Friday, February 22, 2013

Great (engineer-turned-salesman) minds think alike

A friend sent me the link to a recent blog post on the Sandler Training blog, titled Selling Isn’t Debate: Confessions of an Engineer in Sales. A key message in the blog is that using features and functionality at the wrong time in the sales process can be counterproductive as a way to convince a prospect to buy into what you are offering.

In his blog post, Chip Doyle describes how his initial engineer-turned-salesman approach to selling was great for convincing someone that he knew his stuff, but it was ineffective for selling. He would start with "what" and "how" instead of starting with "why." When the prospect challenged his reasoning, he would argue with them until he had successfully convinced them that he was right.

As I have written earlier, trying to first convince someone based on reason is a very difficult way to get someone to change their mind. This is because facts and figures can be disputed. Without the "why" behind your product, the "how" and "what" are missing context and don't make sense. Chip points out that even when you are successful convincing someone through intellectual debate, you will usually lose out on the selling opportunity because you have established an adversarial relationship with your prospect.

Ask an engineer what time it is and he will tell you how to build a watch

As a subject matter expert, we often think that it is our duty to prove our worth by expounding on all of the technical knowledge that we have stored away in our heads. One of the problems here is that the person on the other side of the table is not as emotionally invested in your product or idea as you are so it is hard for you to empathize with their pre-existing beliefs. Additionally, they are usually emotionally invested in something different (sometimes the complete opposite of what you are trying to sell them).

I am guilty of doing this, and I have seen others take this approach. It doesn't usually turn out well. You often end up with crossed arms and emotional disagreement coming from across the table. As you start telling someone about all of the things that are different about your product or idea, their cognitive bias will lead them to build up resistance (lizard brain) and negativity (animal brain) because it is not consistent with their view of the world. As they poke holes in your reasoning, you will often end up getting into arguments about semantics or opinion - a recipe for disaster.

A better way to persuade someone to accept your idea

Instead of taking the rational approach of the Western Intellectual Tradition, there is a better way to persuade someone to accept a new idea. The more effective way is to start with why they should want to change, and not with how your product works or what your product is made of. If you can persuade them that there is a reason to change, then there will be plenty of time later to discuss the reason behind your product or idea.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

ProductCamp Austin 10 - Another successful event!

ProductCamp Austin 10 was held on Saturday February 16, 2013. I'm a little biased as the president of the organization, but I have been told by others that it was the best PCA event yet. I find it hard to disagree. There was a buzz around the event that I haven't felt in the past, but maybe that was because I was more emotionally invested in this event than ones in the past.

I am always amazed by the effort that the volunteers, participants, leaders, and sponsors put into making ProductCamp events happen. Nobody is paid to do this, so what motivates us? ProductCamp provides an excellent example of Daniel Pink's motivators from Drive: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Paul Teich took some nice photos of the event and shared this slideshow with me. Very nicely done!

Here are my favorite experiences from ProductCamp Austin 10:
  • Arriving in the morning to see an army of volunteers getting things ready.
  • Voting for sessions in an old-school ProductCamp way - with three stickers.
  • Feeling the energy and buzz during the opening session.
  • Presenting the list of Top 10 ProductCamp Austin moments.
  • Seeing the LifeSize, HomeAway, and Spiceworks executive panel on What it takes to be a great product manager.
  • Listening to advice from Thom Singer on Giving Better Presentations.
  • Enjoying lunchtime conversation on the patio in the nice weather.
  • Meeting people from ProductCamp SoCal and ProductCamp DC.
  • Ordering extra snacks after lunch (long story).
  • Presenting my session, What story are you telling about your products?
  • Milk and cookies from Elizabeth Quintanilla.
  • Winning the Best Session Award!
  • Winning an iPad Mini and then giving it back.
  • Networking at happy hour.
It was pretty awkward giving myself the Best Session award in the closing session. We didn't plan for that situation, and so we didn't really handle it too well. It is a little strange for the President to also be the winner, which is why it was even stranger when I won the drawing for an iPad Mini. I definitely couldn't accept that one, so I gave it back. Some people asked me which one I wanted more. Hands down, it was the Best Session award. It is priceless!
Pat Scherer sent me her visual notes for my session. She did a great job of capturing the key points of my talk. I think I might frame it and hang it on the wall in my office. Thanks, Pat!

What were your favorite experiences at ProductCamp Austin 10?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

ProductCamp Austin 10 - What story are you telling about your products?

ProductCamp Austin 10 is happening this weekend. ProductCamp Austin is a non-profit organization that is creating a community for product management and marketing professionals to teach, learn, and network in Austin. This event will be a big milestone for our organization, as it is the tenth event since it was founded in 2008. Since the first event, the ProductCamp Austin community has grown to consistently organize two events each year.

ProductCamp events are unconferences. The events are free and are participant driven. Anyone can submit an idea for a session and the first order of business on Saturday is to vote for which ones get on the agenda. Each person gets 3 votes for the sessions that they want to see during the rest of the day.

PCA10 has over 500 people registered and 48 sessions proposed. We will have 5 time slots on the agenda across six rooms, for a total of 30 sessions. This means that 18 session proposals won't make the cut, and competition will be fierce for the sacred agenda slots. The ones that make the cut should be the cream of the crop. The hardest part of the day will be choosing which sessions to vote for and which ones to attend.

I submitted a session idea about persuasion and storytelling, and I'm hoping it makes the cut. My presentation is a big part of the basis for my blog, so I have a lot of passion for the topic.

Here's my pitch:
  1. Register for ProductCamp Austin 10.
  2. Arrive at 8AM at the AT&T Conference Center on Saturday.
  3. Vote for my session!
  4. Participate.

What story are you telling about your products?

We have all heard that people make decisions based on emotion and then back them up with reason. If this is the case, why do we continually use reason to convince our customers to buy our products? A more compelling way to market and sell is to tell a story that uses emotion to drive a change in behavior. This session will explore why emotion is a stronger motivator than reason, and share some  effective ways to tell a story that is relevant to your customers.

The first time I gave this presentation was at the ISA Marketing & Sales Summit here in Austin in August 2012. Preparing for this presentation turned out to be a much more wild and exciting ride than I expected. I started out with a single statement - "People make decisions based on emotion and then back them up with reason." I have used it before in presentations, but then I felt that I shouldn't just throw this cliche around without understanding why this is the case. And so my journey begins... You can read about the rest of my story here.

Since the first time in I presented it in August last year, I have given this presentation eight times around the world, including events in Austria, Germany, England, Singapore, Australia, and even once again yesterday in Austin. Come join us on Saturday and (hopefully) see me present this for the 10th time at ProductCamp Austin 10.

Can you come up with a better way to spend your Saturday than to teach, learn, and network with the brightest people in Austin?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

I attended TEDxAustin 2013 on Saturday. According to the TEDx license, organizers are required to show at least two pre-recorded talks from the TEDTalks video series that you can watch on YouTube. You might wonder what benefit we get from this, since anyone can easily watch these on-demand at home (for free I might add). It turns out that the context of the event adds to the value of these videos. The theme for this year's event was Fearless.

In one of the videos we watched, Regina Dugan explored some amazing technological achievements made by scientists and engineers at DARPA and posed the question, "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" It seems like I watched it before, but there was something more captivating about watching it again at a TEDx event.

Dugan describes how seemingly impossible things suddenly become possible when you remove fear of failure. Fear of failure constrains us and prevents us from attempting great things. On the other hand, Dugan describes failure as being a good thing. The path to doing new and innovative things always involves failure, and failure is required for learning.

I recently read about the impact of failure on learning in How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. You can also read about this in Lehrer's 2011 Wired article, Why Do Some People Learn Faster?  In his book, Lehrer described how our brains learn from failure.
"Unless you experience the unpleasant symptoms of being wrong, your brain will never revise its models. Before your neurons can succeed, they must repeatedly fail. There are no shortcuts for this painstaking process."
Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, performed research that showed how praising kids for being smart can have a negative impact on their ability and willingness to learn. They will fear that mistakes will show that they really didn't deserve the praise they received for being smart. They will see mistakes as signs of stupidity and not as an opportunity to learn.

On the other hand, praising kids for their hard work will motivate them to take on bigger challenges even if it increased the risk of failure. Kids performed significantly better when praised for their efforts than when praised for their intelligence. They even chose more difficult assignments that gave them a higher risk of failure.

We see this in video games. In another TED talk, 7 ways games reward the brain, Tom Chatfield described the positive impact of rewarding effort.
People should be credited for everything they try and do. Don’t punish failure. Instead, reward and reinforce, and make everything count towards a clear measure of progress. As I’ve said elsewhere, one of the most profound transformations we can learn from games is how to turn the sense that someone has “failed” into the sense that they “haven’t succeeded yet.”
Lots of research is being done on gaming systems to motivate people to achieve. What makes a good video game? It seems to be the ones that aren't so easy that you never fail, but aren't so hard that you give up trying. The successful games are the ones that let you learn through failure without being crippled by the fear of having to start all over from the beginning if you make a mistake, meanwhile providing successive rewards through challenging progress.

As Dugan pointed out in her talk, it is not failure itself, but instead it is the fear of failure that stifles us. Failure is a healthy part of the learning process. I think she might have been asking the wrong question. Maybe she should have asked what would you attempt to do if you had no fear of failing?

Would we strive for achievement if we knew we could not fail?

Or would we get bored because there would be no opportunity to achieve the impossible or to learn something new?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lessons from TEDxAustin 2013 on fear and failure

Update 2/18: I added links to videos on YouTube

Last weekend I attended TEDxAustin 2013. It was held on Saturday, February 9 at the Circuit of the Americas facility, the home of Austin's new Formula 1 race track. This was my third event to attend and it lived up to my expectations from past experiences. If you haven't been to a TED related event, the best way to see what it is all about is to watch some of the videos from previous events here.

The event delivered tons of new ideas for me to think about: music, presentations, art, speakers, food, technology, event production, culture, networking, and much more. It is all very overwhelming, and it is hard to choose a favorite talk or individual topic to share. Instead, I am reflecting on the theme for the event - Fearless.

My biggest takeaways for the day:
  • Don't fear failure. Embrace it. It is required for progress.
  • Aspire for greatness and don't let fear get in the way of your dreams.
  • Rather than letting fear cripple you, face it head on.

Why Fearless?

I can't think of a better theme for a TEDx event. Nothing grips us and prevents us from realizing our dreams more than fear. Here are some ways that speakers at the event inspired me to overcome fear in different ways.
  • Faith Dickey shared her experience as a world record slakliner. She has no lizard brain. See the photos and videos on her website. She is fearless! (Watch here)
  • Jia Jiang told the story of his experience facing his fear of rejection. Rather than letting his fear control him, he faced it head on and learned to embrace rejection. (Watch here)
  • Darden Smith sang and told a story about doing what you love, without the fear of where the world might take you or who you might turn out to be. (Watch here)
  • Robyn Metcalfe described how curiosity drove her to ignore fear. She raced across four deserts with RacingThePlanet: Gobi, Sahara, Atacama, and Antarctica - (Watch here)
  • Byron Reese described how people often come up with excuses why they gave up on their childhood dreams of greatness due to fear of failure. Byron has held on to the childhood vision of himself as a great person, and he is still striving to change the the world. (Watch here)
I have been thinking about fear quite a bit lately. Here's a link to some of my most recent thoughts - LeaderThoughtship: Fear.

My conclusion for now is that fear is one of the strongest and most impactful emotions that separates us from greatness. It is rooted in our lizard brains as a survival mechanism, but when we overcome our fear we can achieve great things. We can all survive a long life of safety and mediocrity, but to truely live up to our potential for greatness we must overcome our fears.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Which is more compelling? Statistics or Stories

Yesterday I saw the following infographic from Safeco Insurance on Facebook and Twitter. Safeco is attempting to convince people to drive more safely by reducing distracted driving.

This information is somewhat effective as an attention getter, but there are a few key problems for persuasion:
  • You can't empathize with numbers.
  • It doesn't create an emotional response.
  • Statistics can be rationalized.

A friend pointed out the following in a comment on Facebook:
"No one can disagree with first principles - that distracted driving can lead to accidents and loss of life. However, this is the same scare tactic used by the seatbelt law people. Death rate is in the range of 1 out 100 million driven miles, which means someone could drive 10000 miles per year for 40 years to have 0.4% chance of dying from all causes combined.

If distracted driving is 10% of deaths, and number of deaths is already pretty low, I'd say this data is not compelling."
No matter if you agree with the data or not, statistics engage the human brain. As I wrote previously, appealing to reason is not an effective way to compel people to change their behavior. Most people have learned not to trust statistics, so the first thing they will do is to start looking for contextual tricks, logical holes, and statistical biases. Our trained response is to prove the statistics wrong.

Additionally, cognitive biases created by previous experience can lead to an entrenched response based on existing beliefs. Some people will rationalize that it can never happen to them, because they have been successful driving distracted without any accidents in the past.

Tell an emotional story to change behavior

A more effective way to get someone to change their behavior is to tell a compelling story that is visual, authentic, and emotionally connecting. Going back to the Triune Brain Theory, behavior is driven by the lizard and animal brains. If you want to drive change, you must appeal to these areas of the brain.

For example, watch this video from AT&T's Texting & Driving - It Can Wait campaign. The documentary features real stories of families affected by texting while behind the wheel:

This video is extremely persuasive as a driver for change. These are stories that create a strong sense of empathy and emotion that will make you think twice the next time you reach for you phone while driving your car. They are also stories that you can share with your friends and family, because they are memorable and easy to tell.

"Tell me a fact and I will learn. Tell me a truth and I will believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever." - Native American Proverb

What would be even more effective, is to follow up this video with a positive emotional response to change, like imagery of someone arriving home safely to eat dinner with their family. Lastly, it could conclude with the compelling data that Safeco Insurance provided in their inforgraphic. This approach fits the model of persuading first and convincing last.

Next time you get behind the wheel...

Will you remember the percentage of injury crashes related to distracted driving in 2010?


Will you remember the story of the teenager who died because of a text message?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Get their attention - What leaders can learn from advertising

Have you ever watched a TV commercial over and over again, until one day you happen to pay attention and realize that it actually had an interesting message behind it? This is what happens when commercials fail to get your attention. Like I mentioned previously in this blog, you need to get people's attention and then follow up with emotion in order to get people to change their behavior.

Volkswagen did a great job playing with this phenomenon in their "Safe Happens" campaign. Their commercials would show two people having a very normal and boring conversation that lulled you into ignoring the commercial. Just when they bored you almost to a slumber... BAM! A sudden car crash grabbed your attention, just like it often happens in real life. They would then show you the passengers standing next to the car looking at the carnage, followed by the message "Safe Happens." and then the VW logo.

If you have been in a real car crash, you know that it is a highly emotional experience. There is that surreal moment after the crash when you are wondering what happened, where are you, and are you hurt?

While your mind is going through the emotional paces, VW hits you with an ironic twist on the popular saying, "sh*t happens." They wrap the jarring emotional car crash experience with a tongue-in-cheek clever tagline that you can't help but enjoy a little. The result is a strong positive association with the VW brand and safety.

Prior to VW's Safe Happens campaign, commercials mostly showed wrecks being avoided, which didn't grab your attention. They showed crashes with test dummies, which didn't appeal to your emotion. The status quo safety message was a list of safety features and automotive industry safety awards, such as standard dual airbags and anti-lock brakes. As I have written before, this kind of appeal to reason is not memorable, it doesn't appeal to emotion, and it doesn't drive a change in behavior.

You can't get people to change if they aren't paying attention

Just because you have the floor doesn't mean that you have their attention. In the attention starved and stimulation rich environment that we live in, you have to do something big to get people's attention. People will quickly start thinking about other things, checking their smart phones, emailing, texting, and Twittering.

If you are presenting, don't start with the agenda. Start with a joke, a story, a video, or do something physical on stage. I have seen one person do cart wheels before giving a presentation. I once showed videos of snipers and machine guns as an attention getter. It got mixed reviews, but it definitely got their attention. If you need some inspiration before your next big presentation where you want to drive change, watch this video of Steve Ballmer a few times.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Colin Powell's perpetual optimism as a force multiplier

In 2006, I had the opportunity to hear Colin Powell speak at the 31st NPRA International Petrochemical Conference. He shared some lessons that he learned about leadership and diplomacy during his time in service of our nation. I don't recall the specific things he said, but I remember walking away feeling inspired and entertained.

Back before we had blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, Powell's Leadership Primer containing 18 lessons was circulated virally by email. I remember receiving it by email many times in the late 1990's. Lesson 12 from his primer is "Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier." In this lesson, Powell describes the importance of enthusiasm and optimism, and how this can be an emotional contagion:

Optimism is an important theme of Colin Powell's latest book, It Worked For Me. In the first chapter, he wrote about his famous Thirteen Rules of Leadership, which are different from the 18 lessons from his primer. Perpetual optimism is one of the thirteen. A few others are also tied to optimism:

  • It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning. 
  • It can be done!  
  • Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  • Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

Powell describes perpetual optimism as a belief in yourself, in your purpose, and in success. Demonstrating perpetual optimism with passion and confidence is a force multiplier, because it will drive your followers to share your optimistic beliefs. He describes optimism as an attitude, rather than a prediction or a reality. In the face of difficulty, Powell says to start out believing in success until the facts and analysis pile up against it.

He describes fear as a normal human emotion that can paralyze us and stop us in our tracks if we don't recognize that it needs to be controlled and overcome. Fear can prevent us from clear thinking and rational analysis. He says, "We prepare for it and control it; we never let it control us. If it does, we cannot lead."

Watch this interview with Colin Powell on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where he talks about his book and preaches optimism as the key ingredient in life and leadership.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Was Steve Jobs an optimistic leader?

I previously asked the questionIs it possible to lead others without optimism?

This month, Harvard Business Review listed Steve Jobs as the #1 best performing CEO in the World, for delivering a $359B increase in market capitalization during his tenure. He was clearly a successful leader that changed the world we live in, and I appreciate the results Steve Jobs was able to achieve and the products that he was able to create.

If you have read the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, then you might have a hard time thinking of Steve as an optimist. Words that might come to mind are visionary, futurist, genius, innovator, perfectionist, jerk, sociopath, narcissist, and megalomaniac.

In a 2004 interview for Wired magazine, he described himself as an optimist:
"I'm an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups."
I haven't heard of Steve Jobs being described as having a bright and cheery personality, and he was openly hypercritical of the work that people did. However, he had an optimistic view of the potential for people to do exceptional things and the possibility for Apple as an organization to create insanely great products that could put a dent in the universe.

Is being unreasonable a bad thing?

My favorite words to describe Steve Jobs are passionate, persuasive, determined, persistent, and unreasonable. Most people think of being unreasonable as a negative personality trait, but being unreasonable can sometimes generate positive results. George Bernard Shaw once said:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man."
Too often, we give in to reason and fail to let our ideas achieve their potential. When combined with determination and persistence, an unreasonable person can lead an organization to achieve exceptional results.

Steve Jobs is a perfect example of the unreasonable man that George Bernard Shaw described. Through his passion and drive he was able to get the best out of people, even persuading them to do what they personally thought was impossible. He would twist the truth and distort reality to match his unreasonable view of how things should be, and he was determined to change the world to make it fit his vision.

Is emotional intelligence a requirement for CEO performance?

Steve Jobs was not an ideal leader from an emotional intelligence point of view. He seemed to have no capability for empathy, and it is possible that he was only out to selfishly make the world a better place that he could tolerate living in. It is hard to make a case for Steve Jobs as a humanitarian. Regardless, he was effective in terms of leading Apple to do great things and to deliver products of exceptional value through his unrelenting passion and drive.

According to the a New York Times article, In Praise of Dullness, research has shown that people skills have little correlation with whether a CEO is successful or not. It says, "warm, flexible, team-oriented and empathetic people are less likely to thrive as C.E.O.’s."
"Traits like being a good listener, a good team builder, an enthusiastic colleague, a great communicator do not seem to be very important when it comes to leading successful companies. What mattered, it turned out, were execution and organizational skills. The traits that correlated most powerfully with success were attention to detail, persistence, efficiency, analytic thoroughness and the ability to work long hours."
Maybe this explains why Steve Jobs was so successful as the CEO of Apple? Is this just a harsh reality that we need to accept, or should we expect more from ourselves as leaders to deliver exceptional results for all of our stakeholders - shareholders, communities, families, employees, and coworkers alike?

See what the FBI had to say about Steve Jobs in their 1991 background investigation for a position in the US President's Export Council:

Steve Jobs delivered insanely great results, but was he a great leader?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fear and optimism are emotional contagions

Optimistic beliefs are required to drive growth and progress. Negative beliefs will drive fear, and they can spread contagiously. It takes courage to be an optimist. An important role for leadership is to help people overcome their fears and to believe in a positive outcome.

In an Office Hours interview with Dan Pink, I heard Gretchen Rubin talk about happiness and negativity as emotional contagions. On her Happiness Project blog, she defines emotional contagion as follows:
“Emotional contagion” is a strong psychological effect in which we “catch” the happy, sad, or angry moods of others. Someone in a happy, energetic mood will help boost the moods of others, and obviously, this creates a very pleasant atmosphere. Unfortunately, negative moods are more contagious than positive moods; if I’m crabby, I can trigger a wave of crabbiness in my friends.
Emotional intelligence and emotional contagions

CEO Coach Jeremy Robinson equates emotional intelligence with emotional contagion. He says that when he coaches leaders to become more emotionally intelligent, he teaches them to become more positively contagious and less negatively contagious. The most contagious emotions in groups are negative emotions, like fear and anger. He teaches leaders to be powerfully positive to people around them and themselves and to contain their own negative emotions. He also teaches them to become more immune to negative contagions of others.

Mirror neurons and emotional contagion

Neuroscientists have recently discovered that empathy is driven by mirror neurons that are located in the frontal cortex of your brain. These neurons fire in the same way whether you're watching someone do something or when you actually do the same thing yourself. You can watch a segment on NOVA that describes the research: Mirror Neurons.

In a video on YouTube, Karen Ellis describes how mirror neurons in our brains pick up subtle social cues and the implications for leadership. Yawning and giggling are contagious as a result of our mirror neurons. Emotional states in an organization are also contagious. The more status that you have in an organization, the more your moods will affect other people. People mirror what they see at the top, and so it is common that an organizational culture will mirror the personality of the boss.

Watch Leadership and social emotions by Performance1 on YouTube:

Have you ever seen a leader whose emotion is contagious?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Is optimism the opposite of fear?

As I have mentioned before, fear is a powerful force that can separate you from greatness. But what is the opposite of fear?

A common ice-breaking activity that I have have seen at leadership training workshops is to write down attributes of great leaders. Afraid would never appear on that list. Some of the attributes used to describe great leaders are the opposite of fear: brave, courageous, confident, bold, and fearless.

How about optimism?

Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something. It is a requirement for bravery, courage, and confidence.

I recently read S. Antony Iannarino's blog post, Four Powerful Beliefs You Must Hold to Succeed In Sales. In his blog post, he describes the following beliefs that are required for success:
  • You can make a difference.
  • You will succeed.
  • Other people will help you.
  • When things go wrong, they'll still work out.
Each of these are really optimistic beliefs. I think that the most important point that Iannarino makes is that optimism is important for success.
"One of the fundamental attributes of all successful people is a sense of optimism, the belief that even if things go wrong, they’ll still work out in the end. This is a powerful belief because it allows one to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm, as Churchill once said. It enables resourcefulness, persistence, and determination."
If your beliefs aren't optimistic, then they're either ho-hum or they're pessimistic. You can't possibly inspire people into action if you aren't able to instill a positive belief about where you want them to go.

Is it possible to lead others without optimism?

Watch Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python on YouTube: