You know the old joke:
Q: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: “Practice, man, practice.”
This joke was probably never funny but it was accurate. In the old days before the Internet was as common as sense is not, the ability to do something well was the best predictor of success.
People paid more money for better products. And publications such as Consumer Reports provided consumers with information about which products performed better than their competition.
But then two things happened:
First, the ubiquity of the Internet meant anything was available to anyone at anytime.
Siri and her friends Alexa and Cortana, know everything and are instantly available. Thanks to their promiscuity of knowledge, it’s no longer necessary – or even beneficial – for you to even try to corner the market on brains.
Remember bar bets? It used to be fun and sometimes profitable to actually know who played third base in the second inning of the 1976 World Series. Or what song was on the flip side of Herman’s Hermits smash hit Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.
But today those answers are just a thumb-swipe away. Knowledge isn’t power, knowledge is atmosphere.
Second, function became ubiquitous.
There was a time when people would pay more for Mercedes and Volvos because they were better automobiles. When most cars weren’t made very well, those two marques were known for exceptional reliability, often traveling half a million miles before being sold and shipped off to third-world countries where they soldiered on for millions of miles more.
Having a car that could last for 10, 15, or 20 years mattered when a car purchase was a major percentage of a consumer’s income. But once leasing became the norm for luxury cars everything changed. After all, why bother to pay more for a car that will last for a generation or two when you’re only keeping it for three years? Mercedes discovered that there was no competitive advantage to selling longevity. Instead they had to get their buyers to pay more for something else. In their case, prestige and technology.
It’s the same for professional services. I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of my time traveling the world and speaking at corporate conferences and annual conventions. Because of this, lots of my speaker buddies and people interested in the business ask me what they should do to build their speaking careers.
My answer is always the same. “If you want to speak more, speak more.”
“But how do I do that?” they ask.
“Easy,” I answer. “Just land a plane in the Hudson River.”
Days after Captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger saved USAirways flight 1549 he became the third-highest paid speaker in the country. He was so successful that Hollywood made a movie about his heroic act. Tom Hanks played Sullenberger.
A few weeks ago Dr. Dao was dragged off a United flight and onto a YouTube video that’s been viewed millions of times. If you keep your eye on his career, I don’t think you’ll be surprised to find him lecturing about customer service before long.
That’s what Dave Carroll did that after his video, United Breaks Guitars went viral. What does the singer actually KNOW about customer service? Beats the hell out of me. But his video was viewed over 17 millions times. Carroll’s infamy means he can generate interest in what he has to say and people will pay to listen.
You’ll notice that none of their exploits – Sullenberger’s piloting skills, Dao’s unfortunate ejection, nor Carroll’s busted guitar – mean any of them have the capability to do what they promise. But it’s not important. Function has become cost of entry. Today function takes a back seat to notoriety and branding.
I’m not suggesting you don’t have to be good at what you do. Only that those skill sets are NOT the reason your clients are buying your services.
Bill Clinton and Barak Obama are great speakers – yes – but that’s not why they get paid huge fees. Mercedes and Volvos are no better at getting you from Point A to Point B than Kias and Hyundais but they still command premium prices. Sully Sullenberger and Dave Carroll are not better speakers than all my pals in the National Speakers Association, but that’s not why they get high fees or more gigs either.
Today function is the ante you pay to get in the game. But it’s your brand value and your brand awareness that will help you win. Because while you won’t get to Carnegie Hall if you don’t practice, talent and virtuosity are not enough to get you there either.
How you do anything means everything.
Most business books could be simply described as thick bumper stickers. Why? Because despite their pages and pages of examples and illustrations, many of them can be reduced to one single thought. And that thought can be the theme of a 300-page book. Or it can be a bumper sticker.
Here are some standouts from my library and their bumper stickers:
Of course, no one would plop down $20 – $30 for a bumper sticker. So that’s why it makes good business sense for writers to guild their lilies and convert wispy concepts to weighty volumes.
One of my favorite books is HOW by Dov Seidman. The simple bumper sticker for HOW is this: “How you do anything means everything.” In How, Seidman explains that the why and the how of what we do is often more important than what we actually do.
Two months ago I spoke at a conference in Las Vegas. The subject was my new book, All About Them. When I finished, a young woman (we’ll call her Lisa) came up and complimented me on my talk. She also told me that she and her fiancé had just moved from New York and she’d taken a job she wasn’t very happy about.
“What would you like to be doing?” I asked.
“I worked in finance in New York. I’d really like to get back into that.” She answered.
I signed my new book, handed her my business card, and asked her how else I could be helpful.
A few weeks later Lisa sent an email asking me if I knew anyone at the XYZ Bank & Trust. If so, would l introduce her? I answered yes and followed up with an introductory email to her and my good friend Bill. Bill just happens to be the CFO of XYZ.
Bill responded almost immediately. He told Lisa he’d be delighted to meet her and even suggested times he was available. Bill asked her to send her resume. And he asked for a quick explanation of the position she wanted.
Yesterday I ran into Bill at another speech I was giving.
The first thing out of his mouth was that he still hadn’t received Lisa’s resume. After that Bill told me about a second young woman interested in a job. The difference was that that prospect sent her CV and included research she had done on XYZ. Plus she sent a competitive overview and links to some articles Bill would find interesting.
“How.” I said. “Dov Seidman.”
I find Dov’s bumper sticker is a great gut check for me when I deal with others. Keeping Seidman’s mantra in mind helps me be punctual, refrain from gossip, and always try to under-promise and over-deliver. “How you do anything means everything” reminds me to stay present and attentive. It also reminds me to be helpful and supportive — even when I don’t see any immediate benefit in doing so.
Needless to say, Lisa’s not going to get the job at XYZ Bank & Trust. And the next time she asks me to make a connection I am going to politely decline.
Oscar Wilde was, and is, one of my favorite writers. The reason is simple.
I love the way he writes.
Whether or not you’ve read much Wilde, you probably love the way he writes too. That’s because many of the adages that we take for granted today were actually quips Oscar Wilde used in the dialog in his novels.
“I have the simplest taste. I am always satisfied with the best.”
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
“Life is too important to be taken seriously.”
“I am not young enough to know everything.”
“There is only one thing in the world that is worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
The next time you have a few minutes, Google quotes by Oscar Wilde and spend a few very pleasant moments scrolling through his genius. If you have more time, pick up one of Wilde’s books; A Picture of Dorian Gray would be a great place to start. Besides exposing yourself to the pleasure of Wilde’s prose you’ll get a great overview of the vibe of the extravagant Edwardian English culture he lived in.
Throughout his works Wilde gave his readers privileged insight into who he was. He wrote around his own life and personality – his privileged upbringing, his belief in the philosophy of aestheticism, his interest in mythology and biblical lore, and even the time he spent in prison for the then-punishable crime of being an outed homosexual.
Oscar Wilde’s life ended about as tragically as it could. He spent his penultimate years in prison in England and after his release lived in exile in various towns and cities around France. He spent the very last years of his life suffering the indignities that came with alcoholism and abject poverty. Finally, Wilde died from syphilitic cerebral meningitis. It’s tough to see how his life could have ended up much worse.
But today Wilde is remembered both for the fascination his life inspires and as England’s most popular playwright and classicist. What Wilde was most adept at was expressing his authentic truth and his view of life in his work as a playwright, poet, and novelist. In terms more relevant to this blog, Wilde created his own powerfully personal brand.
Like Wilde, well-known recent cults of personality such as Anthony Bourdain, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, and others have also built their reputations by promoting what it is that makes each of them special. Chances are your business — and your brand — could benefit from this same level of personal promotion.
It’s easy to disregard Oscar Wilde and other celebrities because of our dislike of whichever of the things they do we find distasteful. But you do so at your peril. Because there’s still a lot to learn — and a lot to employ in our own lives — from their successes.
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde died on November 30th, 1900 in Paris, France. He was still well known almost 30 years later when Dorothy Parker wrote about him in Life Magazine:
“If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.”
Midcentury modern is a style of architecture, interior design, and product and graphic design that was created from roughly 1933 to 1965. Its development was the work of architects and designers including George Nelson, Eero Saarinen, Richard Nuetra, Arne Jacobsen, Charles and Ray Eames, and more.You know midcentury modern by its clean lines, pared-down forms, and natural materials. As well as its seamless interaction between both the rooms and the between interior and exterior spaces. In case you’re still not sure, you saw midcentury modern design in all its glory on the show Mad Men.
The midcentury aesthetic was a response to — and celebration of — the new world optimism that erupted with the economic boom after World War II. Architects and designers of the times were willing and encouraged to use new shapes and new materials. They also worked to embrace the revolutionary idea of indoor-outdoor living in their joyful designs.
That is why you see midcentury classics such as Saarinen’s Tulip table, Noguchi’s coffee table, Knoll’s sofas, and Castiglioni’s Arco lamp everywhere you look. And it’s why design-forward companies including Design Within Reach, Restoration Hardware, Luminaire, and Herman Miller do such brisk business stocking these classics.
The New York Times quoted “a range of insiders” for their take on midcentury:
LIZ O’BRIEN, 20th-century decorative arts dealer: “I continue to find super-exciting things. That happens often enough to keep me hooked.”
JILL SINGER, a founder of the design magazine Sight Unseen: “It’s beautiful materials, classic simple shapes that can seem timeless.”
JIM BRETT, president, West Elm: “I don’t know if there’s another time period with such a prolific amount of beautifully functional designs.”
MICHAEL BOODRO, editor in chief, Elle Decor: “It looks particularly good in lofts, in glass towers. The upkeep is easy.”
Like these professionals, I’ve been obsessed with the midcentury aesthetic since I was in design school. After an exhaustive search my wife and I found a 1956 midcentury ranch house in Miami’s Pinecrest suburb. We spent the next 15 years removing everything that wasn’t true to the original style while we restored and modernized the rest. In fact, the pictures you’ve been looking at throughout this post are our house. But now that we’re empty nesters, we’re moving to a smaller house that’s closer to town (but still midcentury, of course) and we’re putting our house on the market.
Thanks to the large lots and great schools in our neighborhood, plenty of older houses are being torn down and replaced by starter castles and McMansions. And I understand that could happen to our midcentury masterpiece as well. But if you know someone who loves the style as much as I do and is looking for a great house that was lovingly restored, please have them contact me or our broker.
As the New York Times said, “The best of midcentury design is undeniably beautiful and functional.” Our house is too. And it could be yours.
I’m sitting with a potential client who is building a nascent software company that might – or might not – be the next great discovery in his particular industry.
The problem is Mr. Entrepreneur just got back from his investment road show and he’s still in sales mode. That means he can’t answer any question with a simple response. Instead he hems and haws, pivoting away from every question and barreling headfirst into his prepackaged sales pitch.
He starts each answer with a “so” or a “well” and ends each sentence with his voice raising in pitch until only dogs can hear him. It sounds like I’m listening to a nervous 14-year old girl in the Hollywood Hills.
Finally, a smart woman sitting at the table asks him what he wants to achieve. “Well, I guess, it would be helpful if I was a thought leader” he answered slowly. “So I’d like to get on TV.”
Next she asks, “Do you really believe in your brand? Do you have a blog? Do you write?”
“So, we have a website and we repost articles and thoughts from others in the space. It generates lots of reciprocal traffic. Do you know that when we reposted Peter Thiel’s article about students no longer needing to go to college it got us our highest readership ever?”
“And who benefitted from that?” she asked rhetorically. “You or Peter Thiel?”
“So, I think that if we…”
That’s when the camel’s back snapped in two.
“You really think you believe in your brand? Do you know you haven’t answered a single question with a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’? Each one of your answers is a diversion, a sales pitch, a bunch of hooey. You’ve been asked the same question from three different people and you haven’t answered it once. No matter what the question is you don’t answer it, you just pivot away to the same sales pitch you’ve been delivering for weeks.”
“You know who’s the perfect illustration of this? President John F. Kennedy. In 1961 he proclaimed that we would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard …because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”
“Of course Kennedy had no way of knowing if we could actually get to the moon. There was no technological reason for him to believe it was possible. And everything in the country – from science education to financing to manufacturing – had to change to make it happen. But JFK did what a leader does. He boldly laid out the future and the rest of the country followed him into it. He didn’t equivocate, he didn’t question it, and sadly he didn’t live to see it.
But we took his direction and reached the goal. And we even did it a few months before our deadline. On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin fulfilled Kennedy’s prophecy when they became the first humans to set foot on the moon.”
The rest of the room just stared back slack jawed. I thought that perhaps she had gone too far but what the hell. In for a penny, in for a pound. She started up again:
“When did you stop believing? You got into this business for a reason, for a big idea. At some point you thought enough of your big idea to quit your job, take out a second mortgage on your house, put the rest of your life on hold, and give everything to this new business. You had to convince your parents, reassure your wife, and explain it all to your boss. And you did it because you believed. You believed in your idea. You believed in your business. And most of all you believed in yourself. You knew you’d get to the moon, didn’t you?”
“Stop repeating what other people are saying. Stop reposting other people’s work. Stop overcoming everyone’s objections. Stop compromising. Stop selling. Stop saying what you think we want to hear. Stop hearing what you think we want to say. Stop upspeaking. Stop saying ‘well.’ Stop saying ‘so.” Stop saying ‘like.’ Stop hemming and stop hawing.”
“Look at Trump. Look at Brexit. Look at Elon Musk. You may not like their politics and you may not like their motivations but you can’t question their passion, their ardor, or their results. Is what they’re saying true or correct? Will Trump be president? Will England be better? Will we have fully autonomous cars by 2020 or a colony on Mars by 2030? Who the hell knows? But they said we will and their followers believe it.”
“If you really believe that your idea can make the world better then do it. Plant your flag. Make your statement. How? Write a book. If you can’t write a book, write a manifesto. Declare your future and lead your employees to it. THAT’S the way to both be a thought leader and to create your own opportunity.”
“All you have to do is to believe in your brand.”
How My Brand Can Help Your Brand
I’ve got some great news for both of us. My fifth book, All About Them, is on press and will officially release on August 16 from Da Capo Press. YOU are a big part of this book which is why I’m sharing the news with you on my blog.
I’m hoping All About Them becomes the instruction manual for getting ahead in a world that’s spinning faster and faster and where function is becoming mere cost-of-entry for success. Here’s a hint: Being successful will require creating your brand and marketing it in brand new ways for brand new times.
Over the next few months I’m going to tell you all about what’s going on with All About Them. I’ll introduce you to the concepts discussed in the book and show you lots of ways to get involved; Special programs, social media opportunities, exclusive events, and many other ways to build your brand and help me make a big splash for All About Them.
If we can generate significant upfront interest it will further convince my publisher that my book is going to be a big success and that they should produce more and make sure that it’s available from coast-to-coast.
I’ve sent pre-release copies to business authors who matter and will share their comments with you too. Here’s are some very nice words from Tim Sanders, author of Dealstorming and Love Is the Killer App.
“A must read for modern marketers who want to cut through the noise, forge deep connections, and create memorable experiences.”
“A brilliant guide to becoming an icon. Bruce Turkel is the branding expert of branding experts.”
I am justifiably proud of my new book. And I’ll feel even better when I know people are reading All About Them and using it to build their own brands and build their businesses. Thank you for helping with my brand and thank you — as always — for your warm and gracious support.
Have you felt the inexorable forces pulling at you lately?
While the potential and promise of new technology is pulling us into the gleaming future the most base and brutal forces are trying to drag us back into the dark ages.
Startling new advances in biomedical sciences provide hope to people who suffer from devastating diseases and paralyzing disabilities while terrorists bent on world domination use primitively brutal violence to achieve their ugly ends.
Artists, entertainers, writers, and more are using the latest democratized media to share their brilliance and make our worlds brighter while politicians (you know who you are) are using the same public access to spread their message of hatred to coerce us to cower.
Scientists are sharing their predictions and subsequent recommendations based on scientific inquiry and empirical fact while prognosticators and pundits with personal agendas are using fear and superstition to motivate inactivity and cowardice.
At the same time that we’re battling these external forces vying for our attention and response there’s another danger. In his 11/10/90 speech Personal Renewal, President Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare John W. Gardner, reminded us that neither can we, “…write off the danger of complacency, growing rigidity, imprisonment by our own comfortable habits and opinions.”
In his book Self-Renewal, The Individual & The Innovative Society, Gardner further warned us that, “we build our own prisons and serve as our own jail-keepers.”
But Gardener also offered us a solution: “Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By potentialities I mean not just intellectual gifts but the full range of one’s capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring.”
Darkness or light?
Fear or freedom?
Personal stagnation or an endless unfolding of opportunities?
In my eleventh grade English class at Miami Beach Senior High School our teacher, Gary Glick, would gleefully recite the Latin term, “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” Simply put, it means that the growth of an organism (ontogeny) demonstrates all of the transitional forms of its ancestors throughout time (phylogeny).
In other words, just as human beings grow from infants to adolescents to young adults and on thru middle-age, old-age, and eventual death, so do human enterprises.
According to Gardner, “Young countries, businesses, and humans have several key commonalities: they are flexible, eager, open, curious, unafraid and willing to take risks.” However, over time these organisms experience “complacency, apathy, and rigidity… (and) it is at this junction that great civilizations fall, businesses go bankrupt, and life stagnates.”
Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, indeed.
Curiosity or complacency?
Eagerness or apathy?
Flexibility or rigidity?
Ultimately the decision – for yourself and your consumers alike – is between these two warring factions. Success in life and business requires your own brand (or your company’s brand) to choose the light over the darkness, motion over stagnation – always moving forward towards the next adventure, the next innovation, the next opportunity.
Or, as Gardner says, “The only stability possible is stability in motion.”
Want to know how to ask for money? Pull off any expressway and down onto any exit ramp in any big city in America and you’ll probably have the same experience:
There will be a man or woman dressed in soiled clothes and filthy sneakers standing at the red light hoping for a handout. They might be holding a dirty rag and a spray bottle. They might be holding a crumpled coffee cup. They might be holding a tattered piece of cardboard with some version of “Will Work For Food” scribbled on it in Magic Marker. Or they might just jab their crusty palm in your direction. Either way, their message is clear: “I need money.”
Let’s face it, sometimes you hand them some change but most times you don’t. And when you don’t you strategize the best way to turn down their request –Do you pull up to the light ahead of them to make it clear you’re not interested? Do you stop so far back from the light that you’re out of reach? Do you stare straight ahead – or down at your phone – and refuse to make eye contact? Do you look them right in the eye and shake your head “no”? Regardless of your technique the result is the same… the light turns green, you step on the gas, and the panhandler recedes in the distance, an oily smudge in your rearview mirror you forget about a moment later.
Now consider this scenario:
The maître d’ catches your eye and motions to you to enter the dining room. On your way to a booth in the main room you see Don Shula or Kevin Spacey or Jimmy Buffett or Michael Jordan sitting at a quiet table against the wall. You walk over and quickly tell them how much you love their work and that you’re their biggest fan. You don’t overstay your welcome but before the maître d’ leaves your table you ask him to bring you the celebrity’s check so you can treat your idol to dinner, anonymously, of course.
Did you see what just happened? Don Shula’s net worth is estimated at $30 million; Kevin Spacey’s at $215 million; Jimmy Buffett’s at $400 million; and Michael Jordan’s fortune is estimated at more than $1 billion – yet they can’t pick up a check anywhere in the world. But the poor guy who’s down to his last dime and doesn’t know how to ask for money can’t even get half a buck when he needs it the most.
So why is it that so many companies – both for-profit and non-profit – use the poverty angle when they’re looking for business? Colleges will point out that tuition only pays a small percentage of their costs, so they need you to make up the difference. Accounts receivable clerks will tell the account payable clerks they’re trying to collect from that they need the money to make payroll. And consultants will point out that you should hire them because they need the business. In other words, established, successful companies resort to begging even though it’s clear that everyone loves a winner and the poverty approach does not work.
Think fast. Which is the most impressive university in the country? I’ll bet you named Harvard. Did you know that Harvard’s endowment now stands at $36.4 billion dollars? According to The International Monetary Fund, that’s more money than the GDPs of over 90 nations, or virtually half the countries in the entire world. Clearly Harvard doesn’t need the funds, yet the money keeps pouring in. Clearly Harvard knows how to ask for money. Ironic, isn’t it, when you realize that the most successful organizations are also the ones that attract the most revenue?
Does this mean that a well-dressed panhandler who knew how to ask for money would actually collect more money than a desperate wretch? I don’t know and I’m not planning on donning a suit and standing on a street corner to find out anytime soon. But it does suggest success begets success and a powerful brand is a great way for you to build a powerful business.
What does it suggest you need to do for your business?