Indianapolis (1038)

There’s an old saying that the best way to get yourself out of a hole is to stop digging.

The problem is that, too many times, you think there’s a treasure lurking just a few more shovelfuls down, so the digging continues. As the hole gets deeper, you keep at it because you’ve already put so much effort into it that it would be a waste to stop now.

There are many examples in business of these ever-deepening holes that eat up manpower, time and money. Sometimes, the elusive treasure is a product that’s sputtering along but just can’t quite get going like you had hoped. Other times, it is a person who has all the promise in the world but doesn’t have much to show for it other than a warm chair and a lot of frustration on your part. The “hole” might even be an entire division that is underperforming or a vendor that just isn’t meeting your needs.

Corporate America is littered with decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time but that just didn’t work out. Remember New Coke? It was meant to replace the Coca-Cola that everyone grew up with, but it lasted only 77 days before the classic formula was reintroduced to the market.

The Coca-Cola Co. wisely made the tough decision that its reformulation didn’t pan out the way it had hoped and brought back the old formula. The result was that while New Coke may have failed, the company retained its top spot. It realized the hole was getting too deep with no return in sight, so it got out.

If you’re going to be successful, then you will have to make tough decisions. No matter how close to the buried treasure you think you are, at some point, you have to take your shovel and climb out of the hole and move on.

It’s called cutting your losses. Coke executives could have stuck to their decision because every bit of market research showed that people liked the taste of the new formula better, but it just wasn’t showing up in the sales figures. Maybe you’ve invested a lot of time and money into a product or a person, but there comes a point where you have to give up and focus your resources on more productive areas.

You can’t be afraid to make these tough decisions. It might be easier to justify further expense to keep going, but don’t wait any longer. Pull the plug.

Ending a project that’s bleeding money is an easy decision. The really tough choices come with the marginal performers — people included. To know when enough is enough, you need to set up accountability for projects and people so you can measure how well things are going compared to the standards you’ve set.

If something isn’t measuring up, get rid of it. In today’s business world, profit margins are too thin to waste money on unproductive portions of your business. You can’t afford to have a nonproductive anything — be it a person, division or product — weighing you down. Do everything you can to help the people affected move on, but make the decision and stick with it. These types of decisions are never easy. You never know how they will affect your business. It will always be easier to keep going after that elusive return on your investment, but you have to hold yourself accountable, as well. If it’s not working, it’s time to make a change.

So stop digging now before the hole gets so deep that you are unable to climb back out of it.

If you are interested in learning more about publishing a book, please contact our publisher, Dustin Klein, at or (440) 250-7026.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or

In developing a strategy, creating a new business or launching a product line, intensive preplanning is what can make the difference between success and failure. This same principle applies to negotiating just about anything. No matter what you want to achieve, be it selling a new customer, buying a competitor or hiring a superstar, you must determine what is the end result you want before you put pen to paper or make that first introductory call.

We’ve all heard hundreds of time about the importance of “putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes” or showing some empathy. Good basic advice, but do you really follow these suggestions?

In many business relationships, if it becomes a win/lose transaction, at the end of the day, one side is going to be very unhappy and the other side, albeit temporarily satisfied, could ultimately lose, too. In most instances, both sides have alternatives. Unless you have found the Holy Grail that no one can live without, the other side always has choices. One of which can be to do nothing and take a hike.

Most negotiations begin with the thought, “What’s in it for me?” Instead, the first question should always be, “How can we enable the other side to win (or feel as though they have won)?” It’s all about looking at the objective through the other person’s eyes. This simply translates into giving the “opposition” something that they must have, even if they’ve yet to realize it, while meeting your own needs. Rather than start with figuring out how much can you make on the deal or the positive result that will accrue to you if you hire a particular superstar, ask yourself, “What can I do to make the other side feel like the winner?”

For your next initiative, start at the end and work toward the beginning. You might just be pleasantly surprised with the road map you construct using this technique. Here are a few examples.

You want to buy a competitor because it has a product that will enhance your offering, but you don’t need all of the other widgets that this target manufactures. The traditional strategy would be to make an offer knowing that, if you succeed, you’ll scuttle all of the company’s other operations, cherry-picking what you want from the carcass. This could work and might be the easiest way to achieve your goal, but this Machiavellian method of taking no prisoners likely won’t play well with the target company owner, who has spent years building it and is emotionally invested in the business and the organization’s employees. When you look at the situation through the lens of the founder, you determine that a different approach, such as paying a good price for the entire business, plucking the item you want from the company, and then selling the rest of the company back to the employees could be the ticket to getting discussions started. This way the owner gets his money, he is a hero with his employees, and you acquire the product you need to grow.

Let’s say you want to hire the best salesperson in your industry who, unfortunately, works for your competitor. Instead of just going in and offering a big salary and bonus, which he or she most likely has already been offered by someone else, try to determine, after doing your homework, what this superstar’s hot buttons are. Maybe he has made it known that he would like to work remotely from a desert island while continuing to build his book of business. Looking at it from his perspective, you figure out that you can buy him his piece of sand somewhere with a beautiful view, obtain highspeed Internet connectivity to his paradise and allow him to work six months per year in his dream location. Rather than just making a cash-rich offer, start the negotiations by providing a solution to your target’s fondest expectations.

Putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes is far from a new idea. However, too many executives forget that creating a win-win is preferable to having it only your way. Remember, many times, instead of just knowing the answers, you first have to figure out what questions to ask to ensure success.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at

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Scott Kirsner spent three years immersed in the movie industry in order to write a book called “Inventing the Movies: Hollywood’s Epic Battle Between Innovation and the Status Quo, from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs.”

He talked with directors like Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron, editors, cinematographers, studio chiefs, producers, tech companies that sell technology into Hollywood and even actors with an interest in new technology like Morgan Freeman.

He discovered that Hollywood serves as a great case study for how any long-established, successful and self-satisfied industry responds to new technologies and new ideas.

Even when a new idea seems to have obvious merit and even when its inventor can make a strong case for it, 95 percent of the people involved in the industry fight the new idea with all their energy for as long as they possibly can until they realize it has the potential to grow their business in surprising ways.

Case in point: Within a decade of Hollywood’s fight against the Betamax video recorder, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, the studios were earning more from home video business than they were from ticket sales.

Here are several movies — all of which you’ve likely seen — each with an important backstory that innovators can learn from.

Sometimes technology needs to be just good enough, not perfect. “The Jazz Singer” will forever be remembered as Hollywood’s first talkie — even though it wasn’t among the first dozen to try to sync up the pictures on the screen with a soundtrack. But the technology that Warner Bros. banked on, developed at AT&T’s Bell Labs, was better than what came before it. It was just good enough to turn “The Jazz Singer” into a hit — especially combined with a performance from Al Jolson that practically leapt off the screen. The system still relied on phonograph records that could scratch. If the film broke and needed to be spliced back together, the entire movie would veer out of sync. The Warner Bros./AT&T technology was just good enough to start the sound revolution in Hollywood, though it didn’t endure for very long as a standard. Five years after “The Jazz Singer,” even Warner Bros. had switched over to a technology that more reliably linked the audio with the visuals.

Innovators never underestimate the importance of allies. Shot in glorious Technicolor, “Gone with the Wind” won the Best Picture Oscar in 1939, marking the start of Hollywood’s transition from black-and-white to color. But Technicolor had been working on its technology for making color movies since 1915, developing new kinds of cameras and film-processing techniques.

Like most start-ups, the company nearly ran out of money several times and had to continually hunt for new investors and allies who’d make movies using Technicolor’s technology to show how it was improving. These allies included the swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks and Walt Disney, who won one of his first Oscars for a short cartoon made in Technicolor. Technicolor co-founder Herb Kalmus met another key ally at the racetrack at Saratoga Springs: Jock Whitney, a rich playboy who used his money to option a novel by Margaret Mitchell and help turn it into a movie starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.

Innovators spot market opportunities first and chase them relentlessly. Entrepreneur Andre Blay had no connection to Hollywood, but in the mid-1970s, he was among the first to realize that home video machines like Sony’s Betamax (which sold for about $1,000 at the time) presented the potential for a new business.

He sent “cold call” letters to most of the major Hollywood studios asking them for the right to sell their movies on videotape. Only one studio, 20th Century Fox, consented, offering movies like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Blay’s first ad in “TV Guide” netted his company $140,000 in revenue, and within a year, Fox acquired his company for $7.2 million in cash.

Innovators find collaborators who share their vision, and they’re prepared for things to take longer than expected. Computer graphics pioneer Ed Catmull, while he was still a graduate student at the University of Utah, was one of the first people on the planet who believed that it’d be possible to make a full-length computer-animated movie that people actually would pay to see. As he marched toward that goal, he connected with two people who bought in to his vision: John Lasseter, an ex-Disney animator, and Steve Jobs, who purchased the fledgling Pixar from George Lucas and helped develop it into a company that could stand on its own two feet, selling hardware and software while also pursuing Catmull’s ambitious, audacious goal.

Catmull admits that he thought the goal of making Pixar’s first film would take a decade — it took two. Disney eventually bought Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion.

As a business owner, there are many lessons to learn about innovation from the movies.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of ten books including Enchantment, Reality Check, and The Art of the Start. He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through or at

Left or right? Up or down? Yes or no? The human life is full of choices. We make them on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. It’s what we do, how we live and move and have our being in the world.

Consider some choices you may have made in the last few years:

  • What car should you buy?
  • Should you ask her to marry you?
  • Are you ready for another baby?
  • Is this house right for you, or should you keep looking before you make an offer?
  • Who should be let go in the next round of budget cuts?
  • Will your department reach its goals this year?
  • Should you ask for a raise?
  • Is it time for your mom to enter a nursing home?
  • What do I need to do to lose weight?
  • What will you eat for dinner tonight?

Decisions are usually easier when we are only faced with two choices. Blue or red car? Two-story or ranch-style home? Slim Fast or Weight Watchers diet plan? Our brains are somehow wired better to choose between two competing choices.

It’s when we have more options that we sometimes stall, flutter or downright choke.

  • Three people from a team of eight in the department must be let go.
  • Should we marry now, when we finish college or after we find secure jobs?
  • In order to best reach our yearly goals, should we focus our attention on X, Y or Z, and how much of our remaining budget should we allocate to the project we choose?

Life is full of hard choices, and the bigger they are and the more options we have, the harder they get.

Through my years in working with individuals, groups, companies and organization, I have narrowed the questions we need to ask in order to make the right choices both in our life and in business.

Here are 3 of my best tips for making the right choice:

1. Analyze outcomes, not pros and cons.

Many of us have been taught somewhere along the way to take out a sheet of paper and divide it down the middle with a line. On one side we list the “pros” of a certain choice, on the other, the “cons.”

This old school way of making choices is time worn and tested, but I think there is a better focus: outcomes. In the end, the outcome of a choice made is what truly matters.

Working through a big decision can give us a kind of tunnel vision, where we get so focused on the immediate consequences of the decision at hand that we don’t think about the eventual outcomes we expect or desire.

When making a choice, then, it pays to take some time to consider the outcome you expect. Consider each option and ask the following questions:

  • What is the probable outcome of this choice? (This is the list we should make.)
  • What outcomes are highly unlikely? (This allows them less weight in the choice.)
  • What are the likely outcomes of not choosing this one? (These are negative outcomes.)
  • What would be the outcome of doing the exact opposite? (Play “devil’s advocate.”)

Our thinking should be in terms of long-term outcomes and not short-term pros and cons. And we should broaden our thinking to include negative outcomes. In doing so, we will find clarity and direction in making the right choice.

2. Ask why – five times.

The Five Whys are a problem-solving technique invented by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. When something goes wrong, you ask “why?” five times. By asking why something failed, over and over, you eventually get to the root cause.

Although developed as a problem-solving technique, the Five Whys can also help you determine whether a choice you’re considering is in line with your core values as a person and a business.

For instance:

  • Why should I take this job? It pays well and offers me a chance to grow.
  • Why is that important? Because I want to build a career and not just have a string of meaningless jobs.
  • Why? Because, I want my life to have meaning.
  • Why? So I can be happy.
  • Why? Because that’s what’s important in life.

We now see how the first two tips are interrelated. By asking the Five Whys, we learn that having meaning and being happy are desired outcomes that influence the choice made in asking the first question: Why should I take this job?

The continued relationship can be seen in revealing the third tips for making the right choice.

3. Follow your instincts.

This tip affords you the ability to work through the first two tips with a sense of personal confidence.


Because research shows that:

The conscious mind can only hold between five and nine distinct thoughts at any given time. That means that any complex problem with more than (on average) seven factors is going to overflow the conscious mind’s ability to function effectively, leading to poor choices.

Our unconscious mind is much better at juggling and working through complex problems. People who follow their instincts actually trust the work their unconscious mind has already done.

In summary:

When we allow ourselves to focus on long-term outcomes rather than short-sighted pros and cons, take on the task of asking “Why?” five different times, and trust and follow our instincts, we put ourselves in a much better position to make the right choice in any given situation in life and business.

Like anything we go through as human beings, this process takes work. Get to work and let me know how it goes.

DeLores Pressleymotivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a life of significance. Her story has been touted in The Washington Post, Black Enterprise, First for Women, Essence, New York Daily News, Ebony and Marie Claire. She is a frequent media guest and has been interviewed on every major network – ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX – including America’s top rated shows OPRAH and Entertainment Tonight.

She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at 330.649.9809 or via email or visit her website at

Jim Danko had just started college when he had to make a life-changing and risky decision: to stay in school or to follow a road less traveled: drop out of college, go into business and finish school later.

Danko had worked at the corner of his street for a small one-man medical equipment company for five years — since he was 14. He had learned enough to run the business if he had to. And what happened was something the 19-year-old didn’t expect.

“The owner died; actually, he committed suicide, and I was the one to find him,” he says. “And I was the one that the family asked, ‘You’re the only one who works here full-time; would you be willing to drop out of college and help run this?’”

Danko thought seriously about the opportunity.

“I was willing to do it if they would provide me the opportunity to buy the business,” he says.

While he took over the business, he was never able to come to terms on its sale, so he decided he would start up his own company.

“I had some experience; I had an opportunity,” he says. “There was no guarantee I was going to succeed — it was somewhat of an educated risk.”

Taking that educated risk, and getting his parents to take a second mortgage on their house to help supply cash for the business, paid off quite successfully.

“Where my mother might have said, ‘No, stay the course, finish up your college,’ my father was a little bit more of an entrepreneur, and I opted to drop out of John Carroll University and start up a company,” Danko says. “I finished my undergraduate degree later.”

Business growth followed and by 1990, corporate facilities were booming.

“We were in our biggest year ever and someone came along and made me an offer for my business,” he says. “I was really interested in getting into the academic world, and again, I ended up opting for the road less traveled, to sell out during a big year.”

He enrolled in graduate school and received his master’s degree from the University of Michigan.

After stints of leading educational programs at institutions, such as Dartmouth College, Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., Villanova School of Business and the universities of Michigan, Washington and North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he became president of Butler University last year.

Lest you think that all that educational experience has transformed him into a traditional academic, think again. Danko uses his nontraditional leanings to blend some solid business practices that he learned into the college world: recruitment and retention of employees (including faculty), service to customers (students, that is), strategic planning, consensus building and innovation.

When he served as dean at Villanova for six years, the school went from being unranked to being ranked consistently among the top 20 undergraduate business programs in the country. Also during his time there, financial donations more than quadrupled.

At Butler, Danko wants to duplicate and even surpass similar accomplishments. At his installation, to kick off his message, he announced the formation of the $5 million Butler Innovation Fund to nurture creative thinking and fast track ideas, curricula and collaboration.

Nontraditional paths? Educated risks? Is that what Danko feels what today’s leader needs?

“I think it is a combination of the education and the practical side that really puts you in a position to be a more effective leader,” he says. After all, managing 1,025 employees and annual revenue of $189 million is no small task for an uninspiring leader.

Here’s Danko’s recipe for leadership: mix risk-taking, self-assessment, stewardship, add some experience, and you will be on your way.

Take risks and look long term

Whether it’s a business decision or a life decision, you have to take risks sometimes.

A number of successful companies, for instance, that are still operating were founded in one of the bleakest economic time of all — the Great Depression.

“You have to have the ability to be somewhat of a risk-taker, an educated risk-taker, and sometimes opt for what other people might tell you doesn’t seem to make sense,” Danko says.

Whether you feel you have to be born a courageous risk-taker or you can learn to take calculated chances is something that can’t be answered definitively with a yes or no. But rather, the matter of experience figures into the answer.

“I’ve taught entrepreneurship at Michigan, and I taught it at UNC, Chapel Hill; I don’t know if you are born a risk-taker, but I do think that some people have a higher tolerance of risk-taking, and it is probably something that you build up in life through experience,” Danko says.

One’s life experience, it’s often been written, is the sum of wins and losses.

“There is something about life experiences where maybe taking a few risks that worked out may not mean you are always going to succeed, but I think the practice of taking a risk is something that improves over time, and thus you are more prepared when the opportunity comes up,” he says. “There is a bit of nurture to it.”

When the opportunity arrives, you will be more prepared for that, realizing that there is a chance for failure and success but at least sometimes you know what it is like to get out of your comfort zone.

“You have to have an opportunity; it’s not just, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to just do this,’” Danko says. “Then step back, and look what is the opportunity that you are confronting that makes sense. I know now what I would have told myself then: ‘This seems like it’s got a shot. You could always finish college. There’s nothing written in stone that you have to get your degree done by the time you are 22.’”

You need to resist being too shortsighted if you take a risk. Being more focused on the near future may lead to disappointment.

“If I would’ve followed some advice, I might have listened to those you said, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ — you have to kind of weigh all of all those,” Danko says. “I think people who live more in the moment tend to be a little more risk adverse. You have to look at the longer term.”

A longer-term focus can be developed through experience, especially in new positions of increased responsibility.

“The higher you get up the leadership path, the more you have to have a longer term focus,” he says. “You can’t just stop and say that it is all about the present, because there is so much that is about the future.”

Do a self-assessment

Introspection need not be a dirty word. Although some leaders may think otherwise, you have to do self-assessment in order to find your talents as a leader who can take risks.

“It’s the most important leadership attribute or trait that a leader needs to have,” Danko says. “Start with the ability to be self-aware and self-reflective. It truly is leadership development. You get better with age and with experience. But the only way that you are going to get better is if you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses and if you have some self-awareness of the need to improve.”

A lack of self-awareness can make matters worse. It can cause difficulty such as in working with other employees and achieving goals.

“I was asked recently by a professor here why some leaders do not admit their mistakes,” Danko says. “My answer was I think it is a lack of confidence, and some of that also comes from a lack of self-awareness. They don’t even realize some of the mistakes they are making.

“With confidence, some awareness that none of us are perfect and a focus on your own development, which means you are open to seeing some of your deficiencies, it makes you better prepared to admit failures and put you in a better position to successfully move forward.”

Some who have a mental block about introspection may need to work on defeatist attitudes. Others may, in effect, fear success because it may be unfamiliar territory.

“I think none of us are perfectly self-aware because it is hard sometimes to judge ourselves or to assess ourselves, but I do think that it is critical that you understand the importance of going through some assessment process,” Danko says.

“I’ve seen some people who just fail at it,” he says. “I think they might have just a blind spot about themselves that they are just not going to make it. If you read the examples of leadership failures, whether they are in the corporate world or the academic world, I think there is a number of people who are destined for that.”

You have to have an open mind about peer assessment and 360 assessments and having people provide you objective input into your strengths and weaknesses.

“Those who are close-minded to assessments are probably not going to be as successful, but again some of those will be, too,” Danko says. “But I think the ones that are not, frankly, they just have such a blind spot to their own weaknesses that they are never going to improve.”

Leave a legacy

When goals are being discussed among company leaders, one of the most concise is often the advice, “Leave your company better off than when you came.” It simply means to lead with your talents, skills and risk-taking qualities to shepherd your business to new heights.

“You need to be driven for the larger cause for the success of whatever enterprise you’re currently involved in,” Danko says. “Treat it as if it’s your own. You have to talk to your managers, and you need people to think as if they really are legitimate stewards of the operation to start thinking how they can leave this place much better off than it was when they came in.”

When it is time to evaluate your performance, look at the whole enterprise, and ask yourself the question. If you have adopted self-assessment practices and been willing to take risks, you will be able to judge how good a steward you have been.

“If there is some willingness to take some risks in your career — so someone who tends to be a little bit more innovative — that is someone who really likes the leadership scope,” Danko says.

Once you are OK with stepping out of your comfort zone, you can use that ability to take risks to not overextend your duties with newfound confidence but to have an impact at the upper levels of the company.

“I really did have this interest in a higher scope of leadership so it made me have to take moves that other people might not have decided to do,” Danko says.

“It’s not like you need a bigger scope of operations but that you’ll like the breadth of responsibility of the decisions around strategy and really engage at the highest level of an organization in terms of its of its success and failure,” he says.” It’s getting back to the issues of being self-aware and self-reflective. You have to experience failure. It’s not like all the decisions that you made in life worked out. You can’t take yourself too seriously.”

How to reach: Butler University, (317) 940-6000 or

The Danko File

Jim Danko


Butler University

Born: Cleveland, Ohio

Education: John Carroll University for my undergraduate degree in religious studies, of all things, and an MBA from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor

What was your first job?

When I was a young kid, I delivered the Cleveland Press. I’ve said this before to people: the opportunity to be a newspaper delivery person is a golden one. There was something about that paper route. I wanted every paper in those houses by 4 o’clock. And they had to be. It was like a zero defects mind.

I remember standing out there waiting for the newspapers on the day JFK died in November 1963. The papers usually get dropped off at 3:15 p.m., but on that date, it was closer to 5:30 p.m. because they held the presses.

What is the best business advice you ever received?

I found out about this Philadelphia guy who sold 200 Exercycles the year before, and I thought what the hell is this guy doing? So I met him, and he came up with a system where he took out commercials. He got an 800 number, and he was advertising: “call now for an in-home demonstration of the multiaction exercise machine.”

He said, “Jim, you make your pitch, and then you shut up. The next person that talks bought it.” So either that customer bought it or you just bought it back because you talked yourself out of a sale. It’s a negotiating tip that I have told I don’t know how many people since that time and even in my own career, even if I am asking for a gift or asking for a job, when you ask a question or whatever it is, you make your pitch and then you just shut up. It’s that quietness that forces people on the other side of you into doing something. It was a little piece of advice, but it was one of those things that has always stayed with me.

Whom do you admire in business?

Especially in the business world, I like people who have done a good job of turning things around or who have pursued things in a thoughtful way. I mean Alan Mullally right now at Ford has been incredible. I met him when I was at the University of Washington and he was at Boeing. He came out and talked with our students. I was very impressed with that, and the job he has done at Ford is terrific. Also, Jeff Immelt of General Electric; he’s a Dartmouth alum, I met him up at Dartmouth when I was there, and I had him come to the Villanova school of business to speak last year, I was very impressed with him again. … These are both guys who were thoughtful; they don’t take themselves too seriously. They’ve got senses of humors, there’s confidence, there is willingness to talk about the gambles they’ve made, and there is willingness to say they’ve made mistakes.

What’s your definition of business success?

The definition of business success is be better off than when you arrived. And are you better off, have you really developed as well? I think it is kind of twofold when you talk about success. It’s got to be both for the place and for also you personally.

Are we ever really done?

It’s a good question to ask when your inbox is always full. There will always be another post to write, a text to make, emails that beg answering, a comment you should probably respond to. So in a way, you are never really “done.”

If your work is never truly done, it’s more than a challenge. It can be disheartening and sometimes really depressing. Then again, pure silence could be just as disheartening.

Seth Godin calls this “Dancing on the edge of finished.”

If Godin is right to call our never-ending affair with communication technology a dance, where do we draw the line? When do we let go of the smartphone, the laptop, the iPad? And when you have dinner with the kids are they (or you) always on the phone? One friend of mine has a basket at home and that’s where his cell phone goes when he walks in the door each night. Or how about the classrooms that have started collecting cell phones at the door so the kids are not distracted?

I think that finding your “edge” is a personal challenge. Being never completely done with work is OK, as long as it doesn’t become a grind or interfere with the rest of your life. At some point, won’t it make work a chore?

You have to be comfortable with your “edge.” But first, you’ve got to find it:

  • Learn to leave the office and pretend the gates are closing behind you. You can’t think about work until you come back through the gates the next morning.
  • Do your business reading at work and not at home. Reading business items before going to bed will only disturb your sleep.
  • Have a pad of paper on your nightstand. Write down anything you think about to get those thoughts out of your mind and you will also sleep better.
  • Vacation reading: make a pact that you will only read fiction books, biographies or nonbusiness-related materials.
  • Don’t bring business issues home to your spouse. Unless they are especially good therapy, it’s better to have a business associate you can have coffee with and confide in.

Seth Godin recently blogged about a concept called “signal to noise ratio,” the relationship between the stuff you want to hear verses the stuff you don’t. According to Godin, Twitter, email and Facebook all have an alarmingly bad ratio, and it’s getting worse.

The world, it seems, is getting spammed to death from all sides — Twitter, email, Facebook, LinkedIn — from advertisers, friends, business, even family. There’s so much stuff out there from so many sources, that we don’t have time, let alone the attention span, to absorb it.

How do you stay in touch without getting overloaded? Godin recommends relentless editing of social media (whom you follow and whom you listen to) and finding new channels you can trust, such as RSS feeds from bloggers and other sources.

In other words, stay on top of what stays on the top of your social media pile. Here are some ideas:

  • Do you use a spam filter for your email at work? At least once a week, unsubscribe from the stuff you don’t want to receive anymore.
  • Create folders to file email messages. For example, create “rules” that automatically file emails to read later into a “reading” folder. Be creative with these folders. Other examples might include a folder for those items you have delegated or folders for each of your projects.
  • Set up email rules with your colleagues. Do you really need to get all the emails they send you, and do you always need to be copied?
  • Make it a goal to always have your email inbox totally clear of unread messages. Take action or filter everything else.

Each of these ideas will make your mind clearer. When it’s clear (and uncluttered) you can make decisions easier, and you will have more time for creative thinking.

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at For more information, go to

Short attention spans are in evidence everywhere.

Stay connected to your audience by being brief and concise. Apply this to meetings, presentations, advertising, and memos.

People love to talk. When they are nervous, they talk more. That’s how salespeople get into trouble. They are nervous about being in front of a new prospect and talk, talk, talk.

Don’t become the dinosaur that loves to hear himself or herself talk. No one else will be listening.

Less is not only more; it’s the only way to be heard over tweets, instant messaging and other forms of communication.

You’ve got :03

Three seconds to pique their interest before your link gets clicked. Three sentences to see whether your big idea actually gets heard.

There’s a deluge of noise out there and just about everyone worth contacting is taking self-protective measures. Each of these questions is a hurdle to cross before your idea is even given a chance.

• Anything new here I can use?

• Are there typos?

• Is the idea worth spending more of my time?

• Is the design professionally done?

• Why do I need this?

• Did someone I know recommend this?

• Is it this offer too good to be true?

Cut to the chase uniquely

You can’t blame your prospects for ignoring you. So, cut to the chase differently, faster, quirkier. Give it to me straight or throw me a curve ball. But stand out from the crowd in a way that is memorable and timely. Then you will be heard above the fray.

What about being brief with executing your strategies?

In his bestseller, “The Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm,” Verne Harnish shares business lessons he learned from case studies of 10 different successful organizations. He compares these lessons against those put forth by John D. Rockefeller Sr. that Rockefeller felt all leaders should address. Harnish demonstrates how to design a high-powered business engine that drives innovation, sales and profits with these questions:

• Do you have five priorities for the year and the quarter and a clear No.1 priority with an appropriate theme?

• Do you have sufficient data on a daily and weekly basis to provide insight into how your organization is running vs. what the market is demanding?

• Do you have an effective rhythm of weekly, quarterly and annual meetings to maintain alignment and drive accountability?

How are your priorities?

Are you on track with your priorities? Develop a single sheet of priorities and make it your roadmap for the year. Keep it brief.

Check in with your sheet on a daily basis to make sure you are sticking with your plan and working as smartly as possible.

Conversations need to be brief, but effective.

Have you ever recommended to others how best to communicate with you? Are you a visual person, or auditory? Do you need time to digest new ideas before you react to them? Are you a researcher or a “go with your gut” type?

Not only should you know what style of communication you prefer, but your direct reports (and maybe everyone you work with) should also know how best to communicate with you. This works in reverse too.

For the first time in my career, someone came in to work with me on social media and asked me to take them to a white board. There he mapped out his thinking visually. Within a few minutes I clearly understood his plan. In fact, it was clearer than ever, because I am a visual person, and my presenter understood that.

The magnificent seven

In her book, “The Seven Minute Difference: Small Steps to Big Changes,” Allyson Lewis says the following:

• Studies have shown that the average corporate executive has an attention span of seven minutes.

• According to Harvard psychologist George Miller, the brain is limited to remembering only seven pieces of information at a time.

Now that you know this information, would you change your communication style with those you work with?

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at For more information, go to

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:53

Why not use a book to tell your story?

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Being able to tell your story is critical in today’s fast-paced world, where cutting through the noise to be heard gets harder each day. With so many media options fighting for attention, it’s imperative to identify new channels where you can stand out.

That’s why as part of our expansion last year, we saw an opportunity to tell entrepreneurs’ stories in greater detail and share lessons learned by launching a book division.

Our book division is unlike traditional publishers, because we do all the work for you. We develop the story and outline, conduct the interviews with the author and other contributors, and then write the book and handle all of the other elements through publication of an e-book and hardback editions.

The time commitment from you is minimal. Once the story is determined, we will conduct a series of short interviews to get the information we need to write the book. You approve everything that goes into the story and have final say on every aspect of the project. We help you take an idea for a book and turn it into a reality that you can share with others.

As an example, last year, we worked with auto dealers Rick and Rita Case to produce “Our Customers, Our Friends.” In the book, the Cases lay out their theory that the secret to successful retail sales is through building long-lasting relationships with customers and treating them as you would your best friend.

Whether your goal is to use a book as a business card for your organization by sharing knowledge with others or to further a cause and help raise awareness for something you believe in, we work with our author-entrepreneurs to identify what makes them unique and what insight they can share with others. We also build an author’s website and set up social media channels to help them promote the book. And, we’ve recently established an authors’ speakers’ bureau that will help extend the reach of sharing that entrepreneur’s knowledge across the national footprint of Smart Business Network.

So far this year, we have eight books in various stages of production. Among them are books for the CEOs of three publicly traded companies on topics ranging from mergers and acquisitions to building sustainable businesses to how to conduct successful turnarounds. We’re also publishing books that introduce exciting new business theories, as well as one that explains how to lead with a philosophy of giving back to the community.

What direction your book takes is up to you. It can tell the story of how your business started small and grew into what it is today, or it can explain the details of what you see as the keys to being successful in business.

Breaking through the clutter of information is tricky, and writing a book is one way you can make yourself heard. It’s also a great way to explain your philosophies to employees, customers and your peers.

There’s a widespread belief that everyone has at least one book within them. In the business world, that’s even truer. If you think that’s you, we’d be happy to help you turn your ideas into reality.

If you are interested in learning more about publishing a book, please contact our publisher, Dustin Klein, at or (440) 250-7026.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or

If Mark Carney ever needed confirmation that building a social media following for HCC Medical Insurance Services LLC was a good investment, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti proved it.

The Haiti earthquake caused substantial damage to the infrastructure of capital Port-au-Prince and nearby areas. Cell phone and fiber-optic service was affected and radio stations were knocked off the air for a week in what is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.

“We had a number of individuals and groups who were insured members,” says Carney, president and CEO of HCCMIS. “We had provided insurance products to a number of missionaries in Haiti.”

As a result, it was nearly impossible to get through to the members. Fortunately, HCCMIS had in place a social media outreach strategy that included multiple Twitter accounts, more than a dozen Facebook pages and a number of blogs.

Twitter with its short message service of up to 140 characters per tweet was particularly important in reaching policyholders via smartphones to respond to their questions and concerns and disseminate information.

“The tweeting during that period of time provided a great value to our policyholders, and even with the damage to the infrastructure, we were able to communicate and get the message out,” Carney says.

“Unfortunately, the world has seen a number of crises since then, and I think clearly your social media strategy has got to be part of what happens during a catastrophe. So we had a significant earthquake in South America, we had the 2011 tsunami in Japan, there have been earthquakes in China, there have been railway shutdowns in India, the list unfortunately goes on. It's about once a month.

In the past three years, HCCMIS’ innovative effort using online marketing and outreach has helped the company to triple all online revenue and total premiums for 2011 reached $60 million. Here’s how Carney enhances his customers’ experience through social media.

Decide the goal of your presence

Google has reported that as many as 97 percent of U.S. consumers search for products and services online. That fact alone has spurred many companies to join the online bandwagon. But before you make a knee-jerk decision to do that, give some thought to what will be your most effective online presence.

Carney says that even in his own company the launch into the social media field didn’t come out of a well-calculated process. But the dedication and enthusiasm of his marketing people carried the day.

“To begin with, it was, ‘I heard this and we should do that,’ and unfortunately there was not much thought into why we should begin a social media presence, and I guess maybe that's the way these things start out,” he says.

One of the best approaches is to avoid the temptation to be all things to everybody. Instead, stick to your niche. Re-identify it if you have to.

“From our perspective, the broad goal was to try to enhance the insurance experience through our staff by the way of a process that was personal and timely. That process was social media,” Carney says. “I think that is one of the reasons why the social media aspect of what we are doing has been recognized by the industry.”

By providing technologically advanced solutions to customers, HCCMIS has earned a spot as a leader in its niche: the travel medical insurance industry.

“We went about early on looking at simple tweets regarding our business, and our leadership in the marketing area helped us pull together a process by which we could really impact our business through social media,” Carney says. “Those would be all of the brands that you would expect: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on.

Broad concepts can be proliferated through an online vehicle that has a small-town feel.

“You should try to take advantage of those community-style relationships that are online,” Carney says. “For instance, it is evident that it is positive when it comes to travel. You'd be surprised at the number of people who post, ‘I'm traveling to India next week.’ They are posting to their community and issues invariably come up regarding ‘What happens if …’ and ‘Has anybody bought one of these types of products?’

“Those are the issues that you should try to take advantage of. Again, if you can assist someone in the purchase process, if you can make sure from an experience standpoint that it is positive, even if it is not as positive as hoped — can we get it addressed? Can we get it addressed quickly? Can we be seen as getting it addressed? Those are all the broad concepts that you should be trying to accomplish through the social media strategy.”

Get on board

Above the surface, a social media presence looks simple, engaging and easy to use. Below the surface, there are many intricate segments that have to work in harmony and take time and effort to develop.

Any new venture is going to cost money. That’s why it is critical to get buy-in particularly at the upper levels for a social media strategy. A financial commitment will also show the lower levels how you see value in the strategy.

“You have to understand the value and how you translate that value at some point to a product sale,” Carney says. “You also have to have a strong financial model that's supportable, because a technology strategy can be expensive.”

Once Carney realized that a rationale had to be developed to support a major technology upgrade at his company, he crafted it in terms that all employees would understand.

“We updated the systems that handle the transactions and then most recently we upgraded the back-end systems in order to be able to address on an online real-time basis our key stakeholders and their needs,” he says.

“So if think about our stakeholders being our policyholders; our brokers that help sell our product; our providers that provide services; and our vendors that support those services, we figure out how we can address as much of that online as we can in order to meet the needs of someone who is sick in a hotel room in China and does not speak Chinese.

“It's a bit troublesome when you take your child to the doctor in the United States, so you can imagine if you were a missionary in Africa trying to take your child who is with you to a clinic where you really don't understand the language and you know your child is ill. Taking those examples and thinking in terms of your ability to help folks out ties together the mission with the project.

In addition, you should be prepared for a mindset adjustment when your social media policy is being developed and initially launched.

“I think part of this is that you need to grasp that it is sort of unfolding right before your eyes,” Carney says. “And you’ve got to be nimble enough to have an IT organization behind you that can make adjustments as necessary. It is not really very static.”

For the overall technology strategy to be supportable, the pieces of the puzzle have to fit together.

“So you're talking about a customer service component of what you do, you're talking about a marketing piece of what you do, you are talking about a sales piece of what you do,” he says. “All of those roll up into an overall technology strategy.”

Under the surface, there are also technology concerns that your IT department will have to work out.

“So ease of use, accessibility of web browsers being able to address all of the various tools, be it Google Chrome, be it IE 7, I mean you can just go down the list of the opportunities,” Carney says. “And dealing with technology issues around the world, I mean 40 percent of our search comes from outside of the United States. So from our perspective, it becomes a question of localization and where we have our servers. Our organization has a firm footprint in the United States and in Europe. How do we take advantage of our brand in those markets and how do we expand into other markets in order to take advantage of the burgeoning markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China? Those are really critical issues for us as we go forward.”

Finally, be aware that your social media strategy can impact you and Google and Yahoo.

“As you look at search engines and how search engines determine relevancy for websites, the social media strategies deployed by companies are playing an increased role in determining the relevancy of the webpage,” Carney says.

In other words, how much you and your followers use Twitter and Facebook and text about your company affects your placement on a search engine page.

“Where your website shows up in a search engine really depends on how much activity that you receive,” he says. “There are obviously lots of reasons why you do what you do with social media, and one of those is in order to make sure that you appear on the first page whenever you can.”

Be driven to improve

It is often the involvement of employees with the process and the technology that will help lead to successful outcomes.

“We’ve grown the company since its acquisition in 2008 by HCC Insurance Holdings, even while upgrading all the systems, by almost 50 percent,” Carney says. “For the domestic travel market, it has probably grown by 7 percent so even with that I think we are doing things right.”

Of the various ways to keep the 100 employees motivated and engaged, an online suggestion box is especially fitting for a company that uses technology.

HCCMIS deployed a process called “Driven” this past year which is a website internal to the organization and is part of the operating system improvements.

“We created a process to reward employees based upon suggestions to improve our efficiencies that end up being implemented,” Carney says. “We have a specific process in place. A group evaluates the suggestions and selects the best ones. The people who made the suggestions are rewarded based upon the impact the organization undergoes as a result of those suggestions.

“It's all part of the equation for us. It should be an important piece of what you do to recognize people who cared enough about your organization to make the suggestion. For instance, printing can be a big issue. People like to have fulfillment documents with them when they travel. Can they download them themselves, or do they want the company to send them?”

You should ensure that a process to reward employees for suggestions goes across the entire organization.

“It has to be obviously because when you have a company that is so dependent upon technology, you are always worried about unintended consequences,” Carney says. “So what happens if you change this, and how does that translate into other departments? The process for the most part involves trying to invest in and improve the workflow — minimizing steps along the way to allow as much of the work to be done upfront as possible so it is not adjusted later.”

How to reach: HCC Medical Insurance Services LLC, (317) 221-8037 or

The Carney File

Birthplace: Indianapolis, Ind.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in science from Purdue University

What was your very first job?

Serving in the Marine Corps.

What was the best business advice you ever received?

Learn how to sleep on an airplane.

Whom do you admire in business?

L. Ben Lytle. He was the executive who was the catalyst for the transformation of Blue Cross Blue Shield in Indiana into WellPoint, one of the leading health benefits company in the United States. Lytle understood very early the significant role information systems and the Internet would play on a health care company’s ability to compete.

What is your definition of business success?

Success in business can be succinctly summed up as creating value for stakeholders.

Carney on maximizing customer services: We want to make sure that we can provide interactions on a more broad basis: making sure that the call centers that we provide behind-the-scenes for us are able to handle multiple languages, that we are able to do online chat, and we look at all those strategies in order to try to maximize customer services.

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 10:32

Why smart companies do dumb things

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Not a day goes by when I don’t ask myself, “Why do smart companies do such dumb things?”

A sweeping answer is that companies are run by smart people, and smart people do dumb things. However, when smart people assemble in companies, they are still capable of doing dumb, if not even dumber, things. Here are some reasons why.

Consensus. When it comes to doing dumb things, the sum of the parts is less than the whole. Throwing more minds at the problem means more data, more perspectives, more possible solutions, more critiques of these solutions and more minds (and hands) implementing the solution, right?

Possibly, but there’s also the downside of more people: Once consensus starts to build, it’s harder to alter a decision. It’s one thing to argue against a few people; it’s much more difficult to argue against the wisdom of a crowd. Individuals who hold out, question or disagree are labeled as clueless, uncooperative and not team players.

Conviction. Consensus rears its ugly head during the decision-making process. The situation can get worse once implementation occurs because the organization marches along with a firm belief in what it’s doing. At that point, a decision takes on a sacred life of its own, and a company cannot see flaws. Conviction is not inherently bad, and truthfully, it’s an important component of success. The trick is to combine conviction with open eyes and open minds to reduce the likelihood of having a conviction in the wrong thing.

Experts. If there’s anything smart people worship it is other smart people. It’s tough to be strong enough to not defer to an expert. Most experts have a tough time accepting surprises that are outside of their comfort zone.

Good news. A company is constantly assaulted by its competition, customers, governments and schmexperts (schmucks + experts). Faced with this onslaught, good news is an addictive, illegal and dangerous drug. It makes you crave more good news, and you refuse to communicate bad news up the chain of command. Ultimately, it may even make you refuse to hear bad news at all.

Lofty ends. Lofty ends can justify all sorts of weird and inappropriate means. Look no further than the quests for peace that produce mayhem and violence. Or, the desire to make a profit (something that is genuinely good for shareholders and customers) that warps a company’s code of ethics even though the company is made up of smart, honest people. Companies trying to achieve a lofty goal can start believing that any means to achieve it is OK.

So what can you do to prevent doing dumb things?

• Say, believe and act in a way that convinces employees that differences of opinion and diversity of thoughts are good things. Frankly, a couple of curmudgeons is a good thing for a company.

• Don’t be in a rush to meet consensus. In particular CEOs should not rush into a decision even though the image of decisiveness is so seductive.

• Spell things out. It’s not enough to say, “Plug this leak in our company,” and assume that it will be done legally. You should say, “Plug this leak in our company by using only legal, ethical and reasonable methods.” That’s when you’re done.

• Move the crowns. When employees go around saying, “We need to do it this way because Bill/Steve/Carly/Larry wants it this way,” you’re in trouble. It means that employees are making decisions based on what they think will make kings and queens happy, as opposed to what’s right for the customer, employees or shareholders. Good CEOs put the crown on the heads of customers, not themselves.

• Restrict the use of experts to narrow areas. Never use experts to create your product roadmap or marketing plans unless you want MBAs who have never run anything larger than a school snack bar to decide your fate.

• Ask for bad news. Don’t assume it will find you — you have to find it. You should allocate a time that’s specifically for communicating bad news.

• Don’t shoot the messenger who brings the bad news unless he or she caused it.

• And finally, don’t reward the messenger who brings good news unless he or she caused it.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the Web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of 10 books including “Enchantment,” “Reality Check” and “The Art of the Start.” He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through or at