Charmed

It seems like just a few years ago that I was making my mind up about college.

This New England boy visited Vanderbilt, and utterly charmed by Nashville and the warm culture of the South, decided that a transplant 1,000 miles away was in order.

After 7 years in this adopted city, it was back to the hurried and harried North. But through major career changes, bringing up 5 boys with my (also Connecticut-born) wife, and many travels, I never forgot Nashville.

This week, I have come back “home” to attend BlissDom (thanks for the invite, Alli!), this time introducing 2 of my older boys to their first taste of the South. Their reaction to the warm smiles, easy converse, friendly service, and open-hearted people?

Charmed. In fact, they’re already threatening to stay behind instead of returning to New Jersey!

Yes, I may feel a bit like a fish out of water as one of the few representatives of male-dom at BlissDom. But this Yankee feels very much at home walking around the Vandy campus, eating southern cooking at Loveless Cafe, and re-learning to relax and smile and say “hi” to strangers for absolutely no reason.

Already, catching up with some dear friends from the past and watching my boys fall in love with the South has made the trip well worth it. Nashville, it’s a delight to be back.

Looking forward to some charming days. Maybe even some bliss!!

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Customers Walking Past You

I live in a small-ish town in northern NJ. We have a Main Street with a bunch of small shops, most of which don’t work very hard to pull me in.

And sometimes, I have no clue why I should care. The message or the offering aren’t clear, or perhaps the face of the store is just a confusing jumble.

I, and my wallet, keep on walking past.

While your business may not be in a retail zone, you surely have a “storefront” in the minds of customers. They look and they see…what? Something very clear, that they could turn or explain to a friend in 15 seconds? Or a jumble?

As my friend Carrie Wilkerson says, focus on just one thing.

Own a differentiating quality. Own a market niche. Own a word. Make your real or virtual storefront so clear that any passerby who needs what you have to offer knows exactly where to turn in.

Once upon a time, a General Store could thrive. Those days are over. If your brand is a general list of everything from A to Z, you lose.

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Networking on Purpose

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Twitter: @swoodruff

(image credit)

Leading Through a Stall

This week on LeadershipChat, we welcome guest author Steve McKee, who is going to lead us in a discussion about something most companies eventually go through – stalled growth.

Steve has recently written a book on that very subject (click cover to see on Amazon __>). Starting a fast-growing marketing agency from the ground up, then seeing it stall out after a few heady years, Steve experienced the phenomenon first-hand. And then his agency did some market research and found that non-linear growth patterns weren’t uncommon at all.

Uncomfortable, yes – but not uncommon!

Steve identifies 7 factors – three external, and four internal – that can lead to stalled growth (my co-host, Lisa Petrilli, lists them out in her blog post, titled How to Lead when Company Growth has Stalled). We’ll be talking about those during the Twitter chat tonight (Tuesday, Feb. 21, 8 pm ET – use the hashtag #LeadershipChat).

Encouragingly, Steve does not believe that stalled growth is the kiss of death. Here’s a money quote from the first chapter:

Hope to see at LeadershipChat tonight!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Networking on Purpose

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

George Lucas Announces Newest Social Media Platform: Hollowgram

Not wanting to be left behind the latest social media craze-du-jour, George Lucas has announced the first social platform allowing users to upload 3-D speaking holographic images of themselves.

Called “Hollowgram,” this ground-breaking site will allow hollow people everywhere to upload every detail of their lives in glorious 3-D. Lucas hopes to capitalize on all the momentum surrounding Pinterest, which enables posting of static, legacy, 2-D, lifeless stuff for others to waste time browsing using so-last-century technology.

“Look, we’ve all known since 1977, when the first Star Wars was released, that 3-D holographic imagery was the wave of the future. I’ve waited all this time – through IRC, bulletin boards, AOL, MySpace, Facebook, and Instagram – until the marketplace was ready. It was tough to see all these precursors, but Hollowgram – it’s our only hope to save social media,” said Lucas in an exclusive Q&A interview via Quora.

Hollowers, as users of the site will be called, will soon be able to download the Hollowgram app for iOS, Android, DOS, and Windows 95. A FAX version is in the works. Once installed, a user simply activates Hollowgram, and the fascinating details of their every action and word are streamed in real-time for others too hollow to follow.

Hollowgram will be ad-supported, with non-intrusive product placements carefully projected into the real-time imagery.

A visit to the BETA site showed the simplest and most elegant interface imaginable – one button that the user presses. Currently, the only hologram is of Princess Leia asking some old wizard for help, which plays over and over again. It actually looks like she’s in trouble. “But that’s part of the dramatic energy of our pending launch,” said Lucas. “What better storyline arc could we ask for than a social platform that helps defeat the evil empire? Which, of course, is Google+.”

Not to be outdone, Disney is preparing their own platform, code-named Goofi, which will allow users to share their own 2-hour full-featured animated cartoons with each other over dial-up service.

[disclaimer for the less-discerning - yes, this is a spoof. You can't download Hollowgram from the app store]

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Networking on Purpose

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Networking on Purpose (usually)

If you’re going to be successful, from a business perspective, you need to have purpose in your networking.

Simple but silly example: if you’re seeking to use the power of networks to grow your retail flower business in Missouri, it’s not likely that an investment of time building up a network of car mechanics in Sydney, Australia is going to be productive.

Network purposefully. Usually (caveat below!).

How can you use social networks to purposefully build business opportunities? Here are my “secrets”:

1. Show up. Strategically be present, at conferences and events and meetups and on-line, so that people can understand who you are and what you have to offer.

2. Connect with influential connectors in your domain. Not merely in the “we’re connected on LinkedIn” way, but build relationships over time. Don’t be shy about this. They’re connectors because they like to connect!

3. Bring potential clients, partners and other influencers along on your journey. Create a Linkedin group or a private Facebook group. Forward news articles and other resources. Connect people with other valuable people. Become the go-to person.

4. Occupy an empty space. There are countless market opportunities, in every conceivable domain, for curators, commentators, collaborators, connectors. You can build an entire career (I have) around finding something no-one else is doing, and filling that need.

5. Go deep with a handful. You can connect with 100,000 people on digital networks, but typically, the lion’s share of your business is going to flow from 5-10 key people with whom you have shared affinity and purpose. Concentrate on that handful, even as you build a broader network.

Don’t just network to accumulate follower numbers, or views, or ephemeral “influence” that comes from mass reach. A few people will make money from that. Most of us will grow business by having a focused purpose.

On the other hand, I freely and gladly admit that some of my networking is time is spent getting to know people with whom I don’t have some immediate or clear business purpose. Why? Because they are quality people, and when quality people band together, unexpected and unanticipated opportunities arise. I’ve seen this happen so many times that I now make significant investments of time in certain people and communities because I just know that in the long run, something great is going to come of it, for others and for myself. Call if faith, call it existentialism – I call it a fun adventure. We cannot predict what connections and open doors may happen indirectly through befriending and supporting people who may not be directly in our current business strike zone.

Even here, you’re networking with purpose. The purpose is discovery of new opportunities you can’t yet see or define.

So network with clear purpose, but also network with not-yet-clear purposes. If you purpose to be a helpful connector, you and others will surely benefit. And new purposes will become clear over time!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Is Your Sky Blue?

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Role Your Own

Manager. Associate Director. Senior Director. Vice President. The business world is full of titles, all nicely arranged for you in various hierarchies.

All waiting for you – compelling you – to fit in.

Architect. Engineer. Doctor. Writer. Teacher. Pre-packaged job descriptions, with pre-ordained responsibilities.

Pick one. That becomes your identity.

The legacy business world waits for you, with already-defined boxes and labels and roles. The structures are all there, if you want to sell your soul to fit into someone else’s plan for your life. Just step right up, into the machine.

Or, you can call a timeout. Who says this is your destiny? Do you HAVE to run someone else’s race? Can you define your own role?

Yes, you can.

We often operate under the false assumption that the work world, as historically understood, and as presented to us, is some immutable and fixed rule. Nobody consulted you when all these structures were built. And it’s likely they won’t ask for your input to change them. Organizations exist for themselves and their own goals, not for yours.

It may well be that, for a time, as your skills develop and your business acumen grows, you will find your career path inside a pre-existing organization with its titles and hierarchies and roles. I certainly did, and most of us do. But after a while, you realize that you’re a cog in a machine. If your work is to be built around you, then only one person can make that happen.

You.

Here’s the first step: stand back and question what you see. Realize that every organization, every role, was created and defined for some past need. It may not be appropriate for present (let alone future) needs, and it may not be designed to fulfill you and maximize your effectiveness.

Disengage your mind from every assumed work structure around you and say, “Maybe this or that is good. Or maybe it’s not. For me.”

Don’t start with the past. Don’t start with someone else’s present boxes. All of those assumed structures, titles, hierarchies, definitions, career tracks – they didn’t come from you, did they? They weren’t expressly designed for you, were they?

Start with your own declaration of independence. I’m going to role my own. Even if I have to work in someone else’s company for a season, I’m going to design my professional career around me, what I believe, and what I have to offer. Whatever that means.

Now the adventure can begin…!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Is Your Sky Blue?

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Is Your Sky Blue?

Why is the Dilbert comic strip so popular? One reason is because there seems to be a thousand kill switches on awesome in workplace (go ahead, click on the link. I’ll wait…).

It’s very likely that you have some major awesome locked up in your mind and heart and character and abilities – and, if you’re like most people in the workforce, it’s being inhibited more than expressed.

That, and the general economic instability, has forced many more people to look at traditional work within traditional organizations and ask, “Why am I doing this?”

Why, indeed! I came to that crossroads almost 6 years ago and decided to venture out on my dream of creating a business built around my awesome. Which is being the Connection Agent.

When I sit down in counselor mode with other entrepreneurs, small business leaders, or people in the midst of career change, I pretty quickly turn the conversation to my 2 “blue sky” questions. Because they reveal what is really going on in the DNA of the person, regardless of past titles and roles.

“What have you done that made you feel like you were right in your sweet spot?” and, “If you could do absolutely anything for a career, that lined up with your abilities and desires, what would it be?”

Often, there is a long pause – as if we struggle with permission to answer such questions! We’re not supposed to be able to pursue our ideals, right? That’s for the 0.001%. The rest of us need to just settle for what we get and make the best of it.

That’s a crock, people.

You gaze at the blue sky because it’s your mirror. And once you have a clear idea of who you really are and where you want to go, that’s when you make the most important decision of your professional life – to take control and begin moving in that direction. Your direction.

Not having a blue sky in front of you is like driving your car with no destination. The best GPS system in the world can’t get you to a non-existent end point.

Much of my work is with the pharmaceutical industry, where layoffs have been relentless for the past handful of years. While it’s painful to see, I am also convinced that a massive amount of undeveloped talent is being unleashed. I talk to a lot of these folks, and when the corporate shackles begin to fall away, a new freedom arises – the permission to dream. The end point is allowed to shift from the next rung of the corporate ladder, to something much more important.

I’m no naive idealist – I know that it can take years to turn blue sky visions into reality (I’ll tell you my story sometime). But here’s the memo – no-one else is going to do it for you. You can work for someone else’s agenda, or you can pursue your own direction – that direction where you can make your unique contribution to the world. It may be inside a company, it maybe building your own company, it may be on your own – the barriers to entry have never been lower and the tools for business-building have never been greater.

There’s a reason I go to conferences like SOBCon and, this year, Blissdom*. The people that organize these events are blue-sky dreamers and practical builders, who attract other like-minded souls into supportive communities. Entrepreneurs – doers – good people – gather, and blue sky together, and make things happen. If you want to map out your own future, you need to be around others who will inspire and support you along the way.

*(I’m just hoping I can survive the hormonal imbalance at Blissdom – the XY chromosome delegates will apparently be vastly outnumbered!)

Hope to see you soon – maybe with a cup of coffee and a blue sky overhead!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Are You Having A Nice Conflict?

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Are You Having A Nice Conflict?

For a long while, I held off buying a much-desired iPad2 – I finally gave in over the Christmas holidays and bought one. I also held off on becoming an e-reader until that time – and now, I’m glad to say, I have finally read my first book cover-to-cover on a tablet! What can I say – sometimes I break with the past slowwwwly…

The book: Have A Nice Conflict, put out by Jossey-Bass. Disclosure: this group has also stepped up to be a sponsor for LeadershipChat last week, in our chat with Angela Maiers, and also this coming Tuesday, when the smart team of HANC thinkers will be our guest hosts.

The book is a relatively quick read. It is of the business parable genre, where a story unfolds with various fictional characters to explain and illustrate the themes. Now, business parables are not my favorite writing mode, but this one is reasonably well-written. It’s just a wee bit slow out of the blocks, but once you arrive on the stage with Mac and the Red, Green, and Blue lights – well, things start to really fall into place. I won’t say that the lights come on, because that would be a bad pun. So I won’t say it. But they do.

One big plus – toward the back of the book, once the parable is over, you get a nice overview of the academic foundations of the theory.

The thesis of Have A Nice Conflict – and a component of the SDI (Strength Deployment Inventory), which is a related assessment – is that we have different motivational “styles”, if you will, that come into play when we approach (or experience) conflict. After taking the SDI and reading the book, I can definitely affirm that there’s some solid stuff here (I’m a “Hub,” by the way, if you’re interested).

Conflict is a huge, somewhat hidden cost to businesses everywhere, and a major challenge for leaders. So we’re going to discuss it this coming Tuesday night (February 14th) on #LeadershipChat. Valentine’s Day is a great time to learn to avoid or manage conflict, right? :>}

Join me, my co-host Lisa Petrilli, the HANC team, and a bunch of other smarties worldwide at 8 pm ET for an enlightening Twitter chat. Just use the hashtag #LeadershipChat (you’ll also see the hashtag #NiceConflict because our guests are also our sponsors this coming week).

Also, be sure to follow LeadershipChat on Facebook!

Additional disclosure: Personal Strengths is a recommendation partner of mine. If you use their assessment/consulting services as a direct result of my personal business matchmaking recommendation, they gladly pay me a referral fee. I receive no affiliate payments for book sales.

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Passion Matters

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Passion Matters

When I think of Angela Maiers, I think of one word. Passion.

She’s a passionate educator. A passionate blogger. And, this Tuesday night (Feb 7th) on LeadershipChat, Angela will be talking about a core passion of hers. #YouMatter.

Simply put, YouMatter is Angela’s summary of a conviction deep in her DNA – that a sense of significance is central to our well-being and growth.

Since it’s really not possible to replicate Angela’s passion in a second-hand blog post, I’d urge you to watch this video – or if you can’t afford the 20 minutes to watch, listen to it in the background as you (try to) do other things.

There’s a lot to chew on here for leaders and aspiring leaders. The thing is, people will forgive a lot of mistakes. But if they don’t sense that they are valued contributors, they’ll find greener pastures elsewhere (see my co-host Lisa Petrilli‘s perspective here!). I’ve been in settings where YouDon’tMatter. Should have packed up and left more quickly than I did!

LeadershipChat is a weekly Twitter discussion where smart minds come to share and learn – and this week, we are honored to have our first corporate sponsor. The fine folks who authored the new book Have a Nice Conflict (Tim Scudder, Michael Patterson and Kent Mitchell) will be joining us at Leadership Chat this week and next as chat sponors! They’ve written a very interesting road map for better understanding and navigating conflict, and for using this knowledge to be a more effective and successful leader. Check it out and buy your copy.

Also, be sure to follow LeadershipChat on Facebook!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Caribbean Connections

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Caribbean Connections

Ever heard of Digicel? Yeah, me neither – until a few weeks ago. When my eyeballs were saturated with their branding.

Upon landing in Haiti, I was surrounded, not only by a sea of people, but by an ocean of red Digicel signs. They are a company run by an Irish entrepreneur, who targeted Jamaica and other Caribbean islands (and has now expanded outward). You will look in vain to find much reference to AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint in Haiti. But you can hardly look anywhere without seeing Digicel branding. Day or night.

Digicel painted on walls. Digicel T-shirts. Digicel sun-umbrellas lining almost every street. I saw red all week.

While we, here in the first-world, have now turned to on-line/social as the new ubiquitous, Digicel knows its market. Ubiquitous is being on every wall, every sign, every visual. It may seem old-school, but it works. There are a couple of other cell providers in Haiti, but after a week there, only one stands out. Digicel.

One of my reference points for a mission house we went to several times was a couple of Digicel signs painted on a seawall. There was no escaping their presence.

And, even in the poorest of countries, cellphones are becoming common currency. When we ran a generator to power a circular saw, the workers plugged their phones in to recharge. Having money to buy new minutes was a big deal. Clearly, Digicel has latched onto a money-making service, even in the poorest of environments. A lesson for us all, when we think there is a lack of opportunity.

I’m sure there are many other brands operating in Haiti and the surrounding islands. But the major one I’ll always connect with Haiti is Digicel. I don’t know if I’ve seen such saturation before. Not bad for a company I’d never heard of!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Out of my Comfort Zone

>> Not All Business is Good Business

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Out of my Comfort Zone: Haiti

As many of you know, I recently went on a mission trip to Haiti (small team from my local church). My role was to help one of my long-time friends with a building project – topping off the walls of a partially-constructed church building and putting up a roof on it.

The trip was an amazing privilege, and the whole adventure was WAY outside my comfort zone! Nonetheless, it was a fulfilling and eye-opening experience.

I thought I’d share some of the pictures I took of the country, its people, and the project. Here is the photo set on Flickr. If you scroll through, you’ll see the captions; you can also view it in slideshow mode.

Pictures, and words, can’t do justice to the experience. But maybe they’ll give you a glimpse of a nation and a people far more in need than we are here in the “first world”.

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Not All Business is Good Business

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

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