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May 19 19

“Is It OK To Manipulate For Good Purposes?”

by David Brock

James Muir published an outstanding post, “Is it ok to manipulate clients for their own good?” It’s a must read.

Basically, James describes a conversation with a sales person who feels it’s OK to manipulate and pressure a customer because that sales person knows how happy the customer will be with the solution.

Most of you would, hopefully, find this premise not only arrogant, but preposterous. The logical extension of this behavior is this sales person will manipulate and pressure every customer–because why would he be selling to a customer that would be unhappy with a product?

Some might think, “How is it that the sales person knows better than the customer what is the right thing for the customer to do–only the customer can make that determination?”

Others, as James suggests, would take the position, “Does the end justify the means?”

Those and other arguments are well founded. Let me suggest another argument, “It doesn’t work!”

Everyday, we see various forms of manipulation being attempted, for good and bad reasons. I’ll grant you, some people are susceptible to being manipulated, each of us probably falls victim every once in a while, but it is seldom sustainable. People catch on, people tend to value their ability to think independently, when they realize they are being manipulated, they tend to react negatively–even if they know it’s for good purposes.

Whether it’s selling to our customers or leading our employees, manipulation is unsustainable. First, who are we to make the determination of what’s the right way of doing things or the right decision for our customers or our people? We don’t know their situations, what’s driving them, what motivates them, how they best achieve? We can only project our interpretations of those on them–inevitably what’s good or right is a reflection of our own views, not those of the customer or our people.

Second, there is no ownership in manipulation. The customer or our people simply don’t own what we have coerced them into doing. While they may do what we’ve gotten them to accept, it has a high probability of failing, because it isn’t theirs.

We may even be right, but we fail. Any reader who is a parent knows this doesn’t work with children (forget the fact that children are pre-wired to always say “No.”). As much as we may be right, and as much as we want to see children not make mistakes, they don’t learn until they make their own decisions, they don’t know how to learn and make good decisions until we give them the freedom to choose.

This is no less true with our customers, our people, and our colleagues. None learn, grow, and improve, unless they make their own choices. None will be able to sustain that learning and growth unless they decide for themselves.

There is no argument that supports manipulation, even if the manipulation is done for good purposes. If we want to create value, we create it with our customers and our people, both discovering, learning and growing in the process.

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May 18 19

“Me, Myself, And I” — An Investment Opportunity

by David Brock

As a disclaimer, there is no redeeming lesson in this post. Just some Sunday humor and observations about the world. If you are looking for deep insight, stop here, if you want a chuckle–and an investment opportunity, read further.

About a year ago, Kookie and I were visiting Manhattan. Kookie was raised there (well, the Bronx), and we lived there for about 15 years.

Our usual custom, on Sunday’s, is to get together at a favorite restaurant, usually on the West Side, with friends. Conversations wander all over the place. Since Kookie is a professional chef, that morning’s brunch included several chef’s. And as chef’s are prone to do, we started talking about restaurants and potentially opening one.

For those of you unfamiliar with Manhattan, it’s loaded with “theme” restaurants. So the conversation shifted to be, “What’s the theme?” What catchy, fashionable thing could we do that would create great buzz and have people standing in line to get a table?

The food wasn’t an issue. In our group, we had outstanding chef’s, many working in some of Manhattan’s best restaurants. But we needed something to draw people to the restaurant.

The conversation drifted in other directions, we started talking about social media and the rampant narcissism that tends to dominate social media. It seems we are deluged with shouts of, “look at me,” “see what I am doing now,” “see how interesting I am…..”

And then the nugget of an idea started to form….. We would open a restaurant, “Me, Myself, And I.”

Tables would seat one person only. After all, no one is more important than ourselves. Why would we need anyone else at the table?

A couple of our group recalled some old movies, where there were phones at the tables in the table of a restaurant. If someone was interested in a person at another table, they would phone the table number and engage that person in conversation.

We thought, we could put phones at each of the tables in a similar fashion. But we hit a stumbling block. After all, if the focus is on “me,” why would I ever be interested in phoning anyone else? It turns out, the idea works for inbound only.

We have to work that out, how do we provoke inbound calls? We considered maybe having a few tables of “You’s.” They are interested in others. But then, they would want tables for two or more, because they are interested in other people.

We’ll figure something out……

We, also. struggled with how we might handle peak loads, and demands for tables–after all with the rampant narcissism we see every day, we might not be able to handle the demand.

As we looked around the restaurant we were sitting in, we suddenly realized we could set up tables for two. It seemed most people around us, weren’t engaging in conversations, they were more occupied by their devices…… While this is a strategy was workable, we decided we would use it only in the most dire circumstances. We wanted to maintain the purity of tables for, who else, “me!”

We moved on to background music–that’s pretty easy, top of the list would be the narcissists’ anthem, Cheap Trick’s, “I Want You To Want Me. We realized the playlist of songs focused on narcissism would be easy: “I’m too sexy….” “I gotta be me…” “Under my thumb…” “Applause” “You belong with me…” and so forth. We were unanimous in our view that “What Kind Of Fool Am I,” would never appear.

With the basics solved, we are moving on to thinking of the gala opening event, and our guest list. With so many candidates, our minds started drifting to Washington and Hollywood……, possibly even a few web influencers.

In any case, we figure Me, Myself, And I will be an outrageous success. We are looking for investors. We want to be true to our values with this opportunity. Naturally, we won’t accept investor groups, VC’s and such, it can only be solo/angel investors. In addition to equity, you will always have a table for yourself.

Afterword: Just before publishing this, I did a quick search. I discovered there is already a restaurant in the Netherlands, called Eenmaal, I guess we have lost first mover advantage, though they seem more focused on loneliness. We’re focused on narcissists–they never lack their own good company.

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May 18 19

Who Am I Talking To?

by David Brock

I suppose I’m being naive. I had always thought “social platforms,” were a way that we could connect and engage with each other. While they wouldn’t replace face to face and personal connections, they might expand our relationships. They would enable us to expand our relationships–though they wouldn’t be close, with people we might not otherwise meet.

For example, I might look at the connections I have in LinkedIn, being very interested in their content and news streams–learning more about them and learning from them.

But it turns out the majority of what I see, is probably not “them,” but some sort of surrogate.

Every day, we see news of “bots,” and concerted efforts from various governments and organizations, disrupting our favorite social platforms. Probably about 30% of the connection requests I get on LinkedIn, I know are not real people.

In fact years ago, I got a connection request from me. Someone had copied my profile and picture, and sent me a connection request—I would have hoped the person would have at least chosen a better picture.

I’m getting better at filtering through those. But then there are all the automated prospecting emails, the automated news feeds, the automated endorsement capabilities. All are usually pushed by LinkedIn or other experts as means of expanding our networks. It turns out most of these aren’t real–that is people aren’t really interested in me or some sort of relationship, they are just interested in themselves and their own goals (which is usually finding some way to separate me from my money, or to get my support.).

We are all busy people, we look at ways to improve our ability to use these networks, taking less time. I tend to post a lot of content on LinkedIn and Twitter. Yes, I’ve automated that through Buffer. As I read articles in the evening, those I think might be interesting to my community, I add to my Buffer queue. So little of what you see from me is actually posted by me at the moment you see the posting.

There are some who seem to be automating their comments. I’m not sure how they do that, but I don’t see value to that–other than driving activity levels up. Of course I don’t know why we might be interested in volume of activity level.

I see endless discussions of people trying to understand LinkedIn’s ever changing algorithms, to increase their visibility, views, likes, comments. I suppose I should pay attention to that, but I don’t have the time to–and I don’t seem to need the volumes that those people seem to seek.

And we see the continued race for more connections and the inevitable, “mine is bigger than yours,” arguments. People racing for 100’s of thousands of followers, yet we know through the work of Roger Dunbar and others, that we are cognitively limited to having roughly 150 close relationships.

And, if we can’t find the tools to automate what we do, we hire people to manage our social networks for us. Recently, I had experiences where several people did things that seemed uncharacteristic or very unusual. When I questioned them, they were embarrassed, “I’ve hired someone to manage most of what I do on my social networks.”

As I reflect on all of this, I wonder, “Who am I really talking to?”

There are all the derivatives of those questions, “what am I to believe, who am I to believe, maybe I am more interested in the surrogate than I am in the person that I thought I was engaging.”

Then one wonders, we think of relationships as so important, yet we are outsourcing and automating that we claim is important. We often do it in the spirit of being busy, yet efficient.

One begins to wonder, “what are our real relationships and who are we really engaging?” Too often, it seems not to be the people we had thought we are engaging.

I know I’m hopelessly naive, I’ll probably cling to that naivete. But I am learning, is there a bot or surrogate interesting in great discussions on sales, business, or leadership? Reach out, I’d be glad to talk and learn–at least until I find my own bot……

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May 17 19

The New World Of Co-Opetition

by David Brock

The relationships we establish, in business, are very complex and constantly changing.

We have relationships with colleagues. At some point, we or colleagues may choose to go work someplace else–even our competition. We don’t, at least I haven’t, stopped those relationships. Most of the time, there is intense competition–I want to beat them, just as they want to beat me. But we still value and maintain our relationships.

Our customers know we sell to their competitors. We take that as our “right,” and customers understand this.

Our customers work with our competitors. Sometimes a competitor may be the preferred solution in one part of the organization and we are the preferred solution in other parts of the organization. Sometimes our customers choose competition, either because their solution is better or because we may have been outsold. But we seek to earn the business back at some point in the future.

Organizations that may have been competitors at one time or in a certain space, may become collaborators at another time or in a different space.

I don’t know when I first encountered the word “co-opetition,” but is seems to be an appropriate word for managing relationships in today’s complex business world.

Some choose to deal with “competitors” as the enemy, shut them out and ignore them. This stance seems unreasonable and untenable, given today’s realities. We can learn much from them, about them, and even with them. And, after all, both Sun Tzu and Michael Coreleone said, “Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.”

We can choose to embrace, “co-opetition.” This doesn’t mean we won’t compete fiercely. One of my very favorite calls was about 25 years ago. A prospective customer decided to have a “bake-off.” It was a huge deal, they invited the top executives from our competitor, I was the key executive from my company. The customer had us in the same room, we were asked questions then the competitor was asked the same questions. It was a 3 hour meeting. Each of us competing fiercely, trying to win the customer’s business.

That evening, at the airport bar, we noticed our competitors sitting at a corner table. We joined them, laughed about the meeting, joked with each other. We shared different perspectives of what was happening in our shared markets, commiserating on some issues, having different opinions on others. But we learned a huge amount from each other. I suspect we each became better–both as a result of this very unusual “bake off,” and from spending time laughing and learning—I know I and my team did. And I suspect what we each learned, ultimately, was helpful to our customers.

It seems in today’s world we need to embrace and learn from differences and differences in opinions, whether they are from our competitors, our customers, or even differences within our own organizations.

We need to recognize how quickly things change and how today’s competitor may be tomorrow’s collaborator (or owner).

We need to trust that while we may compete, people who come from value and integrity can manage the boundaries of our relationships with integrity. And for those that have no integrity, we can isolate them–more likely their lack of integrity will cause them to be isolated. But, my experience is there are more people that come from value and integrity.

It’s is a different world and each day becomes more different. Who we compete with, how we compete, where we collaborate, how we learn and grow changes every day. We have to be open to those opportunities, recognize the appropriate boundaries, and manage these relationships with integrity–and humanity.

Afterword: For those interested. My team won the deal! The CEO of the competitor called to congratulate me, saying that beers were on me the next time we saw each other in an airport—something I was glad to pay 😉

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