All I Need to Know about Business I Learned from a Duck


How to Train the “Lions” in Your Sales Department

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Check out the video, below, of lions chasing wildebeest. What caught my attention was the moment they gave up the hunt.

A lion’s survival balances on the point between how much energy it will lose in hunting for a meal and the energy it will gain actually eating it. It’s a trade-off that needs to be mastered quickly by all predators in the natural world if they are to live and thrive.

It’s also an important calculation that owners, managers and supervisors need to apply in the business world, especially within sales departments.

Unlike lions, most salespeople don’t know when to abandon chasing down a prospect. Why? Most likely it’s because their sales manager didn’t provide clear, rational guidelines regarding when to abandon the hunt!

Here are three ideas that you can provide to your sales team to help them gauge whether a prospect is worth a drawn out chase:

1. Does the prospect’s brand really have a point of difference in the marketplace? Landing a new client that really doesn’t “have a better mousetrap” can be a losing proposition in the long run. Most likely, prospects with products and services that are viewed as commodities will not survive for long in the marketplace. So if a prospect doesn’t occupy a unique or differentiated position, stop your pursuit and find a better target.

2. When sales prospects stop taking your calls, it’s never a good sign. As a general rule, after unsuccessfully trying to contact the prospect five (5) times, give up the chase, ask your marketing department to put them on a drip marketing campaign (send your prospect something interesting or of value every quarter) and go after a more promising prize.

3. Ask your social media contacts about your prospect and whether or not they feel your mark is worth pursuing. I prefer using LinkedIn where I have 500+ connections and over 7 million people in my LinkedIn Network. Even if you only have 50 connections, I believe LinkedIn is a valuable, under-utilized market intelligence resource.

Share those three practical pieces of advice with everyone in your sales department and you’ll have my permission to add the title “Lion Trainer” to your resume.

How To Make The Invisible, Visible (In Nature And In Business)

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

In his IMAX film “Hidden Miracles of the Natural World” Louie Schwartzberg reminds us that we are surrounded by things we can’t see.  His life’s work is to explore the natural world using technology that makes the invisible, visible hoping that his discoveries will open minds, expand horizons and transform perceptions.

As I was watching Louie’s TED presentation (please click on the video, below), I was reminded that business leaders might want to follow in his footsteps by asking the question, “What elements of my business are invisible to me and my management team?”  Additionally, management might also heed something that Mark Twain is credited with authoring, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Schwartzberg uses high speed and time lapse photography, electron microscopes and other high tech tools to reveal aspects of nature that are not visible to the naked eye.  Knowing that 95% of thinking happens in our unconscious (which obviously is an invisible process), in business our best tool for exposing how consumers make buying decisions is utilizing surveys, questionnaires and focus groups to determine why customers do or don’t buy certain products and services.  Yet despite the huge resources spent on these research methods, nearly 80% of new offerings fail (at this point you might want to reread the Mark Twain quote, above)!

Recent advances in the sciences of mind indicate that decisions are influenced by both emotion and reason, and most thought is metaphoric in nature.  Traditional research methods do not account for these and other complexities of the mind.  To my knowledge the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET) is “the only technique designed to learn how knowledge hidden in the unconscious mind combines with conscious knowledge to produce behavior”.

Are your customer’s most deeply-felt beliefs and emotions toward your product or organization visible to you?  Are you sure?  For more information about ZMET please go to the following website:

If You’re Over Age 55, To Survive In Tomorrow’s Workforce You’ll Need To Think Like A Bee

Friday, January 24th, 2014

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, the number of working Americans over 55 years old will grow quickly over the next decade. Most of the increase is thanks to people between the ages of 65 and 74 years old (who are between 57 and 66 today). In 2002, these workers made up just 20.4% of the workforce, but 10 years from now they will account for 31.9%.

So you’ll not only be competing against younger people for jobs and promotions, but you’ll be up against peers, who in the past would have retired from the workforce.

Question: What can you do to increase your value to an organization and thereby differentiate yourself from young whippersnappers and old coots, as well?

Answer: Think like a honey bee. (Believe it or not, bees have the same kind of brain cells as humans.) Please click on the video, below.

No, I’m not advocating that you should inject yourself with bee venom to reverse brain aging, but I am suggesting that you might improve your cognitive and creative abilities by tinkering with how you interact with your surroundings. Developing more “youthful thinking” might be as easy as “being unafraid to try new things and understanding that the best way to learn is to do, fail, fix and learn from that.”*

Finally, if you are like me and work from home (in the period 2005-2011 U.S. teleworking grew 73% – today one in four U.S. workers works from home, at least some of the time) working all alone creates stress. While developing strong social connections with fellow workers may be difficult, it could be another key factor in helping your brain to stay younger.

*Taken from the book Spark for the Fire written by Ian Warton

How To Rid Yourself Of Analysis Paralysis In 5 Easy Steps

Monday, December 16th, 2013

At some point in your business career you either have or you will eventually run up against analysis paralysis.  Whether you are the cause of it, or it is occurring somewhere within your organization, this dysfunctional behavior is costing American businesses millions, primarily in lost opportunity costs.

Simply defined, analysis paralysis is occurring if anybody is habitually thinking about something happening but they’re not making it happen.

Early stages are characterized by numerous requests for more information, reports, studies, statistics, and evaluations.

If these requests are accompanied by endless, mindless discussions in multiple meetings, and if participants view the discussions as progress on the matter, you can confidently diagnose the situation as full-blown analysis paralysis.

Step 1 in ridding you and/or your organization of this affliction is to watch the video, below:

Using the fox as “inspiration” or guidance, Step 2 is to give yourself a defined period of time to finish the process of data gathering. Granted when the fox was homing in on the field mouse he didn’t set a timer, but maybe you should.

Step 3 is to listen to your gut. What does your instinct tell you to do?

Step 4 is to do a mental dry run. Mentally replay your imaginary outcome over and over again until you feel confident in moving forward.

Step 5 is to take the leap! Make a commitment to act by a certain date, and like the fox, dive headfirst into your plan.

What Can We Learn About Creating Strong Brands From A Frog?

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

The Alaskan Wood Frog (species Rana sylvatica for all of you zoologists) isn’t merely “better” at surviving harsh winters than other species of frogs; it has completely set itself apart from every other animal on the entire planet. Put succinctly, these wood frogs can turn themselves into a Popsicle (freeze up to two-thirds of the water in their bodies) in the winter and reanimate (come back to life) after thawing in the spring. Absolutely no other creature on earth can survive this. Click on the video, below, and see for yourself.

How do they do it? Scientists have discovered that Alaskan Wood Frogs stockpile huge amounts of glycogen (complex sugar) in their livers, which grow 1.5-fold relative to body mass as it prepares for winter (think of them as a walking liver!). The liver later converts this glycogen to glucose, a known cryoprotectant (you just learned a new word today, didn’t you!) that quickly gets distributed to all the cells in the body when temperatures drop.

Question: What can we learn about creating strong brands from Alaskan Wood Frogs?

Answer: This species of frog possess unique physical qualities that no other critter on earth has acquired. In a word it has differentiated itself from every multicellular organism in the entire natural world.

So here’s the crux of my analogy – differentiation is the crucial molecule in the DNA of creating strong brands.

Please know that my definition of differentiation is very different from most marketing consultant’s interpretation because I feel that emphasis should be placed upon “De commoditization” of products and services.

In other words I think my clients should be trying to create something for which there is no alternative. And if they create something that’s one-of-a-kind and there are no alternatives, then they will win the branding game. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what our allies from north of our border have to say on the subject: The BizShifts-Trends CBC Blog (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) cautions marketing & branding executives, “Most likely you’re not trying to create a truly different alternative; you’re just trying to create a better alternative. You’re not practicing ‘differentiation,’ you’re unwisely attempting ‘betterentiation’ instead.”

Here are two quick examples of companies that successfully differentiated their products: Bottled water was, well, bottled water before Coke completely changed the game by added vitamins (Glaceau Vitaminwater®). And in 1987 Red Bull not only launched a completely new product, it created a whole new product category – energy drinks!

So take a tip from a frog that is truly one-of-a-kind. Instead of asking yourself “how can we make our products/services better than the competition”, ask yourself “how can we make our products/services so different, our target audience will never consider buying from one of our competitors.”

Walk Like An Elephant

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Wild animals roam great distances on a daily basis. For example, if food is scarce African Elephants sometimes cover over 50 miles in a day. More often they walk three to seven miles, which considering their weight (an adult elephant ranges from 5,000 to 14,000 lbs.) isn’t too shabby of a workout.

Wolves often travel 50 miles, which is approximately half of the distance covered by Monarch Butterflies during one day of their migration. Heck, even wild turkeys trek up to five miles per day.

Meanwhile the supposedly more evolved species sit at a desk (and then after work on a couch in front of the TV) on average 9.3 hours per day. (Click on Nilofer Merchant’s TED presentation, below)

Granted humans don’t have to hunt, forage, migrate and avoid predators but maybe we can learn a thing or two about staying healthy, improving higher brain function and increasing productivity from our animal brethren.

At this point you might notice that I left the door wide open for you to bemoan, “But critters don’t have to attend time wasting, energy depleting, sedentary meetings throughout their day like I do!”  And as I open the door even further (now I’m talking about a for real, physical door not an analogy) I exclaim, “Let’s take a walk and conduct our meeting at the same time!”

What a concept – walking meetings!

Businesses that have incorporated walking meetings into their corporate culture have found that natural environments inspire new ideas and stimulate creativity.  And when individuals are walking side-by-side as if facing a problem together, hierarchy work distinctions disappear and a positive working spirit soars.

Fresh air and light improves mental well-being, energy and alertness.  It also stimulates oxygen flow, increasing brain function that increases the ability to solve problems faster.  Did I mention managers and employees lose weight, as well?

It’s important to keep the meeting size small; two to five people is ideal.  And be sure to set the length of the meeting with consideration to participant’s fitness levels.  You might also want to bring along a recording device or smartphone to capture important points and just as you’d end any meeting, be sure to recap highlights and discuss any actions items.

Take the next step in the evolution of team meetings within your company and walk like an elephant.

Let’s Talk Trash

Monday, January 7th, 2013

When it comes to talk’n trash I think Jean-Michel Cousteau says it best:

“The world’s water is our life support system. We’re all connected to the ocean no matter where we live, and completely depend on its health for our own health. All water, whether it is salt or fresh water, is connected because the ocean’s water evaporates into the atmosphere, becomes snow on the mountains, melts and trickles down the mountains into rivers and streams and is then carried back into the ocean. And it arrives there with everything toxic that we put into it, because we continue to use the ocean as a garbage can.”

If you need hard evidence that supports the argument that the amount of trash humans are now generating is jeopardizing our very existence, take a look at the following YouTube video:

I think it’s pretty safe to say that our trash is killing us. A recent 7-year study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey revealed that every single freshwater fish tested in 291 freshwater streams across the U.S. was contaminated with mercury. Just as shocking, the study found that 25% of the fish tested were contaminated at levels too high for human consumption.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much that we can do about pollution that has occurred in the past. Other than erecting a floating recycling plant in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and expanding local events dedicated to cleaning up trash that accumulates on beaches, rivers, streams (as well as all the litter strewn along our streets and highways), we’re just going to have to wait for the billions of tons of crap that we’ve already tossed into the environment to degrade – which for some items is going to be a long, long, long wait. For example, plastic bottles take 40–450 years to degrade; aluminum cans 200-500 years; plastic bags 10-20 years; and XPS foam cups … well, they’re non-biodegradable so we’re literally going to have to wait forever.

So as an owner or manager (or employee) of a business, what can your organization do to become part of the solution? The first step is to get to know your company’s waste stream. There are a wide variety of assessment templates and case studies to be found on the Internet to support your work. If you are not ready to dumpster dive yourself, reach out to your local college or university and discuss starting a waste assessment service. If that is not an option, then look to your local nonprofit or consulting community. Remember, if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it, so a detailed waste audit that allows you to understand the true volume, make-up, source, destination and impacts of your waste stream is a must if you truly want to manage (reduce, recycle, eliminate) your company’s waste.

You say you have customers to take care of, your competitors are breathing down your neck and you are simply too busy to study your waste stream? Then at a minimum please do this – U.S. businesses dump 14 million to 20 million PCs each year. Many laptops have a small fluorescent lamp in the screen that contains mercury, or use lithium ion rechargeable batteries. Circuit boards can also include mercury, lead and cadmium. Older CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors–the big, bulky ones that look like TVs–contain lead and sometimes arsenic. LCD (liquid crystal display) monitors don’t have the same problems as their CRT counterparts but can contain lead and other harmful chemicals in their power supplies. So when it’s time to switch out your old computers please either recycle the old ones by contacting Computers With Causes (or a similar organization), or dispose of them properly by contacting PC Disposal (this is a nationwide service … you might want to contact a certified local e-waste disposal company).

Running Around Like A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Watching news coverage of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast reminded me that nearly 40% of all small businesses that close due to a disaster never reopen. I’m guessing that statistic is closely correlated to a recent finding that 49% of small businesses have disaster recovery plans equivalent to what you see in the video, below.

The likelihood of something bad happening to your business is very high and getting higher. Munich Reinsurance America, the world’s largest reinsurance company, conducted a study that showed the number of weather-related loss events in North America nearly quintupled in the past three decades accounting for $510 billion of insured losses. Now we can add an additional $20 billion in estimated property damages from Superstorm Sandy along with $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to natural disasters, companies are also exposed to man-made disasters including information security incidents, computer crash and/or malfunction, fire, explosion, ruptured gas mains, air or water contamination, chemical release and a host of other serious incidents that could prohibit a company from continuing normal operations.

Nearly 1 ½ years ago I wrote an article in this blog about how importance it is for companies to create a written disaster recovery plan. I don’t like to repeat myself but I also recognize that circumstances can sometimes provide an opportunity for a message that was previously ignored to be heard. So here, once again, are seven objectives that your plan should achieve:

1. Serves as a guide for the recovery teams.
2. References and points to the location of critical data.
3. Provides procedures and resources needed to assist in recovery.
4. Identifies vendors and customers that must be notified in the event of a disaster.
5. Assists in avoiding confusion experienced during a crisis by documenting, testing and reviewing recovery procedures.
6. Identifies alternate sources for supplies, resources and locations.
7. Documents storage, safeguarding and retrieval procedures for vital records.

And because I don’t want you to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off if a disaster should strike your company, here are two free downloadable disaster recovery plan templates HERE and HERE.

How Apes Peel Bananas (Apply This Trick To Your Business And Watch Your Profits Soar)

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

If you’re like me, you’ve been peeling bananas from the top, down ever since you can remember … right? It’s the way you were taught to do it by your parents, it’s the way your family, friends and strangers do it, and you’ve probably never given consideration to doing it any other way … until now. Check out the video, below!

So what does all of this have to do with improving performance in a business? Prior to watching the video you were most likely stuck in the stem-side first paradigm. The word paradigm comes from Greek, and means a model, theory, perception, assumption, or frame of reference. Think of it as a persistent thought pattern. In business, major breakthroughs are achieved by breaking with old ways of thinking (paradigm shift). One way to accomplish that is to turn a company upside down by asking “what if” questions. Here are a few questions to get you started:

• What if the company’s value proposition is all backwards … all wrong? Try writing as many things that are wrong about it as you can think of. Listing the wrong things will get your brain moving into spaces that may generate fresh ideas.

• What if the corporate values and corporate culture are misaligned with the long range corporate goals?

• What if our hiring and recruiting systems and processes are outdated and not relevant to today’s recruits?

Each of us sees the world through our own paradigms and mental models. The problem is we get so used to our paradigms that we forget we are interpreting everything through them all the time. When you watched the video, your old assumption of how to peel a banana was being challenged. In business, senior management needs to challenge the validity of their assumptions regarding the company, its competitors and its customers on a regular basis. In doing so, you will broaden your senior manager’s thinking (worldview) and establish an organizational culture of curiosity, trust and profitability.

“People Are Like Ducks … Calm and Unruffled on the Surface but Paddling Like the Devil Underneath”

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Author’s Note: Gerald Zaltman who wrote the book How Consumers Think said, “Metaphors, the representation of one thing in terms of another, often help us express the way we feel about or view a particular aspect of our lives.” So I thought in addition to the headline of this article, providing you with a short video might help provide you with further understanding of my view of how paddling like the devil (low self-esteem) is affecting the workplace.

My interpretation of American author Jacob Braude’s (1896-1970) quote is that on the surface many people may appear to be confident and even courageous, but deep down most individuals in our society are unsure of themselves to the point where they suffer low self-esteem.

Because this issue is one of those “touchy-feely” aspects of running a business, most managers (men in particular) aren’t comfortable dealing with it. Therefore, a majority of business leaders are not fully conscious of its wide-ranging impact upon their companies.

According to some experts, low self-esteem is rampant today. Sushma Sharma who runs a counseling center said, “If I ask my clients to name 10 positive things about themselves they find it difficult to do so, but they have no problem identifying 10 negative things about themselves.” Many psychologists agree with Sharma claiming that we are witnessing a crisis of low self-esteem.

So how do psychologists define self-esteem? Nathaniel Branden, author of The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem offers this: “Self-esteem is the disposition of experiencing oneself as competent in coping with the basic challenges of life and as being worthy of happiness.”

Says Branden: “Healthy self-esteem correlates with rationality, realism, intuitiveness, creativity, independence, flexibility, ability to manage change, willingness to admit (and correct) mistakes, benevolence and cooperation. Poor self-esteem correlates with irrationality, blindness to reality, rigidity, fear of the new and unfamiliar, inappropriate conformity or inappropriate rebelliousness, defensiveness, an overly compliant or controlling behavior, and fear or hostility towards others.”

How can you build self-esteem in your workplace?

Provide Key Employees with a Mentor – Formal mentoring programs help to improve employee’s personal and professional development which of course improves self-esteem. Mentoring also improves retention because employees feel nurtured by the organization. Done right, mentoring motivates and engages employees and improves self-awareness, leadership skills and teamwork.

Help Employees Understand Their Skills Set – Does an employee have the necessary skills to complete a given task or position description? Obviously, if they do not, they will feel incompetent and hence their self-esteem will take a beating. Once they understand their own skills set, they and their manager (or mentor) can begin to take the necessary steps to fill the gaps.

Help Employees Find Meaning in the Goals They are Working on and How it will Benefit Them as a Person – A survey conducted by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman (authors of The M-Factor) found that meaning in the workplace is beyond important for most of us; it is the most important aspect of work. More than money or benefits, making a difference is fundamental.

Freedom to Fail – Allow your report the freedom to fail. No one great achiever has been successful one hundred percent of the time in all their endeavors. Failure allows people to learn where they went wrong. It is an opportunity for them to be better at what they do.