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Under the Skin

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

An old story by Bill Cosby has me sitting up nights thinking. As the story goes, Bill is in a bar listening to the tiresome bragging of a martial arts newbie. Deciding he’d heard enough, Bill challenged the windbag by suggesting that his feats weren’t so extraordinary, to which the karate student responded, “Oh yeah? Let’s see you do it.” Backed into a corner, Bill swaggered into a nearby alley to demonstrate his skill and will. He prepped his mind, making repeated approaches to the targeted brick perched between two stone columns. He was ready, now puffing and belting out convincing incantations.

The moment of truth arrived as Bill lifted his hand, now contorted as though at once struck with arthritis, and came down in a thunder as it hit the brick. Screaming in pain and hopping around for relief, Bill had broken nearly every bone in his hand. When asked what he was thinking in attempting something he had never done before, Bill was contrite though insightful in his answer. “Ya see, I was thinking Yes I can, but the brick was thinking No you can’t.”

The motivation to accomplish may be fundamental to the human condition, but to grow self- esteem, it must be accompanied by equal performance. Bill wanted to, but didn’t achieve his goal. It wasn’t for lack of desire, and not because he couldn’t. It was because he did not prepare adequately for his goal.

We have all been in shoes that don’t fit, a brother of sorts under the skin. The difference, too often, has been our willingness to prepare for the goal ahead. Achievement is most effectively mind and matter—in Bill’s case, muscle. It is also something else—an ability to recognize that our resources—mental toughness, passion for the task, planning, and patient pathways to success—are at hand or in need of development. If we are all achievers under the skin, are we equally equipped with the mastery of resources necessary to inform achievement?

Growth may be fundamental to humans; indeed we change 5 trillion cells daily in support of it. It is also frightening to those who perceive loss and not gain in its wake. What makes it so? The simple answer is the fear that we might lose something in the process of change. Sadly, it is usually something that has been lost already, though hidden by coping mechanisms that attempt to ease the effect of change. The resistance that follows is the unfortunate reality for most, as it was for Bill’s hand above.

Psychology tells us that we seek rationality and explanations to grow comfort with change and to avoid stress. Ontologizing, adding a physical nature to things; figuration, image creation; and personification, giving personality to abstraction, are the mechanisms of objectification, the process of making things more understandable. The system is well defined in the Hierarchy of Needs. We move cautiously up the ladder of achievement after accomplishing key steps along the way—physical needs, safety, belonging, self-esteem, and fulfillment.

Every day we are asked to perform in support of something we’ve agreed to do. And in each we form a consensus with ourselves to achieve or wait on another day to realize our desires for achievement. But too often the luxury of time is not available to us. Life and work can be insatiable masters. Performance has a common ring, much like the man walking up a narrow stairway in a dark church tower who, when reaching out to get his balance, lays hold of a rope and is startled at the clanging bells. No matter how closely we hold our methodology it is revealed in our performance.

We are all naturally endowed with desire. It’s the self-actualizing energy in each that drives us to achievement. Equally, we have natural talents and gifts. Why then, do so many spend their lives looking for something that is hidden in plain sight? Even teachers, or any that assume the mantle—friend, neighbor, mentor, sage—fail to invest more than the direction common to most, which is to point someone in the path they took to find these jewels. The subject above looked inward to find his own unique qualities, but could only identify desire. As any who have found success in a planned goal will tell you, it’s seldom enough.

May 19, 2017 |

Words

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

Much of the tension in marketing is around words; which ones are used, for what reasons, how they combine, and to what end. Search appears to have taken over our lives; it is near impossible to acquire information without it. That is, watching a game of cricket reveals neither the thinking nor rules of the game. Indeed, how would we perform a search without words?

In forming today’s advertising model words are the fulcrum elements in the drive to results. Though often digital in their application, words are formed of analog processes—sight, sound, feel, and context or angularity. We are analog people, given to preparing everything we do from a “backbone” that is uniquely analog.

In fact, some 70 percent of searches are driven by some sort of offline media influence—originating in the thought that becomes behavior. The search words we use are most often (70 percent) misaligned with the thing we seek, and as often, misspelled. It’s a wonder how a search ever delivers a productive result. But it does; largely because algorithms that combine words, which represent thought, are borrowing from bits of a vast store of information indexed (in words) to form a model of the search. The more “words,” increasingly more relative to the unique behavior of the searcher in the database, the more likely a good result. Such an outcome satisfies the two key elements of an effective market exchange—relationship and a good customer experience.

It is said that we learn more about a person by what he writes than what he says. It is confirmed in my experience. Thoughtful moments, on paper, take more time and care to express, revealing meaning in both nuance and one’s logical train of thought. Not coincidentally, search requires attention to the method—that is, if we hope to find a productive end. Searches that lead to extraneous or oblique information fail to satisfy the goal. Such obliquity is the result in 70 percent of searches, though even these inform the gift of internet search—a pattern of behavior.

The phrase that words form, in search, does its job increasingly as data accumulate, and the pattern of consumers emerges. The words, it would seem, matter greatly. Now as before, the formation of our words brings us closer to the achievement of our goals.

Interestingly, the majority of impressions that influence search are found offline, as noted above. We are engaged by our senses in finding our direction and driving us to a goal satisfied. Though the keyboard may not appear to deliver a “sense” of one’s desires as their fingers walk across it in forming words and phrases, few would admit that setting a computer to the task of one’s bidding is less than an intuitive digitation of the mind’s purpose in that moment. Fewer still can learn while looking over the shoulder of helpful others fingering a keyboard. Doing delivers far better results.

As we travel through time, it is our senses that interact with the world around us—an analog world that forms impressions in our minds, words on our tongues, and the behavior that follows. Without the words—especially in a digital world—little of behavior is formed. No less, spoke N. Scott Momaday … ”To be careless in the presence of words is to violate a fundamental morality.”

May 12, 2017 |

Serious About Work

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

So many interviewers make this issue the primary goal in determining the suitability of candidates. The post-interview summary often sounds like this: “Likeable, easy going, good skills, but talks in the first person singular too much to be a team player.” Or, “He has a spotty work experience.” Is it because he’s not serious about his work?

When in talks with employees, do you have the view that they are doing all they can do to achieve “agreed upon” goals? If not, what do you conclude? Is he taking responsibility for the “complete task” that’s missing?

Enterprise organizations need the best from stakeholders every day. When disengaged—54 percent of employees—the meaning and the joy in work are hard to find. Un-invested employees are indifferent about the work they do and the value of it to them. It’s a common concern since roughly 85 percent of the workforce dislikes their jobs.

Least-resistance oriented, most people find their lowest level of contribution—just enough to get by. It’s a condition just short of complacency for most, though some move quickly to actively disengage—17 percent of the workforce. Armed with this information, how do we determine whom among candidates is serious about his work? The trick may be in developing a good sense of what it feels and sounds like to be actively engaged in meaningful work; the goal of all serious workers. Consider the answers to the following question:

Describe what it means to be serious about your work.

Candidate A: “I’m very serious about my work. I always studied hard when in college, and arrived at work promptly at my first job. I work hard and do everything that is asked of me. I know that this job, like most others, is not 9-5, and I always give 110 percent. I take my work very seriously.”

Candidate B: “To be serious about work means growing a greater sense of the whole than just an understanding of the task at hand. I think it requires that I take responsibility for the success of the team, the individual team players, and the goals of the organization. I think when people do that, they enjoy their work more and are able to make a more valuable contribution to the organization. Encouraging those around me to do their best makes me better and conditions the work with real purpose. I think that is what it means to be serious about your work.”

Which of these candidates has demonstrated an understanding of the meaning in being serious about one’s work? Candidate A’s answer is more common than B’s answer by 10:1. Surprised? Yet, the only modeling apparent in the answers above is in candidate B’s words. Clearly, she is prepared by the thinking that preceded them.

The opportunity in the work we do is prepared in us. If it truly is not in your organization, if the culture is predatory in nature, then move on. But in most organizations, it is not opportunity that’s missing but the willingness to invest fully in the work we do. To make a difference is easy; just give of yourself by an internal standard, not the one by which others measure themselves. Go beyond the task to complete the job. Few do; a difference maker in successful individual effort. Everyone is gifted, but some don’t open the package.

 

 

May 5, 2017 |

Getting It Right!

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Much is spoken about what got us into the most recent economic malaise; what’s wrong with us? The dismal science (economics) has its progenitors, but as we peel back the layers of this onion there is a stark reality few will confront.

JFK may have uttered less wit than wisdom when he exclaimed to the “best and brightest” at the White House: “This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” Extraordinarily accomplished from age 5 to 83, Thomas Jefferson, who at 33 wrote The Declaration of Independence, understood better than most the fundamental building blocks of a political and economic society that serves democracy. His words of warning then, ought give us pause today as we search the answer to the question above.

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property—until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.

If we number the above quotes 1-4, we may see today what Jefferson opined some 200 years ago. We have allowed #1, in support of #2, by the act of #3, and are now facing #4.

In a letter to William Smith, secretary to John Adams, in 1787, Jefferson wrote tellingly, “ …what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signifies a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure …”

 

 

April 28, 2017 |

The Man in the Mirror

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Business turns furiously on the work of individuals, especially when joined as one in single purpose to form organizations. With opportunity so evident in the model of individual accomplishment, what keeps us from finding this essential guise?

Kohl’s recent quarter decline in sales may be a case in point. It positioned itself with lower priced items and earlier access to seasonal clothing, but failed to support demand with adequate inventory. Did they only half-heartedly commit to their new market position, hedging against potential losses should it fail to produce the hoped for result? Or did they purpose to risk little in an effort to test the market, content to count success in the next quarters after securing the value in the new market approach? Which was the man in the mirror? Kohl’s revenues for the past quarter dropped 23 percent.

Today’s culture insists on easy everything—from food to solutions— but the complexities of modern business belie the simplification. Yet, underlying the most complex analyses are simple rules of behavior. We turn wants into needs. We need the things made standard by another’s having of them. We do what is expected of us, and not what is best for all—winded, as though seeing through a glass darkly.

Individuals are celebrated for just that; it’s what parents and teachers alike encourage in us through the learning process and life. Unique contributions, most often born of unique perspective, imagine things not seen clearly by others, things hidden in plain sight. It is no secret how to distinguish oneself—be different. If the difference works for most, a crowd gathers to celebrate it. Not all those given of genius are well liked—consider Steve Jobs. But unique contribution is a compelling art form.

How then do we encourage the real me in a world preoccupied with the Hollywood effect, this new reality the essential you?

Small business, notably Main Street shops, are the bread and butter of economies. The local exchange that is common to them provides more than 60 percent of jobs and an even larger portion of the GNP. The impetus in starting local shops is the enterprise ethic that characterizes the American psyche, the hope of financial independence, if only by the hard work and investment that is uniquely theirs. This unique expression combines the energy, desire, and the plasticity required to weather the vicissitudes of local markets. Those who survived the recent recession are a testimony to the tenacity necessary to successful enterprise models.

Small business owners are qualified by no less; they are a benchmark of the Protestant ethic, made famous by Max Weber in his celebrated book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Their decision to open for business is inextricably tied to their identity, their image of themselves, and not least their hope for a better future. Few make it big, but the failure rate seems to affect the search for identity and the accumulation of wealth almost not at all. In a good economy they start 50,000 new businesses a month in the U. S.

Even Alice saw the shenanigans of the King and Queen of Hearts as no more than a deck of cards before she woke up to reality. Pray the moral of the story is not lost on us as we look for the man in the mirror.

April 20, 2017 |

Jes’ Shoot ‘Em

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

A quick trip to the atelier of the mind, the deepest corner, where processing occurs, might reveal the quick-trigger attitude of The Old West. A reactive habit, threats are paid in like currency. The mood of most finds what’s wrong with others, our towns, and the world. A quick-draw fever heats the blood if not good sense. The result, the fulminating ire of our protective urges, albeit absent the recovery that forms relationships.

If you’re finding the soliloquy above a bit angular, consider the opportunity in all things. Time with Springer, Montel, and Povich insinuates, and fans and closet clones homogenize, while thinking machines (robots) everywhere mark time for sapiens. People are people.

On a recent road trip, my wife and I listened to the whining on local talk shows from North Carolina to Georgia. The fascination was in hearing the most spectacular stories told by the mordant and abused of simple sense. We took to repeating what one commentator prophetically dispensed as the solution for this largely unhappy group of complainers. “Jes’ shoot ‘em,” he said, and we broke out laughing. Perhaps insensitive to the plight of those in need without awareness of it, we took fun as relief before finally switching to music and conversation. But nearly every time we touched this divining rod of American culture—the complainer—we broke into laughter.

So, what does this have to do with the marketplace? Is there really opportunity in all things or is the idea merely the Pollyanna of antipodal minds?

Assume the principle veridical. When we find opportunity in everything and everyone, what happens? When taking to the road we find reason for unkind behavior. Fair enough, the impatience of one may teach patience in another. The “teacher” notwithstanding, what’s taught is prescient, if not habit-forming. Parking fury has its own motivators, “me firstedness” not least, but what would the obverse side look like?

“Go ahead, take that space, I’ll wait, ask for your cart, return my own, carefully open my door and avoid scratching yours even if my neighbor does not, and count the small percentage effect on good neighborhood that informs a gentler approach.” What happens when we give instead of take, respond not react, calm anger not fuel it, liquidate expectations in favor of hope in another, and step expectantly into next moments looking for what’s “right with the world”?

The marketplace is teeming with salespeople. They perform the necessary (and honorable) job of informing their customers of the opportunity and value in their products and services. Most complain that there are “too many salespeople,” and wish they would go away—salespeople, who have happier and longer marriages, are emotionally more stable than the general population, raise well-adjusted children, and enjoy more hobbies (that balance life) than all other professions, according to studies that go back many years. Attorneys might wish for a similar profile, despite the large numbers of them and their “rabbit habit” of multiplying quickly.

People are to be enjoyed for many things, the things that qualify them uniquely. What do we say to a child who decides on a career in sales (are any really not in sales)? “Become the best salesperson you can be, and be happy with it”? Sound like something you’d say?

When a salesperson knocks at your door, tell him frankly of your interest, after learning of his purpose in calling on you. Try to find the human quality in the person, that which seeks to satisfy the same urging in all—the fulfillment of active engagement in meaningful work. Ask him to be as brief as possible in summarizing the “value” (to you) in his purpose and product/service, even asking if three minutes of your time is enough. Then listen, ask questions, and speak honestly of your interest. When he persists, as many will, remind him of your contract to spend just three minutes. Tell him why you would like to continue, as easily as you might tell him why you do not see opportunity in his offering. It is at this moment that you are equals—you have asked of him the same that he has asked of you. This “agreement” will work better to grow mutual respect and regard and prepare the two for a fair exchange.

If you have doubt of this, consider how America grew—by its penchant for commerce in a free market society. “Doing business without advertising (sales) is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you’re doing, but nobody else does.”

 

April 14, 2017 |

Just Like Me

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Donald Trump is the president of the United States. As incredible (implausible, inconceivable) as this seemed before Election Day (see the ROI column by the same name), it happened. But how? It’s like imagining that Will Rogers, social commentator and political wit, might have been elected president in his day. The difference—Rogers was well liked! He poked fun at the establishment; Trump poked holes in it.

Both men meant to raise the public consciousness over issues confronting the nation. Rogers would say, “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Trump took a different approach, one whose angular view made the rest of the world look cockeyed. This is, perhaps, the thing they had in common. Each saw ills and gathered a silent majority around his view of them. One more thing—they both had a knack for knowing just what the American people were feeling. No doubt, Rogers’ campaign would have been a “feeling” campaign, as Trump’s was in this last election.

Both men came from means, but found their places in the world more comfortable by aligning with the “everyday Joe.” They valued common sense and honest feelings and validated a “nation in need” in their respective lifetimes. Their personal dreams, one might say, were (in forming their worldviews) realized by an understanding of their unique contributions to their audience. Remarkably, each held sway over America to reach fulfillment, and each owed his success to his ability to measure the pulse of that very same audience. In a sense, each was entertainer while testing his unique brand, and each was sage in accumulating the results.

The lives of both of these men may suggest many things to us, no less than that you too, like the social satirist and the blue-collar billionaire, can achieve your greatest expectations and realize your personal dreams when closely aligned with the people whose support you need to achieve them.

Many say that we are a nation divided. The comment generally refers to the government, its two-party system, and those that line up behind them. Actually, it’s not so uncommon a position for the America we know and love. Except during wartime, Americans have been divided, at least skin deep, over the approach to solutions for the complex and great number of issues nations face. It’s the same for all nations. But for benevolent dictators, whose matriarchal or patriarchal oversight is the warm caring for their (subjects) citizens, such as Peisistratos, the progenitor of his breed, most rulers—either presidential or parliamentary—subsume the character of benevolence behind an eponymous shield that appears to be the same old government: by, for, and of the legislators.

Peisistratos ruled Greece on three different occasions, and was generally liked, and for good reason. He created a time of peace and prosperity for Athens, offering land and loans to the needy. Others followed—Ashoka the Great, Marcus Aurelius, Frederick II of Prussia, and many more. All owed their following and success to a single unifying ethic; they were motivated in ruling by a dedication to the betterment and welfare of their people.

While a two-party system, by design, means to manage the differences between members, especially in representative forms of government such as our democratic republic, toward consensus as an outcome, it is divisive by nature. When each acts as though it is more important to be “right” than to join in consensus, they are serving themselves and not the people. “For the good of the party” may be the revealing ethic that informs the electorate of a divided nation. Thought becomes behavior!

Few among those attacking the presidency, as though “throwing out the bum” were the style of this republic—the presumptive identity of a parliamentary system—have paused to consider that a nation of laws positions those who openly violate them in an effort to eviscerate or otherwise harm the president as felons under United States Code Title 18, Section 871. Its prototype is the English Treason Act 1351, which made it a crime to “compass or imagine” the death of the King. Many claim a desire to “kick him in the face” were they to meet the president. Most are expressing displeasure with his views and the striking difference from their own. The act is hardly the stuff of joining, rather, the frustration in a presidency that is not equal to their bidding.

Perhaps, more than any encouragement issued by politicians is the desire for a bipartisan legislature, a cohesive people, and benevolent leadership. JFK asked that we consider first what citizens might do “for your country.” It may be a well-worn wish, but as prodigious and righteous to act on. In this moment, “we” are “me.”

“Problems are common, but first among them is expecting otherwise and viewing problems as the problem. Few can hurdle this obstacle.” Anonymous

April 7, 2017 |
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