Sunday, July 25, 2010

How to change someone's behavior in one second

Impossible? As I talked about in my last blog, I'm currently reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the chapters in the book talks about changing someone's point of view. The author, Stephen Covey, uses a story as an allegory for this shift. Here is a brief recap.

Stephen Covey talks about a time that he was riding on the subway. He was sitting reading when a gentleman got on the train with three small children. The new man sat down, stared blankly forward, and didn't say a word. His children, however, weren't so peaceful. They began running up and down the subway car, hooting and hollering like mad banshees.

At first he tried to ignore the situation, but eventually it became too much for him to bear. The children were bumping into other riders, knocking over briefcases, and causing all kinds of chaos.

Finally he had enough, he said to the man, "Sir, you have to do something about these kids. They're way out of control!"

The man seemed to snap out of a daze. He looked over at the children running rampant, and then back at Stephen Covey. "Yes", he said, "I'm so sorry about that. See, their mother, my wife, just passed away last night. We are heading back home. I guess they don't know how to handle what has happened, and to be honest with you, neither do I".


Feel like a total jerk? So did I.

So what changed? The children were still acting in a distracting way. The father was still doing nothing to rein them in. So what changed? Your perspective changed. The insight that you now had as to what this man was going through changed. In a split second your entire outlook on this man was forever altered. I've heard it said that: To know all, is to forgive all.

How to put this into effect? This past spring I coached my son's flag football team. It was a 10-12 league, and we sadly had almost all 10 year olds. Two years when you're talking that age really matters, so we didn't do all that well in the win/loss aspect of the game.

They also weren't terribly interested in football as well, which proved to be frustrating. By the end of the season I had all but given up. Sure I could get them to learn the basics of a few plays, but I could not get them to grasp the concepts of why we were doing what we were doing. I was probably expecting too much from them.

I had one child in particular that I had a hard time keeping involved. If I wasn't on him the entire practice his gaze would stray and he'd begin to focus on anything other than what we were doing. It was most troublesome because he was actually one of the most talented kids! So as the season was winding down I completely changed my strategy.

I stopped trying to rein them in. I stopped trying to keep them focused on the practice. Guess what happened? My space cadet turned into a drill instructor! He couldn't stand the madness that started swirling around him. He started barking orders, demanding that everyone get their head's in the game. I had tried all season to get a response like this, and what had it taken for me to get what I wanted? I had to stop trying to get what I wanted.

The moral? It's easier to change someone's perspective than it is to change them. Someone not following orders? Put them in charge. Someone not pulling their weight? Take it away from them and see what they do.

If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems are going to start looking like nails. That is just not how it works with people. Different people require different management approaches. Best to familiarize yourself with several different kinds so that you can scroll through them to see what gets you the best response.

In the long run it will save you time and headache. And isn't that the point?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Don't kill your Golden Goose

A monkeyI'm currently reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It's a fantastic book, and several things have already caught my eye. I intend to write about a few independently, and then I will do an overall review of the book. One of the sections in the book that most intrigued me deals with the moral behind the Aesop story of the golden goose. It's one of Aesop's best know fables. It's a short story, here it is in its entirety.

A man and his wife had the good fortune to possess a goose which laid a golden egg every day. Lucky though they were, they soon began to think they were not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it. Then, they thought, they could obtain the whole store of precious metal at once; however, upon cutting the goose open, they found its innards to be like that of any other goose.

The writer of 7 Habits, Stephen R. Covey, relates this to business in a story he tells in the book. He talks about a seafood restaurant on the east coast that he use to frequent. They had the best clam chowder around. People would stand in line for an hour to get some of their delicious soup. Business was booming.

The restaurant was then sold to someone else. They kept the name and menu the same, so no one on the outside was aware of the change.

The new owners loved the business they were getting, but they were upset to learn the high cost involved in making their prized soup.

It used all the best ingredients, and the best is always costly. So the new owners got a 'bright' idea and decided to use cheaper products in their soup. They thinned it out, watered it down.

Bingo! Now not only was business booming, but their income was shooting through the roof! They were making the soup for a fraction of the cost, and for the first couple weeks no one was the wiser. They of course noticed that the soup was now mediocre at best, but they just attributed it to a natural bad batch. They had come here for a long time, they loved the soup.

But after two or three trips back, after inevitable word of mouth, slowly people stopped coming back. There was nothing to come back for.

In the short term the new owners had doubled, even tripled their profits. In the long run they had torpedoed their own business. They had killed their golden goose.

If you are trading short term success for long term hardship, you are engaged in bad business. Treat your golden goose like the asset that it is. Care for it, nurture it. Instead of bleeding it dry, once you have found a moneymaker go back out and search for another one. If you want ten golden eggs a day, find ten consistent assets. Don't try and get all ten from that one. It will tax and ultimately destroy your cash flow.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Raising the Bar Book Review

Looking for the best business books to get me started led to many different results. Books, like anything else, are highly subjective. I've yet to find a book on starting a business that is universally loved.

Raising the Bar is the story of Gary Erickson, the founder of Clif Bar. Hence the play on words in the title, Raising the Bar. A+ job on the title, all in all it might be my favorite thing about that book. Highly clever.

His book showed up on numerous lists. I actually got this audio book from the local library, and I chose it because Think and Grow Rich and Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies were not available. Just the truth people.

The first part of the book chronicles the birth of Clif Bar. How he came up with the idea, what his initial start up was, and how he went about getting the company off the ground. I found this part to be extremely interesting. He comes across as sincere and presents the story warts and all.

His company became successful quickly and before he knew it his partner decided they needed to sell the business. She was sure they wouldn't be able to compete with the big boys. He reluctantly agreed, and just like that he was staring down a $120 million dollar sale to a large company. That was $60 million bucks in his pocket, all he had to do was sign the papers...

He couldn't though. He couldn't walk away from his company, it meant too much to him. His partner however refused to budge. She demanded he buy her out or she would let the company dissolve. He ultimately bought her out and was able to obtain 100% ownership of his business. Which apparently is quite the rare feat when you are talking about a business worth that much. From what I have read, staying private is not easy when you get into that rare air.

This part of the book was great. It really brought the idea home that you needed to be very careful when it comes to choosing your business partners. Once the partnership is formed, it is hard to undo. If you vision of the company grows apart, if there can be no agreed upon compromise, you really face dissolution or buying your partner(s) out.

I also related to the love he talked about in regards to his company. Just a few months into our business quest and I already think of our company as my third child. It's not even technically born yet, but myself and my business partner are doing all the prenatal care to make for a smooth delivery. I was on vacation a week ago, and while lounging on the beach I found myself missing the company. Missing the work I was doing to bring it to life. Make no mistake, it is hard work that makes me crazy at times, but it is also extremely fulfilling work. When I finish a video, a flash program, a webpage, a banner, it is very gratifying. Once it is done, it's done forever. Hopefully to be enjoyed by the world...although my Google Analytics suggests it is mostly me at this point.

The rest of the book sadly does not follow the same theme as the start. The author instead moves into talking about his bike adventures in Europe, his rock climbing, his music playing, and he talks ad nauseum about his company's environmental work. Don't get me wrong, I love the ozone layer and polar bears as much as the next guy, but not when I'm trying to learn about business.

I understand that he is trying to use his stories as an allegory for his business views and practices, but it comes off as a little self serving. He seems smugly pleased with himself, and at some points it becomes a little much. I respect his environmental awareness and sustainability efforts, but it just does not apply to where I am at now in my company building. And because of that, it became hard to get through.

A great opening set a high bar, no pun intended, for the rest of the book to follow. In my opinion it couldn't keep the pace and it changed from a business book into a biography. A biography of a guy whose interests include: bike riding, rock climbing, and trumpet playing. Not one of those things interest me.

Saying that, I still am glad that I read this book. The love he shows for his company was inspiring. His experience with his partners was eye opening. His words on running a company your own way struck a chord with me. I just wish I would have stopped about half way through the book so I could have read something else about business as opposed to things about recreational activities that I don't care about.

If you like bike riding and rock climbing AND you are interested in reading a business book at the same time, then this will probably be the greatest book you have ever read. If not, hit your local library and just read the first half. It was definitely worth that.

Monday, July 5, 2010

How I increased my Google keywords

In a past blog I talked about the problems I had inserting probable keyword searches for the website I built for my mother-in-law. She runs a pet sitting business, and while I had numerous pet sitter/sitting keywords scattered throughout, I had virtually no area keywords that someone looking for a pet sitter would type into a search engine to find one.

Building a website is complicated work. It takes a lot of structural planning. Trying to go back through and randomly stick cities into your pages to boost your keywords is not easy. Junks up the pages, looks very forced.

Solution I came up with?

Testimonials and pictures! Yes sir, I had about half a dozen testimonials and a handful of pictures that were already on the site. I went back through and added the location of the person writing the review/where the pet was from on the pages. I've been able to triple my area keywords since my last crawl. I'm still getting more pictures to put up, I think at this rate I'll be able to increase my area keywords ten fold when all is said and done. Not too shabby, and I didn't have to butcher the site to get them in.

Keywords are vital, finding creative ways to get the important ones in there to appeal to search engines is crucial in building a website. Keep this in mind before you start building, it's easier to plan ahead than it is to try and rearrange the entire site after your first Google crawl.