To Adapt or not Adapt to Change

For some people, “change” might as well be a four-letter word. We get comfortable in our jobs, relationships, and life in general. Change can take us to places we have never been… and we may not want to go! Change appears to be at odds with comfort. In order to change, we must step outside of our comfort zone and adapt to a new situation. Conversely, feelings of comfort come from consistency, or another way of looking at it is the absence of change.

This week’s One to Grow On quote calls for a different way of looking at change. Physicist Stephen Hawking equates adapting to change with intelligence. Hawking’s statement resonates with me as experience indicates change is closer to a certainty than possibility. Am I prepared to take change head-on, adapting to change to realize the best outcome possible?

It’s Going to Happen

Change is coming. The only uncertainties are the magnitude of change and how it will impact current conditions. The speed at which change happens can be breathtaking, too. Rapid change took the marketing profession by storm in recent years. A survey of marketing professionals by Adobe found that three-fourths of them believed marketing had changed more in a two-year period than it had the previous 50 years. That is a dizzying pace of change!

change in marketing

The external environment is a driver of change. Technology advancements, changes in economic conditions, cultural shifts, and competitive actions can upset the apple cart of stability. These forces are beyond our control. However, if we turn a blind eye to them or pretend they do not matter to us, we could get swept up in change in a way that puts us at a disadvantage. The insignificant competitor today could become the thorn in your side that causes great pain. Will you apply intelligence and change, or resist in order to stay in your comfort zone?

Why We Resist

While I buy in to Stephen Hawking’s idea that intelligence and adaptability are correlated, I see many intelligent people stubbornly resist change. Why do we resist change rather than deal with it?

  • Naiveté. Ignorance is bliss, they say. However, lack of awareness of change in the external environment is anything but blissful. We must monitor for change and its potential impact on us.
  • Fear of the unknown. Change can be scary. We may be forced to make changes to the routine or even more radical changes—a new job, new boss, different clientele, or strange city, to name a few. The unknown can be avoided by not embracing change, but likely at a cost to our growth.
  • Fear of the known. The implications of change, benefits of adapting, and consequences of inaction may all be known. Yet, we do not want to embark on a path of change. It is as if we refuse to change and insist on status quo we can get our way. Good luck with that. Change is sparked by external influences. You can not wish them away.

Discern and Adapt

Change can be either a catalyst or foil to our personal growth. We can fall into a trap of resisting change, or we can be open to how we can benefit (or at least co-exist) with change. I am not suggesting all change is good, that we should blindly accept it. Sometimes, the external force driving change is someone else’s self-interest. Pressures for change could be coming from their desire to benefit. We should modify Stephen Hawking’s statement to say that intelligence is the ability to discern legitimate change and adapt to it.

Answer to Retailers’ Problems in Palm of Customers’ Hands?

mobile credit card reader











One of the inconveniences of shopping at a brick-and-mortar retailer is the back-end of the process: checkout. Even if you enjoy the experience of walking aisles and handling goods, the fun can come to an abrupt halt when you approach the register and find you have company. Long lines and slow movement of customers through the checkout process can negatively impact the customer experience.

The term “cart abandonment” originated long before e-commerce sites were around. It started (and still happens) in stores. Many potential points for service failure exist. Retailers must take steps to ensure the final point, checkout, reinforces the shopper’s decision to buy and not question it.

Improving Shopping Efficiency

Retailers are incorporating technology to make shopping less of a hassle. Among the tools available are:

  • In-store pickup. Shoppers can avoid the store shopping experience altogether by purchasing online and picking up their order in the store.
  • Delivery. This service is not prevalent given the labor needs and costs. We could see delivery of in-store purchases promoted, and the army of contractor drivers on the road already (especially Uber and Lyft) could provide this service.
  • App shopping. Customers can buy wherever they are, including in-store, and pick up purchases in a dedicated mobile order area.

Artificial intelligence is another tool with great potential to help shoppers and fill the gap of salespeople and customer service associates created by a combination of low unemployment and retail expansion.

Put Shoppers to Work

Another technology appears to hold promise to improve customer service and increase sales: mobile checkout. Rather than being bound to waiting to take a turn at a register, shoppers using mobile checkout use a handheld device to scan purchases and make payment. This technology is not only convenient, but it can drive sales, too. Research by mobile services provider Stratix found North American retailers that deployed point-of-sale mobile checkout had an average sales increase of 24 percent of the prior year.

The advantages of mobile checkout are compelling for retailers to consider:

  • Shoppers spend less time in lines
  • Customer turnover is faster
  • Customers’ involvement in facilitating transactions could mean fewer employees needed
  • Customers appreciate controlling their credit card (it never leaves their possession)
  • Creates positive brand associations (e.g., “a modern store”)
  • Can segment customers to serve mobile checkout shoppers

Mobile checkout should not, and the foreseeable future, cannot replace humans. The call for greater integration of mobile checkout is not intended to eliminate customer service personnel. They are needed to give a personal touch to that final in-store interaction. Customer service is also needed to ensure the technology works and help shoppers when it does not.

Not So Fast

The above discussion about mobile checkout makes you wonder why more retailers have not deployed the technology. Unfortunately, retailers face barriers to serving shoppers through mobile checkout. Emarketer reported that a combination of technology and human resource limitations prevent more retailers from offering mobile checkout. The chart below identifies the top five challenges to mobile checkout implementation.

mobile checkout stats
credit: eMarketer

The main challenge is simply that retailers do not have the technology to implement mobile checkout. For many of them, having the technology would not be enough; they would still need to train or add store personnel to use and support mobile checkout.

Shiny New Toy

The discussion of mobile checkout in this article reminded me of a recent experience I had in a restaurant in Sarnia, Ontario. There was a group of parents and teenagers (six parties or so). When it came time to pay for the meal, the server brought to the table a couple of handheld payment devices. Parents paying by credit card oohed and aahed over the machines. More important, they noticed how much faster it was to pay for their meal than to wait on the server to process all of the bills. We were impressed by the use of technology in a relatively small restaurant, and it added another positive association to the dining experience.

Businesses must exercise caution when adopting new technology. Is it proven, or is it a case of adopting technology for technology’s sake? The sales bump realized when using mobile checkout suggests it is not a fad. Retailers should consider potential impact of mobile checkout on customer service, employee satisfaction, and store sales.

A Simple Formula for Your Best Year Ever

math formulas

The new year is more than turning the calendar forward to start a new 12-month cycle. It is an ideal time for a reset, to adopt new beliefs and practices. The result of this reset could be better job performance, a healthier body, greater feeling of peace, or increased income. We start the new year with good intentions to affect change in our lives. Unfortunately, setbacks and discouraging moments often knock us off the rails of self-improvement.

The words of the late tennis legend Arthur Ashe are reassuring as I think about what it will take to achieve personal growth this year. His advice is simple, yet we often fall short in meeting one or more of these directives. Failing to embrace this advice thwarts even the best intentions for personal growth.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. - Arthur Ashe quote

Start Where You Are

It is logical to start where we are, yet our starting place could be one that we dislike or are embarrassed to claim. Starting where we are requires acknowledging the good and bad. In other words, we must candidly assess strengths and weaknesses. In our book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I encourage taking a snapshot (i.e., conduct a situation analysis) of where you are. It serves as a starting point for setting personal brand goals.

Use What You Have

Chances are where you are now is not where you want to be… and that is OK. Dwelling on weaknesses could cause us to overlook strengths we have (i.e., personal brand assets) that can support personal growth. Arthur Ashe’s words “use what you have” is a reminder that our personal brand makeup abilities, skills, knowledge, and experience can be used to create value for others.

In order to realize growth and change, now may be the time to add to what you have. Do you have a self-learning program in place? Are you investing in yourself? Career expert Dan Miller says success is guaranteed if you invest 3% of your income back into yourself.  Use what you have while at the same time be disciplined to add to what you have.

Do What You Can

Plans without follow-through are little more than dreams. “Change” and “grow” are verbs, actions that arise from actions. The bottom line is we must do (i.e., leverage where we are and what we have) in order to affect change and growth. We cannot merely think about personal growth; we have to be the driver of change and growth.

Efforts to advance your personal brand should come with a commitment to measure performance and progress. Evaluate progress toward goals regularly (e.g., weekly or monthly). Doing so sheds light on where you stand and allows you to adjust as needed. Otherwise, one year from now the only change could be that you are one year older.

Your Best Year Ever

I get excited when I think about having my best year ever. It is such a lofty place that it is almost intimidating to think about it. What exactly would my best year ever look like professionally? What would it look like personally? How the heck do I get there? How far will it push me out of my comfort zone to have my best year ever?

These questions are enough to consider dialing down what we want. A really good year or one of my best years ever will suffice. The enormity of pursuing my best year ever can be calmed by following the guidance of Arthur Ashe.


What Are You Counting?

countdown clock

An exciting time of year is approaching for students and faculty at colleges around the country: fall graduation. Thousands of students will complete the final leg of their education journey. The crowning moment will be taking part in their graduation ceremony. Anticipation is rightfully high among soon-to-be graduates. They are the envy of nearly all other students at their institution for whom work remains to complete their degree.

A running joke in my classes this time of semester is to ask how long it is until graduation. Someone in class has a countdown clock (like the one pictured above) set to the scheduled time for Commencement. They can tell me the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the big event. Asking the question elicits laughs from students, but it also should serve as pause for reflection. Do we put too much emphasis on the countdown and not fully enjoy the journey that takes us to the end goal?

Don't count the days, make the days count. Muhammad Ali quote

Be Careful What You Wish For

This week’s One to Grow On quote comes from boxing great Muhammad Ali. His words encourage us to focus on getting the most from each day instead of wishing away days in a countdown. Please do not misunderstand, I love the anticipation of counting down to a milestone or  goal as much as anyone. What can get lost in the excitement of a countdown is finding joy and value in the days that lead up to the end result.

I learned not to get too consumed in the countdown several years ago. My youngest son was in preschool, and as his final preschool year dragged on I thought about how nice it would be to have him on the same school schedule as his older brothers the next year. In my mind, I was rushing him through preschool to have a more convenient schedule. On the day of his preschool “graduation” ceremony, it dawned on me that we were moving on from this stage of his life forever. As our youngest child, my wife and I would never have the opportunity to take one of our children to preschool again. I cried when realizing I had foolishly wished away a few months of time for the sake of convenience. In short, I counted down the days when I could have done more to make the days count.

Make the Days Count

Let’s modify Muhammad Ali’s point—you can count down the days and make the days count. The aim should be to create value while counting down toward reaching a goal. For example, a college student who is counting down the days toward the end of the semester should identify tasks that must be completed and schedule them. Have a research paper to write? Select the days you will work on the paper and follow through on the plan. Final exams have been scheduled for weeks; set a plan for studying and work toward that goal. The journey will be more enjoyable and less stressful than if you realize the night before a final exam that it would be a good idea to study for it.

Advice on project management (i.e., a countdown to completing a major task or responsibility) is plentiful. The point is do something so that you are managing time rather than time controlling you. Check out this article by Michael Hyatt on how to make time to work on an important project. Make days count by realizing most great accomplishments do not occur from one big action. It is small, gradual progress that moves us toward goal achievement.

You Can Count Down, But…

This post is not intended to be a bucket of cold water thrown on your countdown to a big event. Rather, it is a call to embrace the countdown journey so that we get the most out of the time we put into realizing a big outcome. Go ahead and count down the days; just make sure the days count, too.

Stop Playing the Blame Game

pointing finger

The blame game is one for which many of us have potential to become an all-star. It is easy to attribute failures and shortcomings to external sources when things do not go our way. Why should I take the fall for an outcome that I did not want, and by extension, could not be possibly caused by me? If we allow ourselves to have enough practice at the blame game, we could evolve to the point at which we do no wrong. All failures are due to other people, events, or trends.

Our goal should be to give up playing the blame game. Pointing the finger elsewhere is convenient and absolves us of responsibility… at least in our mind. However, former FBI international  kidnapping negotiator Chris Voss points out a downside to playing the blame game. Voss says blaming others denies us of a chance to change.

When you blame others you give up your power to change. Chris Voss quote

Rather than doling out blame every chance we get, should we be seeking opportunities to accept responsibility for our failures?

Why We Play the Blame Game

The idea that attributing failure to others does more harm to us than good is one I can accept. However, living that idea can require a significant mindset shift. It is a place I have to prepare myself to be as I am not there yet. Sadly, it is a place at which some people will never arrive. Why are we often inclined to place the blame elsewhere?

Blame is easy. Attributing failure to external sources is a quick and painless way to diagnose shortcomings. Sometimes, external forces can be very difficult to overcome—a brutal economy, an abusive boss, or a ruthless competitor come to mind. We cannot stop any of these negative forces, so how could we possibly be at fault when they are around?

Blame is painless. When we deflect taking responsibility, it saves us from taking a hit to our pride. If you lost out on the promotion to Gina, you can take comfort in the explanation that the boss likes Gina more. It has nothing to do with you… or does it? It is not a consideration when we use external attribution like medicine to treat failure.

Blame is normal. External attribution of failure is an accepted practice. Identifying something or someone other than ourselves as the cause of our woes is common in our culture. Doing so saves us the trouble of deeper introspection to understand our role in personal failures.

Blame versus Growth

This week’s One to Grow On quote suggests blame is a threat to personal growth. It offers short-term relief from the sting of failure but does not address how I can learn and grow so that I do not experience similar failure in the future. Instead of being a source of relief, blame should make me squirm when it enters my mind as an explanation for falling short. The reason is that external attribution prevents us from taking internal inventory of our strengths and weaknesses. If we are the reason for not making the sale, passing the exam, or strengthening the relationship, pinning the problem on others will mask our inadequacies. The bottom line is a me-first approach is needed to examine failure and being open to change.

The Point

One of my favorite sayings about blame is when you point at something or someone else as the problem, you have three fingers pointing back at you. The idea is we are more likely to find the root cause of failure by looking at where the three fingers are pointing, not where the lone finger is pointing. My goal is to become a horrible player of the blame game.

Reasons: Excuses in Disguise

We are masters of rationalization any time we do not attain a goal, fail to do something we should have done, or otherwise fall short. We can offer up seemingly legitimate reasons for failure. Perfecting this technique over time means we can absolve ourselves whenever it is convenient to do it. This exercise may shield us from being accountable for our missteps, but in the end it is little more than a fabrication of excuses that cloud the truth—we messed up.

The practice of offering reasons for failure that are nothing more than excuses wrapped in logic (or purported logic) is a shortcoming brought to the forefront in a book I am reading. Bernard Roth, a professor at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, raises the reasons-as-excuses issue in The Achievement HabitStop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life (HaperCollins, 2015). Would it surprise you that in a book about achievement the author says we must stop with the reasons (excuses) for our behavior?

Reasons provide people with excuses to keep behaving dysfunctionally. Bernard Roth quote.

The Reasons We Reason

Talk about change—I have years of experience as a “reasoner” that will be for naught if I buy into Roth’s view that the reasons have to go! I see his point and also see how rationalizing our behavior, especially when it contributes to falling short of desired outcomes, is a threat to growth. So, why do we allow reasoning to justify our behavior?

  • Shifts focus to external factors. It is convenient to point at forces beyond our control as reasons for our failures. The economy, the weather, competition, workload (feel free to add some of your favorites here) could interfere with goal achievement. But, are they really the reasons we fail? One “reason” I need to remove from my library is “I’m too busy.” It is an excused dressed as a reason. What “I’m too busy” usually means is I am not good at time management or I need to become more selective in the projects I agree to take on.
  • Avoids need to confront weaknesses. Reasons we do not achieve serve as a buffer from an uncomfortable conversation we must have with ourselves. Weaknesses limit our growth. We must be able to acknowledge their existence and resolve to negate (if not overcome) them. Admitting weaknesses can damage our pride, but pretending they do not exist potentially does far more harm to our personal brand.
  • Preserves image. Every person has flaws, but we usually do not leverage them as part of our brand. We position ourselves on positive attributes possessed. When we offer reasons for failure or lack of success, we shift blame for failure away from our own brand. This deflection preserves the image others hold about us. However, be mindful that regularly citing reasons for failure could have the unintended effect of projecting an image that you always make excuses when things do not go your way.

Be Unreasonable

Bernard Roth is on to something when he says reasons are provide us with excuses to behave dysfunctionally. Too often, we want to use a pass for our actions rather than reflect on what we could do create better outcomes for ourselves. This week, I am going to put an emphasis on being “unreasonable.” Don’t worry, I am not planning to be unreasonable in my opinions and actions. My goal is to cut out leaning on the reasons for falling short that do not really explain my shortcomings.

Life is not a Spectator Sport

watching tv

When it comes to blogging, there is no shortage of advice on how to develop ideas for posts. Writing the One to Grow On entries in my blog is a straightforward process. Inspiration comes from thoughts and quotes I come across in daily readings and interactions. Sometimes, they are witty or insightful statements that convey a positive message. Other times, a thought or quote feels like a smack in the face. I was smacked in the face the other day by words of wisdom from the legendary Jim Rohn.

The few who do are the envy of the many who watch. Jim Rohn quote

As a person who has put out creative works for a living and personal growth for more than 20 years—courses, lectures, articles, books, and more—I still struggle with magnetic pull of going to the sidelines to watch. Author Steven Pressfield refers to it as the Resistance. Whether it is resistance, procrastination, or sloth, one thing is for sure: It is destructive to development of your personal brand. It sucks, and I desperately want to beat it. The temptation to watch rather than do is an ongoing threat to personal growth.

Why We Watch

Let’s get one thing clear up front: It is OK to do and watch. We can learn a great deal from watching in various forms—reading books, checking out blogs, watching videos, attending conferences, and enrolling in courses. Learning from others and adding our unique perspective to that knowledge is a form of innovation. We do not have to decide whether to watch or do, but we must strike a balance between consuming versus creating.

What causes an imbalance that leads to too much watching and not enough doing? We are distracted in the following ways:

  • Watching is entertaining. I am a college football fan. Saturdays often mean hours in front of the TV watching exciting games. The pageantry and drama of college football attracts millions to attend games or watch on TV. As much as I like consuming the entertainment on Saturdays, I realize that it would be easy to fall into this practice seven days a week.
  • Watching is educational. We must build in time to learn regardless of our age or how much formal schooling we have had. However, just as we can overdo entertainment, we can spend too much time and focus on learning. Rather than striving for perfection, “do the work” is a mantra that can serve us well.

The takeaway is not only is it OK to watch, some watching is needed in our preparation to do. We must guard against letting the pendulum swing too far to the point we become passive spectators when we should be players.

Get in the Game

Resistance can be a powerful force. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the date of this blog post and the preceding post. I take no pride that it has been three weeks between posts. And, I cannot use a lame excuse like “I’ve been busy” to cover my tracks. I have been guilty of watching others rather than being true to my work. It is clear the problem is me; I have become the person Jim Rohm describes in today’s One to Grow On quote. I loathe that person, so how do we get in the game? Here are three techniques for beating the tendency to watch:

  • Eat that frog. Author and business expert Brian Tracy says begin the day by tackling a task or project that you are reluctant to tackle. Once it is completed, the pressure to do decreases… you’ve already done!
  • Work in short bursts. A time-based work approach like the Pomodoro method blocks off time to work on a specific task. The Pomodoro method is based on working in 25-minute blocks with short breaks in between. A seemingly daunting task can be done in short time intervals.
  • Celebrate victories. Reward yourself for meeting a daily or weekly goal—a milkshake, glass of wine, or shopping trip—whatever would be a fitting treat for completing an important task on your to-do list.

The Struggle is Real

Resistance is nothing new, and its staying power is amazing (albeit annoying). We can mistake resistance for comfort and makes ourselves at home as spectators. The problem with doing so is that life is not a spectator sport. We grow and develop primarily by doing, not watching.

Keep watching, but do more. Show the Resistance who is charge.

Ride the Waves of Change


Benjamin Franklin is known for saying and doing many things. One quote often attributed to him is “in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” The statement is at the same time humorous and sobering. Death and taxes are imposed upon us all (and sometimes taxes do not end with death).

As timeless as this statement is about the certainty of death and taxes, I have always added a third certainty to the list: change. Whether it is individual interests or tastes or the environment in which you spend significant time (community, work, school, etc.), change is almost certain to occur. The scope and magnitude of change is a continuum that ranges from hardly noticeable to radical. Sometimes, change may not alter daily routines at all. Other times, it can rock our world.

A healthy approach to dealing with change is offered up by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist and meditation expert.

You can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf. Jon Kabat-Zinn quote.

Think of waves as a metaphor for change. Some waves are little more than ripples in the water. Other waves are powerful and have potential to effect change on anything in their path. We cannot stop waves (change), but we can be prepared to to adapt to the waves. They need not create hardship or adversity for us if we are willing to learn to surf the waves of change.

Why Waves Crash Upon Us

Sadly, too many people choose to do something other than learn to surf in order to deal with the waves of change. Why do we try to avoid waves when we could be benefiting from them?

  • Denial. Sometimes, pretending waves of change are not present is a comfortable solution. We can rationalize the change and tell ourselves it is a non-issue—”the merger won’t affect my job” or “we have a 20-year head start over the latest competitor”— could be a dangerous dismissal of significant disruption that is looming.
  • Fear. The potential effects of change may be realized, but it would make us uncomfortable to deal with them. You know full well that your position became redundant as a result of the merger. The possibility of being laid off and being forced to market yourself after 12 years with your employer scares you, not to mention a mortgage, debt, and two kids just a few years away from college. We know change is occurring, but it is convenient to pretend it will affect others, but not us.

Denial and fear are not unusual responses to change. Unfortunately, they fail to address the impact of change because they are reactive responses, not proactive ones.

Take Surfing Lessons

It is naive to think we can avoid the effects of change in our lives. Too many external variables are in play that stand to affect us. Marketers monitor and respond to external environment factors including:

  • competition
  • economy
  • technology
  • government and regulatory climate
  • social trends.

The common thread through these external factors is no one person or organization can do nothing to alter the direction or intensity of external occurrences. We can be prepared to deal with their effects and more importantly, take actions that potentially allow us to benefit from these external occurrences.

We must be willing to learn how to ride the surf because the waves are coming. Waters may be calm now, but in the back of your mind you know they will not remain calm. The personal growth equivalent of taking surfing lessons is a combination of mindset and skill set refinement that enables you to adapt to change.

Don’t be Afraid

A comforting takeaway from Dr. Zinn’s quote is to not be fearful of change. The reality is we almost never have the power to prevent change from happening. What we do have the power to do is deal with change in a manner that minimizes harm to us and maximizes benefit. Instead of allowing our energy to be consumed with denial or fear of impending change, I like the visual image of grabbing a surfboard and going for a ride.

Choose to be Good

archer with great aim; hits bullseye

Do you remember the first job you dreamed about having? It may be far removed from where you find yourself today. My mother told me the first job I expressed admiration for was garbage man when I was four-years old. The first job I recall saying I wanted to have was driver of a Coca-Cola truck. The big, red truck that rumbled down our street every afternoon on the way to the Coke warehouse captivated me—I wanted to be in the driver’s seat!

My interest in garbage collection and truck driving waned. In its place I developed an interest in marketing. The way I came to it was unusual. As a teenager, I often skimmed the help wanted ads in the newspaper. The practice started by chance (I think the classified ads followed the sports section). The number of ads for sales and marketing jobs caught my attention even though I was not a job seeker. I asked my father why there were so many ads for these positions. He pointed out that no matter what a business did or made, it had to be sold. Sounded like job security to me!

Today, I am still in marketing, having spent more than 35 years learning, working, and teaching in the field. The last 18 years have been in higher education as a professor, a far cry from the garbage man or truck driver I envisioned for my career as a young boy.

Your Choice

As a new academic year begins for me, I am keeping a quote by Abraham Lincoln in mind. My goal is for this year to be the best ever in my higher ed career. A lofty outcome, for sure, and one that will only be reached by striving each day to be good at what I do. It will not hinge on one event or project, but small actions I take to become a better teacher, researcher, and colleague. Lincoln’s words offer encouragement on two fronts:

  • You can choose “whatever you are.” While I drifted away from my aspirations to be a garbage man or Coca-Cola truck driver, we desperately need people to take on those roles. Moreover, you can be happy regardless of what you choose to do for work. I am currently reading The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha. Early in the book he points out that many of us mistake how to achieve happiness. It is not a linear progression that takes us to happiness. So, instead of this:

Great Work > Big Success > Happy

we need to choose happiness at the outset and go on the journey from there.

Happy > Great Work > Big Success

The good news is we get to choose. Sometimes, we make the wrong choice. If that is your case, choosing happiness first could make it easier to shift the work you do and how you define success.

  • You control whether you are “a good one.” Note that Lincoln does not say we must “be the best” or “rise above everyone else.” We only need to be good at what we do. Why is that important? I believe many people fall in the trap of comparing themselves to others and feeling so inferior that it paralyzes them. “Why bother blogging or building an online presence, I will never be like Seth Godin (or whoever the people are that are the stars of your field).” These far out comparisons do nothing to help us. They hurt us by discouraging action and in turn, improvement. Not only will we not become the best, but we hurt our chances of being as could as we could be.

Whatever you are, be a good one. Abraham Lincoln quote

Get Started

The opportunity create value for the audience I serve does not require me to be the best at what I do. Students do not care how many research articles I publish or in which journals my research appears. The number of blog posts written or Twitter followers gained are not indicators of being good. Yet, we often chase such vanity metrics as if it was a competition.

Choose to be a good one of whatever you are. It is completely within your control. In order to get to good, step back and ask yourself what behaviors will help move you in that direction. Then, do it!


Find Your Fans and Forget the Rest


One of the hardest lessons for me to accept as a young marketer was that my company’s offerings were not for everyone. On top of that, there were some non-customers that simply disliked us. Maybe they had a bad experience with our company years ago. Or, a competitor made disparaging remarks about our company. In some instances, it was that people disliked our product, perceiving it to be inferior relative to competition. Whatever the source of negative beliefs, our products were not going to wind up in their shopping carts. Safe to say people in this camp were not fans… nor were they going to be.

The sooner you accept the fact that you will have detractors, the sooner you will be freed up to create value for those people who believe in you. I suppose it is human nature to want to be accepted and liked. The reality is universal acclaim and support is not going to happen. Do not compromise your beliefs or integrity in an attempt to win over naysayers.

The late Kurt Cobain succinctly states the importance of being your authentic self. When you “play it down the middle” to not turn off anyone, it is very likely that you will also fail to turn on people.

Aim to Please

Attempting to create broad appeal seems to be a logical strategy. Product acceptance odds increase the larger the target market. Factors influencing our attempts to aim to please include:

  • Desire to be liked. Receiving positive feedback validates our work and strokes our ego.
  • Potential to grow. The wider net we cast, the greater the possibility of our brand and message being spread via word-of-mouth.
  • Fear. We may be concerned what detractors might do and thus attempt to minimize interactions with them. Will they have silent indifference, or will they be bent on communicating their dissatisfaction to anyone who will listen?

We can fool ourselves into seeing positive benefits and take precautions against stirring the pot of negativity. Unfortunately, the end result could be a personal brand without distinction.

Take a Stand

The alternative course of action to playing it safe is to take a stand. We need to look no further than the world of product brands to realize staking a position is a necessity. Product marketers segment audiences to appeal to those customers who they can best serve. We must take the same approach. The goal need not be create a large audience but rather a committed audience. Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine, espouses a belief that the goal of a business serving individual markets should be to build an audience of 1,000 die-hard fans. This core customer group will buy, advocate, and refer on your behalf. The headcount may not be gaudy, but it represents a high quality group of believers.

If you think 1,000 committed fans is too small a number, we can find examples of popular brands also being polarizing brands. Look to the NFL for an example. The Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots are two of the most disliked teams in the league based on fan surveys. These same two franchises are also among the most popular. The top four players in jersey sales for 2016 were from these teams (three Cowboys, one Patriot). These teams evoke love-hate reactions from many fans.

Decide to Divide

If you have been clinging to the notion that you can attract more followers to your brand, it is OK to hang on to that thought. It is also OK to entertain a goal of creating detractors. Do not go out of your way to inflame people and encourage haters. At the same time, avoid being conservative so that you do not offend or alienate others. Follow the words of Kurt Cobain and embrace your authentic brand. Some will be attracted to it; others will be driven away. Both outcomes are acceptable as long as you consistently live your brand.

Image credit: Flickr/Adam McGhee via Creative Commons license