Making Meaning through Service to Others

January 14th, 2015

andyImagine waking up one day with a little tingling in your toes and the tips of your fingers. You might wonder a little about it, but shrug it off. But if a few days later you began noticing a weakness and a bit of klutziness in your limbs, you would definitely be concerned. Fast-forward a few days, and you’re lying in a hospital bed unable to move any muscle below your neck, and the doctors tell you there’s a chance your lungs will shut down too, and you would be terrified.

That’s what happened to Andy Coan a few months ago. Before that, he was a tremendously fit man in his mid-fifties, who looked like he could still swim a 100 freestyle in world-record time, just as he did as a high-schooler in 1976. His body had totally failed him, and he had absolutely no idea what to expect from this strange and savage disease called Guillain-Barre, which attacked his nervous system. Fortunately, he remembered that another swimmer, Rowdy Gaines, had gone through the same ordeal years before. We were able to track him down, and Rowdy gave Andy two things: useful information about what to expect, and–more importantly—hope.

That hope is what sustains him in his fourth month with the disease as he makes his slow and arduous comeback. He can move his legs somewhat and is relearning how to walk with a lot of support. His arms are all but useless. He can move his shoulders slightly, which is what he’s doing in the picture. When I visited him today, he was on the phone with a fireman who went through an even worse version of the disease (he spent four months on a ventilator because his lungs did shut down). The fireman told him that when he began his recovery, he could barely lift a three pound weight, and yesterday he benched 300 pounds!

That’s the kind of stuff that someone like Andy needs to hear, but it took a lot of trouble and some luck to find people who could help him like that. Now, besides his number one goal of getting better, Andy has another project in mind which sustains him. He wants to find a way—maybe through videos, a blog, and so on—to make it easy for others to get the information and the hope they need as quickly as possible if they ever get into the same situation.

What’s wonderful about listening to Andy describe his project is hearing and seeing the enthusiasm he has for helping others, and when he’s thinking about others, his own troubles are the furthest thing from his mind. To be clear: he knows he will get better eventually, but he doesn’t know how long it will take, and his rehab sessions are as tough as any workout he had back in the good old 10,000-meters-a-practice days when he was training for the Olympics. It’s not easy by any means, but there’s no feeling sorry for himself—because he’s focused on something bigger than himself.

Someone at the hospital today said “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s a cliché, and I don’t know if it’s true in the metaphysical or religious sense. But I am definitely sure that it can be true in a practical sense. Because when something devastating happens to you, you can choose to give it the meaning that you want to give it, and the service of others is about as fine a meaning as you can choose.

The list of ordinary things that Andy can’t do right now is long; but the list of extraordinary things is even more impressive. He can teach, and he can inspire, and that’s also about as fine a list as you can choose.

Note: If you have ideas for how Andy can spread the word and reach out to others who may be facing the terror of Guillain-Barre, please let him or me know, or share this with someone you think can help.

Focus on Others to Get What You Want

January 13th, 2015

MichelCatalanoWhen an idea hits me from three different directions at once, I should probably pay close attention—or at least write a blog post about it.

Last weekend, in reading The Obstacle Is the Way, by Ryan Holiday, I noted his advice that one way to make your personal fears and worries diminish is to focus on others. On Monday morning, I also read Mike Kunkle’s blog post about the servant approach to selling, in which he quoted Zig Ziglar’s line that “You get want you want in life by helping enough others get what they want.”

But the real kicker came when I read the morning paper, and came across a real-life demonstration of the power of focusing on others in a life-or-death situation:

Michele Catalano was at his print shop outside of Paris, when he noticed the two brothers responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack approaching. He quickly told his employee, Lilian, to hide, and went to meet them. During the hour he spent with the terrorists, he managed to keep calm even as they asked him three times whether there was anyone else in the building. As he told the AP: “I stayed an hour with them. I was never scared, because I had only one idea in my head: ‘They should not go to the end (of the hallway) to see Lilian, that’s all.’ That’s what kept me calm.”

I don’t know if Mr. Catalano reads motivational books or blogs, but he instinctively took the best possible course he could have in deadly circumstances. Besides saving his employee, his cool demeanor is probably what led his captors to release him after an hour, so by focusing on keeping someone else alive he managed his own survival.

Hopefully none of us will ever face a situation like that, but the idea of getting what you want by focusing on others has immediate application in sales and in presentations. In sales, focusing on what you can do for the customer rather than on what they can do for you will put you in the right problem-solving mode and make it easier for you to come up with good answers. One reason is that it’s generally easier to think clearly about someone else’s situation than on yours.

Focusing on others is also helpful in delivering presentations, especially if you suffer from pre-presentation jitters. Take the attitude that you have an important message that will help your listeners get what they want, and that outside focus will take your mind off your own internal state and make you more confident at the same time.

Terrorism is the ultimate selfish act—being so wrapped up into your own goals and twisted passions that you are willing to hurt and kill innocent people. We may never understand what drives some people to commit such heinous acts, but fortunately we each have the power within us to be part of the response—to think more of others and less of ourselves.

Amp Up Your Sales by Reading this Book

January 8th, 2015

Amp-Up-3D-coverI strongly recommend that anyone in B2B sales read Andy Paul’s book, Amp Up Your Sales: Powerful Strategies That Move Customers to Make Fast, Favorable Decisions, but you won’t find a traditional review here, the kind in which I summarize the key points in the book.

Instead, I will focus on and develop one of his fundamental principles that I personally found to be a compelling and different angle, one which I plan to pursue in my own sales efforts.

In a nutshell, Paul’s key theme is that how you sell is more important than what you sell, and how is based on three principles:

  • Make selling simple
  • Be super-responsive
  • Maximize selling time

I was especially intrigued by his emphasis on responsiveness; while I certainly won’t do justice to it here I will inject my own interpretation.

Nathan Bedford Forrest once said that the key to military tactics was to get there first with the most, and Andy Paul follows squarely in that tradition. Responsiveness is information + speed, and it’s important because selling is about answering the questions and providing the information the customer needs throughout their buying cycle to make their decision. The salesperson who supports the buying process by helping them make the right decision in the shortest time possible will win. This requires a prompt response to requests for information.

What does prompt mean? I personally would have thought same day would be fine, but Paul suggests within a half hour if possible. The reasoning is that customers need a certain amount of information in a certain order to make the right decision, and they have different needs depending on where they are in their buying cycle, so the best time to add value is when they ask the question or request the information. At the very least, you differentiate yourself from the overwhelming majority who won’t respond as fast as you will, and that sends a powerful message about how you will handle their business if you win it.

There’s a much more powerful yet subtle reason why responsiveness works, which Andy demonstrates through a series of graphs which depict the amount of value being delivered to the customer throughout the sales process. At each point, such as initial contact, discovery and presentation, the buyer has a need for some information which they will then digest prior to the next point in their buying process. For big B2B sales, it’s not realistic that the customer will identify a problem, gather all the information they need to solve it, evaluate alternatives and make the best decision at one time. It’s a process that takes time, and information gathered at each stage is used to shape the next set of questions and necessary information. The real power in responsiveness is that if you are the first to respond, you may have already changed the information they need by the time your competitor responds, so that they are playing catchup. By the time they respond, their response is not as valuable to the customer as it would have been; it may even be irrelevant.

Although he doesn’t call it that, Andy is describing John Boyd’s idea of the OODA loop, which was initially applied to air-to-air combat. OODA stands for Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action. The competitor who gets inside the other’s OODA loop dictates the fight, because by reacting faster the first time he’s in a better position to react even faster the second time, and the cumulative effect can be transformative.

It’s important to keep in mind that responsiveness does not mean simply reacting to customers’ requests for information—at every stage you have the option and ability to ask your own questions or provide different insights in order to reshape their buying vision. If there is a shortcoming to the book, it’s that, although he touched on it at several points, Paul could have emphasized this more.

I also would have liked to see more citations. Andy mentions several articles and studies which add credibility, but it would have been helpful to know how to find those for further reading. This is probably just me, because I study this stuff; if you simply want good solid sales advice you probably can take it at face value and not worry about it.

There’s much more to Amp Up Your Sales than what I’ve covered here, of course, but just that alone would make it worth reading the entire book. I urge you to respond quickly and read it as soon as possible—unless you’re one of my competitors.



Why Warren Sapp Almost Killed Me: Perception as the Gateway to Attitude

January 5th, 2015
Reality is never this obvious

Reality is never this obvious

We’re told by the motivation mavens that our attitude is a critical factor in how successful we are in life. Zig Ziglar tells us that, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” They go on to say that we can choose our attitude, and the right choice makes all the difference. I certainly can’t disagree with that sentiment, but what influences our attitude?

In this post, I will explain that your perception is a powerful hidden factor influencing your attitude, and that you can choose your perceptions.

I’ll begin with an example of something that happened to me years ago. I used to take my clothes to a dry cleaner that was conveniently located on the way to our kids’ school. If it wasn’t convenient I probably would have switched, because the woman who worked there most days had a surly demeanor which made it one of the lowlights of my day to stop in. One day, there was a new face behind the counter and I greeted her with a cheerful hello which was returned in kind. It was only after about a minute of pleasant banter that I realized it was the same person, but she had done something so different with her hair that I didn’t recognize her at first!

This story illustrates the importance of perception in determining attitude. Attitude is a choice, and we can consciously choose the attitude we want to bring to certain situations. I could have made a choice before going into the dry cleaner to have a positive and friendly attitude toward the woman. I might have told myself that it would be a challenge and I would be a better person for rising to it and being the bigger person. That would have been an example of choosing a positive attitude rather than a negative one.

But we usually go through life without making those conscious choices. We carry a default attitude that runs like a script in our brains depending on the situation we perceive. What we see activates the default attitude, unless we consciously override it. I didn’t have to choose a positive attitude when I went in to the dry cleaner that day because my default attitude when I meet someone new—thankfully—is to feel positive and pleasant about the person until they give me a reason not to. I guess you could say they’re innocent until proven guilty. (Except in traffic situations, unfortunately.)

So, if you perceive something as positive, you don’t need to make the conscious choice to apply a positive attitude. It’s easy to be positive when all you see around you is positive.

But it also works in reverse, as illustrated by this incident that happened almost twenty years ago. My wife used to volunteer her time at Dan Marino’s annual charity golf tournament, and one year I decided to go along with my two young children. My kids knew nothing at all about golf, so I had to answer a lot of questions. We came across a golf ball washer, and I tried to explain how a golfer would put the ball in the little hole and plunge the handle several times, but they seemed confused. Just then, probably the largest and baddest human being I’ve ever seen up close, Warren Sapp, drove up. He barely glanced at us as he moved his enormous bulk from the relieved golf cart and went over to wash his golf ball. I said, “Now you know how it works.”

He froze, drilled his eyes straight into mine, and said, “Now you know how it works. What’s that supposed to mean?”

You have to realize that Sapp literally weighs twice what I do and was known for being extremely good at chasing down and hurting large men who are fully padded, so part of my mind was rapidly looking for escape routes and calculating whether a three-yard head start would be enough, but instead I said, “Actually, I was talking to my kids. They’ve never seen one of those before.” When he heard that, his whole demeanor changed. He flashed that big smile he’s known for on TV, and then gave the kids each a ball and hoisted them up to stick it into the washer.

That’s why perception is so important an influence on attitude. When Sapp perceived an insult, it activated a script in his mind. When he saw the situation differently, it activated a totally different script.

Observation, then Perception, then Attitude

But here’s the part that I didn’t fully understand until I read Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Perceptions, even though they occur almost instantaneously, are also choices we make. Perception is actually a two-step process that happens in our animal brain: we see the situation and then we apply a judgment. It happens so fast that we don’t realize we’re actually doing two things. It’s a natural adaptation stemming from our evolutionary history because our long-ago ancestors needed to make quick decisions in order to stay alive long enough to pass their genes down to us.

To put it simply, you make an objective observation and then apply a subjective judgment to it. You see, and then decide what it means. If you’re walking in the woods and see something long and curvy on the trail ahead, your attitude toward will differ depending on whether you perceive it as a snake or a stick.

Why should this matter? Because here’s the kicker: our perceptions are often, maybe even mostly, wrong. They may be wrong because of confirmation bias, so you see what you expect to see; because of the fundamental attribution error, so you assume someone else’s action shows their character; mostly it’s because bad is stronger than good, and the negative explanation is the first that springs to mind, so you see far many more snakes than actually exist. As a result you worry more than you need to, your personal relationships may suffer, and you miss innumerable opportunities. As Holiday says, many of life’s problems stem from needless and false judgments that don’t have to be made.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can train yourself to perceive objectively, to just view the situation for what it is, without automatically assigning meaning.

Be aware of your perceptions

To take control of your perceptions, you first must practice awareness—actively perceive your own perceptions. When you look for it, you can easily see how you apply a judgment to observations. I’ve been consciously paying attention to the rapid judgments I make. In public, I glance at someone and find myself judging something about them; I note that a potential client has not replied to an email yet and I assume the worst; I feel a raindrop and think it will ruin my plans for the afternoon. I estimate that I make hundreds of judgments every day—maybe even every hour. I choose between snakes and sticks constantly.

Take control of your perceptions

After a couple of weeks, I’ve noted that the mere fact of becoming actively aware that I am making judgments helps me keep them in check. But you can take a further step: objectively examine what you perceived—what judgment did you form? Your aim is to give yourself clarity not sympathy, as Holiday puts it, which is easier if you pretend it’s not happening to you but to someone else. When something transpires that blocks your progress toward a goal, you could perceive it as an obstacle, which is a negative judgment; you could see it as a stepping-stone to a better path, which is a positive judgment; or you could simply see it as information, which is no judgment at all, but just may allow you to appraise your options more intelligently and dispassionately.

When you are aware of the judgment you formed, you can then think of alternative meanings. Was that a purposeful brush-off, or was the other person distracted by her own problems? Is the situation 100% disadvantageous, or is there a hidden opportunity? When confronted with an either/or, is there a third way? If you look at the bigger picture or the longer view, does your perception change; is it worth getting that worked up over?

Holiday takes his ideas from the Greek and Roman stoics, so the importance of perceptions is certainly not a new revelation, but I’ve found so far that it’s extraordinarily helpful in facilitating the right attitude for the situation. And it gets easier with time: with enough awareness and discipline, you can substitute a new habit of detached observation for the old one of knee-jerk judgment.

It has been tough enough to practice in the small challenges of daily living, so who knows if the new habit will be strong enough in truly challenging situations, but that applies to any sort of training that you put yourself through. I’m confident that having a better understanding and awareness of the importance of perception will make it much easier for me to apply the right attitude when it really counts.