Opting out(side)

rei-optoutsideIt’s no secret that the mere thought of Black Friday sends shudders down my spine. It’s also no secret that I love good marketing–which, thronging hordes of turkey-belching people aside, is a big part of my aversion to this crazy day. (Read why HERE.) I stoically refuse to join the masses and stay home. Every. Single. Year.

Yesterday I came across an organized alternative to the shopping frenzy, and I rejoiced. In fact, I’m still rejoicing.

The surprising part is that the alternative comes from a retailer. Instead of discounting to the masses, REI has decided to close all 143 of its stores and encourage employees (and customers!) to go outside. If you aren’t impressed, remember that Black Friday is the biggest retail shopping day of the year.

Still not impressed? The company will pay its 12,000 employees anyway.

No revenue + paying employees = an expensive proposition.

That’s taking a stand for your brand.

And that’s why I love this idea so much. Who better to promote outdoorsy-ness than REI, a seller of outdoor gear and clothing, a company which professes that “for 76 years our passion has been to bring you great gear to get you out, too”?

Sure, giving up a (big) day of sales is a gamble for a retailer, but oh, how very authentic its brand just became for me. The company believes so much in its mission (“we are dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship”) that it intends to make the mission a reality–not just a sales gimmick.

And that’s the brilliant part of branding: walking the talk.

It’s what makes people seek you out. It’s what keep them coming back. It’s what builds your tribe.

When people believe what you say about yourself because they see you doing it, they trust you. With that trust, you start building loyalty. If you’re an individual, that’s how you make friends. If you’re a company, that’s how you grow your customer base.

Sure, REI is taking a risk with this move. It may prove too expensive for them to be able to ever do again, but I’m betting it will pay off in the long run. After all, when you focus on fulfilling the mission and not the sale, you usually end up succeeding at both. I really, truly believe that.

While I wait to see how it turns out, I’m joining the movement; I’m going to #OptOutside. Kudos, REI, for the on-point brand lesson.

Read the Forbes article about #OptOutside HERE.

Check out the REI Opt Outside website HERE.

Translation error

translation errorOh boy. I spend all this time talking (writing) about finding a common language, minimizing communications mishaps, and interacting with clarity and what do I do? I tumble into that very pit myself.

I was sitting at lunch when an acquaintance asked me how I would approach a particular situation. After casting about (in my head) for a plan, I chose the germ of an idea and held on for dear life. I ran with it, talking and talking around the thing until I had exhausted its possibilities.

When I finally shut up, I noticed my companion’s eyes had shuttered. I had missed the mark.

I hid my embarrassment as we moved the conversation to other things, but I didn’t stop turning over that misfire in my head. Where had I gone wrong? What should I have done differently?

As usual, clarity came almost instantaneously once we had parted–when it was much more difficult to “fix” it. Even so, here’s my epiphany:

We were speaking different languages. Instead of stopping and trying to make sure I understood what he was after, I plappered along based on my translation–not his. Duh.

He had used a term that can have broad interpretation, and not wanting to look dumb, I picked one narrow facet of it and worked from there. Unfortunately, that took me down the long and winding road to nowhere. I ended up looking like the inexperienced country cousin.

Instead, I should have stopped my blind dive and sought more information. I should have asked questions to clarify what he was after. I should have taken the time to ensure I understood his language. I should have looked before I leaped.

Who knows if I still would have come up with an answer that helped him, but at that point at least he could have evaluated its potential effectiveness rather than trying to figure out how it connected.

That’s a broad term. What does it mean to you? Do you mean X or Y? What do you hope to accomplish? Would have been some great starting points.

The moral of the story? Ask questions. Assumptions that haven’t been validated lead to conversations rife with translation error.

The extra mile

IMG_4773Okay, I screwed up. I missed the mark, so to speak, with yesterday’s post. As soon as I hit publish, I knew it didn’t feel right. Something was missing. It’s this:

A milestone, by definition, marks progress; it doesn’t make progress. The travelers do that. And the progress they mark completely depends on what’s left in front of them.

So that list I made yesterday? It’s hollow. It doesn’t say anything about the work it takes to get to each milestone. The individual conversations. The refueling after an argument. The rest stops for alone time. Switching drivers.

It also fails to take into account the type and distance of the journey. Some milestones might be a big deal along a short path, but they might not carry as much weight when there’s a long road ahead. Think about it. It’s usually not very exciting to know you’ve traveled five miles when you have 1000 left to go.

All this just makes the whole concept of earning intimacy more nebulous (see my Snowshoes post for that discussion), and I fear that my list may actually foster exactly that which I intended to guard against. It risks becoming a checklist, and just because you can tick off each event doesn’t mean you’re as far along the path to cozy connectedness as you think you are. It’s a feeling, not an accomplishment.

In truth, the milestones along the way are relative, contextual, and difficult to define. I can’t say specifically what counts as an indicator of relationship progress, but allow me to borrow the words of former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.

Which leaves me humbly knowing that I must appreciate each moment for itself, embrace natural connections, and hold myself back from forcing situations or pushing relationships beyond their natural progression.

Now I wonder whether the only way to compile a list of relationship milestones is in hindsight. Looking back, I can tell you what moments have been important in each of my relationships, but no two were the same–and sometimes neither were the broad categories. Things that mattered in one relationship had no meaning in another. The pacing was very different and never consistent. Most importantly, I didn’t always recognize them as they came.

So be careful with milestones. Don’t presume to know what is important to each relationship. You’ll know it when you see it–but sometimes you’ll be looking through your rear view mirror as you speed off to the next.

(And now, dear readers, I promise to move on to a new topic!)

Log jam

Photograph_of_Log_Jam_-_NARA_-_2129372Communicator though I am, I have my issues, too.

Sometimes when faced with a problem that seems beyond my reach, I’ll actually *gasp* ask for help. That’s great; after all, haven’t I espoused–right here in this blog–knowing your limits and reaching out to those whose strengths complement your weaknesses? The issue is that I often don’t wait for the help I’ve summoned. I dive in and work to figure it out myself.

Like the time I was faced with a tax issue that didn’t make sense to me. I asked a couple of accountants, but before they could get back to me, I worked it out myself.

Or the time I needed to redirect a URL to another domain. I put out a cry for help, but before I could sit down with my expert friend, I had it all worked out.

I could go on, but you see the pattern. These scenarios happen more often than I’d like to admit.

Here’s my problem. I think it’s fine to ask for help. I also think it is admirable to work things out for myself. Either one is a great way to solve a problem. Is it such a good idea to keep a foot in both camps, though? If I ask for help, I should probably give the person the opportunity to deliver. If I were in his place, I’d probably find that insulting–or at least annoying.

I’m not sure why the cry for help dislodges my logjam of thought and allows me to proceed on my own. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to look as if I don’t know something. Maybe it’s because it turns my issue into a competition to finish first. Maybe it’s just cathartic.

Whatever the case, I haven’t been able to solve this one yet. I know I’ll be better for it when I do.

Take the money

Antique_cash_registerA certain department store sends me coupons all the time in the mail–either 15, 20, or 30%. It’s rare that one isn’t lying on my counter. The trouble is, I rarely remember to take it with me when I shop. I’m such a spur-of-the-moment person that I often just pop in on my way to or from somewhere else.

The store has a pretty liberal policy about those things. Whenever I’m checking out, the cashier will ask if I have a coupon. Invariably, I’ll have to respond that I’ve left it at home. No problem, says the cashier. What was the discount on it?

Herein lies the dilemma.

Call it upbringing, but I always answer truthfully. I think it was 15%, I’ll say. Nonplussed, the cashier will gently prod me, Are you sure? After answering in the affirmative, I’ll belatedly realize that the cashier is giving me the opportunity to increase my savings, thinking I’ll correct myself and go for the 30% discount rather.

For some reason, I just can’t do it.

Besides the fact that it never occurs to me until the opportunity has passed, the knot in my chest that grows when I’m not completely truthful won’t let the words clear my voice box.

Often I think this is just another of my strange quirks, but sometimes I wonder if it’s more than that. I hate, hate, HATE to be on the receiving end of a lie, and let’s just say that my upbringing reinforced the value of not being on the giving end, too. I have a deeply ingrained habit of needing to believe the stories I tell are true. When they’re not, I can’t get the words out.

I know (and love) lots of people who would go for the big discount–and I don’t blame them. But if paying a little more is the result of a deep-seated behavior that serves me well in so many other areas, take my money. If I start turning it off, a day might come when I forget to turn it back on.

New clothes

new clothesAs I kid, I remember reading the story The Emperor’s New Clothes. If you don’t remember it–or even if you do–it’s worth clicking the link for a refresher. I always got a giggle from the tale as a kid, but lately I’ve been consumed by its wisdom.

Tricked by a couple of shrewd schemers, the vain emperor parades around naked, believing he is garbed in clothing so fine that only the wise and enlightened can see it. Afraid of being deemed stupid, his subjects shower him with cheers and compliments, and the farce continues.

That is, it continues until a child, uninhibited by pretext and social expectation, speaks the truth. The very plain, very apparent truth.

How often have I been in situations where people have been afraid to speak up for fear of looking stupid?

How often have I been one of those people?

It saddens me to think how much time has been squandered talking around an issue because everyone thought he was the only one who couldn’t see it. That feeling is unsettling; it erodes confidence and undermines productivity. Those things eat away at a person.

As I think about the people I respect the most, I realize they share a common trait. They have the eyes of a Hans Christian Andersen’s fabled child, who could only see things as his eyes showed them to him. They’re not afraid to call it like they see it, even if that strains against convention. They’re not afraid to ask questions to help them see something better. And they’re not afraid to speak up about it.

Be that child.

If you see someone running around naked, tell him it’s time to get new clothes.

Good stuff

Beef-jerkyI attended a conference yesterday and walked away with word jerky like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t know which of these nuggets to chew on first, so I’m going to share them all and see which ones make you bite. Chime in early; chime in often. Let’s get the most out of these.

And in no particular order… Drum roll please…

  • Trust changes everything. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Get comfortable with change and patience. (Tiffany Sauder)
  • Let go of the mentality that you have a secret sauce. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Truth and transparency can change an industry. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Putting your toes in the water isn’t good enough. You have to jump in all the way. (Brian Halligan)
  • Why do we let our competitors dictate how much money we make? (Marcus Sheridan)
  • If you have too much dead wood in your organization consider this: were they dead when you hired them or did you kill them? (Will Davis)
  • I love watching dumb businesses. It’s awesome! (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Marketing used to be about the size of your wallet. Now it’s about the size of your brain. (Brian Halligan)
  • Don’t irritate your way into someones wallet. Love your way there. (Brian Halligan)
  • Make sharing easy. (Nate Riggs)

I’ve got lots of ideas to develop for future posts, but for now I need to chew on this Sam’s Club-sized portion of word jerky. Talk it up, friends. Which one of these grabs you?

P.S. If you’re a Twitterer and you’re interested in some of the buzz around this conference–the topic was inbound marketing–check out #GoInboundMktg. There was a lot of energy in that room!

Dinner plans

IMG_0944Last weekend I cancelled a dinner party. Although I had been looking forward to it, various circumstances led me to make the decision to reschedule, one of the more important of which was the number of people who could attend. Looking at the guest list at the 11th hour, I decided it would be more conducive to what I wanted to accomplish to postpone the event until more people could come.

So with mixed feelings, I sent an email to my invitees. It landed in their inboxes with an apology for the inconvenience and a promise that the new event would be even better than the original I had planned.

As I moved to selecting new dates, my own inbox pinged. One of my invitees had responded, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with something like this:

How will you make it better? What did you have planned for the first one so I will know how to judge the second one? I’m going to hold you to that!

Even if he was being a smart alec, I thought it was great. I work with this guy, and questions like that underscore why I find him so effective. He digs in, asks the right questions, and holds people accountable. And he does it in a way that people respect–i.e., he’s not a jerk about it.

I know he meant that message as a joke, just to poke a bit of fun at me, but he’s right. I’m already reconsidering my menu and brainstorming some fun activities. He’s holding me accountable, and I plan to rise to the challenge.

Guiding light

guiding lightI don’t know whether it’s the pomp and circumstance of graduation season, some sort of viral illness, or just too much time alone, but I currently find myself in a heightened state of self-assessment. I’ve been trying to identify the principles that guide me, particularly at work.

After much thought, I finally came up with I list I think captures my core values. Though I really wish someone had given me this advice as I prepared for my career, I think they developed pretty naturally.

Drum roll, please…

  1. Project confidence.
  2. Give credit to others. Generously.
  3. Take responsibility.
  4. Admit mistakes.
  5. Make decisions.
  6. Look for the lesson in everything.
  7. Keep learning.

I may not execute all of them perfectly all the time, but I reach for them always. What’s on your list?

Word jerky

Beef-jerky

Word jerky: a phrase I made up to denote thoughts to chew on. I’m even toying with the idea of giving it its own blog space.

In the meantime, here’s a chewy morsel for your consideration.

Responsibility is power transformed by humility.

Reaction? Agree? Disagree? Thoughts? Sound off, please.