The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on the impact of competition on creativity, meeting tips for team leaders, marketing from a fox perspective, a website review checklist, and questions to guide you to a vision for your organization. . Enjoy!


1.  Tips For Better Team Meetings

“If a meeting is important enough to have, it should have a time-boxed agenda and always be followed up with notes and action items.”

That’s from Julia Austin, senior lecturer of business administration at Harvard Business School. It’s not startling advice. But it’s important advice we often neglect.

Here are some other tips from her on Harvard Business School Working Knowledge:

  • Hot timely topics:  Solicit one or two hot topics 48 hours before the session so ideas are timely. The topics should not be tactical, which are best handled in stand-up huddles and one-on-ones. You want strategic discussions and information sharing — not status reporting, but things like product demos or getting feedback on draft presentations.
  • Assign speakers:  Ask one or two team members to take the lead on the hot topics, including sending out information beforehand. They don’t need to be subject matter experts, just leaders for the discussion.
  • Agenda:  Send it out at least 24 hours in advance to set expectations.
  • Restrict your talk:  A team’s leader should speak no more than one-third the time throughout the meeting. “Other than updating the team about broad company topics, your job is to guide the discussion and listen,” she says.
  • Notes:  Assign and rotate the note-taker.
  • Test the temperature: Take 10 minutes at the end of the agenda to find out how people are feeling in general. She counts down from three and at one everyone does thumbs up, down, or sideways — and they talk about it.

Consider using these approaches to improve your own meetings.


2. Marketing With A Fox Perspective

Your passion motivates you. But it doesn’t motivate your prospects and clients, warns advertising guru Roy H. Williams. They have passions and motives of their own.

That may seem esoteric, but he says it relates to the idea in marketing that you are best to champion “one big thing” and customers will flock to you.

“Customers will choose you because they like you. And there are many little things that can make them like you,” he writes in his Monday Morning Memo.

“This is why storytelling —advertising— should always come from the ‘many little things’ perspective of the fox,” he says, using philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s famed comparison of the fox with the hedgehog, which focuses on one big thing.

Williams concedes that singleness of vision —one big thing— gives you focus and clarity. That can provide energy, creativity, problem-solving ability and stamina.

But he says the idea in marketing is to let customers see a reflection of themselves in you, which requires a broader approach.

It’s About Connecting With People:

If you’re dubious, he points out dominance in a marketing category is rarely determined by passion or even quality.

It’s easy to name ten product and service categories whose leaders are not the most passionate companies or the best in their categories. They dominate because they connect with more people, by offering more benefits, and therefore make more sales.

He closes with this advice: “Do you want to be happy? Live like a hedgehog. Do you want to be wealthy? Advertise like a fox.”


3. Signs Of A Bad Leader

Blogger Michael McKinney says you might be a bad leader if you are…

  • motivated by power and status;
  • too rigid;
  • lack self-control;
  • lead by fear;
  • show lack of respect for others;
  • fail to see beyond yourself;
  • lack emotional intelligence;
  • are easily overwhelmed;
  • lack the competency for the job.

“We must be able to recognize the signs of bad leadership so we can deal with it before it undermines us,” he says.

“These mindsets come up time and time again because they are common to humankind. We can’t change that. None of us are immune. Sticking our heads in the sand won’t help. Only by recognizing them when we see them in our own leadership can we effectively deal with them.”


4. Tension Between Competition And Creativity

Competition is supposed to bring out the best in us. These days, creativity is one of the talents we crave in staff.

So does competition improve creativity? Or is collaboration more important, in line with the push these days for co-operative environments?

The answer is not black-and-white, according to entrepreneur Daniel Gross who studied tournaments for the design of commercial logos and branding. He found intensifying competition both creates and destroys incentives for creativity.

“While some competition is necessary to induce high-performing agents to develop original, untested designs over tweaking their existing work, heavy competition discourages effort of either kind,” he writes.

He adds that finding just the right level of competition to properly motivate creative work (it might be called a Goldilocks formulation of not too much and not too little) is very tricky.

Prof. Michael Roberto notes on the TheGreatCoursesDaily website that previous studies have praised collaboration, so this suggests a limited role for competition in creativity.


5.  Zingers

  • Customer Service Guidelines:  Web sites vary widely on delivering customer-service information. The experts at Nielsen Norman Group recommend having a Customer Service hub page, not Help, as the main or only home for customer service information. It can be supplemented with FAQ and Contact Us pages. (Source: NielsenNormanGroup)
  • Take A Hike:  Executive coach Dan Rockwell recommends a 15-to-30-minute walk every day at 2pm. The focus can be on gratitude, what’s working, noticing stuff, or learning about people. (Source: LeadershipFreak)
  • Don’t Discard This Advice:  You don’t want to put the shell from a pistachio back into the serving bowl after you eat it — that makes it harder to find the next good pistachio, so better to have a discard pile. But entrepreneur Seth Godin warns against a discard pile for ideas or people — what didn’t work once could work in future. (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • 90-Day Nonsense:  When you enter a new job, the conventional wisdom is that you have 90 days to get your footing and have an impact. But research shows that, for CEOs, 92% of external and 72% of internal hires take far more than 90 days to reach full productivity.  As many as 62% of external and 25% of internal hires admit that it took them at least six months to have real impact. (Source: McKinsey.com)
  • Daily Progress:  A day might not seem like much, but consultant Wally Bock says every one is important. Make progress daily in four areas: Do at least one thing to help your team accomplish the mission, at least one thing to care for your people, at least one thing to move a relationship forward, and at least one thing to make tomorrow better.  (Source: Three Star Leadership)


6. The List: Nine Things To Remove From Your Website  

Here’s a website review checklist from Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina, shared in a MarketingProfs Take 10 Tutorial:

  • Email links:  It’s better to use contact forms, which support trackable analytics, let you ask specific questions, and lead the visitor to more details on your thank-you page.
  • Media releases:  Re-write them audience-friendly posts for a blog/site.
  • PDF files: They lack HTML virtues like being search friendly. Use them only to help users download and print content.
  • Vague homepage headlines:  Instead, explain exactly what you do.
  • Meaningless headers: Rewrite them to describe a benefit to visitors.
  • Misplaced social media icons:  Keep them away from your headlines; put them in your footer so users click away to share after viewing your content.
  • Bland “calls to action”:  Instead of tired old “Submit”, use a verb that means something to the person visiting your page or site.
  • Long paragraphs:  They don’t scan well and slow readers down. Stick to a just a few sentences per paragraph. Use lists, sub-heads and internal links.
  • Testimonial pages:  Don’t bury them in a section on your site. Place this type of content throughout your site to provide punch and context.


7. Around Our Water Cooler:
   Questions to Find Vision

While many teams and organizations are clear on their purpose or mission as they begin strategic planning, they may lack a crystal-clear vision of what they want to achieve over the longer term — what some call a “destination postcard”.

The breakthrough goals you want to focus on and achieve cannot be left as a vague collection of fanciful “blue-sky” dreams, often as varied as the number participating in the planning work.

Your vision needs clear definition of:

  • the inspiring achievements you will aim for,
  • what your organization might look like by the end of your planning timeline, and
  • how your interactions with clients, customers, staff, volunteers, funders or others might change over time.

14 Questions To Ask When Facilitating An Organizational Vision:

If you’re planning to lead a visioning session for your team or a community group, here’s something to consider from leadership facilitator Susanne Hawkes — it squares well with our own experience:

  • Timeframe:  For vision development, 7-10 years is often the right perspective. Mission/purpose change more slowly, with strategic plans typically focusing 3 years out and operational/budget plans being annual.
  • Stories:  Use stories — time, place, characters, ups and downs, triumphs and times when you’ve been at your best— to trigger your imagination.
  • Major Accomplishments:  Think about both past and potential future successes with heart and mind, logic and emotion. Be specific/concrete.
  • Breakthroughs: This type of focus lifts you beyond the rut of thinking about “more of the same old” and only small incremental improvements.
  • People You Serve:   Whose lives will you touch and how? Zero in on core “representative” individuals and look at how you engage them (or could).
  • Allies:  Will (or could) new, unusual allies be part of your future success?
  • Your Niche:  How are you/will you be different, better and special?
  • No-Go Zones:  What do you NOT offer or do? Where are the boundaries?
  • Your People:  Who are they? What’s the culture like? What are their practices, organizational habits and group norms?
  • Internal Structure:  How do or should your people work together?
  • Leadership:  Who leads your organization and how? Will this change?
  • Resources:  What kind of assets and abundance exist in the organization?
  • Geographic Scope:  Where are you working/serving, and not? (Consider bricks-and-mortar geography as well as online/digital scope.)
  • What else do you imagine in this successful deeply satisfying future?


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8020Info helps senior leadership teams and boards develop, clarify and build consensus behind strategic priorities. Our services support strategic planning and change processes, marketing communications and research / stakeholder consultations. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.


8. Closing Thought 

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

— Oscar Wilde



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