Category Archives: Project Management

Be Like Mike

Be Like Mike was one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time. It also helps explains why Michal Jordan is the wealthiest retired athlete of all time.

What made it work? It is a simple triangulation that subtly induces cognitive dissonance in consumers. In other words, the consumer thinks, “I do want to be like Michael Jordan.” Or, at least the consumer thinks “I like Michael Jordan”. Yes! Notice how “like” and “Mike” are paired. There can be two meanings for “like” – a comparison of two things (Mike and me) and admiration or hero-worship. The campaign shows Michael Jordan drinking Gatorade. The target consumer realizes “I am not drinking Gatorade.” That’s what creates the dissonance. It’s instinctively upsetting to have dissonance in your life. It’s disruptive. The urge is always to restore harmony. Therefore, “I must drink Gatorade.”

That’s not a rational response. Drinking Gatorade isn’t a logical decision based on features, advantages, and benefits. The ads never mention any of that. Promoting the (questionable) benefits of Gatorade will only provide a weak motivation to buy.

The emotional desire to Be Like Mike is what made Michael Jordan a superstar endorser and worth around $1.6 billion.

This triangulation continues to work for Nike. Back when Nike first launched Air Jordan, they briefly promoted the pump and other features of their shoes. Now, the only reason a consumer studies features is to choose from a variety of Air Jordan models. The consumer has already made the important decision to buy Nike. The swoosh and the leaping Jordan is all Nike needs to message.

So what? That’s great for marketing. What has that got to do with execution? The answer is a lot. The execution of anything involves a series of important decisions. Which vendor will you partner with? Which candidate will you hire? Who gets assigned the crucial tasks? All things being equal, you are always resolve to the person you like. Every experienced sales person understands this principle. If the prospect doesn’t like you, you have almost no chance.

The take-away is simple – Be aware. Rational decisions can sometimes be tricky. Sometimes subtle unconscious emotions can lead to a regretful actions.             

Narrow Visioning

Narrow Visioning

Disruption is everywhere. It’s not confined to Amazon and Netflix. Every industry and every business is experiencing it. If you haven’t felt it yet, you will. Sometimes you don’t recognize the disruption until it’s already happened to you.

This lack of awareness is what I call “Narrow Visioning”.

“Narrow Visioning” takes two forms. The first is more obvious. It happens when new technology and processes fundamentally alter your industry to the point where your business becomes obsolete – when the retail store has to close because Amazon was faster and cheaper or when streaming video puts your local video rental shop out of business.

The other form of “Narrow Visioning” happens when an entrepreneur doesn’t recognize new opportunities that open up. The usual way this happens is when an entrepreneur becomes successful and too comfortable. There are no serious threats. Things are working. So, why make a change?

Why make a change?? The answer is that the world is constantly in a state of change. Don’t abandon what works, but please be alert. Change is happening around you. You should constantly be looking for new opportunities: new markets, new products, new services, new ways of attacking your market, whole new businesses. If you’re successful and only want to keep doing what you’re doing because it’s safe, you have blinders on. You’re not seeing the world as it is. Opportunities are slipping by for someone else to seize. Your vision is narrow and so are your prospects.

The solution to “Narrow Visioning” is simple common sense – take a fresh look. That can be hard to do from the inside, especially if you’ve been doing the same thing over and over for years. It can require a new set of eyes from a new mind taught from different experiences. In the churn of change there is no shortage of ideas out there – some that work and some that don’t. And they can all teach you something. Many ideas that you discover can be applied in a practical common sense way to your circumstance. Don’t overlook them.

Common habit is the enemy of common sense, just as Narrow Visioning is the enemy of success.


Execution and Time

“Time is a jet plane. It moves too fast.” – Bob Dylan

When we think of execution we naturally focus on results. Results are the objective. Yet, it takes more than planning for the end-point. Careful consideration of time is an equally important to success.

When a pirate “executes” a prisoner, it happens quickly. Meanwhile, our modern criminal justice system includes fact finding, thoughtful evaluation of evidence, and a lawful judgement. Each step must be followed in sequence and timed to produce the fair result that society demands. All that happens before an accused criminal can be “executed”.

Those examples seem radically different from executing a business plan, but they have more in common than you might think. Nothing can spoil execution more than steps happening too soon or too late. Every important element might be accounted, but without planning with the element of time, chaos is hard to avoid.

Another time issue arises when the environment is moving too fast. After the plan is properly mapped out, if it takes too much time, the plan could be ruined by unanticipated changes outside its original scope.

The solution is to design plans that are plotted on a timeline to coordinate each event. Next, examine the plan as a whole to find ways to shrink the overall length. If the plan still takes too long, examine potential changes in the environment that might upset the plan. When risks are uncovered, edit the plan to account for them.

Flexibility should be included in all plans, especially when time is a wild card.

Will and Plan

Plan with Will

Everyone has plans. Some are formal. Some are informal. Putting your plans in writing usually helps you clarify your objectives and how to achieve them. Too often business plans are created only to satisfy the demands of partners, investors, or lenders. Once they have served their purpose you can find them sitting on a shelf – followed half-heartedly. They stare down like a snapshot of how you felt months ago, frozen in time. They are no longer relevant to your current situation. The prose is dead.

Executing your plan is more important than creating a plan. In order to be a useful guide your plan neesd to be dynamic. It should be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changing circumstances.

As you prepare your plan, you always need to make sure you have the resources needed to execute. Equally important, you and your organization need to have the will to see your plan become reality. Will is the determination to complete your plans. It is the mental toughness to persevere.

This is where a written plan can really make a difference. You should share your business plan with everyone on your team. Parts of your plan may be confidential. If that’s the case, consider creating an abridged version or a simple one-page summary. That will help keep everyone on the same page, literally. Everyone needs to pull together to make your organization a success and your plan can point out the direction to pull.

Not every plan you make needs to be a formal document. But, if the success of your organization depends on a team to get things done, you need some way to communicate your plan and inspire the will to make it happen.

Great Leaders Do These Things

Great Leaders Do These Things

Everyone has their own leadership style. There is no magic formula that fits everyone. The key is that your leadership style needs to reflect your personality, your values, and your priorities. That said there are certain things every leader should do to avoid being isolated from the realities of the organization and, especially, to avoid alienation from the team being lead.

1. Put together a gang of 2-4 outsiders who you trust to give you honest feedback. It’s often the ones not immersed in the day to day struggle who have the perspective to identify the gaps in your strategies.

2. Choose a trusted insider. This will give you the other perspective. You need someone who will not be a “yes” person. It needs to be someone who has a finger on the pulse of the organization and is unafraid to deliver bad news to you.

3. Reflect. Leave time each day to think about everything that’s going on. Get in touch with your gut feelings and instincts, even if you are unsure. It’s a good idea to write them down, record them, or keep a journal. The next morning review them and hold on to the thoughts that seem to be most valid.

Practicing these three simple techniques will help you keep your priorities straight and sharpen your leadership skills, regardless of your personal style.

The Funny Thing About Responsibility

My motto is “You can delegate tasks, but you can’t delegate responsibility.” It’s a variation on the famous Truman saying “The buck stops here”.

The truth is, if you are lucky, you probably have people willing, if not eager, to take on responsibilities. When that happens, as an owner/CEO/entrepreneur (boss), you need to embrace that opportunity.

Yet, so many times I’ve seen that opportunity bungled. The most grievous example is when someone proposes a great project. A clear vision is presented, discussed, and accepted. Then the boss sets about taking charge, as bosses love to do, and blindly delegating tasks to multiple people with no concept of project management. When that happens the boss has tacitly accepted the responsibility for the project’s success. If the project succeeds, the boss can claim credit as a great manager of people. If it fails, the boss has lots of places to point fingers, including at the person who came up with the idea (even if the failure is due to the way the boss managed the project).

Instead why not hand the project over to the person who came up with the great idea; say, “run with it”; and offer support? This is the person with the vision and has the best concept as to how the pieces should fall together. Yes, ultimately the responsibility falls on the boss, but why not give the person with the idea a chance to take a piece of that responsibility and demonstrate an ability to succeed?

Things don’t always happen this way, but if you start with a willingness to give credit for success to your people and a willingness to accept the blame for failures (Buck stops here), you’ll go a long way toward building a loyal and passionate team.