A friend of mine has a theory that there is only so much hair in the world.
So as a newborn revels in growing massive amounts of hair, someone else in the world is losing it. By contrast, my 9-month old is still bald – presumably waiting for someone in the world to start losing his hair so she can grow hers.
This “give and take” has analogies in the music world, as well – rubato. Italian for “stolen time”, rubato refers to expressively shaping the music (phrasing) by adjusting the tempo ever so slightly – temporarily removing one’s sense of temporal structure. Many performers believe that whatever time you steal, you must give back somewhere else in the piece – in other words, the total time of a piece is fixed (like the total amount of hair), and if you give time in one section, you must take it back in another.
Is there only so much communication, so much messaging or so many channels in the world? Is there a point at which what you communicate gets lost in how often you communicate – are you communicating with people who want to listen? Are you sending them content they want, or is your message getting replaced by something more important or more relevant (someone else’s hair)? Do you really have to wait for someone else’s channel to die before you can start your own?
What makes your hair unique?
My grandfather gave my father a gift once – I was all of twelve years old, but I remember it vividly – it was a small wooden box with two brass hinges on the back and engraved on the top were the words “For the person who has nothing…” When my dad opened it, another flat piece of wood appeared (i.e. it was NOT a box, but simply two pieces of wood hinged together) with the words “…and now something to put it in.”
Aside from how hilarious I thought this was at the time, a box for nothing is exactly the kind of box we all need – keeping things in boxes is problematic for several reasons:
1. It creates a space to store stuff (mostly useless)
2. Because we have a place to store stuff, it encourages us to get more stuff
3. Once our important (and useful) belongings go into a box, they are essentially useless
If your “stuff” isn’t being used, why make it?
If your service, or product, or website, or whatever…is sitting in someone else’s box or worse yet, sitting in YOUR box, what’s the point?
Marilyn had just turned 70 and had been in the choir for over 30 years. As rehearsal ended, she approached me slowly at the piano, and with her music shaking in her hands (her balance was becoming ever unpredictable) she looked at me and said, “Can’t you just email us with rehearsal information for next week?”
I was somewhat stunned. Email us? Marilyn had email? Yikes – so much for knowing my audience.
This short conversation (in 2003) after an average Thursday night rehearsal was essentially the start of ChurchPost.com. It was also the start of my passion for listening more before doing anything (let alone MORE).
Assumptions fuel the fire of irrelevance – the more you think you know, the less you are listening. Stop whatever you are doing RIGHT NOW and sit down with someone who actually knows what they are talking about (i.e. someone who needs your service). Ask them a question or two and let them talk. Do not interrupt.
P.S. The fastest growing demographic for Facebook and other social media in 2010: Those age 50 and over (Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project)
Speak with clarity, honesty and passion.
If every part of you does not feel the NEED to speak your mind – that absolute ‘coming out of every pore’, gut wrenching, ‘I feel sick if I say nothing’ desire, then you do not really believe it – so let it go.
Speaking your mind is not about an agenda.
Speaking your mind is not about volume.
Speaking your mind is not about right or wrong.
Speaking your mind is about your love for what you do and how you do it.
As a consumer (a customer), I read a lot about (and try to search for myself) “the best companies in the world” – those organizations that I want to give my business to – those experiences I have exchanging something and cannot wait to tell everyone about.
I ordered a bunch of things this year from Amazon.com, and in one of their emails to me, a tagline caught me eye: “Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.”
It got me thinking about the Earth’s Best Customer in the World – could that be me? Maybe I should add that to my email footer when I contact a company about something, or place an order…”John is the Best the Customer in the World.”
What does the best customer in the world look like? Do you have a vision for YOUR best customer? Does he order a lot? Does she tell others about you every day? Does he complain? Never complain?
Organizations that identify their best customers are the most successful, and the happiest. And believe me, this applies to both for-profits and not-for-profits (I run both). Your best customers don’t have to pay for your services. Your best customers may not even know they are your best customers. But you NEED to know them – and you NEED to serve them because what they think MATTERS.
There’s a passage from Aaron Copland’s What to listen for in music that distinguishes between hearing music and listening to music – the latter of which is ACTIVE.
I think this distinction is equally valid for running a company – especially a service company – especially these days.
Are you listening to your customers? Do you need to ask your customers questions to get answers, or do they freely share their thoughts, ideas, criticisms and praise with you?
Asking for feedback is always a good idea, but the best service culture touts an open (and unprompted) exchange of thoughts – some about what YOU are doing, and some about what else is going on around you. This second part is incredibly rich – and it’s how we decided to start our core product (ChurchPost.com) and many others after that. Listen to what people are saying about the “other stuff” – the stuff that you hear over and over again, and realize – “Hmmmm….why are so many people struggling with this?”
Equally tempting is to take every comment, every feature request, every criticism to heart and try to fix it. In their fantastic book Rework, Jason Fried and David Hansson have a section about NOT keeping lists of feature requests and other feedback. Do NOT write them down, they say. Agreed.
As more people say the same thing, you WILL remember what needs to be done (and most importantly, why you are doing it – to solve a problem). This is in stark contrast with launching feature after feature until you forget why you started your service in the first place.
I met with a friend the other day who is a CPA looking for advice about an online presence – specifically, updating his website and starting a new blog.
My message to him was simple: don’t waste time with purchased lists, fax campaigns or cold calls. Start creating a portal for content – real content – that people will actively seek, read and pass along to others. Give it away – honestly, sincerely, earnestly. Drop everything else, and write something NOW.
This is the problem though, isn’t it? Kind of like a new resolution – what Seth Godin calls “SHIPPING” – while most of us struggle to actually DO IT – take the plunge and exercise every day, or write something meaningful (or not so meaningful) and click PUBLISH, or (fill in yours here) – many of us (individuals and organizations) would benefit GREATLY from stopping the press entirely.
What does that mean? It means stopping everything you are doing – taking down your website, stop sending your newsletter, stop blogging…and see who notices. Kind of scary, huh?
A while back, I took this approach with our church. I took the website down and waited. Yikes. It took over two weeks for someone to call the office and tell us. Many a few visitors went to the site and saw nothing, but any way you look at it – that’s a clear message that our website was basically worthless.
By stopping what you are doing, you will better see what needs to be done – that old 80/20 rule – rather than jumping into EVERYTHING (what’s that? a new tool? let’s do it!) without doing ANYTHING well, stopping the press allows you to focus on those things that people actually notice (a.k.a. those channels that are effective).
How many of your current channels aren’t effective? How many tools would you abandon if, after shutting them off, no one noticed?
Well – another blog…another day. Here we are posting our first “post”, and we’ve been doing this since 2005 (well, that’s the official date – we started long before that!).
So why am I starting another blog when there are so many things to read (and NOT to read) on the web already? Once more, you already have a blog – actually, you have a few (blog.churchpost.com, blog.schoolpost.com, blah blah blah).
Well – as we’ve grown our business over the past few years, we’ve decided to expand our online communities to better address the specific needs of those niches – so we manage a Facebook account, Twitter feed, blog, and online support community for each of our businesses (phew!).
But none of these offers a more general channel dedicated to things we have learned (or are continuing to learn) as we continue to do what we love – power the creativity of those around us.
So this begins a (hopefully) vibrant collection of thoughts, lessons, teachings, failures, other failures and maybe some successes that will (hopefully) be the start of something bigger (maybe a book?) – so enjoy the show – is anyone laughing? is anyone learning? is anyone caring? reading?