Be a Super Genuis

Another belated book review – or, to be more precise, a timely review of a book it took me way too long to read.

I just finished Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. If you’re familiar with Sernovitz, either from Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That or his WOM newsletter, the book is not going to be revolutionary. It will be more like sitting down with an old friend, where you’ve heard at least some of his stories, but they still make you laugh every time.

WOMM is written in an extremely practical, friendly style, just like everything Sernovitz produces. It’s simply laid out: the first part deals with the concepts behind WOM, and the second part breaks down the key elements. All are accompanied by short anecdotes illustrating the points.

Some of the key points that particularly struck me include:

In an era of social networking and nearly ubiquitous connectivity, customer service may be your MOST important marketing tactic. Treating people well, even to the point of going WAY above any beyond (the famous Ritz-Carlton $2000 rule) is going to serve your organization far better than pretty much any other action you can take to promote yourself and what you do.

WOM is simple but not easy. Being interesting and trustworthy and making people happy are simple to understand, but not easy to do, particularly in organizations where lower-level staff lack decision making authority (you know who you are). When you can do these things, though, people’s natural inclination to share things they like to help other people (and hopefully be seen as smart, connected and important in the process) kick in, to your benefit.

I think the key chapter is “Six Big Ideas” (chapter 2).

  1. Consumers are in control
  2. Marketing is what you DO
  3. The Internet is forever
  4. Honesty is the key
  5. So is customer satisfaction
  6. WOM generates more revenue (not least of which because it doesn’t generate much in the way of costs)

Sernotivz then runs through the five key elements of WOM (talkers, what they’re going to talk about, the tools you can use to help them spread the word, getting involved in the conversation yourself, and how to track all this) in detail, complete with worksheets to help you plan your WOM campaign.
I’m pretty sure you’ll walk away from this quick, engaging read with at least ONE concrete thing you’re going to try or change immediately (if you’re really pressed for time, skip right to page 197, pick any of the ideas there, and go).

And, finally, the MOST important advice of all:

Be nice.


We Are STILL Doing It That Way

Or, to quote Marshall Goldsmith: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the long-term prospects of associations recently. Will we survive the changes – technologically driven, generationally driven, ecologically driven, socio-economically driven, etc. – occurring in our global society? If so, how?

Thus it seemed like a good time to take a second look at We Have Always Done It That Way.¬† For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, a group of “Five Independent Thinkers” (whose names you probably recognize) got together in 2007 to address the pressing need for change in associations.

The Thinkers address a total of 101 issues that need to change in the ways we:

  • Think
  • Lead
  • Manage
  • Execute
  • Work Together
  • Involve Others

Five years later, what has changed?

I would hope, for one, that you’re no longer storing information like social security and credit card numbers in your association management software. I think most associations are now involved in social media at least to some degree, even if not very effectively.

But I still see a world where strategic planning and strategic thinking are conflated, where we operate in silos fighting over turf and resources, where we do a poor job of reaching out to new audiences (including the elusive “younger members”), where it still takes us too long to make decisions, and once those decisions are made, too long to act, where we never kill hoary old programs (no matter how useless they’ve become), where new ideas (because that’s what “innovation” is) get routinely shot down, where we’re still doing form-based annual reviews, where we’re unable to have honest exchanges.

I don’t think it’s just associations. But I see it here because this is where I am and have been for 15 years.

How do we pick up our heads out of plodding along doing the same old thing and making the same old mistakes every day? How do we get to the place where we’re agile enough to respond to, and even anticipate, the changes in our professional/industry environments and the larger world in such a way that our audiences (which don’t have to be narrowly confined to “members”) literally can’t make it without us, not because we have some sort of Svengali-like golden handcuffs but because we’re so in tune with what they need to be successful and we provide it so quickly and well, our associations are vital partners in those audiences’ success?

I don’t have the answers. But I’m at least willing to engage in the conversation. Join me?

Book Review: The Back of the Napkin

Yes, I know this book was published in 2008, and it’s been sitting on my “to read” pile almost that long.

Fortunately, the Association Chat book club got me to bump it to the top of the pile, and I finally read it last month.

The book’s subtitle is: solving problems and selling ideas with pictures, and teaching you to do that is author Dan Roam’s ostensible goal.

Short version: it’s a great concept, but I’m not quite sure how to implement it.

Longer take:

According to Roam, there are three types of people: black pen types (who LOVE to draw ideas), yellow pen types (who are quick to jump in to edit and add), and red pen types (“I can’t draw”). Confession: I am definitely a red pen type.

On the other hand, I also LOVE visual representations of information. I love infographics. I’m always the one urging colleagues to use fewer words and more pictures to share information with senior leadership. I think every organization’s board status report should be a series of 5-10 key metrics that are tracked over time and shared in graphs or charts. I’m the person who infamously talked a panel¬† for the 2009 ASAE Annual Meeting into doing a presentation with NO words on the slides (that didn’t go over all that well).

So what I’m saying is that, while I am a red pen, I’m also someone eager to be persuaded that representing problems visually can help us solve them and to learn how to do it.

I’m just not sure that this book can get most of us there.

It’s not that Roam doesn’t provide plenty of information and explanation. He spends almost 150 pages explaining six key ways of seeing and five key ways of showing, then placing all that into a grid (page 141 if you have the book handy) that can tell you, based on the type of framework you need and a short series of either/or questions, which type of picture you’re going to need to explain what’s going on and spot a solution.

The second half of the book uses a single case study to work readers through the ways of seeing and showing, the framework, and the questions to get to, in chapter 15, a not-immediately-obvious solution and description of how one would present that solution to a team of executives.

But I still don’t feel like I would be able to apply the techniques he describes successfully the next time I’m faced with what looks like an intractable problem at the office.

Maybe I just need more practice. I have, in my last two positions and since hearing Roam speak at ASAE’s Great Ideas Conference a few years ago, insisted on having a white board in my workspace. I even use it sometimes. And once in a while, it doesn’t even feel forced.

The book does, however, make a GREAT case for hiring Roam to help your organization solve big, hairy problems, assuming you can afford him. And maybe that’s really the point.

Book Review: Humanize

If you’re one of my regular readers – or someone who knows me IRL – you probably know of my disdain for business books. Generally, they state the obvious or the *painfully* obvious at a fifth-grade reading level, with LARGE print on pages with LOTS of white space. I firmly believe that, with very few exceptions, reading them actually makes you dumber.

So I don’t say this lightly: Humanize is genius.

Authors Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter use the lens of social media to examine our “modern” business, management, and leadership practices and find them au courant…with the Industrial Revolution. At that time, perhaps a mechanical view of the world made sense, or at least more sense than it does now. But social media has spurred a revolution in the way people relate to each other on the individual, micro, and macro levels. The genie’s loose, and he’s not going back.

And while we shouldn’t – and in many cases don’t – even want to go back, our organizations are not keeping pace. Our focus on best practices (imitation) over innovation, a strategic planning process that assumes that the future is knowable and unchanging, human resources management that relies on hierarchy, org charts and knowing (and keeping to) your place, and leadership that’s viewed as some sort of “secret sauce” that individuals either have (so they get to be at the top of the org chart) or don’t (so they’re one of of the proles) keeps us stuck in those old systems and patterns that are killing us.

Maddie and Jamie go on to identify four key qualities that can help our organizations be more human (or, more accurately, stop trying to force organizations made up of people into an assembly line mentality): being open, trustworthy, generative, and courageous. In the meat of the book, they examine how these four qualities, expressed through the mediums of organizational culture, internal process/structure, and individual behavior, have the power to create organizations that, to quote p. 247, “inspire us and bring out the best in us.”

If business people read, accept and implement the ideas contained in Humanize around these qualities and how they can be fostered at the personal, process, and organizational level (hardly a given of course), I believe this book has the power to RADICALLY transform our organizations and, just possibly, save the world of associations in the process.