April 30th, 2008 — Communication
Building Your “Idea” Story
In part 1 of 5 we covered the basis of producing a solid idea that will gain traction. Once you’ve received the support needed to get to the next round, you’ll need to frame your idea with a strong story. At this point, you need to give your target audience something to remember and talk about. It needs to stick and forming your pitch around a story is the best way on how to do this.
People don’t get excited about figures, facts, and statistics, even though it is still an essential pillar for your idea. What people will embrace after your pitch is the story that explains the facts and the situation you’re trying to improve. Therefore, the narrative must be simple and compelling. Let’s take a look at a quick guide to help you.
“When you’re trying to sell somebody a new idea, you must persuade them that the idea confirms their own opinions, rather than proves them wrong.” Author Seth Godin
- Intuitive – This means that your idea needs to connect with the audience according to their view of the world. It needs to make sense to them and not question their belief system. Be smart by stepping into their world with your idea not having them step into your world with your idea.
- Feel Good – No one wants to listen to an idea that makes them feel bad about themselves or question the morals of society. Make the audience feel good about the decision to adopt your idea. Build on aspects of the environment, society, improving life, and helping to reduce problems socially or economically.
Let’s now take look at some examples to clarify this important step in gaining traction. One of the best ways to build a story is to tie it to current events, corporate issues, or benchmarks from successful companies. Let’s assume your firm just lost a huge customer, chances are that the Sales Department is worried about a larger spill of clients (their world-view). You should come in with an idea that directly addresses the situation to retain and build loyalty among existing and potential customers. Furthermore, if a competitor launched a successful product and your company has better technology, your idea should show how your firm can leap frog the competition by returning to their roots of technology to devise a new and improved product.
In part 3 of our 5 series post will get into the meat of the decision maker. I’ll explain how to map your idea and motivate the decision maker to take action. Please provide any comments, suggestions, and/or feedback in the written comments below.
April 29th, 2008 — Communication
Introduction & Idea Creation
We all have ideas, some more than others. Yet, we struggle with getting them implemented, discussed, or even heard. The corporate environment is no different than pitching to your friends; in fact it’s even harder. If you’re successful you’ll be able to kick start your career into overdrive. It takes patience and support to move your way to the decision makers and sway them in your favor. The key elements require support from your boss, a financial king pin, and a decision-maker that’s at the executive level. So if you’re in the market of pitching your ideas to corporate America, continue reading for some useful advice.
Let’s first review what you’ll need to get started:
- Time: Between 2 weeks and several months
- Focus: Your brain on caffeine overdose
- Whiteboard: In your cubicle to plan out your idea in plain sight
- Trusted Colleague: Someone to keep you from fantasizing
- Allies: Start lobbying and wooing your superiors to form trust
- Humility: Your idea will suck, yes you! Learn from criticism.
Step 1 of 5: Find a connection between you and your idea
Selling an idea is not like selling a product. Selling a product is easier because people can see what they’re buying. With an idea, no one knows what they’re getting into. To sell an idea you need someone to believe in you, trust you, and know that you can get the job done. I usually have a lot of ideas, some that never would go anywhere and some that could be the next big thing. The ideas that gain traction are the ones that will match your track record, or status of credibility. If you said you can make the next Google and you work in Healthcare and never programmed a day in your life, but yet, you know how to do it; people will laugh in your face. If you just graduated MIT with a Masters in Computer Science and you suggest the same idea, you’ll get people to listen, and listen closely. Get the picture?
You have relatively three avenues to choose from if your idea requires executive level traction.
This concludes part 1. In the next post will get into the actual discussions with upper management and how to frame your position with strong story telling. Please respond in the comments with any feedback on part 1.
- Explain your idea to someone you trust and farther up the corporate ladder. This in my opinion is risky, but makes the most impact. The reason you take a risk is that once it leaves your hands you no longer “own” the idea. Don’t be surprised if executive level loves the idea but has no clue you were behind it all. When it comes to using supports higher up in the chain they have motives and E-level management wants the idea not the person thinking about it, they’ll put their own team in place that they trust. Weigh the risks, if your idea is “a big idea” this is ultimately the only path.
- Match your idea to your credibility and make it so that you’re in charge because only you can make it happen. This requires less out of the box thinking because you need to be more realistic with your idea. Leave the corporate strategy to the big dogs; focus on plans to climb one rung at a time.
- Shut up, you’re idea sucks, get back to work and focus on doing your job. Once you build a track record of achievements then think about pitching some of your ideas and you’ll get some casual ears to listen.
April 2nd, 2008 — Enterprise
Today’s business world is being confronted with newer technologies collectively known as “Web 2.0”. Although it’s easy to dismiss Web 2.0 as another dot-com bubble or Silicon Valley hype, there is some truth to its impact that shouldn’t be overlooked. Web 2.0 represents an important evolutionary step in Internet-based tools, collaboration, sharing information, and building internal communities. Generally, Web 2.0 services or products are cheaper, easier to deploy, interactive, and more flexible than their cash hoarding software equivalents.
Furthermore, Web 2.0 technologies allow companies to reduce server costs by moving data and computing power off the desktop and onto the Internet. There are plenty of applications that already exist which can benefit corporations and reduce costs from enterprise software applications. If you’re convinced or interested about Web 2.0 then you’re already making a step towards a brave new world. Before you can deploy a solution there are some things you’ll need:
- Hardware: Windows 95, 98 or Mac OS 9 will not cut it. Make sure your team is up-to-date with their operating systems. This will insure a smooth experience running Web 2.0 applications.
- Internet Connection: If you can still hear your modem dialing up, then you have more work cut out for you. Make sure your company has DSL, Cable, T-1 lines, or WiFi.
- Browsers: It doesn’t matter what browser you use, only that it is the most recent update. Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explore all work well with Web 2.0 applications. Make sure you have multimedia plug-ins installed such as Flash, Flex, SilverLight, etc…
- Team Sponsor: Having a member of your team who’s not part of IT to help translate Web 2.0 into functional savings is important. He/She should have good internal contacts and risk-tolerant. This is your evangelist, so treat them well.
- Buzzwords: Learn to downplay them, and conduct your research. Don’t get caught up in the hype and show that you work based off trends. Find what will work for your company not what’s working for others.
Now that we covered the basics of what you need, let’s take a look on how to make it happen within your company.
Phase 1: Keep it Simple Stupid
If we learned anything from the first dot-com bust, it was big software applications don’t work. They’re highly complex, difficult to install, and don’t communicate well with each other. Web 2.0 solves this by focusing on specific niche tasks, no required installation, and can be used almost anywhere there is an Internet connection.
Talk with your department to find common pains or problems with your current workflow process. After you gather the requirements and understand what is needed, you can begin doing your research for Web 2.0 services. It’s best to start small with widgets, API plug-ins, or add-on tools for existing company wide software. Most likely, trying to champion a full fledge Web 2.0 service without showing that your company can integrate on the smallest level will cause a terrible backlash. In addition, speaking technically to upper management with Web 2.0 jargon such as Ajax, Blog, Mashups, RSS, Tagging, and Wiki won’t get their attention. As mentioned before, keep it simple, keep it relevant to your cause, and provide a supporting business case for small level integration.
Phase 2: Find Your Support and Exploit Opportunities
The main goal of phase 2 is to recruit a core group of employees who can and will embrace the new technology. Grass roots marketing help to build support from the ground up and will show that there is a demand. Keep your team small as you need them to be flexible and adaptable to change. You’ll want to have at least one connector (person to spread the word), an influential (to get others on board), the expert (the one to convert ideas into dollars), the leader (the one that has respect with upper management) and lastly the driver (the one who understands Web 2.0 and it’s fit with your company).
After the team is in place, set some specific and easily attainable goals. This will build your teams confidence and score some early victories to find what’s working best for your team. Remember this isn’t a job for the IT team, we already know how they’ll respond. They’re not going to devote resources to an idea they feel they can build. They probably can build the tool but after about 2 years and 1 million dollars wasted.
Phase 3: Test, Experiment, and Beyond
With phase 1 and 2 behind you it is now time to test your tools. Determine which Web 2.0 services or products do the job best and fit well within your organization. Build upon your success with your goals set in phase 2. Since most services are going to be free initially, continue to test and experiment.
Once you found your golden tool, you need to help alleviate integration issues by making sure people understand how to use it. If your team is spending more time managing the tool than getting things done you clearly have a wrong fit. If it helps, write a “quick start” guide to explain how to navigate and get work done. Most Web 2.0 services will have video tutorials but making your own guide for your team is best. Since you don’t need to install most of the time, when something doesn’t work drop it. When it does work quickly pursue it and move to get more people on board.
Signs that you might have a Web 2.0 tool that is a winner:
- It integrates with an application your company already uses
- It comes with a basic templates or new user guide
- There is a human being you can call for support
Phase 4: Ring the Fire Alarm
The last and final step is giving power to the people. Encourage usage and adoption of your new found glory. Explain how customers, employees, and management can benefit from the tool. Have a strong business case and make the roll out easy for others. Some benefits to build on include information access, ability to add, edit, and manipulate data between departments, and an increase in the flow of processes without redundant tasks. Also, an important step in a successful launch is monitoring the progress of implementation. Gather as much feedback whether it is positive or negative to determine what’s working. Eliminate anything that is getting major push-back as this will hinder your plan for adoption. Once you’ve got a core group that’s on board move to the next stage of management. All the while use your research, feedback, time saving, and money saving notes to influence the “decision makers”.
In conclusion, ignore the status quo Web 2.0 ideas. Find functional, simple, and FREE tools to begin warming your company up to newer technologies. If you can put a solid business case together and you get key supporters you’ll be the one that made a substantial impact to your companies performance. That said, I’ll continue with a list of tools in a proceeding post that will showcase some amazing tools your company can begin to use. If you could introduce a Web 2.0 service to your company today, which one would it be and why?
April 1st, 2008 — Networking
In today’s increasing world of communication deals are being made by those who are connected and those whom make themselves connectable. We all hope to have a wide range of business contacts to continually increase our network. An acquaintance is just as powerful as a trusted friend as long as you can prove a mutually beneficial arrangement. We’ve grown accustomed to the notion that social networks and social media have made networking more transparent. The transparency can be used to help build your brands, connect with customers, monitor reputations, and introduce yourself to industry experts. In addition, search engines have also adjusted to this increasing relevance by giving priority to specific social networks in organic search results.
While people make themselves available on social networks such as Facebook, Linkedin, Plaxo, Twitter and even MySpace, there is a thin line between personal and professional boundaries. Some individuals will welcome new “friend” requests or connections and others will only accept those they physically know. Getting pass this “firewall” isn’t difficult, it just takes time and getting to know others around that person for a possible introduction. Social connections have an interesting twist. If you have a lot of connections or friends it means that you have a busy social life, or an extensive circle of business associates or contacts. This is a trigger number to help you understand the person you’re about to get in touch with. If the number is really high, you’re likely to make a new contact, if it is really low, then it might be a little more due diligence to get that person to accept you.
As more business people come to use social networks as communications platforms the gap between friend and business contact come closer together. The control over the level of information people share is up to them. As a result, the traditional ways of reaching people are changing. No more cold calls, email blasts, mailing your resume, or attending company events is ultimately necessary. From tweets, to wall posts, messages, IM screen name, blog or website address, or mobile phone new channels are becoming more available. This additional information creates an illusion that the person is universally available and accessible. As we all know, that is not the case.
The proper etiquette and consideration for others will allow you to use social networks to increase your network and gain new business contacts. Let’s take a look at some tips to help you out.
All in all, don’t blow your first chance of contacting someone on a social network by communicating in an undesired fashion. Use common sense and be patient. If you have tips to provide please list them in the comments below.
- Ask permission if you can add the person to your network. A short message, Email, or other non-invasive method works best. Even though they make themselves public, social networks are highly personal and you don’t want to offend anyone.
- Find the best method of communication. Take note and learn to inquire using their preferred method of communication. Don’t jump the gun and start contacting them each day if you haven’t received a response. People are busy, and you need to understand that.
- Treat each contact as an individual. If someone is a highly regarded contact then you can assume multiple people are trying to get in touch with them. Show that you’re different by doing some research and asking them questions about their professional life. Show interest and they might show interest in you.
- Don’t be annoying, arrogant or bombard someone through multiple channels. If the person has Linkedin, Plaxo and Facebook, choose one network to contact them on. If you are sloppy on your delivery method you’ll never reach them in a friendly tone.
- Respect the boundaries of others. As the relationship develops you can adjust your method of contact. Just because someone adds you as a friend on MySpace or Facebook doesn’t mean that you can now start calling them or send them marketing messages. Nurture the relationship and you’ll grow as they grow.
- If you have mutual friends or contacts ask for an introduction. The most trusted way to reach someone is through someone they trust. Before messaging the person, message the person you know and describe why you need to get in contact with their associate, friend, or contact. If you think about it, we’re only 6 degrees away from anyone we might ever want to know.
March 27th, 2008 — Meetings
We’ve all sat through a pointless meeting with the presenter going over 40+ slides. We sit and stare as well-paid professionals’ in the room zone out to the never ending speech. Horror stories are eminent, yet by following a few key guidelines we can work to improve and save valuable money and time for everyone. With weekly or even monthly meetings it’s hard to be energized when you know that it will ultimately lead to nothing. By ordering food and having lunch during the meeting will not make anything better. To have effective, valuable, and engaging meetings it requires a few characteristics such as a proper location, clear agenda, visual cues, strong leadership, and follow up action items. Let us dive into having a “Google” style meeting. From first hand experience they do it best.
A convenient location goes a long way: Depending on your group size, a meeting location that’s central will allow everyone to get there on time. Lounges or break-rooms work well for small groups of three to four. Large groups should book ahead of time a conference room and notify all participants with a map if needed. Having your meeting over dinner in a crowded or loud place will cause distractions. Keep it close, keep it simple, and keep it quick.
Make sure the meeting location has the following:
- Ethernet cables to plug-in for each guest
- A working projector
- Whiteboard for brainstorming
- Refreshments if it’s going to be long
- Good lighting and temperature
If you don’t plan, you plan to fail: One of the most overlooked items of a meeting is an agenda. It’s important to come prepared and know what you want to cover, how much time it will take, and what questions you need answered from your team. Set the agenda and stick to it. If you have the chance, Email the agenda to each person prior to the meeting so everyone knows what to expect and will be able to contribute more.
Meetings should NOT be for:
- Giving an update with one-way flow of information. Send an Email instead.
- Creating enthusiasm or support for your idea. Use private 1 on 1 meetings instead.
- Getting everyone on the same page or resolving a disagreement.
- Getting slackers on track. Embarrassing or having to single a person out is not effective.
Keep them excited with visual cues: In each meeting there needs to be some spice. Monotone speakers and regurgitating previous meetings are useless. Take some time to put together at the least some images to go along with your slides. Have pictures or charts to express a point instead of text filled slides. Since everyone is present you can speak to your visual cues without using text to explain your message.
Essential ingredients for keeping people excited:
- Timekeeper to keep things on pace and to assure people when time is up, time is up.
- Note taker so others can listen and fully understand your message. Helps for keeping a record too.
- Whiteboard to write ideas, brainstorm, and draw flowcharts or processes
If you can’t lead, then you must follow: If you’re presenting a meeting with another person you need to set who will lead the discussion and who will follow. When you have two people leading a meeting it gets out of hand. The message will not be delivered effectively and your audience will hear an overload of information. Whoever is leading, take charge and keep the meeting moving forward and on time! Keep questions to the end if possible so that you can get your agenda across before going into a potential tangent. If people are bored and don’t get anything out of the meeting, that’s your fault.
Keep everyone in the loop: After the meeting has ended have your note taker(s) send each person a copy with any action items that have been discussed. You should also send a copy to anyone who wasn’t able to make the meeting. Make sure everyone leaves with knowledge of the next step. It’s easy to go back to your desk and forget what just happened. That is why the follow up is the most important factor to ensure your meeting is a success. If you have time, survey your audience to determine if the meeting was effective. For any information on a whiteboard that can’t be saved, take a picture with your cell-phone camera and upload it to www.scanR.com. They’ll clean up the image and turn it into a PDF which you can then forward to your team.
I hope this helps and you’ll be able to nail your next meeting. It shows when you prepare and it will clearly show when you don’t. Make sure you don’t over invite and aren’t wasting someone’s time that will not contribute or gain anything from the discussion. Let me know your thoughts and if there is something I missed please mention it in the comments below.