Sunday, November 16, 2008

You Can Tune a Piano but You Can't Tuna Fish

Those of us who spent a lot of time in locker rooms and team huddles in sports know a little about the dynamics of a team.  Business people have some clue about what makes a great environmental mixture of people.  But no one understands the dynamics of bringing people together for a common outcome better than musicians.  

I've always admired the role of an orchestra conductor, especially those who lead large symphonies.  Whether you lead large organizations of people or simply interact with peers, customers, and managers there are few skills as important as the harmonious interaction with others.  I'm not a psychologist and certainly not an expert on people.  One thing I have observed and been rewarded for in my career (and personal life), however, has been the recongition of how my actions affect those around me.

Consider the issues that one simple instrument out of tune would cause in a 100 piece orchestra.  Or how about the kettle drum (better yet, the gong) player spacing off and missing a queue by a couple of seconds.  With professionals, the room for error is miniscule.  What drives the best performers to this level of precision?  Talent?  Yes, but more so dedication to their craft.  Practice builds an inner ear.  Practice builds an internal rythm and sense of symponic harmony.  Practice may not make perfect but it does make permanent.  How you practice is how you perform.  

Whatever you do is very similar to the musician and even to the conductor.  Your craft requires countless hours of learning, practice, and working with others.  The difference between harmony and discord is the ability to keep more than one thing in sync with another.  Life has its allegro and andante.  Each requires a different pace and mentality.  Go with the right pace at the appropriate time.  You will have times it's important to crescendo and times that call for diminuendo.  Volume levels are not right or wrong.  They are appropriate in the right parts of the piece you're playing.  

Listen to others.  Watch the conductor.  Learn from the best.  The difference between chaos and well orchestrated performance is the ability for a leader to bring everyone together and the willingnesss for the players to dedicate themselves and submit thier own ego to the cause of createing something greater than they could ever produce on thier own.  

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mu, F sub N, and Your Life

The words "coefficient of static friction" are enough to make even the most nerdy reader slip into a coma.  It's like starting a comedy routine with an obituary.  But hang in there, grab a tasty beverage and come along for the ride, today's post is a short one.

Reach way back to, I don't remember what class it was.  But somewhere about high school it used to be taught that the amount of energy to get an object moving was exponentially more than it took to keep it moving once it started.  Let's say you're Spencer Johnson's proverbial mouse (Who Moved My Cheese).  You have a higher intellect than your peers so you use a periscope to spot the new location of the cheese, blast those pesky walls down with a little plastic explosive and create a clear path between your new mouse-house and the perfect piece of cheese.  The only rope you find is elastic so you tie it around the very heavy cheeese, around your waist, and you start to pull.  As the little mouse sweat starts to bead and your mouse muscles start to burn you stretch the elastic almost to its limit.  Suddenly the cheese starts to slowly move.  You broke through the static friction and and are now dealing with a much smaller force; kinetic friction.

What does any of this have to do with success, especially in business?  Consider the amount of energy it takes to get a thing moving, to get it going.  If you're not ready it will break you.  You'll lighten up, lose your grip, or buckle under.  Remember that elastic rope.  What happens next?  Yep, you go zipping back, SPLAT, right into the cheese.  Taking the extra steps, small as they may be, and keeping the pressure focused ahead will eventually move the thing forward.  Don't give up too soon and don't underestimate the amount of energy it takes to get things moving.

Once things are moving a common mistake is to turn around and look at your progress.  How cool; that thing is moving along nicely now!  Remember the elastic.  SMACK, it'll plow you over if you've created enough momentum.  Don't stop in its path.  Keep the pressure on and keep it moving.  There will come a time to back off and gradually engage in the eating process.  Not now.  When the path looks rough ahead, it's time to accelerate.  Keep the big mo working for you and don't forget the consequences of stopping.  Fighting the ups and downs of kinetic friction beats the challenge of overcoming static friction again any day.

Oh, and one more thing.  No whining with the movement of the cheese.  Wine goes well with cheese.  Whine goes well with nothing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Winter Wheat

Times are tough in the world economy, thanks in large part to our irresponsible fiscal behavior in the U.S. for the past 30+ years.  Some say it's a tough road ahead.  Others say that's being generous; we'll see an incredible time of shortage.

Economies, like most states of being, follow patterns.  There is a logical series of seasons that provide a refreshingly predictable pattern if viewed from a long term perspective .  So if you're one of those who wring your hands when things look tough, take heed.  If you are fettting about the impact of the next elected Commander-in-Chief over the next 4 years let's consider something more familiar; seasonal change.  Winter is necessary and important to spring.  

During this time of seeming scarcity I've heard a lot of poor strategy.  Consider sales teams.  In a down economy the natural tendency is to back off and blame the economic conditions for the lean times.  What if we took an entirely different approach.  I call it the winter wheat mentality.

Most people are familiar with the concept of a farmer planting his crop in the spring as soon as the fields are availabe to work.  Breaking up the ground, fertilizing it, and preparing it for planting is no small job.  It requires time, effort, and money.  Invest them and you will recieve a return in the harvest time, typically fall.

Another lesser known secret to the wheat farmer is something called winter wheat.  Winter wheat is plated in the fall and  sprouts before freezing occurs.  Then it becomes dormant until the soil warms up in the spring.  As soon as the conditions are favorable the winter wheat comes up and starts to mature into something quite useful.  Had the farmer waited until the field was ready for planting in the spring, weeks would have passed before he could begin to plant and the harvest would be delayed.  Winter wheat also has a different constitution from summer wheat but that's a story for another post.

In times of headwinds, dropping temperatures, and scarcity consider the winter wheat analogy.  Now is the time to plant.  Now is the time to prepare and work harder than what seems logical to the outside observer.  If you are working the ground and planting seeds right now, you'll be the first to reap a harvest when the economic season turns.   Remember, everything follows pattern.  The warm glow of solid indicators will return once again to smile upon us.  How many opportunities for growth will you having waiting beneath the soil when that time comes?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mountain Top Experiences

Ever wonder what actually happens to your body when you fly from 1,000 feet above sea level, hit an altitude of 35,000 feet, land at 5,280, and then go climb a mountain?  I found out earlier this month.  

It was 7:30 am when we landed at DIA.  The first thing that caught my attention was the amazing contrast in services between the Avis counter staff and the lot people.  At the counter my experience could not have been more pleasant.  Out in parking-lot-land it was horrid.  First car had bugs all over the bumper and a nasty stain on the seat.  Back to the counter for another car.  We went with this car in spite of it's barely-swabbed-out look.  On top of that it was raining and drab.  I learned that the lot personnel had a dispute of some type going on and were voting on whether to unionize in 2 days.  Hold that thought, I'll get back to it.  If I remember.

This little trip was the start of a birthday weekend for my wife and she decided a hike up a mountain would be a great start.  And start we did at a trail head called Hell Hole.  Not aptly named because it was absolutely beautiful.  Did I mention that in spite of the drizzly weather we decided to head to the mountains anyway?  It wasn't more than 30 miles before the clouds parted and the sun smiled on us, almost rewarding us for our faith in the journey.  

As we worked our way up the mountain the crisp air and altitude brought our focus onto the present.  There are times when you have to forget the past for a moment, look to the future, but live in the now.  Nearing the peak it seemed like we stopped every few hundred yards to slow our heart rate back down, get some oxygen, and eliminate the altitude headache.  A little Perfect Water, 45 seconds of rest, and off we'd go again.  

We found ourselves spending more time looking at the vast expansion of the entire range than at the trail we'd ascended or the path ahead.  Suddenly the drizzly, noisy, reckless world of the city was gone and nothing was present except the trees, the crisp air, the majestic view, and the sound of wind in the pines beneath us.  You could hear a breeze coming from miles away.  It would find its way to you, through you, and retreat somewhere in the valley beyond.  At the summit there's an indescribable feeling.  Perspective.  Vision.  Clarity.  The issues of the plains seem so unimportant from up here.  

I wonder how the Avis people would resolve their conflicts if they both made this ascent.  Would the squabbles of the valley hold any merit?  Does the gain or loss of the next presidential election have much longevity in the context of this age old mountains?  What were those other issues I was concerned about again?  If I were to expire, here and now, would I have regrets or a peace that I'd fought the right battles and made an impact in things that matter?

In life, the mountain top experience is vital.  Sometimes you have to make a decision to make the climb, to start somewhere  and make your way up.  You will burn out if it's a full sprint but you can't lose too much time either.  Staying steady on the trail is a battle half won.  And viewing the scenery along the way makes is all worthwhile.  Put all of the issue in perspective and give yourself pause to consider what it's all about.  You'll avoid a lot of errors this way.

But the time comes when the perspective is sufficient and it's time to go back to the daily experiences of life.  It becomes evident that, no matter how majestic, life is not very sustainable on the peak.  It's always hard to decide to begin the descent back down to the trail head.  How can we want to go back to Hell Hole?  It's more dangerous to go down the trail than up.  By that time you are fatigued and the impact on your body is more severe.  The risk of falling increases.  

How we descent is as important as how we climb.  Going back to those areas we have responsibilities in helps us stay humble and sane.  But we never go back the same as we left.  There's always a new stripe of experience on our shoulders.  Life will never be the same.  Until we allow it to be.

I have a bit of closing advice for you today.  Go climb a mountain.  Not necessarily literally but figuratively.  Find a way to rise above your current environment and gain some perspective.  Cast off the unnecessary.  Notice your surroundings.  Zoom out and think about what you're really here for.  You'll find it a pleasant experience.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Best Aren't Looking

From February 2008 OurTech Network Update

Create circumstances to expand your potential.

Wade Burgess, Vice President of Sales and Marketing

Is it accurate to say that the best relationships are formed by happenstance? Probably not exactly but it is certain that they weren’t forced either. Your business and personal life are best cultivated by knowing who you are, what you want, and creating the right circumstances to expand your potential.

This month’s article can actually function as a mini workshop if you choose. Bring your team together and discuss the questions at the end of each paragraph. I’d love to hear your results.

One of the most unfortunate stereotypes in our culture is the car buying experience. From the moment the Model T hit critical mass in the market the American dream included riding through the landscape in a beautiful automobile. Whether you drive a minivan or Maybach, Honda or Hummer it’s exciting to buy a new vehicle. Or better stated it’s exciting to own a new automobile. Somehow the buying experience is one similar to visiting the dental office. This should not be so. The dealership sells cars. You buy cars. This is a match made in heaven.

  • Where does the disconnect occur?
  • Does your industry experience similar problems?
  • Does it ever feel like you’re forcing your solutions on your customer or do they feel like they are buying them?
  • What are you doing right or wrong to create this feeling?

My wife loves shopping at stores with a live piano player and latte stand (and I don’t mind accompanying her there since those are the only two items in the store I can appreciate). She can browse the latest and the most time tested. She can ask for help or be left alone. In the end, it’s a pleasant experience because these establishments realize an open dialogue combined with expertise in your field will help your customers find the right solution and increase your closing ratio (and margins). It’s entirely possible that the prospect will not buy today but if the experience is exceptional enough she will remember the emotion and be an excellent customer tomorrow. Once you have established this relationship with your client it’s a rare occasion that a purchase is not made, even if they aren’t actively looking for anything today.

  • How can you apply this to your business? Be specific.
  • Do your customers love the experience and atmosphere you create?
  • Does this atmosphere portray prestige-quality and value?
  • Does it encourage buying today?

Ask any hiring manager who the best candidates are. Without exception you’ll find that it’s the people who are not actively looking. The employee who is dedicated, has the blinders on, and is highly productive is the person we’re all looking for. After all, who wants to hire the person that is always looking and never settled? Take this mentality to your sales pipeline. Are you only pursuing prospects that are actively looking for vendors? Often the companies who are constantly looking for vendors are a big pain to work with once you land them. They cycle through vendors the same way an employee may cycle through employers, always blaming the other party for their problems and lack of performance. What if you looked for solid, loyal prospects that may not be actively looking for your product or service? They don’t have an RFP out, they aren’t calling you, and they may not even show up for your big events. If they are tough to win away from your competition, be grateful. This is a key of a company who understands loyalty and will be a better customer in the long run. The best people, vendors, and customers are worth cultivating and investing in.

  • What are you currently doing to develop relationships with prospects that are not actively pursuing new vendors?
  • Think of customers you no longer service. Did they have a history of changing vendors or businesses?
  • Can you use this information to better profile the right customers to pursue in the future?
  • Are there web forums, community organizations, affiliations, or tools in your industry that you can use to find passive prospects (those that aren’t actively looking)?
  • Consider the tools good recruiters use to find passive job seekers. What else can you do to brand yourself with these prospects?

Remember that people make emotional decisions. Regardless of how much we like to think we are logical, the emotional aspect does come into play. All things being equal, people will do business with people they like. All things not being equal, we still do business with people we like if possible. Be known as an expert, not a know-it-all. Be everywhere but not in-your-face. Be open and honest but in a professional way. There is one topic your prospect cares about more than anything in the world; themselves. If you are a person or company they feel comfortable with you’ll be in the front of the line when opportunity comes along. The best may not be looking today. But they will be. The key is to be there when they are. It’s not about how many people you have on your prospect list; it’s about how many people have you on their solution provider list.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Power of Empowerment

from Jan 2008 OurTech Network Update
Getting Your Vision into Focus
Wade Burgess, Vice President of Sales and Marketing

The Power Of Us. I know that’s not a grammatically correct sentence (or a complete statement) but since attending a video conference of the Tour de Force event recently I can’t seem to shake the message. We can learn a lot from observing major trends and recently successful companies. This idea is simple; work together with other great people and companies. How can you capitalize on this concept in your business? Read on to learn how one company will hit 10 figures THIS YEAR using The Power Of Us. was founded in 1999 by former Oracle executive Marc Benioff, who pioneered the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple Web site. They are now the worldwide leader in on-demand customer relationship management (CRM) services and the poster child for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). I distinctly remember many naysayers exclaiming how you couldn’t take CRM to the web, nor could you unseat leaders like Goldmine, ACT! and others. This year Salesforce will hit $1 B in revenue. A billion. In 8 years. I have clothes older than that. So what does this mean for your business? Quite a lot, I would imagine if you’re willing to put some thought into it.

Benioff’s vision was pretty simple on the surface. He knew that CRM users were primarily sales teams that wanted a system to manage and improve the sales process, margins, and customer communications. His company took responsibility for everything that was not core to his customers’ needs. They did the building, maintaining, hosting, staffing, developing and managing of infrastructure, hardware, bandwidth, facilities and all of the other factors that go into a successful business application. If you’re not technically inclined, stick with me here. Marc understood that his customers wanted to sell more products and maintain better relationships with their clients. They didn’t want to manage IT or fight with their internal IT departments over budgets and time lines. They wanted solutions right away, not after months of project timelines to get new apps installed. Salesforce delivered and started to expand the philosophy into other areas of business.

Understand I’m not pushing Saleforce here; I’m not even a customer of theirs. But I am a big fan of helping clients focus on their core competency and listening to their needs. Find out what your clients REALLY want, not just what you want to sell them or what you’re currently capable of. If you build a business around the concept of filling a true need your customers will love you and you’ll find business much more enjoyable. Be warned, it will stretch you and your concept of what is possible. Any great personal or business endeavor will stretch your thinking and cause you to come up with solutions to previously unanswered questions. That’s the thrill of it. Be willing to go there. Take the plunge to 100% dedication and you just may be surprised at who you’ll pass along the way.

The second major phase change Salesforce engaged in was to reach out to the software development community and allow them to access their infrastructure. As you can imagine, Salesforce has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in this infrastructure so why would they open it up to others? They knew that a programmer or development company is really good at programming. So what if they didn’t have to spend time and money putting servers, data centers, and databases together? What if they could leverage an infrastructure that already existed and just create really cool software to sell or use? I’m not a techie but I’d guess that was a pretty good message. And the market would prove it. Thus far over 61,200 applications have been built in this environment. Proof that you don’t have to be a genius in everything to make it big. Just be really good at what you do and find ways to allow others to leverage your strengths in ways that can be mutually beneficial.

On a small scale that is what we do at OurTech Solutions. Most of our clients are not in the field of technology nor do they care to be. They have taxes to file, cases to defend, real estate to appraise, and develop, manage, and sell, refrigeration units to sell and service, fences to build, patients to see, candidates to place, trailers to sell, trucks to drive, etc. So we manage their IT for them and become a business partner. We noticed that our clients wanted a predictable cost and unlimited access to us. So we delivered it and they appreciate us for it. Our customers are great at what they do and that drives us to be great at what we do.

We also found that many IT companies are very good at working on computers, servers, and responding to technology 911 calls. But they are often undercapitalized or light on staffing the business operations of the company. So we offer a platform that they can utilize to further advance their technology offerings and stabilize their cash flows. Much like the Salesforce platform for developers, our network management platform (the OurTech Manager) enables our affiliates to focus on what they do best.

If you are not in IT I have three pieces of advice. First, count your blessings. (Just kidding, for all you techies). Second, find ways to take on more responsibilities and allow your customers to focus on their core strengths. Third, see if there is a way to leverage infrastructure you already have in place and help your peers and customer to their jobs better. Remember a rising tide lifts all ships.