Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Tag Archives: Advice

The Comparison Conundrum

We’re all guilty of falling into the trap that is, comparison. When we’re at the gym, we look left, we look right and we then evaluate how we’re stacking up. If you’ve ever been running, especially in a race, we size of the competition, so to speak and make a snap judgement about whether we should be faster or slower than someone. There’s of course the old, “grass isn’t always greener” concept, where we look at our neighbor’s lawn, house, car, etc.

Apple vs. Organge

This passage from a study, published in Neuron, really nails it:

We found that although people estimated their abilities on the basis of their own performance in a rational manner, their estimates of themselves were partly merged with the performance of others,” says first author Marco Wittmann, a doctoral student in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Oxford. “The findings potentially have implications for social interactions in the workplace as well as clinical disorders such as depression.

In essence, we’re wired to constantly evaluate ourselves, not against our own goals, but against what we perceive someone else to be achieving. Perception is a funny thing. It can drive you mad. I know, because, I’ve definitely been there.

On the one hand, comparisons are helpful, because they provide context and a way to understand how something is performing relative to a norm or average. When used correctly, comparisons are incredible helpful. When I say “correctly”, what I mean is that when the variables are known, the evaluative criteria established and a norm to work off of, you have a perfect combination of elements needed to make a comparison useful. For example, is my 7 year old son, underweight or not growing fast enough? Can my 9 year old daughter read at a 4th grade level? A 5th grade level? Or is she reading below her grade level? In both of those scenarios, you have known variables (weight, height), you have a norm (avg weight/height for a given gender, at a given age) and you have defined evaluative criteria (that height or weight relative to the norm).

In those types of scenarios, comparisons are helpful, useful and logical. But, where comparisons start to fall apart is when you begin evaluating situations that are not as mathematical and structured as the height and weight situations. In particular, as someone who’s worked for other people for ~20 years and managed people for more than 10, there are 2 workplace scenarios that come up, routinely, that create great stress, because the comparisons aren’t structured.

  1. Promotions: Why wasn’t I promoted, but so and so was? Good question. I’ve asked it before. I don’t ask it anymore. I stopped 10 years ago. Why? Because, trying to compare yourself to someone else, even if you’re in the same role, is a fool’s errand. There are so many variables to consider. Everything from soft skills, like “executive presence” to experience and tenure to active career planning conversations. Additionally, if what you’re looking for is a promotion, comparing yourself to the job description for the role you want is far more structured, logical and productive. Lastly, I once found myself in a situation, early on in my career, when a peer of mine had been promoted. An email was sent out. I was irked. I scheduled time with my manager and basically explained how unfair it was and how was more qualified than the other person. She let me go on for about 15 minutes. And, finally, she said, “You are being promoted. Well, you were. It was taking longer than anticipated, because we also wanted to give you a bonus, on top of your increase. But, candidly, this outburst, gives me hesitation.” I did get the promotion and I learned a valuable lesson. #1, don’t compare yourself to other. #2, there may be other things at work, that you’re not aware of. Be careful not to put your foot in your mouth.
  2. Compensation: I should be making more money. The market rate for my role is $X and so and so makes $Y. Fair compensation is important in an organization. In an ideal world, a great organization, continually evaluates existing compensation, market rates, employee potential and then continually looks to invest fairly into their employees. “Fairly”, you’re asking; yes, “fairly.” Let me explain. Let’s say you have 3 employees, with the same title, experience and role. Person A, has been with the company for 5 years and joined in the same role they’re in, today. Person B, was hired 3 years ago, but from another internal team. Person C, was hired this year. It is conceivable and likely, given how they came into the roles, that their pay would be different. As I wrote in 2014, if you changed jobs every year, you’d be guaranteed to be evaluated against the current market rate. Said another way, your max base compensation potential, is always gained when/if you switch jobs every single year. That’s just one problem with evaluating comp. You have other variables like performance level. Is person A, statistically a better performing person than person B? If so, wouldn’t their increases each year be higher? Or, would you pay equalize the increases so that a high performer is compensated the same as good or poor performer? It’s not black and white.

I have found, over the years, the single distinguishing characteristic, between good and great employees, is an appreciation for context. For example, asking for a promotion, 3 months after you’ve been promoted, is unrealistic. Demanding a raise of Y%, when the company just had layoffs and reported poor financial results, is tone deaf. Context is critical. Context is understanding the nuances. Having an appreciation for context, makes you a better, more well-informed employee. With context, you can make smart comparisons.

Just because you can make a clear, structured, factual and logical comparison, doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want. The world is filled with scenarios where value is in the eye of the beholder. The Miami Heat didn’t value Dwyane Wade the same as the Chicago Bulls. As such, Wade left the Heat and joined Chicago. Why? Context. The Heat wanted to get younger. The Bulls wanted to win now. It’s that simple.

Lastly, I’ll answer the age old maxim of “that’s like comparing apples and oranges.” Yes, you can, in fact, compare apples and oranges, if the variables are known, the evaluative criteria established and there’s a norm to work off. If the question is which fruit is a better source of Vitamin C, this is an easy comparison. If the question is, which fruit is better, you have a difficult comparison, full of subjectivity.


I Learned A Lot In 2015

Winston Churchill

In so many ways, 2015 was a transformative year for me. There was no denying that “change is the only constant” was alive, well and all so very true. Each year, following the sentimentality that comes from the New Year, I take some time to think back on the past year and outline what I’ve learned. Knowledge is a lifelong quest. To me, that’s always been the beauty of it. 2015, the year I turned 36, was a big one.

  1. For the first time in my career, I found myself leading a team of subject matter experts that were much more the expert than I. Earlier in the year, one of my favorite colleagues and best work friends, left Walgreens to pursue an amazing opportunity. His team was transitioned to me. What an honor. I mean that. What a team he built. Smart, hard working, efficient and definitely subject matter experts. Every year, they could forget more than I could ever learn, about their disciplines. A first for me. A humbling experience. So what did I learn? To start with, how much fun it is to be truly not be the smartest person in the room. Every would be, self-help book, always says, surround yourself with smart people, so that you’re not the smartest person in the room. After living it for the past ~6 months, it’s exhilarating. You listen more. You speak less. When you speak, you ask questions. When you ask those question, there’s a split-second where you wonder, if what you’re asking, is a dumb question (usually, it’s not). I always knew my friend’s team was smart, but had no idea, just how sharp they were, til I spent meaningful time with them.
  2. In leading this new team, it was somewhat comforting to know there were still many things I could bring to the table to help them become better. That’s always the question I have for myself; how can I help my team-members become better. For example, in quickly recognizing that I wouldn’t be able to teach them new tricks/techniques to improve their daily craft, I could play the role of connector and instead bring to the table other subject matter experts, from different companies, that they could exchange ideas with. If I wasn’t going to be the expert, the least I could do is introduce them to other experts.
  3. Time management became a challenge as our new team approached ~40 members. I had to learn how to prioritize better than I’ve ever done before. I also had to re-think how to allocate time to spend with my team. It would be impossible to spend an hour with each person, every week, but were there are decisions I could make to ensure the each person on the team felt connected. This is work in progress. When you have a large team, with staff in different states, countries and continents, who are working on initiatives big and small, it’s a constant juggling act to stay connected.
  4. Early on in my career, I was taught to make sure you understand how dollars flow, how decisions are made and who influences perception of risk. More simply put, make friends with finance, legal and business operations. In a year where we formally finished acquiring a company, changed many of the players in the C-level seats, lost our CMO and announced the acquisition of another company, that advice helped ease the pain of change. Understanding how to navigate a large complex organization, is a skill that can often supersede your subject matter expertise’s value.
  5. We’re still trapped by the usage of old methods to evaluate new opportunities. Learning how to frame up the future in a way that fits into the containers of the past, is a challenge. Organizations, by design, are not wired or motivated to make changes that can’t be substantiated by the models, tools and methodologies that are broadly adopted and historically accepted. For example, a colleague of mine, laments that his paid search budget, while showing a ~7X return in pure .Com performance ($1 a click leading to $7 baskets) would seem like a great thing, the overall spend for paid search in his organization, is not big enough to be measured by their Marketing Mix Analysis (aka MMX) partner. Thus, his spend has been flat every year, for the past 3 years. Old methods for evaluating new media are hindering growth.
  6. On the personal side, my continued investment in snowboarding has been rewarding. Ever since I turned 30, I try learning something new, every year. Last year, was snowboarding. I took lessons. Purchased gear. Visited Jackson Hole and Park City. What a joy! This year, I’m picking up boxing and target shooting.
  7. I finally understood the nervousness, passion and craziness that comes from watching your kids play sports. My daughter, Cora, plays league basketball and this year is playing on the traveling team. What a rollercoaster of emotions. Her league team went to the finals, where they lost. As a parent, theres such a balance to be had, in coaching your kids, but not pushing them too hard…in cheering, but not embarrassing them…in wanting to curse out the ref, but not issuing restraint. I think I almost had a heart attack in every game.
  8. Last year and rolling into the New Year, I realized, I’m going to have to learn how accept that at 8 and 6, these kids are becoming completely independent. Case in point, John decided he wanted to come to Chicago to celebrate New Years and hang out with dad. But, Cora, while appreciating the offer, declined, because she had “plans.” You’re 8! You have plans! But, that’s the new reality. We’re rapidly approaching the inflection point where dad is no longer cool and my kids would rather hang out with their friends!
  9. The hunt can sometimes be more enjoyable than the treasure. In 2015, I hunted down the 5 bourbons/whiskeys I’ve always wanted to own, but could never find. In order of price/rarity: A.H. Hirsch 16, Michter’s 20, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, Parker’s Heritage: Promise Of Hope, Black Maple Hill Small Batch. The Hirsch and Michter’s, while universally celebrated were just good IMHO. Black Maple Hill’s hype never delivered for me. But, Promise of Hope…WOW! So good, I tracked down 5 additional bottles and grossly overpaid relative to MSRP. But, it was so worth it! That said, on the whole, the hunt was far more fun than the actual prize. I wonder if this is how Tinder users feel?
  10. Things are awesome. They really are. I have a drone (don’t fly it in the house, trust me), a hover-board (haven’t fallen, but once!), shoes, etc. But, it’s a handful of experiences, most of which were fairly inexpensive, that are far more memorable. In 2016, I’ll be investing more in experiences and less in things.

Like I said, 2015 was a big year. Lots learned. Lots to build on!

What CEO’s Need To Know About Digital

A colleague of mine works with CEOs across a wide variety of categories. His company provides coaching and consultation to CEOs with a focus on helping them navigate an increasingly digital and disruptive world.

Earlier this week he reached out with a very inspiring ask.

A client recently asked us, as the CEO:

What are the 2 to 3 most important things I should know about digital?
What are the 2 to 3 things I should avoid (mistakes) in making digital investments in the company?

What an incredible ask from the CEO and it certainly had my wheels turning. Here’s the advice I sent back.

2 to 3 To Know

  1. Digital isn’t a vertical channel or offering. An organization that ascends to a truly high level of digital fitness is one that looks at digital as a horizontal capability that can impact everything from supply chain to marketing.
  2. In true fundamental economics principles, there is a limited supply of exceptional digital talent. With limited supply and high demand, you need to rethink your entire recruiting, compensation and retention model. For example, at Twitter, the highest paid non-exec makes over $1M a year; he’s one of the smartest technical engineers in the world. The battleground for exceptional digital talent is serious business and one that most orgs aren’t equipped or prepared for.
  3. The space moves so fast. Your 5 year business plan approach doesn’t hold water in a space, like digital, that changes completely every 18 months. You need 5 year horizons, 3 year strategic plans and 18 month action plans.

2 To 3 To Avoid

  1. You can’t fix your digital capability gap by spending more. Spending more in digital, without the right internal capability and talent is an instant recipe for disaster.
  2. Building on my #1 of What To Know, you have to avoid making digital seem like a “thing”, “experiment” or the responsibility of 1 team or department. It needs to be something that every Sr. Exec is thinking about and investing in.
  3. Picking the wrong partners. Seems simple enough, but again, without the right internal champion vetting partners, who’s really capable of separating pretenders from contenders? If you pick the wrong partner (s) it can set you back and have a catastrophic ripple effect on your organization.

I’d love your feedback on my list and certainly welcome your thoughts on what CEO’s should know about digital. I’ll aggregate the feedback and pass it on to my colleague.

5 Things I’m Pondering Right Now

Changing Landscape

1 – A Changing Mobile Landscape

Wow. The pace of change in the mobile landscape is staggering. Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s mobile handset business was inevitable. Blackberry being purchased by private equity was less inevitable. I think many though Blackberry might be purchased by someone like Samsung or Apple. The private equity move is a bit of a head-scratcher. That’s some serious change. Add in Apple’s launch of the iPhone 5S and 5C, both with the added security feature of finger print verification. Frankly, this security measure was long overdue and it was only going to be implemented well by Apple. We’re on the cusp of some serious changes, but I’m not sure these changes will end up being great for consumers. Why do I say that? Well, as the mobile world shrinks, will we see a slow down in innovation? Google is being less open with Android. Samsung wants to create their own OS. Microsoft has never really been good with leveraging an asset they purchased (see Skype as an example). There’s just a lot going on. While this might not be good for the consumer from an innovation standpoint, this could be great for the market at large. Less players, less devices, less fragmentation should create better standardization and hopefully start accelerating the road map for mobile marketing and advertising.

2 – Career Advice?

Yesterday, I came across this post titled, “Career Advice to My Daughters.” With a title like that, you knew it was going to get a lot of play. It was shared several times in my Facebook and LinkedIn feeds. Friends, called it “thoughtful”, “poignant”, “important” and a “must read.” I disagree with all of those words, except “must read.” I have a daughter, Cora. She’s 6. I became more and more irritated as I made my way through the author’s post. A great friend of mine, captured my feelings better than even I could. She said, “Wow. So, that guy’s advice is to basically NOT have a career? I’m baffled.” Another friend, this one a guy, said, “This is the same type of garbage that drives me nuts about younger employees. They’re “owed” great jobs. Companies do not owe you a job. They certainly don’t owe you a great job or career. It is a financial transaction. Provide value and be compensated. Be awesome and you’ll get the better jobs. On the plus side, if Cora and his kid were in a pool, Cora finishes in the top 50%.” I couldn’t agree more. While, I don’t need, nor expect my kids (both of them) to become CEOs, I do expect them to have an understanding of how the world works and that those who like ambition, drive and a clear sense of direction, struggle.

So Hard To Keep Up

3 – It’s Tough To Stay Digitally Fit…Even For Digital People

Keeping up in digital is challenging. I read. I read more. I try. I try more. I joined Snapchat. I hate Snapchat. I keep trying Snapchat. In a very sobering study from Adobe (PDF), it was revealed that less than half of DIGITAL marketers feel they are highly proficient at digital marketing. On some level, this isn’t surprising. For years, we haven’t invested in making digital important…certainly not important enough to invest in making our digital talent better through formal training-like programs. When we talk about building the digital capability and increasing our level of digital fitness at The Campbell Soup Co., we don’t focus on non-“digital” talent. Everyone needs to get more fit. Even those that are considered the most knowledgeable about digital, can always be smarter, better and more fit. When I read a report like this I feel even better knowing my kids are embracing digital and technology at such a young age.

Real Time

4 – Real Time “Marketing” Fatigue?

I watched, as many marketers did, the “real time marketing” efforts by brands during the Emmy’s. Most brands seemed to sit it out; and I happen to think that’s a good thing that reflects a return back to basic marketing fundamentals. Now, it’s possible, many brands sat out the Emmy’s because the Emmy’s aren’t as big as the Oscar’s. However, I tend to think it’s because marketers are realizing that real time marketing is a fad. Yes, I said a fad. Let me be clear when I say a fad, it’s the idea that an Oreo Super Bowl moment is repeatable every day. What isn’t a fad, isn’t being prepared, actively listening and striking at the right moment with an authentic on brand message that your audience actually wants to hear. What we saw with this most recent Oscar’s, were brands forcing the conversation. They were trying hard to replicate a moment. The problem is, you can’t force a moment. Moments happen, what you need to do is be ready to take advantage of the moment. Now, of course, leaders in the space, took umbrage with people calling them out for forcing a conversation and ultimately delivering off brand and mediocre creative experiences. They would have you believe that “no one” has this figured out and this is part of the evolution of real time marketing and it’s about innovation and test and learn. I’m not buying that. At Campbell, we often talk about how social is 99% preparation and 1% execution. If you spend your time preparing, you’ll almost always be able to take advantage of that 1% moment. If we want social to be better than robo-calls, infomercials and overly aggressive mass market direct mail, we need to focus on the preparation, not on trying to make execution the 99%. Our new soup campaign features a character called called, The Wisest Kid. You won’t find any tweets from him during the Emmy’s. There were certainly some great oppotunities, but we passed on them. Why? Because, we’re staying true to the campaign and our audience…the Emmy’s started after The Wisest Kid’s bed time. To have tweeted during the Emmy’s, with the hopes of catching lightening in the bottle, would have meant we were prioritizing short term gains and the expense of long term growth. Know your brand. Know your audience. Connect with them in a natural way.


5 – Does Your Digital Org Road Map Include Blowing It All Up?

Digital moves quick. Every day it seems like there’s something new to keep up on. When you’re building a digital organization or looking to transform an organization into a more digitally fit one, you have to have a plan. I know that sounds basic. I realize you’re thinking, well gosh Adam, tell me something I don’t know. Ok, now, think for a second; do you have a real 5 year road map for where you’re taking the organization? Does it have vision and strategy? Does it include how you’ll evaluate your progress? For some of you the answer is yes. That’s great. Now, let me ask you, does your plan include and account for blowing up your entire model at some point? I didn’t think so. Why is this important? Part of it is as simple as the old adage, what got you here, won’t get your there. The other part though is that the skills, staffing dynamics, focus, priorities, partners and economic environments change often. While your vision and strategy should be consistent, the road map to get to bright will need to evolve and ultimately, at some point, you’ll need to blow it up if you want to be successful 5 years out from the end of your 5 year road map. We’re 15 months into our journey to be the most digitally fit CPG in the world. It’s a marathon. But, a marathon that we need to run at a sprinter’s pace. The more I think about things though, it might be less marathon and more like a Spartan Challenge style race.  In Spartan Challenges, you need to adapt and adapt quickly and often. You have fire, mud, hills and other obstacles. Those obstacles force you to reassess your path quickly. You need to be nimble, but not sloppy, as you keep your eye on the end goal.

My 10 Big Rules To Live By

I like to keep things simple. As Ferris Bueller said, “life comes at you pretty fast.” I’ve generally tried to live my life and make decisions based on 10 Big Rules. Why 10? No idea; it’s just what the tally ended up being. Why Big? Because, there are other smaller rules that are specific to certain situations, but they aren’t applicable to all situations, every day.

I was sharing these rules the other day and it dawned on me, I’ve only retained them in my head. I’ve never actually written them all down. So without further adieu, here we go.

  1. Be direct. Be honest. Tell the truth. – You’d thing this would be easy. But, ask yourself, are you truly honest? When someone asks you how they look in that outfit, do you tell them the honest truth 🙂
  2. Trust your gut. It’s usually smarter than your head or your heart. – The head is too rationale. The heart is too fragile. But, the gut delivers on your natural instincts.
  3. Say “please” and “thank you.” – This is a big one for me. I try to say them all the time. They’re small words, but powerful ones. Too many people have forgotten the manners taught to us in kindergarten.
  4. Don’t compromise on your principles. – You’ll never be happy if you compromise on them. It can be tough to be rigid, to be somewhat stubborn. But, to those that say stubborn, I say committed.
  5. Be BIG and be BOLD. – When you go big and bold it usually means you’ve left nothing on the table. If you do that, you can sleep well.
  6. Love fast. Love hard. – Love is an amazing thing. It’s potent unlike any other emotion. To those who would advise treading carefully, well, I don’t think you’ve ever really been in love then.
  7. Make mistakes. Make them quickly. – My dad often said to me, if you’re going to make a mistake, make a big one, make an epic one, make a memorable one. Don’t dwell on mistakes. They’re proof you’re trying.
  8. Never wear white pants. Ever. Never Ever. – I’m serious. Nothing good comes from wearing white pants.
  9. Do not apologize for you are. – I might add, or where you came from. Embrace who you are. Love who you are. Be proud of your background, your values and your hopes. Do not let others judge you for them.
  10. Always double-down on 11. Always. Yes, always. – This isn’t just about blackjack. It’s about life. Life presents situations where the risk is most definitely worth the reward. If you’re sitting on 11, you double down.

Simple. To the point. So if you’ve been wondering why I’ve done what I’ve done…why I’ve made the decisions I have…now you know.

Some Thoughts On Being A Parent

Perhaps one of the great truths of being a parent is that you’ll get to offer your children advice…that they won’t take. I’m guilty of this truth. At 33, when I look back on the great advice offered by parents, more so my dad, that I didn’t listen to..well…it’s staggering. But, that’s life, right? As kids we think we know better and that our parents are out of touch. When we transition from advice takers to advice givers it’s a moment you remember.

John, Cora and Adam

My kids, Cora and John are nearly 6 and 4 respectively. They’re young. They’re still growing. Right now, I try to keep things simple. There’s really only 3 things I try to reinforce with them.

  1. Love each other, be nice to one another; you only have one brother and one sister.
  2. Speak the truth and be clear.
  3. Mind your manners and your studies.

Sometimes, I even think it sticks.

Looking forward though, to when they’re old enough to really ignore me, I hope the following sticks.

  • Life isn’t short. It’s long. People tell you it’s short. It’s not. You have more time thank you think. Don’t be in a rush. Choose carefully. Many of your decisions, you’ll live with forever.
  • Love fast. Love hard. You’re heart will be broken often. You’ll break the hearts of others. Don’t let the fear of a broken heart stop you from loving. But, never tolerate someone who doesn’t value the love you have in your heart. Remember, life is long.
  • Work an honest day. Earn your keep. Don’t compromise your values for a dollar. Don’t be ashamed to earn what you’re worth, even if it means your valued more than others. Money shouldn’t define you. It doesn’t make you a better person. But, it can be the fuel you need to experience the world.
  • Quality over quantity. Always.
  • Don’t lie to your father. I’m your biggest ally, your best friend and the one person you can always trust.

I’m still learning from my dad. He’s my best friend. He’s the 1st person I turn to for advice. He’s the first person to keep me humble. No dad’s perfect. I think I lucked out, though. I hope my kids feel the same way.

The 5 Mistakes You’re Still Making When Pitching Me

I get cold/blind pitched. I get cold/blind pitched a lot. Actually, when I first started at Campbell, I was even pitched by investment companies, who had read the press release announcing my hire and assumed that I negotiated a better deal than I had 🙂

Apparently, your name in a press release means you just earned million-dollar-a-year job. Yes, I’m serious.

Also, having worked agency side for nearly a decade, I’ve done a lot of pitching. Pitching and being pitched are simply part of the business we’re in. It’s a fact. It’s been that way for decades. It’ll continue being that way for decades.


I get it. Really, I do. But, just because I accept that pitching is part of the way of life for our industry, doesn’t mean I enjoy it. The problem isn’t pitching. It’s not. After all, we’re all in the business of persuasion. And persuasion is an art. It’s not a science. There’s no perfect formula for pitching perfectly. If there were a formula, we’d all be applying it at our organizations. And while there is no formula to guarantee success, I can attest there are things you should stop doing, if you want to even have a chance.

  1. Stop Using LinkedIn Requests As A Sales Tool: This one is simple right? Maybe, I’m not judicious enough about who I connect with on LinkedIn. Maybe, I’m at fault here. I accept some blame. But, last time I checked, when you send me a LinkedIn request, it doesn’t say, “By, accepting this request, you agree to letting me bombard your inbox with messages about how my company can help your company.” My acceptance of your LinkedIn request does not mean I want to hear your pitch. The LinkedIn connection acceptance is as passive as putting my business card in your fishbowl for a chance to win a free burrito. It is. I’m sorry, if you think it means more. It doesn’t. When you try to take our “relationship” to the next level, by calling or emailing, it just makes me wish we hadn’t even gotten connected in the first place. If you want to follow-up with an email or message that says: thanks, glad we’re connected, if you’re ever interested in connecting in-person, here’s my info; that’s totally appropriate. But, delivering me your form email with mis-matched font style, size and color, is a complete fail for me.
  2. Don’t Assume Things Are Simple: It’s all about timing and context. For example, let’s say you’re a SaaS provider who has the most amazing social media blah blah blah tool, that I absolutely must have. And, for a second, let’s assume I agree with you. Great right? Here’s the thing, I probably already have an incumbent that I’m somewhat happy with and contracted to work with for some duration of time. So, I’m probably not looking to make a change. Not just because of the pain that comes from switching partners. That’s actually the easy part. But, if, I’ve assumed a budget of 100K for XYZ type of partner and you want to unseat them, not only do you have to have a better product/offer, but you need to price you platform in a way that allows me to switch at no incremental cost. Here’s the problem with that for most companies who are pitching. Let’s say your platform is not only the most amazing platform out there, but it’s 50% cheaper than my incumbent. Great in theory, except, I still need to terminate my existing contract, which probably has a 30 or 60-day out clause. I also can’t afford a service interruption. So, I’m probably going to need your platform running at the same time as my incumbent, while we transition. If you charge me for that, which you should, you’re no longer 50% cheaper, are you? I haven’t even gotten into the teams that need to review things. We have legal, procurement, finance, the people using your platform and other stakeholders – all teams/people who need to get involved. In a non-SaaS world it’s even more complex. Not only do you need to have a better offering, but there needs to be a real project with a real budget to work on. It’s not like, in a span of a few days, I can simply tell one agency and the internal teams working with that agency, you’re no longer working on X; this new agency is. Be realistic.
  3. Stop Spamming My Organization: Yes, I said SPAMMING. When you send the same UNSOLICITED message to a litanie of people…who by the way, just end up forwarding all the emails to me for follow up, which fills up my inbox…it’s SPAM. Here’s what I think when I see this happen: wow, this company has zero ethics. And if you have zero ethics when you’re pitching, why would you all of a sudden gain ethics when we’re doing business together? When you do this, I simply put you on “ice.” What does that mean? It means I email you, to let you know you’ve crossed a line. Then, you go into a folder, where I ignore your requests for 6 months to a year. If my direct message to you about crossing the line, doesn’t stick, and you continue emailing, I forward your info to our procurement team and indicate your organization does not meet the ethical standards we have and as such should be disqualified from future opportunities, until we believe you do meet our ethical standards. In one such situation, while employed at a previous company, we had to go so far as to suppress all emails coming from a company’s domain.
  4. Stop Trying To Go Above Me Or Around Me: This is a slight variation of the “Stop Spamming My Organization” section, but it’s an important one. We believe that this is a business of relationships. I get that. On many levels, it is. But, never make the mistake of believing that your relationship with someone in my organization is stronger than the relationship I have to the key decision makers or my organization. It’s counter productive for you to call upon your friend/buddy/former client/etc. and request of him/her to have me review your organization. I know how this works. You’re making the assumption that now that you have your foot in the door and the opportunity to “pitch,” I’ll be so blown away by what your saying, that I’ll of course want to work with you. Unfortunately, you’ve made a critical error with this thinking: I’m taking the meeting with you, not because I’m interested, but because it’s a courtesy. That means, my mindset is to get in, get out and get back to the real work that drives meaningful growth for my organization. Net-net, you’ve just made me waste 2 hours and that doesn’t exactly make me want to work with you.
  5. Don’t Exaggerate: Here’s the thing; this is a small world. It’s really small. It’s made even smaller, every day, by platforms like twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. When you’re in a role like mine, you have a long and diverse “rolodex” of people in similar roles, at other companies, who are generally willing to share knowledge. We’re a tight knit community and I’ve found we usually try to help one-another out. If you tell me your doing ABC for company XYZ, it better be 100% truthful, because inside of 24 hours I’ll be able to connect with someone at company XYZ who can tell me the truth. The number of times, I’ve read an email from someone pitching how they are the company who did ABC for client XYZ, only to find out that they only played a bit part and clearly exaggerated, is too many to count. Be real. Be honest. Be candid. If you don’t, I’ll eventually find out, which doesn’t help you in the short-term or long-term.

Look, I don’t envy people who have to pitch or sell their company. It’s a tough job. Incredible tough. But, I promise you, you’re just making it tougher on yourselves and your organization if you’re doing any of the 5 above. Time is money. In this business, it really is. Don’t waste my time and I won’t waste yours. Deal?

Do It Right, Or Don’t Do It

I love Michael Keaton. One of my favorite actors, hands down. If you haven’t seen My Life, I highly recommend it; although bring along the Kleenex…you’ll need it. Grantland, recently did an amazing interview with Keaton that’s worth your time to read. There’s some truly great exchanges and one-liners in the interview, but none better than this discussion on why Michael Keaton passed on doing Batman “3” after having so much success in playing the role of Batman in the previous 2 movies.

Michael: And, I will take credit for this, though: The third Batman didn’t happen because I said this is not good, this is just not good.

Daniel: You were right.

Michael: And I said, “So let’s make it good,” and I run up against this resistance, and I said, “OK, I ain’t doing it, man, I just won’t do it.” And they didn’t believe me, but I said, “No, I’m really not doing it … ”

Daniel: I know — I heard they backed the truck up. I read the whole story. Fifteen million bucks they offer you, and you just said screw it, no.

Michael: Yeah, that was it. Anyway, so I just said no.

Powerful concept, right? Obviously this goes beyond movies. It’s something I truly believe in. If you can’t do something right, if you can’t do it the best you can, if you can’t do it in a way you can be proud of and ultimately defend…DON’T DO IT. This philosophy, which one could argue, allows you to put more wood behind less arrows, is why I think Google is on the upswing. The renewed focus by Sergei Brin and Larry Page is admirable. You’re also seeing it become part of the formula for other companies who are just killing right now, like, foursquare, Ford, Amazon, Square, and Roku. They aren’t rushing to market with something. They aren’t offering a rip off of something else out there already. They aren’t doing it to simply check a box.

No, they’re focusing. They’re being smart about when to invest and what to invest against. This focus isn’t just for show. It’s part of their strategy. They’re doing it right, or they’re not doing it. Perhaps if the music industry took a page from this book, we’d have more AC/DC Black Ice and less Just Bieber [anything].

So, the next time, you’re about to do something, ask yourself, can you do it right? Because, if you can’t, you probably shouldn’t do it.

Rules For Dating My Daughter

Courtesy of my dad…via his iPad…you gotta love technology!

RULE ONE: If you pull into my driveway and honk, you better be delivering a package because you’re sure not picking anything up.

RULE TWO: Do not touch my daughter in my presence. You may glare at her adoringly, so long as you do not peer at anything below the neck. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off my daughter I will remove them.

RULE THREE: I am aware that it is considered fashionable for boys your age to wear their trousers so loosely that they appear to be falling off of your hips. Please don’t take this as an insult, but you and all of your friends are idiots. If you show up at my home with your pants falling down I will be forced to ensure that they do not come off during the course of your date with my daughter by taking my electric staple gun and fastening the pants directly to your waist.

RULE FOUR: I’m sure you’ve been told that sex in today’s world without a “barrier device” can kill you. Let me elaborate: I am the barrier, and I will kill you.

RULE FIVE: Current thinking is that in order for you and me to get to know each other, we should talk politics, sports, and other issues. Do not do this. Your ignorance and stupidity will only serve to anger me. The only information I require of you is when you will have my daughter home. To this end, you only need two words: “early” and “sir”.

RULE SIX: I have no doubt that you are a popular fellow, with opportunities to date other girls. This is fine with me as long as it’s okay with my daughter. Otherwise, once you’ve gone out with my little girl you will continue to date no one but her until she is finished with you. If you make her cry, I will make you cry harder.

RULE SEVEN: As you stand in my hallway waiting for my daughter to appear, do not sigh and fidget. If you want to be on time you should not be dating my daughter. She is doing her hair, putting on make-up, or whatever; a process that can take longer than painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead of just standing there, do something useful, like change the oil in my car.

RULE EIGHT: The following places are not appropriate places to take my daughter: places with beds, sofas, or anything softer than a wooden stool – places where there are no parents, policemen, or nuns within eyesight – places that are dark or poorly lit – places where there is dancing, holding hands, or excessive happiness – places where the ambient temperature is warm enough to induce my daughter to wear anything other than overalls, a sweater, and a goose down parka zipped up to her throat – movies with a strong romantic or sexual theme. Hockey games are okay, old folks homes are better, a convent is best.

RULE NINE: Do not ever lie to me. I may appear to be a middle-aged, dim-witted has-been, but on issues relating to my daughter, I am the all-knowing god of your universe. If I ask you where you are going and with whom, you have one chance to tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I have a shotgun, a shovel, and five acres behind the house. Do not trifle with me.

RULE TEN: Be afraid. Be very afraid. It takes very little for me to mistake the sound of your car in the driveway for a chopper coming over a rice paddy. When my PTSD starts kicking in, the voices in my head frequently tell me to clean the guns as I wait for you to bring my daughter home. As soon as you pull into driveway, you should exit your car with both hands in plain sight. Note the camouflaged face in the window is mine. Speak the perimeter password, announce in a clear voice that you have brought my daughter home safely and early, then return to your car

Finding The Signal Amidst The Noise

Earlier this week I had the great opportunity to keynote the first ever Digital World Expo in Las Vegas, NV. Shawn Rorick put together a really solid summit. Digital World Expo was his brain-child and it’s impressive to see how he took an idea from concept all the way to execution. From coordinating the location, finding sponsors, locking down speakers, promoting the event and more, Shawn and his team did a tremendous job of delivering one of the better events that I’ve attended.

On day 1, I took to the stage to kick off and keynote the conference. My slides, sans the video content, can be seen here.

I’m thankful for Shawn’s invitation and those who crawled out of bed on a Monday morning at 8 AM to listen to my thoughts about the future and how to stay relevant over the next decade.