We need more nos.

Last week, dozens of newsletter readers unsubscribed.
I have an idea why, but it still stung.
I’m wired to feel that way (so are you).
But then I remembered something.
Ironically, it was something that I said years ago.
Following a speech and during Q&A with a room full of CEOs.
This was the question, as best as I can remember.
“What’s the one piece of advice you’d give us to help increase sales productivity?”
All eyes were on me (I felt like I was being baited).
“That’s an easy one,” I replied.
“The next time one of your salespeople feels a prospect may not be interested, have him or her say this.”
“Mr. Prospect. I may be way off base, but I get the feeling that we’re not going to be doing business together.”
The questioner looked confused.
So did everyone else in the room.
“And what if the prospect replies, ‘You’re right. We’re not going to be doing business together?'”
“That’s great!” I said.
“Now your salesperson can get on with doing the real work of finding and helping interested people.”
I still sensed skepticism.
“Look, there will be two, and only two, possible reactions to that very honest and direct approach.”
“And both are extremely helpful.”
Here’s the first.
“You’re feelings are wrong. I’m definitely interested.”
“That’s good, because now your salesperson can probe to find out what’s holding that individual back.”
“And the other response is just as good.”
“Yeah, you’re feelings are right. We won’t be doing business together, because . . .”
“And that’s good too!”
“Because now your salesperson can stop bringing that person donuts every week.”
Suddenly, everyone in the room lit up and started writing.
It’s so simple.
We hate the word “no.”
We avoid it like writers avoid clichés.
“No” feels like rejection (it’s not).
And so we gravitate towards “maybe.”
Maybe validates us.
Maybe gives us hope.
We’re living in a world of maybe.
But maybe is dangerous.
Because maybe feels good.
Maybe appeases us.
Maybe keeps us on the same path.
A path that goes ’round in circles.
It’s time to put on the brakes.
If you feel it, say it.
Straighten yourself out.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Certainly not “no.”
No is valuable information.
No is a kick in the pants.
No gets us moving in a different direction.
No helps save our most precious resource.
For as Buddha’s teachings made clear, our real problem is this.
We think we have time.
We don’t.
And that’s why we need more nos.

The story in your head.

Someone asked me to define belief.
And to do so “succinctly.”
So I answered, “Belief is simply the story in your head.”
My casual response gave him pause.
“What story is that?” he asked.
“What ever story you’re telling yourself.”
“To rationalize your feelings and behavior.”
He stared at me, a bemused look on his face.
So I did what I do.
I asked him some pointed questions.
Ones designed to wake him up and illuminate the answer.
“Do you like steak?” I began.
“I do.”
“And do you ever think about the cow?”
Long pause.
“Do you see?” I continued. “The cow is not part of your ‘steak story.'”
“In your story, a steak exists as a separate thing.”
“In fact, in your story steaks have special names.”
“Names which convey meaning and value to you.”
“Like tenderloin, porterhouse and rib eye.”
“But I’ll bet you have no idea if the cow had a name.”
He had had enough.
He got my point.
Here’s the thing about our beliefs.
We don’t want them pointed out to us.
We don’t want to have our comforting stories disturbed.
We don’t want to be woken up from our reassuring routines.
Otherwise, we’ll have to think.
And then, heaven forbid, we may have to change.
Our stories, our beliefs, drive all of our decisions.
From what we try to what we buy.
To question those stories is hard work.
And to get people to question them is even harder.

Winners don’t think.

I was standing in line at one of a chain of gas station/convenience stores.
Inching forward to pay for a cup of coffee.
Suddenly, a disgruntled customer burst in.
“Excuse me,” he interrupted. “The car wash shut down and left soap all over my car.”
The stoic cashier paused and glanced out the window.
At the customer’s soap-covered car.
He then turned and walked away from the register to make a phone call.
Since he was the only employee on duty, the rest of us simply watched and waited.
And waited and waited for his climactic response.
“You’ll have to come back on Monday and speak to the manager.”
The customer was frozen with disbelief.
Had he heard correctly?
He was supposed to drive away with soap all over his car (for which he spent $10).
Figure out how to rinse it all off.
And then go out of his way a few days later and return to “speak to the manager?”
How could a scene so ridiculously wrong be allowed to arise?
Especially in today’s hyper-competitive, customer-connected marketplace?
The notorious boxer Mike Tyson once quipped.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
In my mind, Tyson was trying to convey the character of failure.
Especially in an involved, fast-moving environment.
(Truth be told, one is never quite sure what Iron Mike is thinking or saying).
In the boardroom, on the battlefield, in the ring, or behind a register.
When losers get hit with the unexpected, they flinch.
Instead of confidently working their well-designed plan, they start thinking.
“What should I do?”
And, like the aloof cashier, that’s precisely when they blow it.
Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy made it clear.
“Champions don’t do extraordinary things.
They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking.
Too fast for the other team to react.
They just follow the habits they’ve learned.”
Winners plan.
Winners detail the precise activities required to achieve their desired goals.
Winners train obsessively to instill the requisite habits.
Winners prepare for the unexpected.
And when times get tough, winners follow through on those concrete plans.
Losers, on the other hand, wing it.
Losers do their thinking in the heat of the performance.
Losers convene endless meetings.
Losers let their minds paralyze them with free-flowing information and a plethora of options.
Losers wander into the ring to get punched in the mouth.
After making this view clear during a presentation, a business owner challenged me.
“Are you suggesting that we develop a response for every possible scenario?”
Yes. Yes I am.
You, and your people, should know precisely what to say and what to do when the curtain opens.
Sure, make adjustments when necessary and learn to improvise on the fly.
But always know what role you play in the scene and why.
Winners don’t think when the pressure is on.
They use their mind to plan their work.
Then shut it down and work their plan.

Curling and purpose.

I was half asleep on my couch.
Robotically clicking the TV remote.
Searching for a visual sedative.
And I serendipitously landed on something at cross-purposes.
Something that woke me up.
Curling (yeah, curling).
It turned on my torpid mind.
Because for some reason, it struck me as extremely odd.
An Olympic sport that resembles shuffleboard on ice.
When I changed the channel, I was similarly bemused.
By tournament poker.
A spectator card game with multimillion-dollar prizes.
A few more channels, a few more absurd human endeavors.
And then it hit me!
We’ve got this whole notion of purpose in business completely wrong.
We think it’s about discovering some kind of deep meaning.
A magical “why.”
It’s not.
It’s about something much more pedestrian.
And much more powerful.
Purpose is about enjoying ourselves.
Being engaged, feeling good and having fun.
Curling? Poker?
There’s no bigger purpose than camaraderie, getting better and trying to win.
And the same is true with business.
It doesn’t really matter what you make or sell.
Widgets or water purifiers.
Your purpose is simple.
Striving and achieving.
Community and collaboration.
In a word, enjoyment.
Now, I’m no touchy-feely business guy.
And this is not a virtuous thing to do.
It’s the hardest practical initiative.
And, based on what I’m seeing in the world of work, an urgent necessity.
It’s strange how this suddenly became clear to me.
But as T.S. Eliot wrote:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”