~Lyrics from the Sheryl Crow song, Soak Up The Sun
Last month Jeff organized a company dinner and night out to see Sheryl Crow deliver a small, private performance at the Franklin Theatre. The event was a charity benefit for New Hope Academy, a private school in Franklin that gives scholarships to kids in low-income families, (Sheryl’s kids go to the school.) It was a sold out event crawling with celebrities and well-to-do members of our little town. We were there to celebrate another successful Boot Camp. Of course, I had no idea I’d end up getting into a bidding war with Connie Britton (star of the TV series “Nashville”) over Sheryl’s autographed 1957 Les Paul guitar, donating $20,000 to the charity and getting a personal invitation to come to Sheryl’s house in Nashville for lunch and horseback riding. Funny how life is. But more fascinating (at least for me) was how well they executed this fundraiser to GET me to write that check on the spot. I came away with 7 really good marketing ideas I’ll put to good use in my business, and saw at least a dozen more things I would have done differently to extract even more donations from the audience for New Hope Academy. In fact, I think I could have doubled what they did with a little effort; but still, a decent job was done. I wonder how many others in the audience picked up on the various opportunities and lessons of this event, and who was too busy checking Facebook on their iPhone to notice much of anything else. For me, that was the reason to attend. I only leave the cave to go to places where I can a) learn something of value or b) disconnect completely (vacation). And yes, this is quite intentional, and I’m happy with the arrangement. To my point: How much do YOU notice when you venture out?
My good friend Dr. Ned Hallowell, author and respected expert on ADHD and ADD, has often stated that our attention has become one of our most “insecure assets.” Unfortunately, most have zero willpower or control over where their attention is given and jump around like a grasshopper with hemorrhoids from one thought to the next, without a plan, accepting—even welcoming and looking for— distractions and wasting the better portion of their day drifting and treading water instead of making any useful progress on anything. Worse yet, most people just flat out don’t NOTICE important things going on around them.
At Boot Camp, I had a few of my more astute clients tell me they learned as much from what we did as a company to market and conduct that event as they did from the speakers on the stage. Smart. Unfortunately, that was the rare few. Most simply aren’t looking for ideas and are handicapped by thinking that the way we run our business here at Robin Central has nothing to do with their business and their clients. Personally, I’ve made a conscious effort to always have my antennae up to look for good ideas in practice, from the everyday letters that show up in my mailbox to every time I make a purchase online, go to a restaurant, go on vacation, etc. Admittedly, I could be much better at this. In hindsight, I should have asked my team to brainstorm what they got from the event we all attended. But the main thing is that I am looking and lessons can be learned from bad experiences as well as the good ones.
When I took a group of my clients to tour High Point University with Dr. Nido Qubein 2 years ago as a business “field trip,” I secured multiple game-changing ideas. I’m happy to report that everyone in attendance also came back with multiple great ideas to implement— not to mention recharged batteries— even though it can easily be argued that running a college has absolutely nothing to do with running an IT business. Truth is, that is where big breakthroughs come from—outside of your industry, outside of the “norms” and away from the rules and the way things are done around here. Drive-through windows were first used by a bank in the 1930s. Now everyone is using them, including wedding chapels in Vegas. The assembly line was first mechanized in the U.S. by Eli Whitney, in 1797. But it was Henry Ford who is responsible for the “moving” assembly line, which used conveyor belts to manufacture automobiles, giving him an enormous competitive advantage. The concept behind High Point’s enormous success as a University came from 5-star hotels and NOT other competitive universities. One of the most productive and effective marketing strategies I’ve used repeatedly in my business came from the financial services industry. Gems like this are all around—but you have to train yourself to notice what’s happening and extract the lesson or you’ll miss it altogether.
Of course, you can’t NOTICE things when you’re forever hooked up to your e-mail, iPhone or gadget, checking messages incessantly and engaged minute by minute in Facebook posts, e-mails, tweets, online games, texts, hopping from one stimulus to another. This type of addiction (and it IS an addiction) prevents you from thinking and your mind grows weak. This is why I refuse to read books on a Kindle or newspapers online and opt for the old paper-and-ink versions. Your mind, like any muscle, will shrink and become feeble unless it’s used, exercised and challenged.
Often when I consult with clients, they want me to just hand them a USP, or hand them the letter or the e-mail or the simple solution to some of their biggest, most difficult problems, and they are often disappointed (if not outright mad) when the solution can’t be produced and they are encouraged instead to go research and contemplate the answer. They want all their thinking done for them. Where’s the app for that? Can’t I just Google it? Can’t you just write the secret to success in a sentence that would fit on an index card and e-mail it to me? As you must know by now as a reader of this newsletter and a client, I favor strategic thinking. Walking through a problem, pulling it apart piece by piece to find where this is going awry or that’s not working and then to find the 20 other things that can be improved along the way. I would not say I was “born that way” as certain members of my family like to think. I’ve trained myself to do it. I have checklists. And I certainly don’t get mad or upset or frustrated when a problem presents itself that is not easily solved with an initial quick fix. All business is about solving problems for a profit, so you best get busy learning how to be good at that—at thinking something through, looking at the possibilities, TESTING solutions, forcing yourself to brainstorm multiple options and tirelessly implement those options in a methodical way when the last one didn’t quite work.
You must slow down a bit—disconnect from time to time and just think. Constantly feed your mind with quality information that challenges your thinking, and that you can truly benefit from, not the endless stream of garbage you see online. Sit down with people in productive environments to exchange ideas—and people who are not in your “normal” way of business, life, politics, religion, background, etc. To quote Mark Sanborn: knowing what someone thinks is useful, but knowing why they think that way is priceless.