Don’t let perfect get in the way of better

I’m adding a new bullet to my What I Believe document up top, thanks to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“Don’t let perfect get in the way of better,” Goodell says he told NFL owners and general managers debating changes to the league’s overtime system.

Goodell may have been right when he said there’s probably a perfect system out there.  Maybe he wasn’t.  But was the new way — giving the team that kicked off the ball if the receiving team scores a field goal to start overtime — that perfect system?  No.  But it is better than what they have.  And they’re going to continue to look for ways to make it better, including considering whether the new approach should extend to the regular season.

How many projects break down over the desire to get it absolutely perfect?  While I do believe that “good enough isn’t,” I also believe that there are many opportunities to find ways to just do things better.  Incremental change gets you closer to the promised land.  And that can mean eliminating a required signer in an approval process, getting rid of an unnecessary click-through on your website, or enabling someone to complete a form online without requiring him to print it out and fax or mail it.

A few years back, I managed a project to streamline our marketing-approval process.  For a variety of reasons, we decided to make all the changes before rolling out the new process, which included the creation of very specific job descriptions for each position in the workflow.  The goal was to not have to re-educate people more than once and we accomplished that.  But it came at the expense of an additional three or four months of working with the old process.

In retrospect, I’d have worried less about the re-education and focused more on letting people see that the changes we were making were making us more efficient and accurate.  That might have reduced the pushback and the unending debates over minute details.  And that might have both accelerated the overall process and gotten us to an even better place than where we ultimately ended up.

We just shouldn’t have let the desire for perfect get in the way of better.

This same philosophy applies to your resume, your LinkedIn profile, the cleanliness of your desk, the way you manage your teams, or any of a myriad of other day-to-day tasks.  This desire for perfection can lead to paralysis, particularly if you spend too much time knee-jerking every time anyone gives you feedback.

How about you?  How have you avoided the push for perfect and just gotten to better?

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Must Read: Linchpin (the book)

Seth Godin straddled a tough line in his new book, Linchpin.

“Shut up, just shut up. You had me at hello.”

Seth Godin had me at “hello” in his new book, Linchpin.  And there’s so much to love in the book that I’ll start with that.

I’ve documented my struggles to establish a memorable brand for myself, even though my professional success has been based on creating clarity in the face of complexity.

Linchpin resolves that challenge.  It’s on the inside front cover flap:  Linchpins “invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.  They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book.”  OK, I now have the foundation for crystallizing my own linchpin brand.

Here are the seven traits of linchpins:

  1. Providing a unique interface between members of the organization.
  2. Delivering unique creativity
  3. Managing a situation or organization of great complexity
  4. Leading customers
  5. Inspiring staff
  6. Providing deep domain knowledge
  7. Possessing a unique talent

There’s an interesting dynamic at play.  Linchpins are people who, by definition, make themselves indispensable to an organization and therefore should be safe from layoff.  But I suspect many organizations don’t properly recognize their linchpins and might very well let them go in favor of keeping people who don’t rock the boat.  And the linchpins will, in the long run, be better off for it.

The challenge — if you’re a job-seeking linchpin — is figuring out how to highlight those traits in a way that gets you past the gatekeepers whose job it is to eliminate people who don’t perfectly fit the job description.  And linchpins rarely do, because the things they do well aren’t in the job description.

But this book is terrific for that group of people because, I suspect, they never defined themselves as linchpins; they just did the job.  It’s full of great tips on how to be better at it.  And Godin’s passion for the subject is burned into every page.

The problem — and this ties back to my use of the Jerry Maguire quote — is that Godin, who has rock-star status in many corners, is preaching to the choir.  He had me at hello, but it took 48 pages or so to get to the chapter on Becoming a Linchpin as he tried to convince me I needed to become one.  The reviews have been terrific; the adulation virtually unanimous.  But I wonder if the people who would buy this book wanted less convincing and more linchpin “tools.”

But that said, it was worth the wait.  This book is jammed with great stories — at times he could have edited more ruthlessly — and I feel I’m on a streak of three books that are changing the way I’m approaching the next chapter of my life (Switch, this one, and The Checklist Manifesto).

If you’ve read the book, how do you go about convincing a prospective employer that they should make room for a linchpin like you in their organization?

Find a URL that reflects your brand

Have you synched your brand across your various contact points?

As an increasing number of people consider consulting as an alternative strategy to their job search, they’re finding that their business cards don’t serve both purposes (i.e., their “job search” cards are not entirely “on message” for their consulting strategy). 

A friend asked me for my reaction to possible names and taglines for his new consulting practice.  At first blush, they didn’t excite me.  This is a guy whose job search is focused on finding himself a role as an “Innovation Executive.”  Clear and to the point.  When I see job postings that use those words, I think of George and forward them.

So we spent some time talking through what he loves to do and what kind of consulting projects he expects to get.  As he talked, I captured his words (because I now think he can strengthen his 30-second commercial) and typed in possible domain names (I know, I know.  I wasn’t demonstrating great listening skills but I told him what I was doing).

We found something that will work  for people Googling (Binging) his unique value proposition, particularly if he focuses on using other keywords in his blog and on his website.  His company name will work with both his job search and his prospecting for consulting clients.  All in all, 30 minutes well spent and we pledged to talk again in a few days about the taglines.

I took this same approach with my brand.  Once I got comfortable with the bulldog concept, I found a domain name that leveraged the brand.  And then I created this blog  using the same approach.  All in all, I think the three sync up pretty well, although I’m sure I could be doing better.

Is your brand consistent?  Could people find you fairly easily if they were having problems spelling (or remembering) your name, or if they were looking for someone who has your unique skills?

Building a community: Peyton, Branding – good; Free stuff, not so good

It can be complicated building an online community

I’m sorry the Super Bowl is over.

Back in November, I posted on how Colts QB Peyton Manning prepares.  People read it back then, but I got nowhere near as many hits as I have in the past two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl (the NFL can come after me if it wants but I refuse to refer to it as the Big Game).  And today, now that the game is over, only a few stragglers have clicked in from what I presume is a Google, Bing or WordPress search.

My blogging goal is to build a community of people who believe in the principles of Bulldog Simplicity.  In some ways, I hope my readers help me better define those principles.  In other ways, I hope to influence people to simplify the way they approach their lives and work.

So I realize that many of the people who found this blog through a Peyton Manning search left irritated.  “Damn, a business blog,” many of them no doubt muttered and clicked over to Matthew Berry on ESPN.com.  But I fantasize (perhaps too strong a word) that some of those people liked what I wrote, looked at other postings, and perhaps bookmarked me for another look somewhere down the line.  Each of them is welcome to join the community.

I keep an eye on what drives traffic to this blog…and what drives comments.  One of the ways I’m trying to build traffic and followers is by posting links on my LinkedIn groups.  Personal Branding posts do extremely well…presumably because many of my group members are also looking for work and are frustrated by the lack of responses they receive from recruiters or hiring executives.

One post that flopped, to my great surprise, was one at year-end, where I launched a contest where people who commented or subscribed could win one of three great business books that were released in 2009.  Three people read the post, and I received one comment and no subscriptions from it.  I shamelessly stole the idea from someone who apparently received hundreds of responses from his similar posting so I was really shocked by the lack of response, particularly with the word “Win” in the headline, but it taught me that free isn’t attractive without trust.  And I clearly hadn’t totally built that in my community. 

Launching a blog has been a great experience.  If you had told me I’d have nearly 5,000 hits in just a few months, I’d have told you you were crazy.  Publishing regularly has gotten me back into a deadline mode and helped keep my skills sharp.  I’ve introduced myself to people who I never would have met without it.  And I’ve learned a lot — from my own results and from reading people like Seth Godin, Chris Brogan and many others — about building a social community on the Internet, which will be a great new skill I bring to clients or a new employer. 

How about you?  Any tips for me (and everyone else) on building a stronger community?

Must Read: Download Seth Godin’s What Matters Now for free

A veritable Who's Who of deep thinkersA few months ago, Seth Godin asked 70 of the brightest minds on the Internet to talk about a word or a phrase that answers the question, What Matters Now — something to thnk about as we enter the New Year.  He’s turned those thoughts into an e-book called, of course, What Matters Now that you can download here for free.

Some of my favorite writers are represented here — people who are Must Reads on their own.  Alan Webber, who wrote the Rules of Thumb — his word was Unsustainability.  Tom Peters (Excellence, of course).  Chip and Dan Heath (Change). Chris Anderson (Atoms).  Dan Pink (Autonomy).  Tim Sanders (Confidence). Zappos’s Tony Hsieh (Poker). Seth himself (Generosity).  And the list goes on and on.

I have to say it surprises me that the word that drives this blog isn’t represented:  Simplicity.  Perhaps it’s the growing complexity of the Web and of social media that led the word to be ignored.  Perhaps, as I continue to read through this book I’ll find that Simplicity is covered by a brighter mind than my own under the guise of a different word.

Seth is hoping for 5 million hits on this book through the various sites that are letting readers download it.  More to the point, he’s hoping for a lot of dialogue around the thoughts in his book and by readers who have their own thoughts.

What do you think?  Which of these resonated with you?  What’s missing?  What Matters To You?  I’ll be blogging on Simplicity soon.  I hope to have the chance to read your thoughts too.

The benefits of an edgy brand

"Holy cow, the opportunity to mess with one of the most recognizable icons on Planet Earth," says Junction Point Creative Director Warren Spector, who's working on the Epic Mickey game.

Epic Mickey could be my new hero.  At the very least, he’s proof that redefining my brand in an edgier way is a good idea.

Here’s the back story.  Disney protects Mickey Mouse like a mother bear protects her cubs…if Mama Bear also had a battalion of lawyers at her beck and call.  But Disney is rethinking this approach…worried that Mickey has evolved from beloved character to corporate symbol, it’s taking the risky step of re-imagining him for the future.

They’ll start the tweaking next year with a video game, Epic Mickey, in which squeaky clean  Mickey shows traits like cunning and irritability — along with being heroic — as he travels a forbidding wasteland.  This is the first step in a bigger project to rethink Mickey’s personality — including the way he appears on the Disney Channel and how our kids interact with him on the Internet — and raise his appeal with edgier tweens and teens.

I’m not equating my brand with Mickey’s but there are some parallels.  I’ve struggled to define my brand as I look for work in an environment where hiring managers seek reasons to eliminate you rather than reasons to hire you.

In my previous job, I was known for my passion and intensity.  I was seen as someone who could get difficult tasks done.  I was once cautioned to keep the “body count” low, although in my defense that had more to do with my willingness to address bureaucracy head-on and my refusal to accept the status quo than it was a view that I had an “anything goes” mentality.

I was once described by MBNA’s chief marketing officer as a “bulldog” to a large group.  She meant it as a compliment.  I was the guy top management asked to fix the issues that came up in those annual “what keeps you awake at night” exercises.

But as I started my job search, I avoided that description.  I went vanilla, because I was worried that “bulldog” traits would cost me interviews and job opportunities.

But as time went on, I realized — thanks to the advice of friends and mentors — that I’d be wasting my time interviewing with companies that would feel my approach wouldn’t fit their culture.  In short, I needed to embrace my “inner bulldog.”

So I named my consulting company Bulldog Management Solutions.  I have built a brand focused on Bulldog Simplicity.  My LinkedIn profile doesn’t dance around the subject.

I’ve probably lost some interviews and consulting jobs.  But it makes it easier to talk about my strengths…and my weaknesses.  The approach hasn’t resulted in a full-time job yet, but I’m convinced that when it does, I’ll be happier and able to demonstrate the passion that has driven my success over the years.

What about you?  Have you taken an “edgier” approach to your personal brand?  If so, what have you done?

A strong narrative can keep your message from getting lost

Gordian Knot 1
Without a strong narrative, your story can get tied up in knots.

I’ve spent my career trying to craft simple messages that tell our story to customers, prospects, investors, employees, and team members.  But I’ve struggled with creating my own personal narrative since leaving Bank of America in December.  I have a few  strong marketable skills…which has led to multiple resumes and multiple job-search objectives.  And that can cause a problem when the time comes to market myself through social media and with prospective employers: The message gets lost.

With that in mind, I took particular interest in a great column by Thomas L. Friedman in today’s New York Times.  Friedman makes a terrific distinction between communications and narratives.  Responding to people who ask what he thinks President Obama really believes, he argues that while Obama doesn’t have a communications problem — he’s certainly given many speeches laying out his positions and making the case for them — he has struggled to tie all his programs into a single narrative that reignites the passion that got him elected.

At a time when many job seekers must now meet all 15 of a posted job’s requirements to even have a shot at a second look, building that narrative becomes even more important.  I struggle between being a consultant and being open to a full-time position, fully recognizing that prospective clients worry about my commitment and potential employers assume I’m not interested in anything full time, when the truth is in the middle:  I see consulting as a bridge, as a way to demonstrate my value to a company outside the interview process.

When I started my job search a number of months ago, my elevator speech focused on my communications skills (Communications Windex!).   But I got a lot of well-meaning advice that I should also stress my negotiations skills and my ability to simplify processes.  And my ability to build execution-focused teams.  And…well, you get the idea.

But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this is not a market where you can be all things to all people, and hope someone will make the effort to figure out which of your skills are what they need.  They have too many other resumes on their desks.

That’s Friedman’s point.  As important as the one-off discussions are, you have to have something that ties it all together or your message gets lost.  For Obama, according to Harvard professor Michael Sandel, it’s about recapturing the poetry of his campaign. 

For me, it’s finding a memorable way to combine Bulldog Simplicity with Communications Windex.

What is it for you?