You Don’t Know Who You’re Messing With

I conduct a monthly seminar, Marketing 101, for the Northern California Small Business Development Center, known as the “SBDC.” I am fortunate to have piloted this session for the better part of a decade. One of the relevant factoids I’ve uncovered over that time is that a satisfied customer will tell five of his friends that he had great service, while his unhappy counterpart will spread forcefully the message of his discontent to 13.

The exact numbers might be debated but that would miss the broader point:

When someone wrongs us with dreadful service, our first thought is, “You don’t know who you just messed with!”

Come on, be honest, isn’t that the truth? Bad service has happened to you, right? And your reaction is to launch forth — sometimes with quixotic zeal — on a “mission” to bring down the offending business and correct the travesty of this injustice, while informing all you meet to steer clear of that worthless enterprise. I know I’ve done it. I’m sure you have too.

That caused me to ponder why in situations like that, we consider ourselves powerful and important; while in other circumstances, we give away that same influence.

It’s because of adjectives.

(Huh?)

[Read more...]

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The First Step in Feeling Better

I take pride in this column.

Every Wednesday for eight years, I plant myself at my computer and conjure up what I hope is the best way to utilize the power of 600 words. Sometimes, ideas explode forth with volcanic fury and I cannot keep up. Oft times, I rearrange the pixels on my screen for the better part of a day. However, I trudge on until I am satisfied enough to forward it with pride to the editors who so graciously publish and post it.

What astounds me is which pieces get the most, or least, feedback. Articles I’m convinced will generate a firestorm sometimes barely ignite a spark, whereby those I presumed would simply cause quiet contemplation will produce a flood of reactions via email, phone calls, and strangers approaching me to continue the discussion. Last week’s column (Practical, simple advice to feel better quickly) was of the latter category. I was pleasantly stunned with the number of comments about its practicality and helpfulness. Therefore, I will take it deeper.

What I did not have room for in that piece was the preliminary step, even prior to changing one’s ideas and behaviors. Preceding the rearrangement of one’s routines, one must query of himself: “Why am I going to change this?” Whether the topic is diet, relationships, finance, or attitude; this question is essential as it establishes motive, which affects the likelihood of success — or failure.

The answer will fall into one of three main categories:

  1. I want to live a better, happier, or healthier life
  2. I need to change or things will get worse
  3. I should do it (or I’ve been told I should do it)

With dedication, planning, and patience, the odds of success from number one or two is strong. This is so because the drive is internally motivated. Contrarily, if the inner voice replies with should, the results — if any — will be short-lived.

“Should” is the word used by the invisible committee of “they” to run our lives.

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Five of the Most Memorable Speeches in History

Writing and delivering a great speech relies on understanding human psychology, crowd behavior, communications principles and leadership skills. Hundreds of speeches are delivered each year, but only a rare few are remembered in history. These stand out from the rest because of who the speaker is, his or her chosen topic, the current cultural and political climate, the sincerity of the speaker’s delivery and whether the speaker truly motivates listeners to act. The following five speakers both achieved greatness and earned their place in history because of a single opportunity to address a crowd with a timeless speech.

Image provided by Cornell University’s Kheel Center from Flickr’s Creative CommonsMartin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream”

Martin Luther King Jr. is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest orators of all time. The key to his success was, in part, his consistency. He was consistently passionate, consistently committed and consistently clear with his every word. King also strived to be relatable, no matter what angle his speech took. For instance, his “I Have a Dream” speech moved listeners for different reasons. Some listeners found the subject of racial equality was the most important. Others found that listening to King challenged them to commit more fully to their own dreams. King transcended the political realm into what motivates people: dreaming of, and pursuing, a better life.

Susan B. Anthony “Women’s Right to Vote”

A single act of disenfranchisement started Susan B. Anthony’s crusade to win women the right to vote. She used that moment to craft her speech “Women’s Right to Vote.” She delivered the speech many times over the course of her career. Anthony’s speech references the most significant moment in American history — when “we the people” formed the Union. She used this moment to remind listeners of what they share in common, temporarily erasing the sense of gender divisiveness her campaign was causing. Through its unifying words, Susan B. Anthony’s speech swayed public opinion and eventually led to ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Jesus Christ “The Sermon on the Mount”

No speaker will ever go wrong by taking his or her main points from literary classics. In the case of “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus’s most famous speech, he directly draws from the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments. In this speech, Jesus not only reviewed and referenced the Commandments but he also expanded the teachings and provided examples from his listeners’ daily lives to help them connect with each Commandment. The information Jesus offers in the Sermon is directly applicable in his listeners’ lives, allowing the speech to transcend time. [Read more...]

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Do You Have it in You?

I have a theory that I believe strongly influences whether or not we succeed at what we want.

I understand that’s a big promise and it’s going to take a bit of explanation, so bear with me.

My hypothesis: When we are happy with our actions, we take credit for them. When not, we blame them, not us. In effect, good results are internalized; bad results are externalized. This is critical because where we place that control determines our future results.

For example, you surprise your husband with a thoughtful gift for no reason other that being a loving life-partner. He walks in the door unaware and discovers the trinket — with a loving note — centered on the coffee table, asking, “What prompted this?” Per my premise, because you’re pleased with yourself for being so considerate, your reply will be internalized. “I just wanted to do something nice for you; no special reason.” Notice you spoke in first person; you owned the action.

As another illustration, the results of your diet are finally showing; and the scale, the measuring tape, and your friends’ comments are all reflecting it.

“You look great!” says your friend. “What are you doing?”

Your reply: “I’m eating better and exercising more.”

See? When happy, we lay claim to our actions.

Yet, should the situation be frustrating or what we deem as unsuccessful, we abandon it quicker than one can shrug his shoulders and say, “Who me?” [Read more...]

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Value Versus Size

Being bigger doesn’t mean being more valuable.

For example, the largest number with a name is the Googolplexian, a “1” followed by so many zeros that Carl Sagan said it would be physically impossible to write them all down because there simply isn’t enough room in the universe. Moreover, it’s said that if you filled the universe with dust particles, the number of different combinations in which you could arrange and number these particles would be far less than a googolplexian. (Why you want to do that is a completely different question.)

It makes one’s brain hurt just thinking about it.

On a more human scale of “bigness,” I recently visited the Spruce Goose, technically the “H-4 Hercules Flying Boat,” constructed by Howard Hughes after World War II. Among other facts, I learned that this ginormous plane (which only flew once) is made of Birch, not Spruce; has piles of beach balls in its wings and belly to keep it afloat should it spring a leak; and that although it was constructed over 60 years ago, no modern plane has a larger wingspan. (There are a few that are slightly longer.)

As a sullen teen, hardly inspired by anything, I visited the Grand Canyon. Yet, even in my perennial “no big deal” mood, the grandeur of this world wonder broke through, partially due to its vastness. Large structures like the Hoover Dam or Golden Gate Bridge still take away my breath.

“Big” is impressive; there’s no way around it.

Maybe it puts us in perspective; I don’t know. Nonetheless, we are drawn to it.

However, it’s essential to understand the difference between size and value.

[Read more...]

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