BE CLEAR: Drop the Buzzwords

Do you want your customers to be dazed and confused? All you have to do is cloak your message in a blizzard of buzzwords.

Obviously, I don’t recommend that. We all want to reside in the memory box of our (potential) clients. More words = more fog.

Instead, use simple, clear words.

See what I mean in this one-minute video:


It’s always tempting to adopt the impressive-sounding biz language that buzzes around us like a pack of mosquitoes. Swat them away and use clarity of speech if you want to have a memorable impact!

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> BE CLEAR: Narrowing Your Focus

BE CLEAR: Narrowing Your Focus

We live in a world of information overload and 24/7 distraction. How will you break through and be memorable with all of that competition (let alone your business competition!)?

With clarity. Specifically, by having a narrow focus and avoiding the temptation of 50-shades-of-grey marketing.

See what I mean in this one-minute video:

Maybe you do two or three different things to generate revenue? That’s fine – but go to market with your lead message. Don’t position yourself as a forgettable jack of all trades. Be clear and memorable, get in front of potential clients who value your primary offering, then mention b., c., and d. Buy the way into your client’s mind and presence with a narrowly-focused message, then “by the way…” your other capabilities afterward.

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Find Your Two Things

>> De-Fragmenting Your Business

Are You a Jack of All Trades?

Well, then, you get to be a Master of None. Congratulations!

Imagine that title on your business card: Master of None.

Instead (as an individual and as a business), specialize. Differentiate. Be narrow-minded.

A jack of all trades has no unique identity. A JOAT is never a top-of-mind go-to resource.

“Jack of all trades” is not a compliment. Instead, Find Your Two Things. Or, even better, be the Master of One.

(very similar themes in the blogosphere this morning: John Jantsch and Christopher Penn)

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I help people and businesses become narrow-minded with my Clarity Therapy process <—learn more

Go With Door #2

There are two ways of looking at the world.

Behind Door #1 is everything that has been pre-built, pre-defined, and pre-established by others in the past. You are invited to fit in.

Most people fall into the trap of planning their career using Door #1. Why is this a trap?

Because it was built by someone else, not by you. It was built for someone else’s purposes, not for yours. It was built to meet past needs, not necessarily future opportunities.

It’s not always the best deal.

Behind Door #2 is a blank screen, waiting for you to project yourself upon it.

Your skills. Your direction. Your goals. The opportunities you see.

Door #1 is the default choice. Door #2 is for the courageous.

Go with Door #2.

Thank YoUtilities

A couple of days ago, I was on a 3-hour drive from North Jersey to Gettysburg. Anyone in the Jersey area knows all about traffic, but on this trip, westbound on I-78, I watched a remarkable sight.

A parade – no, a fleet – of utility trucks, all heading out of NJ after (I assume) many long days of hard labor helping out after Hurricane Sandy.

As I passed truck after truck, I saw this badge on each one. North Houston Pole Line.

Surely, I thought, there must be a “Houston” in a nearby state to which all these folks were returning, in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Surely these folks didn’t come all the way up from…

Then I spotted the license plates. Texas.

Countless dozens of these fine skilled workers had driven halfway across the country to help us out, and were now returning, caravan style, before their prolonged absence triggered a population redistricting in their home state!

Saturday morning, I enjoyed a pancake breakfast at IHOP with my son Ben, and (as has been the case for a couple of weeks now), the restaurant was loaded with utility workers, fueling up for another day’s labor in someone else’s neighborhood (these guys were clearly from the South).

One of the men had lost both arms at some point in his history. He had two mechanical arms ending in hooks. And he was still working.

Seeing these dedicated strangers/citizens/neighbors/workers helping us out after a crisis warmed my heart like nothing else in recent memory. It made me thankful to live in a country where people pull together, even at great personal sacrifice.

Thanks, utility folks. You may labor mostly unrecognized, but we see you. And we appreciate all you’re doing for us.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Dear Client; Be Realistic.

Many of us who are consultants, small business owners, vendors, or agencies know how frustrating it can be to work with clients who don’t seem to understand the “other side” of the fence.

I worked on the vendor side for 10 years, so I know this pain. And now, for the last 6+ years, much of my work involves client-vendor matchmaking, so I’ve seen how things can go off the rails on both sides.

One of the best things we can do, as suppliers of services, is to pro-actively set the table with reasonable expectations.

Here’s the first step:

Your turn: what are some of the client/vendor issues that loom large to you?

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Find Your Two Things

>> De-Fragmenting Your Business

Find Your Two Things

You are capable of doing 10 things.

You CAN sell. You CAN manage a project. You CAN do manual labor. You CAN teach. You CAN design floral arrangements.

We all have a list of things we’ve done in the past, or do in the present.

But our focus should be the one or two things that we SHOULD be doing.

Each of us has uniquely differentiating strengths. Something to offer the world, to offer potential clients. Something where we can be at our best.

We need a career role that is not a commodity. If you’re doing what lots of others can do, and it isn’t  your unique gift, you’re in the commodity zone.

Just because someone else has defined a role and its responsibilities doesn’t mean that you have to fit that uniform (which was never measured around you).

You are probably doing one or two of your SHOULD things (or have done them), but don’t recognize that all the rest of your capabilities need to become subordinate. Your current role may be 90% “can,” and 10% “should.”

Step back and take an honest look. List out 10 things you do. Then cross out eight of them. Maybe even nine.

There is your future direction.

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> De-Fragmenting Your Business

Post-Traumatic-Sandy-Disorder

For many of us, this past week has been traumatic. Our world has been rocked, by an unusually destructive storm and its unusually disruptive aftermath.

The beautiful canopy of trees that has always filled our backyard now has ugly gaps slashed in it by the loss of a handful of once-proudly-standing trees. Far worse, a neighbor’s house was punctured by a huge tree that will cause months of disruption to their busy lives. And many people, especially nearer the shore, lost everything.

The mess will take months to clean up; and the stress, in some cases, may take much longer. Sandy has disordered a lot of lives.

Here in America, we live in a privileged bubble where major pieces of infrastructure are simply assumed – water flows, lights work, temperatures are regulated, fuel is around the corner. 24/7, or nearly so.

We all know that we live in relative first-world luxury, yet we all still become dependent on the “normal” that surrounds us. Take away that normal for a season, and we experience trauma. Major disruption, of any sort, does that.

So many of you “came alongside” me (and others) via our virtual networks during the darker days, and I want to tell you how helpful that is. Words of encouragement, and sympathy, mean a lot when everything familiar is disrupted. In the midst of the storm’s destructive effects, we got to witness real neighborliness happening in our streets and towns here in New Jersey – people coming alongside and helping each other with shelter and water and chainsaws and (even) re-charging stations for starving mobile devices (a neighbor down the street, who had a generator, would turn on the outside light as the signal that power strips were hooked up and ready in their porch for those who needed to re-charge)!

But in our social networks, there was also a lot of support. Dozens and dozens of messages were exchanged via Twitter and Facebook. And, it meant a lot to know that people were concerned.

So, how can you help? Sure, there’s giving to the Red Cross and all that. But, on a more personal level, just reach out and care. Little expressions of concern and love go a long way in the recovery from trauma. We’ll get through it, even while fuel is scarce for another week or so. And words of kindness will fuel our spirits as we steer our way slowly back into normalcy post-Sandy.

Thanks for your friendship.

You Have the Goods

I spent a couple hours recently going in-depth with someone about an impending major career change – a BIG jump from one type of endeavor to another.

Without giving away too much about his/her background, I’d say that about the last thing you’d expect from this individual is the hesitancy and uncertainty that stems from fear.

But there it was.

“I don’t believe I have the goods.”

I think one of the best gifts we can give one another is an assessment of what we’re really good at, and a huge pat on the back to go forth and conquer.

If you believe someone has the goods, tell him or her. That little word of encouragement – that expression of faith – may well be the needed push to get someone over the barrier of fear.

Even the most seemingly-successful folks have the “you don’t have the goods, you big jerk!” minor-key soundtrack playing in the background sometimes.

Many times what we need is someone from the outside, someone both objective and encouraging, to say out loud, with a smile and little shove forward, “You have the goods!”

Live-Reviewing The Impact Equation (book review)

(I didn’t get all the way through on day 1, so I’m continuing for a second day. Simply scroll down to see the review unfold chapter by chapter)

It’s been sitting here for a few weeks, neglected. Chris Brogan and Julien Smith‘s new book, The Impact Equation. I have a pre-release copy and I’ve put off reading and reviewing it.

Until now. You see, this is the public release week for the book (you can use this link to order it). And I know the authors want as much exposure as possible – hey, who wouldn’t?

So I’m going to do something I’ve never attempted before. No, it’s not going over Niagara Falls in a parafoil made of recycled Diet Dr. Pepper cans. Something far more daring. Something with immense and incalculable risk.

I’m going to live-review the book. This morning. On this blog and on Twitter.

You thought jumping out of a capsule from 128,000 feet and breaking the sound barrier was daring?? Pffffft.

You might say that this is a link-baiting publicity stunt. You’d be partially correct. You might say that the Niagara Falls idea is actually more risky. Well, for me, maybe; but this chapter-by-chapter live-reviewing stuff is far more risky for Chris and Julien. And that’s the kind of risk I prefer!

So, here we go. It’s 7:30 am ET. I’m going to relieve my guilt over not reading this volume sooner by diving right in, and telling you what I think, hourly-ish. For better or for worse. Twitter hashtag: @impacteq.

Woodruff/Mystic. Brogan/Smith. It’s on!

(Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in this book, nor are any links affiliate links)

Part 1: Goals

This chapter has a few main themes:

- We live in a time when we can (and should) build our own channels

- This is not primarily about tech – it’s always about people

- Success comes from the long haul

The acronym CREATE* is used to explain how impact comes about. As it is presented, I see the word “equation” as a misnomer here – it’s more of a recipe.

Good content overall, but too many thoughts are presented – this chapter feels like a pinata of ideas. Like most business books, it feels verbose. Writing style is more informal; idea flow not particularly tight.

* Contrast / Reach / Exposure / Articulation / Trust / Echo  (the first and last terms feel a bit forced)

- (posted at 8:20 am) -

Part 2: Ideas (Contrast)

These section is all about differentiation. In the grab bag of ideas presented, we see the concepts of screening good ideas (out of the pool of bad/mediocre ones); the role of emotion in making an idea interesting/spreadable; the need for bravery to publish ideas that differ; and the role of extrapolation and metaphor (note: I am a huge advocate of using metaphor/analogy in the messaging process).

As a writer/creator, I find myself on familiar ground here – but I wonder if someone who is not a social media content-generator might not find this chapter overwhelming. Most people don’t, I suspect, have a flowing fountain of ideas (or an impetus to crowd-share them as a sifting mechanism). For the ones that are seeking to break new ground in the idea-realm, however, the principles are solid. The writing style, again, is very informal and breezy, with (lots of) (parenthetical) (statements) sprinkled throughout.

The concept of breaking through the human pattern-recognition screen is one of the more valuable take-away images of the chapter.

- (posted at 9:45 am) -

Part 2: Ideas (Articulation)

“Part of learning Articulation is learning which words to choose. Another is learning which words to lose.” That pretty much sums up what you need to know (and it’s great advice).

This chapter starts out well, but then wanders quite a bit about ideas, e-mail marketing, business viability, mind-mapping, and more. Good advice all, but themes are scattered around like disparate blog posts in a RSS feed. Some fierce editing was needed here. Loose links, productivity ideas, etc. – some nice stuff, solid thought-gems, but not finding a real clear flow here.

The snapshot below, however, is great advice:

- (posted at 10:35 am) -

Part 3: Platforms (Reach)

First you need ideas. Then you need a transmitter. That’s Platform. “Platform multiplies power. The vaster and more effective it is, the stronger you become.”

This chapter is  more tightly written. It focuses on the need to continuously build a growing audience (over time), and how on-line tools have enabled this in a unique way. Some good case studies are included, including TED and Dollar Shave Club. Some good stuff on how/when to extract value (e.g., sell stuff and/or gain access) as you grow your Reach. Good emphasis on adding value. Anyone serious about writing a book, or growing an audience for any other purpose (including business networking), should read this. It’s not an exhaustive chapter full of steps, but it is suggestive and contains important perspectives.

- (posted at 12:55 pm) -

OK, I was too optimistic about getting this all done today. Will continue tomorrow…!

It’s tomorrow! —>

Part 3: Platforms (Exposure)

This chapter is very much about using social media for exposure. Don’t expect to see much about other avenues. And, at first, I found myself slightly annoyed that there were a whole lot more questions than answers – lots of generalities. Then I woke up and realized that that’s the point – gaining exposure through social channels is one big experiment, and there is no one-size-fits-all (as there is no one audience, and no single set of expectations). I’ve had to wrestle over the years with all of the same issues – frequency, media/channel types, formatting, length – and, if you’re seriously reaching out to a growing audience, it evolves.

Again, however – this chapter is for people serious about making content and building an audience. And it’s about long-term commitment. I’m completely down with that but it will seem difficult to reach for many people who have a different make-up or professional role. And that’s the challenge that must be addressed – individuals and companies are all becoming broadcast channels, like it or not. It’s time to embrace it and take the right steps.

- (posted at 8:30 am) -

Part 4: Network (Trust)

“Your idea may be genius, and it may be caught immediately imprinted on people’s brains. You may be differentiated from your industry and highly visible. But if you are not trusted, if you are not credible, you are nothing.”

Pulling on the (excellent) work of Maister, Green, and Galford (book: The Trusted Advisor) – this section discusses the Trust Equation. Four elements: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, Self-Interest.

This chapter started off with the sound of rockets on the launch pad, then ended with a whimper. It was supposed to be the clarification and capstone of the prior book by this pair, Trust Agents (which I read and recommend). It wasn’t. It was mainly self-evident principles and recycled bromides. Disappointing work. Vuvzelas, Pokemon, and blogging calendars didn’t cut it for me.

Just read the first few pages and skip the rest.

- (posted at 9:50 am) -

Part 4: Network (Echo, Echo)

Be human. Allow people to relate to you. Make a personal connection – reply. Package and own your quirks – you’ll always find a niche of interested sympathizers. Speak their language. Basic stuff. Good reminders, but nothing new here. And it seems to come too much from a place of outsized influence – how someone already influential should try to relate. This chapter seems to float a little bit above everyday life and business. And the section at the end about relating to critics seems out of place.

(end of book) – (posted at 10:30 am) -

My conclusion:

Here’s a great quote from the last chapter: “Distill your message. Whittle it down to the tightest, sharpest thing possible.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the principle, though I did not see it well-embodied in this book!

Make no mistake, there are a lot of good things said here. But instead of a crisp, expertly-guided tour (some authors are masterful at this, moving your mind sequentially and building a step-by-step case), this book felt like a meander in the field with a couple of smart guys. The authors are pointing out a nice vista here, picking up some rock samples there, naming the trees and birds, crossing back over the same areas a few times – a pleasant enough stroll, but not real tight. If you’re looking for research-driven content, this book won’t satisfy; and if you’re brand new to social media, it might be overwhelming. I think for those who are seeing the value of building a platform for influence, and who need a bunch of tips and perspectives based on experience – there’s value here.

Stylistically, the writing is casual and uneven – a given style isn’t necessarily good or bad, but just understand that if you’re into flights of new revelation through tightly-argued logic, this book won’t appeal. On the other hand, those who value the thought-snippets that come from blogging, and want to see them gathered under some type of more ordered framework, may well find this volume to be inspiring and enlightening.

Mystic, it turns out, was more interested in The Milk Bone Equation!

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Related posts on Connection Agent:

>> My Career Fragmentation Story

>> The Seven Shortcuts to Creating Trust

Surpassingly, Divinely Exceptional

This morning, I was reading Psalm 48 (link leads to a modern-English version; I’ll be referencing a few phrases from it in this post), and marveling at the heart-mind response of people to God’s glory.

The psalm paints a picture of an outstandingly-aboveness – a unique greatness – that evokes the most devoted human response.

Being a businessman as well as a worshiper, I found myself thinking – what kind of surpassing wonderfulness, as depicted in this psalm, could turn customers into devotees and devotees into a growing business?

1. Unmatched greatness – in short, spectacular-ness that people cannot help but praise. When devotees line up for days in front of an Apple store for the latest product, so they can be the first to experience it and praise its excellence, this isn’t a mere transactional relationship. It moves into the realm of awe for Apple’s design and execution genius. Those 150 psalms in the Bible? They are bursting with praise that words can barely express. Wouldn’t it be something to have customer testimonials like that?

2. Outstanding memorable-ness – we are surrounded by forgettable, commodity products. Yet these worshipers cannot help but dwell on the surpassing quality of what they’ve been able to touch. Exceptional means top-of-mind in a very noisy, distracting world. You know when your favorite artists releases a new album and a couple of tasty tunes keep occupying your mind and escaping your lips? That.

3. Evangelistic enthusiasm – in this psalm, people are encouraged to look at the beautiful details, to consider and count and marvel, to rejoice with others – and to tell the next generation (organic word-of-mouth). I go out of my way to tell people about Loveless Cafe in Nashville, or Amica Insurance. Why? Their consistent excellence makes me want to see more people enjoy what they offer.

True worship of God has never been about miserable conformity to a set of nonsensical rules – it is about above-all-else greatness, heartfelt awe, and a personal attachment that is grounded in divine beauty. A form of religion with forced or transactional followers isn’t much of a model for us. People yearn for spectacular, not run-of-the-mill.

Our goal should be nothing less than being exceptional and creating enthusiasm. I guess you could consider that kind of business one that begins to reflect, in some feeble but real way, the image of God.

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Related posts on Connection Agent:

>> A Tale of Two Welcomes

>> The Seven Shortcuts to Creating Trust

The Seven Shortcuts to Creating Trust

  1. There
  2. Are
  3. No
  4. Shortcuts
  5. To
  6. Creating
  7. Trust

We all want shortcuts. And for getting from A to B in some things, shortcuts are possible.

But not in that fragile, yet powerful, realm of human trust.

Trust is created by people of character, who live and act consistently.

You earn it. One action at a time. One person at a time. Over a long period of time.

No shortcuts.

(Image credit: John Hartsock via Flickr)

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Related posts on Connection Agent:

>> A Tale of Two Welcomes

>> Creating a Welcoming Climate

A Tale of Two Welcomes

This past week, my 3 brothers and I took our annual pilgrimage up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for some bro get-away time. We hike, we play tennis, we joust over the card table, we verbally spar – it’s a fun time to re-connect. And we love upper New England in October.

There’s a lot of tourist activity in this part of the United States, so it’s interesting to see how different states and communities pull it off. Shortly after entering Vermont on I-91, there is a Welcome Center (Guilford exit) that trumps all other welcome centers I’ve ever seen—>

Beautiful post and beam construction. An eye-catching variety of country implements, Vermont memorabilia, information stations, clean restrooms, lovely exterior design and landscaping – and a huge carved-in-granite welcome sign. Plus, as a bonus, there was a pavilion outside inhabited by friendly locals who were serving coffee and selling a nice and diverse selection of baked goods (many of the healthy/organic variety). One of whom went out of her way to take a group picture of us.

A Welcome To Vermont that was truly memorable.

Then, on the way back south after our stay (which was lovely, by the way – the fall colors were just about at their peak), we left Vermont and re-entered Massachusetts. Now, I’ll try to be fair here – the more touristy sections of the great state of Massachusetts are to the east (Boston and shoreline) and to the west (Berkshires). But I-91 is a major corridor, and I’d like to think the powers-that-be would want to leave a good impression of the state. At least a nice welcome.

Instead? After the obligatory Welcome to Massachusetts sign at the border – “Pull-off area, 2 miles.” No Welcome Center. No facilities. Not even – get this – a trash can.

Well, at least there was a nice threat. Does this type of user experience encourage a repeat visit to the state? Is this the memory anyone wants to leave?

Now, not many of us are in charge of state tourism bureaus. But we do run businesses. And first and foremost on our minds should be our Welcome Centers. What is it like when people first encounter us on social platforms, for instance? A barren, sterile, and functional presentation with nothing to offer the user isn’t going to be particularly memorable – except in a negative sense. A vibrant place of beauty and interest and personal interaction, however, can color the impression of an entire entity – all the way up to the level of an entire state, let alone a business.

I’m a New England boy, so I happen to know all the goodness that Massachusetts has to offer. But had this “welcome center” experience been my first impression of the state, it may have also been my last – and my lasting – impression.

How’s your welcome center? Your first impression may be the last. Make it like Vermont!

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Related posts on Connection Agent:

>> Creating a Welcoming Climate

>> Sweet Customer Service by Vosges

A Creative Visual Resume

In response to this recent blog post, a friend forwarded me a copy of a resume he recently worked up (and, yes, it helped him get a new position!) – I thought it was quite creative and visually appealing, so I’m sharing it with you.

Identifying information about specific companies has been greyed out, but underneath the grey boxes are corporate logos. It was a nice touch.

My friend used wordle.net to generate the word cloud, and Google docs to create graphs and charts. Nice and simple.

Click to biggify—->

(Page 1 of the resume has a nice pic of the candidate with contact info and the word cloud; page 2 has the other info. I’ve joined the elements into one graphic).

So, what do you think of this approach? Would you use it, as a job candidate? Would it get your attention, as a hiring manager? Also – if you’ve seen other examples on-line of creative resumes, please add links to them in the comments!

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> Don’t Do These Three Things on LinkedIn

Does Your Resume Have A Missing Narrative?

I’m reviewing a resume for a friend, and it’s got a lot of great stuff. Solid and multi-faceted experience, a diversity of roles, evidence of solid talent.

But it’s missing something – something crucial that most resumes and LinkedIn profiles seem to lack.

An overall narrative.

A conversation this week with a solo consultant also brought this issue to the surface. He’s been doing a lot of different projects since being out on his own, but there’s really no storyline to tie it together. Current work, past roles, future direction – they don’t paint a clear picture.

We humans are hard-wired for stories. We want things to fit into an overall progression, showing steps toward a destination and the evolution of the main character. Other people relate to us through our narratives.

Our careers – our lives – have a narrative. Our challenge is to tie it all together and trace the story.

For most of us, the story is not all fairy-tale and unicorns. That’s OK. No-one can relate to that kind of faux narrative anyway. But your many experiences as a professional always have an interesting story to tell (hint: the plot is always progress, through finding your core strengths and progressively succeeding).

Resumes with lists and bullet points are forgettable commodities. Your story, however, is unique. And no-one can tell it better than you!

My Career Fragmentation Story

In a prior post (De-Fragmenting Your Business), I introduced the imagery of fragmentation to describe how, over time, our professional identities can become cloudy and unclear. Ever feel like your career has been full of bits and pieces that don’t entirely make sense together? Yeah – that!

Have I been through this? Indeed! So…let’s use my pinball-like career history as a brief case study to illustrate the process of both fragmentation and (eventual) illumination…

First, I should say that I have held many jobs that had little to do with pursuit of a career direction – like many younger folks, I exchanged time and effort for a paycheck doing things like delivering newspapers, working a McDonald’s grill, cleaning bathrooms, bagging groceries, construction, and waiting on tables. I even worked in a plastics factory one summer. Now THAT was unfulfilling (and malodorous)!

Actually, the second summer I worked at a McDonald’s, so did the woman who would become my wife. So don’t despise any work, OK? :>}

My first real career job was in sales – specifically, high-tech radiation medicine equipment. I took that job for one simple reason – money. Turns out I was smart enough to learn the field and the equipment, and persistent enough to make sales. That job also began to bring out something that was nascent in my makeup – a talent for marketing and messaging. But I was an introvert, I was not highly confident, I was task-oriented more than people-oriented – really, I wasn’t much of a salesperson. I was not driven by numbers, had little of that killer instinct, and I had to learn how to become outgoing. I did earn trust, however, which can partially make up for a multitude of weaknesses. Eventually I started managing a small field force, but that also was not a strong suit. The whole sales/management role thing was like walking in a pair of shoes that never really fit. Been there?

Around the end of my 10 years there, the world wide web showed up. I was hooked. Without any guidance or mandate, I learned basic HTML and created the company’s first website. Instantaneous, global, visual communication? I was all-in! And I wanted to get deeper into that world for my next career step.

So, I learned that I could handle technical stuff, I enjoyed marketing, and I saw the potential for digital communications. Also, years before, I had gotten an initial taste of what personal strength/makeup assessment was all about. That continued to fascinate my analytical makeup.

The next position, with a software company servicing the pharmaceutical industry, allowed me to continue to get my geek on, and to grow more in the marketing arena. But my primary responsibility was still sales, and I did my best to create new business. However, partway into my 10-year tenure there, we hired a REAL salesperson, and as I watched her in action, I finally realized something – I’m not wired as a classic sales person at all. Hello, mis-matched role! Actually, turns out that I’m a problem-solver. I’m consultative. I like designing new solutions. And, in this job, I got to also taste software design, project management, corporate leadership, strategic alliance development, enterprise IT collaboration – all of which helped me to clarify what was, and wasn’t, in my DNA.

Social media began to dawn during the latter half of my time there, and once again, I saw the future. In some way not yet definable, I knew that a large shift was underway, and I needed to be part of it. And I was beginning to understand more of what my sweet spot truly was. I compulsively saw holes in the marketplace, and couldn’t stop thinking of creative new ways to solve business challenges.

I was a consultant-communicator-builder – who loved digital.

What was happening during these years was both a fragmentation (trying to perform in a variety of differing roles and titles) and a refinement (this I can do; that I cannot do; this I can do really well). My conclusion since then is that many of us can do 8-10 things adequately, but there are typically 1-2 (maybe 3) things that we truly love, and do exceptionally well. It took a long time to figure that out – in all the fragments of ore, our main job is to find our unique nuggets of gold and run with them.

It was my intention 6 years ago to build a company around my specific strengths and long-term vision, and to put aside the fragments that weren’t core. So, my current solopreneur job is designed around me. I consult, I build opportunity networks, and I’m a vendor/client matchmaker. And, in the process of working with a variety of vendors, I discovered something else that had been slowly simmering over my entire career – I am an intuitive identity analyst who can help people and companies discover their DNA and brand themselves. Now my sweet spot has become clear: assess purpose; distill message; define opportunities; connect with targeted others. Or, to put it another way – helping individuals and businesses de-fragment and gain clarity about their sweet spot!

It took a looooong time for that train to arrive at the station.

Lots of trial-and-error over many years got me to those four verbs (assess, distill, define, connect). Various roles and titles  brought certain strengths to the surface, while also creating the discomfort of mis-matched capabilities. And many good friends along the way gave objective input to help gain a 20/20 view. I believe that some level of pinball-like experience is likely for most of us, but many individuals and businesses never seem to get to the point of sorting through the fragments and refining down to a clear roadmap. And addressing that problem is the passion that burns in my soul.

Why should any of us – individuals or businesses – settle for working at 30%, or 40%, or 50% of our true capacity? What is stopping us from finding our sweet spot and prospering there, instead of floundering elsewhere? I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to view the fog of fragmentation as one of the biggest threats to productivity in our entire economy. Too many great people are adrift in mis-matched roles, and too many companies are doing the wrong kinds of work. Maybe we can get that right first, then worry about six sigma and team-building exercises later!

So, that’s my story of fragmentation and gradual illumination. There’s a massive relief when you can distill down to the key verbs that reflect your strength, and also plug in the right coordinates into your professional GPS.

Do your career shoes fit yet? Do yourself a favor – get there quicker than I did!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> De-Fragmenting Your Business

Want To Be Taken Seriously As A Consultant? Don’t Do This.

The last thing you want to do is blow up your own message – right?

It may sound old-school, but: yes, spelling matters.

For crying out loud, the squiggly line is telling you to spell-check. No only do you fail to do so, you actually use the screen shot highlighting your error??

This, in an article about how to be a high-priced consultant.

Here’s STEP 10 – Don’t shoot yourself in the foot if you’re trying to run a race.

(now, off to spell-check this blog post before pressing Publish….!)

De-Fragmenting Your Business

As I talk in-depth to small business people (including consultants), I am seeing a pattern over and over again. I think it may actually be endemic for most businesses. Fragmentation.

(apologies, in advance, for the Ugly Graphic!)

What do I mean? Well, over time, offerings become more diverse or less focused (sometimes in response to a rapidly-evolving marketplace), and messages get muddled. Soon, customers are really not sure what we do anymore – instead of being the default “go-to” for some very specific service or product, we’re…a supplier of something, broadly speaking.

In fact, this fragmentation subtly leads us into the habit of broadly speaking, instead of having a precise message. And, like a hard drive with too much scattered data, our messaging becomes inefficient. Hence, the need for regular de-fragmentation.

I see this in larger settings as well, such as pharmaceutical training departments. Courses, programs, workshops – they get added over time to address specific needs, and where once there may have been a strategically-designed curriculum, now there is fragmentation – particularly in a fast-evolving setting.

In fact, this is common among individuals – people who reach a point in their career where they’ve done a bunch of things, but are no longer clear on what their true core competencies and their ideal direction really are. Personal/professional fragmentation.

Have you experienced this? What have you done to de-frag your business and get back to a clear focus?

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> Don’t Do These Three Things on LinkedIn

Branding the Flag

I’m going to really step in it today, but a (political/branding) discussion with strong feelings is already brewing, and maybe we can attempt to have a reasonable conversation about it.

Think with me for a few minutes.

Yesterday, on the Barack Obama twitter feed, the following tweet appeared, with a link leading to the image shown below:

(one of several posters you can order for $35.00)

My immediate reaction was one of being offended, a sentiment shared by many others, judging from the on-line reaction. This is hardly, of course, the first time that the American flag has been artistically altered in some fashion. However, the immediate message that this graphic sent to me was that we Americans are to be united under Mr. Obama. The replacement of the 50 stars and the 13 stripes (representing people and states united under a Constitution), seemed jarring and presumptuous. If a big Romney R were in the upper left corner, I’d feel the same way. From a branding perspective, should it not be obvious that this approach would offend many who feel a deep reverence for the American flag? How would people in the Armed Services feel about seeing this rendition?

You. Just. Don’t. Do. That. Or so it seemed to me on the gut reaction level.

But that’s my reaction. And I’m interested to know how others feel. I’m going to encourage you to add your comment, but here are the ground rules:

1. In one sentence, describe your gut emotional reaction to this graphic and approach, in one of three ways: Offensive, Neutral, Positive.

2. In that same sentence or perhaps one other, explain why you feel that way.

On this blog, we talk a lot about branding, and a lot about condensed and vivid messaging. Political campaigns are all about that. I’d like to know how others respond to altered flag imagery.

DO NOT go off on a political rampage about Romney, Obama, Bush, Iraq, the deficit, Putin, Ayn Rand, or whatever – those arguments are raging everywhere and this blog isn’t the place for it. Don’t go on a bashing rampage about “the other” political party. I’ll delete such comments. Let’s keep it to a discussion of this one issue about use of American flag imagery in this particular instance. If you have longer-form thoughts about artistic use of flag imagery in general, you might want to have that discussion on your own blog. Agreed?

Go!

Book Review: Fierce Loyalty

There are any number of books – thousands, really – that will give you advice on how to build a business. But nowadays, that’s not enough. How do you build a community?

That’s the topic Sarah Robinson is addressing in a brief but meaty e-book called Fierce Loyalty. I talk a lot about professional DNA at the individual level – Sarah scales up to examine something equally vital: the DNA of successful communities.

From a summary of the book:

Building and sustaining a fiercely loyal community of clients, customers and raving fans is critical for success in today’s turbulent marketplace. Organizations, both corporate and non-profit, that are thriving have discovered a secret – the underlying DNA shared by all wildly successful communities. Fierce Loyalty unlocks this secret DNA and lays out a clear model that any organization of any size can follow.

Business strategist Sarah Robinson helps you break down the process and gives you clear, specific steps for a fiercely loyal community squarely in the center of your business plan. Drawing on her own extensive experience as well as her research into the inner working of some of the most successful communities around, Sarah de-mystifies the process and gives an actionable model along with real-world case studies and action steps designed to make Fierce Loyal happen in your organization.

This is not a dry, drawn-out business book. It has a more personal and informal tone, and is more suggestive (demonstrating a framework of community-building) than exhaustive (300 pages of mind-numbing research, quotes, examples, and fluff – you know that drill!)

Speaking of practical and down-to-earth, I particularly like this perspective, right up front on page 10: I learned one very important lesson as I took on the challenges of my first job. It’s a lesson that will help you face your own challenges as you build Fierce Loyalty. Once you grasp it, you’ll use it again and again and it will propel you forward no matter what stands in your path. That lesson was and is: make a decision. Every day, decide that a fiercely loyal community is your goal, no matter what.

Sarah outlines the details of fiercely loyal community creation into these 5 building blocks:

  1. A Captivating Common Interest
  2. People Who Share this Common Interest
  3. A Set of Compelling Needs
  4. A Specific Organizational Structure
  5. Advanced Evolution of the Community

I won’t give any more away, but if you need an excerpt to whet your appetite – well, click right here!

Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in this book, nor are any links above affiliate links. I do think highly of Sarah and her work, however! And, she did provide me with a free copy of the e-book to review.

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> Publishing on a Diet – SlimBooks

Four Reasons Why I Bought a Ford This Weekend

This weekend, I did something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before.

I went to a Ford dealer and bought a Ford automobile.

We tried getting by with our two cars but, with 2 high-school age kids and the ever-growing list of places-to-go and people-to-see, we finally had to make an addition. The odd fact is, that I never even bothered seriously considering another make of car this time around. This, from someone whose last few business cars were all Mazdas and whose family van is currently a Toyota.

Why? Let me give you four simple reasons:

1. Quality. I don’t care what the item is, or what the argument for domestic production is, if you’re not high-quality, you don’t earn my business. Ford has been making great strides in this area, enough that they slowly but surely edged back onto my radar screen. When my 18-year old and I took a test drive in a gently used 2010 Fusion, we were quite impressed (at the top of his list: the sound system, and the cool blue vanity lighting in the cupholders!)

2. Scott Monty. Scott is Ford’s social media guru, though I became acquainted with him back in 2007 or 2008, before his tenure with Ford. Scott has done a great job putting a more human face on a venerable American institution, and that goodwill (earned over time) translated into, not only consideration, but strong leaning, when it was time to make a purchase. It pays to hire good people. If you’re keeping score, President and CEO Alan Mulally: +1, Scott Monty.

3. Principle. Ford had the guts to refuse the government bailout years ago. While Chrysler and General Motors decided to become state-run institutions (or facsimiles thereof), Ford held to free-market principles. Thousands of us Americans never forgot that, and when it was time to make a purchase this weekend, guess which two companies were not even in the running? Granted, Ford is not some perfect company filled with angelic beings, nor are the employees of GM and Chrysler the spawn of evil. I reserve the right to re-consider GM products in the future, of course – but only if and when they are no longer a ward of the federal government. It’s not personal – it’s principle.

4. Referral. My entire solopreneur business model is based on trusted referrals. When I reached out on Facebook about my upcoming decision, a good friend (thanks, Janice!) recommended that I deal with Tommy Garcia over at Wayne (NJ) Ford. They also said that the General Manager (Troy Mol) was great. I reached out on-line and got an immediate and friendly response from Milca Irizarry, and meeting each of them over at the dealership was a pleasure. Purchasing cars can be a dreadful experience. My time at Wayne Ford has, without a doubt, helped advance my view of the Ford brand. If you’re keeping score, Mr. Mulally: +3, Wayne Ford.

I am not going to change the world of business by one little car purchase, or through any of my social media rants about it (e.g., here and here). But this entire experience simply reinforces the power of what should be obvious, in any business. Make great stuff. Do the right thing. Hire the right people. Treat customers right. And the end result will be the vein of gold that every business seeks – enthusiastic referrals. And sometimes, very public commendations…

(lest there be fuel for cynics, so let me say up-front that I have received no financial or other consideration for writing this post. I just believe in telling it like it is – and that includes the good stuff when it is earned!)

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

>> How I Manage My Introversion

Discovering Your Professional DNA

Wouldn’t it be nice if each of us, at age 20, got a personalized report and one-on-one counseling session detailing exactly what our professional capabilities and strengths are? What a time- and trouble-saver! “We’ve sequenced your professional DNA, Jacqueline, and here is the career arc you should pursue…”

Dream on.

The reality is, we tend to discover our professional DNA by a trial-and-error process. We move from job to job, finding out what types of roles and work environments seem to bring out the best (or worst) in us.

Some people stumble into their life’s work early on, but for most of us, the process looks something like this:

(horizontal axis equals time; vertical axis represents nearness to DNA sweet spot; blocks represent different job roles)

We often focus on climbing the ladder of bigger titles and higher salaries, when our first priority should be discovering our true purpose and identity. You’ve seen people who absolutely flourish in their roles, right? They’ve hit their sweet spot. Yet many others feel that they’re trapped, working at maybe 50% capacity, and spending far too much time in the grey than the blue (referencing my Ugly Graphic above).

Sadly, some never come to understand what their true potential is, or become stuck in a mis-matched job role with diminishing chances of escape. This happened to my Dad and it set me on a determined quest not to end up in that same position. Hence my passion for Clarity Therapy.

Apple will announce its new iPhone 5 today. What if you rushed out to buy it, with maximum memory and a 2-year data plan, all for the sole use of making one 5-minute phone call a day to check on your daughter in college. Would that be best use of its real potential? That’s what happens when we settle for less than discovering our unique professional DNA, and designing our career around it.

We often need assessments (<–great story!), and outside expertise, to help us figure ourselves out. Take the time to do it. It’s your future. No-one else should be designing it. That’s your role!

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Finding Your Sweet Spot

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

Publishing on a Diet – SlimBooks

I don’t know how many times I’ve thought (and said), “Most business books are 30-50% too long.

It’s not that there isn’t value in the content. It’s just that the reader has a lot of work to do in order to distill it. Can’t we buy 100-proof books instead?

This appears to be the approach of SlimBooks. So, when Sarah Evans announced that her new book, [Re]Frame, was available through SlimBooks, I had to check it out. Not only because I think highly of Sarah, but also because of the SlimBooks format.

I like what I’m seeing.

The era of quick and simple electronic publishing is well underway; traditional publishing is being thoroughly disrupted. With ventures like Seth Godin‘s Domino Project and Tim SandersNet Minds, we’ll continue to see innovative new way to introduce voices into the marketplace. SlimBooks looks like a great addition to the mix – it seems to me like a perfect format for at least two types of books:

  1. Nugget collections
  2. Distilled, focused content (without all the fluff)

Sarah’s book falls into the first category. It is a series of brief thoughts, drawn from her life and business experience. It’s the kind of book designed for a quick pep talk each morning, helping you “re-frame” how you look at challenges and opportunities. It’s folksy, practical, personal, and to the point. And, importantly, it’s Sarah – not some unrecognizable version of Sarah fitting into a pre-baked business book format.

Worth $4.95? Sure. [Re]Frame will probably provide greater value to those earlier on in their career arc, but I already found myself musing a new blog post based on the idea contained in the chapter, Be An Owner (a “chapter” in this book being, typically, 1.5 pages!)

As someone for whom distillation of content and ideas seems to be a DNA-level blessing/curse, the potential for the second type of book fascinates me. Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I think traditional books don’t refine the gold very well, and leave us with far too much ore. I suspect that there are many potential authors out there, who have valuable ideas but for whom the traditional publishing format (both writing and business) is a mismatch. It will be interesting to see new voices liberated through the availability of a platform that approaches content in a different manner.

Will we see a spate of new “diet” books? I hope so – as long as the content is nutritious and the extra calories are left out!

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How I Manage My Introversion

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

Do Introverts Have a Pulse?

Being wired as an introvert is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it has tremendous advantages – we all, as a society, simply need to better understand how introverts (typically) operate with their built-in makeup (for background, see my post last week: How I Manage My Introversion).

We may be quieter, but yes, we do have a pulse, thank you very much!

There are several helpful ways to better understand how introverts handle the stimulation of human relationships (compared to their more extroverted companions). In fact, one way is to think about relational involvement in terms of pulses.

One pattern common to introverts is a need to withdraw for periods of quiet and solitude. While extroverts tend to feed off of a steady stream of human contact, introverts typically are wired with a more frequently-used On-Off switch. When “On” with other people, introverts can appear little different from extroverts – we can be engaging, outgoing, and glad to talk to people (though often tending to favor smaller groupings or one-on-one discussions rather than the milling crowd). But our cup of interaction fills up pretty rapidly – we may have a coffee mug’s worth of interaction capacity, while our extroverted friends have a super-sized Slurpee-cup-capacity to mingle and chat.

We introverts then need a break to process and re-charge. Introverts often prefer to handle stimulation in a pulsed fashion, with more On-Off control, while extroverts are typically energized by higher levels of human contact.

Not being an extrovert, I cannot speak with as much certainty, but I suspect the red bars would tend to be significantly higher and wider, while the blue bars might be a bit lower and narrower – and the green “quiet times” probably shorter and less frequent. What do you think?

(by the way – I fully realize that I’m generalizing in any post like this, and that there are always variations and individual exceptions. What we’re seeking to identify here are broad trends!)

Introverts aren’t being anti-social when they avoid some social settings (or feel the need to spend a shorter time in them). We’re just instinctively avoiding overload, and taking the time to think through what we’ve seen and heard. In my particular case, my mind is constantly analyzing, atomizing, systematizing, categorizing, figuring out alternatives – and I’m learning to give myself that space. It doesn’t stop me from in-depth interactions, pro-actively building an extensive network, selling my services, speaking publicly – but that all has to occur in pulses, or the boat becomes unbalanced and starts to totter.

If  you tend more toward extroversion, hopefully this will help you understand those of us who seem to need more quiet. If you’re an introvert – what are your strategies for keeping up a healthy pulse?

(Light switch image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net Ugly graph: I take full responsibility)

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How I Manage My Introversion

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

Finding Your Sweet Spot

For some, work is simply an exchange of time for money, living for the weekend when the real fun begins. But for many of us, work is a crucial piece of the puzzle of maximizing our potential. This post is for the latter group.

The holy grail of a career that brings together our abilities, our greatest value to others, and an ongoing sense of deep fulfillment is often found only after a long process of trial-and-error (if it is found at all). Along the way, we yearn to find the sweet spot – that place and role where we really fit. I often think of the process as like a pinball machine – while we’d love to think that our lives proceed along a nice, straight, well-planned arc, the reality is that we often bounce from here to there, learning along the way what works well and what doesn’t. I worked in Sales for many years before concluding that I’m really not a naturally gifted salesperson. By the same token, I can now look back (in retrospect) and see that certain of my marketing instincts were present, though unrecognized, way back in my teens. It took a long while for them to surface professionally.

So, if you’ve found your sweet spot (or if you’re on the journey), what has helped you to begin to see your “fit” more clearly? Was it wise counsel from a friend or co-worker? Was it a particular book (for me, the book Now, Discover Your Strengths was absolutely revolutionary)? A formal personality inventory/assessment? Was it just the ongoing analysis of circumstances and performance over time that helped you see your personal and professional bulls-eye?

I believe that one of our highest life challenges is finding our sweet spot and running our best course. I also know that many people in their 30′s, 40′s, and 50′s are still searching, still asking what they’re going to do when they grow up. Tell your story in the comments – and, how would you advise others? Let’s discuss – I’m very curious to see how others have moved toward their bulls-eye in life.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

___________

Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Following Your Passion: A Story

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

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