Maturity may not be what you expect

As we get older (as we all are every day) the goal is to get smarter, better, and be full of hope and joy. A word I like to describe all those things at once is “maturity.”

Without the benefit of experience and wisdom, Immaturity dictates you approach delightful things with an air of disdain and cynicism. Immaturity thinks it makes you look smarter to not admit you like comic books or musicals. It even means you don’t notice the natural world around you – plants, birds, laughing children and twinkling stars go unnoticed. Twenty-something friends, this doesn’t make you mature, it robs you of happiness. When I think back to the smug kid I was growing up in Palo Alto – a place it’s really easy to be smug and cynical by the way – it makes me a little sad of all the moments of joy I cost myself.

Maturity says you grab joy in every little way you can, minute by minute. One of my dear friends made her way into my heart the at a New Year’s Eve party where neither of us knew virtually anyone. A house party, they had Dick Clark’s countdown on their big-screen TV. After the announcer said who the upcoming entertainers would be, in a quiet moment she said a little too loudly: “I love Kelly Clarkson!” (She had just won American Idol) More silence followed. We looked at each other and cracked up, laughing until we cried. Embarrassing? You bet. But it made me love her joie de vivre. So twenty-somethings let that be your goal: go get you some joie de vivre and admit you love Glee.

“Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.”
— Maya Angelou

The next frontier part II

Innovation adoption curve

Innovation adoption curve source: Wikipedia

As part of the “next frontier” of embracing the early majority on social media, there are some big questions leaders have to grapple with:

  • How do I encourage people across the business to include social solutions in their strategies?
  • How do I simultaneously cede control to the increasing numbers of people who want to engage in social channels and still guide the strategy?
  • How do I convince even the late majority and laggards that social solutions can improve the outcomes they’re seeking? More specifically, how do I do it without my ego getting in the way?
  • How do I balance time spent between executing strategies and educating?

I don’t know how I’m going to answer these questions yet, but one day soon I hopefully will. If you have any answers borne of experience, please comment.

The next frontier – part I

A new frontier in social marketingI’m biased and I admit it. In the past year or two, something wonderful (or terrible, depending on your point of view) has happened: lots of people are jumping on the “social” bandwagon. As someone who’s been in the trenches pioneering the work to shift a big company to approaching all aspects of our work in a way that incorporates help from our customers, I respect other pioneers more than newcomers. I just do. I suspect the other “first movers” from big companies feel the same way, although no one actually comes right out and says so.

Here’s why: people who were on the boat from the beginning have a shared experience. Without saying so, I know we’ve all faced the same skepticism, rolling eyes, and outright sneers from co-workers we respect and admire. We’ve all experienced the joy that comes with seeing new people understand and adopt new practices that embrace customers. We understand that the wins you have as an innovator may not be the ones you expected, but you celebrate them nonetheless.

A few personal stories on why relationships between pioneers matter so deeply:

When I first met Seth Greenberg four years ago, I suspect we both felt like two guppies in a pond full of goldfish. Both recent hires from internet backgrounds, we found ourselves surrounded by some of the smartest people we’d ever met. And they all thought in a really different way than we did – the consumer packaged goods way. (for those unfamiliar with that approach it’s traditional, disciplined, and steeped in decades of research and data) Our first meeting was at our then VP of Marketing’s staff meeting – he had asked me to present our work with the Inner Circle.  As I walked through the site, explaining how we partnered with customers to create our product, most of the room listened with varying degrees of interest. But not Seth. He lit up immediately, offering ideas of what we could do on the site to make it even more interactive. “Finally!” I remember thinking, “finally, someone I can talk to about this stuff.”

Around this same time two product managers whose opinions I still deeply respect to this day were telling me to, in effect, get a real job because nothing was ever going to come of this social stuff. But not Seth. And when it was time to leave product management for my next career move, our shared experience helped pave the way to a brand new opportunity working for Seth. (Which was transforming for both of us, I think)

Just as surely I knew “social” was the direction to go four years ago, I know the “early majority” jumping on board now is a necessary thing – the next frontier. How can we scale our efforts without their help? We can’t. And like Charlene Li states in her new book Open Leadership I need to find a way to enable even more adoption and still be a leader.

Next up: embracing the challenge of the unknown.

On Boldness

I’m not naturally a bold person, although reading that might surprise some people. This quote, often attributed to Goethe, has lived on my refrigerator for years. I credit it with keeping me focused on making the first step in the right direction. That focus enabled a series of career changes without letting my fear manage me (Marine biology teacher to web developer to product manager to marketer to corporate comms).

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Beyond skunkworks: going mainstream without selling out

In my last post I talked about the notion of starting your new, unproven projects in “skunkworks” mode to get them going without fear of the ongoing, unproductive dance of prioritization against proven mainstream efforts. After a year of being in skunkworks, it’s time to go mainstream. Why? Without further ado, I give you…

The top five reasons you know it’s time to move your skunkworks projects mainstream:

  1. You proved your case: When you launched your skunkworks project, you did it with concrete goals in mind, right? Once you start proving your case with indisputable data, things start to fall into line. The golden moment you realize you proved your case is one of the most satisfying work moments there is – because it means you were the oracle. And your life is about to get easier.
  2. You need the assets “the machine” provides: In order to flourish, your baby needs to grow. And the “core” business has incredible designers, programmers, and marketers who can help you do it.
  3. The resistance you faced initially is gone: See number one. Once you prove your case with some actual hard data, the resistance starts to fade, which means one of the reasons you avoided being part of the core process is fading too.
  4. If you want “social” to be part of the way you do business, it has to be part of the way you do business. Nothing says “I’ve arrived” better than walking through the front door.
  5. You’ll be GD-ed if you’re going to turn your baby over to some other corporate shumuck to takeover. If the business believes your project is worth growing someone is going to grow it. If you don’t someone else to be that person, you better step up. Trust me on this one.