Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Managing Your Business’ Workload During The Holidays

The winter holidays offer a chance for employees and managers at your business to spend quality time with their families, decompress, and recharge their batteries. But for many businesses, December is the busiest time of year, and few can afford to shut down entirely for longer than a week. If you want to allow everyone at your company to enjoy a little time off, you’ll need a strategy to manage issues that may arise while you’re short-staffed.

Plan ahead.

If you can firm up details about the availability of your staff and co-workers well ahead of the
holiday season, you’ll be able to design your schedule with greater precision. This will help you avoid the stress of trying to fill in gaps at critical times, and allow you and your staff to set your holiday itineraries. This is especially important if you, or any of your employees or co-workers, hopes to travel.

Rotate on-call responsibility.

Work out a plan to share phone- and e-mail-answering duties, and allow for some flexibility. Draw straws or flip a coin for those occasions that are unlikely to entice many enthusiastic volunteers (like the morning of December 25, or the morning of January 1). Set up shifts, and make sure everyone is aware of when h/er shift begins and ends. To save time and energy on tasks that run across multiple shifts, the person who initiated the work should send an e-mail to the other staff describing the assignment, and what remains to be done. If you shut down your business for a few days, create answering machine messages and automated e-mails to let clients and customers know when they can expect you to return to work.

Share the load.

If there are assignments that need to get finished during the holiday season, try to divide the tasks so that no one feels overburdened. You can do this for both work-related and domestic chores—like decorating the house, cooking, and organizing for holiday parties and social events. Share and delegate!

Design an effective online contact/order form.

An online contact form, with fields that allow clients and customers to describe what they need in detail, can be a great asset during the holidays; it allows you to automate orders so that no one must respond in real time. While designing your form, keep economy of customer/client effort in mind. In other words, the form fields should provide space for essential information, with an optional field for notes. Overly wordy or complicated contact/order forms tend to dissuade prospective form-fillers, who may just prefer to wait—or take their business elsewhere.

Complete generic or non-time-sensitive tasks in advance.

Your holiday consists of precious moments, not surplus time. If your work involves weekly blog or social media posts, for example, prepare a few in advance so you can simply click “Publish” when you need to. Dedicate your spare time to completing assignments before you take a holiday, and you’ll free up additional time for family, friends, and valuable relaxation during that holiday.

Live in the moment and enjoy yourself.

If you’ve set aside a few hours for family and fun activities, don’t taint them by worrying about work. Leave your job behind and enjoy the holiday experience.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Negotiate From a Position Of Strength

In business, as in life, your skills as a negotiator will occasionally be tested. By concentrating on five fundamentals in particular—preparation, factual agreement, rapport, active listening, and common interests—you can greatly improve your prospects for success.

A negotiation strategy can’t succeed in advance, but it can fail in advance.

There is arguably no more important component of a negotiation strategy than preparation.

Start by envisioning the negotiated outcome to which you aspire, and understand why it is desirable for you. Identify your must-haves. This will enable you to distinguish areas where you are willing to compromise, from areas where you are determined to stand firm.

Your preparations for a negotiation should include research into the other party and h/er interests. Try to identify the outcome the other party desires, and issues on which you think s/he may be willing to compromise.

Finally, it is important that you clarify the terms and process of a negotiation at the outset. Who will be present at the meetings? How long are the negotiations anticipated to last? What does the other party’s chain of command look like, and who will sign off on the final decision? Are there key dates upcoming, deadlines, or other technical details that need to be established?

Make sure the other party is willing to agree, in writing, to the terms of the negotiated outcome. You want to avoid a situation where the other party unilaterally re-opens negotiations that you thought had concluded.

Establish consensus on key facts.

Negotiations tend to be deliberate and can be mentally taxing, so it’s helpful to reach agreement on the facts, and thereby avoid unnecessary discord and delays.

Over the course of the negotiations, information may come to light that is new to you. Should this occur, make a note of it and try to verify it. Call for a pause in the negotiations if necessary. Don’t accept a consequential “fact” that you don’t know is true, or an interpretation of reality you can’t endorse.

Just as importantly, both parties to a negotiation must have realistic expectations—including an understanding of the conditions that each party faces.

If, for example, a manufacturing subcontractor cannot fill an order because h/er factory has sustained significant damage in an earthquake, a well-informed manager of the retail firm that placed the order won’t attribute the shortfall to the subcontractor’s incompetence or negligence. A shared understanding of facts on the ground, including risks and potential causes of delay, is often essential to maintaining positive professional relationships.

Build rapport.

This involves getting to know one another personally, ensuring that all parties are on the same page, and managing or de-escalating conflicts. Rapport has verbal and non-verbal components; body language plays a central role.

Progress in negotiations tends to be especially difficult when there is hostility between the parties. Small talk can help to break the ice, but in some cases, this approach simply won’t be adequate. Some basic conflict management techniques can help you move forward in negotiations, even if you aren’t particularly fond of your counterpart.

  Avoid making provocative statements that may cause your counterpart to shut down or become defensive.

  If your counterpart makes such a provocative statement, express your lack of appreciation therefor, but suppress the temptation to retaliate in kind.

  Maintain non-threatening physical posture and body language. Speak calmly and slowly, and de-personalize the source of conflict—for example, “This situation makes me uncomfortable.” rather than “You are making me uncomfortable.”

  If necessary, take a break, and return to the topic of contention once you and your counterpart have both had an opportunity to regain composure.

Listen actively.

Active, attentive listening enables you to ascertain your counterpart’s wants, needs, goals, and any other relevant information s/he may have to offer. It also allows you to hold h/er accountable for any changes in h/er position that you haven’t acknowledged or agreed to. Your priority in negotiations should not be to catch your counterpart off-guard, to exert control, or even to “win”. Rather, your main aim should be to safeguard your own interests with an approach that emphasizes listening, critical thinking, and strategic dialogue.

Seek out common interests.

Ultimately, the goal of all parties to a negotiation is the same: to obtain something they desire, while sacrificing as little as possible. Because desirability is partly subjective, successful negotiations among equal partners can often result in a “win-win”.

A sure way to achieve real, substantive progress in a negotiation is by focusing on shared interests and ambitions. Once you know where your common interests lie, you will find it easier to iron out the details of any compromises that may be necessary.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Website Translation Advice

There’s a lot of truth the to statement that we live in a global village. Technologies like the internet, social media, large-scale shipping, and commercial airliners have dramatically reduced the effective distance between countries and continents—facilitating communication, trade, and travel to an unprecedented degree. For businesses, this offers a world of opportunity to engage with prospective clients and customers all around the globe.

Nonetheless, entrepreneurs and businesses who hope to outfox their rivals need to ensure they’ve got the right tools in place. And one of the most crucial must-haves for enterprises looking to expand overseas is a website that offers comparable content and functionality in various languages.

Hire a professional translator and/or reputable translation firm.

If you’ve ever attempted to translate lengthy passages with Google Translate, you may have noticed that flaws tend to crop up in the English version. There are many reasons for this: certain idioms don’t work well in English, cultural concepts expressed in other languages are difficult to convey in English, the software fails to correctly distinguish one homonym from another or misinterprets the context of the sentence, etc.

Assuming you want the content of your business website to convey a comparable level of meaning and impact in multiple languages—including some that you don’t happen to speak at an advanced level—you should strongly consider hiring reputable, professional translators to assist you.

Before choosing a translation firm, do some research and try to find testimonials from past clients. Seek firms that either specialize in or have native proficiency in your target language. Ideally, the translators you hire will also possess specific cultural expertise, and have the ability to operate on a 24-hour cycle for time-sensitive assignments.

An anecdote: I have a friend who works at an organization that opted to switch from the translation company it had traditionally worked with, to an outfit that offered a lower price for (ostensibly) the same work. As a native speaker of the target language, my friend noticed that the lower-priced enterprise’s content was replete with mistranslations and other errors. Unfortunately, by that time it was too late; my friend’s organization had already ordered thousands of copies of their newly translated brochures. Although the errors were eventually corrected (with my friend’s help), her organization ended up wasting significant amounts of money, time, and paper.

The moral of the story is, be vigilant, and make sure you’re not sacrificing quality at the altar of a seemingly attractive price.

Cultural appropriateness.

There’s more to effective translation than simply altering the words on your web page. Depending on the scale and importance of the target market, you’ll also want to consider ways to make your website’s content culturally relevant and appropriate for your new customers.

If certain imagery doesn’t work, messages in your original content are culturally specific and don’t transfer well to other countries, or for any reason your English-language material doesn’t address the needs and priorities of your target market, then the translation firm should be able to alert you to the problem and offer a viable solution.

As your dealings with international markets become more sophisticated, you may also want to select stock photos and symbols that are likelier to resonate with customers overseas. Furthermore, customers may feel more comfortable with your brand if they see a resemblance to themselves in some of the people whose likenesses appear on your website.

Watch out for possible issues with site architecture and navigation.

As you translate from one language to several others, you will inevitably find that the same content in different languages will occupy different amounts of physical space on the website. This can introduce problems with the layout of the pages, and the ability of visitors to navigate smoothly and efficiently.

This is one of several reasons why it’s important to run reasonably thorough quality assurance tests before you launch new content on a foreign-language version of your website.

Technical glitches are a fact of modern life, and problems will almost certainly arise with any major online translation project. But if you succeed at making inroads into lucrative foreign markets, you’ll be rewarded for your patience and perseverance.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Marketing to Customers’ Emotions

Consider television advertisements that you’ve seen for fragrance products, such as Axe deodorants and body sprays, Calvin Klein colognes, or Chanel perfumes. Some of these commercials entice would-be buyers with the promise of an exciting and glamorous lifestyle, others portray an image of coolness, stylishness, manliness, gracefulness, attractiveness. Almost universally, they seek to appeal to the emotional desires and ambitions of the target audience.

Of course, the power of emotion extends far beyond the world of fragrances; branding experts regularly employ emotional techniques to plug items ranging from soft drinks, to jeans, to automobiles. By connecting your brand identity to the emotional aspirations of consumers, you too can convey a potent message. But you’ll need to begin with a solid understanding of your customers’ emotional drivers.

What motivates your customers?

Every one of your customers is a unique individual, and each may have h/er own reasons for seeking out what you offer. Nonetheless, you’ll often be able to identify emotional drivers that many share.

As part of their research into customer emotional connectedness, published this month in Harvard Business Review, analysts Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas, and Daniel Leemon compiled a list of High-Impact Motivators that includes the following:

  A desire to stand out from the crowd, which businesses can leverage by emphasizing the uniqueness of their brand.

  Confidence in the future, and a feeling that the best in life is yet to come.

  Well-being, including relief from stress.

  Freedom and independence, and sovereignty over one’s own decisions.

  Success, defined by the sense that one’s life and endeavours have meaning.

  Belonging, as in being part of the “in” crowd, and/or perceiving oneself to belong to something greater.

  Thrill/excitement, and the associated pleasure or buzz.

  Environmental protection: the belief that one’s purchasing decisions are either helping to prevent (or at least, not further exacerbating) the degradation of the ecosystem.

            Other common emotional drivers are the desire for love, financial security, the admiration of one’s peers, and the wellbeing of one’s family.

Identify emotional connections.

Existing customer and market data, surveys, and social media can all offer valuable insights here.

If your customers have liked or favourited your business or its products on social media, there is a good chance that these individuals would welcome updates, including information on special deals and limited-time offers. Surveys provide a means for you to learn about the emotions associated with particular customers and their shopping behaviour. (Questions like “Do you place greater value on individuality, or social acceptance?” or “Do you consider (X) a good brand?” can yield enlightening insights.) By aggregating basic customer data points—such as age, profession, gender, and transactional records—you can develop a profile of the kinds of customers who most value what you have to offer.

Emotionally connected customers tend to be lucrative ones.

Typically, your data will reveal that a minority of your clientele consists of regulars and comparatively big spenders. The research of Magids, Zorfas, and Leemon suggests that there is substantial overlap between your most frequent or lucrative customers, and those who feel emotionally connected to your business.


By reaching out to your most emotionally connected customers first, and striving to forge stronger connections with your borderline-emotionally connected customers, you can give your business greater staying power and a competitive edge over those that overlook this factor.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What to Look For In a Social Media Manager

Social media has become an integral component of the marketing strategy of many businesses. There is good reason for this: social media platforms bring millions of prospective clients, customers, and business professionals together, offering a dynamic, interactive commercial opportunity with few precedents in human history.

That said, to make effective and profitable use of social media, one needs both a specialized skill set and a knack for conveying the desired message.

If you plan on hiring a social media specialist to preside over your business’s online interactions, keep the following criteria in mind.

The right kind of experience and knowledge

Applicants for the position of social media manager won’t have decades of in-kind experience to fall back on, for the obvious reason that social media is a relatively novel tool. So don’t concern yourself principally with the total duration of a candidate’s experience. Instead, seek individuals whose skills, accomplishments, and outlook are compatible with your organizational culture and goals.

Ask candidates to provide descriptions and links to their past social media work, their social media accounts, and (if possible) testimonials from previous employers. You can also elicit their responses to skill-testing problems, such as “We’re hoping to design a multi-platform social media marketing campaign to promote (X), with the following messaging requirements. Show me how you would approach this assignment.”

Millennials tend to be digital natives.

We’ve all heard the standard received wisdom about millennials: they feel entitled, they have lofty ambitions but aren’t willing to work hard to achieve them, etc. However, empirical research indicates that such stereotypes are not new; rather, elders have been griping about “the younger generation” for centuries. By the same token, every generation invariably features both underachievers and high achievers.
 
Social media is one area in which millennials, on average, tend to be more comfortable than their elders. Many young professionals entering the labour force today may have got their start on social media before they learned to ride a bicycle. When it comes to hiring a social media strategist, you’ll need to dispel any lingering, overgeneralized misgivings you feel toward millennials. The most qualified candidates for the job are likely to be members of this youthful cohort.

Search for potential candidates on social media.

Candidates for a social media manager position will often have searchable profiles on various platforms, and an established online presence. As soon as you field a job application from someone, run a search for that person on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other social media platform your business currently uses. If you can’t easily locate the individual you’re looking for, that may be cause for concern.

Proficiency in spelling, grammar, syntax, and a conversational writing style

Your business’s social media accounts are the face of your online presence, and errors that appear in these spaces reflect poorly on your organization.

Often, a social media manager’s job description includes the curation of content for a newsletter or Storify article. Depending on the specifics of the position, a social media manager may also be required to create original content for a blog or website. A high degree of language proficiency, a strong grasp of basics like spelling and grammar, and an engaging and conversational writing style, all are valuable assets.

A background in sales, marketing, or customer service

While a long history of experience in social media management shouldn’t necessarily be a top priority, social media strategy is largely a question of communicating and disseminating your company’s message effectively. Look for candidates who have a history of solid performance in this area, bo

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Marketing to Customers’ Emotions

Consider television advertisements that you’ve seen for fragrance products, such as Axe deodorants and body sprays, Calvin Klein colognes, or Chanel perfumes. Some of these commercials entice would-be buyers with the promise of an exciting and glamorous lifestyle, others portray an image of coolness, stylishness, manliness, gracefulness, attractiveness. Almost universally, they seek to appeal to the emotional desires and ambitions of the target audience.

Of course, the power of emotion extends far beyond the world of fragrances; branding experts regularly employ emotional techniques to plug items ranging from soft drinks, to jeans, to automobiles. By connecting your brand identity to the emotional aspirations of consumers, you too can convey a potent message. But you’ll need to begin with a solid understanding of your customers’ emotional drivers.

What motivates your customers?

Of course, every one of your customers is a unique individual, and each may have h/er own reasons for seeking out what you offer. Nonetheless, you’ll often be able to identify emotional drivers that many share.

As part of their research into customer emotional connectedness, published this month in Harvard Business Review, analysts Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas, and Daniel Leemon compiled a list of High-Impact Motivators that includes the following:

  A desire to stand out from the crowd, which businesses can leverage by emphasizing the uniqueness of their brand.

  Confidence in the future, and a feeling that the best in life is yet to come.

  Well-being, including relief from stress.

  Freedom and independence, and sovereignty over one’s own decisions.

  Success, defined by the sense that one’s life and endeavours have meaning.

  Belonging, as in being part of the “in” crowd, and/or perceiving oneself to belong to something greater.

  Thrill/excitement, and the associated pleasure or buzz.

  Environmental protection: the belief that one’s purchasing decisions are either helping to prevent (or at least, not further exacerbating) the degradation of the ecosystem.

Other common emotional drivers are the desire for love, financial security, the admiration of one’s peers, and the wellbeing of one’s family.

Identify emotional connections.

Existing customer and market data, surveys, and social media can all offer valuable insights here.

If your customers have liked or favourited your business or its products on social media, there is a
good chance that these individuals would welcome updates, including information on special deals and limited-time offers. Surveys provide a means for you to learn about the emotions associated with particular customers and their shopping behaviour. (Questions like “Do you place greater value on individuality, or social acceptance?” or “Do you consider (X) a good brand?” can yield enlightening insights.) By aggregating basic customer data points—such as age, profession, gender, and transactional records—you can develop a profile of the kinds of customers who most value what you have to offer.

Emotionally connected customers tend to be lucrative ones.

Typically, your data will reveal that a minority of your clientele consists of regulars and comparatively big spenders. The research of Magids, Zorfas, and Leemon suggests that there is substantial overlap between your most frequent or lucrative customers, and those who feel emotionally connected to your business.

By reaching out to your most emotionally connected customers first, and striving to forge stronger connections with your borderline-emotionally connected customers, you can give your business greater staying power and a competitive edge over those that overlook this factor.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Turning a Bad Day Into an OK Day At Work

We’ve all had those days when nothing we attempt seems to work out, there are unforeseen
challenges or delays, items we’ve requested don’t arrive on time, a presentation or business meeting doesn’t go as well as expected, etc.

If you feel yourself sliding toward an emotional low, try a few of the following strategies to help get yourself and your work day back on track.

Adjust your attitude.

You hold yourself to a high standard, and it’s natural for you to feel miffed if your performance ever falls short of your own expectations. We all experience disappointments; however, one of the defining qualities of a consummate professional is the ability to regain focus, composure, and a constructive frame of mind after a letdown.

  Put your troubles in context. For some people, it helps to consider how enormous the universe is, and how comparatively minuscule one’s own problems are. You can apply a similar tactic to time: will the circumstances you’re experiencing right now matter in five, 10, or 15 years? Will they significantly affect your career, or your legacy?

  Monitor your thoughts, and avoid the tendency to globalize, catastrophize, or succumb to unrealistically negative self-assessments. For example, instead of a phrase like “I’m such an idiot,” a more realistic appraisal would be: “I made an error on this occasion, but I’m actually quite intelligent and good at what I do; if I weren’t, the many successes I’ve enjoyed thus far wouldn’t have been possible.” By the way, if you’re going to criticize your own failings, why not take into account your many successes and redeeming qualities too?

  Stay in the here and now. The most important task in the world right now is the one that’s right in front of you. Past events are beyond your control.

  Take a moment to think. Sometimes just by asking yourself the question “What can I do to turn this situation around?”, you’ll come up with one or more ideas that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred to you. This offers you an opportunity to regain a measure of mental control, instead of feeling like a hapless passenger on a bus that’s headed for a ditch. You may also experience a placebo of sorts: if you genuinely believe a particular change in thinking or behaviour will help you, then there’s a good chance it will.

Activate your body.

An elevated degree of stress can disrupt basic functions of your body, including your heart rate, digestion, muscle tension, blood flow, and respiration. A focus on breathing (which is relatively easy to consciously control) can help you release some of the pent-up anxiety or frustration you may feel. Start with about five deep, measured breaths, in through your nose, out through your mouth.

A bit of light exercise, like a walk around the block or up a few flights of stairs, can help restore circulation to your brain and extremities, and release tension and stress.

You can also try striking a power pose, by standing tall with your feet at shoulder-width, placing your hands on your hips, and imagining that you are a superhero. Hold this position for around two minutes. Sure, it sounds a little silly, but you may be pleasantly surprised by the renewed feeling of strength and potency this brings you.

Practice gratitude daily.

Take some time to think about all the people who have made a positive contribution to your life. Express your gratitude openly to those around you whom you care about and respect.

Not only will the regular practice of gratitude help you to restore a positive frame of mind and recover from setbacks more quickly; your friends, companions, and colleagues may also be more favourably disposed to lending you a hand in times of need if they believe you genuinely appreciate their assistance. Gratitude is a positive feedback loop!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Actually, The Customer Isn’t Always Right

“The customer is always right” is a kernel of received wisdom that has stood the test of time—and will likely remain with us for many years to come. Of course, customer service is essential to the success and viability of any service-oriented enterprise, and no manager who fails to prioritize this dimension of day-to-day business can expect to keep h/er job for long.

Nonetheless, the world is full of imperfect people. Everyone makes mistakes. Some individuals are prone to losing their tempers for no good reason, have irritating habits, or place unrealistic demands on others. The odds are good that, sooner or later, you will do business with a customer who answers to one or more of these descriptions.

In other words, the tired old maxim that presupposes the correctness of the customer isn’t true. On the contrary, customers are frequently wrong.

The expertise gap.

You or your staff likely know more about the products you offer and their best uses than many of your customers do. You may occasionally have superior knowledge about what is in a customer’s best interest. If this is the case, try to be forthright.

Many customers are understandably suspicious of the motives and intentions of salespeople—Is he on commission? Will she try to peddle something I neither want nor need?

By encouraging honesty and integrity throughout your enterprise, you will garner a reputation that reflects those values, and in turn, earn the trust of current and prospective customers. You want them to feel comfortable and confident that you plan to help them, rather than exploit information asymmetries to your own advantage. Obviously, a customer who expects a good-faith transaction will be more receptive to your insights than an apprehensive one who fears a hustle.

Give your employees the benefit of the doubt.

No one is entitled to spew abusive language or direct any other form of harassment toward your staff. If a dispute arises between an employee and a customer, you should give the customer’s concerns a fair hearing, but offer your employee the benefit of the doubt.

By giving your employees the support they need to do their jobs well, you’re likely to end up with more satisfied customers too. Workers who believe that their employer will have their back in a dispute will tend to find their work more gratifying, enjoy higher morale, and offer customers an exemplary standard of service.

Of course, this doesn’t imply that you should embrace the equally extreme position “The employee is always right”. But competent, hard-working staff certainly deserve your support in the face of unreasonable customers.

Don’t reward bad behaviour.

If you dedicate yourself to the maxim “The customer is always right”, you’ll naturally be inclined to tolerate a cantankerous customer’s misbehaviour—and by tolerating it, you’ll only encourage more of the same. Don’t give in to the person who yells the loudest or raises the biggest stink; at the end of the day, this policy will do more harm to your business than good. Do you really want your other customers to perceive that the most annoying shoppers are also the ones most likely to get what they want?

Occasionally, you may have to ask a combative individual to leave the premises, so that you can concentrate on helping those who treat you with civility and respect. Bad customers are also bad for business: they distract your employees from more important tasks, and can create an unpleasant experience for everyone.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Business Travel Tips

Travel is a fact of life for many business owners and professionals, and brings its own distinctive set of pleasures and challenges. Even after all the technical aspects of your itinerary are in place (plane ticket, hotel booking, rental car, appropriate clothing, etc.), you still need to collect your luggage, settle into your room, firm up your work and meeting schedule, find time for nutritious meals, and (if applicable) acclimate to a different culture and time zone.

If possible, arrive a day or two early.
 
By showing up early, you’ll have an opportunity to do some advanced scouting and familiarize yourself with your surroundings. You can check out restaurants and public venues in the neighbourhood, pick up a map and city guide, get some exercise to restore your muscle strength, flexibility, and blood flow after a long flight, and learn your way around. You’ll also have more margin to wean yourself off jet-lag, and come to terms with any culture-shock you may experience.

Overcome jet-lag by making adjustments to your routine right away.

Ideally, your early arrival will help you adjust to the local time zone. Shift your meal times on day one, and mitigate the disturbance to your system by eating foods that are similar to whatever you would consume at home. Resist the urge to either get up or fall asleep at odd hours of the day, and aim for the bedtime and waking time to which you’re accustomed. By sticking with your usual habits, you’ll enable your body to modify its circadian rhythms more readily.

If you’ve had jet-lag issues in the past, try taking small doses of melatonin—a hormone that helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle—about half an hour before bed time. (Melatonin is available in many pharmacies and health food stores.)

Stay hydrated, eat well, and don’t over-caffeinate.

When you feel sluggish because of jet-lag or a long day of travel, you’ll inevitably feel tempted to indulge in copious quantities of coffee, tea, or energy drinks, hoping to artificially perk yourself up. However, you should aim to keep your caffeine consumption to a moderate level, since the caffeine-overload “solution” to listlessness introduces a new set of problems—including dehydration, the need to visit the bathroom frequently, and a tendency for you to crash once the caffeine high wears off.

Instead of saturating your system with caffeine, keep yourself hydrated, start the day with a breakfast that includes protein and complex carbohydrates, and take a power nap if necessary. A multivitamin supplement can also give you a boost by helping your body metabolize energy more efficiently, and defend against travel bugs.

Keep everything in its place.

Travel is inherently stressful, and becomes even more so if you find yourself hunting around at an inopportune moment for something you’ve misplaced. You can avoid this with a bit of discipline. When you feel tired at the end of a long day, resist the urge to just toss things wherever; dedicate each of the items you need to a particular spot, and maintain that arrangement for the full duration of your trip.

Plan your schedule in advance.

Set two to three primary goals for your journey in advance, and keep those objectives in mind throughout.

If you’re unfamiliar with the destination community, do some research to ascertain how long it will take you to transit from one location to another, whether on foot, by taxi, or using public transportation.

Devote a specific amount of time to work-related duties, and try to stick with the program. Although a measure of flexibility is necessary, you’ll also need to be wary of the distractions you’re certain to encounter on your first visit to a new place. If you can, reserve some spare time for sightseeing and exploration.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fostering Team Creativity

Many extraordinary innovations are the product not of individual strokes of genius, but rather cooperation among highly skilled individuals working toward a common goal. As technology grows more advanced and intricate, and groundbreaking innovation requires an increasingly sophisticated skill set, the power of co-creation is only becoming more essential. Exemplary creative teams often benefit from a diversity of skills, passions, and expertise, and a work environment that allows each member of the collective to shine.

A leadership style conducive to innovation.

As management scholar and Harvard business professor Linda Hill explained in a 2014 TED talk, a top-down style of leadership is seldom consistent with the freedom of thought and expression that enables creative minds to flourish. But a total absence of structure isn’t helpful either.

Hill offers several examples of firms with work environments conducive to collective innovation, including computer animation studio Pixar, and search engine giant Google. Hill and her research partners have concluded that managers at these firms embrace an unconventional style of leadership—one which conceives of the boss as a connector and social architect, rather than a commander-in-chief. Or as Hill says, “Our role as leaders is to set the stage, not to perform on it.”

Development teams at Pixar typically include around 250 members, who spend between four and five years composing a single film. Once the team has established its overall objective (to produce an animated movie with a particular storyline, characters, and themes), the process and details are somewhat flexible. Importantly, effective managers of creative projects do not presume that their own vision is superior in all respects to the potentially conflicting ideas and expertise of the other team members. In any project of this magnitude, unanticipated challenges are also likely to arise, which may require improvised solutions.

The physical design and layout of the workplace is a crucial factor as well. The members of a creative team must have enough isolated space to pursue their own trains of thought, but enough common space to allow discussion and engagement. Instead of consensus and conformity, a manager who aims to promote creativity shouldn’t be afraid to allow constructive debate, and even constructive conflict. The leader’s role in these situations is to moderate the discussion, rather than attempt to influence the entire team toward a single point of view.

Creative abrasion, agility, and resolution.

Hill believes many organizations that display high levels of team creativity have mastered three over-arching abilities.

  Creative abrasion is the frequent meeting of minds in the workspace, which may sometimes culminate in confrontation. The role of a manager at this stage is to amplify voices that might not otherwise receive a fair hearing, and engender a respectful marketplace of ideas.

  Creative agility is the testing of ideas and concepts on a small scale in order to ascertain possible solutions to problems. The immediate goal of this is twofold—to examine the viability of those ideas in practice, and refine them by identifying practical shortcomings. This is an experimental, trial-and-error process, and team members should understand it as such.

  Creative resolution is the decision-making process by which the members of a creative team collectively determine a path forward. This may require integration of conflictual or divergent ideas. However, Hill believes managers should discourage team members from “going along to get along”, accepting compromises they find unsatisfactory.

In sum, successful leaders of creative teams don’t necessarily “lead” in the conventional sense; instead, they aim to provide fertile soil for the emergence of ingenuity.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Overcoming the Under-achievement Bugaboo

Successful people in any field tend to hold themselves to a lofty standard. As a result, they often experience disappointment or feel frustrated when their designs don’t immediately come to fruition. If this happens repeatedly, it can accumulate into an overall feeling of falling short of one’s potential. Highly intelligent, creative, and visionary individuals in particular are susceptible to this syndrome, particularly in a world filled with distractions.

Unfortunately, disappointments and diversions are facts of life; what sets high-achievers apart from under-achievers is the ability to achieve concrete, specific goals consistently, in spite of these obstacles.

The following list draws on the ideas of Dr. Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist who specializes in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Set two or three specific goals for each day.

Very few of history’s great achievements materialized overnight. Many famous works of architecture, like castles and cathedrals in Europe, required decades to build. Professional athletes, musicians, and artists rehearse and train rigorously for years in order to attain a sublime level of performance and make it look easy.

Even if the goals you set for yourself are ambitious, demanding, or significant in scale, focus on the process, and divide major undertakings into small pieces. This approach also offers a proverbial rope to help you climb out of a productivity rut: rather than concentrate on a huge task, direct your attention to a single component of the larger task. If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of writing a book, try writing a few sentences instead. You’ll have made progress already.

Establish medium-term, long-term, and lifetime goals too.

Beyond your daily goals, you should likewise establish two or three medium-term goals (for periods of two to three weeks), an equal number of long-term goals (six months to one year), and lifetime goals.

The key is to avoid taking on several big projects at once—which tends to result in partially completed works, but no tangible final product at the end of the time period in question.

Stay disciplined around e-mail, social media, and other online time-consumers.

If you’re a curious, active thinker who craves knowledge of the world, the internet is equal parts blessing and curse—the former, because an immense quantum of information and insight is available at your fingertips; the latter, for the same reason.

E-mail and social media are arguably the worst offenders, because as we see updates from our friends, new messages in our inbox, and replies to our tweets, we feel the urge to read and respond to those communications. For the sake of productivity, however, it’s important to resist the temptation to reply to online messages as they arrive.

Barring exceptional circumstances, try to reserve a time slot of about an hour each day in which you respond to e-mails, reply to Facebook messages, read news headlines, scan through your Twitter timeline, or whatever. For the remainder of the work day, steer clear of these potential time-leeches.

Devote yourself to projects that are consistent with your priorities.

If you’re a naturally enthusiastic and generous person, you may have a tendency to stretch yourself too thin. Realistically, life is full of worthwhile opportunities and undertakings for which we either don’t have time, or toward which we simply cannot devote enough effort to instill pride and satisfaction.

In that light, it’s important for you to prioritize endeavours that are consistent with your ambitions and passions. This will require you to politely decline some proposals. In other words, sometimes you need to say “No” in order to say “Yes”.

Be honest with yourself, and with the person who is making a request of your time and commitment. Rather than agreeing to do something right away, offer to think about it and get back to h/er. If for whatever reason you don’t feel up to the task, decline the offer by saying “This looks like a great idea/worthy project, but I just don’t think I’ll have the time to do it justice.”

By steering away from over-commitment, you’ll avoid disappointment, and free up time for the things that are most important to you, both personally and professionally.

For more information, check out Dr. Hallowell’s website, and this 2014 interview by life coach Marie Forleo. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

To Drone or Not to Drone?

This post is partly speculative in nature, since unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, colloquially known as “drones”) have yet to really proliferate in the business world. But at the very least, the evident trend toward employing drones for commercial purposes is one we all should keep an eye on. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos even announced in 2013 that his company would contemplate using drones for deliveries. Given the relative novelty of the technology from a commercial standpoint, entrepreneurs and managers have a great opportunity right now to position themselves ahead of the curve.

Commercial drones probably won’t fill the sky tomorrow. Rules around drone use are evolving, and have yet to catch up to the real potential of drones to become ubiquitous denizens of our airspace. Regulators must strike a reasonable balance between legitimate concerns over privacy and public safety, and the obvious advantages of UAVs for undertakings like police investigations, search and rescue, and various business activities.

Consider the following issues as you mull the drone question.

What use might you have for a drone right now?

Amazon’s vision of drone deliveries is still in its embryonic phase, but many commercial enterprises in North America are making use of drones already. Camera-mounted UAVs have proven useful for land surveying, recording flyovers of golf courses, taking photos from perspectives that might otherwise be inaccessible, and filming short snippets for television advertisements. Cable news outlets have assigned drones to cover perilous or hard-to-reach locations at a comparatively low cost, and without endangering camera crews.

UAV technology is rapidly improving, with features like extended battery life, greater cargo capacity, and solar panels. We can expect further technological change to enhance the versatility of drones in the years to come.

There are several conditions you must meet in order to fly a drone in Canada.

As in many other countries, recreational drone users are generally entitled to fly light UAVs (2 kilograms or less) in Canada without seeking certification from government regulators, provided they fulfill certain safety obligations—like yielding the right of way to manned aircraft, and keeping their distance from airports and restricted airspace. However, a more stringent set of rules applies to drone operators who intend to use mid-size UAVs for work or research purposes, and for users of drones heavier than 25 kilograms.

The key take-away here is, do your research before acquiring a UAV, let alone launching it. Make sure you have fulfilled all the conditions required for an exemption from Transport Canada’s certification process. Otherwise, you’ll need to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).

Steer clear of animals.

When human beings introduce new, synthetic elements into the natural environment, animals often react by associating the novel entity with a concept they already know and understand—sometimes with decidedly negative results. One reason why sharks occasionally attack surfers, is because the shape of a surfboard resembles the familiar, corpulent physique of a seal. An owl in Oregon achieved notoriety recently for swooping out of trees to steal joggers' hats.
          
Likewise, UAVs can face considerable perils once they enter into a complex ecosystem. For instance, eagles tend to be highly territorial during nesting season, and will vigorously defend their local airspace against any perceived threat. (A drone-mounted camera in Australia recently filmed a midair encounter between the UAV and a wedge-tailed eagle. Let’s just say the eagle won.)

Other creatures—including alligators, primates, bees, and dogs—have also reacted adversely to drones and attempted to bring them down. Thus, it’s probably wise to give animals a wide berth whenever possible.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Balancing Work and School

If you aim to expand your knowledge of an area that interests you, learn a new language, or enhance your repertoire of professional skills, you’ll need to dedicate time and effort to that endeavour in order to make significant progress. But if you work full hours, and particularly if you’re an entrepreneur looking to grow your startup, your spare time is probably scarce. Thus, you’ll need to focus on managing whatever time you do have, while always devoting your full attention to the task at hand.

Take the following considerations into account.

Don’t underestimate the time commitment.

Even part-time schooling often involves homework or extra-curricular assignments. When you’re considering night school or part-time skills training, be honest with yourself: depending on the frequency of the sessions, you may need to set aside 10 hours per week or more. Unless you’re confident that your schedule can accommodate that, you may want to hold off on your academic or vocational ambitions for now, or contemplate auditing a course rather than registering as a full-fledged student. Aim for one course at a time, especially if the experience of trying to balance work and school is new to you.

Online courses may be more opportune from a time perspective, although you’ll perhaps have to forgo the considerable benefit of discussion with instructors and fellow students.

Let your boss and/or team members know what you’re up to.

If your boss and/or colleagues in the office are aware of your situation, they may be sympathetic and enable you to adjust your work schedule around your studies. If the skill you hope to cultivate is relevant to your current position, your boss may even be willing to help you with tuition. (You shouldn’t count on this, though.)

Even if you are the boss, be sure to communicate proactively with your team so that they know when you’ll be away from the office and why. Your studies may require you to leave early or arrive late on certain days; identify a team member to whom you can delegate the responsibility of holding down the fort while you’re away.

Get the most out of your time by planning and organizing in advance.

Set aside dedicated blocks for homework assignments, and isolate yourself from distractions like social media and your smartphone during those periods. Make lists of the assignments you need to accomplish, and populate your homework-area in advance with all the tools and materials you need. This will save you the trouble of hunting around for the requisite items while you’re trying to get work done.

You may experience some late nights/early mornings, especially if you have an exam or deadline coming up. Even if your studies occasionally keep you up until the wee hours of the morning, make sure you still get enough sleep during the week to maintain your performance at work. Avoid procrastination (the midwife of all-nighters) by budgeting your time, and get cracking on major tasks right away.

Reach out to classmates and instructors.

One of the most effective ways to fully grasp and retain information is by discussing it with others; you have to have some awareness of a topic before you can have a serious conversation about it. Group discussions also afford you the opportunity to explore areas where you feel your knowledge is inadequate.

Make use of the resources at your disposal within the educational institution, including your instructor’s office hours and contact information. These tools can save you time and energy, and help to make the learning process more fruitful and enjoyable.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

To succeed, persevere.

In an enlightening 2013 TED talk, psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth discussed some of the key personality traits that underly personal success. Duckworth’s research indicates that, while exceptional talent and measurable intelligence can help, neither factor is sufficient. More important is the combination of passion and perseverance that Duckworth calls grit. She concludes by recommending that parents and educators strive to instill this trait in children, but her findings are instructive for people of all ages.

However desirable it may be, perseverance is not necessarily easy to teach; it is equal parts skill and state of mind, and ultimately a quality that one must choose to embrace. In general, perseverant individuals hold the following beliefs:

  If I work hard enough at (name the activity or endeavour), I am capable of not only reaching the milestones I have set for myself, but exceeding them.

  (Name the activity or endeavour) is important and worthy of my time and dedication.

  The challenges I face at this moment are not guarantors of failure in the long term.

The role of faith.

By faith, I don’t necessarily mean religious convictions. Rather, faith in this context means the capacity to remain confident that the endeavour at which you aspire to succeed is not a waste of time. In other words, faith is a bulwark against the nagging voice of doubt that urges you to cut your losses and move on, particularly when you’re struggling.

Thomas Alva Edison—who patented the incandescent lightbulb in the 19th century after numerous unsuccessful attempts—once remarked that many people who accept failure don’t realize how close they were to success at the moment they decided to give up. Faith is neither rational nor irrational, but rather non-rational; it allows us to believe that our hard work will eventually bear fruit, even if an abundance of evidence suggests the contrary. It also produces a feedback effect: if you are convinced that you can succeed, you will tend to focus more intently on the steps that are necessary for success.

The power of dopamine.

The neurotransmitter dopamine is associated with alertness, cognitive and motor control, and motivation. A healthy level of dopamine in the brain is also a key driver of perseverance. Fortunately, the brain’s production of dopamine is responsive to external and internal stimuli, such as attitude, behaviour, and a healthy, balanced diet.

Regular exercise can both stimulate the brain’s production of dopamine and allow us to rehearse the feeling of perseverance. Over time, as our bodies and minds become accustomed to the sensation of physical activity, it tends to become an enjoyable habit rather than an unwelcome chore. The same is true of perseverance in other facets of our lives.


Dopamine is a central component of the brain’s reward circuit, and attitude plays a key role in determining whether we perceive the task before us as potentially rewarding. Instead of trying to grit your teeth and grind through a task by sheer force of will, set your sights on the satisfaction you will enjoy once it is finished, and then strive to attain that feeling.

Even mundane daily chores like flossing your teeth or unloading the dishwasher are opportunities to stimulate the release of dopamine.

Set and adhere to self-imposed deadlines.

Few things are less conducive to productivity than assignments with either no deadline, or a deadline that is too far in the future to have any discernible bearing on the present. The absence of an imminent deadline coincides with an absence of expectations, which for most people promotes a near-absence of effort. To overcome this problem, set a deadline for yourself, stick with it, and then reward yourself for exceeding expectations.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tips On Making a Video Go Viral

In the realm of online marketing, few objectives are more desirable or downright elusive than the viral video. Like the vicissitudes of the stock market, the popularity of any online video depends on the personal tastes and sentiments of millions of unique individuals, and is thus difficult to predict. However, there are a few tactics you can employ to improve your chances of achieving virality.

Insights from past viral video trends

According to research by marketing technology company Unruly, some of the most important factors that drive video sharing are

1)  social motivations, including the desire to start a conversation, seek friends’ opinions,  offer useful information, or support a good cause;

2)  a positive emotional response to the video;

3)  the participation of “super sharers”—a minority of internet users who are responsible for around 80 percent of total shares; and

4)  timing.

On average, the greater the total volume of shares a video receives in the first two days of its existence, the higher its viral peak, which typically arrives 48 to 72 hours post-launch. Unruly’s data suggest that most sharing activity occurs in the latter half of the work week, and that Wednesday is the optimal sharing day. Marketers hoping to ride this weekly wave should post their video by Wednesday or sooner. Avoid posting on weekends or holidays.

Combine entertainment with a message.

Mekanism, an advertising agency with offices in New York and San Francisco, has produced and marketed several viral videos. Among the most famous was the 2012 offering Hovercat, designed to encourage adoption of cats on behalf of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Mekanism sums up its philosophy on viral videos with the phrase “candy with the medicine”—in other words, entice viewers with the promise of entertainment, and complement that with a substantive message. In the case of Hovercat, Mekanism’s creative team began by identifying a theme they figured would make people smile (a zany cat often does the trick), and then developed their own creative take on a classic viral video genre. (Your feline companion may humorously knock items off tables or fend off alligators, but can it hover in the air like Superman?)

Hovercat concludes by noting that the cat in the video was adopted from the ASPCA, and links to the organization’s website.

Market and distribute the video actively

To achieve virality, you must fulfill two conditions: 1) content that viewers find engaging and worth sharing; and 2) widespread exposure.

Before you go through the technical process of recording a video, you should develop a clear marketing strategy, and consider how the video will help you reach your goal. Immediately after you post the video, intensify your marketing efforts.

Writing in Medium about her first big hit Girl Learns to Dance in a Year (TIME LAPSE), viral video specialist Karen X. Cheng explains: “I did a ton of marketing, and it started before the video was released. Going viral was not an accident—it was work.”

Cheng started by posting the video on Facebook and Twitter, then submitted it to Reddit and Hacker News. She asked friends and acquaintances to share it, and reached out to dancers and dance bloggers. Shortly thereafter, writers at Kottke, Mashable, Jezebel, and Huffington Post penned articles about the video. By day three, Girl Learns to Dance in a Year (TIME LAPSE) appeared on the front page of Youtube, and had achieved nearly 2 million views.

Cheng emphasizes the importance of a brief, catchy title, and—modern attention spans being what they are—recommends keeping the video short and sweet, preferably under two minutes.