The motorcycle story

While running, I saw it.

Parked next to others, tail outward, resting between two chalky diagonal lines.

I don’t even recall the color of its body because a memory came at me fast and smooth as my eyes swam over the details and took in the word, Ducati.

The memory felt easy. The images that came to mind were familiar; it was the same sequence that unfolded every time I saw a motorcycle with this name.

I remember the way his eyes looked as he explained what he wanted me to know with the simplicity of passion.

Many years ago, my friend and I were walking to work through the backstreets that wound around the neighborhoods close to the college campus; we were both waiters at the same restaurant. He stopped abruptly, got quiet and looked down at a lone red motorcycle parked on the gravel. His face softened and he shook his head for a moment as we stood in silence. Then, he raised his gaze, locked his shining eyes on mine and with excitement in his voice he said: 

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5 tips for responding to emails that will save your professional life

Emails are one of the most dynamic and unwittingly dangerous communication tools that exist. And they are here to stay.

As we jet through facebook, tweeter and google+ on to the emerging applications of the future, the email will take the ride buckled into the seat right beside ours, sipping a cocktail, sure of its destiny.

The use of this powerful tool calls for no license, training or mentorship. It is a technology open for all to use — freely and innocently. The email is seen as an efficient, flowing and communication-fomenting vehicle.

Until your first crash.

It is then that you realize the amount of damage this tool can cause in the blink of a human eye. And you also realize, much to your horror, that emails are less biodegradable than steel. They are permanent.

Once you push the send button, they cannot be taken back or amended. Ever. Just that simple thought makes me shudder.

As a content and communication strategist, I believe we all need a little guidance to avoid disasters — a few handy tips or rules that will help to keep our professional relationships healthy and robust.

Before I go on to the 5 tips, however, I first need to make a confession.

A few days ago, I broke my own key rules on responding to professional emails. I also broke the back-up rule that I had set up in case I wanted to break a key rule.

Of course, a small crash ensued.

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Be innovative. Your public eats cheese.

But not just any kind of cheese.

Thousands of people living in my city of Barcelona are following a particular diet that consists of low carbohydrates, low oil, low fat intake, lots of vegetables and high protein content. Just imagine how many folks in this grand metropolis are happily munching on low fat cheese right this minute as you read this article. It is a growing trend that will probably hit very large numbers within the next few years in Europe and North America.

Yet in this same city, there is not one restaurant that I know of that serves even one specially designed meal that these hungry people can easily identify on the menu, sit back, relax and enjoy with the rest of the restaurant-going population. They are left feeling alienated or must break their diet when dining out. For some, this can bring on tinges of guilt, frustration, as well as altered social relations.

Something is not quite right in this picture. 

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Your fortune cookie: A strategic message for a lucky summer!

The tradition of wrapping words of fortune and luck inside a small pastry originally comes from 19th century Japan. However, through the waves of migration to America and Europe, together with an eager entrepreneurial spirit, this tradition suddenly changed hands and began its legendary popularity as the ritual dessert at the end of a meal in thousands of Chinese restaurants.

The mystery and intrigue of glimpsing one’s fortune wrapped in a cookie is ageless, whetting our appetite for solving the riddles of our future.

As a way of wishing you all a wonderful summer—full of relaxation and reflection, The Strategy Blog has made a fortune cookie just for you.

Inside one of the four cookies below, you will find a message that, if understood and used wisely, will guide you on your path to healthy and happy project development.

The message is meant especially for the summer month of August, though it holds true throughout the 12 months of the year.

All you need to do is:

Contemplate all four numbers and, when you are ready, choose one, click on it to open and read what’s inside.

After you read your fortune, if you feel curious and would like to open another, go ahead—there is strategic wisdom to be found in them all. But remember, the first one you open is the message that was meant especially for you.

Enjoy…

1

2

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The three strategies of the classic world

After many journeys to distant lands as a kind of modern day Ulysses, after wandering far and wide, back and forth over the seas, I finally arrived safely to the mythical port of Ithaca—Barcino, in my story.

In my voyages over the years I have come to know scores of projects and their strategies from many different lands. I have loved them, nourished them, warred with them, and even left many of them to travel their own journeys with new maps and cunning.

As I reflect back on the types of strategies I have seen used throughout the world by entrepreneurs, organizations, and businesses, I see clearly that they can be categorized into three classic groups that I will briefly describe below.

In honor of my own journey’s end at the ancient Roman port, today known as Barcelona, I thought it appropriate to coin names for these strategies that still thrive with good health in our modern times. Thus was born: strategius spiritum, strategius erraticum and strategius precisum. 

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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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A vision statement in 3 scenarios


Scenario # 1: The island

You are sitting on the cool golden sand of a small beach. Your clothes are wet and tattered but you feel fine. You are not sure how you got there; the last thing you remember is that you were standing on the hull of a large boat looking out over the open sea. You turn around to take in your surroundings; behind you there is thick green jungle and the soft orange of the setting sun. There is no one else in sight. You know somehow that you are alone. This is a deserted island. You feel fine and strangely calm as the light from the sun casts long shadows on the small shells scattered about the beach. You spend time thinking. You think about the people you love, the people that love you. You fantasize about building a hut to live in and eating the fruit from the palm trees. The hours pass, the sky turns a deep apricot, and as you lie down in the soft sand and look up at the sky, you begin to think about your project, your creation, your work.  Your perspective is different, you can see your project from a distance, for the first time. And you begin to see what it gives to the world, how it fits in, how the world will change if you keep going, if you make your project strong. And you feel your face begin to smile at the same time that you have this thought: “the world needs me, the world needs my project”.

In the distance, faintly at first, the sound of a ship’s horn can be heard over the gentle lapping of the waves.

Scenario # 2: The woman

You are in a spacious office with polished wooden floors; there is just you and a woman dressed in a finely tailored suit made of light brown linen. You are sitting across from each other, comfortably, in wide beige upholstered chairs; there is no desk between you. You are in the middle of pitching your project to her; she has the ability to offer you the economic and logistic support you have dreamt of. The woman is listening carefully and attentively to your words as you masterfully describe your project. You stop for a moment, take in a deep breath, center yourself and wait for any question or sign of interest. Your sole audience looks at you with a smile in her eyes, and after a moment of silence she respectfully says, “I like it. I just have one question before I give you my full support: What is your project trying to accomplish in the world?”

Scenario # 3: The circle

You have been invited to a meeting. You walk into a large room with lots of chairs arranged in a wide circle. There are many people there and they begin to each take a seat, casually without haste. As you look around, you begin to recognize many of the faces, and suddenly the realization hits you: you are in a meeting with the world’s most important visionaries, leaders, thinkers and great teachers of all times. There are people of all possible skin tones; they are tall, short, large and small; they are men and women of all different ages. You are sure that some of these leaders could not possibly still be alive, yet here they are together in this room—as if time had no relevance here. And there you are, standing among them; “there must have been a mix-up in the invitations”, you mutter uncomfortably to yourself feeling awkward and out of place.

Following the gestures of the others in the room, you take a seat in the large circle of chairs and sit, very quietly, waiting. Spontaneously and quite naturally, the men and women in the room begin to speak, one by one, taking turns, with all the others listening in silence with great attention and patience. Each person tells briefly and simply his or her vision of how they would like the world to be and how their particular work is striving to achieve that. You begin to feel nervous and fluttery in your stomach; you don’t like this type of exercise. However, as you sit quietly and listen, you come to sense that no one looks uncomfortable or as if groping for ideas or words. And no one looks as thought they would disapprove of anything the others say; they seem to truly accept all that is being said. It seems that the most important element is quite simply that the words come from the heart, and this way of speaking seems to relax the mood in the room, and you begin to feel a little less nervous, a little more alert. And curious.

Meanwhile, the speaking continues, slowly making its way around the circle, person by person, vision by vision. There are about five or six people before it’s your turn to speak.

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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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Your mission: A story well told

This is a story with a happy ending. It’s about communicating the missions of our projects. It’s also a story about fish.

First, before we get started, we should clear up the difference between mission and vision:

Classically, a mission statement tells you the fundamental purpose of the organization; it is about now.

A vision statement tells you what the project wants to be, or how it wants the world to be if the mission is achieved; it concentrates on the future.

It is commonly accepted though to see a mix of the terms values, mission, vision, philosophy or credo to refer to an organization’s statement of purpose.

And second, we should let history add a bit of context to our story. The origin of the word “mission” is from the mid 16th century and referred to the sending of the Holy Spirit into the world, derived from the Latin word “mittre”, meaning “send”. Today, five centuries later, we can pencil the word’s definition as: a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.

That sets things up rather nicely, doesn’t it.

The beginning

In the beginning there was a project.

But before the project became a reality, it was first an idea. An idea with a notion to create, change, effect or produce something. When this idea matures into a project with a clear purpose, then it needs a plan to achieve its particular aim, or, in other words, to achieve its ‘mission’.

In the formulation of any plan, the statement of mission should be the second item scribed, be it on parchment or an iPad, right after the name of the project, organization or business. It should clearly and boldly state what a project does and what it intends to achieve ­­— its mission or reason for existing.

All people that come into contact with any project should know what its mission is.

The goal is to

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One simple question

There is a simple question that needs to be asked. So, here it is:

What percentage of projects and enterprises in today’s environment clearly articulate their mission, vision and values to their public?

(Click on your selection)

Low

Medium

High

You might have been surprised by the answer. Or by the question.

Or maybe you think the question should be this:

Do the mission, vision and values of a project or business have a place in the digital era, in multi-platform environments and in our professional and social networks?

That’s another good one. And here’s the answer:

Yes. Because these elements speak of the reason for being, the core of your project, and what you want the world to see, know and feel connected to. It’s your story.

In the next post, I’ll talk about and clearly define these key terms, I’ll make them usable ideas, dust them off, make them shine. They’re the very essence of good strategy.

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Zero tweets

The digital era is cool. It’s seductive and extremely convenient. It can make life easier, faster, and even more visible.

Except when it doesn’t.

Some things can actually become invisible. The lives of some people.

In our world of work, there is a very large group who are invisible to the digital gaze. Even in our own projects or enterprises, people who are doing some of the most important work might never show up at the top of a Google search after we enter their name and tap the return key.

The great majority of the people working on projects, often times very large projects, are busy with the work that must be done in order for the project to function. The general public rarely, if ever, sees their names in large illuminated lights. 

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