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A few years ago I was a business analyst at a software company.  One of the magazines I subscribed to was Pragmatic Marketing.  I always enjoyed reading this magazine because I found the things they talked about could easily be applied to my job.  One day I received a package from Amazon.com, and inside was this book.  The writers from the magazine got together and wrote the book, and lucky for me I got it for free.

Summary

Tuned In is about focusing on your customers and potential customers in a unique way that creates memorable experiences.  A common quote said throughout the book, “Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.”  It doesn’t matter what you think.  You need to tailor your products and services toward your customer.  They use examples throughout the book that further explain this, and the one that stands out easily is the iPod.  Other companies made MP3 players but they didn’t listen to their customers to find out what they really wanted.  Apple got it right, and now they own the majority of the MP3 player market.  At the other end of the spectrum are companies that are “Tuned Out, such as the former Circuit City.  In order to save money, they decided to fire their experienced employees and hire cheaper replacements.  Look at what is currently  happening to Blockbuster.  They can’t seem to find a way to win over customers, and chains are closing all over the country.  Companies need to connect with their customers if they want to stay in the game, and this book offers a great strategy on how to achieve that goal.

Chapter 1: Why Didn’t We Think of That

This chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book.  The authors explain their reason for coming together to write the book.  One major point I took from this chapter is that innovation isn’t always the answer, focusing on revenue often leads to failure, and listening to your customers creates dangerous false signals.  This is explained in more detail in Chapter 2.

In the past, I’ve had my own concerns with companies that use revenue as their driving factor.  These companies believe “We need to create more revenue so we can survive.  Therefore, we’ll focus on generating more sales, and that will allow us to hire more support reps.  Having more support reps will shed a better light on our product, create more referrals, and generate more sales.”  The problem I have with that approach is you lack service early on, and you can never get good referrals if you don’t have good service to back up your early sales.  The book refers to this tuned-out approach as ‘inside-out’ thinking.  If companies were tuned in, they would develop a better product from the start, and strike a balance between sales and support.  Customers would like the product, refer it to others, and new sales would be generated.  The book refers to this tuned-in approach as ‘outside-in’ thinking. Tuned in companies listen to what the market demands, understands their problems, and creates products and services that buyers want to pay to solve.

The chapter also summarizes the steps in the Tuned In Process, which become chapters later on in the book.  They are:

Step 1: Find Unresolved Problems – How do we know what market and product to focus on?

Step 2: Understand Buyer Personas – How do we identify who will buy our offering?

Step 3: Quantify the Impact – How do we know if we have a potential winner?

Step 4: Create Breakthrough Experiences – How do we build a competitive advantage?

Step 5: Articulate Powerful Ideas – How do we establish memorable concepts that speak to the problems buyers have?

Step 6: Establish Authentic Connections – How do we tell our buyers that we’ve solved their problems so they buy from us?

Another concept used throughout the book is the creation of a ‘resonator’.  The idea is to create a product or service that buyers want to talk about, want to buy, and will recommend to others.

The leaders at organizations need to be able to answer the following questions:

  • What business are we in?
  • What business are we not in?
  • Who are our buyers?
  • What’s unique about our offering?
  • What’s our positioning strategy?
  • How can we compete?
  • Why do the other guys seem to win more often?
  • How can we turn a profit?

One of the bullets in the chapter summary that I really liked says, “Organizations make the same common mistakes again and again: guessing at what the market wants, basing products and services on what current customers request, and trying to create a need in the market by relying on expensive advertising or an army of salespeople.”

Chapter 2: Tuned Out…and Just Guessing

Some companies don’t understand their customers.  They think a newer product is better than the existing product because it is newer.  Some examples:

  • A company in the 60’s designed a better mousetrap than the regular wooden ones.  It was a total flop and the company reverted back to the older product.
  • The U.S. Government issued dollar coins and no one used them.  What is ironic is they tested the coins before putting them in circulation and the results of the study said it would fail.  They chose to ignore the study.  (This reminds me of putting Jay Leno on at 10pm.)
  • A refrigerator that was connected to the internet.  It included a screen with an LCD display, MP3 playback,  and a webcam among other features.  Did anyone stop to ask if people wanted all this on the fridge?  What problem did this solve?

There is a really  nice graph in the book that shows how Tuned In companies can be successful.  On the Y axis is Unit Sales Growth.  On the X axis is customer satisfaction.  There are 4 quadrants in this graph.

  • Low Sales & Low Customer Satisfaction = Innovation is Everything
  • Low Sales & High Customer Satisfaction = Customers Know Best
  • High Sales & Low Customer Satisfaction = Revenue Cures All
  • High Sales & High Customer Satisfaction = Tuned In

In my experience, companies often get stuck in High Sales & Low Customer Satisfaction, followed by Low Sales & High Customer Satisfaction.  With the former, they believe revenue fixes all problems but get caught in a vicious circle and customers are never happy.  With the latter, they try to keep current customers happy that they lose focus of the other areas of running a business, such as developing new products and features that would bring in new customers.  A company needs to strike the balance between keeping current customers happy and generating new sales.

The only time a company should innovate a product is when the new features solves new problems of current customers or problems for a different type of customer.  If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.  Companies can’t worry about the competition if they aren’t focused on what the real problem is: what the market problems are that buyers encounter.  Companies that solve this problem will be successful.

The authors ask some really good questions to these points mentioned above.  A couple that I liked are, “How often do you participate in internal meetings to discuss ‘strategy’ or ‘positioning’ or ‘messaging’ and then the entire discussion is based on the opinions of the people in the room and not the facts?” and “How often does the person with the loudest voice in your conference room (or the executive with the biggest title) win an argument?” and lastly my personal favorite, “How often are your organization’s internal problems (to get a product to the market, reduce costs, or impress the board and shareholders) more urgent to you than your buyers problems?”

Chapter 3: Get Tuned In

This chapter discusses the steps that should be taken prior to starting the Tuned In process.  One thing they mention is that listening to your existing customers is not enough.  The reason is because then you are only solving current problems.  You are not innovating and creating new things which would allow you to grow.  An example they use in the book is with the car sharing service Zipcar.  Zipcar allows you to live in a big city but still travel short distances by renting a car for a few hours.  You can rent a car to go to the grocery store and return it when you’re done.  It seems like such a great idea, yet none of the existing car rental companies thought of it for over 50 years.  The authors say that the reason this hasn’t happened is because many successful companies tend to tune out after their first success.  They don’t go into the marketplace to discover new problems and opportunities.  (At first I thought, “Wait didn’t the mousetrap people in the previous chapter do this?” but I realized they were separate issues, they had a product that worked great and didn’t need improvement, and if they wanted to expand, perhaps they could have looked into traps for other kinds of rodents.)

Think of Apple.  They could have stopped at the computer.  But where would it have gotten them?  Instead they decided to branch out in the music world, create a fantastic audio player, design a marketplace from scratch for obtaining new music and podcasts and revolutionize the way we use our phones.

The following chapters explain the six steps in the Tuned In process in detail.

Chapter 4: Step 1 – Find Unresolved Problems

This chapter focuses on what problems exist that (prior to someone coming forward to solve it) still do not have a solution.  Some examples used in the chapter are:

  • a Magnavox television with a power button that sends a signal to the missing remote control to start beeping for 30 seconds so it is easier to find
  • Quicken was created when the founder’s wife was complaining about balancing her checkbook

Sometimes you can figure out what problems need to be solved just by asking customers.  However they won’t always give you a direct answer, and you have to figure out a solution based on their comments.  The book refers to this as “expressed” and “unexpressed” problems and “stated” and “silent” needs.  This is how Magnavox was able to figure out a solution to the ‘missing remote’ problem customers were mentioning.

When the founder of Quicken, Scott Cook, first built Quicken, he went directly into people’s homes and studied how they paid bills and managed their money.  He didn’t assume his problems were their problems.  He observed the problems they had and built the product to better serve them.  The book mentions that the best way to collect unresolved market problems is to visit buyers in a non-selling situation (preferably on their home turf) and get their feedback.  I think this is invaluable. The best way to find out what your customers needs are is to meet them in the same place where they use your product.  Observe what they do during the day and how it relates to your product.  How can your product make what they do better?  Is there anything about your product that slows them down that could be improved?

People like talking about their problems, they will open up if you are willing to listen.  They think their ideas will help a good organization make a product that will make their lives easier.  They have nothing to lose by talking to you.

The chapter then describes the different types of customers.

  • Customers are existing customers who already use your product or service.  You evaluate their problems in a rearview mirror, and make small improvements to your existing product.  Customers can distract you from discovering unresolved problems that might exist in a new market, which would prevent you from obtaining new customers.  The book recommends listening to your customers, but they should be a smaller part of the Tuned In Process.
  • Evaluators are people who are actively thinking about purchasing your product or service.  Evaluators can be tricky to deal with because they are actively searching for something to solve their problems.  Your product has to offer solutions to their current problems.  If you cannot provide a solution to their current problems they will look somewhere else.  If you don’t win the sale with evaluators, it is good to do a win-loss analysis to see why they didn’t choose you.  The book also recommends that they be a small but important audience during the Tuned In Process.  They actually recommend leaving them alone during the sales process (from a marketing/product standpoint), and conducting the in-depth win-loss analysis after they have made their decision.
  • Potential Customers are people who are not yet your customers but have problems that your product or service could or could potentially solve.  The examples mentioned above with Magnavox and Intuit involved meeting with potential customers and developing a product to meet their unresolved problems.  The book says this is the most important category of people to spend time with.  This is the best way to create breakthrough experiences that resonate.

Why not just send the salesperson to find out the customer’s problems and offer products?  Because salespeople need to balance the task of keeping the customer happy and offering new products that customers don’t want.  Evaluators will do anything to avoid the sales process.  The book says that sending a salesperson to learn about a buyer’s problems can turn a relationship bad before the conversation even starts.

Chapter 5: Step 2: Understand Buyer Personas

This chapter discusses the different types of potential customers.  An example used early in the book is the water bottle company Nalgene.  The bottles were originally sold to labs because they were lighter than glass and more durable.  Scientists started using them for a different purpose and were them outdoors for drinking.  Nalgene picked up on the trend and started offering them to different types of customers.  In addition, they started showing up on college campuses, a third ‘buyer persona’.  They solved a problem, and created a market in many different areas.

It is important for companies to understand the different types of buyers because it opens up additional possibilities.  Another example used in the book deals with the hotel industry, and how there are many different types of buyer personas that they could cater to.  Examples are:

  • business travelers who require wireless internet and hotels closer to business districts
  • hotels with large conference rooms for seminars
  • vacation travelers who want a fun experience
  • entertainers who need a place to stay after a concert
  • couples planning a wedding reception

In the examples above, one hotel can’t solve all the different needs.  But a chain of hotels under the same family can.  Hilton has the Hampton Inn for the cheaper business traveler, Hilton Garden Inn for the more comfortable business traveler, and the Hilton resorts for families, weddings, and conferences.

Buyer personas were also used in the 2004 and 2008 elections.  In 2004 politicians reached out to NASCAR dads and security moms.  In 2008 it was Joe the Plumber and soccer moms.

The authors borrow a term from Strangers in a Strange Land and talk about grokking customers.  To fully understand your customer, you need to put yourself in their world as much as you can.  You need to understand them so deeply that you can ascertain the market problems they aren’t able to describe on their own.  The Magnavox television remote in a previous chapter is a good example.

Lastly, they recommend you name your buyer personas.  Naming them allows you to become comfortable with them and better tailor to their needs.

Chapter 6: Step 3 – Quantify the Impact

The Tuned In example used at the beginning of this chapter described the advent of StubHub.  Prior to StubHub, if people wanted to get rid of their sporting event or concert tickets, they had to scalp them.  StubHub was able to identify this market problem and quickly become the largest ticket marketplace in the world.  What makes this quantifiable is that buyers and sellers have prices in mind with what they’re willing to sell or pay for the tickets.  In addition, StubHub allows sellers to get rid of tickets they no longer want, even if it’s at a loss.  Something is better than nothing.

There are 3 questions that must be answered when considering the potential of your product or service.

  • Is the problem urgent?
  • Is it pervasive in the market?
  • Are buyers willing to pay to have this problem solved?

The authors suggest we run our ideas through these three criteria filters and that the answer must be “yes” being before we try to implement the product/service.

Is the problem urgent? Do people really care about the problem you are trying to solve?  (Apparently no one needs wi-fi on the fridge, but a television that finds a remote appears to be useful.)

Is the problem pervasive? How many people have this problem?  Do the people that share this problem have unifying characteristics?

Are people willing to pay to solve the problem? The grocery delivery service PeaPod is a good example.  They’ve found a niche of people who do not like to go to the supermarket to shop for groceries, but don’t mind paying a surcharge to have them delivered to their doorstep.

The authors recommend surveying potential markets as a measurement tool.  They don’t recommend surveying existing customers to find unresolved problems.  Rather, they think visiting potential customers in-person allows you to see what their real life activities are like, and your observations may better answer any questions you may have had.

Absent any real data, conference rooms are just full of opinions.” How often do you hear someone say, “We’re hearing there are a lot of problems around ‘xyz’” but then the person has no data to back it up?  If you’re going to say something is a problem, have the data to back it up.

Another point in this chapter I liked is to make sure you fully solve a market problem.  If you only partially solve a  market problem, you open the door for competitors to sweep in with a better solution.  (The e-Reader battle is a good example.)

If you’re going to use metrics, measure what matters.  Many managers deliver numbers such as calls answered, or calls resolved within 24 hours, etc.  All that means is that they’re working hard but not smart.  The authors suggest measuring how many meetings with buyers the team conducts, how often do employees meet with actual people, how does your product resonate with current customers.  Measure what matters.  From a previous blog post about a Seth Godin book, be a thermostat, not a thermometer.

Chapter 7: Step 4 – Create Breakthrough Experiences

This chapter describes what companies can do that make them stand out amongst the crowd.  One experience that pops in my head is the old iPod commercials that had silhouette backgrounds with the white headphones.  After seeing it for the first time, you knew exactly what that commercial was and looked forward to watching it each time because the songs changed.

The authors describe a breakthrough experience as occurring when each experience stage (evaluation, purchase, use, and after-sale service) are all working successfully.  The experience stages are described below.

Discovery: Buyers need information prior to making informed decisions.  Tuned In companies create material that people want to read.  An example used in the book suggests a company running a blog where real people describe how they solved a problem.  They suggest using experiences that are simple, nonthreatening, and useful.

Packaging: Edible Arrangements does this well.  The fruit, wooden sticks, and chocolate probably costs a quarter of what people pay for it, but because of their packaging and ‘arrangement’ of the fruit, people are willing to pay a premium.

Using: The product should be simple to understand and implement.  It should be intuitive to help consumers engage your product.  An example used in the book dealt with one of the authors taking a car to a repair shop.  They needed a loaner car, and the dealership tuned the radio in the loaner car to the same station as the car they were dropping off.  A local valet company by my airport does a similar thing when you call to be picked up from the airport.  When you arrive at the valet station they’ve turned your heat on in cold weather, and have the radio on.

Service: Tuned Out companies outsource their after-sale support.  Tuned In companies realize that customers will talk to family and friends (or other businesses) about their experience.  You want a good reputation.

The authors talk about companies finding their distinctive competence. The authors say that buyers choose your product because your company has unique abilities that allow you to solve their problem better than anyone else.  They make a point that this differs from core competency. Core competency says what your company is good at, where distinctive competence says what you excel at better than anyone else.

They provide a list of ideas and say the distinctive competence could be one of the following:

  • An important feature. The example describes how Volvo focuses on safety.
  • Another possibility of ergonomics. The example describes a special remote used for giving presentations.  The Wii Remote would also be a good example.
  • A distinctive business model. The example describes streamlining processes to keep costs down, such as Zipcar has done.  When Dell first came out they also streamlined customizing PC’s.
  • A deep understanding of one particular buyer persona. The example describes a car repair shop that focuses on Land Rovers.  People from a large radius will drive to this dealership to get their car serviced.

I really liked this part about distinctive competence.  I think successful companies need to evaluate what is they currently do, or need to do, that makes them better than the competition.

Chapter 8: Step 5 – Articulate Powerful Ideas

Inc.com’s book review said if you read nothing else, read this chapter.  I personally thought Chapter 7 should take that prize, but I’m not the professional book reviewer.

This chapter focuses on how to create memorable concepts that speak to problems that buyers have.  The example used in the book dealt with a colleague looking to build a new home.  Money was not an issue, so the colleague interviewed the best architect first.  In the book they refer this architect as the ‘rock star’ of architecture.  The ‘rock star’ showed up late for the appointment, and recommended options that he thought he would like to explore, instead of options that the colleague was interested in.  The colleague decided to interview other candidates to see what else was out there.  The lesser credentialed architect showed up on time.  He spoke with the colleague for several hours to find out their lifestyle and preferred living situation.  The choice was obvious, and they went with the second architect.

I’ve had similar situations recently with meeting vendors for my wedding.  We met with a couple of DJ’s, but we went with the one that we related to the best.  The first couple we met with told us how great they are and how they get the audience on the dance floor.  The one we went with showed us a portfolio that was 5 inches thick of thank you letters from previous customers.  We went with the videographer that showed us his previous work while he met us for coffee at Starbucks.  We chose the tux shop that gave us a personal touch, made us try on different tuxes and colors instead of the first place we went to where the employee was arguing with his co-worker in the middle of working with us, didn’t have us try anything on, and didn’t offer any suggestions.

In all the scenarios mentioned in the two paragraphs above, the right vendors resonated with their customer.  They became likable.   They took the time to find out what compelled us and used that to keep us interested in them.  A couple examples used in the book to do this are:

  • Affinity Mapping:  Find out the different problems buyer personas have and how you can solve them.  The example used in the book mentioned how Zipcar solved problems for many different types of buyers.  Examples are:  buyers who don’t want to pay for car insurance; buyers who don’t want to locate a spot for downtown parking; buyers who don’t need a car most of the time.
  • The Elevator Speech:  You have to get your message across is about the time you would typically spend in an elevator, aka a sentence or two.  I’ve seen this recommended as career advice where you need to state who you are in less than 15 seconds.  I talk about this in a little more detail here.  They recommend that the best elevator speech is in your buyers words, not your own.  Because of this, it is essential you complete your affinity map first before developing your elevator speech.
  • The Acid Test:  They recommend locating people who fit the buyer personas you used in the examples above and run your elevator speech by them.  Then gauge their response.  See if you would be interested if you heard it from someone else.  Would you want to move to the next step?
  • Refining the Resonator:  The elevator speech is the starting point.  The final step is to make it into a memorable concept.  Examples used are slogans from famous companies such as Burger King’s “Have it your way,” or Bounty’s “The quicker picker-upper.”.  Not only are they catchy, but they’re rooted in a set of problems that these products solve for their customers.

The next section discusses poorly written mission statements.  Tuned Out organizations are all over the place with their mission statements instead of articulating on a core set of values.  This causes buyers to turn away because they will want to work with an organization that understands their problems.

They recommend having different messages for each of your buyer personas.  Each type of buyer will require something different from your organization because each has a different problem for your organization.  The authors say that your ideas are more likely to resonate if you develop them for each buyer persona instead of relying on a generic set of broad messages for everyone.

Chapter 9: Step 6 – Establish Authentic Connections

This chapter discusses establishing connections with your buyers so they buy your products to solve their problems.  During this chapter they reiterate the importance of understanding the problems of your various buyer personas.  We must first understand our buyers before we can try to solve their problems.  By understanding your buyers and relating to their problems you will develop empathy with them as people instead of trying to relate to them as data.

A part I found interesting is when the authors mention how marketing companies are paying tons of money to TV and radio spots, as well as other media outlets, in interruption marketing.  These types of companies are tuned out, and are forcing us to pay attention to their message.  When they fail understand how to connect with us, they spend even more money on more aggressive marketing messages which makes people ignore them even more.

They refer to these types of companies as getting their name out in one of two ways, either ‘buying their way in’ or ‘begging their way in’.  Either way, they say it won’t work.  They recommend establishing connections by targeting specific buyer personas with content that you create especially for them, rather than trying to take a one-size-fits-all approach.

A test they refer to mentions looking at your company’s marketing materials.  Count the number of times you see the words “we” “us” “our” or the company’s name compared to the number of times you see “you” and “your”.  If you see more of the latter, you are establishing connections with your buyers.  You need to focus on what the buyers need to hear rather than what you want to say.  Successful companies focus on buyers and the best ways to reach out to them.

Another part of the chapter I liked involved telling us we need to ‘unlearn’ what we have learned in the past.  We need to unlearn the marketing habits we were taught of constantly pitching our product.  They go back to the point of creating information that helps our buyer personas answer their questions.  All of your marketing materials should be created from the buyer’s perspective.  Rather than pitching products and services, you should work from the buyers point of view, and paint a picture of how your organization can solve their problems.

Chapter 10: Cultivate a Tuned In Culture

This chapter discusses how to bring the six steps of the Tuned In process together.  The authors say that in order for companies to stand out they need to follow each of the six steps.

They describe a couple examples where companies did not utilize all 6 steps, and then failed to resonate with customers and be successful.  The Segway was a prime example.  There was a ton of hype leading up to the release of the Segway.  However, they failed to examine their buyer personas in detail.  They originally designed their product for city people to get around town; the product was too expensive for this type of buyer.  However, a different buyer persona they didn’t originally think of started scooping them up at that price point.  How often do  you go to the airport and see security guards whizzing by on these devices?  If Segway did more research they could have targeted this audience from the start and saved themselves a lot of time and money.

To launch your product you need a winning sales team and distribution strategy.  Train your sales staff to describe the problem your product solves to to potential customers.  One of the “Top Ten Actions to Create a Tuned In Culture” that stood out to me was #7:  “Don’t talk about what your product or service does.  Tell customers which of their problems the product or service will solve.”

Chapter 11:  Unleash Your Resonator

Chapter 11 summarizes success stories of people or companies who have used the Tuned In Process.  Some examples are:

  • Thomas Edison enhancing the light bulb for consumers (even though he wasn’t the one who originally invented it.  Enter “Joseph Swan” in Google for more information.)
  • Cell phone lots in airports
  • The USPS “Forever” stamps
  • Dutch Boy making easy to open paint containers

An example of a company switching from thinking inside-out to outside-in was when Apple went from making the Newton to the iPod.  They authors state that “companies are ineffective because their field groups and customer-facing organizations spend more time postulating and  pontificating around scenarios that support their offerings than listening and learning about problems their customers actually  have (and are willing to spend money to solve.)”  That comment pushes what they’ve said in previous chapters about finding out what customers problems are, and creating products that solve them.

They describe what makes a Tuned In leader.  They say a Tuned In leader doesn’t obsess about the competition; instead they obsess about market problems.  They understand the market problems completely before they create a product experience.  They follow the steps in the Tuned In process that results in a breakthrough experience that resonate with customers.

Final Thoughts

When I first received this book, it sat on my shelf before I read it.  When I finished a previous book, I gave this one a shot.  I am really glad I did.  I think this book forces you to think, “What can I do differently?”  It allows you to evaluate yourself or your company to see where you might be lacking.  I think it’s a great book that should be read by anyone working in product management.  The whole concept of researching and defining “buyer personas” is something I think companies fail to do.  If done well, doing the proper research will make those companies stand out from the crowd and become a market leader.

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Entrepreneur’s February 2009 issue had a really good article that explains how you can analyze a company by all the things that happen while you are at the interview.  Some examples in my recent past directly apply to this article.

All the Small Things

The first thing the article says to look out for is the small things.  Did the company validate your parking?  Did they offer to help with directions on getting in or out of the building?  Did they offer you anything to drink, or ask if you need to use the bathroom?  This tells me whether or not they care about their people.  If they are not taking care of me, what does that say about the way they treat their employees?

When I interviewed at my last job, I had to meet with 3 different people.  When I got there, the person I met with asked me if I needed to use the bathroom or wanted a drink of water.  He repeated asking me this after the first 2 interviews.  The way he treated me gave me a really good impression that he takes care of his employees.  I ended up taking the job, and my impressions were right.  He put people first, and his team was successful.

Interviewer’s Priorities Reflect Company’s Priorities

The article goes on to say that if the interviewer is late and seems to be viewing the resume for the first time that it is a clue that the company is somewhat hectic and unorganized.  If the interviewer isn’t enthused about the company mission and work responsibilities, how can the interviewee be?

One time I referred a friend to a job opening at a place where I was working.  His interview was scheduled for 4:00pm, and he had to meet with three people.  Another meeting was scheduled that involved 3 of the people at 4:30pm.  The first person interviewed with my friend and he wrapped up around 4:25pm.  Rather then postpone, delay, or not attend the meeting, one of the other two people decided the candidate could wait until after the meeting because they thought it would end quickly.  The meeting did not get out until 5:15pm.  That meant my friend was waiting in a conference room for 45 minutes.  Even if it was not my friend, I would not feel comfortable about this situation.  It just sends the wrong message about where the company’s priorities lie.  They put deadlines and meetings ahead of people.

Good Cop Bad Cop

The article discusses the types of questions interviewers ask during interviews.  Are they too difficult?  Too easy?  Do they even apply?  If the questions are too easy the article says the job might not be challenging enough.  If the questions are too difficult or do not apply, it is almost as if the interviewer is trying to prove they are smarter than the candidate.

This has never happened to me personally, but I have a friend that went on an interview once that had a similar experience.  The interviewer asked really tough questions, and seemed very cocky.  This turned off my friend, and he didn’t even contemplate taking the job.

A Good Fit

The article wraps up with the writer describing how he got his current job.  His interviewer asked challenging but applicable questions.  It allowed the interviewer to evaluate his skill level.  The author also felt he could learn a lot from the interviewer.  This would also be important to me.  If  you are considering taking on a challenging job, you would be better off if your manager could help guide you in difficult times.  If your manager isn’t that type of person, you better be a great self-starter or already know everything there is to know about the job.

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Inc Magazine had a great article in their April issue aimed towards helping companies find talented candidates in a crowded talent pool.  I read the article and thought, “I can turn this around, so it can be applied to the candidates themselves.  The same tips they are telling the companies to look for in people can be used to stand out to those companies.  It’s win-win.”

The Problem for Both: The Shotgun Approach Has a Low Success Rate

The article opens with a story about a Dallas fast-food chain looking to hire 32 employees in anticipation of opening a new store.  They posted positions on the 2 major online job boards (Monster and CareerBuilder).  They bought ads in the Dallas Morning News and advertised over the local radio stations.  The result:  10,000 resumes.  It’s the recruiting version of the shotgun approach.  “Just send out as many postings as possible, that’ll give us the most resumes to look through…”  The problem:  They didn’t focus their efforts.  Blasting the openings out across all media outlets will result in all different kinds of people with all different kinds of skill sets applying for positions.  The same can be said for applicants who send their resume to 1000 different job postings in the hopes that someone will bite.  I wrote here and here how this just doesn’t work.

Solution 1: Focus on the Industry

It’s okay to use job boards, but go local.  For recruiters, this allows them to reduce the number of applicants that don’t have the qualifications.  For candidates, this narrows the competition because not everyone uses the local job boards.  You stand out more.  The article lists a lot of unique websites but I would recommend doing your own searches to find out what works best for your needs.

Solution 2: Make Sure the Resume Has the Right Words

The article recommends using special recruiting software that is designed to automate the screening process.  It helps companies narrow the results by ruling out candidates that do not have enough education, or aren’t skilled in a particular area.  For candidates, my recommendation would be to make sure your resume contains the facts needed to get through these screeners.  If the job you are applying for requires project management skills make sure it is mentioned in your resume.

Solution 3:  Pass the Test

They recommend testing the candidates early in the process to measure various skills.  Examples used are typing speed, QuickBooks knowledge, or even people skills.  My recommendation: You probably shouldn’t be applying to the job if you don’t think you are going to pass the test.

Solution 4:  It’s Who You Know

This one is obvious.  Use social-networks such as Linked-In, or ask friends for referrals.  Try and find someone that works at the company and reach out to them.  Being referred internally greatly increases your chances compared to an outsider.

Final Thoughts

It was very easy to apply these recommendations to the candidate even though the article was written for companies.  If you’re stuck in your search don’t be afraid to try to apply a story written for them and relate it to your situation.  Who knows, it just might work.

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I went to the “Get Motivated” business seminar today in Hartford, CT.  Below is my recap of my experience.

Prior to Going

A few weeks ago we received an email from the CEO and VP of Client Services about the upcoming “Get Motivated” seminar.  I had heard about them in the past, but didn’t know too much about them.  I talked to a few co-workers and did a Google search.  I found mixed reviews.  The worst things I found was that it could be a huge sales pitch, some people view it as very right-wing, and some of the speakers can get a little religious.  On the other hand, it could be motivational, anything is better than nothing, and I’m not easily convinced with things I do not believe in.  With work giving us the day to go, I figured I had nothing to lose.

The Event and the Speakers

There was a lot of debate between my friends on who we would actually get to see, and who might speak ‘live’ via satellite.  I was pleased to say that all speakers were live and in person.  It was open seating and we had a pretty good section.

Joe Montana – Joe Montana was the first speaker to come out.  His key points focused on preparation and fundamentals.  One thing he talked about I found beneficial was to aim for perfection.  If you miss, you will still probably end up doing very good.  If you aim for mediocrity and you miss, you’re not going to do so well.  Paying attention to details is what helps you reach the goal.

Laura Bush – The second speaker was Laura Bush.  She mentioned how George Bush Sr. just went skydiving on his 85th birthday.  I’m shocked but happy to hear it.  When I got home I did a quick search on a video of it, and that motivated me.  He did it for two reasons.  One, it was exciting, and two, he wants to stay active so he doesn’t get old and senile.  I actually wrote about this on an essay in college where I said if people find purpose in their life it helps them live longer.  I worry when people stop looking forward to things, mysterious events occur and they deteriorate physically and mentally.  Anywho, back to Laura Bush.  The main themes I got out of her speech revolved around democracy, freedom, and individualism.  Two books she mentioned during her speech are on my reading wish list, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Krish Dhanam – I never heard of this guy before the seminar, but I was very impressed.  His eloquence captivated the audience.  He quoted many famous people and books.  He has an Indian background, and I believe he migrated to the US later in his life.  His belief is that political correctness will be the death of this nation.  One thing he said that stood out was to make an impact on your new hires.  Do this by telling them “Of all the companies you could have chosen, I sure am glad you chose this one.”  Some other takeaways are, “Give more than you have; leave more than you take.”  “Offer praise to the inner circle.”  This next quote I may have recorded inaccurately, but it was something along the lines of “Look inward and upward before you can act forward and outward.”  In summary, I really liked what he had to say and he was definitely in my top 3 for the day.

Phil Town – Next was Phil Town.  Here is where I thought it got very sales-pitchy. Very quickly (can’t really hold it against him given the time frame of about 60 minutes) he went through his method of successful investing in only 15 minutes a week.  He claimed it was very easy and anyone could do it.  Then he showed us his product on the big screen, and ‘if you sign up now, we’ll throw in this special offer’.  Don’t get me wrong, it sounded very interesting, but it just sounds too good to be true.  His method had to do with covered calls, buying companies on sale using statistical software, looking at legal insider trading, and selling when the software predicts they’ve reached their high.  The software seems like it could work, but it’s $600 a year.  For now, I think I’ll stick with a basic approach of various index funds across a diversified asset allocation.

Tamara Lowe – The last speaker before the lunch break was Tamara Lowe.  She was kind of bouncy which rubs me the wrong way but I think works well with others.  She is the co-founder of the Get Motivated seminars along with her husband.  She briefly talked about how she was born in Hartford but grew up in New Orleans.  She’s a former drug addict/dealer, but has since cleaned up her life.  Her belief is that people fall under 6 types of categories, which makes up their ‘motivational DNA’.  The 6 categories can be broken down by 3 main headers:  “Drive, Needs, and Awards”.  Under drives people are either “Producers” or “Connectors”.  Producers like competition, and connectors like cooperation.  Under needs people either like “Stability” or “Variety”.  And under Awards people either want “Internal Awards” or “External Awards”.  Tamara believes that people can be classified under each of these categories, but I personally don’t think it is that cut and dry.  I think I can be competitive, but I’m also cooperative.  Ultimately I want what is best for the team, but I’m also trying to be the best.  There are certain things in life that I like to remain the same, yet in other areas I get bored and like change.  I had a hard time applying her principles to myself.  However, she did touch upon how to apply these techniques as a sales person, and I did think they could be effective in certain situations.  She was selling a book where 100% of the proceeds go to charities, but then discounted the book to everyone at the convention.  I thought this sent the wrong message…if your money is going to charity, wouldn’t you want to give them more money, not less?  I enjoyed her rap at the end though, it was good.

Steve Forbes – Steve Forbes was the first to speak after lunch.  He had a lot of talking points, but his two main topics were that we should make the dollar king again, and we need to fix the tax code.  But first he mentioned that we need to look at the examples of others to see what has worked in the past.  He discussed the success of McDonald’s and how they became the giant company they are today.  He also mentioned that in order to succeed we don’t have to invent anything new, we just have to use a product better than anyone else.  The example he used here was how Wal-Mart uses computers to help them do business.  He used a car’s gas tank in relation to symbolize pouring money into the economy.  If we pour too much, commodity prices will go up, and in the car we flood the tank.  Don’t pour enough, the car can’t go, and commodity prices drop.  He went on a while about taxes, and how we need to fix it, get rid of all the IRS code, etc.  I thought this was fine, and I was hoping he would follow up with what he plans to replace it with, which he eventually got to.  He is in favor of a flat tax, and had other ideas that could simplify the tax code that I didn’t have enough time to take notes on.  However I thought they were reasonable points.  I thought he was enjoyable listening to, and I would put him in my top 4 for the day.

Zig Ziglar – Prior to today, I had heard the name but not much else.  I knew he was a motivational speaker, but I didn’t know who he really was, how long he had been around, or what his style of motivational speaking was like.  Zig suffered a bad fall within the past few years, and has since developed vertigo and short term memory loss.  He came on stage with his daughter who guided the conversation.  Zig seems like he was a great speaker in his prime, but I genuinely felt sorry for him today.  When he started talking, about 5 minutes in he started to repeat something he said at the beginning (about courting his wife and making her happy everyday), and his daughter reminded him how he already mentioned it.  Zig has some quick wit, and responded he thought that a couple people in the front row weren’t paying attention which is why he was repeating himself.  After doing it a second time, the daughter decided to show a video.  The video contained some highlights of Zig throughout his career, and that’s where I saw that he really good speak well.  When the video was over, he was trying to wrap up but started repeating himself and his daughter had to cut him off again.  As she finished and was trying to get him off stage, you could see they turned his mic off as he was still trying to explain himself.  I felt really sorry for him at that point, and hope his memory comes back.  I think in future seminars, they should try and do it a little differently; use the video as a tribute and try and limit his time on stage; instead of asking him questions that he has to answer, tell them they are happy he is here and he can smile and wave and maybe say a few words.

James Smith – The 8th speaker of the day was a man named James Smith.  I felt another sales pitch coming on.  He started of mentioning how we should position ourself to win the game of life.  We can do this through property investing.  He mentioned tax-liens in relation to real-estate investing as well as other areas. I thought he contradicted himself in the current state of the economy and foreclosures.  At first he mentioned he hopes no one forecloses on their house, and we should help people out if we can.  Later on, he shows us a picture of a foreclosure he bought, and then another picture of the house re-modeled and how it’s gone up in equity.  I will say he was enjoyable to listen to.  I started a “watch this” counter 5 minutes in.  I counted him say ” watch this” 43 times by the end of the seminar.  A friend had seen him speak the prior year, and apparently his recent “Denny’s” story was a repeat of the last time he saw him.  One quote he said that I liked a lot was “I’m not better than anybody else, but there’s nobody else better than me.”

Rudy Giuliani – Rudy was the second to last speaker of the day.  He was a joy to listen to, I’d list him in my top 3 for the day.  He had 6 main principles of leadership.  The first was to have strong beliefs.  Believe in what you do, what you sell, how you live.  Second, we have to be optimistic.  You get more done thinking positive than you do thinking negative.  Third, we have to have courage.  Courage is overcoming fear.  Fourth we have to have relentless preparation.  We can overcome fear and reduce our risk through preparation.  Fifth, teamwork is essential.  What are our weaknesses?  Build a team around our weaknesses so that their strengths complement our weaknesses.  Teams need balance.  Sixth, communicate.  Get your ideas into the hearts of others.  Give people realistic goals to reach.  A leader has to love people.  Statistics are important, but people are more important.  I really like that last sentence.  Companies focus too much on metrics and forget it’s people and quality behind those numbers that count.  Sometimes you can’t always measure that.

Colin Powell – Last to speak (for me at least, I believe there was one last speaker after him, but everyone was leaving) was Colin Powell.  He is also in my top 3.  He was very enjoyable, humorous at times, and kept my attention.  One key point I took from him is “It’s not where you start, it’s where you end up.  Always look forward, you can’t change the past.”  Our job as leaders is to put followers in the best possible path for the organization.  Give the followers a sense of purpose.  Successful leaders communicate a sense of passion.  We need to inspire, make people believe there is a purpose to their mission.  We need to let people know they are important.  People will follow you when they trust you.

Final Thoughts

I read an article in the Courant this morning and it really shows how reporters angle a story.  They completely blasted the religious angle but only lightly touched upon the sales-pitch angle.  Yes it had religious moments, and it was preachy and uncomfortable at times.  But do your homework, I knew that going into it.  I am more worried about people getting excited about the sales pitches and jumping in too fast without doing more research. Do your research, look before you leap.

The cast of speakers was fantastic.   Other people I wouldn’t mind seeing speak at the event are Seth Godin, John Wooden, Joe Torre, or Clark Howard.  I wasn’t able to hand in the survey at the end because I didn’t see where to drop it off, so hopefully they read this instead.  🙂

Get Motivated exceeded my expectations.  I had a mediocre feeling going in, and was worried they were going to sell us a lot of stuff and I wasn’t going to learn anything.  There were only two sales-pitch speakers and it wasn’t as one-sided (politically) as I had read.  It was definitely a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone looking to get motivated.

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I had a conversation with a friend who was unemployed at the time of this conversation.  She has since found a job, so I figured it was okay for me to post our conversation (with her permission).

Friend:  Do you think it’s my benefit to respond to an employer’s survey about race and stuff after I submit an application?
Me: It’s up to you.
Friend:  I know but its weird how they ask you for this info saying its confidential and only used for certain purposes but I think they use it for hiring purposes to meet whatever quotas they have, and I feel like its a negative since I’m Asian-American, not exactly one of the underprivileged groups.
Friend: It should be based on sheer qualifications and abilities.
Me:  I completely agree, but I’m against affirmative action.  I think best person for the job, always.

To elaborate on our conversation for a quick bit, I believe in hiring the best person for the job, the team, and the company.  I don’t care whether they are white, black, Asian, Indian, male, female, tall, short, gay, straight, or from another planet for that matter.  If you are a good fit and will produce results, that’s the person I’d want for the job.

Later in the conversation, I mentioned to my friend it really didn’t matter if she completed the optional demographic information, because they could probably assume from her name that she wasn’t white.  Right then, whoever reads that resume might try to place a picture with the name.  If they want the best person for the job, they would call her because she is a qualified candidate and would do a great job.  If the person reading the resume wants to profile based on certain ethnicities or races, the it’s probably not a place she wanted to work anyway.

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Conclusion and Final Thoughts

This is the conclusion of the in-depth review of the book:  48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller.  To read the previous chapter, follow this link: Chapter 11:  Sunks, Rags, and Candy Bars

A good story I enjoyed from the conclusion described how eagles teach their babies to fly.  An eagle’s nest is created with thornbush strands.  On top of the strands are leaves and feathers to create a nice cushion and mask the fact that there are thorns underneath.  As the baby eagles grow up the parents start to remove some of the leaves and feathers.  The parents leave morsels of food just past the nest, forcing the eagles to move closer and closer to the edge.  Eventually the baby eagles will have to leave the nest and learn to fly.

The author concludes the book by reminding us we should always keep learning.  Technology is moving too fast, and things we’ve learned not too long ago may already be obsolete.  Moreover, we can always learn new skills and abilities to do any job better.

Following the conclusion is a great collection of sample resumes, introduction, cover, and follow up letters, additional reading suggestions, and helpful web links.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed reading this book.  There really wasn’t a chapter that I thought should be skipped.  The beginning of the book is all about discovering yourself.  The middle of the book describes the process.  The end of the book motivates the reader.  I thought the religious undertone seemed awkward at first, but it mixed well with the book.  Even if someone is not religious, the meat of the book revolves around the steps anybody should take.

I would highly recommend the book to anyone looking to jump-start their career.  Even if one is content with their current job, this book may be the advice someone was looking for to make the jump from good to great.

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48 Days to the Work you Love by Dan Miller:  Book Review

This is a continuation of the in-depth review of the book:  48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller.  To read the Previous Chapter, follow this link: Chapter 10:  Do You Have What It Takes?

Chapter 11: Skunks, Rags, and Candy Bars

This chapter is a motivational one.  It also revolves around accepting and adapting to change.  I was a fan of many of the quotes throughout.

 “You can’t use up creativity.  The more you use, the more you have.  Sadly, too often creativity is smothered rather than nurtured.  There has to be a climate in which new ways of thinking, perceiving, questioning are encouraged.”  – Maya Angelou

I really liked this quote.  Too often people are reluctant to listen to new ideas.  They bat them away too quickly and then innovation tends to stagnate.  I also liked the part that mentions the more creativity a person utilizes, the more creative they become.  

Furthering my point about people too often being reluctant to looking at new ideas, the next quote:

“He who rejects change is the architect of decay.  The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” -Harold Wilson

Those two quotes may be my favorite of the entire book.  The author then explains how many innovative things in the past have changed the dynamic of the not to distant past workforce.  Bank tellers replaced by ATMs, phone operators replaced by voice-recognition technology, grocery store clerks replaced by self-checkout registers.   In addition, manufacturing and physical labor jobs have been sent offshore.  Amidst all this, we shouldn’t think all the jobs are disappearing…it’s just that the types of jobs are evolving.  At one point in American history, 79% of jobs were agricultural in nature.  Today, it’s only 3 percent.  The other 76% were able to transform and adapt into new roles.  At the same time, we have to love what we do in these new roles, or any job for that matter.  “Happiness is loving what you do and knowing it is making a difference.  If your life is not a joy, maybe it’s time to look at some new options.”  One big point of mine is I want my work to make an impact on something or someone.  I don’t want it to be mindless.  I want to leave a mark when I leave.  

Later in the chapter the author mentions how we need to stop and look around more often.  Stopping and spending time to think and analyze situations will allow us to think of ideas we may not have originally thought of if we rushed things.  Which leads to another quote:

“Learn to pause, or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you.” -Doug King

The (Abundance of) Information Age 

One problem I always run into with myself is I want to try to learn everything about everything.  I have to sit back and realize I don’t have the capacity to do so.  Instead, I need to try and focus on specific things.  It reminds me of the quote, “Man knows so much, that no man knows much.”  I wish it were possible to learn everything I possibly can, but again, I know it’s not possible.  

Today’s technology makes it that much harder.  Information is so accessible it is impossible to take it all in from all angles.  We’ve got new sites, emails, Facebook, Twitter, iPhone applications, blogs, podcasts…and that’s just in the digital age.  That’s not including television, newspapers, or radio.  The author mentions that it is estimated that a week-day edition of today’s New York Times contains more information than the average person in the 17th-century England was likely to come across in their entire lifetime.  In 1971 the average American was targeted by at least 560 advertising messages.  Today it’s more than 3,000.  Talk about information overload.  

Overall, I really liked this chapter.  I am a big proponent of accepting change, and think the more people are willing to evaluate new ideas, the better off we are.

Continue to Conclusion and Final Thoughts

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