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people don’t agree with the public holiday. They say others have done work just as important. They cite shortcomings in his personal life. They say the government just wants to take another day off. Pick an argument; someone has made it.

Forget all that. Please.

I challenge you to look past the man and look at the work he did. Consider what he stood for, and that he wasn’t afraid to stand up for it. No one–NO ONE–should be judged by superficial attributes. We have to look at the things that really matter:

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.–MLK, 28 Aug 1963 (emphasis added)

I don’t know about you, but that’s what I want for my kids. I’d kind of like it for myself, too.

In my high school history classes, the school year was almost over by the time we got to the 1960s. Anything after WWII got crammed into the few remaining weeks when no one could see anything but summer vacation anyway. It wasn’t until later in my life that I even read much about the Civil Rights Movement (sad that we had to have a movement to promote equal treatment), let alone the text of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech.

It is truly profound.

Many people know the most famous bits, the parts that start with “I have a dream that…” Equally as impactful are sentiments like these:

–When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

–This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

–In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

–We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

–We cannot walk alone.

If you’ve never read the entire text, today is the perfect day to do it. Even if you know it by heart, today is a great day to revisit it. And then live it.

We’re all in this together.

Culture clash

tammy at brownI’ve always possessed a healthy dose of wanderlust, so tackling a study abroad program in college seemed like a natural fit for me. I filled out the application, Dad wrote the check, and a couple of terrific professors provided recommendations for me. When I received the program’s acceptance letter, I was off and running.

Having completed a summer abroad program during high school, as well as having hosted an exchange student in our home for a year, I had this nailed. I knew the drill and figured that a mature, intelligent, worldly, 19-year-old college student like me (cue wry humor) had nothing left to learn; just give me the plane ticket.

The university insisted on a rigorous orientation to the program. Sessions were mandatory, including one that took place all day on a Saturday–a SATURDAY–starting early in the morning. Although that’s akin to collegiate sacrilege, I knew the school had the upper hand and dragged myself over to Wilson Hall to dive in.

One exercise still sticks with me today, twenty-some years later. The specific details are a bit fuzzy, but here’s generally how it went:

The class was divided into groups of four or five. Each group was given a description of attributes specific to our simulated culture. One group might have received something like: Everyone always smiles. No is not an acceptable answer, so answer every question with yes regardless of your intent. Don’t ever shake hands. Another group may have received: Direct eye contact is offensive. Never speak unless directly addressed. Smiling implies a kind of intimacy, so avoid it. Still another group may have been told: It is customary to shake hands with your left hand. Be as direct as possible when asking questions, but do not reveal any personal information about yourself. There was some goofy stuff, too, just to keep us all on our toes.

For the next hour, we had to mingle around the room and get to know our peers. We couldn’t tell anyone what was on our lists; we simply had to demonstrate those qualities. At the end of the time, we regrouped and tried to list the attributes of each group.

I loved this exercise. It emphasized that even when someone speaks your language (or you speak his), you can still get really off track. You can offend, misunderstand, or be misunderstood. So much of our “real” communication takes place outside of our words. Cultural constructs affect not only our own behavior, but the way we perceive others’ behavior. We approach things differently and we make different assumptions. We always have to be alert to the non-verbal cues of others.

This really hit home with me because I was headed to a very Westernized country. People looked the same, dressed the same, and even enjoyed the same economic standards as my fellow Americans. It would have been easy to assume that except for the language, we were all one big happy family. Thankfully I learned my lesson early, and though I sometimes had to re-learn it, it helped me navigate many situations with less arrogant bumbling.

Even if you’re not a world traveler, the lesson remains the same. Forget nationality; look around at your peers. Family cultures, educational backgrounds, and economic situations differ for everyone. We’re all the product of our collective experiences, and that collection is different from person to person. We can’t assume that everyone sees things the way we do. And actually, I’m glad about that. It is exactly that diversity that enriches our lives. We just have to recognize it first.

Carpe diem

DSC_5635Some scary stuff has been happening in my town. Someone has been lying in wait at apartment complexes and attacking residents as they come and go. As part of its reporting on the story, a local news program decided to include a segment on self-defense, including a demonstration of technique. Out of the blue, my brother got a call to lead that demonstration.

My brother is an expert in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. He operates a dojo in his hometown, where he offers instruction, hosts seminars, and provides a gathering place for fellow students of the art. He’s still trying to get some traction for his business, as it’s not yet widely recognized in the area. He was thrilled to get the call from the TV station, but he was also pretty surprised.

The filming went off without a hitch, and the segment looked great. (Watch it HERE. Tell me he’s not awesome!)

During the course of the filming, curiosity got the better of my brother. Before the crew left, he asked the reporter why she had selected him over anyone else. Her answer offered an immediate object lesson:

You were the first person to call me back.

No one will argue that hard work and a good product are essential to success. Others would extol the necessity of good marketing, the right price point, and brand building. And I agree wholeheartedly. What I learned in that TV reporter’s answer, however, was the importance of seizing the moment. I have to be ready to jump on opportunity–which means I must also be alert and watchful for any potential.

My brother’s business wouldn’t have suffered if someone else had returned that call first. He would have kept doing what he’s doing, working hard to bring students into his dojo and share his passion. In fact, he’ll keep doing that anyway. Since he did call back, though, he’s certainly better for it. A few more people know about him, he has a terrific video segment to boost his credibility, and his confidence got a shot in the arm.

When opportunity knocks, make sure you’re listening–and then open the door.

Note: Visit YourLivingArts.com to learn more about my brother’s dojo. Please excuse my shameless promotion; I’m a proud sis.

Inspiring minds

cavemanIt’s funny how things work sometimes. There I was, feeling so guilty about my lack of productivity that I blogged about it, and then I immediately found inspiration.

Actually, it found me.

I received an email notice that a blog I follow, Cuaderno Inedito, featured a new post. So late last night, when I was supposed to be writing an article (evidence of my procrastination), I navigated to the site and started to read. Somehow, Julie Schwietert Collazo had written directly to me–and I don’t even know her!

She posted How to be motivated and productive when you’re just not feeling it within hours of my own post about motivational struggles. Her practical advice and impeccable timing left me feeling refreshed and hopeful. I now have a game plan.

More importantly, I realized that perhaps I’ve been trying too hard. Instead of trying to go the distance on every play, it doesn’t hurt to back off and take baby steps. After all, baby steps still move me forward, while all-or-nothing often leaves me with, well, nothing.

I had espoused the Jack London approach: You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. Little did I know that when I put down the club, inspiration would drop into my inbox.