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Countdown to Zorro

ZorroAs this blog post is being published, my dog, Zorro, is breathing his last. We came to the conclusion this week that his quality of life had diminished, and it was time to put him down. (Our last dog did us a favor and came to this conclusion on her own, saving us this agony.)

It's been a rough week at the Johnson house. A lot of hugs and cuddling with the dog. A lot of tears. But also a lot of laughter and story-telling. We talked about Zorro's quirks. We talked about how his command for "Speak" was "Zorro, use your words." We laughed about how odd he looked when he was on the extremes of his grooming cycle. We reminisced about the first time I met him and brought him home, how he bolted into my car, jumped over to the passenger side, put his paws on the dashboard and looked at me as if to say, "OK, you're my human now. Let's get this show started." His comedic timing was always epic, adding a bark or a snort at just the right point in the conversation. He was a smart, special, affectionate, loving dog.

Continuing from my last two blog posts, the final components of the Heath brothers book, Made to Stick, are Emotions and Stories. If your accomplishment or your message tells a story that resonates with its listeners, and if it inspires something deep within them to motivate them to act, then you probably are set. I started a new project management class last week, and the things that the students seem to remember years after the class are the stories I shared.

Stories are universal. They are impactful. They are powerful. We relate to stories (and to their characters); we empathize with their plight. Stories live long after the accomplishment, event, or person has expired. I'd like to share with you one of my favorites: a very short story about story-telling from the book, Kidgets: And Other Insightful Stories about Quality in Education:

A friend of ours is a minister. Years ago, when he was first starting out in the ministering business, he was the pastor of a small congregation in the hills of western Tennessee. He saw himself as a theologian, in the process of getting his doctorate from Vanderbilt University, yet working with simple folks, many of whom could not read or write.

One Sunday, Matty Lou Bird came out of our friend's church, smiling as she always did. She was even smiling when she said, "Brother Rick, we just loves you to death. We just loves you to death. But we don't understand a word you say."

He took it well. He called a meeting of the church elders, determined to get to the bottom of the problem: "This is what Matty Lou Bird told me, and I'm real worried about it. What does it mean?" Joe Stanton, a long-standing elder, didn't beat around the bush - "Well, she's right, preacher. We don't understand what you're saying. We're simple folks. Just tell us a story."

Brother Rick was spending all this money and years of his life to get a great education, a PhD in theology, and all they wanted him to do was tell stories?

For the next six months he did some of the most intense listening he had ever done in his life. He would sit on the porch of the general store every Saturday, in the heat and humidity, and just listen.... Brother Rick learned that if he was going to be an effective preacher, he had better become a story-teller, too. And, in time, he did - PhD from Vanderbilt notwithstanding.

To this day, people in his former congregation come up to him and remind him of a story he once told - a story that touched them, that made them nod and say "amen." They can't repeat the title of the sermon or discuss now it relates to a particular passage from the Bible, but they remember the story. They got the point. (Cotter & Seymour, pp. 19-20)

Zorro now belongs to the ages. We'll miss him (a lot), but we'll remember him through stories. What about you? What stories can you tell to inspire others and help them get the point?

(Note: I wrote this post three days ago while I could actually muster the emotional strength to do it).

Curtains!

"Hush, my dear," he said. "Don't speak so loud, or you will be overheard--and I should be ruined. I'm supposed to be a Great Wizard."

"And aren't you?" she asked.

"Not a bit of it, my dear; I'm just a common man."

"You're more than that," said the Scarecrow, in a grieved tone; "you're a humbug."

"Exactly so!" declared the little man, rubbing his hands together as if it pleased him. "I am a humbug."

-Excerpt from The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

DorothypullingcurtainThose of us familiar with the movie are familiar with the "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain line. We've all known people who pose to be one thing but are exposed later to be something else. As a project manager and as a consultant, I've seen my fair share of "humbugs" posing to be wizards. 

Often, we get blindsided by the fact that there was a curtain in the first place. In the role of office politicians, our job is to identify when and where curtains exist between the "image" and the "reality." It's generally not that hard to expose if one knows what to look for:

  1. How does the person in question treat others who are not present? More than one co-worker has exposed their curtain by "taking me into their confidence" by bad-mouthing others on day one. That's a huge warning sign that the snake will rear his/her ugly head against me some day.
  2. How does this person's behavior change in the presence of those whose organizational power and influence is higher or lower than theirs? People without curtains tend to treat people consistently regardless of organizational position.
  3. What exterior signals does this person give to draw attention to themselves? Note that there's a difference between a strong personal brand (e.g., wearing a bow tie every day) and drawing attention to a $2,000 suit.
  4. How does this person behave in meetings? Are they interested and engaged in what other people have to say? Are they late? Leave early?
  5. Do they verbally draw attention to their own press? I knew a law enforcement officer who rose high in the ranks who talked about his own ethics all the time. His behavior soon negated his own press releases.
  6. Do they change their behavior during or after a conflict? Once corrected or reprimanded, are they grateful or resentful of the feedback?

These are just a few of the "curtains" to look for to determine whether the "wizard" in your life is really hiding a humbug behind the curtain. The ability to identify this is key in both human relations and branding. What are you doing to identify and pull back the curtain before it's too late?

(Apple) Pie in the Face

IPad2-Steve-Jobs Virtually all of us want to accomplish something significant in our lifetime.  Very few will make the marks of winning a Grammy or an Oscar, becoming President, or writing a Pulitzer-worthy book.  One of the reasons the people attain such amazing accomplishments (outside of hard work and/or dumb luck) is branding, making their work stand out in a sea of sameness.

Steve Jobs is one of those who can brag (rightfully) about accomplishment, and the branding thereof.  He knows how to get his disciples excited.  People hear the names of Apple or Steve Jobs and there is no middle ground of indifference; both icons are passionately loved OR hated.

Now Jobs and Apple can add "ridiculed" to their list.  Jobs, whose evangelical fervor is touted as the benchmark of presentation skills, seems to have overstepped his bounds with the iPad 2 announcement.  Kudos to Seth Weintraub for taking Jobs to task for his misstatements.

Every term from "being first" to "shipping in volume" appeared to be subjected to an alternate reality.

This is the problem with too many accomplishment brands: they don't KEEP IT REAL.  If I had a dime for every project that promised things the team KNEW they couldn't deliver... SIGH.  I won't even go into the number of "doctored" status reports claiming completed accomplishments (which hadn't even been designed yet).  Call it what you want: spin-doctoring, selling to the masses, or ... er... um... I dunno... LYING?

I'm not going to get on a soap-box of morality with this one. From a business perspective, examine your accomplishments.  Will it deliver what you say it will deliver?  If not, is the message wrong or is the accomplishment flawed?  Your message and your accomplishment had better be in alignment; if not, branding your accomplishment will at best be tainted (at worst, failed).

We'll hope Jobs learns his lesson on fact-checking before his next big launch... the marketplace can be pretty unforgiving.

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