connecting the dots

connecting the piecesMy warped mind will often make a connection between two or more totally unrelated things.  I figure these episodes represent either flashes of incredible insight or proof I belong in a rubber-walled room with no windows.   As I can't judge the difference, I usually keep these musings to myself  (for 'tis better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt).  Today, however, I am compelled to share some recent "episodes."   I'm convinced there's a valuable lesson hidden in here somewhere.  Perhaps I'll be inspired by the time I finish organizing my thoughts.

act I - search optimization strategies and social media diarrhea

I haven't written a blog post since the beginning of last month.  Search ranking gurus would declare this a failure.  Neglect to churn out fresh content, and your site will dive in search rankings.  The lower your ranking, the less likely those searching on the internet for your kind of products, services or expertise will stumble upon you.  These experts are right.

If you've read this far, here comes your first (and perhaps only) pay-off.  Late last week, a neighbor and friend (Kel Kelly) wrote an awesome blog post about social media diarrhea.  Kel has forgotten more about effective branding, communications and marketing than many of her colleagues will learn in a lifetime.  Her post has nothing to do with search ranking strategies, however.  It has everything to do with what she achieves for her clients :: being seen, heard,  and understood.   

What a business needs to do to assure its message gets heard above the noise doesn't always harmonize with what it needs to do to assure high search result rankings.   Smaller organizations, especially those relying upon outside vendors, often lack the ability to identify these kinds of connections across separate but related strategies.   When you get right down to it, so do many larger organizations.   Make your business one of the few that can tie these kinds of things together, and you'll have a leg up on your competition.

act II - groupthink

I recently had the "pleasure" of observing my town planning board in action.   Staffed by volunteers (elected positions), this board had just imposed a fine against a fellow resident for failing to secure the town's prior review (and permit) before cutting down an allegedly diseased tree on his property.   One issue that apparently arose during the hearing was whether this resident was even aware of the local regulation and process that ultimately led to this fine.

One of the board members called into question the veracity of the resident's purported "ignorance."  She was adamant that the designation making this resident's property subject to the regulation at issue is constantly publicized in local news stories and related outlets.  She claimed it is widely known and recognized among our fellow townsfolk.

Now I have lived in this town for almost 20 years.  I have served in town government for half this time.  As local government goes, I am probably more "plugged in" than most.  I do not recall ever having encountered the purported publicity suggested by this board member, nor was I aware the designation she claimed is so widely known applied to the street on which this resident's property was located.  None of her colleagues challenged or questioned the vailidity of her statements.  A vote was taken shortly after her comments, and a substantial fine was imposed.

Following this proceeding, there was a general discussion regarding policy.  The same member I describe above called for expanding the regulation throughout the entire town, thereby eliminating any confusion over which sections of town are subject to this process.  I'm still trying to recognize and understand the significant public interest at issue that warrants such an intrusion on individual property rights.   Though some of her colleagues remarked this may not be the best solution, the group dynamic was one of acceptance and acquiescense to a colleague's perspective rather than of testing and questioning.

Having witnessed all of this, I started thinking about the negative consequences of such "groupthink."  Wikipedia provides a  good description of this phenomenon:          

...Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages of reasonable balance in choice and thought that might normally be obtained by making decisions as a group.  During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance...

It struck me this phenomenon must be rampant throughout most organizations.  When we're part of the process, it's especially difficult to recognize.  After all, we're acting instinctually when this occurs.  How many flawed processes and decisions are perpetuated because of these natural forces?


So, what's the connection among all these things?  I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the need to challenge convention and connecting everything you're working on in order to truly stand out and be successful.  At least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it for now.  What do you think?

the 5 essential ingredients for building a successful business

quality ingredients are the recipe for successOne of the first businesses I helped launch appealed to a personal passion --  gastronomic delights.  I'm no culinary DaVinci, but learned early in life that at the core of every great dish is a blend of quality ingredients.  Creating a successful business is really no different, and here's my take on the 5 essential ingredients the business "chef" must incorporate into every masterpiece:

If people are hungry enough, they'll eat just about anything put in front of them.  Take away that hunger or lead them to a smorgaasbord, however, and they quickly gravitate to what they need and want most.  This behavior is very practical, and holds true for business.

The successful "business chef" understands this need to satisfy the practical, but gets his / her "dish" to stand out from all the others by being innovative or different in a meaningful way.  They get there from the passion they carry for what they do, by empowering their employees (instilling a sense of "ownership" in their roles) and never, never compromising on their standards.

A good chef understands you can't create a dish for 12 when you only have enough ingredients for 6.  A creative chef might be able to eke out an additional serving or 2, but if 12 is the number, he or she will head to market to get what's needed (or welcome that last minute cancellation).

Business is no different.   Effective bootstrapping is like the great chef eking out that extra serving or two.  In the end, it's no substitute for having enough ingredients on hand.

You're going to have to come up with the food analogy for this one!  Successful businesses understand that top-line revenue generation and customer focus go hand in hand.  The most difficult and expensive part of building a customer relationship lies in acquisition.  Successful businesses will "advertise" for impact.   They understand the distinction between "lowest cost" and "highest value."  They find ways to be memorable in the minds of their target customer.   This might mean being first, being different, or being daring.  

Once their customer is acquired, these businesses are expert at building repeat business.  They are expert at cross-selling other goods or services.  They are expert at leveraging the good will they have built up through these relationships to acquire more customers through word of mouth.  At the core of each is a customer-centric culture that naturally builds and sustains top-line revenues.

Even the Iron Chef can't do it all (you'll have to check out the Food Network if you don't understand this reference).

Successful organizations hire selectively.  Recruiting and retaining smart, reliable, coachable, and trustworthy individuals that "fit" into your culture is absolutely essential to your success.  On the flip side, nobody's perfect.  Being able to quickly recognize a hiring mistake and removing those who don't fit the bill is equally critical. 

Culinary masterpieces not only taste exquisite, but are often visual works of art.   Great dishes assault all the senses. 

Successful businesses pay similar attention to every detail.  They publish and enforce “Operations Manuals."  They operate under strict internal financial controls, monitoring and forecasting their cash flows religiously.  They never settle for "good enough" or compromise on their standards.

The specialty food store and café I helped launch contained all of these ingredients (some more than others).  We ultimately adapted our vision to respond to the needs of the marketplace, and successfully sold the operation to a new owner.  This new "master chef " should have been better suited to growing the business in the direction the market was taking it.  He stopped using several of these key ingredients, however, and recently ended his story on a less successful note.  The moral of the story?  My vote is "stick with the recipe."  What's yours?