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October 2014

Want 20% time like Google? Build the foundation first

Max Farrell is the Co-Founder of Create Reason, a firm that inspires entrepreneurship inside companies. 

CR work

Our team at Create Reason recently facilitated a one-ay Creation Jam -- an interactive function within a company to spark innovation and cross-functional collaboration across departments.

The day went amazingly well. Employees pitched concepts and developed them, many of which were quite impressive. Significantly, new relationships were formed across department lines and teams were engaged in refreshing ways.

At the end of the day, awards were given out to the best concepts in different categories. One of the awards for the best concept was the opportunity for “20 percent time” for about a month to expand on the concept and explore adding it as it as a new service offering.

20 percent time allows for employees to spend an average of one day a week with groundbreaking concepts or incremental improvements to develop them out over an allotted time inside the company. The 20 percent time model has been famously implemented by companies such as Google and 3M, to allow employees with groundbreaking concepts to develop them internally. This is how Post-It notes, Gmail and a slew of other products have come to life. 

Both our team and the senior leadership were excited to see this experiment play out. When we made the announcement to the staff, there was a surprising backlash from some of the employees.

The winning team looked distraught as they were given what should have been a moment of glory. They didn’t see it as an opportunity to create something new. They saw it as more work.

This experience forced us to take a step back to understand why this would be the case. It turns out truly successful 20 percent time is like the self-actualization in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  20 percent time can only be successfully implemented with several other conditions being met. Most importantly: the work has to get done and get done well.

When a company’s talent is swamped with the work in front of them, innovation is the last thing on employee minds. The mindset is not — “oh I can work on this” but rather “oh I have to work on this too”. It makes a big difference.

When built within a company from the ground up or added with the right conditions to an established organization, 20 percent time can serve as a catalyst for rising concepts around how to better the organization or creating new products to steer the company in exciting directions.

What is your organization doing to foster innovation and creativity? Let us know in the comments below or send an email and share!

Update: Google has announced they have refocused their 20 percent time. 

 

To keep the conversation going: 

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Email: max@createreason.com

Back to basics II: hiring

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd decided that buying a new horse and running a specialty retail business have quite a bit in common.

Foremost on the list is the importance of getting back to basics, particularly in the area of proper training. Backing up a step, the "getting-to-know" phase of a relationship is invaluable.

My new horse is a jumper -- and a young one, at that. Trying to rush him into challenging situations before he really gets to know me, how I think, and what I expect of him is a prescription for disaster. The same philosophy can apply to the workplace.

All too often, a retailer finds himself or herself short on staff. That's never much fun, especially if the owner is already spending an excessive amount of time on the job. When it does happen, there's always the temptation to hire as quickly as possible to fill a void.

But rushing things along, more often than not,  is an invitation for bigger problems in the future. No matter how stable your staff is, you never know when someone is going to leave for a new position, health reasons, a spouse's job transfer or just to do something different.

If you haven't already identified at least one person you'd like to have on your staff, this is the time to take a deep breath, enlist some temporary help and invest some "getting to know time" in several potential employees. Get to know their temperament and how they'd handle different situations, especially stressful ones.

Some potential employees make great first impressions that, unfortunately, don't hold up over time. Happily, there are many quality people who don't do as well in a first meeting or interview. When you don't take the time to get to know them -- when you rush to a decision because you're under pressure -- you do yourself and others a disservice.

Invest "getting-to-know time" in others before you're under pressure and you'll come through like a champion just about every single time.

Harness the sun's energy

The energy from the sun is incredibly powerful and plentiful.  Just one hour of the sun’s energy could provide the planet’s electrical energy for one year. 

Des Moines Onstage at 2124 Grand Avenue installed panels on their roof recently.  The panels should provide nearly 80 percent of the building’s electrical needs according to owner Maria Filippone.  She says “The panels are working as predicted and the payback should be 4.5 years.”

Solar panel systems used to store energy in batteries but now generated electricity goes for immediate use or back to the power company if you are generating more than you need.  Net metering provides a credit when more energy is generated than consumed.

Tax credits are available for the installation of solar panels.  A whopping 30 percent from the Feds with no limit and 18 percent from the state but a $20,000 commercial and $5,000 residential limit.  It’s almost like buying a solar system at ½ off.

So where to begin?  The first thing to do is conserve all you can.  Rather than pay the high price of generation, pay the low price of conservation.  Update light fixtures and reduce plug loads like computers running all night.  Then figure what percentage of your electrical needs you want to generate.  The great thing is more panels can be added as funds are available.

My next blog will figure the cost of solar for your house.

How’s the test from last blog coming?  Anyone turn off the blue light devices two hours before bed? Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Referrals & poltergeists

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

Late October is upon us; and with it, darker days, lower temperatures, falling leaves and rising vigilance. As we dust off our jackets and carve our pumpkins - the transitioning environment cannot be avoided. And, although most of us enjoy the intricacies of fall, there is still the eerie side of things which creeps up on us from time to time.  After all, even the most hardened gets the occasional chill as All Hallows' Eve draws closer. That being the case, I thought it appropriate to mesh some ghostly facts into my Halloween post - so, just maybe, you’ll check your backseat next time you head home from the office.

Screenshot 2014-10-27 13.53.12Poltergeist. German for “Rattling Ghost.” The psychic manifestations that seem to appear when nobody is looking but are certain to let you know they are around. Poltergeists aren’t the misty ghosts often portrayed with bed sheets, nor the creaking noises in an old attic. Rather they crash vases, set furniture ablaze, and send books tumbling from the shelf. Active day and night, poltergeists are also known to pull people from their beds and cause them to levitate against their will.

Just over a century ago Poltergeists were studied to explain the noises of crashing glass of objects that were later found intact. A theory was developed that some inanimate objects possess a double - or a phantasmal - image that was hurled by the poltergeist. In essence, the ghosts were attempting to cause harm to the living world, but were unable to break through spiritual boundaries. The unearthly doubles were exact replicas of existing objects, and although the original was unadulterated, the effects were heard by the living, i.e. you and me.

The idea of exact spiritual replicas is repeated throughout history, evidenced by the sightings of doppelgängers (double goers). As with inanimate objects, doppelgängers are spiritual incarnations that have very close ties with their living counterparts. Both theories explain the natural attraction between the unnatural and human - showing how spirits are able to influence the behavior of those in which they have a connection. Similarly, people have connections with family and friends in which they find similar to themselves. Like father, like son. Often our decisions are made by influences from our loved ones.

Savvy businesses use this connection regularly to rein in new clients by leveraging their existing customers for referrals. Rather than attempting to win over a prospect with traditional marketing, they are able to relay the goodwill they acquired from their clientele. Referrals leverage the power of influence known as “likability” as prospects are more likely to take advice from friends and people they know and respect. Just the same, I would be more likely to follow a ghost portrayed as myself or someone close to me down a dark corridor.

Poltergeists may enjoy breaking vases - after all, it is kind of their forte - but interestingly enough, they have figured out just how to spook us. Drawing on aspects of psychology they are able to incite fear by rattling what is close to us, as it has much more of an impact. Imagine watching a haunting from afar, and compare that to breath on the back of your neck. Marketers should take a page out of the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased” and target prospects at the most spooky place - via their close friends and family.

Image credit: SLM Production Group

Are you suffering from the online compassion deficit?

Katie is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Are you #internetnice?

Have you seen the Jimmy Kimmel segments where celebrities read mean tweets about themselves? If you haven’t, check it out here! 

Although they are funny to watch, it’s really pretty disturbing how the Internet has made everyone so incredibly brave to say really mean things. It’s much easier to say whatever you want when you’re sitting in front of your own computer and don’t have to suffer any of the repercussions.

The same can be applied to how you treat businesses online. It’s very simple to go on company’s Facebook page and publicly complain about a situation. If you are a frustrated customer, you are well within reason to use a company’s social media platforms to share your experience. However, like with anything, if you are complaining just to complain, you may want to reconsider your decision to do so. Lets be honest, it’s just flatout not a very nice thing to do.

We manage social media for clients, and a big part of that means being “on the clock” 24/7 (the Internet never sleeps right!?) to address any concerns of customers. And after doing this for several years, you may be shocked to know that nine out of 10 postings made by frustrated customers (on any type of client we work with) do not give you the additional information you’re looking for to solve their problem. Even with followup and contact information for the company, we find that the frustrated customer still doesn’t contact them.

As a business owner, I can empathize with how frustrating it can be to offer someone help to solve a problem, and they are not willing to accept. Why? Usually it’s because they know they are wrong and they expect social media to not get a response. This is the part where you tell yourself “do unto others what you want done to you.”

In times of frustration, it’s probably best to take a deep breath before posting that Internet rant. Make sure it's helpful feedback, and make sure if there is something a business can do to make it right (within reason), that you are clear about your expectations.

If you’re bothering to complain, be willing to bother to let the company fix it. Not all companies are going to do the right thing, but when some are, be open to it.

 

Katie Stocking

--@klstocking

 

Negative political ads - do they work?

 

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I don't know about you, but I am about ready to abandon TV for the next few weeks.  It's Netflix and DVDs for me until November 5th.

I’ve yet to hear anyone say “man, I sure love political ads,” as they watch the fourth spot in a row. In Iowa, we get more than our fair share of political ads so we know all too well how negative they are. If the race is tight — they’re ugly. If the candidate is behind in the polls by double digits — they’re nasty. As the election grows closer — they're vicious. And no matter what -- they're painfully plentiful.

So if we all react so badly to them, why do all of the candidates use these tactics? Odds are, considering the millions of dollars spent — it’s because they work. In fact, Kantar Media CMAG found spending on negative ads outpaced spending on positive ads 15-1 since 2010.

They do work but only in specific ways. They don’t get non voters to vote. They don’t change the opinion of someone who has already strongly aligned with a candidate. But they do influence voters with weak or no allegiance to a specific candidate.

Negative ads trigger an emotional response from us, especially if the topic is a hot button issue for the viewer. When someone sees an ad that frightens them, they get worried. As they worry, they start to investigate to see if the allegations are true.

The ads stir up the margins…the people who are undecided or a little wishy-washy in their decision about who should get their vote. Today, because most races are reasonably tight — influencing a few might make a difference.

It’s also why most negative ads are squarely aimed at emotionally charged issues. They want us to see red and to have a visceral reaction.

“One reason that negative messages are so compelling is that we are emotional creatures, wired to pay attention to harmful information,” said Joel Weinberger, a psychologist at Adelphi University in New York and owner of Implicit Strategies, a consulting firm that investigates unconscious influences on behavior. "Think of our ancestors on the African savannah," he said. "If you miss a leopard, it's over for you. If you miss a deer, oh well, you're hungry. People are more focused on negative information. People stop for a car wreck, but there are no traffic jams for beautiful flowers."

"In negative ads, they make a narrative for you that is supposed to brand the person," he added. "People say, 'I hate negative ads, they do nothing for me,' while unconsciously processing them. Emotion trumps cognition."

I think the escalation is partially our fault. Look at your Facebook feed or listen to your friends talk politics. We're just as bad as the candidates, only probably less informed.  It's probbly a chicken and an egg situation -- but we are just fanning the flames.

Sadly this has been a problem for a long time, as the CNN video above proves out.

Until we as a state and ultimately, as a country, demand that we, our family and friends and the politicians stick to the issues and their plans for making things better and do it with a civil tongue, showing their opponent and their constituents some respect --  nothing is going to change.

Until then, thank goodness for Netflix.

 

DrewTop Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

Should I connect with you?

LinkedIn-Logo-2CNumerous times, I have either sent or received a blind LinkedIn connection request. These requests are sent when no prior relationship exists. Sometimes, they are people I want to connect with or struggled to contact. Sometimes, they are influencers in the community I want to get to know. Sometimes, I just like their profiles and find them interesting. Blind requests are one of the things I get questioned about the most regarding LinkedIn.

The question of connecting with someone you do not know is interesting because it depends on how you want to use the platform. Many sales people connect with anyone who sends a request because the more people they are connected to, the better. People in other careers are often more selective, usually only connecting with established relationships.

To decide who you should and should not connect with, figure out what you want the platform to do for you. Determine whether you want to keep your connections intimate or if you want to expand your influence and take a chance on individuals you do not know. Set some basic rules for how to deal with blind connections when they do come in.

My first rule is always connect to anyone within driving distance. If I can drive to you in less than a day, I will connect with you. By being in driving distance, I may get to meet you face to face.

My second rule is connect with anyone I find interesting after viewing his or her profile. If we have common hobbies, I connect. If we work in the same industry, I connect. If we studied the same things in school, I connect.

My final rule is try to meet all blind connections face to face at least once after we connect.

I like the final rule because it is another step in building real relationships instead of relying on online ones. I also like it because I am rarely turned down when I request a meeting after accepting a connection.

These meeting requests are done right in the LinkedIn messaging service, and I use the same dialog each time I set one up. “Thank you so much for connecting with me on LinkedIn. I noticed we have (specific detail) in common, and I would love to get together to learn more about you. Are you available for coffee next week?” This approach has led to long-term, beneficial relationships with people I may not have otherwise met.

The next time a blind connection comes through in your inbox, take a second before deleting it and go into the individual’s page. There is a reason they sent you a request. Maybe it is to sell you something or to expand the number of connections they have. More often than not though, the requests are made for nobler reasons.

Instead of denying the request, figure out if the stranger on the other end offers value. Schedule a meeting and turn that blind connection into an actual connection. You may be surprised by the results. 

Can I force my Iowa corporation to buy my stock?

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law

PGP_1038Minority shareholders seeking to exit an Iowa corporation frequently ask, “can I force my closely-held Iowa corporation to purchase my stock.” A great question, but one that is frequently met with a variety of answers. On January 21, 2014, the Delaware Supreme Court published an opinion on this very topic. And while the case applies Delaware law (not Iowa law) and each case is factually unique, the opinion illustrates how other courts, including Iowa courts, may decide a similar case involving a shareholder seeking to force their corporation to purchase stock. The FULL OPINION can be read here.

In short, the Delaware Supreme Court applied Delaware law and held that “[u]nder common law, directors of a closely held corporation have no general fiduciary duty to repurchase the stock of a minority stockholder.” The court went on to find, “[a]n investor must rely on contractual protections if liquidity is a matter of concern … [the shareholder] has no inherent right to sell her stock to the company at ‘full value,’ or any other price. It follows that she has no right to insist on the formation of an independent board committee to negotiate with her.” Upon concluding that Delaware common law did not permit the shareholder to force the company to purchase her stock, the court turned to the corporation’s governing documents, and in particular a shareholder agreement. The court opined:

[t]he Shareholders’ Agreement provides the only protection available to [the shareholder] … But the relevant provision, Paragraph 7(d), gives the stockholder and the company discretion as to whether to engage in a transaction, and as to the price. It does not impose any affirmative duty on either party to consider or negotiate any repurchase proposal.

Clearly, if the corporation’s governing documents contained additional language concerning a mandatory obligation to purchase stock from shareholders, the case would likely have turned out different.

Interestingly, the court did not address the merits of the shareholder’s derivative claim against the directors for breach of the duty of loyalty. The shareholder alleged the directors harmed the corporation and breached their duty of loyalty to the corporation by not “faithfully” considering an investment opportunity (i.e. purchasing her stock). She further alleged they did not consider the investment opportunity because they were concerned about “preserving their personal tax planning interests.” As stated, the court did not consider the merits of this intriguing claim. The court reasoned it did not need to consider the merits because the shareholder failed to make a required derivative demand and otherwise properly plead the claim. Consequently, the merits of proceeding upon such a claim based upon the case facts are still uncertain and warrant consideration.

If you or someone you know are interested in learning more about how you can exit your Iowa corporation, you should consider contacting a licensed attorney.

Evidence-Based Strategy and Peter and the Wolf

Joe Benesh is a Senior Architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

When I was a kid, my father bought me a cassette of a recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Dad enjoyed classical music and that rubbed off of me; Aaron Copland especially. Lincoln Portrait is one of my all-time favorite works. Peter and the Wolf came up in a playlist that I was listening to recently while I happened to be reading an article about evidence based strategy and my mind started to wonder if there were overlaps between one and the other.

I read up on trends in strategic planning. It seems like every year there is a hot new thing people want to try as an emerging thought on how to make organizations work more efficiently. Some seem to work, others do not. Evidence based strategy seems obvious – base decisions and actions on information that exists in some sort of reference format. Recently though, I have noticed that this is not the norm.

“Blue Sky” strategy is actually the most common thing I see emerge in planning sessions. The tendency to want to start from scratch or “think outside the box” can be so overwhelming at critical moments when strategy is being developed, but that can lead to very important and relevant historical data being neglected or omitted completely.

This leads to several problems that can have adverse effects on planning efforts. The first of which is that there are really very few original ideas out there in terms of organizational development. This isn’t because of a lack of innovation or anything negative, it’s just that some really smart people have established some best practices that work, and there is a good chance that even within your organization that things have been tried and have either worked or failed. Remember what your organization excels at, and don’t succumb to new and completely untested (or worse yet - tested and failed) ideas, based solely on enthusiasm.

It’s important not to fall to the “new blood, old idea” model that a lot of groups fall into. New enthusiasm for an idea that has already been tried and has not been successful should not re-enter the conversation unless there is some critical variable that has changed or new information has emerged that makes the failed model viable. Thinking outside of the box is important, but sometimes it’s more important to remember what is actually in the box to begin with.

Peter’s observations in Prokofiev’s work are based on what he sees – what already exists; the bird escapes the cat, the duck, frustrated by the interaction with the bird, is eaten by the wolf. Peter ultimately disregards his grandfather’s warning and catches the wolf with the aid of the bird. So, what does any of that have to do with evidence based strategy?

The initial steps in the story are about trial and error and what resources exist. Peter’s grandfather sets the initial parameter (don’t go into the meadow, or the wolf will eat you) and peter observes interactions between the animals and determines what resources he can use to ultimately formulate and execute his end goals. The experience of seeing how the animals in the story interact and based on what he determines is the best course of action forward, he executes a successful plan. From Peter’s perspective, maybe he initially thought that running out into the meadow was just fine – blue sky strategy - but later decided that line of thinking would have likely led to a much shorter story, with a far more negative ending. As for his grandfather, with the benefit of his experiences, likely knew of many other boys who ran out into the meadow and were eaten - Peter seems to have taken this evidence into account in his final plan.

When you set out on formulating a strategy, remember to base decisions on observations and evidence. Best practices and established norms can ultimately build a robust, well-conceived path forward, allowing for innovation, increased efficiency, and bolstered effectiveness.

Back to basics

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place.

What do a new horse and running a specialty retail business have in common?

Quite a bit, actually, I concluded after recently buying a horse.

Any experienced horse owner knows that whenever you have a new horse you have to go back to the basics. You have to remember the basics in riding technique and mechanics because each horse is different.  You have to return to the basics of working and interacting with the horse, too.

The new horse reminds me, too, of the importance of proper training. Success in the horse arena -- or the business arena -- requires the right training.

With my new horse, I'll be getting training from my riding instructor on how to put him through the proper paces. At my business, the Heart of Iowa Market Place in historic Valley Junction, I need to make sure I seek competent, qualified instructors who keep me up to speed with new technology, software and compliance regulations -- to name a few.

Training is especially important in relating to and working with employees. And that goes both ways. Just as employers benefit from the right instruction in employee relations, employees also benefit from knowing what's expected of them.

And, just like riding requires the proper equipment -- a good bridle, right saddle, correct reins and so on -- I'm reminded that we also need to provide employees with the right tools for them to succeed and the right rewards when they do.

In the end, returning to the basics every now and then can provide tremendous benefits to even the best retail operation. Rather than taking things back to square one, such an approach can move your business, staff and you well forward. Give it a try.

Psychology, aliens, and testimonials

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

Psychology

It is no secret that marketers have been using psychology on us for years to get us to buy stuff. That’s right, these mind ninjas aren’t just pulling tricks out of their hat. The best marketing techniques are based on in-depth studies that explain human behavior.

So let’s assume that you have clients with ongoing relationships with you. You already convinced them to buy - now your energy shifts to customer retention: an area that many companies unknowingly neglect. Unfortunately, customer satisfaction alone is not enough. In fact, the consulting and research firm Bain & Company found that in business after business, 60 to 80 percent of customers said they were satisfied before defecting to a competitor.

The good news is that a tidbit of psychology will make a big difference in retaining those clients - cognitive dissonance. This is the nerdy term for the uneasy feeling people experience when one belief conflicts with a pre-existing one.

Aliens

FlyingsaucerYou may have heard about that doomsday cult in the ‘50s that believed the world was going to blow up from some super alien ray gun, or something. The leader of the cult convinced her followers that, if they were believers, the aliens would scoop them up in their flying saucer in the nick of time. Not surprisingly the world never blew up. So the cult leader told her followers that the martians decided to allow them to live after all.

Those who sold all their belongings and kissed their loved ones goodbye were in an awkward position. So, rather than face reality (that their leader was a fraud) they convinced themselves that she was a prophet, and they became even stronger believers. Like a smoker who makes up excuses, they avoided the dissonance caused by conflicting beliefs.

Testimonials

As a business you can also use this as a technique to increase customer retention. Of course I am not suggestion that you make up false prophecies - but, have customers make an additional commitment to you. This is as simple as actively gathering customer testimonials.

Especially when they are shared publically, testimonials will strengthen the bond between the client and business. After they make the commitment to promote a business to others it becomes part of their self-image. When asked to further show their commitment (sticking around) they will be far more likely to do so - rather than conflicting with this shared belief and developing a dissonant state.

Turns out collecting testimonials has benefits outside of convincing prospects with social proof. So, even if you aren’t posting them on your website, consider collecting as many as you possible.

Exploring tours of duty inside companies

Max Farrell is the Co-Founder of Create Reason, a company that inspires entrepreneurship inside larger organizations. 

Tour of duty image

Tours of duty are often associated with the military, but as it turns out, the authors of “The Alliance” address the idea that “tours of duty” can exist and thrive inside workplaces.

To briefly highlight the concept: regardless of whether you’re joining a company, shifting into a new role internally, or operating in a senior role, all team members should be on a tour of duty that is a specific, finite mission the employee and employer agree on. This function is a specific mission and realistic timeline.

If the concept seems strange, it’s one that’s been applied in something many of us are familiar with: sports.

The “tour of duty” in the NBA:

The Miami Heat (before LeBron jumped to the Cleveland Cavaliers again) embody the concept of people coming together for a finite period of time to complete a specific mission: win NBA titles. They accomplished this goal twice — mission accomplished.

In the workplace, The Alliance encourages companies to embrace this philosophy —people aren’t going to stay on your “team” forever, so you might as well rally around some goals that can realistically be accomplished while you all are a unit.

The “tour of duty” with the coaching carousel of college football:

College football coaching also has a well documented “tour of duty” history — now more than ever. A graduate assistant (new hire) gets his foot in the door however possible. After getting a grip on what path to pursue (offense / defense / strength coach etc.) he may have to hop to another school to become a position coach (manager/director). After a few years at position coach (and possibly a few different schools), they may get called to a new school to become a coordinator (VP), and may hop around a few different schools in this role as well. Finally they may get a head coaching gig (CEO), but likely at a Sun Belt school to polish their chops as a leader. Then, several years down the line they may get the “dream job” coaching in the SEC / Big Ten.

We can all think about our own careers in line with the coaching carousel. Some people may be content as a manager at a company or as an expert in a specific field. Others may take the more ambitious route of scratching / clawing / hustling their way to the top. The top looks different to almost everyone, which is why some people are happy as a small business owner (Division III head coach) vs. CEO of a Fortune 500 company (head coach of a dynasty).

Regardless of what tours we work towards, we rarely stay in the same jobs / organizations now for more than 4.4 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics). It is important to strive for what realistic goals are achievable in the time given for a team to collaborate, as it keeps all of us more authentic and striving for mutual benefit when working together.

To read more about the Tour of Duty concept, check out this slide show.

Photo Credit: Reid Hoffman, "The Alliance: A Visual Summary"

 

Let’s connect!

Twitter: @MaxOnTheTrack / @CreateReason

Web: CreateReason.com

FB: facebook.com/createreason

Email: max@createreason.com

Practice makes perfect

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

“We’ve never spent so much time and money to be so bad at anything.”

Golf_leadershipblog

That’s the phrase my husband uses to describe our collective attempt to master the game of golf.

He is referring to hours at the driving range, more hours on the course and years of membership at a private golf club. We were convinced that if we simply practiced enough, our game would improve. I should point out that by mastery we didn’t have any illusions of playing on the pro circuit. For us, simply not embarrassing ourselves on the golf course qualified as mastery.

Countless hours of practice and payments every month to the Club and our game never sufficiently improved.

What was missing? Did it require even more time on the golf course? This was already a time-consuming activity and we couldn’t imagine devoting even more time to it.

Maestro, mentor and polio survivor Itzhak Perlman had the following wisdom to share on the subject of practice. 

“As a child, I hated to practice.  But practicing is an art; it’s not just about putting in the time.  A lot of kids are too young to immediately get that.  They say, well, I’m going to do my four or five hours a day, and I’m going to keep repeating everything and it’s going to be good.  And sometimes they wonder why it’s not working. You need to organize practice; you need a goal. You need to ask yourself, 'Why am I practicing and what is it for?'  Sometimes the repetition without thinking can be counterproductive. If you practice something wrong – without knowing it – then you have to undo it by practicing even more.  If you practice slowly and with a brain, you will save a lot of time. You can accomplish in an hour what could take a week.”

Does practice make perfect? It is more accurate to say that practice makes permanent. 

This is an insight embraced by the greatest leaders. They acquire skills, set specific goals and practice those. That, not mindlessly repeating the way you’ve always done it, is the intelligent approach to mastery. They help those entrusted to their care to do the same.

How did the golf saga progress? Training helped. Videotaping helped. Small shifts in grip, swing and line of sight all contributed to improving the game. Now we know what to practice.

Digital marketing is a huge part of public relations

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

Public relations is still an essential ingredient to any good marketing plan. That has not changed. But HOW public relations is practiced has changed a lot since the digital revolution began. Will it Blend screenshot

Two factors really play into this trend.

  1. It used to be that mass media outlets (TV, radio, magazines, newspapers) held all the power. They were the gatekeepers of information that was eventually shared with the public.
  2. People did not have options. Everyone watched the same channels. There was no internet, no NetFlix, no cable TV, no Sirius radio. We all had very similar media "intake" experiences.

Now, each of us have our own personal media intake system. We wake up to our Facebook and Twitter feeds and then move on to our favorite news outlet. There are now hundreds of options thanks to the specialty websites, cable outlets, YouTube and radio channels. 

Public relations professionals are faced with a dilemna. How do we help our clients get their news out to all the new channels? OR...how do we help clients get their OWN messages out? Many companies have figured out that its easier and much more effective to create their own content marketing, and use their website and social channels to get the information out to the public - skipping the media entirely.

How does this work in practical terms? My favorite example of digital content marketing is BlendTec. They've used digital marketing to promote a relatively unsexy product and made it fun, findable and viral. A relatively unknown company with a small marketing budget has turned a series of funny videos into marketing gold. Check out one of my favorites - blending a few iPhone 5s into mobile dust.

BlendTec learned that if you create valuable content on a regular basis - people will seek out the content over and over. That is PR flipped on its head. No reporter needed.

Yes, you'll still need old school public relations to get your message out. But in the meantime, start creating great content and attract your customers (like a magnet) straight to your website.

The C corporation dilemma and how not to solve it.

Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company P.C.

One big reason the business world has moved away from using "regular" corporations is because they pay two taxes on their income. These "C corporations," as tax geeks call them, pay taxes on their income as it is earned. If they distribute the after-tax earnings to their shareholders as dividends, the owners pay tax on their 1040s. If the owners sell their shares, they pay capital gain tax on the undistributed earnings embedded in the stock price.

100_0263When it comes time to sell, C corporation owners face this issue in a big way. Buyers usually want to buy assets. That way they get to amortize or depreciate the purchased assets at their fair value, rather than their historical cost. They also don't have to buy any hidden sins that would come with corporate stock.

The sellers are less excited about an asset sale. It means they have to pay tax on all of the gains at the corporate level, and another capital gain tax when they liquidate the corporation. A prompt liquidation is usually done to avoid "personal holding company tax" problems.

It would sure be nice if you could find an accommodator to buy your stock,  who could then sell the assets to the real buyer -- an accommodator who has a bunch of tax losses they could use to make the gain go away. That was the thinking of a Texan who ended up in Tax Court recently.

The Texan got in touch with a company that promised just such benefits. They worked out a deal. A recent Tax Court decision describes how such deals are set up:

"Midco transactions" or "intermediary transactions" are structured to allow the parties to have it both ways: letting the seller engage in a stock sale and the buyer engage in an asset purchase. In such a transaction, the selling shareholders sell their C Corp stock to an intermediary entity (or "Midco") at a purchase price that does not discount for the built-in gain tax liability, as a stock sale to the ultimate purchaser would. The Midco then sells the assets of the C Corp to the buyer, who gets a purchase price basis in the assets. The Midco keeps the difference between the asset sale price and the stock purchase price as its fee. The Midco's willingness to allow both buyer and seller to avoid the tax consequences inherent in holding appreciated assets in a C Corp is based on a claimed tax-exempt status or supposed tax attributes, such as losses, that allow it to absorb the built-in gain tax liability.

The IRS has never liked this, and back in 2001 (Notice 2001-16) they warned taxpayers off of these "Midco" deals. The courts have sided with the IRS.

But what if you liquidate and there is no corporation to collect from? You're not out of the woods. The Tax Court found that the Texan had "transferee liability" for the corporation's tax on its sale because he ended up with the cash out of the company.

The moral? The potential for C corporation double tax is most easily dealt with by not being a C corporation in the first place. That's why so many businesses are set up as LLCs or S corporations, where the income is taxed only once -- on the owner's returns.

Many C corporations set up in the past few years may end up qualifying for a special tax exemption for sales of their stock. If held for more than five years, "Section 1202 stock" is 50 percent to 100 percent tax free on sale; it can apply to stock purchased from February 18, 2009 through December 31, 2013. Congress is likely (but not certain) to further extend this break with legislation later this year. This doesn't solve all C corporation problems -- benefits are usually limited to the original owners of the stock, for example -- but it sure is handy when it does apply.

If you are stuck with the double-tax problem, planning might make it hurt less, but as the Texan learned, there are no easy off-the-shelf solutions.

Cite: Cullifer, T.C. Memo 2014-208.

 

Sunlight good. Blue light bad.

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger.

Melatonin is the hormone which makes us sleepy. Sunlight reduces the production of melatonin and therefore we are not sleepy during the daytime. Diminishing daylight in the evening increases the production of melatonin and makes us sleepy. 

Blue light on the other hand does not have the same effect as sunlight. Blue light diminishes the production of melatonin.  Unfortunately, the drive to get more light for less watts has been attained on the back of blue light.

 

Our homes are bathed in blue light. Just go to buy light bulbs and the push is for compact fluorescent and LED, both which emit blue light. Then we have all the blue light emitting gadgets such as cell phones, tablets, computer screens, and TVs.  Just look at the blue glow as you drive through your neighborhood.

What’s a sustainable person to do?

  • Make sure to buy a full spectrum lamp which provides light closer to daylight.
  • Install Drift light in your house which over 37 minutes (the average length of sunsets) dims and helps the body with the shift from light to darkness for a better sleep.
  • Turn off the TV and tablet. Recommendations are a full 2 to 3 hours before you hit the pillow. I bet that does not happen often but many also sleep poorly.

Let’s take a test together.  No TV, phone, or tablet 2 hours before bed.  Let me know if you sleep better. May be better for your marriage too!  Contact me at rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Century-old lesson on referrals

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

I am going to assume that, if you are reading this blog post, you have heard of the concept of six degrees of separation. You know, the idea that everyone (and everything) on this planet is separated by at most six steps, by way of introduction.

The theory was popularized in the '90s by a play written by John Guare and a film starring Will Smith,but the origin dates all the way back to 1929, and a Hungarian author named Frigyes Karinthy. It is quite interesting when you compare how someone nearly a century ago predicted the earth’s rapid increase in interconnectedness, or “small world phenomenon” by way of new technology. And this was way before the internet.

It is an obvious topic for a business referral blog, wouldn’t you say? When you consider how connected the entire planet is today it is difficult not to consider how companies can use this to their advantage - to reach new clients. But first, I want to take a step back and shed light on the cradle of this theory. Stick with me here, I bet you learn something new.

InterconnectedIn 1929 Karinthy wrote a short story entitled ‘Chain-Links’ in which he discusses the evolution of the world - quickly shrinking in size due to the “quickening pulse of physical and verbal communication.” Keep in mind that this was during the interwar economy of the Hungarian empire - not long after the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled following WWI. The ripples of the Roaring Twenties through Great Britain and the U.S. was felt across the world. This included great leaps in technology and lifestyles.

But, there still was no internet. (Al Gore hadn’t invented it yet.) Nonetheless, Karinthy challenges that, using no more than five connections, anyone on the planet could find a link to anyone, or anything else. Interestingly enough, he attributes this ability through the global expansion of Europe across the world, and rapid changing technology. This is obvious as he states:

“Was there ever a time in human history when this would have been impossible? Julius Caesar, for instance, was a popular man, but if he had got it into his head to try and contact a priest from one of the Mayan or Aztec tribes that lived in the Americas at that time, he could not have succeeded - not in five steps, not even in three hundred. Europeans in those days knew less about America and its inhabitants than we now know about Mars and its inhabitants.”

This is a powerful observation. Outside of the philosophical viewpoint - it has ramifications in the business world. So often businesses rely on traditional marketing to obtain new clients. Yet frequently they rely on acquiring new blood and forget to leverage their network of clients.

In 1929 there were 1.5 billion people on the planet. Today there are 7.1 billion. Perhaps this poses a new challenge, but more inhabitants means more connections. Consider social media. In 2011 a Facebook study indicated that 99.91 percent of users were interconnected by 69 billion friendship links - with the average distance between any random 2 people was only 4.7 friends. Similarly, Twitter has an average degree of separation of 3.43 between two random users.

When you consider these numbers it is no surprise that the New York Times claims that an average of 65 percent of new business comes from referrals. Also, Nielsen _- a global information company - observed that people are four times more likely to buy when referred.

Simply put, consider how connected we all are, especially today. Referrals are a powerful, and often less expensive, way to acquire new business. When considering your marketing strategy moving forward, I suggest keeping referrals top of mind.

“Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.” ― Nadeem Aslam

Why user-generated content is a good thing

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Lets start first with the definition of user-generated content.

User-generated content is exactly what it sounds like—content on the web (photo, video, reviews, etc.) created by social media users (a brand or company’s fans or followers).

I personally think it's somewhat surprising people constantly take pictures of themselves with their Big Macs or share their love for their favorite electronic brand, but they do. All. The. Time. So why should you as the brand manager or owner/founder of a company care? 

Because it’s easy

It’s easy for you and it’s easy for your fans (if you let it be). It can be as simple as encouraging fans to use a specific hashtag with photos or commenting on a Facebook post to get testimonials or positive feedback snippets.

Because it’s already out there

Users are already sharing content about your brand, with your products and at your stores, so why not tap into the content they’re already sharing and make it work for you.

Because it’s real

The entire goal of social media is to connect with customers in a personal way and create real content for them. And there’s nothing more real than content created by your own customers. When used correctly…

Because people want to see it

30 percent of millennials’ media time is spent with content created and curated by their peers.

And because some brands are already rocking it.

 

Wawa - #sizzlitime

Sizzle Bagel FB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warby Parker - at home try-

Warby Parker FB

JamesDroll FB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starbucks

StarbucksFB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now is a great time to consider how you can encourage your brand fans to get busy talking about your brand. Embrace it! Then retweet, regram or share it!

--Katie

What's your business worth? It depends...

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

What is your company worth? The answer is a function of many factors, including historic and Phoenix logo onlyfuture financial performance, industry risks, market timing, method of sale and the nature of the buyer.

Value becomes an absolute only at the very instant a knowledgeable buyer under no compulsion to purchase, authorizes the wire transfer of funds to the bank account of a knowledgeable seller under no compulsion to sell. Otherwise, different people with different needs, resources and limitations will perceive value of the same asset in differing ways. As the business owner, you can use this knowledge to your benefit by specifically grooming the business to fit the probable requirements of the eventual new owners. History indicates that value runs from lowest multiples (sale to insiders) to the highest (sale to outsiders).

Sale Options include:

Sell to Employees

Sales to employees usually are at market value and require Seller financing because employees tend not to have enough for a down payment or the Seller feels guilty. The key is to have a number of key employees who are trained and capable of running the business.  

Sell to Relatives

These sales generally provide the Seller with the lowest sale price and the potential for the most problems. Sellers must be very careful to remove themselves from the sale process and future entangling obligations, while insuring that they will receive all payments due to them.

Put the Business on the Market

A sale to an outsider typically will be a negotiated transaction. The deal structure usually requires performance payments to ensure a smooth management transition and full transfer of customer and vendor loyalties. Other value drivers include a strong management team, disciplined internal and financial controls, and solid vendor and customer relationships. Patents and/or proprietary products or other barriers to entry are a big boost to value, as is the absence of customer concentration. Curiously, “curb appeal” and good housekeeping are also very important in making a solid first impression, as most corporate-trained buyers regard this as a quick indicator of sound management practice.

Sell but Stay

This type of deal allows for the transfer of ownership but the Seller stays.  In this situation, the Buyer wants the Seller to facilitate the transfer of ownership and success of the acquisition. This is a great exit strategy for the Seller who is not ready to retire but wants to secure their financial future. A typical buyer in this situation would be larger company seeking an add-on acquisition. In addition, the Seller will retain an equity position which should have a significant upside.

In Conclusion:

Value is driven by process, perception and facts. Sellers should determine what the goal is for their exit strategy (charity, gifting to family, sale to employees, maximize value, etc.) That, in turn, will point them to a category of buyers (insiders vs. outsiders), value and deal structuring expectations. Those buyers’ probable requirements will suggest how best to groom your company for sale. Your preparedness for sale and prevailing market conditions will dictate when you should undertake the process.

Good Selling

Steve Sink, CBI, M&AMI

ss@phxaffiliates.com 

How do you talk to your employees?

Treasure-Map_optDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Do you know where you want your company to be in five years?  If I asked you to describe it in detail -- could you?

(If you can't -- you need to spend a little time creating that vision.  Read this Inc. article for the 8 steps to get it done)

Let's assume that you've already done that work and you have a clear picture in your head.  How often do you get it out of your own head and share it with your team?

Every day you ask them to work hard. Do they understand why and what your ultimate destination is?  

You don't get to a five year destination without stopping along the way. Do they even understand the journey itself?  That this year's goals get you a little closer to that big, hairy, audacious goal that you've set?

Business owners and leaders need to remember that they can't be the only keeper of the vision. The truth is -- you can't get there without your team, whether you have five employees or 500.  And to help you get there -- they need to be constantly reminded.  You can't just tell them once and then assume they'll keep it top of mind.

Like you -- your team has plenty on their plate and it's tough to keep the big picture front and center.  That's your job. You need to find ways to get your crew excited about where you're going.  You need to create milestones for them to shoot for and celebrations for when they do.

Your job -- your responsibility is to be both aspirational and inspirational.  I know you have to spend a lot of your day just getting the work done.  But make sure that's not the only thing you're talking to them about.

Why not schedule an all company meeting to remind them where you're heading and why it matters?

~ Drew, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

 

What's your purpose? Insights from Simon Sinek's book "Start With Why"

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach and President of MAP Professional Development Inc.

“I feel like a cog in a wheel. All I do is enter data. I never even talk with customers unless they’re upset. I feel so replaceable.”

As a leadership coach, I’ve heard this sentiment from many clients over the years. Does one of your employees feel this way?

Start W Why - SinekChances are, more than one does. Gallup studies tell us that 70 percent of employees are dissatisfied and/or disengaged at work, even top performers. A big reason for this – the motivator for starting my company, in fact – is that people feel disconnected from the bigger picture, the purpose. We long for meaning and purpose at work but often struggle to find it, and the results can be devastating to our economy, our relationships, and our human psyche.

Simon Sinek wrote his bestselling book "Start With Why" around the concept of knowing your purpose. “People don’t buy WHAT you do,” he argues fervently, “they buy WHY you do it.”

Inspiring leaders know that they must first clarify the why – the purpose – behind an initiative, product, or action. Once the why becomes clear, then the details (how, what) can take the front seat.

If you believe in inspiring people into action rather than manipulating, valuing people over numbers (including those with a dollar sign in front), and building a successful business with heart, you will devour this book.

In addition to offering practical tools for discerning your organization’s why, Sinek shares thought-provoking examples of purposeful organizations achieving extraordinary measures of success. Imagine working for a financial firm, for example, that awards its agents bonuses not based on production numbers but on the number of thank-you cards they send out!

While reading "Start With Why" I found myself often thinking back to one of Patrick Lencioni’s statements in his excellent resource, "The Advantage": “All organizations exist to make people’s lives better… Every organization must contribute in some way to a better world for some group of people, because if it doesn’t, it will, and should, go out of business.”

Purposeful organizations don’t just happen by chance – they are intentionally built. A few questions, inspired by "Start With Why", to help you move towards purpose:

  • Why are you in business? Hint: “To make money” is not a purpose, it’s a result.
  • How does your organization make lives better? Knowing how you contribute to a better world strengthens every aspect of your business, from marketing to HR to product design and everything in between.
  • Do your employees know why you are in business? We all want to know our work matters. Understanding how you, as one individual, contribute to the bigger picture increases engagement, trust, and passion for the work.
  • How safe do your employees feel with you? As a leader, you set the tone. When people feel protected, your organizational culture exudes a sense of belonging, support, and the space to innovate.
  • Do you hire primarily for skill, or for passion/cultural fit? “Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them,” asserts Sinek, “they hire already motivated people and inspire them.”

Once you know your why, you can make decisions – including hiring choices – using purpose as your anchor. As Sinek writes, “When you fill an organization with good fits, those who believe what you believe, success just happens.”

This month, make clarifying your why a top priority. When you know your purpose, you have the foundation to become much more productive, streamlined, meaningful, and successful.

Start with why!

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotDr. Christi Hegstad is Certified Executive & Leadership Coach and President of MAP Professional Development Inc. Gain more leadership tips from Dr. Christi via Facebook and Twitter.

Website: www.meaning-and-purpose.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan

Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach

Do you agree that knowing your purpose is crucial to success? What’s YOUR why? Share your thoughts below.

Eating a Snickers bar (and other vast oversimplifications)

Joe Benesh is a Senior Architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

The most common problem I find when I work with organizations is the transition that happens between strategy and tactics. Actually, it’s the differentiation between strategy and tactics that is the source of the most frequent misunderstandings and problems with the implementation of a strategic plan.

It’s not that organizations do not understand that you need both of these things to work in concert with one another; it’s more a function of how these two very different things work together to enhance an organization’s mission and vision.

I think it’s unfair to think about strategy and tactics without a third variable: goals. The meaning and function of three things together are the source of endless debate, but once understood and segmented, are extremely powerful tools that organizations can use to be incredibly efficient and effective.

At this very moment, I have a Snickers bar sitting on my desk. OK. Before I eat, let’s decide what the strategy was leading up to this very critical moment. Now, I make this analogy with the full knowledge that I gave this blog a somewhat snarky title with “oversimplification” in it. I know I run the risk of doing that by defining these complex concepts in the context of eating a candy bar (and everything leading up to it), but bear with me – I promise I have a point.

The strategy includes everything that the marketing folks at Mars candy company did to get that Snickers bar to me. They have told me that it “really satisfies,” and I tend to believe them. Mars dedicated considerable resources to making me feel that way, and it worked. So there is an external strategy at work here – the folks at Mars want me to be successful at eating this Snickers bar.

A more specific internal strategy developed from the one above is simple – me thinking that a Snickers bar is what I want. It’s fun to think about, right? But I haven’t dedicated any time or resources to reaching my goal, which is to get the candy bar and eat it. I’m in the analysis stage – nothing is off the table in terms of me procuring that Snickers.

So, using the sum of my past experiences, I know the following things need to happen: get change from my desk, walk to the machine, punch in the numbers, etc…those are tactics. I’m dedicating resources. These tactics are used to achieve my broader goal of being “really satisfied” by this Snickers bar.

This distinction seems simple enough, but it is by far the most complex transition in the planning process.

Facilitating a strategy session is often marked by the exuberant sharing of ideas; nothing seems too hard or too vast. Nothing seems out of reach. But developing a strong tactical plan is hard – it involves dedicating resources (human and/or financial) and becomes much harder to conceptualize. It’s where things become a little more somber and it becomes less clear how goals are reached. That’s because you have to specifically explain how you’re going reach them.

I urge you to think about the process in terms of that Snickers bar. You know what the goal is. It’s clearly defined, based on internal strategy and the influence of external factors – you developed the strategy yourself when you got excited about that Snickers bar. Now it’s just a matter of thinking through the steps, dedicating resources, being diligent about acting on them, and holding yourself accountable for each step of implementing your resources dedicated to accomplishing that goal.

The biggest challenge organizations face is failing to recognize that these three pieces work together in a complex and interdependent way. But, when they are used to reinforce each other, success is easier to both conceptualize and execute.

 

Networking and introverts

Introvert-Career-FairDanny Beyer, a sales executive at Kabel Business Services, is a serial networker and often speaks about networking to groups.

The title of this blog will probably come as a shock to those who know me because I am the farthest thing from an introvert by the standard definition.  I get a lot of my energy from being around people and I generally enjoy group settings.  I also have a basic belief that anyone can network and most of us are networking, or relying on our network in some fashion, all of the time.  So the premise that networking doesn’t work for introverts, or even more forceful – can’t work for introverts, bothers me.  It’s the reason I read over a dozen articles on networking for introverts and why I decided to write this post.  

Many of the tips I discovered fit within the framework that I describe as good networking but three stood out in my readings. 

  1. Build real relationships with one-on-one interaction:  Most networking events can be intimidating due to the sheer size of attendees.  I remember being terrified of my first larger event because hundreds of strangers would be in the same room with me.  The event came and instead of trying to meet everyone in the room I focused my attention on finding one interesting person with whom I could have a truly meaningful conversation and schedule a follow-up meeting.  It happened to be the first person I met and it made the entire event much more enjoyable.  That one-on-one time proved beneficial and created a relationship I value to this day.
  2. Ask questions:  Allow the person you’re talking with to do most of the talking by asking questions.  This goes with a previous blog I wrote about finding people’s stories.  By asking questions we allow the other person to talk about something he loves more than anything else – himself.  
  3. Allow yourself time to recharge:  I love this point because I think it affects almost anyone no matter how introverted or extroverted they are.  I always try to schedule down time after an event to simply be alone for a while and reflect on the event or refocus on the next part of my day. Don’t be afraid to allow yourself some down time and don’t overschedule yourself. Being a good networker doesn’t mean you have to attend every event. 

Additional resources can be found at the end of this article.  What do you think?  Are there tips that are more important than these three to networking as an introvert?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Resources

  1. http://cupcakesandcashmere.com/series-stories/networking-for-introverts
  2. http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/01/the-introverts-guide-to-networ/
  3. http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/08/networking-for-introverts/

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