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Principles: Shading strategy, execution and interactions

prin·ci·ple [prin-suh-puhl] –noun

1. an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct: a person of good moral principles.
2. a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived: the principles of modern physics.
3. a fundamental doctrine or tenet; a distinctive ruling opinion: the principles of the Stoics.
4. principles, a personal or specific basis of conduct or management: to adhere to one’s principles; a kindergarten run on modern principles.
5. guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct: a person of principle.
6. an adopted rule or method for application in action: a working principle for general use.
7. a rule or law exemplified in natural phenomena, the construction or operation of a machine, the working of a system, or the like: the principle of capillary attraction.
8. the method of formation, operation, or procedure exhibited in a given case: a community organized on the patriarchal principle.
9. a determining characteristic of something; essential quality.
10. an originating or actuating agency or force: growth is the principle of life.
11. an actuating agency in the mind or character, as an instinct, faculty, or natural tendency: the principles of human behavior.
12. Chemistry. a constituent of a substance, esp. one giving to it some distinctive quality or effect.
13. Obsolete. beginning or commencement.

14. in principle, in essence or substance; fundamentally: to accept a plan in principle.
15. on principle,
a. according to personal rules for right conduct; as a matter of moral principle: He refused on principle to agree to the terms of the treaty.
b. according to a fixed rule, method, or practice: He drank hot milk every night on principle.

The funny thing about principles is that not only is the construct so nuanced that it supports 15 different dictionary use cases, but we often forget iT shades most daily actions. I was reminded of this throughout the week based on three different interactions within multiple settings – professional, social and familial. The trifecta of situational proof points that principles could be seen as an individual’ personal acceptable use policy.

Each situation for each participant is shaded by not only personal experience/biases, but constrained to the context of one’s principles. A friend has told me time and time again, your “world view” impacts your reactions and others reactions to YOU. For example, my view of productivity and follow up is not the same as others or vice versa. which while circular logic is the recursive spiral many interactions get into because of core DNA differences with folks. At times you just can’t connect your idea, emotions or actions toward what may or may not be common goals. Ultimately, how does an individual internalize a strategy, a brand or an action plan in the marketplace or in a cohort group is often the common thread of miscommunication between folks, as least that’s my lesson of the week around principles.

To effectively lead, manage or interact this is a baseline reality is often forgotten and overlooked, MYSELF included. I find myself not asking enough questions, but instead interpreting reactions and actions within how I would see/feel on a given topic which is more of an anchor than way to move forward and drive change. So my personal and career challenge to myself of week is to use my ears more than my mouth and to ask questions as to why something isn’t as effective as I thought it would be, rather than to make assumptions based on my own understanding/filter.

I think with this approach then perhaps I can avoid the pitfall of the best laid plans going awry. So now I think I have 101 things to be thankful for.

I really get excited when life hits you in the head with a blunt object and make you realize the best thing is that we are all different and bring different view, strategies and tactics.

For me it’s those situational reminders which provides clarity on things. I think I’ll read the 4 agreements again.

Stuck in the Middle: The Napoleon

So I haven’t felt that creative in a while, but the other day I committed that I had to get back to my pieces on Leadership persona’s. I’ve been working from a list of of 9 , so I’m back on the task since I encountered one of my predefined leaders on my list just the other day – The Napoleon. Initially the definition/caricature was a mid-level leader with overly aggressive goals who wouldn’t let folks stand in the way – but I found a better way to look at ti. Essentially Napoleon is now first time CEO of a small company, with grandiose goals and a belief that it just takes rigorous execution and trust for this “know it all” leader.

Returning to this conversation around management styles offers me the opportunity to develop a new page around stuff I’ve learned in business. I started this theme last August at site launch and I feel like I have to close it out at some point and move on, since my things I like list didn’t include seem to highlight this as a key area of interest.

The Napoleon persona overview takes a little different approach than the previous posts. The main reason I guess is as a person, I’m in a different place than when I wrote the first one – a new kid, a new gig and growing interest in other things. Perhaps I’ve gotten just a little more Zen, a point my fellow collegeues and friends would strongly push back on, but I believe it when it come to priorities. Hey – YOU too can be Zen-like by embracing an idea – any idea and mumbling it to yourself for say 100 times while washing your hands in scalding water, after that there is no way NOT to be Zen about a topic then.*see end note

While, my other Stuck in the Middle ones were about dealing with such a leader persona and driving change, such as with the Geologist, Collaborator, Visualist or MBIFM – the Napoleon review is more about how to be better a better if you exhibit these qualities and how to understand the strengths of this leadership persona to better pursue/understand the opportunity.

FWIW – an alternative title for this post could be “a thinly veiled letter to a friend”.

Qualifying the Napolean Leader

I’ve spent the better part of the last couple of days hearing short jokes which is what jogged my memory on this, but the Napolean leader isn’t short, doesn’t put his/her hand in their jacket or secretly desire to be exiled and die on a South Atlantic island – it’s a leader who just can seem to take it to the next level and while in their effort to do so, they position themselves as just a little better than they are.

A Napolean leader has been everywhere, knows everyone and are just killing it in a sub-$10M company. Typically these folks don’t have the right product or the perspective on the organization or the future of the business. The Napolean style can be natural or acquired by a less than wonderful outlook which doesn’t include global domination or leadership in a segment.

Without the right product or perspective these leaders quickly become just a little bit frustrated. This mini-CEO probably was a GM of some small business at GE and thought taking such a gig was a great idea. Less pressure, lower expectations and generally slower pace. Fast forward 18 months – this person has a whole different viewpoint. It may even grow out of some general observations:

  • I would have never thought this business would have plateaued so quickly
  • This slow pace is just a little boring
  • If we just did X we might be able to X which could be fun

Recursive thought experiments never end well when you have limited capacity, limited capital or a crowded market. At some point when you exit the loop and he a Napoleon perceives he/she has hit a ceiling, it’s time for digging into the details. Only with a firm understanding of every part of the business can they figure out the right next steps. That’s right – stunted growth requires meddling in the weeds. Negotiating contracts, helping with various functional gaps and generally getting in the way. But it creates “Action” for him or her, which is a good thing – activity equals results after all…

Small companies generally have good people and typically try to make everyone successful – employees, investors and customers – this may actually be part of the companies differentiation. Napoleons have a slightly different take on the small company. SMB’s are platforms to grow and potentially become something different overtime. Napoleon leaders have an insatiable need for more – more from people and more from products which manifests itself in the barking of orders, swat teams and detailed reporting requirements. All of this is delivered to the team with just a touch of arrogance which is often the topic of watercooler discussions and exit interviews.

Unreasonable Expectations

With a global viewpoint and firm understanding of how effectively manage a business as taught to them via the school of hard knocks. The Napoleon leader is battle tested and war scarred – that’s part of their charm. These folks are in EVERY meeting – no need to delegate, they have the answers, experience and “never say quit” attitude which will surely make their company successful. The cool thing for working for one of these leaders is you don’t need to think, be creative or grow – they got your back, take notes and tick off assigned tasks for success. It’s also not uncommon to hear at the weekly staff meeting – “Saturday is beer and pizza overtime day! Let’s celebrate and write some code!”. I mean these folks are super motivational and looking ahead.

“If we just march northeast, starting in September, we got those Rusians”

The RIght Sized Opportunity

Sometimes a stable $8M business with a profit sharing plan can significantly encourage innovation, dedication and deliver some interesting results if Napoleon could focus on their strengths and those of the business. The way I see it, the Napoleon leader sees what could be, rather than what is. They see what what that don’t have rather than what they do – essentially can’t seem to appreciate what they have – people, products and opportunity.

This leader should step away for a week or so and let the people get creative and lead for a while, could provide some interesting outcomes and make Napoleon just a little more peaceful.

*End Note – this was just literary mechanic to approximate satire and sarcasm, not a recommendation to pursue.

Stories in The Village: EVERYONE must understand the brand

Our stories as marketers continues to be a theme of late, whether it’s understanding how YOUR history and biases impact your stories and now from Seth, how your EXECUTION is central to the story/brand experience. Below is an excerpt which asserts lack of a story can impact consistency of the brand:

But what if you haven’t figured out a story yet?

Then the work is random. Then the story is confused or bland or indifferent and it doesn’t spread.

On the other hand, if you decide what the story is, you can do work that matches the story. Your decisions will match the story. The story will become true because you’re living it.

Does Starbucks tell a different story from McDonald’s? Of course they do. But look how the work they do matches those stories… from the benefits they offer employees to the decisions they make about packaging or locations.

The pithy piece from Seth opines about what comes first, the story or the work. Not sure that this is the best way to manage the story or the execution, since they are more or less ONE thing – the Brand. These are two interactive and evolving components which can’t be untethered. Customers, employees and transactional interactions move the story and change the story over time, evidence the $1 coffee from Starbucks or the 3 hour re-training event which was intended to boost the barista-ness of the the customer experience.

This example from Starbucks is a great use case for how to align execution to the story and the market. So if the story is linked to execution/the work, then speaking to the market is only part of the story to be told.

As brand managers/creators, marketers need to continuously deliver messaging not just for the market, but for the larger organization in partnership with human resources and the leadership. What are the types of activities and processes required to consistently deliver on a brand story/uphold the integrity of a brand? The realities is it varies. This will vary from industry to industry and market segment to market segment, but 3 key areas for consideration regardless of industry:

  • Establish a Unified Tribal Understanding
  • Open Channels for Feedback
  • Consistently Reward and Publicize Contribution

Tribal Understanding

You can’t tell the same story, unless you KNOW what the story is, so what have YOU done as a marketer to make this happen?

This is the concept of making sure the whole organization understands what a product is supposed to do and what the value drivers are for the consumer. In technology for example, the larger organization needs to understand the solutions being delivered, the relative importance of the solution for the consumer and overall strategic direction of the company.

With this baseline folks can understand and how this relates to what customers/the market need for a given technology provider. Without common tribal understanding, you get inconsistent execution which can greatly change the market version of the story/the stories your customers tell.

Tip: The easiest way to figure out if you need to develop a plan for this is fairly simple, walk around the business. Walk around and ask say 10 folks across the organization from a functional perspective and seniority perspective and see if they tell the same story about your product or your brand. If you get 6 different answers, you probably need to do something.

Channels for Feedback

As consumers habits change and market requirements evolve, it is important that every organizational story teller cannot only understand the brand story, but also that they can contribute to the evolution of the story. Whether it’s collections, professional services or customer service, all of these stakeholders interact with the market daily and should have easy access to provide input from the business. This can be as simple as email or a suggestion box on the intranet and is imperative to keep a pulse on the market and to understand how your product is perceived on the front lines.

Tip: See if you have a clear path from communication to the marketing team, product management and leadership of YOUR organization, if not perhaps you should roll out a formal plan, remind folks of how to contribute and develop a formal plan to manage input for improvement.

Reward and Publicize Contribution

This seems a little obvious, but telling the story for the market, requires awareness for the larger organization of how a single person can leverage their tribal knowledge and exceed the promises of the brand. While the type of recognition will vary by company size and budget, marketers need to equally tell the story internally and leveraging an open channel for feedback and ensuring the full understanding of the story makes it simple. Don’t underestimate a Starbucks gift card and an “all employee” email.

Tip: Recognition isn’t about burying an accomplishment on the intranet for a specific functional group – it needs to be shared. Don’t fall for the corporate newsletter trap here – you can mention it in the newsletter, but take the time to highlight individual successes outside of the normal communications channels for the whole organization.

While this clearly is not the alpha and omega of brand based story creation and modication, it’s a good place to start. Do YOU have any ideas on how to improve the stories told in the village? Leave a comment and let us know.

From the Stream – i can see clearly now the PCB’s gone…

This week has been more about management and configuration than most and so far the results are rewarding. I did a great deal of random surfing, stocked up my bookmarks and got to sit by the twitter stream more than most weeks.  To that end, I thought I would fish from the stream for some content.

My blog is broken. I can’t post…. – Guy Kawasaki


Not that I’m a tech support person for typepad, but perhaps Guy could try and remove some of his ads or overly ornate widgets. Just an idea, but the Twitter stream was just chuck full of fun this week. After my remediation effort, I meandered into a fun set of tweets which allowed me to add some new folks to the line up and to see some reasonable content from Guy. I know most of the tweets are recycled truemors, shhhhh.

The best one, which improved my RSS feed list incredibly was:

this woman is funny: – Guy Kawasaki

I’m confident Jenny is probably a librarian with some strange penchant for doing friends party invites by hand in calligraphy, because she has mad caligraphy skillz and it helps drown out the voices. Her profile states she’s a Corporate Gardener/HR Analyst, her blog has a little bit of a stalker in it and a whole lot of crazy. If you are a really interesting person you may get a lock of her hair. She also blogs at momma drama, where only hints of crazy exist.

On totally different note – a tweet from maggie:

Maggie: BABYBOI plate and “I’ve got piercings in places you’d love to lick” license frame suggest that aging is gonna be hard on you.