Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.

 

December 2017
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Do you have an ‘evil plan’?

I read several blogs on a regular basis and I also act as a co-facilitator for the Richland County (WI) Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club. So what do those two things have in common?

The blogs I most often frequent are usually written by small business people who are in the process of starting or growing their own businesses. They don’t claim to have all the answers but they share a running dialogue of their thoughts as they deal with the challenges that most people in these situations face. Just like the folks who participate in our I & E meetings.

One of the best of these is Hugh MacLeod. He does drawings on the backs of business cards and he’s turned that unique approach to art into a real business. His blog is at gapingvoid.com. His most recent post is an update on his second book which is nearly completed. “Evil Plans” is his look at what it takes to get out of the rat race and back into the human race by doing the things you love. And he’s practical enough to know that you have to be able to make a living in the process.

Every entrepreneur I know should be able to relate to what he shares as they develop their own ‘evil plans.’

Here’s a sample of his thinking:

notdelusional sxswCopy.jpg

First Steps

Spoke at the annual meeting of a local chamber or commerce last night and my topic was “First Steps to a Better Community.” While I listed several things to consider doing, the key to the entire message was that it all depended on passion. Your passion. My passion.

Business and community leaders must develop or rekindle a real passion for their communities if improvements are going to be made. We must be unabashed cheerleaders for our community ‘team’ and we must welcome new residents and businesses to that team.

On first blush some may consider ‘passion’ to be a strange choice for a top priority. But in my experience it’s usually not a lack of skills, talent or even money that holds communities back. What kills us is complacency and apathy. Without replacing those with some fire-in-the-belly passion it will never matter if we have a new strategic plan or if we hire a Main Street program manager or redo the storefronts. Without passion all the community improvement programs in the world are just window dressing.

If we want to improve our communities, the first step is passion. And it starts with each individual. Long before the programs come passion. That’s the real first step!

Community Service: Are we talking about the same thing?

Sometimes we do things with the best of intentions and wind up with unintended results. I may have stumbled across one of these last week.

In a conversation with a friend we started talking about ‘community service’. To me, that phrase brings up thoughts of involvement in civic clubs and volunteering in community activities. From my perspective that means pleasant memories and many feelings of accomplishment. His perspective was different. A lot different. To him, and a growing number of younger people, the term ‘community service’ was akin to jail time. It was a form of punishment. How did that happen?

Our legal system has made community service part of their sentencing plan for many minor (and not so minor) infractions as an alternative to hefty fines or jail time. This is especially true when a younger person is involved. The hope is that this exposure to good works will have a positive effect on the person doing the service instead of the time. That’s a reasonable and well intended assumption but is it really turning out that way? Or do these people now equate ‘community service’ with punishment?

Same goes for school mandated community service. The intent of classes and clubs requiring community service is certainly motivated by a positive desire to expose young people to the benefits and impact that such involvement can have. But in many cases the service is a requirement. The idea of ‘volunteering’ isn’t part of the equation.

So today, when someone my age talks about ‘community service’, does this bring up a completely different and possibly unfavorable image for younger members of our audience? Are we even talking about the same thing?

Read this now.

No, I’m not talking about my blog. I’m talking about a free ebook compiled by Seth Godin. I read several blogs but I enjoy his the most. His free ebook contains comments and observations from 70 people that he respects. The book is short, it’s right on target and it will get you thinking. In fact, I double dare you not to think differently after you’ve read it. It’s called, “What Matters Now”.

Now stop reading this post and start reading this now!  Happy Holidays!

Recognize (& Celebrate) Progress

Several months ago I helped a community conduct an open planning session where they set five goals. Since then I have had contact with several of the leaders of that effort and the impression they gave me was that very little, if anything, was happening in the way of follow-up. To get things back on track we decided to do a follow-up community meeting.

Imagine my surprise when each of the goal committees started listing their activities and accomplishments to date. For the most part they had made substantial progress and had certainly been busy working on their chosen goal. So why did most people assume nothing was happening?

Unrealistic Expectations As a society we are into ‘instant’ everything. From fast food to just-in-time manufacturing. Two things to consider with our community goal setting. First, the goals they picked were challenging. (In one case, v-e-e-e-r-y challenging.) Second, the folks working on the individual goal committees were all volunteers. For the most part they weren’t able to devote every waking hour to working on completing that goal. Given these two considerations, the progress made was not only substantial, it was in a couple of cases downright amazing.

Poor Communication By this I don’t necessarily mean that people didn’t talk with each other because they did. What wasn’t being clearly communicated was the progress being made. Not sure why that happened but I think it goes back to our expectations again. The only measure of success we tend to use is, “Is it done?” when we should be asking, “What steps has your committee identified and what progress has been made?”

We need to do a better job of recognizing realistic progress and we certainly need to let the people involved know that the efforts to date are appreciated. I’ve worked with community projects for years and what these folks are accomplishing is impressive.

Bring out the party hats and let the celebration begin!

Beating Average Shouldn’t be This Easy.

During taping of the second session of our web development videos for the Richland County I & E Club I was surprised (and a little disturbed) by one of the comments that John Wells of WebWise Design & Marketing made. I had written down and prioritized my reasons for doing a website (I only had five) and as I finished, John said that this was more information than most people had when they walk into a web developer’s office. 

What? You’ve got to be kidding me! 

Can this be true? Is the world really this unprepared? Say it ain’t so, Joe. If it is, then beating average is w-a-a-a-a-a-y too easy. 

Here’s Session Two of our series. 

Website Design Series for I & E Club

I just took over as facilitator for the Richland County Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club. This group meets monthly on the third Wednesday of the month and the primary purpose is to give people the opportunity to network with others who are going through similar experiences as they try to develop a product or business.

In addition to networking, we also provide educational programs and access to information and resources that will be of use to the participants. As a supplement to the meeting we are trying something new (for us anyway) by taping a series of brief info sessions and posting them on YouTube for viewing at any time. Our first topic is website development and our first session can be accessed using the link below. Your comments are most appreciated.

It’s more than just ‘Wandering Around’

I’ve written before about the importance of getting out of the office and this article by Wally Bock has some great tips on how to make that time truly valuable. You’ve got to do more than just visit your communities. You’ve got to do something to make each trip worthwhile for them and for you. Otherwise you’re just killing time.

Too many people think this is only a ‘management’ technique. Think of it as a learning opportunity. A chance to stretch your legs and your mind. A mental stimulation break. A (self) motivational moment. There’s a big payoff waiting just outside your office door.

The catchphrase is “Management by Walking Around” (MBWA) but to have value it’s got to be more than just ‘Wandering’ around!

55-38-7 Is this an accurate gauge of presentation impact?

I shared a ride to the airport with one of the attendees from a conference where I had just delivered a presentation on exceptional customer service. One of the points I made referenced the 55-38-7 ‘rule’. I put the word ‘rule’ in quotations because that’s the term that is usually used but I personally think it is a bit misleading. ‘Guideline’ would be better. 55-38-7 means this: when making a presentation, 55% of your impact on the audience is related to visual things…the setting, the speaker’s dress, AV aids, etc. 38% of the impact is related to tonality as it relates to both the actual sound and the accompanying emotions. (Does the presenter speak with conviction, resolve, passion, etc.) The final 7% of impact relates to the words themselves.

Now there are plenty of arguments out there that this entire idea is a bad misuse of the work originally done by Professor Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D. of the University of California back in the late 1960′s. Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. has an article on this topic that is worth reading. My travel companion raised another issue that deserves consideration. He questioned whether these percentages would be the same if measured today and if they would differ by age groups. Since we now do much more communication via email, twitter and even blogs like this one, aren’t there likely to be changes? An interesting thought and one that I would love to see researched.

But I think we’re missing the real point here. It’s not the actual percentages that are the main issue. It’s the core fact that each of these three areas, ‘visual’ ‘tonal’ and ‘words’ contribute in their own way to effective communication. Remove one or more of them and something, perhaps even a great deal, is being lost. My concern is that we are not doing enough to make up for those losses especially as more of our communication is being done electronically as opposed to face-to-face or even by phone.

Email is a prime example. With the loss of visual and tonal impact we should be spending a lot more time making sure that the ‘words’ are the most effective that we can find and that they are being used correctly. Unfortunately the reverse seems to be the case. Too much is being done in haste and most of it is being done badly to boot.

To provide Exceptional Customer Service we need to do all we can to make each encounter as personal and as effective as possible. That’s why I recommend that associations and businesses include photos of their staff members on their websites. Customers want to deal with PEOPLE and not faceless entities. Exceptional Customer Service is almost always related to a  memorable moment involving an encounter with a real human being. Photos and bios go a long way to help make that happen. Even Twitter gets it by making it possible to include a photo or personal icon along with your message.

So don’t worry about the relative percentages. It can be 55-38-7 or 33-33-34 or whatever. The importance is in understanding that there are many contributing factors and that when we lose even one of them we need to be making extra efforts to compensate. Exceptional Customer Service is too important to be relegated to words only.

Room on the Plate

Innovation can be challenging. It’s easy to say, “Think outside the box” and then try to come up with new ideas. There are lot’s of techniques and processes that can help. Heck there’s a whole shelf of books promoting great methods to help you and your business become more innovative. And the exciting fact is that many of them work. (My personal favourite over the years has been “Storyboarding”.) But the one topic that no one seems to ever address is this, “Where do we find the time and resources to implement these new ideas?”

Yep, one big glaring omission from the process and an obstacle bigger than Megatron. (My daughter took me to the new Transformers movie yesterday so I couldn’t resist.) Oh, I know what the supervisor, company president, committee chairman, Mayor or other grand pooh-bah in charge will say. “We’ll all have to just work a little harder, but it will be worth it. If everyone gives 110% we can make these changes happen.”

Gag me with a spoon. Let’s just ignore the fact that 110% is impossible in that stupid cliche. The real insult is that this attitude supposes that everyone is currently slacking off and adding new ideas and responsibilities won’t really pose a problem. There’s a real morale booster. Now if the PIC (person-in-charge) is talking about adding staff to handle the new stuff that’s a different story…a story we don’t usually hear, especially in challenging economic times. (And they are ‘always’ challenging economic times.)

So what do organizations that want to try new things without adding staff do to deal with this obstacle? Here’s one suggestion that is usually overlooked. Call it the Two-Thirds Rule for Innovative Success. At the beginning of each planning period every organization should conduct a complete evaluation of current activities and rank the effectiveness and importance of each to the organization using the mission statement as the ultimate measuring tool. (You do have a mission statement, don’t you? If you have to dust off a copy or send someone to find one you have problems not addressed in this post.)

Once you have these activities/tasks ranked, draw a line two-thirds of the way down the list. Everything below that line is expendable. They can, and probably SHOULD, go away. Spend your valuable time and resources on things that make up the top two-thirds of your list and then spend time developing and implementing new ideas that will keep your company, community or organization fresh, exciting and growing.

Here’s an innovative thought. Recognize that change and new ideas can’t be implemented until you make room on the plate!