Resilience: Withstand the Hardship

24 11 2015

One of the more important characteristics of a successful business is resilience. Without resilience, a business that suffers any setback is far more vulnerable to hardship or even complete collapse. In fact, failures frequently precede success in many people’s efforts in business or otherwise. Just look at some of these examples.

Walt Disney was fired once because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” A recording company executive told the Beatles that he just didn’t like their sound. Stories like this are accounts of people with the persistence to avoid defeatism in the face of difficulty. They had the needed resilience to keep going, to strive for future successes instead of wallowing in failure.

Another lesser known example is that of Thomas Carlisle, who took more than a year to compile his monumental history of the French Revolution. A housekeeper mistook it for trash and out it went. Carlisle dedicated himself to re-creating it, and with three more years of hard work, recalled it from memory and produced the replacement–a monumental history produced with an equally monumental reserve of resilience in the face of defeat.

One of the most familiar such stories in the business world is that of Austrian psychiatrist, Victor Frankl. Frankl survived Nazi Germany’s, Auschwitz to become a leading proponent of a humanistic therapy approach for motivating more productive decision making. In Frankl’s best-selling book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he details the critical moment when he realized the objective of creating this revolutionizing form of therapy.

Frankl had fallen into self-pity over his concentration camp existence. He now saw his life as meaningless and trivial, but he suddenly realized that to survive, he would have to overcome this feeling. He would have to find some overarching purpose. He would have to have the resilience to form some positive objectives in the face of so much negativity. Frankl envisioned himself delivering a lecture after the war on the subject of the psychology surrounding a concentration camp. From this simple beginning sprang his entire school of thought, which he called, “Meaning Therapy,” with a mission of recognizing and creating significance in the lives of others. With resilience, Frankl turned around not only his life, but the lives of countless others. Today, employee resilience training is common in the work place.

Frankl’s resilience was born of an ability to find meaning against all odds in a horribly negative situation. Finding meaning is just one of the characteristics of those with high resilience, though. Another, perhaps strangely, is an acceptance of reality – for only from a realistic acceptance of a challenging situation can an adequate response be generated to fix it.

The investment bank, Morgan Stanley, had its offices in the World Trade center before that awful day on September 11, 2001. As it happens, Morgan Stanley had a diligent concern for preparedness, which included preparing for possible disasters requiring building evacuation. When the first tower was hit, it took them exactly one minute to begin the evacuation of their offices in the second tower. Only because of their preparedness and training were almost all of the company’s 2,700 employees saved when the second plane struck its target fifteen minutes later.

Their realistic approach, accepting the reality of the existing threat of terrorism, brought about the preparedness plan that allowed Morgan Stanley to remain in business. This resilience in the face of potential disaster saved them when the danger became a reality.

Some people and some businesses break under pressure. Others succeed due to their resilience in overcoming adversity or planning for its resolution. Which one are you?





Inspiraiton from Acts of Courage

20 11 2015

As American actor and social icon John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death …and saddling up anyway.” Observed acts of courage are nourishing to the spirit and inspiring to all of us. In business, this is just as true and important as it is anywhere else.

Three company leaders who went above and beyond the call with their courage, demonstrating the kind of direction that characterizes great leadership, are the CEOs of Bluebell Ice Cream, Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods, and Southwest Airlines.

After many were taken ill, and three people died from a listeria bacteria contamination of Blue Bell ice cream products, the company voluntarily recalled some eight million gallons of their ice cream products from retail shelves. Once the severity of the situation was known, CEO Paul Kruse recalled the products and initiated a program of employee training and plant sanitization that would take four months to complete. Four facilities in three states had to be sanitized and thoroughly inspected and tested for the presence of the bacteria before production could resume. There was the distinct possibility that the company would be unable to financially survive this hiatus while 1,400 employees were laid off, and an equal number being partially furloughed. Kruse secured capital from an outside investor and saved the company.

A similar circumstance faced Maple Leaf Foods’ CEO, Michael H. McCain, when numerous deaths were attributed to contaminated meat produced by his company. Meeting the obvious media interest, he stood resolutely in front of the cameras accepting responsibility for the problem. Not all leaders are cut out to handle this kind of pressure, or deliver a necessary and potentially disastrous response with this much courage. An old, Latin proverb tells us that fortune favors the bold, but abandons the timid. Maple Leaf Foods was saved because of McCain’s bold resolve and dedication, which rested on the foundation of his courage.

The CEO of Southwest Airlines, James Parker, displayed a similar courage in the face of a different kind of threat. Deep in the shadow of the recent horrific events of 9/11, the trend for businesses was to cut workforces and pull back on expansion projects in the recognition that far less prosperous times may lay immediately ahead. But, while these fears gripped industries nationwide, and particularly the airline industry, one airline CEO made the brave choice to buck this trend. Only three days after 9/11, Parker announced that Southwest would not be cutting employees, and in fact, would be keeping them all, as well as initiating a new profit sharing program with them.

These CEOs are cut from a different cloth than some, such as those from some of the large Wall Street banks prior to the 2008 crash, as well as Enron and WorldCom, to name a few. These companies were unable to find the ethical internal compass to reject risky operating plans in the name of artificially elevated profit taking. The scandals that ensued in each case demonstrate a lack of courage and a lack of commitment to ethical standards in business. True courage in leadership is as valuable as any given asset for an organization, no matter how large or small.

Ernest Hemmingway said that courage is grace under pressure. The three CEOs of Maple Leaf, Blue Bell, and Southwest certainly had an element of grace under pressure, but they had more than that. Echoing what John Wayne said, author Arthur Koestler wrote, “Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears.” These three men did not let either notions of greed, nor the fear of failure sidetrack what they knew they needed to do. They saddled up, anyway.





Put Your Core Values on Display Through Marketing

17 11 2015

The core values that you’ve dictated for your business play an important role in just about every decision that you make. What many people fail to realize is that they need to play an important role in your marketing, too. Marketing isn’t just about communicating what services you provide or what products you offer, but what type of business you represent. The customer/business relationship is one that is built on trust, and putting your core values on display through marketing is one of the best ways to strengthen that relationship both now and for all time.

It’s About Clarity

In many ways, the most important part of marketing has nothing to do with whatever new product you’re touting at the time. It’s about distilling everything – your products, your services, your employees and more – into a single message that lets the customer know who you are, what you’re trying to do, and why you’re trying to do it.

Consider the message that ends every Visa commercial you’ve ever seen, the message: “It’s everywhere you want to be.” This message isn’t overly reliant on how shiny the cards are or what perks or rewards you might get for signing up. It’s beautifully simple and conveys an important message: by signing up for a Visa card, you’ve got access to a trusted financial resource anywhere you could possibly need it. You’ve got a partner that you can depend on, day in and day out.

That one simple message is one of the single best examples of putting your core values on display for your audience through marketing in the modern era. It says everything that you need to know about what type of company Visa is AND what type of service they offer in six short words.

Honesty and Integrity Can Also Mean Humility, Too

If you’ve decided that two of the most important core values for your business are honesty and integrity, you need to accept the fact that the best way to display this to your audience will not necessarily always be positive.

Consider what happens when you make a mistake as a business owner. Maybe you released a product and said that it did one thing, while it really did another. Maybe you claimed that it did one thing really well, when in reality, it was barely functional and not ready for public consumption. These are the types of mistakes that business owners make on a regular basis – it’s a fact of life.

The thing that separates the successful business owners from the ones who quickly disappear, however, is what they do next. If you’ve always told your customers that you value honesty and integrity, the path is clear: you own up to your mistake in your marketing. You acknowledge the problem as a learning opportunity and pledge to take the experience and use it to do better work in the future.

It’s something that you see time and again. Coca-Cola introduced the stunning disaster that was New Coke in 1985. Microsoft released the Windows 8 operating system. What do these businesses have in common? They’re still around, thanks to the fact that they understood that the core values of honesty and integrity sometimes mean humility, too. They admitted that they made mistakes, apologized to their customers, and pledged to do better in the future.

Far too many business owners label the core values of their business as “not for public consumption.” Now, more than ever, the relationship between a business and its customers is one that is forged from a strong sense of transparency. One of the best ways to show your customers what type of business you are is to let those core values reflect outward with your marketing materials.





The Innocence of Children

10 11 2015

Remember when you were a little kid; how the world seemed different than it does now? A big part of that difference was defined by your innocence as a child. As adults, we look back on childhood innocence with older, more mature eyes, and when we do, we see something almost magical in contrast to our work-a-day world of adult living. What is it that makes childlike innocence so attractive and ultimately inspiring?

We were all children at some point, complete with the requisite innocence of childhood and before the experiences of life turned us into knowing adults. While most of us have trouble remembering the innocence of our own early lives, there is no denying that the innocence we observe in today’s small children inspires in us a faint recollection and a distant longing for whatever feeling that was, way back when. Innocence is attractive to us precisely because it is something we have largely lost and cannot regain.

We really have little choice in the loss of our innocence. We value experience as a necessary part of being functional adults, so we allow our innocence to die at its hands. That makes observed innocence all that much more attractive to us.

We still see flashes of that inherent goodness in adults, but it is usually reserved for times of emergency and imminent danger. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanoes have brought out the best in heroic bravery. We honored the dedication of first-responders to the 9/11 disaster. We see images and videos on Internet social media, depicting the work of individuals who rise to specific occasions helping others in need, from mining disasters to oil spill clean-ups. But for adults, this is the exception, and not the rule. Only in the innocence of children can goodness still be displayed as the norm, as the way children simply are.

We adults chuckle at innocence, but deep down inside we respect it. Few things can be more deeply inspiring than innocence as French philosopher Jean Baudrillard said, “There is no aphrodisiac like innocence.”

What is it we see in the eyes of a young child? We see untainted belief in the goodness of human beings. We see the belief in the goodness of ourselves, vicariously re-lived in our young counterparts. We see a willingness to embrace the irrational and an ignorance of the concept of death. The eyes of the innocent are a deep well of remembered truths and valued feelings. What can be more inspiring than the look of a child who sees into your own soul with a clarity that you, yourself, can no longer muster? Innocence, it seems, can be far more powerful than experience.

Founder of the Hilton hotel chain Conrad Hilton once said, “Be ever watchful for the opportunity to shelter little children with the umbrella of your charity; …[They are] in their innocence the repositories of our hopes for the upward progress of humanity.”

We never completely outlive our innocence, but as adults, we need to spend the time to view its full force in the eyes of our children.





Constructive Criticism: Why Direct Customer Feedback is Better Than Surveys and How It Can Help Propel Your Business Forward

6 11 2015

Constructive criticism is always important, regardless of the type of business you’re running. It’s one of the single best ways to not only identify areas where you and your team truly excel, but more importantly, identify things that you could be doing better that you might not be otherwise unaware of. The key word in this phrase, however, is “constructive.” You need to be able to glean something valuable from what your customers are trying to tell you. To do that, you really need to consider the source.

The Survey Conundrum

Many people believe that sending out surveys is one of the best ways to get open and honest criticism regarding what they’re doing, what they should be doing, and what they should stop doing as quickly as possible. In reality, this is incredibly false and surveys, in general, are faulty for a very important reason. The types of people who are the most likely to fill out surveys are the ones on the extreme ends of the customer spectrum. People who are really, really dissatisfied or who really, truly already love your company are going to represent the vast majority of all responses. As a result, you’re going to get a huge number of responses that you can’t really do anything with or learn anything from and the few, valuable leads that you do have are easy to get lost in the shuffle.

What is Direct Customer Feedback?

The best way to get the constructive criticism that you’re after is to go to more direct sources – namely, social media, forums and similar channels online. Social media, in general, has made this incredibly easy in the last few years – you can search for your company name on a site like Twitter or Facebook and look at the conversations that users are already having with one another that you had no part in starting. These are people who were already having an open and honest discussion that they never assumed you would be a part of in the first place, so they don’t have a “horse in the race,” so to speak. These are the conversations that you need to be learning from. Online communities like message boards are also a great source of this, provided that it isn’t a message board hosted on your own website. Again, these will be users who are similar to survey respondents – they’re not the customers in the middle who you really need, but are the “extreme” customers who fall firmly in “love it” or “hate it” camps.

Onward and Upward

Direct customer feedback is something that you should not only embrace, but actively seek out on a regular basis. In a way, it’s like any other customer service channel – by showing that you’re ready to accept anything that your customers can throw at you, you’re showing that they have a voice that is equal (if not more important) than your own. Some business owners label people with issues “haters,” even if they have legitimate concerns. This would really only be true if you believe that your business is already perfect, which is not true. This is also hugely beneficial from a marketing perspective. Simply put, customers enjoy supporting businesses when they know that their opinions are valued and they feel valued, too. By seeking direct customer feedback through public channels, you’re putting your best foot forward in this regard and are only strengthening your marketing message, your brand, and ultimately your business at the same time.





From Dreaming to Succeeding

3 11 2015

Norman Vincent Peale’s famous book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” may not have been the first such motivational book, but it certainly achieved fame as one of the most popular and enduring testaments to a positive attitude. As Peale put it, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” If one person’s life can illustrate this concept, it might be that of Eric Castillo.

As a young man fresh out of high school, Eric started up his own business, a personal training studio. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed, he easily achieved his early financial goals, and his business seemed destined for success with Eric still at the tender age of 18. He was on top of the world before things began to unravel.

Eric was already married with two young children, and addicted to a fast-paced lifestyle that came with the success of his business. The pressures of raising a family while running a business took their toll on someone perhaps a bit too young to handle the situation. Eric descended into depression and alcohol abuse. His early successes now haunted him like spirits. He lost his wife and children. Then came the day Eric punched his fist through a glass window and almost permanently lost the use of his hand. He knew he had hit rock bottom and needed a change in his life.

He thought he had lost the use of his hand, but being well versed in personal training concepts he rehabilitated the hand himself. That was the first thing he dedicated his efforts toward, and it worked. he knew he needed more, however, and he went after it. As Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.”

Eric decided to try out for college football even though he had never played on a team. Eight dreary years had been wasted in depression and alcohol, and the 26-year-old version of Eric was deemed too old for college football. Everyone tried to discourage him.

He released 40 clients and closed his studio, cutting off his income. Eric tried out for three college football teams and applied to enter two others. Only on the strength of a letter from San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza was Eric accepted by the University of the Incarnate Word. He made the team as a walk-on.

Four years later, Eric was a 30-year-old senior ready to graduate, having lived his dream of being on a college football team. While he had not played a single play in all that time, his dream was fulfilled by simply running onto the field with his team for every game. He had reached for the stars and succeeded.

One of Eric’s inspirations had been the film, “Rudy,” about a walk-on with limiting disabilities who made the team. Eric’s only limitation was his age, and having overcome it he earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. In the last game of his career, his teammates called out to the coaches to put Eric in for a few snaps. Just like in the movie, “Rudy,” the guys were calling out, “Put in Castillo!”

It was like icing on the cake. Eric got more than he ever expected. He had already realized his dream and had decided to use the drive and ambition he now generated in another way, toward another objective. While still a UIW student, Eric started up a non-profit organization called A Walk in My Shoes. He solicited and received donations of new and slightly used pairs of shoes to distribute to needy people for free.

To date, they have distributed thousands of shoes to organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of San Antonio and the American Red Cross. There has even been a documentary film of Eric’s drive to overcome adversity entitled, “The Power of a Dream” that was released in 2015. Through his continuing efforts, Eric’s success has become the success of others.