Monthly Archives: January 2011

It All Started with the School Bus

As a child I walked to school when it was less than a half mile from my house. When I moved up to the school that was further away I walked to the end of the street and waited for a bus to get me. The bus was painted bright yellow and had blinking red lights on it.

This morning I witnessed a dad driving his junior high school aged child in the family golf cart three doors down to the corner to be picked up by a school bus. It is still painted yellow, but now is equipped with an emergency exit, blinking yellow and red lights, a retractable stop sign with blinking red lights, a swing arm that opens in front of the bus, strobes lights on roof of the bus, large rear view mirrors mounted on the front bumper, and once the kids are on the bus before it pulls off the driver gives five short toots of the horn.

We are teaching children that being responsible is someone else’s job. In my day, we wanted to be fiercely independent and would be embarrassed if our parents had driven or walked up to the bus stop. We wanted the government to impact us as little as possible. We wanted to the opportunity to make our own way.

Today young children are not allowed out of our sight, playtime is painfully structured and organized by adults and children spend more time in front of a screen than any generation in history. We expect the government to take care of our healthcare, our retirement, our security, bail us out when we over extend ourselves financially, send us money when natural disaster strikes and  ensure all of our needs are being taken care of.

And we wonder why the American economy is struggling and we are losing our place as the greatest economic engine in the world?

I think it all started with the school bus.

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The Reasons Rotary Clubs and Chambers of Commerce are Dying

Have you ever been to a Meetup? Tweetup? Flashmob? Social Media event? What about using Foursquare to connect with people in the same location you just checked into?

Do you even know what these are?

These gatherings have no attendance requirements and have no annual fees. You pay as you go for the events you want to attend and sometimes they are simply free.

Rotary groups have an attendance requirement and a rigid schedule of meetings at least twice a month. Chambers of Commerce are constantly struggling to come up with services to justify membership. Both require annual membership fees. Why? Mostly to support overhead that may no longer be necessary. This is what is wrong with these groups: the model no longer fits the business world. Today’s business world is fluid, leaders are schedule challenged, and people only want to pay for exactly what they want and attend only those meetings that interest them.

Tell me I’m wrong – have you never gone to a Rotary meeting only because you felt you had to even though the presenter was of no interest to you?

Tell me I’m wrong – when it came time for your annual chamber dues check to be written, have you hesitated, wondering how to justify spending the money since you no longer feel you are getting your money’s worth?

Remember buying an entire album or CD for the one or two songs on it you really liked? Today people pay by the song, when they want it, 24/7. No more paying for what you don’t want to hear and no more waiting on store hours to buy it. Business gatherings are now the same way.

I have attended open invitation gatherings of local business people connected by Twitter (tweetups). I have made great connections over these lunch gatherings.

What exactly is a tweetup?

An organizer announces on Twitter a gathering at this restaurant at this time on this day. Those available and interested come and exchange business ideas over lunch. All of us know the best exchange of information at any chamber event or Rotary meeting occurs in the side conversations, so why not just have those? That is what a tweetup is to our group. Sometimes we have 12, sometimes we have over 30. The point is it is fluid, come if you can, and you only pay for your lunch. Simple and organic. No annual fees or restricted membership.

I also attend social media events. For these I pay a small fee. Once again no membership dues, I only pay for a ticket to attend those meetings that interest me. I obviously don’t get to as many meetings as I would like because of my schedule. Business travel just doesn’t allow for it. Were I paying an annual fee or had an attendance requirement, I’d probably drop out of the group, and that is what is causing Chambers and Rotary groups to lose members.

As one CEO told me when he got a letter from Rotary informing him his attendance was lacking, “They say they want movers and shakers, but today moving and shaking is very different from the 1950s.” Needless to say, he dropped his membership.

In addition, the younger generation of upcoming leaders are more expense focused, more immediate results oriented and more mobile. They do not identify as closely to their geographic location, traveling freely for business and pleasure and often working for companies hundreds of miles away.

I argue that membership fees are a trap for bad programming. If your meetings or offerings were that awesome, people would flock to your meetings and pay to get in Like TED conferences.) The fact is the majority of the people attending current functions are doing it out of obligation, not desire, because they have been trapped by membership fees. As more and more people are realizing that, memberships decline.

If Rotary groups and Chambers of Commerce want to increase involvement and attendance of younger, more active leaders, they need to create better programs and drop membership requirements, attendance requirements and overhead. Flash gatherings and meetings of substance are thriving with business leaders who make a difference. The traditional model just needs to be updated to attract them.

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Luck

I have said a hundred times — luck happens when opportunity meets preparation. I’ve heard others say luck is another word for hard work that pays off. I’ve also noticed those who say these things are the ones who have benefited from good luck.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he found that success was largely impacted by good fortune. When you were born, who your parents are, and those you had a chance encounter with. Not to mention shifts in the world that adjusted the road to success in your direction. What was previously thought of as grunt work, was now a valued process. The work didn’t change, the focus of the world simply shifted.

None of us want to believe our success came from simply good fortune. But how else can you explain the meteoric rise of the formerly homeless golden-voiced Ted Williams? He was pan-handling on a street corner like many others in this country. A newspaper person shot a video of him, sat on it for five weeks, and then posted it on youtube where it took a life of its own.

I embrace the story of Mr. Williams; I think it is wonderful for him. But it wasn’t an intersection of preparation meeting opportunity. It was good luck.

My largest contract in my career came as a result of luck. It was a chance encounter in an airport club room. I’ve struck up hundreds of conversations in airport club rooms. If skill was involved I would have many more contracts of that size and would spent a lot more time in airport club rooms! It was just good fortune that someone was speaking to the right person at the right time who was interested in what I was offering.

Unfortunately luck also has a down side.

Consider the story of the 9 year old girl who was born into a major league baseball family, had been profiled in a book about children who were born on September 11, 2001, and then was asked by a neighbor to attend a congresswoman’s meet and greet with constituents in Tucson on January 8, 2011, where sadly she was shot to death.

She did not ask to be born into a wealthy, high profile family, she was one of a select few born on that day profiled in the book, and there was no action on her part that caused her death other than to simply be there. It was pure bad luck.

In poker the top players calculate the odds in how to proceed in playing a hand. When long odds hit against you it is referred to as taking a “bad beat.” By the same token when long odds fall in your favor in the poker world it is called a “suck out.”

With a 52-card deck odds can be calculated. In life, odds are so variable as to be incalculable, but it doesn’t mean bad beats and suck outs don’t exist. Life is filled with luck.

Does that mean I am saying sit, wait and see what life brings to your doorstep? Not in the least! We have to put ourselves in play to allow positive impact to occur. But I am saying before we reject people because of their standing in life, we should consider luck had a large hand in the outcome. By the same token, before we get caught up in all of our own successes, we should be thankful at our good fortune. I am sure you can think of a hundred decision points in your life where you got the fortunate break and had that decision gone the other way; you would be a very different person for it.

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The Most Important Business Question of the Year

Every year at this time people make personal resolutions. Business owners and leaders also set expectations and have high hopes for the new year. Studies show on the average people give up on their personal resolutions by the end of a month and businesses reach the end of the first quarter playing catch up.

Why not try something different this year that will have real meaningful impact on your business?

Instead of trying to set resolutions or hoping business will improve ask yourself the most important business question of the year:

If I were to start my business from scratch with the knowledge I have today, how would it look different?

Most of us who have successfully owned a business for a long time are constantly looking to improve, upgrade or grow the business we have. Sadly, that isn’t enough in today’s business environment – ask Blockbuster.

Blockbuster created an industry and dominated it, and then technology shifted. Blockbuster was the best distributor of VCR products. Every year they worked to improve their title offerings, make their locations more customer friendly, and their staff more knowledgeable. The problem was they were asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking what can we do to be better, they should have been asking: If we started today how would we be different?

Netflix showed them how a new start up thinking fresh can completely change the marketplace leaving the industry leader filing bankruptcy – because they failed to ask the right question.

Netflix learning from Blockbuster’s mistake are now asking this all important question again and forcing their organization and entice customers to join them on the video on demand trend with streaming video.

Look at your business. What are you upgrading you need to overhaul? In what ways are the new competitors kicking your butt? Can’t see it? Don’t believe it? Look harder! Try these 25 questions on for size.

Guarantee: If honestly answering all of these questions doesn’t dramatically improve your business write me at Russell@RussellWhite.com and tell me about it. I will make a donation to your favorite charity in your name for wasting your time!

What new technology makes your systems crap by comparison?

What hours should you be open for business to maximize revenue?

What leadership skills and energy level should be at the helm of your business?

What does your web presence look like?

What social media maximization are you working on?

Where is your mobile phone app?

How are you hiring people differently today?

Are you still wasting time on reading/reviewing resumes?

Why are YOU leading your business? (Remember the bulletproof feeling you had when you started your new business or new position? How does that feel now?)

Do you clearly know your customers?

If you didn’t own/run the business would you still want to be a customer of your place?

Why do you sell your products the way you do?

Does that approach even apply today?

Why are you selling the products and services you are currently offering?

What do you call marketing these days? Why are you using those methods of getting the word out?

How is your product packaged? Why?

Who are you employing? Why?

How often are you completely changing your customer approach?

What in your business is a “VHS tape” in a digital video world?

When was the last time you learned a brand new skill that impacted your business?

If you had an unlimited budget to make a commercial, what would it look like?

How can you make close to that with what you can afford right now?

How can you create such customer draw they will stand in line to get what you are offering?

What corners are you cutting because you are lazy/tired/it’s the economy/it’s good enough/I am just not as committed as I once was?

What process/employee/product/system has a lot in common with a full diaper but you just do not want to face the fact you need to do something about it?

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