To increase your value, mind your promises

There’s no doubt that our economic world has changed and continues to change. And there’s little doubt that most people don’t like change – Neuro scientists agree – a great majority experience ambiguity as a threat. Further, the worst threat of all is heightened in a shifting economy: that we might lose, we might be rejected – not included in the exchanges of our choice.

two guys thought bubblesExchanging with others is how we humans thrive. We have a strong desire to contribute – it’s in our biology. Not surprisingly, our brains are well-equipped with wiring about exchanges, both as contributors and as recipients. Much of what goes on ‘inside our heads’ is about where we stand with others, the value we provide and what they provide us, who we can trust and for what, and whether people genuinely know and care about us.

hudsonWe can spark ingenuity by focusing on others’ vulnerability and how we want to serve them – and we quickly becoming energized. As a Business Anthropologist, I would like everyone to view commerce as an opportunity. Though the brain can’t do that in the context of a threat, fear is automatically trumped when we’re faced with ‘our people’s’ concerns. We’ll jump into a freezing river, or whatever it takes.

Day-to-day commerce is somewhat less heroic – to the consternation of some and the relief of others. In the modern world, we are called upon to articulate what others can rely on us for. During most of human history – the 3 million years when the brain and society were evolving together – our ancestors knew their trading partners their entire lives. They did not have to design new exchanges, articulate brand promises, and engage in sales conversations. But we do. Much as we might like it to be otherwise, other people do not automatically know what we can promise. We have to tell them if we want them to know.

Though it may not get your adrenalin spurting like an emergency plane landing, being current with the value you add is your primary responsibility. Worse, in a shifting world - though you may not like ambiguity nor view it as an opportunity, peoples’ concerns change, and as they do, you’ll probably be called upon to update your promises. I invite you to ask:

  • What do you want others to rely on you for?
  • What’s the most valuable promise you can make (and reliably deliver?)

Fortunately, our brains are highly wired for that very question: to both make the promise and to consider the value of others’ promises. (We’re built to orient ourselves to exchanging with others.) Promises reduce ambiguity. Being mindful of what you promise will increase your value and make you a desirable trading partner.

What might you promise this year, this month, this week, today, to address others’ concerns?

Time to Reposition?

I listened to a podcast with Jack Trout of Positioning fame – indisputably one of the greats - a day or two ago.  He has a new book, Repositioning: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change and Crisis.  The question set me to wondering whether –given the impact of economic, climatic, social and political concerns in the last 18 months – we aren’t all facing the challenge to reposition.   

Asked why his original 1987 book is still a must-read (probably by someone who hadn’t read it), he politely pointed out that the subtitle says it all:  The Battle for Your Mind.  He went on to clarify yet again that marketing takes place in the mind of the prospect. 

It’s remarkable to me that so many marketers – some highly paid – still don’t get that point.  The 12 bloggers in this recent eBook - including yours truly -  implore marketers to learn to tune into the mindset of their customers in 2010.  This is still a necessary reminder after all these years???  Trout jokes in the podcast that even now, when he’s brought in to ‘fix’ a brand [one assumes for significant fees], many on the marketing team are obviously counting the minutes till he leaves, when they go back to doing exactly as they were doing before he got there

There's little doubt that prospects’ worlds have shifted significantly in the last 18 months.  The question  of repositioning certainly seems warranted.  How might each of us serve those new mindsets?

Another imperative to Reposition came across my screen same day,  in a new article in Strategy and Business  
We already know that companies with an articulated purpose that goes beyond simply the expediency of “making more money” have fared much better in the downturn. They will also fare better in the recovery. 
I’m off to buy the book.

Learning as a Strategic Investment

I recently contributed to an eBook targeted to Pharma and Healthcare marketers.  The book, intending to guide its audience toward where to invest their learning in 2010, is directly relevant to anyone in business.  It begins with the famous Toffler quote
The illiterate of the 21stcentury will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

                 -Alvin Toffler, Rethinking the Future 1999
Since he wrote those powerful words, 9 years after the publication of Senge's Fifth Discipline, web 2.0 has exploded, and the challenges of choosing where to learn and what to learn are bursting exponentially -changing patterns of trade and social power on the planet. 

Jim Collins says it well in a Fast Company interview:  
FC:  What has changed if you’re building a business now, as opposed to 10, 20, or 30 years ago?

JC: The skills. You need to be continually learning. For example, if you accept the idea that work is infinite and time is finite, you realize you have to manage your time and not your work. You need a laserlike focus on doing first things first. And that means having a ferocious understanding of what you are not going to do. The question used to be which phone call you wouldn’t take. Now, it’s the discipline not to have your e-mail on. The skill is knowing how to sift through the blizzard of information that hits you all the time.
As a Business Anthropologist, I am fascinated by how social media are changing the world of learning.  Sunday's New York Times re-iterates how Twitter works as a learning portal - for approximately 10% of its users, according to a 2009 Harvard study.  With over 1000 user-designed applications, no one has quite figured out how many people that is… a telling commentary. 

Close to the beginning of the revolution represented by social media, I undertook a study of 50 top performers, asking about how they rejuvenate.    They recognized that, 
The ability to be a 'beginner' is a key factor in sustained top performance….Forty eight consciously keep their curiosity sparked through exploration and learning.

"What I'm doing now was totally beyond me 12 months ago."
                        - Entrepreneur, age 72
In my 3 decades in the trenches with business leaders, nothing seems to have gotten easier.  Most would agree that the changes of the past 15 months demand more skill than ever, and a new kind of skill: being nimble in the face of uncertainty.   

I cast my vote with Senge, Toffler and Collins: the ability to learn is our single best strategic investment. The evidence goes back to the first human communities.  

Our ancestors have done it for millions of years.  We can do it again.  How will you choose your strategic learning investments this year?

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Are You Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?