Play Through Problems To Drive Better Outcomes

Posted on October 26, 2014 by Josh Linkner

As kids, we go out to play. Later in life, we play sports or play music. But then, in sharp contrast, we leave our homes each day and go to work.

The term implies uninspired, often boring and generally yucky things. Parallels of going to the dentist, waiting in line at the DMV or filling out endless forms come to mind. Trading your soul for money is not the ideal way to spend your career.

What if we flipped the terminology, and started calling work something else … “play.” Instead of a workforce, our companies could have a playforce. Think about it … “Bye honey, I’m running off to play.”

“Oh great, dear, have a nice day at the playground.”

Have a conflict? Maybe you should “play” it out.

The research consistently shows that elements of play drive the most creativity, lately the currency of success in the new generation of business. Play stimulates the mind and the soul, and allows us to break out of the drudgery. Work is about completing tasks, maximizing efficiency, and delivering outcomes. Play can do those things, too, but we add fun, imagination and movement to the mix.

The average first-grader laughs more than 300 times a day while the average adult laughs only 17. No surprise that kids are more creative than adults.

Even if you can’t force a company-wide change in terminology, go ahead and make the swap in your mind. You’ll notice a new bounce in your step, and a renewed sense of energy and excitement about the day ahead.

Forget about “working” through your next tough business challenge… try “playing” through it instead.

The Difference Between a Job and a Calling

Posted on October 19, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Michigan public safety officer Ben Hall’s job is to serve on the force in Emmett Township. Like many jobs, his includes a clear set of rules, procedures and regulations. But those rigid policies didn’t define Officer Hall in the way they define so many others.

During a routine traffic stop last week, he noticed something wrong when he pulled over a young woman for a moving violation.

The woman’s young daughter was buckled in the back seat but without a car seat. Now, according to the Michigan Vehicle Code, child restraint systems are required for kids under 4 years of age. Officer Hall’s job, in this case, is to enforce the law. Accordingly, the correct procedure would be to promptly issue a ticket for this violation as a civil infraction.

Luckily, this officer was able to connect with his calling — to protect citizens and ensure public safety. He decided to put that purpose ahead of technical rule enforcement, choosing instead to help out. He learned that the woman wanted to protect her child but had fallen on hard times and couldn’t afford a car seat. Officer Hall instructed the woman to follow him to the closest Walmart.

He escorted them inside and purchased a car seat with his own money. He followed his heart instead of the dusty rulebook, and did far more to protect the safety of a young girl than he could have by issuing a pricey citation.

Ben Hall

The media reported on his gesture. The news item describing his selfless act was picked up by CNN and others.

Each of us has jobs to do; policies to follow; tasks to complete. But in the process, let’s not forget why we signed up in the first place. Acting in accordance with your greater purpose should be your guidepost; not just saluting the flag of policy while your mission goes unfilled.

Now I’m not suggesting we forego the order of law or “go rogue” in some irresponsible manner. I’m simply suggesting that each of us needs to zoom out and reconnect with our calling. Purpose should trump procedure. Mission should win over method.

Officer Hall’s bold move made a real difference. Not just for one young girl, but for the thousands of us inspired by his selfless act. My guess is he’ll get reimbursed in one way or another for the car seat in the form of a raise, charitable donation or simply deep personal satisfaction (he probably enjoyed buying the car seat far more than spending his money in other ways).

Let’s prioritize our calling over the mundane tasks for our jobs. When we get on with the work we’re passionate about — the work that makes a meaningful impact in people’s lives — everyone wins.

What A Difference A Day Makes

Posted on October 12, 2014 by Josh Linkner

For more than 200 episodes since 2001, special agent Jack Bauer captivated the world as the series “24″ unfolded in “real-time.”

Each 24-episode season covered only a single day of Bauer (actor Kiefer Sutherland) daring greatly to save the world. While these mythical days were unrealistic, they drew us in as we contemplated the impact that could be achieved in just 24 hours.

The 24-hour day is the great equalizer. Gandhi, Jobs and Mozart all had the identical 24 hours to work with. Big-shot, fancy country club members have the exact same number of daily minutes as starving artists, aspiring college students, and community activists looking to make a difference.

Jack Bauer

To fight through the never-ending challenges and to seize your full potential, it’s critical to take control of the clock. Each of us is responsible for the choices we make and how we leverage (or squander) every precious moment. It’s easy to fall victim to life’s temptations and distractions. We can become overwhelmed with negative news, job pressures, barking bosses, demanding kids and endless responsibilities. Free moments can easily be consumed with gossip, gorging on poisonous fast food, or mind-numbing intoxicants. On the other hand, each 24-hour period can be viewed as a blank canvas for creative expression; an opportunity for your to paint your own masterpiece.

Consider taking a 24-hour challenge. Pushing your boundaries for just a single day can unlock a world of possibility, creating optimism, energy, and hope. Here are a few 24-hour challenges to consider:

Clean Your Mind Challenge — For 24 hours, consume zero negativity. Turn off the news, avoid complainers and fuel your brain with positive information and opportunity. Cleanse out the fear, negativity, conflicts and junk thinking for just a day. Only allow in fresh ideas and information that will inspire.

Fresh Body Challenge — You’re probably heard of juice cleansing, but you don’t need to go that far. Take 24 hours and consume only healthy food and beverages. Cut out the fried, sugary junk that is so tempting and accessible, replacing it with whole foods that drive health and vitality. My guess, you’ll want to continue.

Possibility Challenge — Instead of being heads-down in your daily work, take a day to be only heads up. Imagine the possibilities, push your creative limits, and think about what can-be instead of just what is. Reject nothing, consider everything and let your imagination soar.

Bauer managed to prevent the end of civilization. In your case, I bet you’ll unlock something that’s powerful and invigorating of your own. Give it a shot … see what you can do with laser focus for a single day. It may just be your springboard to lasting transformation.

The Triumph of Cosby’s Consistency

Posted on October 5, 2014 by Josh Linkner

On a flight this past week to San Antonio, I had a special surprise: Bill Cosby was sitting in my same row, two seats down. Yes, that Bill Cosby. The brilliant and accomplished actor, comedian, writer, humanitarian, and musician. The one who has used creativity instead of vulgarity to entertain the world for the last 50 years. The one who stands up for racial equality, education, human rights, and supports the arts.

Bill Cosby
Being such a mega-star, you’d imagine he’d be accompanied by an entourage. You would expect him to be sheltered, distant, and unapproachable. The kind of demanding diva that we’ve come to expect from celebrities. Not Bill. He was completely the opposite: warm, gracious, and caring. He happily snapped pictures with other passengers, shook hands, joked around, and kept us all laughing out loud. This 77-year-old traveled alone with zero pretense or elitism. Just a genuine guy on the way to perform a gig.

What struck me most was his consistency. He clearly lives and behaves in an authentic manner. With his actions in concert with his persona. He’s the same guy on and off the screen. A loving jokester, a warm-hearted neighbor, a caring friend.

In contrast, there’s often a big disconnect between people’s carefully crafted external façade and who they really are. We see this play out when supposedly family-friendly celebrities end up in jail for drug charges. We witness intolerant politicians pound their self-righteous fists on the table of morally, only to end up falling by way of scandal. Even more frequently, we see this gap in our own communities. Hypocritical leaders demand that followers act as they say, not as they do. Community leaders that purport to serve the needy, but ignore their own children. The list goes on and on.

Within each of us, there’s a daily pull to be someone we’re not. Sometimes it is to conform to society’s pressures; sometimes it is the tempting allure of a momentary pleasure. However, the true mark of happiness is being true to yourself regardless of the setting or circumstance. When the strength of our character trumps the seductive appeal of how others want us to be, we reach a grounded state of unwavering fulfillment.

By remaining consistent with that mission and calling, you’ll enjoy far better results in business and life. Simply put, the smaller the gap between your inner and outer self, the stronger your performance and contentment will be.

Cosby’s warm smile and distinctive voice made the flight special for all the passengers and crew. His consistency of character and authentic personality make his life’s work special for us all.

 

Use Your Creativity To Fight Back

Posted on September 28, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Watching the news or reading the paper, it takes only a few minutes to identify major problems in our world.

From the abhorrent behavior of certain NFL players to new terrorist threats in the Middle East, we are surrounded by challenges in every direction. While most of us empathize with these issues, few leap into action.

Three impressive individuals who rose to the challenge aren’t politicians, social activists, or business leaders … they’re college students. From the Materials Science & Engineering department at North Carolina State University to be precise.

Having learned about the horrors of “date rape” on college campuses, the trio decided to invent an early detection system to make women safer. Their big idea: a nail polish that changes colors when it comes in contact with chemicals that have been used to drug women such as Rohypnol, Xanax and GHB.

They are billing the innovation as, the First Fashion Company Empowering Women To Prevent Sexual Assault. Ankesh Madan, one of the cofounders, explained how the team created the idea: “We were thinking about big problems in our society, the topic of drug-facilitated sexual assault came up. All of us have been close to someone who has been through the terrible experience, and we began to focus on preventive solutions, especially those that could be integrated into products that women already use. And so the idea of creating a nail polish that detects date rape drugs was born,” she said, according to a blog entry I read at highereducationworks.org.

While still in the early stages, these young, creative entrepreneurs are well-positioned to make a real difference. Their fresh approach to a real-world problem will likely prevent untold suffering, while also yielding tremendous commercial success.

Each of us has a similar opportunity to make a positive impact by unleashing our imagination to attack the challenges we face.

To proceed, you don’t need to be in college, start a company, or have access to capital. We all have the basic building block of creative problem-solving already at our disposal: human imagination. Rather than ignoring the world’s challenges, or leaping to simple and obvious solutions, let’s raise the bar by pushing our creativity muscles to higher levels of performance.

It’s easy to complain about issues or feel overwhelmed by the negativity in the world. Let’s flip our thinking and use those feelings to fuel our most potent creativity. To begin, attack the very problems that irk you the most. Major advancements throughout history most often come from the frustration of the status quo combined with a courageous, new, creative approach to disrupting it. Instead of getting irritated by the chaos du jour, fight back with your biggest, boldest ideas.

Think of yourself as a problem-solving artist. Today, the world needs your masterpiece like never before.

Diners, Drive-ins, and Dedication

Posted on September 21, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Millions of Americans regularly binge-watch the Food Network’s hit TV show, “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” Hosted by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, the show has a cult-like following and is spectacularly popular. Fieri profiles restaurants that have incredible food in a non-glamorous setting.

Diners Drive-ins and Dives

The grounded, down-to-earth, focus-on-what-matters restaurants featured on the show generally have two things in common: First, they have passionate chefs who truly want to delight their customers. These leaders take great pride in the quality and preparation of their product, scouting out the best ingredients and often taking the long route in order to deliver a stunning experience to their customers. Second, the joints are typically packed; filled with dedicated and loyal customers who have brought their appetites and business for years.

The dives also are clearly missing a few things as well. No uptight, stuffy vibe. No outrageously priced, tiny portions. No flip-flop menu choices just to cater to fleeting trends. No glitzy ad campaigns or gimmicks. Instead of putting energy, time and money into packaging, these restaurateurs focus on substance over sizzle. Value over vanity. Authenticity over pretense.

Think about your own business in this context. Are you truly committed to delivering world-class quality products or services, or do you accept the low bar that’s been set by lazy competitors in your field? Are you building your customer base by delighting clients with value or do you need to over-invest in marketing tactics to get people in the door?

When I survey the business landscape, many of the most successful businesses are those that remain dedicated to the fundamentals. They obsess over their customers instead of counting them as numbers. They spend time figuring out how to deliver more value, rather than extracting more profits. They worry about substance far more than shine.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively, eating in some of the finest restaurants in the world.

My all time favorite, however, is in Berkley. Sila’s Italian Restaurant would be a shoe-in for Fieri’s show. I’ve been enjoying pizza and pasta there for more than 40 years, and they remain committed to their craft. What they lack in pizzazz, they more than make up for in quality and service. I am a lifelong customer, yet I’ve never seen an ad. Heck, I doubt they even have a website, let alone a social media staff. Delivering extreme quality and value is the best marketing tactic of all.

In our businesses, it’s easy to become seduced by new trends, fancy gimmicks, and the lure of cosmetic makeovers. Let’s not forget what really matters to customers. Taking a “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” approach may yield a far better result than adding some new overpriced feature or fancy marketing trick.

Take another look at your organization through the lens of a dedicated Dive chef. Embrace this approach, and — in the words of Guy Fieri — you’ll be “riding the bus to flavortown.”

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Your Next Transformative Step

Posted on September 14, 2014 by Josh Linkner

We all learned by second grade that caterpillars naturally progress to a more advanced condition. You can think of this as the ultimate personal reinvention and a good approach as you work to take your career to the next level.

Charles Best, a history teacher at a Bronx high school, evolved into his own style of butterfly. After shelling out his own money to offer projects for his students, he realized that underfunded teacher projects were a universal problem. Best had the idea to launch a website where teachers could post classroom project requests and donors could contribute to help kids in specific schools and classes. His idea was that anyone with $5 could become a philanthropist and make an impact on kids’ lives. He rallied his fellow teachers to post requests, and Best anonymously funded them all himself to show that the concept worked. Word spread and DonorsChoose.org took off like an Olympic sprinter.

As momentum continued, Oprah Winfrey heard about the site and featured it on her show. Donations of $250,000 were received immediately, and DonorsChoose.org was launched into the public spotlight. With other big-name supporters such as Stephen Colbert, the site now posts projects from all 50 states and over half of all public schools in the United States. In 2012, the site generated more than $30 million in donations and is now fully self-sustaining, with more than 75% of donors choosing to also give to the site itself. Their big goal is to “inspire one million people to give $100 million to classroom projects from 100% of our country’s high-poverty public schools” each year. Best stayed within his field of education, but he evolved into making a much bigger impact than was possible by teaching history in one school.

Mona Bijoor is another butterfly, an especially fashionable one. As a wholesale fashion buyer for Ann Taylor and A Pea in the Pod, she realized inefficiencies in the buying process. In an era where you can buy just about anything online with ease, fashion buying was still being conducted “old school” by telephone and pen and paper. Bijoor’s butterfly moment came when she launched Joor, an online marketplace to connect fashion designers and retailers in a controlled, wholesale environment.

Since launching in 2010, she has signed up 580 brands as clients and more than 30,000 retailers that use the service. By catering to the specific needs of her industry and using her own experience to guide the way, the company processed nearly $400 million in orders in 2013. This is one butterfly that has taken a remarkable flight.

Your own butterfly of reinvention is readily accessible. A law clerk becomes a lawyer then a judge. A dancer becomes a singer, then an actor and finally a director. A software engineer becomes a team leader, then the chief information officer and eventually writes her own code and launches a start-up. Take a look at your current position, and explore what the next logical step would be in your evolution. Once you have your eye squarely on the target, you can begin the necessary steps to seize your desired outcome.

What’s your next move, butterfly?

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Video Killed The Radio Star

Posted on September 7, 2014 by Josh Linkner

When MTV launched back in 1981, the first music video aired was aptly named “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. The song, and the concept, made history as a new format of musical entertainment that rose to prominence.

MTV

The underlying message is one of transformation. Technology advances, global market expansion, ubiquitous access to information and geopolitical trends have shaken up nearly every industry. If you haven’t yet experienced this in your own trade, disruption is probably lurking just around the corner. Hurricane-strength winds of change that make room for the new by blasting out the old.

Knowing this to be true, it makes me wonder why more than 80% of R&D investments by big businesses are directed at incremental change in existing models rather than forging new ones. All the while, fat-cat executives scratch their heads with bewilderment when fresh start-ups emerge to redefine the rules through disruptive innovation.

If your organization, career, or community is the proverbial “radio star,” it’s time to focus on what’s possible and where things are heading, rather than diverting valuable energy to protecting what was. The next, next thing is coming. The question is: Will you drive that change or be driven by it? Will you disrupt or be disrupted?

As you contemplate reinvention, there are many opportunities for creative expression. If your product or service can’t be changed, try taking a look at how the work gets done. Operational innovation can drive geometric growth. Another starting point can be your corporate culture. An empowered team will outperform a tightly controlled and restricted group every time. What about retooling your brand, distribution channel, or market segments? The best leaders view reinvention as a continuous process, not a once-a-decade chore. They systematically attack each area of their business, looking to render previous practices irrelevant.

Netflix killed Blockbuster. Amazon killed Borders Books. Wikipedia killed Britannica. The deadly forces of innovation are just heating up, and it’s up to all of us to stay ahead of the curve.

Don’t wait for video to kill the radio star in your industry. Instead, strike first.

Extend Trust to Earn Trust

Posted on August 31, 2014 by Josh Linkner

The East L.A. neighborhood of Boyle Heights is a rough place. Plagued by violent crime and poverty, this rundown area has a history of gangs and prison sentences.

In fact, more than 65% of ex-cons in California are back in jail within three years. This recidivist behavior represents an enormous cost to society, both in terms of prosecution and imprisonment of the perpetrators, and also for the toll they take on their victims and the public safety of their communities.

The cycle is extremely difficult to break, beginning with few positive role models, poverty and lack of education. After inmates complete their sentence (and their debt to society), it is nearly impossible to get hired. Even when applying for jobs such as pizza delivery or garbage collection, employers can legally reject applicants with a felony conviction, and most job applications ask for that information.

With few career opportunities and no resources, the cycle continues when ex-cons return to breaking the law. Boyle Heights is hardly the place where you’d think to find a thriving business, especially one with a culture that helps reform its ex-con workers.

Father Gregory Boyle (his name is a only a coincidence; the neighborhood wasn’t named after him) set out to create radical change. He believed that people with a rough past deserved a second chance and could thrive in the right environment. Boyle realized that these hard-hit individuals needed jobs, not handouts — so he started a company to give them a shot. Homeboy Industries was launched in 1992 to employ those that most needed a break. It began as a bakery and has since grown to encompass a wide variety of offerings including apparel, salsa and cafes.

Father Gregory Boyle

The story is authentic, which has driven demand for its products and services. Today, the company has over $10 million in revenue and employs 400 people that may otherwise be back behind bars.

The culture built by this unconventional leader is surprising. Rather than checking workers’ pockets, he extends trust. He treats the team with dignity, compassion, and respect, which in turn is given right back to Boyle and the organization as a whole. A deep sense of pride permeates the team members, who will do whatever it takes to contribute to Homeboy’s overall success. As new people join the company, those with a longer tenure help assimilate new arrivals. By giving them a second chance, the company changes its employees’ perspectives about their own future, transforming from crime to contribution.

In your own organization, do you peek over your colleague’s shoulder with a watchful eye of doubt? Do you send the message to those around you that they can’t be trusted? If so, you’ll end up with a team that trusts no one in return. Trust is earned, not issued. To build a culture of trust — in your company, community, or family — start by extending trust to others. Show others they are trustworthy, and you’ll end up with plenty of people you can count on. No second-guessing required.

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The Irony of The Imitator Epidemic

Posted on August 24, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Several original works by Picasso, van Gogh, Jackson Pollock and Renoir are worth more than $100 million each and continue to appreciate at a rapid pace. “The Card Players,” painted by Paul Cezanne, sold for $259 million in 2011, making it the highest amount paid for a painting in history. Collectors appreciate the artistry and groundbreaking original works from the masters.

The Card Players Paul Cezanne

If hundreds of millions is out of your price range, you can commission a stunningly accurate replica of the same work for around $2,500. The modern-day artist will replicate style, texture and paints, creating you an outstanding copy on canvas for 1/100,000th of the price. Still out of range? A poster of the work is available in nearly any size on eBay, starting at only $49.95.

Sir Paul McCartney amassed a $1.2-billion fortune by creating original works, and tickets to see him perform live command as much as $1,000 each today. Compare that to the local “cover band” that performs the same hits in high quality for 100 times less — only $10 cover charge with a two-drink minimum. The musicians in the cover band are very talented, practice hard and sound great. Their gig is the same amount of time (or longer) than McCartney’s concert, and they are undoubtedly accomplished.

Knowing that the world craves and pays handsomely for original thought and fresh ideas, why do so many of us spend our days mimicking the work of others? Rather than breaking ground with a bold new product, me-too offerings fill the marketplace. Instead of creating a unique new ad campaign, tired slogans blend together in a sea of sameness.

Copycat solutions abound. Salespeople attempt the same closing techniques as competitors. Website designs follow similar patterns, making them indistinguishable from others. Policies and procedures are enacted by saluting tradition, ultimately restricting freethinking rather than celebrating it. We have hit an imitator epidemic.

Original work takes creativity and courage, ingredients that each of us possess and can deploy if harnessed. Despite fear or perceived risk, creating imaginative solutions is the only way to break free from mediocrity and seize your full potential. You are here to create, not follow. To forge new paths, not to hide in the shadows of others.

Copying others and following the herd takes nearly the same amount of effort as bringing your own vision to life. No matter what your profession might be, embrace your role as an artist in that field. Your blank canvas awaits. Now go paint your masterpiece.

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