July 27, 2007

Thinking Deeper is Difficult

Filed under: Observations, Professional Development, Success, Relationships — Mark Sanborn @ 10:12 am

Lindsay Lohan and the Grim Reaper kitty cat, both items of attention in the national news, are easy targets. I could blog about either but you’ve already heard about that stuff and have formed an opinion or don’t really care.

The big issues like the war, natural disasters and the economy are important and significant, but unless you’re an elected official, inordinately well placed and powerful, or a committed activist, thinking about that stuff doesn’t always yield much in the way of actionable ideas.

So what is left is the no-think zone. We go about our routine each day, get periodically troubled by news of the big issues and moderately amused or agitated by news of the trivial and unimportant–but we don’t do much thinking.

Deep thinking is difficult. Deeper thinking than the really big and the really trite, where our thinking is likely to provide insights we can actually use, is tough.

Here’s a practical question: what in my life that I can influence or control should I be giving serious thought to today? That would include things like relationships, family issues, financial planning, career choices, health and exercise, and one of my favorites, the difference between activity and accomplishment.

The agenda set by print and broadcast media don’t always focus us on what we need to be thinking about. The only person who can determine the appropriate thinking agenda for your life is you.

July 25, 2007

The Really Bad News

Filed under: Observations, Politics — Mark Sanborn @ 8:44 am

Forget that gas prices are sky high. The price of fuel has motivated farmers to plant more corn for biodiesel and ethanol. That means they’re planting less barley, and the resulting shortage of this key ingredient is driving up the cost of beer!

And it that weren’t enough to keep you awake at night, demand for steel used in making kegs and glass is also vexing brewers. Those increased costs get passed on to you and me.

Has the cost of beer been raised in the candidate debates? Have the candidates taken on this critical issue?

Consider: the average person in the U.S. walks 900 miles a year and drinks 22 gallons of beer each year. That means we’re getting 41 miles to the gallon (mileage may vary).

I’m all for alternative fuels. Support your local brew master.

Truth Needs Protection

Filed under: Observations, Politics, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 8:34 am

The Denver Post has been reporting on the firing of Ward Churchill from CU. Churchill, you may recall, made very incendiary comments about 9/11. The ruckus caused by his comments attracted enough attention to expose him as most likely not being of Native American descent, as he claimed, plagiarism and other improprieties. School administrators are trying to get rid of him, but he’s not going quietly and, of course,  he’s using the free speech defense.

That’s context for a comment by a fellow professor at CU who says Churchill may not be right, but that outrageous comments like his need protection.

Said professor doesn’t explain why, so here’s my opinion: we offer protection to speech and the ideas it communicates so that truth, including its nuances, doesn’t get buried. In a free society we want a diversity of opinion to stimulate dialogue, not because all ideas are created equal–some are alien-in-my-toaster whacky–but because we know that bits and pieces of truth can show up in unusual places.

What we are ultimately trying to protect is not goof-ball speech, but truth, as hard as it may be to find and agree upon. Goofy and erroneous speech are the price we pay to protect individual opinion, right or wrong, and  more importantly, truth.

It is possible to be sincere and still be wrong. It is also possible to be exposed as a fraud academically, act surprised that one’s behavior brought on such attention, and then pull a bait-and-switch by trying to make the issue one of free speech rather than bad behavior.

The truth always needs protection.

July 24, 2007

Take the Power?

Filed under: Politics — Mark Sanborn @ 9:07 am

This morning the soundbytes from last night’s democratic debates included John Edwards explaining how insurance companies and others in Washington with power weren’t going to give up their power, and that we must “…take it from them.”

For context, know that I have no clear favorite in either party. If I hear a Republican or Libertarian saying something goofy, I’ll call them on it as well.

Take the power? Coming from a guy who made a fortune as a lawyer, one of Washington’s most entrenched power structures, I find that somewhat ironic. What bothers me is this: if this vague power Edwards refers to comes legally, constitutionally and ethically, then no elected official in a democratic country has the right to “take it” from the holder. If the legal system is working–and it doesn’t always–it should protect us from the unscrupulous. Just because we don’t like someone’s power, if it is legitimately derived, we can’t take it from them because we don’t like them.

I’m not defending the power elite Edwards targeted; I’m defending an important principle of democracy. Citizens decide what power is legitimate–what they’ll allow–and hopefully vote in such a way that legislators and judges will address grievances and injustices.

“Take the power” is the phraseology may rally constituents but is dangerous and frightening, wherever it comes from. Power should be earned playing within the rules of the game, not by seizure from the unpopular.

The Big Picture of Airlines

Filed under: Observations, Leadership — Mark Sanborn @ 8:58 am

The money section of USAToday has an article about economist Alfred Kahn who “helped get airlines deregulated.” Mr. Kahn is 89 and admits he gloats a bit about lower airfares.

The front page of the same section reports that Northwest is coming up short on pilots and cutting flights. The same paper and others have been reporting on a rise in canceled flights and one of the worst summers in history for airline passengers.
I wonder if Mr. Kahn gloats about abysmal on-time performance, canceled flights, unprofitable airlines and a generally deplorable state of the airline industry in the U.S.?

I’m not blaming him for anything. Deregulation seemed to make sense in the late 70’s, but the big picture suggests that it has come at a high cost to both airlines and passengers.

If anyone reading this blog is so inclined, I’d like to see stats about airline performance and profitability pre- and post-regulation. Flights are indeed cheaper, but so are services and amenities, and I’m speculating that performance is significantly lower as well.

Seeing the big picture is challenging. Sometimes we cry victory too soon, only to find out the win was hallow.

July 23, 2007

On Change

Filed under: Leadership, Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 11:04 am

My friend Dan Burrus, a futurist, says something both profound and provocative:

“Change happens from the outside in but transformation happens for the inside out.”

That’s probably why it is so hard to “manage change.” Rather than focusing on what we need to be doing and becoming, we focus on the often uncontrollable externals.

July 22, 2007

A Nice Touch

Filed under: Difference Makers, Customer Service Strategy — Mark Sanborn @ 8:51 am

Last night I took the boys to one of our favorite family eateries, On the Border. Darla wasn’t feeling her best, so she asked us to bring her something.

Alese (I hope I’m spelling her name correctly) was our waitperson. We had dined in her section a couple weeks ago and been impressed by her service. When we ordered our meals, I put in a to-go order for Darla and explained why she wasn’t with us.

When we got home, Darla took her food out of the bag and noticed a note written on the lid of one of the containers. It said, “Get well soon.”

That was a nice touch, and more proof of how little things make a big difference.

July 19, 2007

Why Do You Want to Speak to Us?

Filed under: Observations, Selling, Customer Service Strategy — Mark Sanborn @ 3:05 pm

I’ve been speaking professionally for over twenty years, and I just got asked the above question. A potential client asked, “So why do you want to speak for us?”

It was a great question. It gave me pause. The flip answer would be “for the money.” Many consultants and speakers, and service providers in general, would have to admit that is a primary reason for taking on a new client. You have a service they need and they have money you want. It might sound crass, but the exchange of goods and services for money is the basis of capitalism.

We need to think beyond the money. Have you ever taken a client’s money and lived to regret it? They paid you, but the work and/or relationship were neither fun nor rewarding.

Revenue considerations don’t need to be minimized or eliminated from business considerations, but life gets more interesting when you go to second and third order reasons.

I often use a model in my own business to test whether or not to do something: interesting profits, interesting people, interesting projects, and interesting places. As a speaker, I ideally want an engagement to qualify under three of the four considerations.

Does everything I do pass the test every time? Nope. But I have made fewer stupid decisions and a few more better decisions by consulting those criteria.

What criteria to you contemplate when taking on a new business?

In other words, why do you want to do business with me?

Axe Sharpening Isn’t Enough

Filed under: Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 2:56 pm

Remember the old story about the two wood choppers who had a contest to see who could chop the most wood? One worked without any breaks while the other stopped several times, his competitor assumed, to rest.

At the end, the man who had taken the breaks had chopped more wood. His competitor couldn’t understand how that could be. The explanation: the second wood chopper wasn’t stopping to rest, but to sharpen his axe.

It seems to me we need to rethink that story. For many of us, sharpening the axe means improving existing skills. What we need is a chain saw.

No matter how well you do the things you’ve always done, you’ll eventually fall behind if you aren’t using current tools and technology. A sharp axe is no match for a modern chain saw.

One problem with adult education is that the average adult hasn’t considered this question: what new skills do I need to learn? Instead, they focus on improving or perfecting what they’ve always done–sharpening the axe.

For many of us, it is time to invest in a chain saw.

July 16, 2007

Dell Disaster

Filed under: Customer Service Strategy — Mark Sanborn @ 2:49 pm

This is my third post about Dell. I try not to waste blog space with my own challenges, but since Dell has set a new record for customer abuse, I’m making an exception.

I’ve been ingored now for going on two weeks by the pseudo customer service department at Dell. Calls have gone unreturned and every commitment made by Dell broken. I requested–boldy–that the “escalation department” call me about this ongoing saga. The customer service supervisor promised me she would make sure that happen (”We don’t have a number you can call. I have to request it through the system…” she told me), but they haven’t.

Does anyone know of ANYONE at Dell who cares about this pathological service situation? Some in sales? Public relations? I would have much prefered to get my computer fixed the old fashioned way (i.e. Dell would have responded in a timely manner and honored my warranty), but lacking that, any suggestions about WHOM I might contact for some assistance?

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