A simple, quick scene of me in my parents’ room, back in the day in Rochester, watching my dad lace up his basketball shoes on his way out for a men’s league. The room placed the date, and the date placed my age. For some reason quick math fired off in my head to tell me that in that image, my dad was the same age as I was…right then.
That was the first moment in my life that I could actually remember my father being my age. It messed me up for days. Where I was at 28 was surely, certainly, and without a doubt unworthy of the respect and awe that the 5-year old me could recall holding for my dad when he was my age. Pulling on those black and white Adidas high tops was the precise moment when I stopped wishing I was a kid again and resigned myself to being a grown up.
I’m a little messed up again these last few days. I have no idea where the thought came from, but I realized that Emma is the same age I was when my dad was getting ready for that basketball game; the boys are not far off either, really.
I'm feeling...like I need to get my hair cut.
A bad morning. I woke up late to cranky kids who couldn't even decide on a flavor of pop-tarts when I had given in to my convenience over their health. The whole get-to-school system got completely fubar when I had to shave and dress with the cell in my ear to deal with some work crisis that I never really understood. Finally, after clothes and shoes fly back and forth from the top of the stairs to the foyer and back, I focused an inappropriate level of my anxiety on Emma finally getting her coat on so we can get in the car. I helped the boys, grabbed some coffee. No coat on the girl. I ask again. Get the boys in the car, buckled, back inside… No. Coat. On. The. Girl. I lose it more than I should, “Why didn’t you put your coat on yet!?!?”
And she stands toe-to-toe, gathering all of the righteous anger a 5 going on 6 going on 15 year old girl can muster and screams, “BECAUSE. YOU. DIDN’T. GET. ME. MY. PINK. SOCKS!”
I fall back on my butt on the steps behind me, open my arms, and give her a huge hug as she starts to cry. Dammit, she is right. Dammit, I am an ass.
A good afternoon. We are pushing hard at work. We are a Dairy Queen swirl of internal and external needs for change and everyone on my team wears the goofy paper hats I remember the soft serve folks wearing at the DQ next to Pennington Field back in the day. Not everyone around us, however, is down with the change. After a few months of a Godzilla vs. Rodan struggle of old versus new, a much needed infusion of cooler heads stepped up with a surprisingly effective and energizing half day session on managing change.
I am generally a pretty cold skeptic toward what often seem like scripted and overt business-psychology ruses, but in this case, breakthroughs were made. The key moment for me came later in the day when we were discussing how hard it was to get folks to buy into key messages when the resident guru stopped the conversation with an old saw. What you say and how you say it are way, way low on the priority list when crafting strong, effective communications. Start first with what you want the audience to know, feel, and do.
Know. Feel. Do.
Until you have that clear in your own head, you will stumble over what you say and how you say it. As soon as you get that set…gold. KNOW. FEEL. DO.
The one thing I am most trained and purportedly experienced in is communication, on many levels. The one thing, however, that I most consistently screw up and suffer grievous metaphorical head wounds from getting wrong is also…(wait for it)…communication. Home work family friends north south living zombies rocks trees and emerging life forms…I am either on or off when it comes to the words. I don’t do gray here. And I am a poor predictor of when I will actually get it right.
So back to Emma. In the negotiating of that day’s wardrobe, I had bartered approval of her wearing the outfit I had chosen if I would let her swap for the pink socks she had grown to love in the 8 seconds she had been considering her affections for such things. Now, the whole morning ritual includes kids getting dressed and then ceremonially gathering at the bottom of the stairs to put their socks on…together. Then their shoes…together. THEN…their coats. In the tumult of the morning, I had made it known to Emma what I expected. I had even gotten her all worked up about the importance of this grand and mighty task. But, in failing to deliver the pink socks…I had left her unable to do what she knew she needed to do, something she felt she wanted to do. I left her…frustrated. (heh.) Good on her for telling me about it.
Now back to work. Most of us are very good at relaying information. Fact known Here is transferred to the appropriate There…via email or voicemail, or (archaically) memo, or (even more rarely, in person). We deliver facts and dry knowledge with the pompous certainty that the implications are self-evident, that the desires and drives that this little factotum inherently…means…are somehow energizing from the moment they are uttered. That somehow knowing something implies caring about it, that facts imply feelings.
Even in those instances where we get all jazzed about what we are saying, and we get those around us fired up to do something about today’s bit of insight, the whole scene falls flat if there is no sense of what anyone can do about it, whether it is because the path to success is not clear or the value in making the effort just does not seem…worth it. Either way, we flatline.
So, you told someone, but do they give a shit? If they give a shit, do they know what to do about it? If they know what to do about it, do they give enough of a shit to do what needs to be done? And even if they have all that…NOW…do they have what it needs to be done?
Know. Feel. Do. If you are going to say something, anything…what do you want your listeners to know, feel, and do? And have you done what you need to ensure that the next time you say something people will care enough to do it? So you said it, do they give a shit? If they do, have you done your share to get it done?
Even if it is just getting the pink socks you promised out of the dryer…
I work with a guy who spent several years at Gartner, a research firm that tracks the business of technology. Gartner takes special interest in how and when emerging technologies will be ready for companies to lay down bets on them actually, you know…working.
The mojo behind firms like Gartner (and Forrester and Jupiter et al.) lies in their ability to quickly summarize complex technologies and the landscape of options in simple ways that even us ADD marketing folks can grasp. Forrester is famous for their wave and Garter counters with their magic quadrant. What is nice about working closely with someone from this world is that he can take our wacky ideas and thinly stretched plans and give that gloss of professionalism, make them look like we actually know what we are talking about. (I mean, of course we do…and, like, stuff.)
Gartner also lays claim to a model they have dubbed the “hype cycle,” that lays out a typical evolution of the roller coaster of perceptions a promising new technology will face in the market place. The fact that key stages of the cycle bear snark-laden labels like, “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” “Trough of Disillusionment,” and “Slope of Enlightenment” makes it clear that Gartner is not looking to be especially complimentary of the zeitgeist that tends to follow the “next-new-thang” in technology circles. Expectations rise unreasonably fast but give over to a harsh fall the morning after. Disappointment is presumed in this model.
Cynical as it may seem, the hype cycle has proven to be exceptionally prescient since it debuted around 1995. Gartner likes to tout how it was used to predict the bursting of the dot-com bubble, and annual updates of where the latest shiny toys fall within the cycle are anxiously awaited and oft-cited events. Having noodled around South of Market, dabbled in start-up ventures, and stumbled trying to get new technologies into battleship companies, I declare that the hype cycle is real.
I concede, of course, that while real, the basic mass hysteria notion underlying the concept of the hype cycle is not a Gartner original. In fact, what got me thinking a little more about this was the fact that nearly every mention of this idea leads to my Gartner alum colleague quipping that, “EVERYthing follows the hype cycle,” with a smirk revealing that this he is not trying to be especially complimentary of the fundamental order of things.
It is a cynical notion, a lemming rush to unrealistic expectations followed by an almost inevitable plunge into disappointment. The ray of hope in the model comes when cooler heads prevail and find a more reasonable, practical, sustainable role for some of these once-hyped technologies that bring real benefits to consumers and long term value to the shareholders.
The thought that takes me down the rabbit hole here swirls around whether my Gartner pal might be right in the ubiquity of the hype cycle and, if so, whether its underlying jab at inflated expectations applies more broadly as well. To put a finer point on it, we all get excited…we all get disappointed…with everything from relationships to jobs to lottery tickets to unopened FedEx. But…so what? For instance, if you take the sober rational “big company shareholder value” approach to emerging technologies, you never toe the leading edge (let alone rail grind the bleeding edge), you stake claim in being a fast follower, a conservative adopter of technologies that have already proven their value and scale. I get it. Trust me. Even the hippest of technology companies can deliver duds.
But let’s get away from the technology of business for a moment and consider that initial rush of the new. If you run a business funded by other people’s money, then being easily excitable, being one who rushes to the mere possible…these are not traits that likely make you a good steward of outside investment. Fair enough. But say we are talking about our own expectations and dreams and fears AND we grant that we are weak sauce irrational at our core, running up the escalators that would have gotten us there anyway, hoping hype this time will deliver it all, knowing that likely it won’t. Knowing that statistics tell us beyond a reasonable doubt that we are reading too much in to what could be with that new ________________. Knowing that we will likely be disappointed.
The Big Honking Question: knowing all that, do I go all eTrade monkey and go for it, or do I go Fortune 100 CEO and…wait it out, catch the things important to me only once they have demonstrably leveled off at the “Plateau of Productivity?” My prose betrays my preference.
My biggest regrets come from making my biggest decisions buying in markets on the Productivity Plateau, picking up the Consumer Reports best buys from among the proven and safe picks…making my decisions based on the roller coaster rides others took. Such acts are safe…transactions. Fair…exchanges, like for like. Such acts are not the stuff of dreams.
But here is the subtlety…and in this is all. The trick, I think, is not in chasing all that is shiny, no more than it is in accepting only the safe. I think it lies in something like knowing that passion and loyalty and commitment and wonder can only come from riding out the whole cycle, placing bets, being there when it is risky so you have a well of value to draw on later. That means getting on eyes open, knowing that the first hill on the roller coaster is always the highest, but also that it is the only one that has a shot at giving you the momentum to get through it all. And that sometimes it won’t. Fair enough. I need to make myself strong enough to handle that.
But, given a choice, get me high. I know it won’t last just like that, but I have to be ok with that.
So, in short…please, disappoint me. Soon. It’s the only hope in the long run.