Category Archives: Nerve

Introduce Yourself

Some time ago I went out to a dinner party / birthday party for a friend of mine. This in itself is something of an anomaly in that I am not renowned for my witty conversational capabilities and hence do not get invited out to many parties. I suspect they actually wanted my wife to attend and couldn’t figure out a way to get her to come that didn’t involve inviting me, so they went ahead and just invited me but made sure to tell me that they wanted me to bring my wife.

I had met this friend many years ago when we were in a dads and daughters organization that was designed to get dads to spend time and develop relationships with their daughters. We started when our daughters were in kindergarten, and it was one of the best organizations I have ever been involved in. I would tell you the name of it but it has since been declared to not be a “politically correct” name, and they have changed it. I liked the politically incorrect name and won’t relate the new “corrected” name here. I will say that the old name had something to do with Native Americans and princesses, and I think my daughter and I had a great time together in this organization.

The point of that somewhat lengthy introduction was to bring up the point that there were several people at this birthday party that I had never met before. I suspected that these unknown people were friends of my friend’s lady friend. I hope you followed that. I suspected that this had to be the case since my friend was not friendly enough to have that many friends. As you might guess, it was a friendly get together with many of his friends and several of her friends.

Another interesting point that I noticed was that due to apparent comfort levels and familiarity his friends tended to sit together on one side of the large table and her friends tended to sit together on the other side. This generated two sets of conversations but with little to no interaction between the groups. It reminded me of several customer meetings I had attended in the past where the customers sat on one side of the table and talked amongst themselves and the vendor sat on the other side of the table and talked amongst themselves until the actual meeting got started.

The actual party had not really gotten started yet either, so there seemed to be only one thing to do, and I did it. I stood up, now with all eyes upon me, and walked over to the other side of the table and started introducing myself to each individual that I didn’t know on that side of the table. I introduced myself to everybody. Men, women, friends, everybody got an introduction and a handshake. I don’t think the waiter really cared who I was, and his hand was still damp from wiping off the table but that didn’t stop me from introducing myself to him either. The only thing missing was the exchange of business cards, but who brings business cards to a friend’s birthday party?

That being done, everybody else joined in and started to introduce themselves, and like the customer meeting where everyone does their own introductions, the energy level of the party started to rise.

Of course it could also have been the abundance of wine, but for purposes of this discussion I am going to go with the increased human interaction as the primary catalyst for getting things moving. I have witnessed this same phenomenon at the aforementioned customer meetings, the vast majority of which did not serve wine.

The fact is that given the opportunity, people will interact. They will interact even better if they know who they are interacting with. The best way for them to know who they are interacting with is to take the first step and introduce yourself.

As I think more about it, I find it interesting that my daughter (now in college) has also recognized my view of introductions to the point where she now instructs her various boyfriends to walk up to me, introduce themselves, shake my hand and look me in the eye, if they truly wish to receive a passing grade from me. I can’t possibly be as fierce as she has made me out to be, but I find I do like the ones that do provide an introduction without being asked. On the other hand, those that have shown up at our house and honked the horn out by the curb in order to get her to come out in anticipation of avoiding this friendly contact have been known to wait for a significant amount of time, and then eventually having to come to the door and go through the face to face introduction anyway, before they are allowed to escort my daughter out on their planned activities.

I have since started to apply this self introduction process in several instances other than customer meetings and parties. While working in a large company it is not uncommon to see or pass by other people in the hallways. In the past it seemed it was proper protocol to just nod or smile at these people in order to acknowledge their existence, and not much more. I now stop and introduce myself. I start the conversation. I ask them what they do and where they are located in the building, and provide them the same information.

In doing this I have met several interesting people in the organization and have gotten a better idea of who has which responsibilities. I have also found that it is in fact possible to engage Co-Ops, new hires and other members of the so called “millennial” generation in at least basic conversations. In the past I had just assumed that there was something more interesting occurring on their smart phone than in the interpersonal surrounding of the office environment.

It seems that subconsciously we all understand and accept the premise that if we are really going to work together, we are going to have to know and understand each other. It was interesting to me that it truly became a conscious approach to this topic for me as a result of my friend’s social event. I assume I had been only partially aware of it at any of the previous business events that I had been party to. Perhaps this was due to the fact that as a matter of course there is usually a formal introductory portion of any business meeting agenda. It can be handled by the leader of the meeting or each individual may be allotted the opportunity introduce themselves to the group. We all get the opportunity to inform each other of who we are and what we do before we get started, right?

But it is not the same.

Standing up and being introduced, or introducing yourself to the crowd is not the same as walking over and introducing yourself personally to an individual and shaking their hand. It doesn’t carry the same interpersonal value. It doesn’t show the same amount of care and effort to make that connection. It is about as impersonal way to meet people as is possible. As I noted before, it is just a protocol for a meeting.

As we continue to become more of a virtualized society, where more and more of our communications are conducted electronically, we seem to be losing the ability to make that face to face interpersonal connection. It is interesting that as I continue to push myself back into this realm with the people I meet and those whom I used to just pass by in the office hallway, it seems to be both unexpected and well received.

It is a small step, but I think we all need to get back into the habit of introducing ourselves and making that interpersonal connection with those people we meet, and those people we work with, and especially those people who want to date my daughter. I know I think better of those boyfriends of hers that make the initial introductory effort, and I think the same applies for those of us that make the same introductory effort in our professional environments as well.

Being Young

I think we are all young to a certain extent. I don’t think it matters how old we are. Although we all equate numerical age with being young, we shouldn’t. Being young is something else. We all start youths and as we gain experience we also seem to start to lose our ability to be young. I think in many instances we do not see these changes in ourselves. I do not think that those that we continue to work with see these changes either, since they too are gaining experience right along with us. I think the loss of being young is a little more insidious than that. When we are young we don’t know what we can’t do, and as a result we are able to do the things that others can’t because they “know better”.

In case you are missing the connection here I am not saying there is a direct connection between your age and being young. I don’t think there is. I think being young in business resides in your head.

I watched a great rant by the comedian Craig Ferguson on the “Deification of Youth” or otherwise titled “Why Everything Sucks”. You can find it here: Aside from being very funny he does touch on some of the issues and sources of our obsession with youth. I think they apply equally to business.

Notice again that I am not connecting “Youth” with being “Young”.

We tend to associate being young with the physical attributes of youth and age. As Craig Ferguson points out there are also experiential and state of mind attributes associated with being young. Unfortunately we all seem to focus on the youth aspect of being young. We assume you have to be a youth in order to be young. Hence again according to Craig we seem to be focusing our resources on retaining our youth instead of what I would call being young.

I tell people that I have grown older, but that I have not grown up. My wife does not seem to be entirely happy about my lack of growing up.

I absolutely agree with the preconception that we need young people in business. Young people have energy. They don’t seem to slow down. They have places to be and things to do. They walk fast. They get there early and stay till they are done, not till any specific time. They look at goals as something to be attained and exceeded, not something to be measured against. The young believe that they are responsible for their own attainments, or failures, and act accordingly.

I remember few if any incidents in my youth where I looked for a consensus on just about anything I did. In some instances I might have been better off doing so, but in the long run it was probably those failures that taught me the most.

Young people take on challenges because they have no idea what they are getting into, or if they do they don’t know any better about saying no. When we were young we did not know what we could do, or conversely what we couldn’t do. There were always plenty of people who were ready to tell us what we couldn’t do. There are many of those people still around in business now. When we remain young we retain this don’t know that I can’t do it approach even though we may have gained some of the experience that tells us it may be difficult if not impossible.

Young people ask direct questions and give direct answers. There was an old television show hosted by Art Linkletter called “Kids Say the Darnedest Things”. It consisted of kids (in this case really young people) answering some simple and seemingly innocuous questions and everyone listening to what they said. The kids answered directly without first wondering if they should answer at all, if they would look foolish for their answer, or if they would get the answer wrong. They just answered. I can’t help but believe that approach might help improve business.

Direct questions are usually the simplest ones to ask. Why? How much? What do you do? We seem to have evolved to a point where direct questions are associated with being rude. The young ask direct questions without the consideration of if it is rude or not. It shouldn’t be construed as a question of etiquette. It is merely a request for a desired piece of information.

Young people understand that they can be wrong. They think they know everything (especially my children) but I think deep down they know that they don’t. That doesn’t stop them though. That’s why they went to school. To learn some things that they didn’t know that will help them later. That learning process usually involves getting a few things wrong. They don’t want to be wrong, but they know it happens and hopefully they will learn from it.

The active ingredient here for this aspect of being young is learning. Sometimes it is mandatory and we are forced to go to school and learn something whether we want to or not. On the other hand as we gain and gather experience we should recognize how much we have yet to learn and no so much rely on how much we believe we already know. When we have decided that we either have learned enough, or know enough is when we begin to not be young.

Too often it seems we have a tendency to get defensive in our business posture as a result of feeling that we must defend what we have already achieved or accomplished instead of remembering the risks and behaviors that enabled those accomplishments to occur. We understand the new challenge but may not as fully commit to or embrace it. We are now more conservative in our approach. We feel that we have something to lose and not so much to gain. We are no longer young, and we are acting like it.

I do not wish to sound too utopian in my views. I understand the realities of life and business. At least I hope I do. My objective is to remember my approach to things as a youth and combine it with the knowledge and experience I have gained since then. I may have a little better idea of some of the things that I can do, but I think there are probably vast expanses of things that I can’t do that need exploring, if for no other reason than to prove that there are parts of it that can actually be done.

I think being young in business is about remembering and channeling the energy, excitement and approach we had to proving something when we started out. It’s more about having somewhere to go instead of looking back at where you have been. It’s about continuing to learn new skills and capabilities instead of relying on those that you already have. It is retaining the realization that it still is about the destination and not so much about the path or process that is supposed to get you there.

It is remembering that it is not so much about youth but more about retaining our approach to things in our youth. I think that is the essence and key to being young.

“When Growth Stalls”

I recently had the opportunity to listen to Steve McKee, the author of the book “When Growth Stalls” speak at a conference. He studied the phenomenon of how some small companies on a very good growth trajectory seemed to stall out and plateau as they became medium sized and larger companies. I think the 4 basic topics that he covered are applicable across the market in general today, not just for smaller growing companies.


1.      Lack of Alignment: Steve spoke about the fact that as management teams grew with the company, their alignment tended to vary more. I think that this is the case today with various issues such as when “revenue growth at all costs” groups do battle with “profitability at all costs” groups within company leadership teams. It is easy to say you want both, but it is a very precarious balancing act to try and implement.


2.      Loss of Focus: Similar to lack of alignment, loss of focus deals with a decline in the passion and commitment to success that drove the company’s earlier success.  It seems to have become a “job”, not an avocation or career. Good enough has in fact become good enough.


3.      Loss of Nerve: When issues arise it now seems that the first (and sometimes only approach) is to scale back. We now scale back on R&D investment. We scale back on Marketing. We scale back on what we need for future success. It is here that he asked the best question I have heard in a long time:


“What do we need to do to remember that this economic crisis is a gift?”


Or in other words, what can we do with respect to our relative positioning to our competitors in the market to be more successful than them. Times of instability can be times of market opportunity if properly approached.


We seemed to have forgotten this concept across the board in the market lately.


4.      Finally he spoke about business and marketing inconsistency and how “stuck” companies seem to change these items more / too quickly. As every business struggles to move forward they continue to try “new” things. New organizational structures. New marketing campaigns. What they fail to notice is that change also starts everything over. You must give each new structure or campaign time to be successful. It is a failure to stay with a bad structure or campaign too long, but it is also a failure to not give them enough time to be successful.


Steve McKee struck a chord with me and I will try to use and apply some of the comments and approaches he mentioned. Hopefully we will all be able to get the system“unstuck”, and moving forward in a more healthy market in the near future.