Category: Authenticity

The ancient aroma of cutting-edge business strategy

Umbrellas closed and dripping we hastily ducked into the small waiting room leaving the rain and narrow street behind. Immediately, softly, we were wrapped in the ancient scent of burning incense —the aroma of healing.

One of the most wonderful aspects of my line of work as a freelance strategy consultant is precisely this: the opportunity to intimately know, to see, hear and feel people’s projects with all of my senses. I help people to draw a personalized strategic map and plan of action for their idea, business or organization. That’s why a client and I were standing in the cosy waiting room, swathed in the fragrance of sweet wood on that rainy day.

My client will soon open a small business to offer her health services in Barcelona, and she is doing it by herself as the sole creator, investor and worker. I am helping her to draw the map she will need to be successful. She is excited, afraid and full of desire.

Because this the first time she has embarked on this type of venture, I thought it would be helpful for her to talk to someone who has a business similar enough in size and content to invigorate her ideas, but different enough for that person not to worry about us copying their blueprint.

I knew of just the right business a nearby town. Using my network of contacts, I found a close colleague who personally knew the owner and offered to make a call on my behalf, opening the door for me and my client to have a conversation to learn about his experience. He invited us to come to his shop on a Friday afternoon.

And this is where the story begins.

We were greeted at the door by the owner, let’s call him Julian,

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The hard drive and the brain

The first image is my hard drive. It stopped functioning.

The second image is my brain. It continues to function.

One important difference between what our computers do and what our brains do is that even though our hard drives stop functioning; our brains don’t.

Another difference is that hard drives are made in identical series.

Our brains are wonderfully and remarkably unique.

Yes, that’s right.

But this is just the beginning; it gets better.

Our brains shape who we are.

And it is who we are that leaves its mark on the world and on the people around us.

Not our hard drives.

It is who we are that creates our projects and dares to give them life, dares to fail, and dares to try again.

Not our hard drives.

It is tempting these days to fuse the two together—the brain and the hard drive—to make them into one, to celebrate their similarities, to desire that they function the same way.

Don’t.

You will miss knowing the very nature of your existence:

Your ability to engage in creative thinking, slow thinking, re-thinking.

Your ability to make a mistake, to take a risk, to fall and to stand up again.

Your ability to connect ideas, to perceive needs, to ask questions and listen quietly.

Your ability to grow, to laugh, cry, feel anger, to ask for help, and then learn.

Your ability to have an insight, to see the whole picture, to come to a realization.

Your ability to act, to take a leap of faith, to defy reason, to begin again, to change directions.

Your ability to succeed at doing what you believe in and draw strength from what you value.

What the world needs, more than ever, right now, is who you are—who you decide to be, what you decide to do, what you decide to communicate, and who you decide to communicate it to.

A computer and its hard drive can’t do that.

You and your brain can.

…………………….

Author’s note: the image of the hard drive is from my Macintosh laptop. The image of the brain is from an MRI that I had done because I was very curious.

If you would like to see a few intimate moments of a brain—my brain—in movement, click here or watch the video below.


Fibs, tricks and lies: A true tale

The desperate salesman

A woman who lives in a large metropolitan area is trying to sell an apartment that sits empty in a small town just outside her city. It has been for sale for over two years. Four agencies have it listed, and what seems like an infinite stream of other agencies call weekly wanting to list the apartment as well.  They all seem understandably desperate. The woman politely says “no thank you” to them all, telling them she does not wish to list with any more agencies.

One day a man calls and asks to see the apartment; he is very interested. He says he represents an agency and the woman says, “I already have it listed with four agencies and that is enough, but thank you for calling”. And the man says, “Oh, but I am the one interested in the apartment, not my agency. I am looking for an apartment in this particular town with a large terrace. You see, I have to move from where I live now, an apartment with a terrace, and this is why I am interested in yours”.

The man’s story makes sense and she makes an appointment to show him the flat.

The day of the appointment, she makes the half hour drive to the small town, meets the man at the apartment, and he takes a look around. He is carrying a small black notebook, very official looking, which he absentmindedly passes back and forth from hand to hand as he quickly looks in each room.

He then says, “if you would like to tell me the square metres of this flat, our agency can…” The woman interrupts, “but you said the flat was for you”. The man stammers “well, yes, er, uh, well, you see, it is out of my price range and our agency would be interested…“ The woman interrupts again, “I told you I did not want to list with another agency, and you told me you were the one interested, which is why I came to this appointment”. The man stammered some more, fiddling with his shiny black notebook, and the woman repeated herself and the man stammered and the appointment came to a cold and uncomfortable end.

Why?

Because the real estate agent lied.

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The shimmer and shine of failures

Failures. We don’t talk about them much. We don’t put them on our CVs, and we don’t open our cover letter, job interview or project pitch referencing them.

But maybe we should.

Risky? Perhaps.

Sassy? Yes.

Illustrative of our capacity to pay attention, learn and evolve by looking at situations squarely in the eye and having the courage to keep going, this time with more understanding and skill? Definitely.

And the project scouts, headhunters, team builders, above average bosses and great human relations professionals know how very important it is. As a matter of fact, fearless learning from failures could be the most important ability you have.

It goes something like this: if you have any real experience in the work world then you have surely been part of a project that has failed (meaning it didn’t meet objectives, either those formally stated or personally desired). And you know what? That’s great. That’s absolutely perfect. There is no better opportunity to learn—no better opportunity to put your analytical, critical and creative thinking skills to use than to take a failed project apart.

Maybe this is not initially easy for you, and that’s understandable. Here’s what you can do right now. Sit back, push your chair away from your computer a bit or set down whatever screen you have in your hands, raise your eyes upward toward your brows and think: what was the last or the biggest project failure of mine? Not a mistake, not a misstep, not a bad decision, but a true failure. Meaning, you did not do what you set out to do—either with your own money and resources or those of others, it doesn’t matter for this exercise. The only criterion is that the project did not work. Period.

Now that you have that in mind, let any surge of emotion that comes up pass through you like the wind that passes through the leaves of a tree, to then become still and calm again. Spend a few minutes thinking about what went wrong, strategically speaking. No blaming other people. Think objectively and be cool about it. Deconstruct the whole project if necessary; find the parts that were weak, the blind spots, see what was missing or overly abundant. Name it all, honestly. Free of guilt and resentment. Examine it, cut and polish it like a diamond in the rough. Discover its size, dimension, shape and contours and let the opportunity shine so brightly that you become mesmerized by its reflective brilliance. You, my friend, have discovered a treasure.

Why can we learn even more from a failed project than a successful one? Because there is precise and detailed information about the exact type of action, absence, oversight, thinking or strategic misstep that lead a project down the wrong road or a road to nowhere. This information is your treasure. It will turn your strategic toolbox into a treasure chest, and if you do this exercise honestly and with genuine curiosity, you will never ever make those same mistakes again. Your next projects will be strategically clearer and have a greater chance of meeting goals and of being successful.

Still finding this unpleasant? Would you like an example from my bag of experiences? OK, here goes.

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Three values important to you

This is not easy to write. And I am not entirely sure why.

One reason could be the deceptive levity of the word ‘values’ compared to the depth of influence the word has in our world, and in our every day lives.

What, then, are values? A question that philosophers, writers, poets, politicians, creators and common folk have contemplated since the concept came to life a very, very long time ago.

Wikipedia says: personal values provide an internal reference for what is good, beneficial, important, useful, beautiful, desirable, constructive, etc. Values generate behavior [...] and provide answers to questions of why people do what they do and in what order they choose to do them.

But we don’t really need those definitions, do we. Because we inherently know what values are. We feel what they are much more clearly than we can probably describe them. Values reside in a place deep inside us. Deep inside the individual and the collective self.

I think the reason this post was not easy to write is because of the very nature of values themselves —of their deep seated place within ourselves and within in our society. And reaching into ourselves and wrapping language around what we find, can sometimes be, well, challenging.

When I put myself and a few colleagues to the task of naming three of the most important values for us, I was met with silence, smiles, pursed lips, searching eyes and groping for words. Everyone eventually came up with three, but the effort it took intrigued me. I wanted to know more.

So, I hit the streets of Barcelona on a weekend afternoon with a digital recorder wanting to hear what people’s most important values were —people I had never met, randomly chosen. The question was not easy to construct, nor was the answer easy to convey, though, interestingly, every single person I approached seemed sincere in their desire to answer, everyone took the question very seriously. The basic question I asked was this: What are three values, important to you, that you look for in others or in society?

And here is what a few people said:

So, if you were to take a moment to answer that same question, what would you say? What are three values, important to you, that you look for in others or in society?

1._____________
2._____________
3._____________

Now let’s turn to your project, organization or business. Are any of the three values you have just named clearly reflected there? In the mission statement? In the objectives? In the relationship with your public? Do they guide you in your daily management?

They could be reflected in your project in a number of different ways. Why?

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Marketing and the hyperreal

In Pattern Recognition, a novel by “cyberpunk” writer William Gibson, one of the many intriguing characters the reader meets is Magda, a young woman who works freelance for an advertising agency to help finance her art as a hat maker. She is paid by the agency to go to carefully selected social venues, and while casually chatting with people she meets, mention a new clothing label, a film recently released or a new product on the market. It’s not a pitch, just a casual, favorable mention.

Or, if a person she meets mentions a specific product, say a man in a bar that seems attracted to her, then she is paid to say that she likes that product too. The agency’s objective is not to create immediate consumers of a particular product, but that the information is recycled by people to others: a viral model.

As time goes by, however, something begins to happen to Magda. When she is out for an evening of leisure, not working, having a cocktail perhaps, she may meet someone and they begin talking. And that person might casually mention a designer, a film, or a product in the course of their conversation. Magda then stops cold, no longer able to enjoy her social interaction. She begins to distrust people, distrust their authenticity. She doesn’t know what is real anymore.

The notions of ‘authentic’ and ‘real’ in our high-speed world of multi-environment marketing have been slowly moving toward the center of our collective storyline for some time now. Yet, the ‘real’ versus the ‘simulated’ have no clear boundaries or shared definitions. The philosopher Jean Baudrillard puts forth that a simulacrum is not simply a copy of the real, but that it becomes a truth in its own right – it becomes the hyperreal. In essence: the simulated becomes the reality.

But what does one do with these ideas? Their implications are as much philosophical as they are practical. We continuously make decisions regarding the communication strategies of our projects and products that intersect with questions of authenticity, whether we have paused to think about this or not.

It could be that it is entirely up to each one of us to develop marketing paradigms and content that reflect our own personal values. Better yet: that illuminate our own values.

This will not be done for us from the outside. And, there is no clear map, no clear set of rules. Here we stand, stripped down to our essence, with nothing but desire and intention to guide us through the changing labyrinth of possibilities.

Magda’s story could, at least, serve as one of the guiding voices in our quest: her acts of simulation finally folded themselves back onto her, and she began to doubt the people around her – the real had become indistinguishable from the hyperreal.

She yearned for authenticity.