leadership dot #3461: catcher

There are countless tips available on how to make an effective pitch but author Scott Berkun sheds a new perspective on the process. In his book The Myths of Innovation, he urges people to first focus on the potential recipients of the pitch — people he calls catchers. “There’s little sense in developing your pitch if there’s no one to catch it,” he writes.

By tailoring your pitch to the person who will receive it, you are able to make it more likely that the message will be “caught by the catcher”. What do they value? What needs of theirs can you fulfill? How does your pitch relate to something they are working on? Do they respond more to data or stories?

Whether you are attempting to greenlight a million-dollar project or just trying to convince your partner to try a new restaurant for dinner, let their perspective guide how you pitch your idea. It doesn’t matter how powerfully you throw if the catcher doesn’t grab the ball.

Source: The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun, 2010

leadership dot #3460: Santa Paws

If you need a feel-good story about the holiday season read about Scott Arnold, a mailman in Virginia who personalizes stockings for each of the 250 dogs on his route. His Santa Paws delivery includes a newsletter, pictures and, of course, dog treats to celebrate the season with his four-legged customers –something he has been doing for over 20 years.

As you scurry around shopping on another December weekend, add someone new to your list. Maybe it’s a canine friend — or your neighbors, the receptionist at your doctor’s, the friend who lost someone this year, the newspaper carrier, the parking garage attendant who greets you every morning, or anyone who could use a little holiday cheer. The joy truly comes from the giving.

leadership dot #3459: holiday cards

I received my first holiday card in the mail yesterday — from a former student who is obviously more on the ball than I am with greetings. I’ve been receiving cards from her every year since I was her activities advisor in the 1990s and it is delightful to watch her children grow. We don’t have any other contact during the year, but her card lets me know that we still have fond memories of when we were in West Virginia together.

I know your to-do list is especially full at this time of year, yet I hope you still make time to send some love through the mail. Social media is nice, but for long-lost friends, people who have impacted you, or those you don’t see often a card has more meaning than a generic post that they may or may not see. The gift of connection is one of the best gifts you can give this season.

Bonus idea: her card, like many others, is a photo greeting instead of a traditional card that you sign and send. As a result, you’re able to extend its life beyond a momentary read by taking a picture of the card and using it as the profile photo in your contact for that person. My friend Cindy makes it a fun New Year’s project to update her phone.

leadership dot #3458: who knew

In my business communication class, I mentioned that it’s best to send resumes as a PDF to avoid issues with spacing or fonts. This off-handed comment led to a whole discussion on how to do that and how to add a signature to your cover letter — which led to a broader discussion about how too often people assume you know things about technology when you don’t. Examples given were when a new employee who had not previously worked in an office was told just to “jump on Teams” having no idea what that meant or when a student missed assignments because they were unfamiliar with the learning management system.

We increasingly rely on communication infrastructure to conduct our daily business but as technology advances, education hasn’t kept up. When we collaborate with others, we encounter new systems and tools that we’re expected to master with little to no instructions. Organizations purchase new programs that only a few are trained on — or even all the employees at the time — but forget that new hires have that same learning curve. Companies release new software updates leaving the user to figure out features or changes on their own. People are tempted by countless new apps that promise to make them more productive, but only if they invest untold time in experimenting with how they work.

As a communicator, you need to pay attention to both the content and the vehicle that you are using for your message. There are functions like driving, turning on the lights, or making a phone call that are essentially ubiquitous but don’t put the use of technology in that same category and assume that others know how to do what’s obvious to you. Routinely teach others software nuances and minimize the “Who Knew?!” phenomenon in your organization.

leadership dot #3457: advanced

There is a sweet spot between complexity and simplicity — balancing work that is robust enough to have profundity yet straightforward enough to be understood.

For example, advanced mathematics may yield greater precision but it leaves out a large segment of the audience who can comprehend its meaning. Personality assessments range from pseudo-entertainment to complex psychological instruments, and the facilitator must balance ease-of-use with more insightful results. Marketers must decide whether to provide a synthesis of millions of terabytes of big data or report inferred insights about consumer behavior based on focus groups. Scientists can expound on their research methods and quickly go beyond people’s grasp or face criticism for a simplified summary of their results.

Experts appreciate the value of advanced analytics — and they often are passionate about sharing the specifics and clarifying the nuances that define complex subjects. But sometimes, just the basics are all your audience can comprehend and your goal should be to communicate just the essence well.

If your information requires an explanation, only use it for a format that allows you to provide clarification as well as content (eg: in person, via an extended article instead of a social media post, etc.) Too much detail often causes people to tune out instead of tuning in for more.

leadership dot #3456: Venn

I think Venn diagrams are one of the most useful visual aids out there. Most people think of issues in terms of two sides, but in reality, there are almost always three or more aspects that intersect. Plotting them in a Venn diagram allows you to see that multiple perspectives can be true simultaneously, even if they are in conflict.

Venn diagrams can be used to describe the serious as well as the humorous. The Ask Amy advice column described divorce in the center with three circles of 1) sadness and grief for the life you had; 2) fear and insecurity about your future, and 3) guilt about not being able to fix it. Author Patrick Lencioni describes the Ideal Team Player as the intersection between 1) Humble, 2) Hungry, and 3) Smart.

On the lighter side, my favorite from the New Yorker portrays three circles of 1) Vegetables, 2) Sports, and 3) Ways to Die — with Squash in the center. A Facebook post from Catholic Memes has 1) a little wine, 2) lots of candles, and 3) mood music — with either Date Night or Catholic Mass in the center!

The next time you want to explain the complexities of a topic, see if you can plot them out in a Venn diagram. I think you’ll find “understanding” in the center.

leadership dot #3455: twisted

Entrepreneur Larry Keeley wrote: “Very little is truly new in innovation. Too often, we fail to appreciate that most innovations are based on previous advances. Innovations don’t have to be new to the world — only to a market or industry.”

The owners of the Twisted Ranch restaurant in St. Louis took Keeley’s advice to heart and created a fun, new dining experience around an old food staple: ranch dressing. They developed 33 different variations of ranch dip and built their menu around “flights” that allow you to sample 5 or 13 of the flavors. Examples include: Asian Zing, Cheesy Bacon, Cilantro Lime, It Takes 2 to Mango, Kemowasabi, Parmesan Peppercorn, Sunny in Fetadelphia, and Truffle Shuffle. It was hard to choose just 13.

Maybe you’re not a restaurant owner or product developer but consider whether there is a staple in your field that you could offer in a new manner — or in 33 new ways. Experimentation, sampling, and consumer choice twisted together make for a great combination.

Source: Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs by Larry Keeley, 2007

leadership dot #3454: nail

A neighborhood game involves pounding nails into a tree stump — which sounds easy until you learn that you have to use the skinny side of the hammer instead of the side that is designed for the task. Suddenly, it becomes much more challenging when you see it from another perspective.

This is the case with many other things in life. We think we are all using the same hammer to pound in the nails but others have very different circumstances that make something that is easy for us difficult for them.

If you believe you’ve hit the nail on the head with your argument, pause to consider which head you were able to use to achieve that conclusion. The nails may be the same, but the tools are not.

leadership dot #3453: parrot

When you look at this beautiful planter what do you see?

Buchan’s Blueberry Farm, Old Mission Peninsula Michigan

Most people only see a parrot and plant — but if you look more closely you can tell that the bird is made from old tires!

It would have been easy to discard the tire and to think it had no value, but fortunately a creative artist gave it new life. Keep the parrot in mind the next time you’re set to discount someone or think that someone/something had no worth. There is the potential for beauty inside everyone.

Thanks Lucy!

leadership dot #3452: not now

In a simple yet clever way, the dressing room in Marshall’s sets the expectation that you are going to make a purchase. Instead of just plain hooks on the walls, they are labeled: Definitely, Possibly, and Tomorrow — inferring that if you don’t buy today you can always come back. There is no option for “no.”

What subtle change can you make to your forms or your signage to help nudge your customers toward the desired action? For example, our credit union runs ads that say “if you’re not yet a member…” and online games offer downloads that offer a choice of now or “maybe later.”

Plant the idea in your customer’s minds that their options remain open. Tomorrow will be here in a day and they may be ready to act then.