My Great Pumpkin Lesson

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I carved a pumpkin for the first time in my life Sunday.  Truly, I never had before.

My young son was feeling sad that he had not yet carved a pumpkin this year with Halloween being right around the corner and all.   He’d carved pumpkins with his mother before, but he wanted to carve one with me.

I was a little nervous about it.  I know that sounds silly.  My son said, “Daddy, it’s easy, you can do it.”

It is something many or perhaps most other people have done.  I never have.  No real reason I guess;  I grew up in the city and maybe that has played a part but I’m also not an artist and it sure looks like it would take one to make a pumpkin look any good.

“I’ll draw the face on the pumpkin for you, Daddy.”  He said.

I worried about the knives but he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take the little one and you can use the big one.”

I honestly (and please don’t laugh too loud) never thought to think what was in a pumpkin and how making it hollow or carving it out must be something that is hard to do.  “It’s full of squishy seeds and stuff and we need a bowl to put it in…” he said.  He was right; it wasn’t as solid I thought it would be.

We cut and scooped out the pumpkin.  “You do this section Daddy, you are stronger, scrape it all out.”

And then… Oh…what a face he drew!

I carved and sculpted and shaped the face.  “Careful not to push on the holes while you carve the other holes” he said.  Great advice.

I had so much fun.  I loved it.  It looks really cool and very scary.   “You did a great job Daddy.” He said.   I was all smiles.

Something about carving this pumpkin meant more to me than I expected.

I thought what a great teacher my son is.  He eased my fears and took control when he needed to.  He helped me through all the tough parts and even praised me.  But in the end gave me something so much more wonderful that I did not readily see it.

He was, in the carving of this pumpkin, being the teacher to me that I want to be, for him.

Later that day on the long ride back to his mother’s house, he put his hand in mine and said “Thanks for carving my pumpkin with me Daddy.”

No son, thank you.

Till next time,

Grow the Business.

Mark

Post originally published October 2010

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Hear Them Play

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Stereo

I didn’t  expect to break down.  Heck, I didn’t expect anything.

Last Wednesday, I had just walked in the door after work with bag in tow and sunglasses too dark for the basement door I entered through, and saw my son standing next to the old stereo.

“I fixed it” he said.  And he gently put the needle down and a vinyl album began to play.

And I lost it.

I’m not a hugger.  I’m not a crier.   But I remember that stereo.  I remember that sound!  So I did both hug and cry; hanging on to my 17 year old confused and somewhat concerned son.  I held on for a good 2 minutes.  He’s way taller than me and it must have been quite a sight at 6 O’clock at night on a Wednesday in the basement.

That stereo has been sitting in my basement for over a year.  It is more than 50 years old and was my mom’s, who passed away three years ago.   And it was glorious.  I remember it being just about as tall as me though it is not more than 3 feet off the ground.  I remember the music it sang: the operas, the arias, even country and western music and Anne Murray at Christmas.  I remember it all.

But I didn’t quite remember it all like that till I heard it play standing there in that basement last week.     The sound, the crackle of the hi – fidelity speakers, the soft dance and hum of the needle on the record.  It all came back.   And it was too much.  But it was not sadness that made me cry.  It was happiness.  To hear that sound again, to look at that stereo in awe and wonder again like I did as a kid.  To remember in a flash how much time I spent with that stereo through grade school and high school.  It was a good thing to feel.  Wonderful, actually.

I got to thinking about the things we hold on to.  I got to thinking maybe just holding onto things isn’t enough.

I wonder if that old hand carved cribbage board from grandpa needs to be taken from the mantle and put front in center for Friday night game night.   I wonder if that 8 mm camera with the black and white family films needs to be carefully and gently opened and then played for all to see.  I wonder if the dusty photo albums that never get looked at unless someone dies needs to get hoisted out of the crawl space and spread out across the kitchen table offering a backdrop to some great storytelling.

I got to thinking about things we hold onto at work.  I got to thinking maybe just holding on to things there isn’t enough either.

I wonder about that book you’ve had since you were first promoted and that you keep carrying with you from space to space; perhaps that book needs to be pried open and read again as it must have some gems.  I wonder about that dear and trusted relationship with a mentor you always remember fondly, if that needs a rekindling with a phone call or a joyful visit.   I wonder if those memories of the greatest successes you’ve had, faded though they may be, may need your undisturbed and thoughtful review for they have most certainly left lessons worthy to play again.

I’m not sure my son completely understands what happened to his father last week.   I’m not sure I do either.  I know this now for sure;

It’s nice to hold on to things but it’s magnificent to hear them play.

 

Till next time,

Grow The Business.

Mark

 

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Rethink

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Rethink

If you want to totally rethink what you are doing in business you need to get your customers to rethink what they’re doing. 

And if you really do get them to rethink what they’re doing – that’s a huge win for you. 

Apple did it.  Like for the last 10 years.

 Advanced Auto Small Engine Repair in my little town did it on Friday.

 It’s a tough world out there.  Most of us in sales and service know that even when customers love us – they are, by the time they call about that new service you’ve been pitching or your flyer or your email,  – they’ve done the research and while you’re still in the game- it’s a price war between you and your competitors or them sticking with the status quo- just doing what they’ve always done.

Disrupt the thinking upstream.  Teach. Preach.  Challenge. 

 Be that person or that company. 

Apple did it –blah blah blah we know that.  And their disruptive tech did make us rethink what we are doing but it extends elsewhere too.   Do you think they did some research and asked you and me if when you go in the store, that we wanted some 6 foot 3 bearded technical guru to greet you in the first 8 feet, get your name and ask what you are here for?  Heck no.

They just did it.  And that’s the way it is.  We have been taught.  But we had been taught before by Apple. They reshaped our thinking.  We believe. We trust.

I had a first world problem Thursday night.  My snowblower after a total of 3 feet exploded.  Well I thought it exploded: the chute shot into the air about 10 feet.   I don’t have a clue.  Next day, my wife got a recommendation from a friend about Advanced Auto and they drove up, loaded the snowblower on the truck and then plowed my driveway.  Plowed the driveway.  They didn’t ask, they didn’t check, they just did it.

3 hours later they returned with a fixed blower, an education about the machine, a conversation about what I should watch for, an invitation to learn more and not a word about plowing the driveway except humble acknowledgment of my thanks.

While Advantage Auto didn’t wholly disrupt my thinking – they did reshape my thoughts about service expectations and education in a small way.  It’s a great start for them.  I grabbed 6 of their business cards and a promise to myself about saying a few things on social media.

The perfect world for changing your business or your approach is realizing and then innovating on changing the way your customers not just think and work with you,  but changing the way they do their own business for the better. 

 

Till next time,

Grow The Business.

Mark

 

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There’s Something About The Plastic!

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My Cat in a rare moment not licking plastic

There’s Something About The Plastic!

“There’s something about the plastic!” is a hilarious phrase around our house these days.  And I think there’s an interesting business lesson to it as well.   Let me tell you why.

I have a cat.  I like cats.  My cat likes plastic.  I like plastic too.  But not like my cat.  My cat would lick plastic all day long if you let him.  Plastic bags, plastic wrappers, plastic sheet protectors, empty plastic zip lock bags ( his fav) or pretty much anything plastic including the Tupperware kind of stuff.   I have no idea why.

My son’s friend Jamie heard me incredulously exclaim (after seeing the cat lick a zip lock bag for an hour) how crazy it is that the darn cat licks plastic all day long and Jamie shouted “That’s what all cats do!!” He said it with the obvious tone that he knew the answer as to why they do.   I leaned forward and could not wait for the answer – I needed to know!.  And then Jamie said…. “There’s something about the plastic!”  

That was it.  He had no idea why either.   And that’s why we all collapsed on the floor laughing and why the phrase now is spoken, texted and emailed randomly among us for last 6 weeks especially when someone texts or says something worthy (unworthy)..   “There’s something about the plastic!” is the label we put on something said that brings absolutely nothing new, interesting or valuable to the conversation. 

There’s a bit of that that goes on at work too eh?   Here are 6 of my favorite phrases (often shouted out ( like Jamie did)) that mean nothing or are just plain let downs.  I have been guilty of a few of these myself for sure.   Please feel free to add yours in the comments section!

  • We tried that a few years ago, it worked great.”  [And why is it not still here? Usually heard in a brainstorm meeting]
  • “Just gotta get people to offer it more. ” [usually in a sales meeting- we all know it’s more complicated than that]
  • “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this” [usually followed by silence.  Thanks cpt Obvious.]
  • “We need better leads” [ I’ve been on all sides – selling to feed my family, sales management & training and I can say never in my 25 years have I seen where that is true – it’s how you work the leads ( or better, make your own) that matters ]
  • “People need to be retrained” [OK –so this hits home today in my role but seriously- it’s a rare day that folks need “retraining” – what they really need is” re-selling” of the content by a leader or  “re-coaching” or “re – holding people accountableness-ness”
  • “We have to prioritize this with everything else.”  [Guilty am I here at times on this but think about how often we really hear it. And how “future tense” it is. Worthless.    And usually it never does get prioritized because that means something needs to be “de prioritized” and that is courage not enough of us have in excess.  ]

Till next time,

Grow The Business.

Mark

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Plan Ahead (and Behind)

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Plan Ahead ( and Behind) 

It’s always a risk to see my mug on video first thing in the morning – but here are two short ones to jump start your day with messages about planning.

The first one can help you like, today.. 

This next one can help you like, forever…

 

Till next time,

Grow The Business.

Mark

 

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Trust Your Wince-tincts

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Trust Your Wince-tincts

We Wince.  And wincing is a big deal. 

Think about the Wince: our eyes squint up, we squeeze our shoulders together and we wish just for that moment,  that we weren’t there to see or hear whatever it is that is making us wince.

Wincing is not good.  Not good at all.  But it can help you figure out stuff for the better. 

Sometimes bad acting will make you wince (Hugh Grant comes to mind).  Some movies are 2 hours of a Wince fest (I’m still scarred by that kid movie Chicken Run a decade ago).  Nick Jonas as Marius in Les Miserable 25th anniversary show is probably this century’s greatest wince to date.  But many times you wince in the marketplace or at work.   That’s something we can fix. 

In the marketplace you often sense in advance the wince is coming like when the store clerk says to the customer in front of you “ Do you have a rewards card?” then you wince and immediately drop your eyes to the ground.  Why? Because you know what’s coming – the horrible cross sell -“Would you like to sign up for one..?”  And the wincing isn’t over because its your turn now –you’re about to get the same WinceDom from the clerk.  Ugh.

I wince when the waiter gets too familiar too soon and leans down and just about cuddles up next to me to share the day’s specials (just as he was trained to do I am sure).   I Wince at the airport when I hear the gate agent say “And now we welcome our Delta Super Flyers, Northwest Perks Puppies, Frequent Flyer Super Dupers and Platinum Star Cadets” or whatever it is they say.    It’s so rote and boring and there are just so many titles that it is meaningless and downright embarrassing.   I also wince when I hear at the end of a phone call;   “Have we met all of your needs and are you satisfied with your experience with me today?”   This is a Wince slap no matter how I feel.  Ugh.  What do you think I’m gonna do if I’m not happy?  Pick a fight?  Just tell me “Thank you for your business” and let me go.

I’ve come to think that Wince is a very good word and tell for uncomfortable sales and service.   It’s a great descriptor and is great for identifying those moments that need real help and that need to be fixed because wincing is very truthful.  You have a hard time faking or making up a wince on the fly – It’s just the way it is.    Those moments you wince in any experience are called Wince Points.

Wince Points are no fun.   We should make them go away. 

What about you? What are the Wince Points for you?   When you listen to your colleagues over the wall or listen to client interactions remotely, or along side a sales rep in the field; what makes you wince? 

I wince with my eyes squeezed shut when I hear stuff like “I’m calling just to check in…” or “We have 1/2 off anything new if want something”.  I wince when I see vendor slides that begin with their credentials and not what they’ve learned about me first.  I wince when I see 10 bullets on a WebEx, hear a dog barking in the background in a virtual meeting, see an unchanged automated invitation to me to connect on Linked in, read emails with suggested times to meet but no indication of time zone and I wince when someone tells me to consider then earth when deciding whether to print this document just to name a few more.

Wince Points are everywhere.

Focus on the winces.  And trust your “Wince-tincts. They are truthful and honest moments.   Make a plan, create a process, get a training or get some coaching to help get rid of the winces.

If it makes you wince, there is something wrong with that moment. Don’t fight it, just go and fix it.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.

Mark

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Stumped

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Stumped

Nobel Prize winning Psychologist Daniel Kahneman said  “The remarkable thing about your mental life is that you are rarely ever stumped.” 

How interesting.  This little quote has roiled around in my head for a month.  Can’t shake it.

Think about how true it is.   Heck, I’m gonna do this or I’m gonna do that.  Or goshdarnit, I’m going to do nothing!  Bottom line is most of the time,  I know what I’m gonna do.   And most of the time we make judgements and decisions in a flash and rarely are stumped or stuck in a quandary.

I read Kahneman’s quote in the Heath Brothers latest book called “Decisive” ( big thumbs up from me). The book has some compelling methods to help us all make better decisions of course ( if we ever allow ourselves to be stumped) but that’s for a later blog or two.

Lets just chat a bit about the stumped thing.  Stumped is what I think we should be more of.  Here’s why:

  •  When was the last time you talked to a prospect, did some great discovery, built credibility and commonality, talked pain points and said, ” You know, you’ve given me some things to think about and I’m not sure exactly what the best thing to do is, let me get back to you in a couple of days.”  Answer? Never.  You’re in sales, you’re never stumped and you and I both know it. 
  • When was the last time you launched a project to tackle a problem and didn’t  pretty much have the answer already embalzoned in your brain about what you think is the right solution?  Way less than you think.  You’re not stumped.  No Never.  Not you. You can, like nobody else, see the future clearly.
  •  When was the last time you didn’t judge, label or categorize someone you just met because you were so comfortable with “waiting and seeing” what this person was really about?  Not often enough.  You’re never stumped when it comes to giving an opinion on the new person even if you just give that opinion to yourself.

The you here is me ( and yes, likely you too). 

I’ve pitched an idea or a solution well before I knew what I should really do – I should have been stumped.   I’ve launched a project ( just this week as a matter of fact) tackling a problem that I am brazen enough to think I already know the answer to, until my LEAN mentor smacked me upside the head and said “You need to be stumped in the beginning for this thing to work.”  I’ve judged someone in just 20 minutes of conversation and another in probably 30 seconds – and did it not long ago either – both are awful things to do.  Not fair and frankly, stupid.   Stumped is what I needed to be there and always. 

Not being stumped can get us into trouble; that’s the message here.  Conversely,  being stumped can do some great things like impress the hell out of a customer and get them the best help possible.  Being stumped can get your problem solved better because you didn’t presume you knew the damn answer.   And being stumped is certainly the best way to treat people you meet all the time and to get the most and the best out of that relationship.

Stumped ain’t bad.  Stumped is good.  So all you people out there with the answers ( and that means you too McCarthy) quit talking to me, I gotta work these things out like I don’t have any idea. 

Till next time,

Grow The Business.

Mark

 

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