Friend, Human, Marketer

Small world

The world is smaller than you think.

Even with billions of people on the Earth, our paths are constantly crossing with people we know in unexpected places.  It’s because of the many trails we leave: past friends from living in previous cities, former colleagues at old jobs, buddies from school, or activity groups.  We run our lives in smaller universes than we realize.  The LinkedIn / Kevin Bacon / degrees of separation game is very real.

It can be dangerous, if you forget to treat people well. More than one job applicant has been denied a position because word got around of his low performance three jobs ago, or because she made enemies who then found the ear of her hiring manager.  Of course the solution to that is pretty straightforward: do a good job and don’t step on people on the way.

It can also be delightful, when coincidences lead to chance meetings.  For example, my wife and I were up in Maine, hours away from home, celebrating our 17th anniversary.  While huddled around a firepit making s’mores, another guest peering over the flames said to me, “Are you Jeff?  Jeff Foley?”  It was my former coworker Victor, whom I hadn’t seen in almost two decades.  My wife burst out, “You took the very first picture of us as a couple!  We framed it and had it on our piano for years!”  It was true: one of the last times we saw Victor was on what was probably our third date, a going-away cruise marking an important transition for our company as it was acquired by a competitor.

These stories are always remarkable.  The guy whose new boyfriend turns out to be the neighbor’s best friend.  The dinner invite turned down that a couple realizes, a decade later, would have caused them to meet two years earlier than they did.  The Facebook “wait, how do you two know each other?” moment in which you learn a best friend from kindergarten went to grad school with a trusted coworker.  All because the world is smaller than you think.

We re-live our impact on others again and again.  (Just in case any of you needed more motivation not to be an asshole.)

Father, Homeowner, Husband, Leadership, Marketer

Strategic vs Tactical

Our days are so full of tasks to complete, like quests in a never-ending role-playing game.

Laundry, dishes, decluttering, bills, groceries, straightening, meal prep, errands.

Emails, phone calls, status reports, one-on-one check-ins, presentation revisions, invoices.

Decisions, optimizations, quick fixes, interventions, assists, demonstrations, coordinations, deferments.

It’s both exhilarating and exhausting to check off items from the ever-growing to-do list, whether it’s explicitly written out before you or churning amorphously in your overloaded brain.

That’s why it’s so important to take a step back.  To climb a tree and make sure your team is swinging the machete in the right direction as you all hack through the jungle:

  • What are we trying to do?  Why are we doing it?
  • What does success look like?  Is there a metric, a milestone, a goal to shoot for?
  • Where do we want to be in 1, 3, 5, 10 years?  How do we get there?
  • Do all of us agree?

Whether it’s your family, your coworkers, your activity group, your circle of friends… one rarely hears of anyone accused of being “too strategic.”  Get away for a weekend.  Have an offsite.  Go on a retreat.  Meet for a drink.  And while you’re away from the checklists, figure out where you’re going.  Then you’ll find joy in having a progress bar to go along with your checklist.

Human, Marketer, Musician

Finding the Opportunity

Finding opportunities out of obligations is about more than the old optimist’s creed of “making lemonade from lemons.”  It’s about efficiency.  It’s about attitude.  It’s about shaping your reality.

Once my dad was told to attend a dinner event 3 hours away to represent the company, accept an award, and shake hands with the governor for a 5 minute photo-op.  My dad’s initial reaction was annoyance – this disrupts my work day and takes me away from home, there’s so many other things that need to be done, why me, and so on.  Then he realized that he was doing this anyways – why not make it an opportunity?  He decided that he’d use those 5 minutes with the governor to draw his attention to a project that wasn’t getting attention.  There’s evidence that those 5 minutes actually contributed to that project’s approval.  He created value out of what could have been a waste of time.

The chorus I sing with is requiring its members to do 9 holiday concerts this year instead of 7.  Like many, my initial reaction was a mixture of panic and disappointment – especially since the news was communicated without fanfare, gratitude, or acknowledgement of the change. How could they do this to us? How much more will this cost our family to ‘volunteer’? And so on.  Then I realized that the holiday concerts have really changed from years ago, when they were perceived by many as a burden, an obligation, a mandatory exercise with a substitute conductor and a high temptation to mail it in. The new approach is to treat each concert like a music-making experience, and the rehearsals and pedagogy associated with them are basically a voice lesson for me every time.  I’ll take two more cheap voice lessons and performances this December, especially given that this may be my last season if I’m not in the chorus after next spring’s re-audition!

Life is more enjoyable when you reframe obligations as opportunities.

Marketer

On the Road Again

As a marketer, often the best thing you can do to improve your work is talk to customers.

Too often marketers climb up into their Ivory Tower and guess at what prospects are most concerned about.  They make up messaging.  They forget that they’re not the target audience.

You can survive on a diet of second-hand reports from the sales team, of listening in to a few sales calls, of case studies from successful customers, of analyst research on what the market wants.  But there’s no substitute sometimes for standing in a trade show booth, at a larger industry event, talking to every one who comes by to find out what makes them tick, why they’re skeptical about your pitch, and why they won’t buy your stuff.

There’s a certain joy in it, too, because you know you’re getting valuable results from the time you put in — time that many other marketers won’t.  Common sense, not commonly practiced.

Friend, Marketer

One door closes…

An unhealthy number of good people I know are going through unplanned transitions now.  Their jobs were eliminated in a restructuring.  Or, their company finished a project and cut everyone involved.  Or, the new leader of their auditioned chorus did not invite them to stay after their re-audition.

Here’s what I have tried to remind all of them, based on my own experiences:

  • You’re good at what you do. You’ve just gone through a rejection.  You’re going to question your abilities, wonder whether you’re good enough, debate whether you should just chuck it all and do something else with your life instead.  While it’s worth evaluating what you like and don’t like about your career path, don’t let imposter syndrome chase you off of it.
  • It’ll work out.  These are not just idle words. Yes, they’re highly likely to be true — most good people out of work find something, it’s just a matter of time.  But even more importantly, they’re more likely to be true if you believe they’re likely to be true.  Interviewing from a position of confidence and strength, not desperation and worry, makes a huge difference.
  • Find other people to tell you these things. This is perhaps the most important, because no matter how much self-confidence you have, and how convinced you are that it’ll work out… it’s incredibly helpful to get validation from outside your skull.  Surround yourself with supporters.  Check in with colleagues who can reaffirm that they liked working with you, would work with you again, and will put in a good word for you should you need it.

Good luck, my friends.  There’s a joyful next step out there, just keep looking for it.

 

Marketer

Copy editing

“You’re gonna come crawling back to the humanities,” said Mrs. Thomas, my 12th grade English teacher, as I headed off to get my engineering degree.

How did she know that years later, I’d take joy one evening in going through a draft of a marketing datasheet, and…

  • Replacing passive voice with active
  • Making sure bullet points follow parallelism
  • Killing unimaginative verbs like leveraging, enabling, and allowing
  • Removing first person
  • Cutting up long sentences into shorter, clearer ones
  • Ditching a comma splice
  • Adjusting product names to comply with trademark guidelines
  • Cutting redundancies like “new and emerging”
  • Fixing hyphens: no in “frequently changing,” yes in “hands-free”

And enjoying it the whole time? Programming in English is something I enjoy doing. Mrs. Thomas knew it but it took me many years to figure it out for myself.

Marketer

New blood

If only every organization could bring in a new member every few weeks.

The energy and enthusiasm brought by a new hire, early in his or her career, who’s just happy to be there and excited to contribute, could power a small city.  “Eat this brick,” you could say, and the new hire would go NOM NOM NOM and wipe off the brick crumbs and say, “What else you got?” Those people are ready to take on the world and prove themselves.

Better yet, it gives a boost to the rest of the organization.  It reminds everyone why they’re there in the first place.  “Right! If I’m doing it right, this is supposed to be fun — or at least, fulfilling.” As all of us slowly get lost in the mundane, in the ever-growing task list, in the race to the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the quarter… we don’t always remember to poke our heads up and say, why are we here?  Seeing someone define that during that first day, that first week, that first month, serves to help all of us renew our purpose as well.