Age is just a musical number – in this case!

Who said the old guys ‘ain’t still got it?’ This is a great tune from (in my opinion) Britain’s best blues band (for over 50 years no less), John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Featuring the great guitar playing of Buddy Whittington and the late Gary Moore. No one plays guitar with more passion than did Gary Moore. And, consider that John Mayall is in his 80’s. What a voice for a man of years.

The Thing More Important Than Ideas

ideas generatingI know meetings. I can do meetings. Actually, let me humblebrag a bit, I excel at meetings. I’m an idea guy all the way. Need ideas? I’ve got plenty of ’em.

But, as a friend and colleague reminded me this morning, having an idea is one thing and getting it done is another. Uh oh. He’s right. Brainstorming is a great exercise for getting many ideas, but the time comes to kick the tires and drive it around the block.

Better to find a few great ideas and make them happen rather than have an abundance of only good ideas but never get them rolling. Dreaming and doing – two necessary but separate functions!

Image Credit: Pixabay.com

“Awesome May Not Mean What You Think it Means

awesome superman“That was awesome!” Really? Any more, I’m not sure exactly what that means.

Awesome, used like this, is a descriptor, a label, a name. What does awesome mean? It should have a definite meaning, but unfortunately today it means what we think it means. Oh yeah, it has a dictionary definition but we think the dictionary is out of touch with today’s modern usage. If you rely on the dictionary meaning you will communicate with about 5% of the population. (If you are curious, look up the definition of awesome, you might be surprised).

Standards are low. But, what is my evidence of low standards? The abysmal way in which we use the word awesome. If you can get enough people to repeat and buy into your new definition, it will stick in everyone’s mind and it will become the default definition.

Before we realize it, we begin using awesome in a careless way, almost as a by-phrase that really means nothing.

How was your trip? Awesome!
Want a cherry popsicle? Awesome!
This is free. Awesome!

Low standards. For some, that is awesome.

Image Credit: Pixabay.com

Why Do We Listen to Bob Dylan?

change changing troubadourRecently, I was reading a book and the writer kept referring to Bob Dylan. It wasn’t like he was using some Dylan lyrics to make a point in his book or that he was using Dylan as a metaphor for some internal struggle; no, he was just blabbering on and on about how Dylan was his all-time favorite musician. And, to be honest, after reading about Bob Dylan chapter after chapter I was intrigued.

So intrigued that I headed over to Youtube and gave him a listen. Now, many years ago, I had listened to a bit of Dylan as a teenager (think 1970s) and later in college but he never did anything for me. I think it had something to do with the times changing (yes, mentally insert the title of Dylan’s most famous song). In the 70s we were involved in the Vietnam War (early 70s) and after it officially ended in 1975 we were dealing with the aftermath.

changing love guitar DylanThose times were not pleasant in many ways and protest music was all the rage. Dylan fit into that category and, in my mind at least, I couldn’t understand him. I associated Dylan with other artists that were criticizing the war, in which my dad fought, so I saw protest music as unpatriotic, socially upsetting, and a little limp wristed. The drug culture was also ramping up in the 70s and most rock bands, particularly Southern rock bands, were firmly entrenched in the quasi hippie drug culture, which was also a turn-off to me. So, where did that leave me? I was not a Dylan fan.

Never mind that his voice is a little grating on the nerves and he ends every verse on a high note, which sounds like he is putting an abbreviated question mark and exclamation point on the end of each sentence. Very annoying; or at least it was at the time.

But, back to my re-acquaintance with Bob Dylan’s music. I bopped over to Youtube and did a quick search. The first video to come up was a 1964 rendition of “The Times They Are A Changin'” (see below) and perhaps for the first time I strained to really hear the words. Not just the familiar tune and his grating high pitched voice, but the words. It was like I was listening to it for the first time. I googled the lyrics and read them through a couple of times. And it hit me; this guy had something to say (and still does).

I listened to the song on Youtube again. A couple more times. I don’t know what music critics or social commentators say about it but to me Dylan was saying the times will never go back to what they were. You can accept, adapt, or whatever, but you can’t go back. Of course, he was talking about political business-as-usual as much as anything, but I think that applies to everything in life. Relationships develop, sometimes they decay, sometimes they just disappear, but when that happens new relationships appear. Your job changes, your church changes, the country and the world change, but we change too. The only option not available to us is to ‘not change.’

Sure, I listened to a few more of his tunes. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” Blowing in the Wind,” and so on.

Then, I realized what you probably already know. People don’t listen to Bob Dylan because he’s a great singer, they listen to him because he’s a great storyteller. He touches their soul. He says things that feel familiar but we can’t quite put the words to it. His poetry doesn’t sound like poetry and his ache is our ache.

Dylan is a troubadour, a musician storyteller in the finest tradition. He is part folk, part Americana, part everyman. Even when we listen to his songs over and over we tend to find a new nuance to his voice or a phrase or word that has new meaning, even if we are only reminded of something we already know.

So, what is my point? My point is that we are storytellers and we are story consumers. We love stories and we write our own every day. We may not think our stories are worth much because no one is listening to us like Dylan, but we are mistaken. Everyone we come into contact with hears our stories because it is who we are, what we say, how we dress, how we behave in a tense moment. It’s the jokes we tell, the way we treat others, and sometimes, just some times, it’s an actual story we tell.

Robert Frost changeOver the years I have enjoyed reading the poems of Robert Frost who, in my mind, is possibly the greatest modern American poet. Some literary snobs may not like him as much because he is popular. Supposedly, it is hard to be popular and intellectually meaningful at the same time, but I like his poetry. It is earthy, real, and he can make me feel what he is saying. My voice gets raspy from the cold wetness when reading his poem, “My November Guest.” You know what I mean, and we love stories because they make us feel something.

Today, Bob Dylan has done that for me. Whether I agree with everything he sings is not the point. The fact that he has told me a story that makes me feel something and think something and evaluate my own existence is the point. Why do people listen to Dylan?

Well, it’s not because he is Dylan, it’s because he is a storyteller that has something meaningful to say. It is meaningful because we, at times, feel the same way he does. He is asking us questions or provoking our thoughts in ways that cause us to be reflective and consider our brief journey on this earth. People listen to Dylan because we become Dylan when we listen to him, suddenly introspective and inquisitive.

And that is becoming increasingly important. The reflective person is the person who can navigate the moral catastrophe we seem to live in. The reflective person is the one who not only copes with society but works to change it. I saw a meme recently that said something like, ‘if you think you are too small to make a difference, you’ve never had a conversation with a mosquito.’ Even if you only change one thing, and even if that one thing is small, it still changes someone in some way.

And, you have to be reflective, able to think about where you are, who you are, where you want to be. Things will change anyway, but why not be part of it? Go change something. Today.

Image Credits: Guitar Player and Leaf, Dream of Love Guitar, Pixabay.com

Report fraud, waste, and abuse to this hotline……but why?

Report Fraud Waste AbuseRecently, I was sitting at a stoplight, lost in thought, when I glanced forward at the truck in front of me and noticed a sign that read, “Report fraud, waste, and abuse XXX-XXX-XXXX.” A rusty dolly was secured on the back of the truck but in front of the sign, partially obscuring the sign and making it hard to read.

But, why is the sign needed? First, it occurred to me that I only see such signs on government vehicles. Are government organizations the only ones that care about rooting out fraud and waste? The obvious answer is no, but why do we not see such signs on delivery trucks for various companies? Surely, they want to reduce fraud and waste as well.

One possibility is that businesses care about this issue, but they handle it internally. Since firms have a profit motive, it is in their best interest to nip wasteful behavior in the bud. It is in their self interest to keep a watchful eye on their operations. Of course, if this is true, it implies that government bureaucracies do not have the same incentive. Which is true, of course; the government has no profit motive because they live off the largess of the public. Waste not, want not is not a bromide with which they are familiar.

The second possibility is that the sign is there for the consumer (aka voter, citizen). Fast food restaurants are known for posting signs in the restroom that say, “Employees Must Wash Their Hands Before Returning to Work.” However, the sign isn’t for employees – they already know they have to wash their hands – it is for customers. The manager wants the customer to read the sign and think, ‘hmm, I guess all the employees are washing their hands so I don’t have to worry about food poisoning here!”

In essence, the sign is for peace of mind for the customer. So, the fraud and waste reporting sign could be there because they want the public to call in, but not likely. Think about it, what kind of fraud and waste am I likely to observe while sitting at the stoplight – and of the kind so serious that I would get out my cell phone and call the hotline?

Or, more likely, it is for the voter. In essence, the bureaucrat is wanting the voter to think, ‘hmm, they aren’t wasting my tax dollars, this agency has it under control.”

So, next time you are at the light, look for the sign. You may want to call, but then again, there probably isn’t any need.

We’d be better off with a few more Average Joes

Joe Sixpack

Just an Average Joe

We often hear of the so-called ‘Average Joe.’ But, who is he, really?

Does Joe have a page on Facebook? Probably not. He prefers the telephone network to social networks. And, telephones are properly used to tell your buddy the game is on, to order pizza, and call your momma.

Joe knows politics. Joe votes.

Joe keeps convenience store owners in business. He keeps the memory of Elvis alive and makes Gatlinburg and Branson modern day Mecca’s.

Is Joe smarter than a fifth grader? (Yes!)

He keeps sleeveless shirts in fashion, Friday night high school football well attended, and NASCAR roaring on.

He knew who Hulk Hogan was before Gladiators and has seen all the Rocky sequels. Joe knows Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone are American heroes.

Joe appreciates fine cinema with classic selections like Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now, Dances with Wolves, and anything with John Wayne or Jack Nicholson. Joe knows that Kramer vs. Kramer, The Color Purple, and anything on Lifetime or with Richard Dreyfus in it (except possibly Jaws) are for sissies.

Joe loves his momma. He knows his momma is the finest woman to ever live and his wife is a lot like her.

Joe can appreciate French fries, chili, and hot dogs without worrying if any are going to his hips. Joe orders a real cup of Joe, rich black brew best appreciated in a Styrofoam cup with guys named Bubba down at the factory, not biscotti chomping yuppies and financier dandies down at Starbucks.

Joe knows that “stock” refers to cows, as in livestock, and not pieces of paper with scantily clad drawings of lady justice in the corner. Joe knows that if you own a company you unlock the door in the morning and your name with “& Sons” goes on the sign above the door.

Joe doesn’t buy futures, but he does buy pork bellies. Oil comes in three versions, crude, castor, and canola.

When it comes to entertainment, Average Joe knows the Beach Boys are better than the Beetles and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, and Charlie Daniels play real music. Joe also knows who Porter Waggoner, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Charlie Pride, and Conway Twitty are, even if he can’t name any of their biggest hits. Joe avoids tight jean wearing, long haired, wanna-be country bands that have artsy names. Joe knows hip-hop is what bunny-rabbits do.

Joe loves his preacher and goes to church, at least on Mother’s Day, Christmas, Easter, and sometimes on July 4, especially if special music includes the Lee Greenwood song, “Proud to Be an American.” Joe has a family Bible proudly displayed on the coffee table and it’s stuffed full of birth announcements, a few obituaries, and a greeting card he received long ago.

Joe knows that real men drive pickups, go fishing, and eat Vienna sausages right out of the can. It’s not inappropriate to burp discreetly and beef jerky is the real man’s prime rib.

Joe has never used the square root button on a calculator, but, then again, Joe doesn’t need a calculator because he can do simple math in his head. Joe knows when someone is laughing at his simple ways but he is too polite to say anything. His momma taught him that.

But he’ll knock you in the head for insulting women, kicking a dog, or being unpatriotic. His daddy taught him that.

Joe isn’t quite sure what a psychiatrist is but knows he doesn’t need one.

Joe knows that freedom isn’t free and he’s willing to volunteer. He respects soldiers, firemen, and policemen and the job they do. He says “yes, ma’am” and “no sir” when talking to adults and treats kids like kids.

Joe bows his head during prayer and doesn’t think its un-American to pray at football games. He gives to charity but also believes that charity begins at home. He believes in the second amendment.

Average Joe is a rare breed; he’s an endangered species. But, America would be a better place if we had more Joe’s.

Photo Credit: Pixabay, public domain

Trophies are for achievement, not participation!

obstacle
There is a reason we have traditionally awarded trophies for achievement, but not for participation.

As with anything of this sort, a trophy is an award, a form of recognition, a ‘reward’ for hard work, talent, perseverance, and accomplishment. Just showing up is not accomplishment.

If we reward students and workers for just showing up, we will just get people who show up. If awards are given for work and accomplishment, then we get those who accomplish.

Which society would we rather live in, one that just ‘shows up’ or one that accomplishes something?

Then, depending on your answer, set the rewards accordingly.

Credit: pixabay.com, public domain

Do Nothing (at your own risk)

Doing Nothing

Doing Nothing

In a recent blog post, Seth Godin wrote, “I didn’t do anything. That’s the first and best defense every toddler learns. If you don’t do anything, you don’t get in trouble.”

And, he is right. The only problem is that we sometimes never progress beyond toddler thinking. Scott Adams has made a very good living describing the dysfunctional workplace that perpetuates this kind of thinking in his comic strip, Dilbert. We who work in organizations recognize the foibles of the pointy haired boss, the evil Catbert, and the rest of the crew because it is far too common.

Of course, we imagine ourselves as Dilbert, the intrepid engineer who sees through all the gobbledygook, even if in reality we are the boss or HR director. We fancy ourselves as a clear thinker when noticing other’s faults but have a blind spot when it comes to our own.

Unfortunately, some organizations perpetuate the ‘do nothing’ mentality by creating a culture that penalizes something and rewards nothing. We are afraid to raise our hand in school because we don’t want to ask that one silly question, so we fake it and muddle through the best we can. However, at work, we are afraid to raise our hand because the boss will shoot down our suggestion, marginalize us if we come up with a bad idea, or may fire us if we make a mistake. Only problem is, we can’t fake it at work.

So, we protect ourselves by not raising our hand, not offering a suggestion, not taking a risk.

However, with no risk there is no reward. We are not rewarded with a raise, a promotion, or even a nod, for doing nothing. But, we think that is the way to success.

But, survival is not success. Success is success. And, to have success we must do something. So, what do you want to do? Are you taking action? Are you being successful? Success is a journey, not a destination, so keep at it.

And, if you are in an organization that penalizes risk, you may need to find your success elsewhere. If you are the pointy haired boss, you are holding your organization, and yourself, back by penalizing innovators. Your success will depend on the success of others. So, free them to do the work they are intended to do. Thriving is better than just surviving.

Image Credit: MemoryCatcher on pixabay.com, licensed under Creative Commons

“Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee finally available

Harper Lee's new novel

Harper Lee’s new novel

Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee has finally been released by the publisher and is on sale at Amazon, where it currently (as of this writing) holds the #1 Bestseller spot. Although a controversial ‘discovery’ by Ms. Lee’s attorney, the world is still anxious to scoop up this gem.

(See an earlier post about the controversy HERE)

image credit: Amazon.com

Where have all my customers gone?

Barnes and Noble is trying to revive their brand by redesigning their web site. If you are familiar with Barnes and Noble online (BN.com), tell me (in your mind), why don’t you order at their site?

No matter what reason you just gave in your mind, I’ll venture a guess that it was not, ‘because their web site looks outdated.’ No, I don’t think that would even make it into the top 10, maybe not the top 20, reasons.

But, that is what the CEO of BN.com seems to think. I think he has a bad case of ‘marketing myopia.’ Myopia, when referring to eye health, is the inability to see far away, such as to the horizon. If you have myopia you are said to be nearsighted.

Daniel P.B. Smith

Daniel P.B. Smith

You can only see what is close up; if it isn’t right next to you, you just can’t see it. Of course, this is a big problem because you need to see both near and far to function properly.

Marketing myopia is the inability for marketers, or anyone involved with the brand, to see beyond the familiar things they already know about. It’s the business equivalent of ‘we’ve always done it that way.’ Which is certain death in fast paced, forward looking, consumer markets. Trends always go forward, never backward. This is why yesterday’s solutions won’t solve today or tomorrow’s problems.

Redesigning their web site is myopic because the executives are so familiar with the brand, with the way things have always been done, that they only see things from their perspective. An architect thinks the problem is with the design, a real estate agent thinks the problem is location, a plumber thinks the problem is bad pipes. We specialize and our solutions usually revolve around our expertise. So, business executives think the problem is with the equipment they normally use.

But, we are forgetting a crucial cog in the retailing wheel – the customer. If I were to poll a sample of online book buyers, my guess is that more than half would say the number one reason to order online is price. Boom! That’s it. Price – and BN.com almost always has the higher price. Sometimes it is the actual item price, sometimes it is the added shipping cost which drives total cost up. A close second is convenience.

Convenience could be related to the fact that almost everyone in the civilized world already has an Amazon account, many have the Amazon app, and we are so familiar with Amazon that it is a regular part of our lexicon. When we go into a restaurant we automatically ask for a Coke, when we shop online we ask for Amazon. It’s that simple.

But this creates a huge uphill battle for other brands such as BN.com. If they want to overtake (or simply carve a piece out of Amazon’s pie), they need to fight the battle with consumer weapons, not necessarily with familiar, myopic weapons.

What do customers want? Low price and convenience. Period. Ok, maybe selection, but that’s a given on both sites. Could BN.com find a way to improve logistics so that they can improve both price and convenience? Yes, it is not an unsolvable problem, but it will be hard.

When you sell a commodity (e.g. books, music, movies, etc.) like BN.com and Amazon do, you must compete on things you can control and that are meaningful to customers. If I am selling ice cream, I can make it super premium, or put it in fancy cups, or change the flavors. But, if I’m selling books, I’m selling the same books everyone else is selling. Location has dropped out of the equation because I’m online, so trying to get my stores in the tony neighborhoods doesn’t matter. Coffee bar, a non-issue.

On second thought, maybe BN.com could offer a tiny packet of Starbucks ground coffee with every order. You might not be in the physical store where you can get a cup of premium brew, but it might be a differentiating feature (until Amazon copies it).

Bottom line, if your brand is failing, ask yourself why. Then, look beyond your comfort zone for the answers.

Greg L. Lowhorn

To read another post on marketing myopia, click HERE.

Snelling Chart by Daniel P.B. Smith, shared under license.