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I don’t know about you, but small talk didn’t always come easy for me.  I never knew what to say and I always worried about saying the wrong thing.  I found it difficult, tedious and nerve-wracking.

 

But eventually, after a lot of trial and error, I think I’ve figured out a few tricks that might help you if you’re like I used to be.   

 

1. Understand that the purpose of small talk is not to exchange information.

 

It is a game you play to find things you have in common with the other person.  Decide to be curious about the other person and go fishing for what you have in common. When you are genuinely interested in other people they will respond positively to your questions and to the way you listen to what they have to say.

 

Also… when you take the pressure off yourself to be a great conversationalist and become a detective searching for commonality the conversation tends to take care of itself.

 

Why?

 

Because people like people that are like them.  The more commonality you discover, the more the other person will like you and feel as if they have known you for some time.  This, in turn, causes the conversation to flow.

 

2. Give first to encourage sharing.

 

If all you do is ask questions the other person will feel as if they are being interrogated.  That is not the idea!  Be prepared to reveal something about yourself first without getting too personal.  By sharing first, you are leading the way and cause the other person to feel obligated to return the favor.

 

Sharing and receiving in this way allows you to take charge of any conversation and to easily lead it where you want to go.  Which leads us to our last point…

 

3. Aim to control the conversation.

 

If you can lead a conversation you can control it.  You now know how to lead any conversation?  Points 1 & 2!  Give first and watch the other person respond.  Most people will follow your lead right away.  And if they don’t, just move on to someone else.

 

So, there you have it.  Use these three tips to improve your small talk!  And remember...  The key to success with these tips is to use them, play with them and then adjust them to suit you.

 

Practice makes perfect.  Use it next time you’re at the grocery store… or at one of your children’s school play…

 

Practice there, and then when you need it for a networking event or something like that, you’ll feel much more confident and comfortable!

Whether you’re a student job seeker or a polished and proven executive, the first thing you must come to terms with is, “Regardless of the position you seek, you are now in sales!” The product you are selling is YOU! The interview is your opportunity to differentiate yourself in the eyes of your customer [the interviewer] when compared to your competitors [other job applicants].

 

Successful companies today are focused on building what’s known as, corporate “Unique Value-Add Propositions.” Simply put, a unique value proposition is designed to differentiate companies/products and services, by making a decision to do business with you, an easy one. This is accomplished by means of removing the risk in customer’s minds through obvious value-add.

 

So, before you go into an interview, ask yourself, “What is my unique Value-add for this company? What can I say, do, or show, that will separate me from all other candidates?” And, “How convincing am I?”

 

There is no secret that in many cases today, the most qualified, are not always the ones hired. Sadly, many qualified individuals lose out on opportunities expressly due to their inability to distinguish themselves [in the interview] by showing unique value-add. You may then ask, “How does one construct a value-add interview?” The process is surprisingly simple.

 

#1: Write down all the words that describe your unique strengths that relate to the position to which you’re applying. [Note: Five words are not enough. Try for at least fifteen / you may also ask others for their input].

 

#2: Write down all the words that describe your potential weaknesses as they relate to the position to which you’re applying.

 

#3:  Turn each word into a sentence or statement. It doesn't have to be complicated.  For example, if one of your strength-words was, “experience” – you could simply say, “I am experienced.” [Note: Do the same for your weaknesses list as well].

 

#4: Take each sentence/statement, and turn them into a question. “I am experienced” becomes, “Why am I experienced?”

To answer the question, “Why am I experienced?” automatically brings to light your real Value-Add.

 

From a selling point of view, ‘being experienced’ may be true, but it is only, however, a fact. “How specifically, am I experienced, and, how it will, therefore, benefit the new company,” is the real Risk-Removing, Unique-Value-Add-Information needed to showcase your talents.

 

Knowing the answers, ahead of time, to questions like, “Why is [this] a potential weakness for me - for this position?” is equally integral to the success of any interview.  Remember that in business, the degree to which you cannot provide a unique Value-Add Proposition is in direct proportion to the degree you hurt yourself, your company and your industry.  In any job interview, YOU are the company. The product you’re selling is YOU!

Do you often feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you have?  Do you face a constant bombardment of looming deadlines?  Do you sometimes just forget to do something important, and people end up chasing you down to get it done?

 

Yes, there are a bunch of fancy tools and methods to get stuff done and be effective… but maybe after all bells and whistles and fads have passed, one time management method will remain tried and true. 

 

The “To-Do-List”. 

 

All of the problems I listed can be solved by constructing a simple "To-Do List". To-Do Lists are prioritized records of the tasks that you need to carry out, ranging from most important to least important.  Keeping effective To-Do lists ensures efficiency and organization, and is often the first personal time management breakthrough for people as they begin to finally take control of their time.

 

Yes, To-Do lists are very simple, but they are also extremely powerful, both as a method of organizing yourself and as a way of reducing stress.  Often problems seem overwhelming, or you have a seemingly huge number of demands on your time.  This can leave you feeling out of control and overwhelmed.  Maybe the answer is a simple To-Do list.

 

Preparing a To-Do List

 

Start by writing down the tasks you need to accomplish for the day/week, and if they are large, break them down into their component elements.  If these still seem large, break them down again.

 

Once you’ve done this, run through the tasks allocating priorities, from urgent to trivial.  If too many tasks have a high priority, run through the list again and demote the less important ones.  Try to limit your jobs to a maximum of 10, any bigger and it will appear daunting.

 

Using Your To-Do List

 

Everyone will use their To-Do lists differently, depending on their line of work; if you are in a sales-type role, a good way of motivating yourself is to keep your list relatively short and aim to complete it every day.

 

In an operational role, or if tasks are large or dependent on other people, then it may be better to keep one large list and 'chip away' at it.

 

It may be that you carry unimportant jobs from one To-Do List to the next. You may not be able to complete some very low priority jobs for several months.  Only worry about this if you need to - if you are running up against a deadline for them, raise their priority.

 

If you successfully use To-Do lists, you will see the following benefits:

 

  • You’ll remember more.
  • You’ll tackle the most important jobs first
  • You won’t waste time on trivial tasks
  • You won’t let unimportant jobs stress you out.
  • And most important – YOU GET STUFF DONE!

 

In conclusion, prioritized To-Do lists are a time-tested, rock-solid ways to be efficient and manage your time.  Give it a try!

It’s important of focus on who you are becoming – not who you are or who you’ve been.  We all know this, but that’s not as easy as it sounds, right?

 

Here’s a “mind hack” I like to use to help me focus on who I am becoming instead of the present or past.  It’s two simple words:

 

“Not yet”

 

These two words can completely transform your life by changing your view of yourself from who you are or who you’ve been to who you are becoming and who you have the potential to become.

 

Here’s how it works:

 

Whenever you reply to a question about a skill you haven’t learned perfectly or a goal you haven’t accomplished, whether that question is asked by another person or by that doubting voice in your own mind, you need to answer by saying, “not yet,” instead of “no.”

 

For example, if someone asked if you had closed your first deal, instead of saying “no, I haven’t,” which is a very negative answer, you would say, “Not yet, but I’m almost there.”

 

That answer allows room for reality and possibility. It means that you haven’t succeeded yet, but that you are focusing on your future success.

 

Here’s a quote to go along with this “mind hack”.  It’s by Matthias Alexander, a very successful Australian actor and innovator in the 19th century:

 

“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.”

 

Think about that for a minute and then decide to eliminate “no” from your vocabulary and replace it with “Not yet.”

 

 

I’m honored.  The Houston Business Journal has featured me in their Career and Workplace section today! The article is titled “Houston Style Guru Writes the Book on Helping Businesswomen Dress for Success”.  I believe my book “Dress Like You Mean Business” was a perfect fit for their reader in today’s challenging business market.  Let me explain.

 

You know, we often hear “you can’t judge a book by its cover”.  But how ELSE would you judge it?  Publishers know this and spend lots of time and money making sure that the cover is interesting enough to draw you in for the purchase.   What you WEAR is the cover to YOUR book – what are your clothes telling them about you?

 

As a business professional, we need to dress to express our expertise, experience, and value.  We can’t waste time hoping they’ll get to know us and appreciate us.  We don’t have a man-uniform, never will.  So we need to choose clothes that both complement our bodies (you DO have to be able to function, after all) AND illustrate why we’re there and how we expect to be valued.  You must look relevant.  A pull-together, coordinated look speaks your intention faster than any business card ever will. 

 

Can this be done?  Yes.  And there are lots of options available you may not know about if you only go to your local mall.  Most of these clothing options are available on the web and are created specifically for working career women or for specialty sizing or for women seeking out uniqueness not offered in mass retailing.  Some are pricier than others.  However, I find that price-points in this genre are most likely to reflect quality.  A little-known tidbit is that about 40-45% of the cost of a garment is in the fabric cost.  And if it’s made in the USA it will cost more – we pay living wages here.  But, a better quality fabric, especially if it’s stretchy, will last much longer so the investment really pays off.  Yes, it's OK to talk about 'investment pieces'!  If I'm paying more than fast-fashion prices, I want to be able to wear a garment for several years.  That's why we look for classic shapes, so they don't date themselves and we can continue wearing.

 

In future posts, I will continue to give you more information to help you on your career path.  I can help you define your personal brand for business success as well as make your life easier by getting your wardrobe in order.  Wouldn’t you love to walk into your closet every morning and easily pull out a complete outfit that is perfectly coordinated?  If I can help you, please feel free to call me for one-on-one consulting or speaking to your group.  www.marilynnbarber.com 832.707.9339###

career strategies

Taking enough time to recharge your batteries is important – and though I’ve written on the subject before I think it’s important to revisit often. (I’m guilty of letting my self care activities slide a bit when things get “busy”.)


I reached out to some Cleveland business owners to see what they do to stay healthy, and here is what they said. Feel free to take inspiration from their stories!

 

Kelly Franko, Gossamer & Grace Bras: "I have fallen in love with my essential oils. They are easy to keep with me and apply whenever I need them, and there seems to be an oil for anything I need!"


Marguerite Harness, CPA: "I participated in a Summer Solstice Attunement last evening – very relaxing and energizing at the same time."


Amanda Liptak, Rdn, Ldn, Nutrition Counselor: "When I feel overwhelmed I practice mindfulness, and a couple of ways I like to do that are…

  • Find 10 minutes in my day to be by myself, breathe, stretch, use aromatherapy or practice the positive laws of attraction.
  • Shut down from social media. This can be tough, especially when business depends on interaction. The good news is that no one will go crazy if you don’t engage on social media for 12 hours – set limitations so you give your brain time to shut down.
  • Make appropriate nutrition choices! I like to choose foods to feed my mood and boost energy like healthy fats, blueberries and turmeric tea."


Nicole Domanski, Evanlo, Inc.: "I consider my calendar a to-do list. I schedule time for workouts and any classes I may be taking to de-stress. Lately I have been taking walks in the evening without my phone, since the weather is so nice. I also find peer pressure is a good motivator. What I mean by that is I try to schedule dinners/drinks with friends on specific dates and times as well as outdoor activities or group events like yoga classes, races or backpacking trips, so that other people keep me accountable. If they clear their schedules to do things with me, I am less likely to cancel to avoid disappointing them."


Ellen Sam Scheer, Independent Insurance Agent: "Taking care of me has come to the front and center this year. My workouts are on my calendar and nothing takes their place. I am also in bed by 10:00PM, even if I am there only to read. Getting 8 hours of sleep is important. Making good choices every day for food is just as important. If we don’t take care of us, who does?"


Elizabeth Radivoyevitch, Rad Graphics: "I really cut down on my daily coffee intake recently because I started to feel it was taking a toll on me in many ways. My sleep is much more sound now and I’ve been waking up naturally before the alarm goes off. Energy throughout the day is more even too."


No matter what you do to take care of yourself and recharge, make sure you DO IT! Schedule it in your calendar, mark it on your to-do list, and make that time mandatory.


Share! What are your favorite self-care activities?

An aspect of workplace productivity that’s often given the short end of the stick is, ironically enough, the workplace itself.

 

There are many factors that make up any workspace environment. Desk. Chair. Computer. Filing cabinet. And a variety of other things, from pens and paper to coffee mugs.

 

Creating a productive workplace environment is vital to your overall focus and work efficiency. Let’s take a look at five ways you can optimize your workspace for productivity:

 

1. Rearrange your office to help you sit more ergonomically. Isn’t it great that science can tell us the optimal positions for our desk, chair, keyboard, mouse, and monitor to be in to help us sit up straight? I found this chart from LifeHacker.com to be very helpful.

 

2. Organize your desk for optimal efficiency. It may be geeky, but I think it’s really nice to organize your desktop and desk drawers in a way that’s easy and efficient to use. You’ll save time if you put the things you know you’ll need to use for work within easy reach. And recent research shows that organized desks may help you to be more persistent and productive at work!

 

3. Get rid of clutter! A Princeton University study shows that clutter negatively impacts your productivity because it literally takes up space in your mind, decreasing your ability to focus your attention on work.

 

4. Build the right atmosphere. According to recent research, a little bit of distraction, in the form of background sounds and distant conversation, like the ambient noise you can find in a coffee shop, can actually improve your focus on work! Even if you can’t bring your work to a coffee shop, you can bring the sound of the coffee shop to your work with websites like Coffitivity.

 

5. Add some plants to your office. You may think I’m crazy, but you can trust me! Science backs up my claim. Having a potted plant in your office can increase your productivity! Just looking at a plant could help you de-stress and refocus your attention.

Business challenges abound today – but there’s one piece of this puzzle that YOU can control – the way you dress for your business.

 

Your success is directly related to how people connect to you.  What you wear tells the world what kind of work you do, how seriously you take it, and subliminally, what kind of woman you are.  Your clothes define your public ‘self’.  Your workwear signals your authority, experience, and ambition.  Visuals communicate complex ideas into something more digestible and you position yourself to leave a more lasting impression.  It’s the Picture Superiority Effect.   Very simply, people remember pictures better than words.  If we make our image unique and impactful it will trigger the Picture Authority Effect with the viewer.  Help them remember you in the most favorable way.

 

That’s why developing a clothing strategy for your career makes so much sense.  It offers a way to create your distinctive personal brand – one that gives you a consistent image every day.  Plus, it makes getting dressed for work fast and easy because you don’t have to agonize over ‘making outfits’ every morning.  Why start every day standing exasperated in your closet when you could be in and out with just a few minutes with a completely coordinated look for the day?  This IS possible and doesn’t have to break the bank.

Dress Like You Mean Business

That’s why I wrote Dress Like You Mean Business and that’s why I work with business women to create their most effective business image.  Make it easy for colleagues and peers to remember YOU as the competent, confidential professional you are.  Dress like YOU mean business! 

 

I will be posting regularly and always happy to take questions.  If you'd like me to work one-on-one with you for an event or a season, I can do that.  OR, if you'd like me to speak to your group, I'd be happy to do that too.  I'm an advocate for all women to succeed in their chosen professional.  I'm at 832.707.9339

 

I keep getting calls, texts, emails and Pink Petro messages about how you can help Pink Petro.  So here goes.

 

Help us spread the word about the work we do together and how we are truly different.  

People ask me about the difference between Pink Petro and other organizations.  It's a valid one, really, but I think it's important in my own words I articulate to you what we are and aren't.  And why we know we are different.

 

We're not an organization.  We're a community.

Communities are very different than organizations.  Organizations have rules and structure and boundaries. They require things and operate with specific mandates.  Communities create and drive movements, not moments. Communities engage and co-create ongoing experiences and connect people and content in meaningful measurable ways.  Communities are borderless and mobile and allow for learning no matter where you are, physically.   Pink Petro is a community and before it launched nothing existed like it.

 

We're not a charity.  We're a social enterprise.

Pink Petro is a for-profit for purpose company that drives measurable results for our members and clients.  Before we launched, I spoke with a number of our amazing corporate supporters, executives, and professionals. They didn't want another charity or trade association.  They wanted different. I've been different my entire life so I was up for the job. My company has an executive board with seasoned leadership external to and internal to industry, with some of my clients serving.  Besides, would a man make the biggest talent and culture challenges in our industry a charitable endeavor?  And women need private board opportunities to grow their board experience.  Pink Petro is a social enterprise.  

 

We're digital and totally hybrid.  

We're social, live, and on-demand, and reach people where they are: online. We use relevant technology to drive conversations, create experiences and to measure impact and investment. We create hybrid (in person / online or on demand) experiences you can create your own experience around -- our signature HERWorld Forums and Pink Petro TV convene people and great ideas.   Events and meals aren't our thing.  But ... there are a myriad of awesome organizations who do the breakfast, lunch, and dinner club very well and we love to promote their events and activities, so if you are one, get in touch.  We ❤️ groups and actually help them build presence and profile online too! 

 

We measure progress and use data to drive impact.

Technology and big data are great things.  With 200,000 views a month and over 500k social impressions and growth on the horizon, we're proud we've built a niche that's hard to reach. We reach millennials, GenX and the public at large in ways no one does.  Everything we do is measured or we don't do it. Clients ❤️ us because we show them their return. 

 

We don't compete.  We compliment.

We bring together people who care about the future of our industry and we do so, globally.  We are a thought leader in energy talent and culture and are a trusted source and force for social good.  We embrace collaboration, because that's how things get done, in teams.  Our strategic relationships with organizations like Lean In, The World Economic Forum, and the C-Suite network broaden our knowledge and we bring that back to industry to apply it.   No one else approaches this the way we do. 

 

We are inclusive. And we are leaders.  
We unite, connect, develop and grow women in industry and include men in that process. We help companies in their inclusion journey and are shaping industry's story to make energy a place women want to work.  We are leaders in understanding the talent and culture challenges underway and bring new ideas and solutions to an industry starving for innovation and creativity.  

 

We're not going to stop until the job is done.

We're on to amazing things I can't wait to share. My dad, an engineer, taught me that if you want something bad enough, you get after it.  I left a comfortable life and chair three years ago to bring this cause to the forefront.  I could have stayed on my previous executive path but chose this one.   I put my money, sweat, blood and plenty of tears into it because I demand a better outcome for my kid and yours. You can take that statement to the bank. 

 

My plea to you?  

You want to help?  Here's what I need.  Spread the great work we do.   Reach out and sponsor our high impact forums, members app, community, Pink Petro TV, or join / recruit from our careers platform and hiring teams. 

 

Thank you for believing in the cocktail dream that has becomePink Petro and drinking some pink kool-aid with me. I cannot wait for the weeks and months ahead. 

Everyone’s heard that to be more productive, you should get up earlier, avoid distractions, exercise, and eat a healthy breakfast. All those tips are great ways to boost your productivity at work. But, if you still want to find that extra little way to increase your work productivity, try out these six unusual, science-proven ways you can be more efficient!

 

1. Turn Up the Heat at Work. Studies show that, if you work in a warmer environment, then you can type faster and more accurately, leading to more words per minutes and faster writing. Now, who doesn’t want that?

 

2. Smile Like You Mean It. Research shows that, while faking a smile can lead to more stress and anxiety, if you smile like you mean it at work, you could improve your health and your mood, making your tasks at work easier and less stressful to complete!

 

3. Take a Cold Shower Before Work. I know it’s not the most fun experience, but science shows that taking a cold shower in the morning can actually help boost your productivity at work, as well as improve your health.

 

4. Decorate Your Office with Red or Blue. Being surrounded by the color red while working can help improve your motivation and help you focus on details, while the color blue can help you focus when you’re working on more creative tasks, as it promotes a calm mindset. Both colors help with work productivity, it just depends what type of task you need to focus on!

 

5. Stop Multitasking. Multiple studies show that you get less work done if you multitask. Your brain just isn’t able to ignore out distraction and concentrate when you try to work on more than one task at a time. So, do yourself a favor and focus on one thing at a time while at work.

 

6. Meditate. This isn’t just superstition! Studies show that meditation can improve your mood and make you feel better, leading to a better work day.

Growing up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti—where her parents were missionaries—you could say that Stephanie Sirt’s life and career story are anything but typical.

 

Now working as a Senior Director of Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) Business for Emerson Automation Solutions in Houston, Texas, we chatted with Sirt to get the lowdown on her journey, her current role, and her very best career advice.

Finding Motivation Early

While Sirt’s early life calls Port-au-Prince home, she moved back to Houston following high school. From there, she pursued an Associate of Applied Science degree in Engineering.

 

After completing her degree, she found herself at a crossroads. “I was a single mom at 20, just out of college with a two-year degree and determined not to be a statistic,” Sirt explains.

 

It was that very inspiration that pushed her to continue her education—she now has a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology—and grab the reins to advance her own career in the oil and gas industry.

 

“I have worked in refineries, offshore, in chemical plants,” she says, “I have been in oil and gas my entire career.”

Advancing a Career

With her involvement in the oil and gas industry, Sirt’s career tells a cohesive story. However, she’s held numerous different positions throughout that time.

 

She has over 12 years of project experience, working as a Project Manager, Instrument and Electrical Designer, Business Development Manager, Contract Manager, Configuration and Graphics Programmer, and Field Designer in the chemical, offshore drilling, and upstream industries.

 

Most recently before joining Emerson, she worked as the Vice President of Main Automation Contractor (MAC) Programs for Maverick Technologies. When she found herself wanting to try something new in her career, Emerson felt like the perfect opportunity.

 

“I had been in projects my entire career. I wanted manufacturing exposure,” she says, “I interviewed with John Gardner and really liked his vision. He wanted to build a group that would lead in integrating Emerson and solve customer problems. He was singing my tune.”

 

So, Sirt joined Emerson in 2010 as the Strategic Account Director for Chevron—a position she held until 2016. In October of 2016, she moved into her current role as Senior Director of EPC business.

Her Current Role

“Currently, I manage the executive level relationships for about 14 of our strategic EPC accounts,” Sirt explains, “I am an escalation point, so I manage a lot of challenging situations.” She’s also responsible for leading and coordinating the global teams assigned to the EPC accounts.

 

Because of her heavily involved role, Sirt needs to spend a solid chunk of her time in meetings and on the phone solving problems and strategizing with customer teams. And, she loves that her job challenges her to solve complex problems.

 

“Every day is a new adventure,” she says, “It’s impossible to get bored, and I have been fortunate to work for some fantastic leaders.”

Life in a Male-Dominated Industry

For 95% of her career, Sirt mentions that she was the only or the first woman on a certain team.

 

She was the only woman in the detail engineering group offshore. She was the first female Global Strategic Account Executive reporting to John Gardner. She was the First female EPC director at Emerson in North America. The list goes on.

 

“Most of the first 10 years of my career, I had to share the men’s restroom,” she says.

 

But, with a go-getter attitude and the support of numerous outstanding mentors, Sirt was still able to build a successful career  in an industry that’s notoriously patriarchal.

Moving Forward

There’s no doubt that Sirt will continue to make her mark on the oil and gas industry. And, she has some sage words of advice for anyone else who’s looking to do the same.

 

“Charge the hill,” she explains, “It’s evolved a lot in the last 25 years and the sky’s the limit. Figure out what you love to do and the rest will fall into place. Treat everyone with respect, from the CEO to the janitor. Relationships and trust are the currency of the energy industry.”

 

When it comes to the very best career advice she’s ever received? Sirt concludes by providing some encouraging words for us all.

 

“You are either part of the problem or the solution. Be part of the solution.”

Our friend Katie posted something on Facebook recently about box-checking and diving into process without thinking through the process, which is a problem in many companies ... so I thought I'd share this, with some solid MIT research on the issue.

 

Customer insight is an interesting topic in the modern business world. We've got some evidence that customer relationships are now trumping the value of "brand," which totally flips the script that a lot of CEOs and CMOs have been playing from for decades. Then, we've got this other idea of "Nobody asked for Uber." In other words, growth and innovation tend to come from what customers need, not what executives think. This may sound very logical, but a lot of companies still haven't even remotely mastered this idea. It murders their customer insight processes. Here's the final piece of the puzzle: many companies still treat customers as, essentially, "wallets with fingers." Hard to derive customer insight there.

 

There are two major problems here, I'd argue. The first is how we set up hierarchy. You can make the most money by being furthest from the customer. That makes no sense. So you've got these guys making $225,000 per annum sitting in meetings, right? Most of their week is spent sitting in meetings with other people like them. In many cases, they have no idea who the "end user" is. Maybe they've seen some data -- you'd hope -- but even then, they probably haven't straight-up interacted with a slew of customers. How can they possibly be making customer insight decisions then? In short: they can, but those decisions will be very skewed. The second element of this problem is that all these guys are considered "stakeholders." Further down the chain, where you might have more customer insight, your job is seen as "pleasing these stakeholders."

 

In short: people with real intel on customer insight often have to run in circles placating those with less insight but bigger salaries. This is where hierarchy is a problem and why stuff like "self-management" has come into the light of late.

The second issue is the role of data. A lot of customers make purchase decisions off emotion, but because data is en vogue now, a lot of organizations are chasing that. Problem: they're chasing it based on outdated success metrics. Problem II: collecting data essentially for the sake of collecting data does nothing but slow down your decision-making. Slow decision-making is the first way established companies get "disrupted."

 

So here's where we are: customer insight is important, but the pathway that many companies take to customer insight is flawed. What now?

Customer insight: The value of stop and think

 

The whole time I had office jobs, here's one thing I never understood. Almost no one thinks about anything. People just race from task to task and meeting to meeting. I wrote a post about this once.

 

 

Well, some people much smarter than me -- MIT Business School -- also wrote a post recently called "The Lost Art Of Thinking In Large Organizations." Very good, detailed post. Read it if you have time. Right up top, they nail the problem:

How did we arrive in a state where managers do not recognize that thinking is part of their job? The answer reflects a relentless focus on execution in many large companies. A company becomes big by finding a successful business model — and then scaling it massively. This necessitates building a finely tuned system with highly standardized processes. To get promoted in such an environment requires an almost singular focus on execution. In other words, it requires action more than thinking. However, once executives are promoted to a senior level, these new business leaders must be able to think strategically. Ironically, the very skills in execution that led to their promotions often make these executives ill-equipped for their new roles, since their strategy thinking muscles have withered from disuse.

 

Yep. Here's the real deal. Most supposed "strategic" plans are really operational plans. Why does this happen? Because the guys who create these strategic plans have spent 15+ years being told all that matters is execution. So they outline the details and call that "strategy," when in fact that is logistics or operational elements. As a result, most strategic plans are garbage. Plus: strategy, by definition, has to evolve. If the market shifts or you have turnover or certain stuff happens with a product, the strategy changes. When you put strategy on a document, it usually becomes intractable. That's bad.

What does all this have to do with customer insight?

 

You need a way to get at customer insight. Most "thought leaders" will come along with a bucket of buzzwords and grab at those. It will be something about "real-time customer analytics" and "resolving pain points." The thing is, a lot of people -- and especially people who run companies -- have no idea what those terms mean. To them, they just heard "I need to hire someone who understands this shit, and STAT!" Remember: concepts around "data" and "insights" are relatively new at a lot of companies. The existing power core is often clueless.

 

You make money from your customers, whoever they are. So I don't care if you have a "strategic road map" or a "customer-driven mission statement" or whatever else. You need a way to get at customer insight. And the first step of all that is really thinking about the big picture, instead of just sprinting to your next call.

How can we think about customer insight?

A lot of this, as with all business, begins with intelligent questions. None of this will be breaking news to you, but questions here might include:

 

  • Who buys our stuff?
  • Why do they seem to?
  • Where? (In-store, laptop, mobile, tablet, etc.)
  • Who have we talked to?
  • What have they said?
  • Who seems to never buy our stuff?
  • What markets/angles are we missing?
  • In the corners of the Internet where our people reside, what are they bitching about?
  • Could we solve those problems for them?
  • Can we do this without spending tons?

 

That's just a beginning list. There are dozens more I left off.

Seems reasonable. How do most companies get at customer insight?

 

In short? They over-emphasize process as opposed to thinking about the real issues. This is where we get mostly-useless user personas from, for example. ("Sally Sales Girl.") It's the origin point of horrible, off-task marketing campaigns that deliver no value too. It's because people want to feel in control of something, anything at work. As a result, they focus on things they can control -- like crafting a persona or designing a campaign. Those concepts are tied to customer insight, but they themselves are not actually customer insight. A stunningly low number of people seem to understand this, however.

 

 

Think about it this way. Customer insight is rooted in listening and feedback. Execs screech all the time about how that's impossible and they're so busy driving the ship forward, but it's hardly impossible. Social + digital + mobile make it easier than ever to understand your customers. You may not know their entire bio and sexual past, no, but you can know a hell of a lot about them. But it requires work, listening, and two-way conversations. You know what else requires those things?

 

Hmmmm, let me think. Oh yea. Management. And 82 percent of managers are train wrecks too.

 

In sum: a lot of companies would rather have process-driven control over some aspect of work than actually get at customer insight. In the same way, most managers would rather hide behind process-rooted performance reviews than actually grow their employees. It all comes back to laziness and confusion around what "work" even is or should represent. If you gloss over those issues, you'll never solve for the bigger set.

 

What else might you add on getting at customer insight?

 

This post originally appeared on Ted's primary blog, The Context of Things.

When it comes to “new ideas” business owners are inundated with them. “Too many ideas and not enough time or help to implement them all!” is a common refrain. A key to success is having a framework for deciding which ideas to pursue and which are just the “next shiny object.”

 

The Challenge

 

If you’ve ever thought, “I get all excited and I want to run off and work on the next new idea. I’m a mess with shiny things,” you are not alone.

 

Often, the next idea seems like the best idea . . . especially because it is new.

 

The Solution

 

1) Start at the beginning.


When struggling with which project to do next, I recommend using Stephen Covey’s “Habit: Start with the End in Mind.” Are you clear on the goals for your business and life? What are your priorities and values?

 

If you aren’t – get clear before continuing. Otherwise, you’ll run in circles doing activities that are loosely related to your goals, but not closely related, which causes a lot of “busy-ness.”

 

2) Then create a list.

 

Create a list of projects, those you are currently working on, those you keep putting off, and those that have recently come into your awareness through podcasts and other professional development activities.

 

3) Evaluate your list.

 

Evaluate this list of projects in relation to your goals, values, priorities, and dreams. Ask yourself, “Which goal does this project directly support?” (See why it’s important to be clear on your answers to step #1?!) From the projects that directly support your goals, prioritize the top three.

 

This becomes your new streamlined Project List. Set the remaining projects aside for now. You can revisit this list once you COMPLETE some of your current projects.

 

4) Create a framework for future decisions.

 

Imagine – a new “shiny” projects pops into your head. Now what? Do you drop everything else and start working on it?
Maybe?!

 

You need a framework to make a decision based on logic – not the emotion associated with a “new, shiny object”. You want to have this framework in place BEFORE you need to make the decision.


Ask yourself, “What are the characteristics of a new project that would cause me to abandon this one?” Remember, there is a reason you are working on a list with only three projects on it! Adding a fourth will dilute your time, energy and productivity.


Have an idea of what a “better” project could look like while you are excited about your three priorities...NOT when you are excited by the next shiny object!


As each new, exciting, “shiny” object comes into your life, rank that idea against the 3 projects you are already committed to. Would completing this new project get you closer to achieving your goals than what you are currently committed to? If so, consider swapping it out. (Remember, time is finite – you can’t do it all. It’s about choices!)

 

If not, put this new idea on the project list to evaluate once you finish one of your current three projects.


With these tools in mind, you can create a better productivity plan based on your own vision and needs, without distraction. And as those visions and needs change, your plan can easily adapt!

I'm some what of a digital native.

 

 

As a GenXer, I can appreciate the early days of PacMac (go Atari), had the first 8086 IBM computer in our neighborhood, and was the popular nerd in my sorority at LSU with a dot matrix printer. Back then "digital" was mixed tapes and CDs.  

 

But in my early days as a professional, I was blessed with access to email. It was pretty cool to have email in the 1990s.  It helped to speed up the way we did business.  But even the executives I worked with didn't know how to use it.  Some didn't even have basic typing skills.  At some point when you were given access to more technology, you were considered "moving up".  Imagine how excited I was to be one of the first global workers at Shell in the early 2000s who got access to VPN (do we even have VPN anymore?)

 

If you fast forward to 2017, we all have more access to technology than we need.  And, I have to say email is THE worst form of communication.  At least, social media is inclusive and communal.  Email isn't communal.  It's top down, and if used the wrong way, it can set the tone for a bad day.  Come on, I know you've received one of those ZINGER emails from a colleague of even a boss where you wanted to pull your hair out and respond?  Or you get on a distribution list that gets spammed by guys in the company arguing over petty things.  I've worked in two behemoth companies where I've been sent things I probably shouldn't have received, more than a few times.   I've seen it all.

 

But the worst form of email communication is the kind that could easily have been handled with a phone call. Unhappy with someone?  Pick up the phone!  The worst communication is when someone blasts you an email, copies the universe to tell you something that clearly should be spoken. 

 

Long gone are the days of people picking up the phone to communicate a message, live.  And sure, I'm guilty.  I get busy and sometimes treat communication in a transactional way, but I promise you if you pick up the phone, write a card, or make your communication more personal, people will remember it.  Someone once told me anything and everything you write in an email should be considered material for the front page of the Wall Street Journal, so be careful and courteous in your written communication.

 

Remember: people remember how you made them feel.  And today, I learned really quickly I wasn't worth a simple phone call.  

 

So tomorrow, I'll redouble my efforts to make four extra calls before I shoot off an email.

 

I hope you'll join me.

You may have heard of bullet journaling recently. It’s all over Instagram and Pinterest and has all the interest and reputation of the newest way to express yourself through art and creative calendar planning.

 

But, according to the inventor, Ryder Carroll, the bullet journal was originally created as an organizational system.

 

While it may have grown in fame as a creative outlet for people who like doodling and calligraphy, it can be a super useful organizational tool, regardless of whether you’re more creative or if you don’t care about that stuff.

 

What is a Bullet Journal?

 

According to the official bullet journal website, a bullet journal could be “your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above.”

 

With different sections for planning out your day, your week, your month, and even your year, a bullet journal can be used as a very specialized tool for productivity. You can use it in its simplest form to create a list of daily, weekly, or monthly work goals. It gives you both a big picture and a small picture view of your work calendar, so you can better plan what needs to be done and in what order.

 

Because it’s super customizable, you can use a bullet journal for pretty much anything.

 

How to Use the Bullet Journal to Increase Productivity

 

The Bullet Journal uses a process of note-taking and thought-writing called “rapid logging.”

It uses bullet points (hence the name) and short-form notation to help you get to the point of what you’re trying to write down faster, so you don’t have to spend too much time on it.

 

I recommend using the four main “modules” indicated on the website to help you visualize your work: Index, Future Log, Monthly Log, Daily Log. That way, you have multiple, easily-accessible ways to look at your work and plan accordingly so you can be the most productive!

 

Why It Works

 

Studies show that the act of writing something down by hand can be much more productive than simply typing it into your phone or computer. It may help you remember things. It also could help you organize your thoughts and to visualize what you need to do.

 

So, before you dismiss the bullet journal as just another fad, try out the simple structure for yourself and see how customizing it to fit your needs can increase your productivity!