In Search of Persistence, not Perfection


Doing great work and attaining high levels of achievement are aspirations most people have. Who wouldn’t want to be known as being among the best at what they do? We look at leaders in our field and marvel at the brilliant work they consistently produce. Each article, podcast, speech, or book reflects mastery and occupying rarefied air within their field. We may want to get there but are discouraged because we do not see ourselves as having what it takes to become great at what we do.

This lament is not an objective assessment of our limitations. Rather, it is a dangerous form of self-sabotage. You may not be brilliant at what you do… nor do you need to be. The fuel that moves us forward is persistence, consistently doing the work. Leadership expert and author Robin Sharma says persistence will do more for our personal growth than being brilliant.

"Persistence gets you farther than brilliance." -Robin Sharma quoteThe Brilliance Trap

If persistence will do more to advance our development than brilliance, then why do we still chase achieving greatness? You do not hear many professional golfers say “I want to be the most persistent golf pro in the world.” Instead, their aspirations deal with measurable outputs—achieving a high rank, winning tournaments, or winning major championships. Yet, the pursuit of brilliance keeps us from winning tournaments or whatever the measuring stick we use.

We fall into what could be called the brilliance trap for the following reasons:

  • Focus is on the result, not the process. We associate brilliance with results achieved, but the truth is the results would never happen without following a process (i.e., hard work) to get there.  Our focus on results and the benefits associated them means we overlook the necessity to take small steps forward daily toward the big goal.
  • Brilliance is more fun than persistence. It is more enjoyable to bask in the glory that radiates from brilliance than the grunt work that takes place in the trenches. Many people want to write a book but cannot discipline themselves to consistently write and inch closer to their goal. John Grisham says if you would write 200 words a day you could complete a novel in two years. The latter sounds cool; the former requires commitment and resolve.
  • Great work is equated with brilliance. We see the output of high performers in our field and attribute it to talent or even luck. The work required to rise to a peak performance level goes unseen. We assume hard work played a role in that person’s ability to do brilliant work, but we are not there to witness the preparation and sacrifices made to hone a high performer’s abilities and skills. The potential for doing brilliant work is a gift, but it is also like a muscle that can be strengthened through persistence.

How to be Persistent

Becoming more persistent is a trait I want to develop. It will enable me to follow through more consistently on ideas and plans. I have made strides in this area thanks in part to three tools that give me direction.

  • Setting goals. I write down what I want to achieve, setting trimester goals (four-month cycles). This time frame fits nicely with the fall, spring, and summer semester schedules under which I work as an academic. You probably have heard the statistic before that 97% of people do not write down goals. It is invaluable for me as it gives me end results at which to aim. Otherwise, I fear I would not make best use of time and not complete as many projects.
  • Identifying next steps. Goals set the finish line we want to cross. Now, all that has to be done is figuring out how to get there. This small yet crucial detail trips up many good intentions. For any goal set, break it down in to weekly and even daily actions that must be completed in order to advance toward goal attainment. Persistence is needed to follow through in order to transform goals from dreams to reality.
  • Managing time. The hyper-distracting environment in which we live is a threat to persistence. It is not hard to go from researching a topic to scrolling through your Facebook page (speaking from first-hand experience on this one). A time management device that has helped me focus and be more persistent is the Pomodoro technique. The premise of this technique is to work in 25-minute blocks of time, taking short breaks between blocks. During a 25- minute block, work on only one task. It has been a game changer for me.

Be Persistent to be Great

Greatness is not reserved for a select few. However, you have be incredibly persistent to get there. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 hour rule in Outliers. He asserted that high level performers typically invested many, many hours of preparation and work to become exceptional. Persistence versus brilliance reminds me of the race between the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise relied on persistence (he sure did not have speed) to eventually overtake the hare and win the race. Similarly, we should look to persistence as the secret to our growth. It has the potential to take us farther than any brilliance bestowed upon us.

Accept Change as a Certainty


Benjamin Franklin made famous the saying:”Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” That observation has held true for more than 200 years. I would add a third certainty to the list: change. It comes in varying degrees of newness and impact, but change is pervasive in our lives. Rather than lament change or put up a fight to stop it, we would be better served to put our energy toward adapting to change. The words of Socrates fit this challenge. When facing change we are usually better off focusing on building the new instead of fighting the old.

Fighting is Futile

It is a natural reaction to question, if not outright resist change. A change stands to disrupt how things are done, how we behave, and what we believe. Do we want to subject ourselves to such uncertainties or prefer to maintain status quo? We are willing to go to battle to keep things as they are, even when change has the potential to improve a situation.

A favorite children’s story I read to my sons was “Silly Sidney.” It is a story about a squirrel named Sidney. What makes him Silly Sidney? He comes up with a silly idea that if the leaves do not fall from the trees, the seasons will not change from fall to winter. It is not pleasant for squirrels in the winter, and they have to gather food to get through the coldest season. Sidney had it all figured out. He would put leaves back on the trees as they fall, keeping winter at bay. His plan was a miserable failure, of course. The leaves fell from the trees, and winter came as usual. Not only did Silly Sidney’s plan backfire, he had not gathered food for winter because his focus was on stopping winter.

Like Silly Sidney, we sometimes expend energy to resist change that would be better utilized adapting to change. The decision whether to fight for the old or focus on the new must take into account the degree of certainty for change. “Silly Sidney” is an extreme example in that the change is assured of happening (change of seasons). Yet, are there times when we resist change that is all but going to happen?

Pick Fights Wisely

The advice to focus on change rather than resist it has an implication that must be addressed: What if the proposed change is wrong or harmful? We need not blindly buy into Socrates’ advice. Sometimes, proposed change is not for the greater good but is self-serving to a person or group. Other times, we draw the short straw. The greater good will benefit from change, but our personal situation does not improve.

When faced with change, determine your fight-or-focus response by asking these questions:

  • Is the change inevitable? If yes, it is going to happen whether you fight the change. Energy would be better spent on focusing on building a new way of doing things post-change.
  • What new value will be created by the change? In many cases, change is brought about because it is believed better performance or results will occur. How can you leverage the different outcome to your advantage?
  • If change is neither inevitable nor creates new value, what is the reason for change? If the first two questions do not have satisfactory answers, it is here that questioning change (or even fighting it) is appropriate.

View proposed change with healthy skepticism. Look for the good that can come from it, but if you cannot find benefits in a change do not let it go unchallenged.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Whether you resist or embrace change, it is likely to occur. Thus, figure out how to benefit or thrive when change happens. Don’t be like Silly Sidney and make the dual mistakes of fighting change and not preparing anyway in case it happens. You might not agree with a change, but it does not mean you cannot prosper from it.

Think Investment, not Expense When It Comes to Education

book, highlighter, and glassesI am an avid consumer of statistics. They are small bites of information that can drive home deep messages. Most stats I come across may cause me take pause for a moment, then I move on. Unfortunately, I cannot recite most of the stats I read or hear, but one has stuck with me since the day I read it. The stat came from a 2013 Adobe survey of 1,000 marketers. The finding that stopped me in my tracks?

76% of marketers believed marketing had changed more in the past two years than the previous 50.

Change is rapid and affecting most of us in marketing (and pretty much any other field you name). What is the antidote to change? Learning.

Never begrudge the money you spend on your own education. Jim Rohn quote.

When it comes to education, do you view it as an expense or investment? Renowned personal development expert Jim Rohn implores us to view education as an investment in our personal brand. While buyer’s remorse will inevitably occur for some of the purchase decisions we make, the following quote by Rohn suggests education should be an exception.

Recognize the Excuses

You may be convinced that rapid change is happening, and you need to add to your skill set. That realization is the easy part; acting on that decision can be difficult and downright paralyzing. Given your life situation, enrolling in a formal education program may not be an option. This acknowledgement is enough to shut down some people. They rationalize not taking the plunge.

  • The kids need my attention.
  • I would take this online course, but I have two car payments.
  • Attending this seminar on Saturday would be awesome, but I usually play golf with my buddies that day.

It is tempting to see just how long of a list of excuses could be created here. I will stop because the point is made: Life can get in the way if you allow it. You can come up with any number of valid excuses, but the end result is the same—you talk yourself out of more education.

Know Your Options

The good news is you have options beyond formal education to build your skill set. In Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I devote a chapter to managing and growing skill set. When it comes to tangible, or hard skills, you have three paths you can take once you identify skills to enhance:

  • Formal education. Colleges and universities not only offer traditional degree programs, but you will find more focused certificate programs, too. If you do not have time or money to pursue a degree, a certificate program could be a viable alternative.
  • Skill-specific courses. You may be seeking to add or sharpen a specific skill, say a computer programming language. Many online courses exist that fill the gap created by the expense or inconvenience of traditional degree programs. If you wonder about the availability of online learning options, do not worry. E-learning was estimated to be a $107 billion industry in 2015. Online education will only continue to grow as a channel for self-directed learners.
  • Articles, blogs, and videos. Perhaps the first place to begin exploring options for adding to your skill set is to seek out free resources and tools. Authorities in many fields share their expertise freely (literally) on blogs, social media, and videos. Free resources may not offer everything you need for skill enhancement, but they are an ideal starting point.

Invest in Yourself

You must make a decision whether to invest in adding to the makeup of your personal brand. Is education worth it to you? Sales expert and author Brian Tracy offers a formula to address this question. He says we should invest three percent of our income in ourselves. If you make $40,000 a year, set aside $1,200 for personal development—buying books, taking an online course, attending a conference. This formula is interesting because on one hand, budgeting $1,200 for education might seem unrealistic given other budget obligations. On the other hand, the question that rises is how could you not value your own development to the point you would set aside three percent of your income for personal growth?

We must be the most enthusiastic investor for our own brand. If we are not willing to take a chance on ourselves, why should we expect anyone else to invest in us?


Stop Trying to Please Others


Authenticity is one of the most admirable traits a brand exhibits. In a world of manufactured images, authenticity reveals one’s true character. Marketing expert and author Seth Godin says authenticity goes beyond being the real you; authenticity is doing what you promise. Sounds simple enough, but pressures to please others and adapt to shifting trends and desires can make it challenging to consistently follow through on promises.

A call to strive for authenticity can be heard in the words of playwright and author Raymond Hull. If our aim is to please others, we could end up looking little like ourselves. Following through on promises is a better long-run approach than changing based on others’ whims.

He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away. Raymond Hull quote.

Forget Pleasing Others

One of the most memorable books I read to my sons when they were young was from the Scruffy the Tugboat series. I cannot recall the title, but in the story Scruffy sets out to make friends with other boats. He tells one boat “you’re my best friend.” He proceeds to tell other boats the same thing. All is OK until Scruffy’s friends talk among themselves and discover Scruffy led each of them to believe they were special. Scruffy confessed, saying he only wanted to make them happy and not hurt their feelings.

When we trim ourselves to suit others, we lose sight of the impact we could have. Our value proposition is not dependent on making others happy. We create value by making other people’s lives better in some way. We teach, support, entertain, help—none of these value-added activities require us to deviate from our character. You can please others by delivering on your brand promise. That is how you suit them, not by bowing to what you think they want.

Sorry, Not Sorry

Like Scruffy the Tugboat, we can become consumed with making others happy. A brand cannot have universal appeal. It is impossible to be all things to all people. Even the most popular brands have detractors. Some people are turned off by the price; others think the brand image is too snobby. Yet others think the quality is inferior. More reasons could be cited, but you get the point.

Personal brands are no different. You will not be universally adored. Some people will think you are arrogant; others perceive you are incompetent. A few people see you as dishonest, and so on. While it is not fun to have haters, accept this characteristic as coming with the territory of having a brand. You need not apologize to anyone for any negative associations they have with your brand.

Brands have meaning and value for a certain audience. Your brand is reinforced in the minds of that audience by achieving consistency in words and actions. Authenticity is currency with your audience. You build up equity with them, making deposits every time you deliver on your brand promise.

Change your Focus

Take to heart the words of Raymond Hull and stop trying to please others. Instead, focus on becoming incredibly consistent in what you say and do. Those people with whom your consistency resonates will feel a deeper connection with you. And those people who don’t get you… chances are nothing will change their minds.

Which group do you want to focus on serving?


Setting Goals Should be a Scary Proposition


Statistics attract me like a magnet sucks up a nail. Numbers packaged in a statistic can tell a story. The story is not always true, but that is another aspect of stats better left for another discussion. A statistic can drive home a point or idea, and I find them helpful for remembering information.

Two statistics stand out on the topic of personal goals. One stat has to do with setting goals; the other stat deals with goal achievement. First, statistics on goal setting make a clear point: The overwhelming majority of people do not have written goals. Author and success expert Brian Tracy says best estimates from research have found that only about three percent of adults write down their goals. That stat is disheartening to me as someone who is among the three percent and has experienced payoffs from having written goals.

The second stat may be even more disheartening. The probability of not achieving goals is high… very high. Researchers at the University of Scranton found that 92 percent of people who set New Year’s goals do not meet them. Maybe the 97 percent who do not have written goals are onto something. Why write down a goal if you probably will not achieve it, right?

A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot. Joe Vitale quote

The thought I am reflecting on this week is a challenge to rethink how we view goals. Author and success coach Joe Vitale suggests goals should contain a blend of fear and excitement. I’m all for goals being exciting, but should we deliberately include fear in them, too?

What Goals Do

Personally, I cannot imagine what life would be like without having written goals. Well, yes I can as I did not have written goals for the first thirty years of my life. I have accomplished exponentially more in the last twenty years with written goals than in the first thirty years of life without them. Why is that the case? Goals serve many purposes, but the three most important for me relate to direction, performance, and accountability.

  • Goals give direction. The most precious resource we possess is time. You cannot buy more of it, nor can you borrow it from other people. Goals help allocate our time resources. They define priorities, clarifying how we should spend time.
  • Goals “stretch” performance. A well-developed goal pushes us out of our comfort zone. We stretch to accomplish more than we have previously. Even when I fall short of achieving a goal, the effort expended in pursuit of it usually leads to growth in some way. It is this aspect of setting goals that Joe Vitale’s quote speaks to directly. A goal could instill some fear as it pushes us to forge new performance boundaries. But, the uncertainty of doing more or different things is usually offset by the benefits of getting there.
  • Goals create accountability. If time is our most valuable resource, we must be accountable to ourselves for how we spend it. We are kidding ourselves if we opt not to be accountable for our actions and performance. Goals dictate what we need to do, and measuring to determine progress is a must.

Fear and Excitement

If you are convinced: a) you should have written goals, and b) they need to at the same time scare and excite you, what is next? Writing the goals, of course. But what should goals containing these two ingredients look like?

  • Fear. Think of an accomplishment you would like to achieve, then observe any doubts (fear) you have to reach it. I often share the thought process I went through when I first considered setting a goal of earning a Ph.D. and becoming a college professor. It went something like this:

– “Pass a written comprehensive exam after two years of coursework. I can’t do that.”

– “Pass an oral exam in front a committee of faculty. I can’t do that.”

– “Develop a proposal for dissertation research and defend in front of my faculty committee. I can’t do that.”

As I reflect on my initial thoughts about meeting requirements for a Ph.D., I realize I never told myself why “I can’t do that.” It was just the standard response that came into my mind. Thankfully, I did not listen to myself!

That goal contained some fear. It would be the most challenging academic program in which I ever studied. Also, the goal entailed fear such as would my family adjust to a dramatic drop in income as well as moving to another state? Fear may or may not be motivational to you (it does not have to be). But, an element of fear or uncertainty in your goals is not only normal but desirable.

  • Excitement. Goals should energize you. They represent a destination you want to reach. It is fun to think about being, doing, or having more than your current state. Without a plan and action, these thoughts are not goals but dreams. Goals motivate and spur action. That is why even when we fall short of a goal, we are usually better off and closer to achieving it than we were before setting the goal.

Be in the Minority

If you are not among the three percent of people who have written goals, you should join the club. Write goals that simultaneously scare and excite you… with a heavier dose of excitement than fear!

Quit Being a Quitter

negative words related to quitting

Self-reflection can yield deep insight into what makes us tick. Sometimes, it is hard to get to truths about ourselves. It can be even harder to accept some of those truths. I found myself feeling this way as I considered the words of Norman Vincent Peale, the famous author, minister, and positive thinking advocate. Peale said, “It’s always too early to quit.” I realized I am what you might call an “aspiring quitter.” Sometimes, it seems like I can’t quit soon enough, the opposite of Dr. Peale’s encouragement. So, I reflected further on Peale’s exhortation to not quit.

It's always too early to quit. Norman Vincent Peale quote

The flight-or-fight dilemma  that involves the decision whether to quit is one that is faced daily. The morning run is too tiring; I should slow my pace or even walk. The manuscript revision is too daunting; how can it be reworded to improve its quality? The business opportunity is too risky; failure could lead to embarrassment and even financial hardship.

Quitting could be a solution to these and other challenges we face. It could also keep us stuck right where we are. So, what forces tempt us to quit? They can be categorized as internal or external.

Voices Inside Your Head

You can usually look into the mirror to find the greatest obstacle to overcoming the urge to quit. We do not set out to sabotage our own growth, but we manage to do it. Leading the list of reasons we face internal pressure to quit are self-limiting beliefs. We buy into arguments about we can and cannot accomplish. Check out some of these beliefs to see if they sound familiar:

  • “I’m no good at public speaking”
  • “I am not a leader”
  • “I don’t have the connections needed to get ahead.”

I could go on with the list, but that’s not the point here. We can choose to believe whatever we tell ourselves about our capabilities. Those statements can be positive or negative; we get to author their content and tone. Interestingly, we often opt to tell ourselves negative things.

Well-Meaning Others (Sometimes)

Even when we convince the person in the mirror not quit on an idea or project, we may still face skepticism from others around us. Someone told me just today about a relative who was discouraging her son from pursuing a medical degree in college because “he wouldn’t be able to cut it” (thanks for the support, Mom). I have heard many stories of people with influence over others discouraging them like this mother is trying to talk her son out of studying medicine.

Well-meaning family and friends have been known to advise against moving away for a job, going to graduate school, or committing to a long-term relationship. Sometimes, their advice is rooted in the best of intentions. Other times, their position is based on lack of confidence in you or even jealousy that you might be happy if you move on. Other people can lead us to doubt ourselves regardless of whether the advice is legitimate or self-serving. Quitting is a response that prevents us from going too far out on a limb. And, it might even be pleasing to others who want us to quit (i.e., not get ahead).

What’s the Alternative?

This week and going forward, I am going to take Norman Vincent Peale’s advice to heart. It is always too soon to quit. Whenever I am tempted to consider quitting something, I will consider alternative responses. For example, when I want to quit running, I will think of a time I wanted to quit but found the strength to keep on. I will recall the euphoria of reaching deep down to complete a run and how I would like to experience that feeling again. Asking questions about how to deal with the self-doubt that is quitting can be a distraction if nothing else. We shift focus from quitting to the benefits of keeping on. The long-term goal is to remove “quit” from the vocabulary. There are options to quitting; they must be pursued.

What ideas, projects, or goals are you tempted to quit? What alternative ways of thinking about quitting can you employ to have a mindset that it is always too early to quit?

Personal Brand Defined by Habits

clock gears and parts

 The pursuit of excellence sounds like a lofty ideal that one may or may not be able to achieve. Why does it sound so far out? It sounds that way because we do not know what excellence looks like. How can we recognize something if we are unfamiliar with it? If we have never done it (achieved excellence) before, will we be able to do whatever it takes to get there?

What if excellence was not some nebulous behavior in which you engage but rather action based on habits? That is exactly how to reach excellence according to author and philosopher Will Durant. He states that excellence is an outcome of what we repeatedly do. Durant’s statement also suggests excellence is a choice. Excellence is a habit, but so is laziness. The good news is you get to decide which outcomes you wish to chase.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit. Will Durant quote

The Habit Outcome

I reflected on Will Durant’s thoughts on excellence and concluded it was not a platitude. Many results in my life—good and bad—have been fueled by habit. Earning a Ph.D. degree, gaining weight, losing weight, running a half-marathon, writing three books, improving relationships, and damaging relationships all resulted from habits. We are indeed creatures of habit. People like me who love routine and consistency can easily find themselves in a groove (or rut) as a result of habits.

If habits define us, it is imperative that we define our habits. You can choose which habits to practice. Some choices are proactively made because of anticipated benefits. If you wake up one hour early each morning to write 500 words of a novel, you see a payoff from consistently engaging in that behavior. You are more likely to have a finished novel one day if you embrace a regular practice of writing. We become what we repeatedly do; choose to spend time on activities that will take you closer to who you want to be.

The Destructive Habits

To this point, I have focused on positive habits that will lead to desired results. Habits cut both ways, however. Bad habits can move you further away from the outcomes you want to achieve. It is not that you plan self-sabotage, but repeated “bad” acts can have a cumulative effect of hindering personal growth.

So, what destructive habits are impeding your progress? Some of the usual culprits include:

  • TV. American adults watch more than five hours of TV daily on average. Although some of that time includes multitasking (often on other media consumption like Facebook), the takeaway is we spend a lot of time in front a screen. Is that use of time moving you closer to or further from your goals? No need to respond—we know the answer.
  • Social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social networks have become media staples for many Americans. Pew Research Center estimates that 69% of American adults are social media users, and many are frequent users. An estimated 76% of Facebook users are on the site daily. Daily usage numbers are also sizable for Instagram (51%) and Twitter (42%). Could you be using social media to work toward goals? Sure. Is that how you are using it, or could you envision time spent on social media being used more effectively?
  • Wellness. Using the best time management techniques could be derailed if you are a physical mess. Some combination of too many calories, too little exercise, and too little sleep hinders our physical effectiveness. We have less energy and endurance to partake in constructive activities, missing out on growth opportunities.

Wash, Rinse, and Repeat

This week, reflect on the habits in your life. Which ones are working in your favor, moving you toward the person you wish to become? Are there habits that you would be better off not having your life? Recognize them, understand how they are hurting you, and set out to replace them with other habits (i.e., behavior patterns) that will move you closer to excellence.

Note: This quote is often attributed to Aristotle, but it was made by Will Durant in a critique of Aristotle’s work.


Why ESPN is on a Losing Streak

As a lifelong sports fan, the debut of ESPN as a 24-hour cable TV network in 1980 felt like a tiny slice of heaven on earth. I consumed sports any way I could up to that point—newspaper, radio, TV, peer-to-peer—but if more sports content was available I was game. Cable TV fueled my obsession with sports and entertained me whenever I chose to take a break from consuming sports.

Fast-forward 37 years, and I am still a highly involved sports fan. ESPN is still at the forefront of sports programming. Its media empire has grown to multiple cable TV networks, radio network, websites, magazine, podcasts, and more. ESPN delivered on its tagline of “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” becoming synonymous with sports media. The value of ESPN as an audience magnet was not lost on ABC, which acquired ESPN 1984, and later Disney, which acquired ABC in 1995.

Today, Disney’s media networks account for the majority of the company’s revenue and profit, with ESPN leading the way. Yet, Disney and ESPN in particular are the subject of a doomsday narrative portraying a brand in decline. Last week, Disney announced its media networks revenue grew by three percent in the second quarter, but profit decreased by three percent. A widely publicized layoff of ESPN on-air talent disappointed many loyal members of the ESPN audience. How could ESPN go from worldwide leader to a brand in trouble?

A Perfect Storm

The root cause of ESPN’s woes is due to a collision of three forces. Any of these forces on their own could wreak havoc on a business. Taken together, ESPN must figure out how to position the brand for growth to overcome these significant forces. So, what exactly has put ESPN in the box it now finds itself?

  1. Increasing costs. One way ESPN has kept its brand promise of The Worldwide Leader in Sports is to obtain broadcast rights to major sports properties. The best sports network should have the best programming, right? ESPN has locked down rights with popular properties including the NFL, NBA, MLB, College Football Championship, and the SEC. These brands are not only popular, but they attract TV audiences in numbers that most programs simply cannot deliver today. Between the value in audience ratings and reach as well as blocking other networks from buying the rights, ESPN paid a premium for broadcast rights to these properties.
  2. Decreasing revenue. The cost of escalating media rights could be chalked up to being a cost of doing business. Unfortunately, at the same time media rights became more expensive, fewer people are subscribed to ESPN. The cord-cutting phenomenon is real. An estimated 700,000 customers will drop pay TV subscriptions in 2017. An estimated five million pay TV subscribers will cut the cord between 2015 and 2020. Moreover, a generation of consumers are growing up without even having to make a decision whether to cut the cord and drop cable TV service—many of them do not have pay TV to drop. Cable subscriber revenue is a key revenue source for ESPN. Fewer subscribers means fewer dollars coming in. ESPN must figure out other channels that will make the cash register ring.
  3. Changing consumption patterns. In contrast to the cost and revenue problems facing ESPN, the third factor is beyond its control. Consumers are accessing content differently, and the traditional pay TV model is vulnerable. Global daily consumption of TV will be 22 billion hours in 2018, down from 23 billion in 2010. In contrast, consumers will spend 17 billion hours a day on the internet, up from five billion in 2010.

The death of TV is overstated and very premature, but it is clear that as we become a mobile-first world we are altering are media consumption behaviors. Not only are we using new channels to consume media, but we are engaging in a shift in how we consume, too. One can follow a football game on Twitter while doing other activities instead of parking in front of a television for three hours. Just as live event marketers face challenges in getting fans off the couch and in their venues, sports media brands face similar challenges in gaining the attention of their multi-tasking audience.

It’s Blocking and Tackling

The woes faced by ESPN can be attributed to unfavorable shifts in internal and external forces that affect its business. What is not mentioned in my analysis: Questions about whether ESPN’s stance on political and social issues has driven away customers. It is a complicated issue and difficult to pinpoint subscriber losses on differences of opinion between ESPN and customers. That said, it is likely that some customers were turned off by ESPN’s advocacy to the point they ditched the brand. Any customer losses due to ESPN’s political leanings are eclipsed by fundamental shifts in media consumption. ESPN’s business model is based on a content distribution model that is becoming less dominant with each passing year.

We can look to history for guidance. Blockbuster and other video rental stores ruled in serving consumers’ home entertainment needs. The desire for entertainment did not go away; the method by which we acquired entertainment changed. We wanted entertainment to come to our devices, not waiting for us on a shelf at a video rental store. Netflix adapted, and Blockbuster did not. The rest is history, as they say. Will ESPN be the next Netflix or another Blockbuster?

Branding and the Three Degrees of Different

peas with one different color

In branding, sameness is considered a weakness. You may have heard the term “Commodity Hell” used to describe brand parity or sameness. Notice the term is not “Commodity Heaven” or “Commodity Bliss.” The quest to avoid sameness in branding can be traced back to the purpose of brands. They identify the source of a product (i.e., the responsible party) and differentiate from other products. A brand that does not set apart a product as distinctive could be doomed to become lost in a sea of similar offerings.

The importance of separation through branding applies to personal brands, too. We like to think that the quality of our work is enough to signal our value. It can happen, but do not count on your hard work being the difference. Chances are many employees in your organization work hard, so work alone will not make you stand out. Instead of focusing on working hard, maybe it is time to make being different a priority.

In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different. Coco Chanel quote

This week’s One to Grow On quote comes from fashion designer Coco Chanel. She suggests that the ultimate in branding, becoming irreplaceable, is driven by being different. Let’s unpack what it means to be different.

Three Degrees of Different

Coco Chanel’s advice to be different sounds simple enough. Different is the opposite of same, right? Well, yes it is, but we must be strategic in how we set out to be different. You can realize three degrees of differentiation through personal branding. Each one has potential to work (i.e., set your brand apart from others). The question to ask about each degree of different is whether it would be effective for your brand.

Different for the sake of being different. We can be different simply by adopting a distinguishing branding element. For example, a man could make polka-dot handkerchiefs a signature look in his professional attire. Similarly, a woman could always wear a scarf (even have every scarf be the same color). These memorable attributes become associated with that person. They become “the polka dot guy” or “the scarf lady.” This degree of different allows us to check the box that we are somehow different, but we may not possess a point of difference that actually helps other people.

Different but not unique. Most personal brand differentiation is described as different from others but not one-of-a-kind different. College students earning graduate degrees join a small minority of the population with an advanced degree (only 12% of Americans have grad degrees). Select group? Yes. Different from the rest of the world? No. You may set yourself apart from many others in your organization or field in some way that benefits others. That outcome is good; it is the overarching aim of branding. The downside is that there is still room for others to eclipse your point of difference and render you less competitive.

Different and unique. The ultimate in personal brand differentiation is to set yourself apart from others in a way that no one else can replicate. That point of difference is likely small and could be a combination of traits such as skills, personality, and experience. This degree of different is realistically achieved over time. You will not start out world class at anything. Different and unique should be an aspiration, not a starting point for personal brand differentiation.

The Courage of Different

Brand differentiation comes at a price: risk. Sameness offers comfort and certainty. We are less likely to fail or stand out for the wrong reasons if we do not go looking for a way to be different.

Coco Chanel’s quote intrigued me. I wondered how she had been different. Chanel is credited with breaking ground in fashion and women’s fragrances. She challenged status quo in attitudes toward the traditional black dress. Chanel transformed it to clothing worn for mourning to a fashion staple. Equating becoming irreplaceable with being different was not merely a pithy quote uttered by Coco Chanel. Her contributions as a designer and entrepreneur were due to her willingness to take risks.

What degree of different are you at today, or are you mired in sameness? If the latter describes you, it is imperative to select how you will break out of those chains. You probably know people that are irreplaceable at what they do. What makes them different from others who are vulnerable to being replaced? What do you need to do to move to the irreplaceable list? Differentiation is not about novelty; it is about necessity.

Your College Degree Doesn’t Mean Much


It is an exciting time on campus at my institution, Middle Tennessee State University. More than 2,500 students will graduate in three ceremonies today and tomorrow. It is a joyful time for graduates and their families. It is a significant accomplishment for students who persevered through exams, presentations, and assignments with a dysfunctional group. Congratulations! Now here is something else to know: Your degree does not hold much value.

The headline seems heretical coming from someone who earns a living in higher education. How can I say a college degree does not mean much? It certainly costs a lot in sweat equity and of course, money. A former boss introduced me to this idea about the value of a degree during a job interview. I was dismayed and disgusted at the time, but later I understood.

What Does It Mean?

It was during my first meeting with my future boss that he proclaimed “your degree doesn’t mean much to me.” I was taken aback. As a first generation college graduate, I was proud to have a bachelor’s degree on my résumé. How dare this man disparage my education!

The boss followed his statement about my degree with an explanation. He said “To me, it shows you are trainable. We will train you in our systems and ways of doing things.” I was still miffed by his statement about the value of my degree, but I understood his point. That encounter occurred 27 years ago. It is still the most salient exchange in a job interview I have ever had.

The belief that a college degree does not mean much is a viewpoint to which I have come around. The issue is that many graduates see their degree as being akin to a golden ticket. They feel entitled to a certain salary or position because they earned a college degree. In that regard, a college degree does not mean much. It is not a “fast pass” to the front of a line… although not having a degree can exclude you from the line.

There is Value

Before you begin questioning me, or worse, the value of having a college degree, let me state that it is definitely worth the time and investment to earn. On one hand, there is tangible evidence of the benefits of a college degree as measured in dollars. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median lifetime earnings for persons with a bachelor’s degree is almost $2.3 million compared to $1.3 million for persons whose highest education level is a high school diploma. Obtaining a college degree opens doors by equipping graduates with necessary skills. At the same time, a degree serves a gatekeeping function to exclude persons without a college education.

The most valuable aspect of a college degree is not the deliverable (the diploma). The most valuable aspect of earning a college degree is the transformative process students go through to complete their academic program. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I discuss the role soft skills play in shaping your personal brand. The tendency might be to associate a college education with learning hard skills (e.g., computer programming languages or generally accepted accounting principles). Hard skills are taught, but what many employers long for are employees with solid soft skills. What are some soft skills? They are intangible abilities such as:

  • communication (oral and written)
  • leadership
  • teamwork

You can take college courses pertaining to many soft skills like communication and leadership. More importantly, students have opportunities to develop soft skills in the classroom, in extracurricular activities, and in their social lives.

You need not choose between focusing on developing hard skills or soft skills because you need both to shape the makeup of your personal brand (one of the three Ms of a personal brand along with meaning and message). Think of hard skills and soft skills as complementary pieces for your brand. Consider these statistics as reasons to pay attention to developing hard skills and soft skills:

  • Hard skills get you in the door—69% of human resources professionals say that they look first at an applicant’s hard skills to determine if they are viable candidates.
  • Soft skills get you the job—56% of human resources professionals say the most important abilities in new hires are soft skills, especially interpersonal relations.

Leverage Your Value

My former boss was wrong—a college degree does mean a lot. However, it is up to you to unlock the value. The degree itself is a commodity, with many variations of the product issued by higher education institutions across the country. It is up to you to differentiate our brand with a mix of meaning, makeup, and message unique to your identity. Leverage the benefits of earning a college degree to add value to your brand and stand out from millions of other people that have the same credential.