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Seeing Opaque Things More Clearly: Avoiding Business Blindspots

illustration chain of people with blindfoldsWith a husband who is legally blind, it’s perhaps not surprising that my attention is often drawn to metaphors that deal with vision.

For example, some say that hindsight is 20/20 vision; others say that there are none so blind as those who will not see. Seeing is believing, especially if that person comes from the ‘Show Me State’ of Missouri. You’ve probably heard about people who dwell in the past and drive looking in their rearview mirrors or those who hurry too fast and tend to outdrive their headlights. As I see it, all these sayings also apply to the business world and to thought leaders.

A good friend of mine, Ben Gilad, has a thriving strategic consultancy based on his book Business Blindspots, which outlines an effective strategic early-warning process model. Blindspots refer to those gaps in business knowledge that we just don’t see, that can blindside us as we adapt to a dynamic environment. Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know … we’re unable or, even worse, we’re unwilling to see what is clear to others, particularly our competitors.

Blindspots refer to those gaps in business knowledge that we just don’t see, that can blindside us as we adapt to a dynamic environment.
That type of business blindness can have far-reaching negative consequences for a thought leader, a company or an industry. One simple solution is to keep your eyes wide open, constantly scanning the competitive horizon for signals that might easily be overlooked.

Are you wearing metaphorical business blinders that just keep you focused in one forward direction? Are you eyeing all of the competitive opportunities available to you as a thought leader and then taking full advantage of them or do you have business blindspots? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Illustration credit: hikingartist.com via Flickr

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Sticky Tricky Truths – Part 3

bschiss exhibition titleA small museum in aptly but coincidentally named Liestal, Switzerland, had a recent exhibition dedicated to lying that included lies in books by famous authors. The title of the exhibition was Bschiss, which means something like a trick or cheating.

Swiss newspapers condemned the Bschiss revealed this summer when a training document from Ryan Air was leaked to the media in the UK. In it Ryan Air flight attendants were instructed to tell passengers they didn’t have change following a purchase and then “forget” to return the money later.

Another Bschiss controversy getting a lot of play in Swiss newspapers this summer concerns the political 1:12 Initiative promoted by the Schweizerischen Gewerbeverband (SGV) and opposed by the Jungsozialisten (Young Socialists).

Overnight this summer the initiative’s Facebook fan “likes” nearly tripled, to the immediate delight of the SGV. But upon further inspection, the sponsors found that the majority of the clicks came from places not necessarily considered Swiss strongholds, like Azerbaijan, Turkey, etc. They deny buying clicks and accuse the Young Socialists of the provocateur action of buying false likes to discredit SGV.

facebook screenshotAccording to the Swiss paper Blick am Abend, the cost of getting 10,000 fans is 450 Swiss Francs (about the same in US dollars). Clicks from click farms are, of course, strictly forbidden on Facebook; but a recent expose on British television showed the ease of arranging for such a service.

Are you having trouble managing your online reputation and confused about how to make social media work for you without resorting to tricks and Bschiss? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help (and that’s the truth)!

Read these other posts from this series:

Lies, Damn Lies, and Sticky Tricky Truths Part 2
Chief Truth Teller – The Risks and Rewards of Full Disclosure – Part 1

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Pointers for Thought Leaders

Qin terracotta warrior

Qin terracotta warrior

This autumn the Historical Museum in Bern, Switzerland, is featuring a special exhibition of the Qin army of terracotta soldiers from 200 B.C. On loan from the site in Xi’an, China – where more than 7000 specimens of battle warriors, cavalry animals and even civic leaders – were many life-size figures that could not fail to impress museum goers.

Expectations were high for this museum goer as I’ve waited about three decades to view the archeological treasure. My hometown Kansas City, Missouri, became a sister city of Xi’an in the 1980s; and as a journalist at the time, I had the opportunity to meet Xi’an dignitaries and hear about the recent find by a farmer in his field.

Finally seeing the terracotta figures in real life did not disappoint at all. No two terracotta figures were alike, but one in particular captured my imagination and seemed to be appropriate to discuss on a thought leadership website.

The 1800-year-old figure of an army commander stood taller than several of the other soldiers and struck a pose that was timeless. His piercing eyes and set jaw showed steely determination to reach his goal. As a leader, he seemed calm and confident that his orders would be obeyed.

Those views were shared by several others standing in front of him and admiring his ageless power. Evidence for those assumptions came simply from the pose of his hands. With one hand supposedly gesturing ‘’settle down’’ and the other hand with one pointing finger, the commander was leading his army in a certain direction in a subtle but unmistakable way.

As a thought leader, are you known for your steely, stony determination to lead in a calm manner? Are even your subtlest gestures sufficient to signal a new direction for your troops – or your industry – to follow? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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TEDx Zurich 2013 Highlights and Lowlights

Tedx Zurich logoIt was once again time for my annual “intellectual play day” at the 2 October TEDx Zurich conference. Like past TEDx Zurich events I’ve covered in this blog over the years, the day offered a series of talks and performances that aimed to reveal “what’s new” and “what’s next.” But this year it seemed to be more about “what’s now.” Rather than new, it focused on different.

For example, the technologies seemed less like breakthrough ideas and more like different applications or extensions of now-established technologies. The stories told by speakers of overcoming circumstances in life and achieving their dreams, such as hanging on a silk scarf-like rope over a gorge near Bern, were less archetypal and inspiring than they were the non-photo equivalent of “selfies.”

This year it seemed to be more about ‘what’s now.’ Rather than new, it focused on different.
I realize that my comments will preclude my ever being invited back to the event, but I don’ t think I would apply again as the online TED talks website offers the “best of” without having to sit through the “rest of” such talks.

All that being said, I did glean a few tidbits during my intellectual snooze…I mean play…day that could apply to thought leaders in any industry.

Nicolas Perony, who studied animal behavior and made comparisons to human behavior, talked about the principle of simplifying complexity, a key skill for any thought leader. Also he presented a study about South African meercats that may speak to the gender issue in the workplace.

Female meercats are dominant in their so-called “cryptic social units.” They may lead other meercats up to a road; but when they’re ready to cross the road, the female leaders give way and let subordinates cross the road first. Perony said this isn’t done out of courtesy but as a risk-avoidance approach because if she dies, the entire meercat tribe is put at risk.

Risk behaviors were also the focus of Gerd Gigerenzer’s talk about relative risk vs. absolute risk and how the public is often confused or misled about the difference between those types of risk. As an example, he cited a study where people were asked to explain what exactly was meant by a 30% chance of rain and answers varied widely and in some cases hilariously.

Gigerenzer also pointed out examples of deliberate massaging of statistics by the media, such as the report talking about a 100% increase in the risk of thrombosis somewhere in the UK. However, the absolute risk was minute, with a change from 1/7000 to 2/7000.

Risk literacy, he claimed, needs to be a focus of the education system today. It’s important that your own employees are risk literate, too. Similar to the topic discussed on this site in a recent two-part blog (The Risks and Rewards of Full Disclosure Part 1 and Lies, Damn Lies Part 2) there are risks to your brand when stats and risk are wrongly stated or exaggerated, even if unintentionally.

Are you and your team risk literate? Are you aware of all risks to your – and your company’s – brand as a thought leader? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Lies, Damn Lies and Sticky, Tricky Truths – Part 2

facebook smear buttonThe first article in this series recounted some ways to determine whether a speaker is lying to you.

But what happens when physical and non-verbal clues aren’t available for interpretation? How do you spot a liar online? And what should happen when you do, especially when the lies are about you or your beloved or your beloved company?

Let’s focus on the third situation, where your company’s brand is being disparaged online.

Dissent and debate can be healthy, and as Mark Twain once said, ”It’s the difference of opinions that makes a horse race.”

You may be having a disagreement with a customer or a group of consumers. But before you even realize you have a problem, suddenly you have a PROBLEM! Let’s look at a case in point.

promoted tweet screenshotA disgruntled passenger on a British Airways flight bought a promoted tweet to complain about his father’s lost luggage. The tweet went viral, drawing the attention of BA’s competitors, too.

When news — whether true or false or misleading — spreads through cyberspace without any monitoring or appropriate intervention, you can lose control of your brand conversation and those bad messages can stick…and that’s certainly not good.

One popular ”complaint site” is taking steps to ensure companies have a forum to respond publicly to complaints. The petition platform/website, www.change.org , has just begun offering the targets of an online campaign an opportunity to address any inaccuracies online. Companies that want to be extremely transparent are able to create their own pages that will show all petitions and their status.

Are you ready to take steps to protect your brand in virtual or ”real” life? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help (and that’s the truth)!

Photo Credits: Smear Button, Todd Barnard
Tweet screenshot via mashable.com

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Chief Truth Teller – The Risks and Rewards of Full Disclosure – Part 1

Pinnochio puppet

“Where are the gold pieces now?’ the Fairy asked.
‘I lost them,’ answered Pinocchio, but he told a lie, for he had them in his pocket. .” ― Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio

In a popular TED talk online, Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, asks whether we are living in a ”post-truth” society. She cites some surprising statistics about how often we lie and are lied to every day and then points out how early lying behavior begins. The trick, she said, is to recognize when we’re being lied to before we accept something as truth. If we don’t question the veracity of a statement, we’re enabling the liar and participating in the lie.

As a cultural anthropologist, she introduced several lesser-known ways of spotting the tell-tale non-verbal signs of lying, such as the liar’s feet often point toward the exit or the liar often places pens or other objects on the desk across from the interviewer like physical barriers. A video clip of a murderer illustrated what she called ”duping delight,” a proud, wicked grin that can’t be suppressed.

What liars say, not just how they say something, also can give clues to the fact that they’re hedging the truth. We need to listen for overly formal language, distancing language, qualifying language, fact recitation only in strict chronological order and an abundance of unnecessary, irrelevant information.

I’m no expert on lying, but I do know that white lies are a common convention in daily personal conversation. Similarly, in the business world, avoiding the truth — particularly when the truth hurts – can sometimes be seen as an art form.

In an age of open information, full disclosure now – to the extent possible – may prevent worse problems later. 
Communications professionals, in particular, have to be adept at making sure the messages they disseminate are as close to the truth as the situation (and the legal department) will allow. In an age of open information, full disclosure – to the extent possible – now may prevent worse problems later.

The Chief Truth Teller in a company, however, has to be the person at the top of a company, who sets the standard for honesty and integrity in business dealings and communication and then enforces the expectation of truth among the company’s employees.

Are you the type of thought leader who demands that your followers face even the toughest truths?

Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help (and that’s the truth)!

Photo credit: Favio Rava

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How to Paint a Thousand Words Without Using Any

the art of social media

“The Art of Social Media” Photo Credit

As a thought leader, it’s important to build your brand and tell your story in pictures, not just words. The images you use on your social media sites speak volumes about who you are and how you do what you do.

For a handy guide to all the sizes and shapes and measurement requirements for a wide range of social media sites, go here.

Do you need help creating impact with your online presence as a thought leader? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Grammar Matters and Style Rules in Presentations, Too

Before you deliver a presentation, you do a lot of checking. It could run something like this: Notes? Check! Pointer? Check! Water? Check! Cough drops? Check! Glasses? Check! Distracting, shiny name badge off? Check! Distracting, shiny jewelry off? Check! Clothing appropriate and immaculate? Check! Shoes polished? Check!

typo mistake on powerpoint slideBut did you remember to check your presentation itself for annoying distractions like typos and ungrammatical phrasing in the headlines and body of the slide text? Asking a colleague to help you proofread and polish your presentation shouldn’t be an optional check but instead an integral part of the process of finalizing your presentation.

It’s easy to overlook errors that will lower the persuasive impact of your presentation. It happens to all of us. Check back on this site shortly as I’m reaching out to my virtual colleagues in various discussion groups to gather some ”headline howlers and hiccups” that they’ve seen in their industry.

Do you have a dedicated person to help you polish your presentations and make them more powerful every time? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

See also: Grammar Matters and Style Rules, Part 1: Practical Style Guides for Thought Leaders

Photo Credit: Brett Jordan

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Leadership Lessons from the Frog Days of Summer

I decided it was time I wrote a frog blog. All the signs were there. Today I saw a lone frog float drifting around the deserted Bad Allenmoos pool, which was filled with water too cold for all but the hardiest Swiss (and expats).

Frog  shaped floater in poolIt reminded me of an article I read online this morning about the worst ways to leave a job, and they mentioned the embarrassment of being ”frog marched” out the door, perhaps splayed out like that frog float. Googling the term, I found its usage dated back to the late 1800’s, but it seemed to apply more to drunken sailors than senior executives.

chocolate frog coin supporting wildlife charity

Then on my way home, I was approached by two different sets of school children who were using their lunch break to peddle chocolate ”coins” to support a frog and wildlife charity.

So the signs were there. The end of the summer — the frog days of summer — called for a frog blog. The main question was how to relate frogs to thought leadership. Here’s my approach: offer a riddle and a widely recognized tale and a short poem for explanation.

First, the riddle, which I recently read online.

Question: If five frogs are sitting on a lily pad and four decided to jump off, how many frogs are left?
Answer: The answer to this old riddle is five—because deciding is different
from doing.

As a thought leader, you may find that your ”deciding team” is much more committed to making decisions than to implementing them. You must find ways to make your thoughts more actionable decisions. Be sure they know the difference between deciding and doing.

Now for the familiar frog tale. The urban myth persists that if you put a frog in a pot of water and heat it until boiling, the frog will stay in the water and die. But if you throw a frog into boiling water, he will jump out and save its own life.

I’m not sure whether that story is literally true, but I do know that thought leaders can become so acclimated to their comfortable situation that they don’t notice the heat is rising in the industry pot. They may be insulated (or isolated because of their ”exalted position”) from changes that are occurring around them. Becoming accustomed to the gradually changing environment, they slowly perish, or at least their reputations do.

That insulation may come from complacency or even from being surrounded by well-meaning yay-sayers. Perhaps Emily Dickinson said it best in her famous frog-related poem:

 I’m nobody! Who are you?

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish — you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog! 

As a thought leader, it’s easy to sit back on your lily pad and just talk to or at the admiring bogs during, for example, a town hall meeting internally or a trade conference or a media interview. Instead you should be engaging your audiences and stakeholders in challenging dialogue, not just making unchallenged proclamations. A thought leader certainly needs thought followers, but not only the admiring ones.

Are you as a thought leader confident enough to jump into the deep end and allow yourself to interact authentically and put your ideas forward for public scrutiny, like a frog being examined under a magnifying glass in biology class? Do you need help just wading in at first and positioning yourself as a thought leader very publicly, like a frog? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Grammar Matters and Style Rules! Practical Style Guides for Thought Leaders

style guidesTeaching is on my mind right now as the schools in Zurich have recently opened. That’s because I once was an English teacher—and once an English teacher, always an English teacher.

In fact, when I moved from academia into the business world, I retained my reputation as a Grammar Guru and a Punctuation Policewoman. I plead ”intentionally guilty” to the charge of insisting on high-quality, mistake-free writing in business documents that matter. And they all matter.

Yes, as a thought leader, even your emails should be error free when it comes to grammar and style. Advanced tools help you to spell-check and grammar-check, and there’s even a fail-safe way to ensure you don’t hit send without taking time to confirm its accuracy one last time. (Contact me if you need instructions on that.)

But more critical documents require more thorough editing and proofreading to make sure your messages have the impact you intend. Subtle changes in style and tone and improve the persuasive value of your writing. Grammatical ”guffaws” and ”gaffes” can devalue your discourse.

Many businesses today are recognizing that reality and trying to rectify it. In a 2012 survey  conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP, nearly half (45%) of 430 employers said they were adding training programs to improve employees’ grammar skills.

Several style guides exist to help you polish your writing style; some of these books you’ll remember from your own English classes.

5 Practical Reference Sources for Grammar and Style

Your company’s communications team may have a style guide of its own or at least a strong preference about which one to use. The key to raising the quality bar is to demand consistency in style and grammar…Consistently right, that is.

Do you need a brush-up on how “grammar matters and style rules”? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Photo Credit: Terry Freedman

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