Productive people embrace these 3 things

I have a challenge for you. It’s more fun for those who work in a corporate world i.e. you report to someone who report to another someone. You would receive orders from your higher ups on a daily basis. You need to do this and that for them. And, in many cases, those orders come at the same time with very short deadlines. How can we be productive under this situation?

There are some recommendations which I’d like to share with you. Whether they are realistic or not, we will see.

  1. Focus on your strengths. Peter Drucker said, “You can’t build on weakness.” You should focus on your strengths. If you are very good at data analysis using super complex excel formula, you might struggle with presenting your work. Instead of spending time to improve your PowerPoint skill, you should focus on build up your analytical skill and ask someone with great PowerPoint skill to help you. I think this is manageable.
  2. Be strategic about urgent requests. The thirty-fourth president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower said “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” So, the recommendation is to say ‘yes’ to the important tasks that advance your goals. And, you should say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ to everything else. Is this realistic? It is, but it also is to do.
  3. Understand your work style. Not everyone gets to the end results the same way. Some people like to involve lots of others in meetings to make decisions. Some, myself included, like to process information quietly before reaching out a broader group of people. Both approaches are fine. Don’t feel bad about who you are. And, don’t compare. The worst thing in the world that kill your productivity is comparing yourself with others. Just stop it.

The final words is self-knowledge (and a little diplomacy) are important traits for entrepreneurs and executives. We have to be diplomatic and political in the way we deliver the ‘no’ message.


The best tool for good strategy

I am still in a journey of upgrading my skill on strategy development. I found an interesting aspect of how to build a solid foundation for good strategy. Noticing anomalies is one way to trigger questions of why things don’t happen in certain ways. Ideas start to popup in your head. It’s very common that many of us would jump into a quick conclusion that the first idea that comes to mind is the right one.

It’s not always the case. And this is when a good strategy tool could help you. In strategy work, knowledge is necessary but not sufficient. You must be able to guide your own thinking.

You must cultivate the following 3 essential skills:

  1. You need to find ways to fight your own myopia and to guide your own attention.
  2. You must be able to question your own judgement. When you quickly decide that the first idea is great and you are excited about it, before moving forward, wait for a day or two and ask yourself again if your assumptions are right.
  3. You must develop the habit of recording your judgement so you could learn from it.

As you can see, the above is more of how to deal or manage your mindset. We must be able to question our judgement. It’s one of the most critical skill to develop a good strategy.


A starting point of good strategy

What does a good strategy look like? How does it start? Put simply, good strategy identifies challenges and how to develop cohesive actions to address those challenges.

The starting point is then to identify the challenges. One way of thinking is to look for anomalies. An anomaly is a fact that doesn’t fit received wisdom. In business, an anomaly could be a great source of opportunities.

Take Starbucks as an example. In 1983, Howard Schultz noticed an anomaly when he visited Italy. He noticed that the way Italians consume coffee was different to Americans. That insight led him to form a strategic hypothesis with a list of business challenges and how to address them.

The starting point of good strategy is not about putting a budget or a financial plan together. It’s not about the percentage growth we expect next year. A good strategy starts from an in-dept observation of anomaly.


How Satya Nadella changes Microsoft

At a time when Apple could do no wrong, Facebook was changing the world of communication and Amazon was blowing everyone away in cloud computing, Microsoft was the uncoolest 40-year-old imaginable.

Paul Smith

The above pretty much explains Microsoft’s situation when Satya Nadella took over the CEO rule from Steve Ballmer in 2015. What happened at Microsoft just confirms my belief that a company’s image is a reflection of a CEO’s personality. Steve Ballmer’s personality had created a ‘lost decade’ perception to the world about Microsoft.

How is Satya Nadella different?

A lot has to do with his leadership style? In a word, he is an infinite mindset leader. Satya has a clear “just cause” and he doesn’t compete to win. He competes to keep playing, to be better than his yesterday’s self.

What is his “just-cause”?

“Our mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.”

It’s not about specific products at Microsoft. It’s all about what solutions Microsoft has to enhance people’s lives. It is what Satya uses to make key business decisions.


What does great content look like?

How do you know you create great content?

The answer is – great content is engaging, useful, and transformative.

  • Content is engaging when it not only captures audience’s attention, but also keep that attention actively focused. It’s like you give a promise to the audience and deliver that promise in the content.
  • Content is useful when it solves audience’s specific problem. Every time someone interacts with your content, he searches for a solution to his problem. His problem could be big or small. It’s your content’s job to deliver that solution.
  • Content is transformative when it changes the audience in some meaningful way. The transformations don’t need to be ground breaking. It could be as simple as encouraging someone to click on a link or fill a form. The most powerful transformations is when content encourages someone to change their behavior or their belief.

Creating transformative content is the most difficult one. It requires a lot of research to gain insight about customers. To me, it’s a fundamental aspect of a brand. development process.


How to use subliminal perceptions in marketing

We understand the basic concept of how human brain works. There are 2 types of systems – conscious and subconscious mind. They don’t work independently. Instead, it’s one integrated system. The subconscious mind plays more role in our daily life than you might think. I for example use the same route to drive to work everyday. My subconscious mind often guides me to work without much concentration.

But, how does it work in marketing?

Brands take advantages of our subconscious mind all the times, through the use of color, smell, sound, etc. The common activities that are most popular are the following:

  • Social signal or social proof: we are likely to buy the products with more star reviews.
  • Using positive words: Apple has the following words banned in their sales training – “no”, “broken”, “cannot”, “sorry”. They train their staff to use positive words like “sure”, “we can do that”, “absolutely”.
  • Standing in a way: standing in the door way or blocking customer’s direct line for the door, you might be able to influence sales.
  • Try before you buy: very basic for all marketers.
  • Buy one get one free: customers may end up paying more for an individual item.

The above techniques work under the same principle – to let customers feel like they have things their way. Giving customers a “bragging right” could go a long way for your company.


Content strategy – 2 views about content creation

Creating great content is more important than ever. Content is a great way for your company and product to engage with customers. However, how do you know your content is great?

In order to define content greatness, we should start with how content is viewed in your company. There are 2 views about content strategy / creation:

  1. Content as a tactic: If your content is a tactic, its value is secondary and you use it to support other business goals.
  2. Content as a product: But, if content is a product, it delivers intrinsic value to your customers. It doesn’t more than just a supporting role to your business goals. It is your business goal.

As an example, if you have a campaign to generate leads, getting more leads would be your primary goal. Whether customers are happy with your content or not doesn’t really matter as long as they fill a lead form. However, if you care whether customers are satisfied with your content or not, then you see content as a product. You use content to enhance your brand positioning and to help customers solve problems.


Burger King took advantage of guerrilla marketing

Guerrilla marketing is innovative, unconventional, and low-cost marketing techniques aiming to get the maximum exposure on a product. That is the definition.

Burger King used to do this by doing something as simple as clicking likes on their targeted influencers’ twitter posts. The trick is those tweets were 10 years old. As you can imagine, those influencers made noises asking questions why Burger Kings did that. After a few weeks passed, Burger King revealed the reason through a launch of its new burger set.

Was Burger King did creative? Yes. Did Burger King get free exposure? Yes.

I think it’s a good technique to create excitement (or frustration) for commodities. It probably works if you expect short-term results.

Imagine if you have a great story to tell and you apply the guerrilla marketing concept. Sustainability is the first word coming to my mind.


Jeff Bezos’s decision making advice

I read about Jeff Bezos’s Day 1 letter before. I believe most people know him. He is a CEO and founder of the largest online store in the world – I read it again yesterday and am still fascinated with his thoughts and advice on how decision making process should be.

Jeff’s Day 1 philosophy is that we should always have an entrepreneurial, start-up mindset. Making high-quality, high-velocity decisions is part of his philosophy. It’s not easy especially in an established company with lots of layers. Here is what high-velocity decision making process looks like, according to Jeff:

  1. Never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. Management or all of us must understand that many decisions can be reversed. You just need to correct a bad decision you made. Not all decisions cost millions of dollars to the company.
  2. 70% of information should be sufficient for you to make a decision. You will never get all the information you need to make decisions. If you wait until you get more than 90% of information, you would probably be too slow.
  3. Disagree and commit. Not everyone would agree with everything. Remember this – you should expect common action, not a common census. Even if you disagree but the team has valid reasons to proceed, you should be fully committed to that decision.
  4. Identify true misalignment early. This is very important. The true misalignment comes from the team having different objectives and expectations from a project. No amounts of discussions or meetings would solve this issue. You need to go back to clarify the goals, the objectives of the project before you can proceed with any decisions.

This is the part I like the most from Jeff – “you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.


Tesla Motor has no marketing team

I just found out today that Tesla doesn’t have a marketing team, a Chief Marketing Officer, not even an advertising agency. They spend $0 on marketing. It reminds me someone used to say “advertising dollars are your tax payment on a product”.

How can you sell a product without spending money in marketing? These are my observations:

  1. You need to have a great product. A definition of great products are broad. It must solve customer’s problem. It must make customers feel good about themselves. One thing for sure, a great product must have a clear role in making customer’s life better.
  2. You must an interesting story and you must tell the stories well. Great story = free publicity.

An interesting story is free publicity, and a good reputation builds a brand.

Tameem Rahman

3. You are selling something more than your product. You sell a vision of a better world. You cannot have great stories if you try to sell product features. What is your just cause? What is the reason why your product exist in this world?

4. You must have a clear description of your followers in mind. By followers, I am talking about the people who would follow your cause. You are a leader of a cause. It’s not for everyone. There are some people who passionately believe in what you do. They want to follow you. They are happy to pay a bit extra to be a part of your world.

These are the formula of how to sell products without spending marketing dollars.