“When it is dark enough you can see the stars.” – Charles A. Beard

This one came from the great series, “From The Earth To The Moon.”  The series showed the glories and victories of NASA’s journey to the Moon but it also shared the failures, which were numerous.

A corollary is this, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

When you are headed down a path, you have set up all your assumptions and milestones on which you’ve built your hope.  Then you hang on.  This produces all the great stories of loyalty and perseverance.

But sometimes, it takes a total meltdown in order to see new potential.  As long as you head down a certain path, you are focused on what’s in front and not so much on what’s around you.  Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.  The tasks make us feel like we’re making progress.  Robin Williams in “Dead Poet’s Society” made his students stand on their desk to get a different perspective.

Once a week or once a month, stand on your own desk (whatever that means to you) and take a look around.

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

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“Good performance is about what you take in, not what you put out.” – Livingston Taylor

Two things are relevant to this quote:

First, customer discovery – Talking to customers about their problems is about listening, not talking.  It’s tempting to share your bright idea for a new product but as soon as you do, you change the conversation and you won’t get all the information you need.

The other thing is pitching.  If you are raising money, you will pitch at least a couple dozen times.  It’s easy to memorize the slides and give the same speech every time.  But you need to be aware of how your audience responds to each point you make.  Did they laugh at the opening joke or not?  Are you getting head nods when you describe your technology?  Do they ask questions about the business model?  If you are not getting a reaction, then you need to work on the slides or the narrative or the delivery…or all three

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung

When the time comes for you invite people on the bus, you should be very deliberate about some things that may not be obvious.  Being able to get along and collaborate are important, of course, and the time to start thinking about company culture is with the first employee.

But in the startup days, time is of the essence and it’s about getting to the market as quickly as possible.  The people you bring on need to be aligned with that goal whether they are engineers, programmers, finance or marketing people.  If they are good at what they do, grab them.  They may irritate you but you need to surround yourself with smart people who are willing to disagree with the boss.  That way, you will get the information you need to make good decisions.

Draw the line at fighting and insubordination but ask yourself this, if someone who is good at what they do takes issue with you or you find them irritating, figure out why.  You may learn something about yourself.

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Don’t chew with your mouth open. Don’t live Tweet a funeral.” – Scott Dadich

Scott Dadich is the Editor-in-Chief for Wired magazine.  His editorial in the June 2014 edition was dedicated to manners in a digital world.  It’s about time!  And it’s significant for a hip if not somewhat snarky magazine like Wired to take on the topic.  The June issue even invited the venerable spokesman on etiquette, Jerry Seinfeld to weigh in on the subject.

I grew up in the south where the culture fostered respect for our elders and those in positions of authority by addressing them as “Sir” or “Ma’am”.  Later, I was amazed to find people were offended when you responded, “yes, Ma’am” or “yes, Sir” to a question.  At it’s core, politeness is a social convention that presumes we should generally show respect for each other, especially when we are in public or perhaps meeting people for the first time.  It may involve subduing certain aspects of our personalities until we get to know the other person.  But humans tend to take easy concepts and complicate them.  We have to create rules. So manners were created as a general list of behaviors that would induce politeness.  But that created divisions based on pretentiousness.

And then the Internet happened.

Now we can convey our personalities and our opinions with lightning speed to hundreds or thousands of people.  The built in anonymity of the web only amplifies the tendency to be controversial and abusive.  As Americans, we are proud to wrap ourselves in the First Amendment, for which we are truly blessed.  But as my mom said, “just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.”  I like to think people are basically good but it is clear in some cases that if you completely remove the potential for retribution and accountability, we find what we have always known, “mean people suck”.

I don’t know how to address the issue except to talk about it.  It’s time we all grew up with respect to the power of anonymous free speech provided to us by modern technology.  BloggingGazelle will participate in the conversation.

And thanks to Scott Dadich for raising the issue!

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Technology’s only human.” – Ray Hiltz

I was reading a blog this week and there at the top of the page were the obligatory social media icon links for sharing.  I believe I counted seven options: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google +, Buffer and there may have been more.  Social media is so diverse now we need apps like Buffer and Hootsuite to manage it all.  BloggingGazelle automatically publishes to a few social sites as well.  The pros of social media hype stories of how hotel chains have people whose job is to scan all social media for hashtags and mentions of their chain as well as competitors, for the purpose of spreading good will.  This is all good stuff!

But here’s a question – when do we reach the point where we are serving our technology?  Blogs, video clips, podcasts are all great ways to communicate with your tribe but they take time to create and more time to manage.  Perhaps this cost is tiny compared to traditional marketing costs of just a few years ago but has anyone counted the cost of the time commitment?

Just wondering…

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Nothing looks better on a human being than self acceptance.” – Livingston Taylor

People can tell when someone is talking about their job and when they are talking about their life.  This is the challenge of acting; to convince the audience that you really are the person in the story.  Another saying is you can’t sing the blues unless you’ve felt some pain.  It all goes to authenticity.

For entrepreneurs, pitching the company is an ongoing activity.  You are always selling your company to investors, to customers, to partners, to advisors.  All these people can tell if it’s your job or your life.  Don’t be afraid to let your passion show.  It reveals authenticity which is a better story to listen to than hearing a story of someone else from a script.

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“A performance is a conversation between you and an audience.” – Livingston Taylor

Pitching your company is a performance.  Singing a song in front of an audience is a performance.  The experience is completely different but the mechanics are exactly the same.  You are sharing a story with a group of people you hope will respond in your favor.

Make it personal and conversational.  Engage them where they want to be.  Make it important to them.

Read “Stage Performance” by Livingston Taylor

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Anything could happen. For instance, a fez.” – Dr. Who

Customer Discovery can lead you to some unexpected destinations.  One of the companies we work with started life as a really high tech device to monitor radiation in research environments.  While they were trying to figure out how to build the device at scale, they determined there was not a good way to document technical specifications in a way that was easy to update.  So they created their own solution and found out the market need for their creation was huge compared to researchers monitoring radiation.  So they had a big pivot and became a software company.

When you focus on solving customer problems, anything could happen.

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” – Walter Lippmann

Hang around people who will disagree with you.

They will challenge you to think differently.  People know what they believe but how many actually know why?

Until someone challenges you on your ideas, you haven’t gone through the process of understanding why and you may have blinded yourself to alternative, and better, possibilities.

This is important when you are talking to your customers.  You have your idea that you believe in and you want to know what they think.  We are happy to hear form those who agree with us but the idea gets better when it’s challenged.

BloggingGazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson