Recognizing and embracing true value: How do we address fear?

When we talk about values we enjoy when it comes to people, things that often come up are kindness, approachability, warmth, humor, a connection and openness to others and the world around them (often described as ‘lighting up a room’), and a willingness to include those around them in whatever is going on. These are pretty globally attractive characteristics, and those who display them are frequently well-loved and respected wherever they go.


Scared (Photo credit: Melissa Segal)

In business, however, I feel as though there is a disconnect from embracing these same values. Kindness becomes weakness.There is a fear that making your business approachable will somehow lead to being taken advantage of by customers (or worse yet, ignored). People are afraid that being open to others will lead to competitors stealing their ideas, or that somehow the company will be ‘exposed’ as less than it claims, and that will lead to something drastic.


These insecurities are quite human and understandable, when we’ve been taught in business (and in our personal lives) that we must portray an image of a secure, independent and successful entity who is not reliant on anyone at all times, or risk losing social status.

What we’re coming to understand is that ‘projecting an image’ is a sure way for people to want to keep their distance. I’m sure everyone reading this knows at least someone who may be a good person underneath, but could commonly be described as someone who ‘tries too hard’ or is ‘always on’. When you think about your reaction to that person, it’s probably something approaching pity, rather than an honest inclination to connect, engage and have a valuable exchange with that person. I’m sure everyone can think of companies (and in fact entire industry trends) that are trapped in fear.

The interesting thing about the world we live in is that those entities are brought into stark relief, as more and more places are embracing a new value of openness, and finding that success follows shortly thereafter. More importantly (I think), the public nature of these interactions allows for people to share in those successes. As follower counts grow for companies that embrace openness like JetBlue, Zappos, Starbucks, they are finding that their goals are being cheered on by the public. People actually want these companies to make money. This would be so far removed from reality even ten years ago as to be absurd.

So, how can we work with companies rooted in fear to open them up to the opportunities? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I would imagine it begins by showing them the effectiveness of a more human approach, and talking out their fears with them. As with anything in life, the antidote to fear is love and compassion. To those change agents among us, are you approaching your clients this way, to address, alleviate and walk them through their fears? If not, it might be an interesting exercise.

Align Your Intents: Removing Friction in Brand Experiences By Showing Interest In End-Users

TMobile Coffee Shop, Old City, Jerusalemhe infrastructure for global communication has hit a tipping point in the last few years.  New technologies give each of us an exponentially louder voice with which to share stories of exceptional experiences with companies (both positive and negative).  In order to survive, companies must take a look at existing conflicts between end-users intents and their own, in a way that may initially seem quite counter-intuitive. The points where the brands intent and ours are most in conflict lead to the most negatively memorable experiences, which carry a lot of power.  Let me explain.

When interacting with a company, our intent as end-users is rarely, if ever, based on figuring out how to give them money.  Mostly, our interactions are based on getting a need or a want addressed as efficiently as possible.  This is, more often than not, in direct conflict with the implicit (if not explicit) intentions of the companies we are interacting with.  This conflict of intents, historically ‘part of the cost of doing business,’ has become much more of an active topic of conversation online and offline, which is having an ever-increasing impact on our overall perception of companies and our willingness to engage with them (e.g. spend our money with them)

An obvious example of a decision made in conflict is DRM.   The intent of the business (protecting their self-perceived ‘most important assets’ from their customers) was in direct conflict to the customers intent (purchasing music in a manner that gives them ownership of their copy).  Instead of being interested in interacting with their consumers, the entertainment industry defaulted to treating each and every one of us like potential criminals, and attempts to engage were ignored or met with legal action.  Choosing instead for your businesses intent to involve an active and genuine interest in people, communities and behavior, asking questions, and generally being interested leads to much longer term gains and sustainability (something companies that have embraced DRM are struggling with right now).

My friend Amber Naslund recounts a story about how the Jurys Boston Hotel picked up on something she said on Twitter about her experience there and took the time to email to thank her for her mention and (something Amber glossed over a bit but I think is so important) took an interest in her as a person via email, followed up with her to learn more, and set her up to have an awesome experience the next time.  This resulted in the creation of a new and powerful customer evangelist.  In Amber’s words, posted to a block with :

I have a hotel in Boston that feels very much “mine”. Why would I stay somewhere else when I know the people, and feel like they’re genuinely happy when I come back again?

If Jury’s Boston had simply stuck to the ‘be a hotel where people give us money to have somewhere to sleep’ intent, she most likely would have had a perfectly fine time and probably not given it the thought to dedicate the home page of her site to the experience.  By taking the time to listen, learn and reorient their intentions to match (and exceed) hers,  Jury’s Boston created an experience for her that earned both her loyalty, trust and her voice to others.  For this interaction, the intent of the company was to create a great experience for Amber, and to fufill her needs.   Jury’s is, of course, a business, and would have been happy to take her money and move on.  They decided, for this interaction at least, that their intent was to make the interaction more personal.  Total cost to them: One phone call.  Total return:  A fan for life, with incentive to share the experience with her friends, followers, everyone who reads her blog, each of whom now have a hotel in mind to stay at when they’re in Boston.

Companies may look at this concept and respond with trepidation.  “The whole purpose of a company is to increase its own bottom line, otherwise it wouldn’t exist!” is a popular response.  While this underlying statement may be true, the intent of how one reaches profitability is something that is much more flexible than most companies think.  The challenge lies when they have been set up in a way that leaves no room for taking an interest when providing a service or bringing a product to market.  It is not a question of willingness, but actually deciding to take the time and effort to address a lack of room in the workflow for genuine human interest and curiosity.

So, take a look (and, more importantly, a listen) around where you work.  During the course of the day, how much time is spent in your company being interested in customers?  Pay attention to how interactions with end users are phrased.  Are people interested in connecting, or are they more interested in “identifying target audiences” and “demographics and psychographics” to the exclusion of other things.  I think you’ll find the vocabulary very telling.

What bit of information would you like to share with companies that could make for a more compelling engagement with you? Are they giving you a place to tell them?  Are they interested?

How did we get here: The fundamental similarities in failing industries and the transition economy

The Airline Industry.  The Music Business.  The Financial Markets.  The US Auto Industry.  What do each of these areas have in common and what can they teach us about the current state of our economy?

First off, I’d like to posit that we are not only in a recession, but what we’re seeing is the result of the inability and unwillingness of major swaths of the corporate infrastructure to address the shift from relatively uneducated consumers who have respond mostly to advertising, celebrity endorsements, and lack of opportunities to get information.

With the exponential growth of information online and how easy its become for people to share their experiences, opinions (both good and bad) and recommendations with friends and an almost unlimited number of strangers (see Yelp, Twitter, Blogs in general), these businesses stumble and fall.

Each industry is based on business practices that:

  • Show apathy or even contempt for their customer base (here’s what we make, buy it..where else are you gonna go)
  • Have relied on a historical lack of alternate options (pre-Napster, lack of competitive foreign cars until recently), or what we might call a monopoly.
  • Are resistant to internal change and innovation (electric cars, hybrids, DRM, etc)

Unfortunately, this kind of business strategy (what they don’t know won’t hurt us) has been the backbone of some of the most central industries in our country, and the failure of the process is taking a devastating toll.

All is not doom and gloom, however.  There has never been a better opportunity for industry to shift our strategy from a business-centric customer-be-damned model to a customer-focused, service-oriented one.  The few exceptions in each of the aforementioned areas (JetBlue, for example) are not suffering as much because they’ve positioned themselves and behave as a customer service company that also happens to be an airline.

DSC00095.greenThis is all well and good coming from me, seeing as I am employed and know how I’m going to pay my next rent check, but another thing I find fascinating and optimistic about our current crisis is that it also overlaps with another pressing issue, the environment.

We have millions of skilled laborers, engineers, mechanics, accounting people, number crunchers out of jobs right now.  Where is there a shortage of exactly those kind of people?  INFRASTRUCTURE.  It seems to me that with the right training, people who worked 20 years building carborators could very easily be building solar panels, or wind turbines, or bridges or working on the electrical grid.  And so on and so on.

Hence, my overall conclusion that this is not just a recession, but a transformative period in American industry.

I only hope the systems can be put in place to make available these Green jobs to people who sorely need them.

Obviously, these examples are an oversimplification of a highly complex issue, but I’m very excited to see what the immediate future holds for where American workers are headed.

[Inspired by Jeff Jarvis: A fundamental restructuring is underway]
[for more: Bruce Nussbaum: The Transformation Conversation: Is “Transformation” a Better Concept Than “Innovation” to Guide us Forward?]