Marketing Manifesto – #4: It’s all about asking the right questions.

I am writing this Manifesto #4 while my class of MBA students are writing their International Marketing case exam.   As the exam started this morning, I listened for the type of questions they asked. Inevitably, I got the usual process questions and the disorientation questions, such as “what is this product [in the case] and what is it used for?”  (natural for a mix of international students as many come from very different cultures than North America).

However, a few questions indicated to me that some pretty significant investigation and analysis was happening, even as the exam started. And as I watched student behavior when they examined the physical samples of the product that were on display, I noted how some students looked for deeper cultural significance..

Over the last decade of teaching business students, I have come to listen more to my students’ questions than to their answers for evidence of their learning and progress.

For myself as a marketer, teacher, business person, and parent, I have also come to understand that the quality of my own questions indicates where I am in understanding something and getting at truth.  If I ask the wrong questions I get lost.  If I ask the right questions I get interesting answers that lead me to interesting truths.

This insight led me to my next Marketing Manifesto Principle…

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#4: It’s all about asking the right questions.


 

The ability to ask the right questions at the right time is infinitely more powerful in marketing than thinking you have the right answers.

 

MBA classroom
What do we learn in classrooms? To ask good questions? I hope so...

When I was doing my own MBA, I remember one student, who after a particular class, left our group and walked over the loading dock of our building to chat with the crew of a commercial delivery truck. “So, how much do you guys make per hour?” he asked them. “How is business?” and “what’s the economy like?” were two other questions he asked. We all laughed at our fellow student, thinking at that time that he was just pretending to be a Big Business Man or something. I mean, what can you learn from delivery guys? The REAL learning was in the classroom, after all.  “We are MBA students, destined to run the free capitalist world!” (groan)

But he wasn’t pretending, nor was he wasting his time when he should have been focusing on classroom learning. In fact, he was a lot smarter than the rest of us.

After all, who would better know the state of the economy than those people who deliver the goods in it?  Who better to know the state of the economy before it is publicly announced in the media than those actually directly involved moving it? And how better to know the state of the economy than by hearing how much commercial shippers are making per hour – those who are invaluable to the economy?

No, he wasn’t playing the fool. I was, by believing that what I put into my head was more important than the questions I asked.

He knew the right questions to ask, the right people to ask, and the right time to ask them.  I didn’t.

How do you learn to ask the right questions?

I could write a book full of professional and personal stories about how I asked the right questions, the wrong questions, or no questions at all, when I should have asked some. But this is not the time and place. I think you get the idea:  Marketing is not about data, information, or your wisdom or someone else’s wisdom. It’s about asking the right questions.

So how do you learn to ask the right questions?

(Good question!)

Some practices to get you started in asking the right questions

1. Stop filling your head with information. In fact, you might consider consciously emptying your head of information.  Stop reading the newspaper, get rid of the big screen TV, sign-off of the torrent of e-newsletters, and donate your already read books to the local thrift store. Seriously. You cannot make space for new questions, and their answers, until you empty your head of what you already know.

 

Meditate...just do it
Meditate...just do it. No freaky postures or zen forests required.

2. And if you are really seeking truth, you have to go further and create awareness space, too. Admit to yourself that your already acquired information, knowledge, beliefs, and learned behaviors are history and of little use to you if you want to understand the “now”. Try meditation, running, yoga, or any other technique that works for you to bring your awareness into the present moment, free and clear of…your own thoughts about the past and the future. Being present in the moment is a habit that you must practice to get good at.  And it is a habit that is essential to being ready to ask the right questions at the right time.

3. Break habits every day.  Eat with the opposite hand you normally use. Walk home from work a different way as many times as you can.  Go to a new place you have never been to at least once a week. Walk slowly rather than your usual fast gait. Bring into your conscious awareness your own habits and purposefully break them – every single day.  Feel the discomfort of doing so and the immediate liberation of your mind from the usual stream of thoughts about the past and planning for the future. Live on the edge of awareness rather than in a fog of mental noise. Breaking habits is about asking questions…good questions about yourself – which allows you to start to asking good questions about other things.

4. Be ready to be a little afraid, a little lonely, and a little sad.  Sorry to tell you this:  Asking really good questions will likely result in other people getting emotionally triggered by the nature of your questions (truth hurts). Your questioning mind will isolate you somewhat as you come out of the mainstream mindset, and will disillusion you to much of what you thought was “true”. All this can make you feel a bit sad and lonely at first.

5. Be ready to be a bit brave, a bit free, and a bit excited.   NOT sorry to tell you this:  Truth is empowering! Asking really good questions is the gaining of power that will help you feel more confident and brave, free from your old fears and doubts, and quite excited about what you are learning and how you are living.  Getting good at asking the right questions at the right time will change who you are into someone quite…well, “strong”, I guess.

(another little secret side benefit: Seeking and offering truth has an incredible affect on your relationships. Get ready for fewer but deeper friendships, more loving connections, and intoxicating passions like you never thought possible.  Incredible people are going to come into your experience when your focus is on seeking and offering truth…ENJOY!)

 

The 4-Hour Workweek
Tim Ferriss asks scary questions...are you ready to ask some too?

6. Start learning from the right people.  Try Tim Ferriss, author of the eye-opening book The Four-Hour Workweek.  This book and Tim’s practices will reshape how you ask questions. He is pretty extreme in his views, but his modus operandi is not.

Check out TED talks for any number of fascinating, insightful, and inspiring people who “walk the walk” of asking the right questions (ted.com).  Find a person who really inspires you? Go to one of their workshops or talks for real and learn from them in-person. And make an appointment with your local hypnotherapist, Buddhist monk, sports psychologist, or “20th Dan” Karate black belt. They all know how to clear their minds, stay present in the moment, and ask the right questions.You can learn a lot from them.

Oh, did I forget to tell you to get rid of the TV? In case I didn’t:  Get rid of your TV.  You can’t learn to ask the right questions by watching people in commercials and sitcoms on TV. You have to practice it, for real in the real world, with real, live people, who can help you learn the skills you need to get good at the practice.

So where does this get you?

Another skill that you need to get really good at marketing.

What happens later?

If you gain some good negotiating and diplomacy skills on top of your ability to ask really good questions, you will be ready for your own marketing and advertising consultancy.

Why a consulting practice? Where does this angle come from?  Why won’t I simply be able to get a great job as a marketer in a big company?

Sorry:  You will be way too smart and way too threatening, to be hired by any normal organization. You would scare the hell out of their staff with the power of your questions and the uncomfortable answers that result!

Most people are not ready for truth.

(Are you?)

Marketing Manifesto – #3: People don’t really know why they are buying what they are buying.

Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box - YUM!!
Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box - YUM!!

I really love eating out at restaurants, tasting the wonderful richness of a Pad Thai dish, the mouth-wateringly subtle mix of flavors in a Japanese Yam Tempura Roll, or the oh-so-addictive Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box.

I am truly a Foodie.

But when I start to think about why I choose to go out for a noodle box on a particular day, I find that I am not really going out to buy a noodle box, even if I am addicted to the Singapore Cashew Curry. No, when I dig down and be truthful with myself, it is for another, quite surprising reason that I choose a noodle box. It is because I can trust that it will be just what I remembered it was last time. I choose a Singapore Cashew Curry noodle box as my lunch because I need to take care of myself and I can trust it to consistently please me.  My choice is not the kind of food I want for taste reasons, but how I want to feel that day – in this example I need to nurture myself.

And I didn’t even think about this until now. 2 years of Singapore Cashew Curry noodle boxes. Not one thought about the real why in all that time.

Which leads to my Marketing Manifesto Principle #3:

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#3: People don’t really know why they are buying what they are buying.

Most purchases are determined by completely hidden subconscious reasons.

People think they are making a particular purchase for conscious, logical reasons.  Not so. These reasons can often be quite illogical to the rational mind, and they are almost always different than the conscious reasons.

As a marketer, figuring out the subconscious factors is absolutely necessary if you are to accurately and consistently deliver what the customer really wants – even if the customer, themself, doesn’t know what they want on a conscious level.

Unfortunately, figuring out these subconscious factors is a challenge because regular surveys, focus groups, and even direct feedback can give you what the customer consciously thinks are the reasons they are buying the product – but most often not the real, underlying reasons.

And pushing to get a the underlying reasons is not usually a good idea:  People don’t like talking about things at a deeper level – doing so generates all kinds of uncomfortable emotions.

Oh, and the subconscious reasons can all be grouped under two headings: Fear and Love.   (surprise, surprise!)

Fear:

We are programmed in our first 7 years of life with a comprehensive set of rules, beliefs, instructions, and lessons. These 7 years form the foundation for everything else that happens in the rest of your life.

The problem?

Being an adult right now in history requires programming that is different than that which you gained in the first 7 years. But you are still playing by those childhood rules, largely without even knowing what they are!

And much or most of that programming is based on fear.  “Touch that stove and you will get burned!!”

Love:

Barbecues and family values - what a combination
Barbecues and family values - what a combination

That same subconscious childhood programming makes people buy things for reasons of deep love.  For example, many people absolutely love a barbecue.  Just the smell of cooking meat on a grill brings a happy smile, excitement, and even a warm feeling of love. Why? because as children, these people had some of their fondest family events centered around a barbecue. For them, a barbecue represents family love, not food.

“OK, so how can we figure out the real reasons people choose to purchase what they purchase?”

I thought you would never ask.

This is my most favorite part! Now we get to do what I consider REAL marketing: Unraveling the mysteries of the human mind and spirit.

(“Oh, boy, oh boy, oh boy!!”)

To start, you have to have develop in yourself a few attitudes and skills. Like never being satisfied with anything that doesn’t feel like absolute truth. And never settling for a simple, logical, unemotional reason. And nurturing the determination of the world’s best detective. And practicing the listening skills of the most sensitive deer in the forest. And fostering the observation skills of the finest eagle, circling a thousand feet up but able to see the tiniest movement of a mouse on the ground. And cultivating a fearless openness to learning things you didn’t know before that challenge your beliefs and values.

Yes all these, and you have to be really hungry for truth.

Then you will figure out why you yourself really buy things.

And from there you will begin to see why other people really buy things.

The world will never be the same for you.

Some tools

Using your newly developed attitudes and skills, the tools fall into your experience easily and quickly.  You observe behavior that doesn’t match with words and you immediately try to figure out the source of the behavior (words come from the conscious mind, subtle behavior from the subconscious). You pick up books you would never have read before and suddenly they have clues and insights of use. You begin to ask new questions that dig deeper and farther than you could have imagined.

For you are learning that marketing is a practice, not a set of knowledge. It is an arcane and intuitive mix of left and right brain thinking.

"The culture code" - A marketer's treasure trove.
"The culture code" - A marketer's treasure trove.

And you gain new marketing heros, like Clotaire Rapaille, author of ” The Culture Code – An ingenious way to understand why people around the world live and buy as they do. “.  Clotaire has the directness and audacity only a Frenchman could have to dig subconscious truth out of people by literally hypnotizing them to do it.

Or behaviorist’s old friend Abraham Maslow, for his so very simple by so very useful “Hierarchy of Needs” model. Sometimes “pooh-poohed” by academics, this model continues to deliver truth, even if those who consider it don’t like what the model implies for them personally.

Or education’s Neil Postman, for his bravery in challenging what the subconscious really learns in those formative young years in school, in his book “Teaching as a Subversive Activity“. Seldom has such a heretic dared challenge the pious sanctity of the school system in a manner that delivers hugely uncomfortable truths…and breathtaking clarity.

Welcome out of the Matrix

Want to be a great marketer? Get yourself out of the Matrix – find out what is really going on under the conscious surface of human behavior.

Uncomfortable the journey will be at times, but also very exciting as the insights and truths about “where it all comes from” begin to pour into your experience…

Marketing Manfesto – #2: There are only two emotions in marketing…

I can’t resist looking for truth. Call it the Bottom Level, the Foundation, or the Root of Things. Whatever you like.

Getting to truth is not an act of mind, but one of feeling.  It is intuition, and it feels so very real. You know when you are in truth. You are not sure of it in your mind perhaps, you can’t prove it with a calculator, nor can you get anyone else to experience it exactly as you do.

But you know it.

In marketing, there can be many levels of truth and many versions of truth.

When considering emotions in marketing (Principle #1), however, I believe the truth is pretty clear – there are only two emotions.

Which leads to my Marketing Manifesto Principle #2:

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#2: There are only two emotions to work with in marketing:
Fear and Love.

People buy things because they want to feel safe from Fear and connected to Love.

People switch back and forth between these two states of emotion continually throughout their day and, when making purchasing decisions, are really reacting from fear or love.

Give me an example…

This is a great principle because it can help you dig down to a person’s core beliefs and philosophies of life that impact on purchasing behavior. The hard part with this principle is that a purchase can be rooted in fear or love, or a combination of both.

I loved getting stickers all over my care packages.
I loved getting stickers all over my care packages.

Example:  A mother sends her son, who is studying in college, a “care” package. This care package contains some new t-shirts, a book of funny comics, some of her son’s favorite chocolates, and a box of condoms.

Was this an act of fear or an act of love? Or both?

From a marketing perspective, when the mother purchased the different items for the care package, she could have different reasons for doing so – rooted in either fear or love:

  • T-shirts:  “I feel ashamed when my son wears old t-shirts. He says they are comfortable, but I think they show that I am a bad mother, not caring for my son. I am buying these new ones so that I won’t be afraid of what other people think of my son and of my parenting of him.”Or:  “I know that my son doesn’t have a lot of money right now as he is studying in college. I thought he might enjoy some new t-shirts, ones with some funny sayings on them, to brighten his day.”
  • Book of comics:  “The messages in this comic book are ones I don’t want my son to forget. I think sometimes he is lazy and I fear that he won’t take care of his obligations. This comic book is all about the funny things that happen to people when they are lazy. Maybe he will get the message.”Or:  “This is an absolutely hilarious book of comics. I think my son will get a laugh out of it too – I hope he enjoys it as a break from all his hard work in studying.”
  • Who wouldn't want to get chocolates in a care package?
    Who wouldn't want to get chocolates in a care package?

    Chocolates: “I want my son to remember to call me. Chocolates will show I love him and he will remember to call me because I am afraid my son will forget me and I will be alone for the rest of my life.”

    Or: “I saw the box of chocolates in the store and a deep sense of love came over me as I remembered that they are his favorite kind. I bought them knowing he would enjoy them.”

  • Box of condoms:  “I know that in college students experiment with all kinds of things, including sex. I am afraid he will get someone pregnant and then will have to quit college to make money. Or he will catch a disease. I am buying this box to protect him from what I am afraid will happen to him.”Or:  “I loved the freedom I gained in college. I bought these condoms as a small message to him to not always study, but to expand his learning to include all the loving, joyful experiences he can have in these great years of his life.Or:  Both reasons could be true…

…which is where it gets tricky. Often there are more than one reason for purchasing decisions.  Some based in fear, some in love.

So what?

Understanding the one or more emotionally rooted reason for purchasing decisions can be the foundation for all marketing activities for a product or brand.

Toyota, for example, is known in North America as the “safest” vehicle from a “not breaking down” quality perspective. Understanding that they are dealing with the emotion of “fear of breaking down at night on a winter highway 100km from the nearest civilization”, particularly to older purchasers, is key to understanding that they must deliver this sense of “safety from fear” to this group. The Toyota Corolla, for example, is marketed perfectly in this way, through advertising and the product design itself, being one of the most boring vehicles ever produced, and one of the most reliable:

“I don’t want a flashy vehicle. I just want to be sure it gets me where I am going. I no long care about fancy stuff. I just don’t want to break down.”

Toyota is not only dealing with the “fear of breaking down” emotion. There are dozens of important fears and loves they are dealing with in different target markets and intermingled as well.  The Toyota Prius, for example, could be purchased for a fear reason – “I bought a Prius so people won’t think badly of me for driving instead of taking public transit”, or a love reason – “I love going on long driving trips that take me to places in America I can never see without a vehicle.  The Prius allows me to do so in a way that I can afford, because it has such great fuel economy.”

Why only Fear and Love in marketing to emotions?

1. Because all other emotions are really rooted in one of these two.

2. Because by staying focused on the root of things – the truth of the emotions you are working with – you won’t get lost in your marketing:  You will make and market goods and services that consistently deliver the emotions of Fear or Love.

Oops. I think I should have said “safety from Fear” and Love.

Hmmm….maybe not.

The Power of Marketing:

Careful here: You have a lot of power in marketing. How do you want to use it? For Fear or Love? What is your truth?

“What have I learned from all this?” – Marketing Manfesto – #1

 

A Marketing Manifesto

I believe marketing is a “method” that combines both art and science. It is a game of continually seeking truth that you have to be determined to win.  You must use both your left and right brain hemispheres to really gain truth. To be a great marketer, you have to be brave, take chances, make mistakes, live with those mistakes, and stay in the game despite any discomfort you experience on the way. You have to push your mind outside of your “box” every single day.

You have to do yoga and climb mountains.

You have to be passionate and be calculating.

You have to believe everything and believe nothing.

And most of all, you have to learn about yourself. For in turning inwards you free yourself to understanding truths about the world.

And that can make you great at marketing (…and just about anything else in life, too.)

Paul Kurucz

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#1:  People buy emotions, not products.

 

People want to feel things from their products and services. They don’t buy things for the function delivered, but rather for how their purchases will make them feel.

Give me an example…

No, this not some purchases or many purchases, but all purchases.  Hard to believe?  Check out this example of what most people would consider a boring, functional product:

(How can he hold a lit bulb?)
(How can he hold a lit bulb?)

A person buys a light bulb. A functional purchase, right?  No emotions involved?

Not really:  When a light bulb burns out and a person replaces it, how do they feel?

Some possibilities:

  • “When see a light bulb dark and burnt out, I feel that my home is neglected and I feel bad about that.”
  • “I feel depressed when it is dim and dark in my home.”
  • “When I get a new light bulb, I feel happy that my home is bright again.”
  • “I enjoy reading. When I change the light bulb, I can read more easily again.”
  • “I feel great buying low energy consuming light bulbs because I feel good contributing to conservation. When light bulb burns out it gives me an opportunity to replace it with a better one.”

See the point? Every one of those reasons has a foundation in feelings – one or more emotion.

So what?

When you consider that every single product or service is really a delivery vehicle for emotions, you can  focus on helping people feel the emotions they want to feel through your product or service!

Continuing our example of the light bulb, if you keep the emotion(s) in mind that buyers of light bulbs want to feel, there are some really simple things you can do in marketing to help them feel the emotion(s):

    • Have your light bulbs available wherever people feel they are buying things to help them feel they are caring for their home.
    • Illustrate and describe on the light bulb package how your light bulbs will help a purchaser feel.
What is nicer than a great book...under a warm light bulb?
What's nicer than a great book...under a warm light bulb?
  • Dark packaging? Ummm…no. How about bright, colorful, cheerful packaging?  After all people aren’t buying darkness – they are buying light!  Illustrate this in packaging!
  • Packaging and advertising can show scenarios where people feel emotions. How about a picture of a person sitting under a warm light reading a book with a smile of contentment on their face?
  • Association is a powerful marketing tool. Put the color green, with a picture of green trees and the word “green” on your light bulb packaging and “VOILA!”:  People get the happy feeling of being associated with the energy conscious generation and doing the “right” thing, a very satisfying feeling for many.

Two challenges with the “emotional delivery” approach to marketing:

1.  You have to figure out what emotions people want to feel. This is no easy task: First, you have to get your own emotional beliefs out the way about the product/service – your own biases. Then you have to dig deep to really understand the emotional underpinnings. Most people don’t want to talk about their buying behavior this way: It leads to uncomfortable feelings that include “why am I buying this anyway? Am I that simple?”  So you have to be an emotional detective to really get to truth. A really good one.

2.  Most business people, including many marketers, don’t understand the emotional core of marketing. Somewhere along the line business became about the scientific method, financial accounting, and statistical process control. All good things, but not great to use as primary tools in the messy world of “emotions”.

So, once you get some great insights into the emotional products that people want, you have to then spend the next 6 months explaining, convincing, re-explaining, and explaining again what you are talking about to those who think that marketing the product/service is mechanical.   “Arggghhh….!!!”

Welcome to Marketing:

50% hard work figuring out what emotions people want to feel and how your product/service can help them get those feelings.

And 50% hard work getting your graphic designer, engineer, boss, accountant, banker, and mother to understand what you are talking about.


A fitting first post: “Just Write!”

It can be hard getting started. Writer’s block, that is. But not this time. I have much bubbling in my mind and spirit that I wish to express and share. 

Hopefully most of it  of use to readers.

Definitely much of it cathartic for me.

Some just plain funny and bizarre.

Enjoy!

Paul Kurucz
“Perpetual Traveller”

Success Orientations and brain hemispheres

I am working through a book called “Unleashing Your Brilliance” by Brian E Wash and ran across a page comparing the traits of the opposing brain hemispheres. The right hemisphere has interesting traits as “recall’s people’s faces”, “people-oriented”, and “seeks similarities”, among others. The left hemisphere has traits such as as “recall’s people’s names”, “structure-oriented”, and “seeks differences”.

Sound familiar?

Quite clearly there is a big crossover between how the different hemispheres of the brain look at the world and success orientations. Left-brained people – those who look at the world through a logical, organized view seem to line up quite nicely with process-oriented individuals and right-brained with relationship oriented people.

Process and relationship orientations are not by any stretch of the imagination new or terribly unique. They do, however, provide a new and particularly useful perspective when used in conjunction with the goal orientation. Everyone wants to achieve success. How they do so, with their particular mix of relationship, process, and goal, makes them come at challenges in different ways with very different side-effects and outcomes.

Studying left and right hemisphere traits, and learning to use both together, is really fascinating and useful stuff. Check out Brian’s excellent book for more on how the brain works.

Another perfect fit!

patisserieAnother perfect fit! My teenage son went to work for a bakery recently. Being a process-goal mix, he latched onto baking in a Patisserie – AKA a fancy French bakery making everything from bread to quiches to muffins and wedding cakes – as the perfect job. His brother, when visiting him at the bakery said:

“I have never seen him so happy!”

A bakery is a perfect job for a process-goal mix person. Why? You have to follow a variety of recipes (set processes) , you get to work on batches of goods (repeating processes) and you get to achieve goals “It is so cool seeing 400 muffins come out of the oven – and you made them!”. There is enough repetitive process to allow you to feel grounded, but enough variety in the different processes to keep you from getting bored…and of course, lots of goals every day to fulfill.

Other perfect jobs for process-goal oriented people?

patisserie2

Aligning yourself with the best organizational culture…for you.

universityYou would think I would know this stuff, right? Here I am, stressing over whether I should leave my (now past) employer and step into the unknown. Did I once include my natural success orientation mix into the decision? Did I relate my uncertainty and stress back to who I am and what the organzation I had been working for was like, and what they were transforming into?

Heck no. All I thought about was my loss of financial security and my stress as I tried to continue to fit into what was getting to be a harder and harder institution to work for.

Ack. It was definitely time for an epiphany. And it came: My employer was now more process oriented than relationship oriented and shifting rapidly even more so. What had been a small, community focused institution with a strong relationship oriented leadership was now transforming into a larger, process oriented one. Now, the new hires, mostly PhD process oriented academics, were pushing hard to get rid of the relationship aspect and force a new, more predictable (read: process oriented) structure into place. Don’t get me wrong: Bad things happen when institutions grow and they are trying to be run on relationship alone. But education as a whole, particularly at the post-secondary level which on the surface espouses departure from the norms (‘process”), should not be about process, but about achieving goals and doing so while learning what processes work and don’t work, and learning to get along with peers and build relationships across boundaries.

So, here I was, a strong relationship and goal oriented person, becoming increasingly more uncomfortable as the symptoms of this change were becoming more painful for me: I would be almost in tears when I heard things from my peers like “the student used a non-standard font in the footer of her paper” and “the standard structure for the thesis was not followed” (with marks deducted for both). Needless to say, there is no “standard font” and the whole concept of forcing a student into a “standard structure” is so scary to me that I almost gagged when I heard it for the umpteenth time. Where was the “relationship” or the “human development” in this picture?

Well, I got the message and not long ago I left the security of a predictable paycheck and started in a new city at a new instition to me. “As one door closes another opens” is an old saying. Well it was true: The new institution is very relationship oriented, with people-centred communication, relaxing staff social events, and a real focus on getting to know students (read: relationships and human development).

Big sigh of relief for me.

And a wry shake of my head: I should have known better. I work with this stuff all the time. Align your success orientation mix with a job and an organizational orientation mix that matches yours and you will be a MUCH happier. Period.

Bikram Hot Yoga – wow!

I had the interesting experience of trying out something new the other day: Bikram Hot Yoga. Essentially, you are in a room that is set to about 100-120 degrees Farienheit (39-45 Celsius) for 90 minutes. In this room they have an “instructor” at the front who talks loudly into a microphone at you for essentially the whole time. You are expected to work through a whole series of quite challenging yoga moves, one after another in rapid succession to the tune of “PUSH-HARDER!!-REACH FURTHER!!-HOLD-FOR-5-MORE-SECONDS!!!-FOUR-THREE-…”.

For 90 minutes this went on, move after move, the largely out of shape participants mechanically working through the moves in this glaringly flourescent lit room in a mess of sweat and toil. After about 30 minutes I gave up and because the leader asked us to stay in the room for the whole time, even if we didn’t follow the moves, I stayed in the room, stretching, breathing, and just working hard…to get the instructor’s loud voice out of my head!

East meets west: What is Bikram Hot Yoga? In the incarnation I experienced it is yoga translated by the goal oriented mind. From what I could tell, this was not the yoga method as I had learned it, but more a yoga workout, for the achievement of a goal.

Now don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that some people won’t really get a lot out of it. Heck, a workout is a workout and if you sweat some crap out of your system when you do it then good for you.  But this was not yoga – it was a goal-oriented boot camp.

A large group facilitation…

DCP_3777Last Friday I did a workshop for a large group. The venue was a hotel ballroom and a nice lunch was put on for everyone by my client. I was contracted to deliver a full day of experiential team building to help a diverse group come together. I was told to expect an attendance of 60, which is fairly hefty for one person, so I was joined in the process by a counselor co-facilitator I knew well and 2 assistants on top of that.

The day went very well and the participants came out really happy and excited about what they had experienced and learned. But it did not go off exactly as planned! Firstly, Friday was the last day before a long weekend. Secondly, the event was voluntary for participants.

The net result? Only 40 people turned up. And when I put self-assessment questions up on the computer projector for the group to determine their mix of success orientations, a sea of hands rose whenever the answers were process oriented. No hands rose for the goal oriented answers and only 2 or 3 hands went up for relationship. The goal oriented folks were likely off doing goal oriented stuff at the start of a beautiful British Columbia end of summer weekend. Hiking, cycling, or kayaking, I would guess. The relationship oriented types were off getting to know new folks from their cultural communities – I often see groups of them doing this on the ferry to Vancouver. They are heading off to have some fun and meet friends in the big city.

So there I was, working through success orientations and trying hard to create a nice hum of contrast and what I find was that the only ones who had come that day were those who followed established processes – in this case a day of team building experiences. Hmmmm…

When I reflected later on this situation I noted again the challenges we have working with people of different orientations. I am not a process oriented person by nature. By nurture I sure am, but it is easy for me to drop the veneer and get back to my true self. When working in a workshop environment under pressure, my natural strengths come out and I like to let them fly. So my co-facilitator had a chuckle along with me as we saw the emerging pattern of attendees. Not what we had expected, but also not a problem. Some quick adjustments to our plans and we pulled off a great day for the attendees. Lots of structured exercises ending in a raffle for a variety of items that resulted from an earlier experience in the day. Thankfully we are both experienced facilitators who can work outside of our natural orientations.

But it did irk me a little because what the process oriented attendees needed was exposure to other people with different mixes of orientations. And vice versa. Getting these different types of people together can be a challenge, but it is really worth it to see the sparks fly and help them see through the initial tension. That is what I love to do in facilitation: Help people move on to new and more productive modes of working together. From a starting point of friction caused by very different ways of doing things and ways of seeing the world, you can help them see others in a new light, one that is far more positive and respectful. I have found that you can never eliminate frustration, but you can minimize it and build tolerance through helping people feel good about themselves.

 

A very strong process orientation

I had a philosophical disagreement this week with another faculty member. Basically this instructor believes that students should follow a template for completing their graduate thesis work. “I do consider the process resembling a ‘paint-by-numbers‘ approach” is a direct quotation.

Further arguments used in favour of a standard format approach included:

1. “…most of the IE [international education] students in the MBA program do not have a good command of the English language, and they are not used to working in unstructured settings.”

2. “…the standard format provides them with more focus and structure, and generally…results in a better grade for the student.”

3. “…grades are given for specific tasks [tasks=structural components being present is the implication], and the marker is asked to judge how well that task was accomplished.”

I respectfully disagreed and left this a philosophical difference – which it really is. Obviously a process orientation dominates my peer’s way of thinking. Rather than provide a line by line rebuttal, which would fill a book, I thought to leave my notes here with a few questions in response:

1. How do people learn to work in unstructured settings? By being given structure or by being given a “safe” and supportive environment in which to find ways of generating their own structure? And at a Masters degree level, should we still be giving structure – any structure – to students? When Masters degree graduates get into the real world, will they be taking up positions doing highly structured work or will they have to be the ones who create structure for others to follow? If the latter is the case, then shouldn’t they be getting ready now in our post-secondary institutions?

2. By following the standard format we may get better grades (from this one instructor only!), but will we be successful in life by always being followers? More importantly, what if the standard format leads us to an incorrect output? What if life is not about standard formats but about change, uncertainty, and finding your way through tangled and often conflicting messages? The “standard format” for the American Way of Life, for example, is consume as much as you can, have as big a house as you can in the suburbs, and maximize the size of your SUV. What is the output of this standard template? Global warming, huge disparities between the rich and the poor in the world, economic imperialism, and more. Perhaps people should focus less on following someone else’s standard template in life and more on creating their own?

3. In the end, do grades matter? Will anyone look at your grades once you graduate? Will the bottom line of your company reflect how well you as a manager, for example, followed a standard template? Does it matter how much “stuff” you have collected at the end of your life following the American Way of Life? Will you look back bitterly and wish you had not judged your own accomplishments (and lack of them) by the limited criteria of a standard template?

All interesting questions. And all part of where philosophies and views of the world differ. Success orientations play a part by being both a cause and by being a result of these ways to thinking.

First Thoughts: Success Orientations in the movies

I love observing human behavior and trying to figure out why people do the things they do. Maybe it is because I find the contrast between the logic of science and the seeming illogic of human behavior so fascinating. I use the word “seeming” because once you dig a bit deeper into human behavior there is almost always some sort of clever logic going on, even if it is based on shaky foundations.

So when I see a TV show or movie that makes me tilt my head like a dog does when he is trying to figure something out, I delight in digging deeper to see how the script writer and director worked to put together certain behaviors.

A delightful case in point is a new series running on the SciFi channel this summer called “Eureka“. The setting is the Pacific Northwest in a town full of scientists gathered by the U.S. government. The environment and the government installation where most of them work is top secret and high security. Due to the off-the-wall nature of some of the scientists and their creations, the scene is set for strange and interesting drama. I chose this one series out of zillions of examples because part of it was filmed where I live – so it hits close to home, so to speak.

What is particularly interesting is the characters emerging and how they fit the success orientations model so perfectly. Here are a couple of examples:

First is the new Sheriff Carter, scripted to be a primary goal and secondary process oriented lawman. This is the typical old-west Sheriff updated to the 21st century – get to the heart of the crime even if it will kill you (goal orientation), do so within the bounds of the law and due process if you can (secondary process orientation) and relationships can just go and hang themselves. In the series he is divorced from his wife and at odds with his daughter, who has barely seen him since birth since he works all the time achieving goals.

The not-so-normal sidekick to the Sheriff is an extreme process oriented deputy named Jo, played by an ex-military, gun-loving toughie. Jo is so process oriented that she cleans her guns constantly, and uses the want ads to find a date, allowing the Sheriff’s daughter to help her sort out the illogic of matchmaking. When at odds with the Sheriff, she uses processes to keep him from achieving his goals as in the 4th episode when he wants access to cool sci-fi weaponry but she won’t let him until he passes a knowledge test. Besides being “relationship challenged” goals are secondary to her process orientation. When the phone rings she waits for the Sheriff to answer it, regardless of how long it rings, again struggling with him in the establishment of process dominance. Process oriented people love controlling the processes to be sure they achieve success. Jo was at odds because the normal promotion process didn’t pay off: She was passed over for promotion to Sheriff. Perhaps it wasn’t because she couldn’t shoot a gun but because she was so grossly weak in terms of relationships!

When authority figures come into contact with the public in the daily completion of their duties they have to have some relationship orientations skills at the very least but at best can use all three orientations well. This balanced individual is typically extremely effective at their job.

Our media is packed with examples of different orientation mixes playing themselves out. Good script writers put different mixes at odds with each other for the purposes of conflict, drama, love, and comedy.

OK, a promise to myself: I won’t start to dissect everything I watch. BORING. Just enjoy some of them, like the new Battlestar Galactica series where the really goal oriented Commander Adama is at odds with his relationship-starved son…