Engage With Us – 12 Books Group

April 26th, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

 

I am excited to be a part of the 12 Books Group this next month as their featured author during the month of May. Please come join us as we dig deeper into The Zigzag Principle. You won’t want to miss the exclusive giveaways, bonus materials, and excellent discussion with me and other readers.

This really is a unique opportunity because you are going to get a chance to glean knowledge from 8 different business authors from May through December. This will load you with great information to add to your zigzag strategy. 

Go to www.12booksgroup.com to sign up for a free account and keep checking in for reader discussion, video tips from me, and a live Q&A webinar at the end of the month. 

 

I hope you will come join us! 

 

 

 

Avoiding the All-Or-Nothing Trap – Zig Zag Principle #68

March 29th, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

I grew up in a rural community.  My father was completely blind.  I am the oldest of four sons, and as long as I can remember I have had entrepreneurial desires.  Despite some lofty ambitions, I was never any kind of a standout kid.  I was one of those boys who was often overlooked, and I spent a lot of time hoping I wasn’t the last kid picked on the basketball team. Nonetheless, I had this incredible and deep desire to do something of significance with my life.

I remember when I was eighteen years old and just finishing up high school, I wrote down some personal goals. I had always been goal-oriented, and my mother encouraged me to write down my goals. One of those goals was to become the CEO of a major company. Even though I wrote it down, I knew that was as far off a goal as I could have set.  I didn’t think that there was any chance or any possibility in the world of actually ever reaching that goal at that time; in fact, I might as well have written that I was going to sprout wings and flap my way to the moon.  But that became a powerful goal. It was my beacon in the fog.

I was very fortunate to have been able to get a good education.  After graduating, I worked hard and had some incredible opportunities.  And I ended up having the opportunity to work as a CEO and a general manager at some large and well-known companies.  Midway through my career in corporate America, I was given a leadership role in a large, international organization.  I was eager and determined to earn my stripes, and I basically committed to do so at all costs. I was a very young general manager of the U.S. division, and I was determined to do anything that was necessary to succeed. My commitment bordered on insane. I had a young family, but I was traveling hundreds of thousands of miles every year.  There were nights I would stay at the office all night long to do what I felt needed to be done.  I was going to succeed, and I didn’t care about the costs.  Then I learned the lesson that it is not worth risking everything of importance in your life to achieve success. The division I was over became very successful.  In the middle of our run, my mentor and boss, Dr. Peter Horne, called my secretary and said, “I need to have a visit with Rich.”  That meant jumping on a plane, flying to Atlanta, then from Atlanta to Amsterdam, and from Amsterdam across the channel to Birmingham, England.  Door-to-door, this was a twenty-hour trip. When I arrived, Dr. Horne pulled me into his office and sat me down.   He then said, “Rich, we’re really delighted with the progress you’ve made in the business. Things are coming along rather nicely.” And then he made this comment, which has stuck with me: “I want you to remember one thing though, Rich. You can replace almost anything in this world. You can replace a car. You can replace a job. You can replace money. But you can’t replace your health, you can’t replace your trust relationships, and, most importantly, you can’t replace your family.” Then he shooed me out of his office, and I began the long journey home. 

Those twenty hours, which I spent alone on a very crowded airplane, gave me plenty of time to think about what Dr. Horne had just said.  Most of my thoughts centered on my wife and children.  For years I had been telling my wife, “This next project is a big one for me.  I am going to give it my all for six months, so don’t plan on seeing much of me.  But once I finish it, things will be different.”   The six months would pass.  I would complete the project, and then a new project would come along and I would start the cycle all over again.  Those six months had turned into years as I kept promising, “If I give my all to this for six months, then we will have it made.” As we crossed the Alantic, I reflected on a trip I had taken to India some months before.  When I got home, all of my sons and I came down with whooping cough, or pertussis.  We had all been immunized, but somehow we contracted this miserable illness.  It was terrible.  I remember coughing so hard one day that I literally vomited, but I lacked the discipline to take some time off from my work to get better and help my wife with our sons.  My youngest son at the time was Nathan.  He was less than a year old when we all got sick, and it was life-threatening for him.  In fact, he ended up in the hospital, where my wife took care of him because I was too busy.

Flying home, I realized I was falling into the “all or nothing trap,” and I resolved that I was going to do better as a father and husband, and when I got home I made it a point to gather my young sons together, give them each a hug, and tell them I love them.  But when I went to pick up Nathan, he hollered and screamed.  As he pushed me away, I realized he did not even know who I was.  At that moment, I realized that achieving my goal of being a CEO was not worth losing the love of my family.  And I began to change both my priorities and how I actually lived my life.

Achieve Goals Through Rewards – Zig Zag Principle #67

March 22nd, 2012 by Rich Christiansen


When you are planning out rewards, you need to very specifically tie each reward to the zig or the zag you are heading toward.  I always establish timeframes, often in the form of quarterly goals.  When we make our quarterly goals, we sit down
as a team and decide what we want to accomplish.  Once we have established the go
al, we spend almost as much time discussing what reward we will get when we achieve the goal.  Then we make signs and post them all over the office, with the goal written out over a picture of the reward.  

One of the signs I used in our office had a picture of people snowmobiling.  We titled it, “Plowing our Way to Victory.”  Around the picture were listed the goals of getting three new clients and having a financial target of monthly recurring profit.  Another goal was to hire one more engineer and to retain another engineering client. 

For the business my son and his friends work on, they helped me develop a very specific goal if we hit certain targets. They then posted pictures of the cruise ship we would all board if they met their goals, and also the ports we would visit.  Sure enough, each of then achieved their goal, and we went for a one-week cruise. 

As you set long-term goals, don’t overlook the need to reward yourself and your team along the way.  These in-between rewards are ones I like to keep random.  Then, when I see a team member doing a particularly good job at something, I will hand them a pair of movie tickets or a gift card. The other day, we sent one of our contract employees a special “thank you” that he was not expecting.  Ever since then, he has gone over and above on the work that he does for us because that little reward meant so much to him.  Sometimes, random rewards will actually mean more than guaranteeing a treat when you push the same button over and over. 

The work you’re doing is challenging and difficult, and as you hit each zig you take a break from the intensity, celebrate, and enjoy the fruits of your labors.  Then you can do a little jump and turn your skis in the other direction toward the next goal.  We humans do have some things in common with my little salivating dog.  When we align our efforts with little treats along the way, our resulting behaviors will lead to the achieving of our goals.  The rewards make all of the effort worthwhile.

A Vegas Getaway – Zig Zag Principle #66

March 15th, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

Eating Own Cooking:

Last year my wife and I went on a little getaway to Las Vegas.  We had booked our hotel online, and we got a great rate on your normal room at one of the nicest hotels in Vegas.  When we checked in, the woman at the front desk took a liking to us.  She saw that we were on a romantic getaway, and she mentioned that most of the regular rooms were booked for a business convention.  As she handed us our key cards, she mentioned she had upgraded our room, adding, “I am not going to tell you about the room now.  You can thank me later when you see it.”

When we opened the door to our room, we gasped.  She had upgraded our $69 room to one of the presidential suites.  It was on the twenty-seventh floor and had a 180-degree view of Las Vegas.  The suite was 2,200 square feet.  It came with an entryway, a formal dining area, a living area, a huge bedroom, and two bathrooms.  My favorite part was the master bath suite.  It had an all-glass shower and a huge hot tub that overlooked the city.  And we did, indeed, thank this very kind front-end manager.

When I came back after this spectacular vacation with my wife, I was describing to Curtis this hotel we stayed in.  At this point in our business, Curtis was still working full time in his other job, and we were not making the progress we wanted in this new partnership.  As we chatted, it hit me that I knew what would motivate Curtis.  He wanted to take his wife on a vacation and stay at the same hotel my wife and I had just enjoyed—and in the same room!

I told him I had a reward in mind, and we made a list of four or five things that needed to happen.  We posted this list in the hall of our office, along with a picture of this fantastic resort.  The goal was that when those five steps were achieved and our business was stabilized, Curtis could quit his job and come into the business full time.  But equally rewarding to him was that he could also take his wife on an all expense paid trip to stay in this same hotel.  I found a picture of this hotel and drew stick figures of Curtis and his wife staying on the twenty-seventh floor and enjoying the view.  I even added a picture of its world-renowned restaurant because I knew his wife likes to dine at exclusive restaurants.  On the bottom of my artwork, I added a deadline of thirty-five days to earn this reward.  Curtis was salivating, even though we were not sure how this was going to happen.  But we did reach each of our goals, and Curtis and his wife did get to have a fantastic vacation.  And my reward was that I now had him working with me in our business full time.  

 

 

Rewards Must Be Earned – Zig Zag Principle #64

March 1st, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

Don’t Give Out Rewards Until They are Actually Earned

Being a fundamentally nice guy, I have made the mistake multiple times of giving a reward when the performance didn’t warrant it.  Every time that I have done this, I have ended up regretting it.  Even though you may feel for a minute that you’ve done the right thing, you’ve likely created a pattern and behavior system that will bite you in the end.  In some cases, being “nice” has been the death knell of my businesses. 

My family and I have traveled to Nepal several times, and I am always overwhelmed by the rampant poverty.  Like anyone who has traveled there, I have been approached countless times by small children who must beg in the streets for what little they have, and I always ponder what I—as one person with limited means—can do to help. 

The last time we were there, several young beggars followed my sons, our two Sherpas, and me everywhere we went.  They were filthy, and their ragged clothes were soaked with urine.  They approached us repeatedly, gesturing to their mouth and then their stomach to show us they were hungry. 

I believe that giving a person a handout does little to change his or her circumstances, but it broke my heart to see these small boys, who were about the ages of my younger boys.  Then I hit upon an idea.

We were in the middle of a central square where countless people gather each day to worship and shop.  While there are numerous trash cans in the square, no one seems to use them, and the area is covered with what looks like years of debris.  I decided I could solve two problems at once, so I offered one of the beggars 100 rupees (about $1.40) for every bag of trash he picked up and put in a trash can.  Given that the daily income for an adult in Nepal is about $2, that seemed like a powerful incentive.

What I was asking would have taken a couple of minutes, but this little boy looked at me like I was nuts and ran off.  Another little boy approached me, and I made the same offer.  He indicated he would do it, but wanted payment up front.  Now, I may be a soft touch, but I’m not stupid, so I told him he would get paid upon completion of the work.  He, too, ran off.

The third boy who approached me was the dirtiest and scrawniest of the bunch.  I really thought my plan had merit, so I upped the offer to 500 rupees.  His initial reaction was to give me a look that said, “No one picks up trash.  Not even beggars.  What kind of crazy American are you?”  But this time, I grabbed a bag and started picking up trash myself.  He soon joined in, and was stuffing trash into his bag as quickly as he could.  There was so much trash that our efforts were like trying to drain a pond using a teaspoon, but we were at least doing something to make a dent.  And soon others were joining in, including a gentleman who runs a humanitarian organization who saw my impetuous project as having some potential.

When we finished working and I paid the boy, he couldn’t have been more proud.  And several shopkeepers around the square began making similar offers to other boys who clearly were in need.

I realize that we made a very small dent in the problems of world hunger and cleaning up the environment that day.  But I also know that those who watched, including my sons, learned that rewards need be based on our efforts, not our wishes—and that the right reward system can provide the motivation to get to work and make a difference.

The Role of Discipline and Rewards – Zig Zag Principle #63

February 23rd, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

The Whip

I’ve had partners who used the whip.  There certainly are times when you have to discipline. However, my contention is that the whip needs to be used very sparingly—and never as an immediate reaction.  If you whip someone (verbally, of course), you may get a burst of incredible performance.  But you will inevitably lose your long-term productivity (and your top performers) if you punish too often. 

I have seen people who use the whip over and over.  Soon the people around them reach the breaking point and basically say,  “I don’t care. Whip me to death. I am done.”  They check out, and apathy sets in.  I know a young, up-and-coming executive who was a master with the whip.  Unfortunately, he was so hungry to prove himself that he burned through all the people around him.  Now, no one in our area will work for him. 

There is a fine balance between knowing when to reward and knowing when to discipline.  When there is an out-of-bounds problem, discipline needs to be meted out.  In our home, we do not have the long lists of rules I have seen some parents enforce.  Instead, the rules we do have are rules that fit with our core values, and we are very strict with these few rules.  I often say to my kids.  “You will make some mistakes.  That is how you learn.  Just don’t make the big mistakes!”  Too many little rules can create confusion and can actually undermine the more important rules. 

Seeing the Value in Failure

In my current company, we have set four sets of quarterly goals this year.  Honestly, I hope we miss one of these goals.  I do not want to miss the first set or the second, but if we miss the third goal it gives me a opportunity to point out that this is what a little failure feels like, and your success is not guaranteed.  I’ve managed teams that developed a bit too much ego.  That can lead to arrogance and missed goals.  If you handle such situations well, it will bring your team back to where they’re hungry and want to win again. 

 

Designing A Good Rewards System – Zig Zag Principle #62

February 16th, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

Keep Your System Simple

It’s important to not overcomplicate your system of goals and rewards.  In one of my early ventures, I created a chart that had eighteen different targets to hit and a simple “REWARD” written across the top.   My employees were unclear as to what the priorities were and what the reward would be.  I have found it’s best to have three or four target goals to hit, with a very specific reward at the end.  The goals we typically fail to achieve are the ones that are complex and unclear.

Employees should also feel free to devise their own systems (within reason, of course).  My son and his friends came up with their own motivating reward.  They had a Burger King crown they kept in the office.  They were all highly competitive, and they would have contests to see which one could create the most web links on a given day.  The winner then got to wear the crown.  The reward didn’t cost me anything, and it was fun to see these seventeen-year-old boys engage in an all-out push to optimize their web sites, just for the reward of wearing a paper crown. 

One of the benefits of having a team set its own goals and rewards is that the members learn to govern their own behavior.  That way I don’t have to micromanage my teams.  

Avoid the Entitlement Mentality

When I was managing Mitsubishi Electric, I was still young and not completely financially stable myself.  I had an awesome killer team that was also young and hungry.  I began the practice of taking them out to lunch every Friday.  I would pay for their lunch myself because I didn’t feel the company should have that expense.  This was my personal way of showing my appreciation.  A few months into this, I ended up in a tough stretch where I was traveling almost nonstop.  As a result, there were a few Fridays where we didn’t make it to lunch.  Soon, there was muttering and complaining.  Morale dropped.  These employees had become so accustomed to going to lunch each Friday that they felt they were entitled to this perk.  What started as a good intention led to my being the bad guy because I did not consistently provide them with their expected lunch.

I had a similar experience with my crew of teenagers.  I would stock the fridge with food and soda pops so they could grab something to eat after they finished school and before they started to work.  A few times we got so busy I failed to replenish the quickly consumed food items.  Almost immediately, some of the boys started murmuring, “I can’t believe it, there aren’t any burritos or Hot Pockets in the fridge.”  If I have erred, it is because sometimes I have rewarded too quickly or too often.

Allow For Some Flexibility

Situations change, and sometimes you need to change with them.  I’ve lived through shifts in markets where even though my team gave an incredible effort, they fell a bit short of the original goal.  In those situations I still gave the reward so the team didn’t lose steam.  However, be careful not to reward when the reward is not merited.

I employ a group of mothers who work for me from their homes.  They are motivated and hard working.  I told them once that if they had ten consecutive days of making $500 in profit, I would give each of them a large bonus.  These women worked their hearts out.  At the end of the period, I saw that while they were only clearing $300 to $400 on the weekdays, on the weekend their profits were $800 to $1,000.  Even though they did not have the ten consecutive days, on an average they were well over the target I had set.  I told them that in this instance, average really does count for something, and they earned their reward.

 

 

Find the Right Motivations – Zig Zag Principle #61

February 8th, 2012 by Rich Christiansen


incentivesWhat Will Motivate Your People?

Before developing your system of rewards, remember that what motivates one person may not motivate the next.  When I was general manager of About.com’s web services division, I had a highly talented engineer named Earl who worked for me.  He was, without question, one of our brightest engineers, but I continually struggled to figure out how to motivate this guy.  I regularly gave out bonuses, rewards, and incentives that everyone else loved, but Earl did not seem to care.  Nothing I offered seemed to motivate him, and I knew his contributions were affected by his apathy toward my rewards system. 

As we were planning our first Christmas party, I finally figured out what motivated Earl.  During a planning session, he asked if he could play a piano number for the entertainment.  I didn’t think much about it, but told him that would be fine.  The night of the Christmas party, Earl walked in, all decked out in a tuxedo, complete with flowing tails.  When he sat down to play the piano, it was clear he cared deeply about his performance, and he delivered his delightful number with the flare of a concert pianist.  Everyone cheered and clapped for him, and then he stood up and gave an overly exaggerated bow.  From that point forward, I knew what motivated him.  He didn’t care about things or money.  He loved recognition and any opportunity to perform and take a bow.

As the New Year began, I implemented what I dubbed “Lunch and Learn with Earl.”  Twice each month, we’d have a Lunch and Learn where the company would buy lunch and the junior engineers could visit with this master engineer.  They would ask him questions, he would impart his wisdom, and at the end they would all clap and Earl would beam.  The junior engineers learned a great deal from Earl, and Earl loved the recognition.  Productivity went through the roof. 

I had another employee who would always get really excited about the rewards I proposed, but before she achieved her goal, she would simply go out and buy the same thing she was going to be rewarded with.  And while she did good work, I knew she could be doing far more.  This pattern caused me immense frustration, but I finally found out that what she really wanted was for us to pay for her tuition at school and call it a scholarship.  By listening carefully to things she said, I learned that her parents had plenty of money, but they had always drilled into their children how they had gone through college on scholarships.  This young woman had good grades, but because she had no real financial need, she hadn’t been able to get a scholarship.  So, I developed a reward system that provided her with the scholarship she so desperately wanted.  

It’s also important to figure out what the people you are trying to motivate do not want.  I’ve learned that a reward for one person may actually feel like a punishment for another.  A few years ago, we established a reward for the young men who were working for CastleWave to go to Las Vegas and see the Blue Man Group.  We set up a very specific goal and also very specific rewards, which included going to the Stratosphere and riding on a roller coaster set atop of one of the tallest hotels that juts out over the city.  These boys, with one exception, worked extra hard because they loved the idea of this trip.  When they weren’t focused on the work, it was all they talked about. The exception happened to be a different personality type.  He was one of our key engineers who was a little shy and did not like big crowds.  In fact, the thought of going to Las Vegas with a bunch of loud teenagers couldn’t have been less motivating. 

Gratefully, he came to me and let me know that he really did not want to go on this trip. So, I found something else that motivated this engineer, and took the other boys when they reached their goal.  If I had ignored his needs, the outcome might have been tragic.  He was a key member of the team, and he could have subconsciously tried to sabotage the goal for the rest of the group because he did not want to go on the trip.

Finding Hidden Treasures – Zig Zag Principle #60

February 2nd, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

Hidden Treasures

As you have been rushing from goal to goal or from zig to zag, have you ever found yourself asking, “Why am I doing this?”  If you haven’t created and implemented a system of rewards for yourself and those around you, you’re going to find yourself burning out long before you reach your beacon in the fog.  Success and money alone are insufficient motivators.  I have found that if I tie a reward to the successful completion of each zig, I stay far more motivated than if I never pause to enjoy some benefit specifically tied to its completion.  And I find I’m much more enthused about beginning the next zag. 

We humans are really not much different from Pavlov’s salivating dogs.  If we catch a glimpse of a slab of meat, we will drool, salivate, and do just about anything to get to it.  My family has what I view as miserable, little dog that is half-poodle and half-Chihuahua.  She is the most high-maintenance little mutt I have ever met.  She does not like me, and I do not like her.  The problem is the rest of my family loves this dog, so she and I have put up with each other. She will have absolutely nothing to do with me, unless I have a little piece of meat in my hand.  Then she views me as her best friend, and her behavior shifts dramatically.  She pants and begs and pleads for that little piece of meat.  And, more important, she will do anything I ask.  Interestingly, she does not like just any kind of meat.  She likes the little slices of cheap lunchmeat that I am sure are not healthy for dogs.  Our other dog will eat anything I give her, but not this little mutt.  From the day we got her, I have had to find the things that specifically work for her. 

We all have things that motivate us.  The legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.” Recognizing that reality, and then consciously and deliberately motivating yourself and your teams using rewards, is one of the most powerful tools I have found, whether it’s in my personal, family, and professional life. 

When planning and executing each zig and zag, you should attach a reward to each target.  If you find the right rewards for your people, once they hit their goal they will be willing and even anxious to turn toward the next goal. 

Every great leader knows how to motivate people.  It does not matter if you are a CEO, a coach, a school teacher, a middle manager, or a parent, a big part of your job is being the psychologist or therapist who knows how to put out little rewards that get the people around you to behave consistently in working toward the goals you’ve established.  Lee Iacocca said, “Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them.  If you do all of those things effectively, you can’t miss.”  Lee Iococca (b. 1924). U.S. Businessman. Talking Straight (chapter 4, “Good Business—More in Management”)(1988).

Surprise Work Trip

December 20th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

One of the traditions that I have began with my children is a sheer delight. Just before they get ready to permanently leave the home I take them on a surprise “work trip”. So far they haven’t really figured out exactly what this will entail.

This weekend I was able to continue this tradition with my second son Matthew—who is simply an amazing young man, and someone that I thoroughly enjoy being with.

Two weeks ago I made arrangements and then told Matthew, “I have a really nasty project I need to have you help me with.” Being a very dutiful and good son, he said, “Dad, I’ll be delighted to help.” I had him block out Friday at about 9:00 p.m. and all day Saturday. When he showed up I told him to make sure he brought his warm jacket and tennis shoes, because we would be pretty active. However, I had secretly loaded our golf clubs in the trunk. We got in the car and I headed south for a surprise golf trip.

About halfway to St. George, Utah, the destination of our gold expedition Matthew still had no idea where we were going and he finally asked, “So Dad, what are we going to do?” Then I sprung it on him and he was ecstatically excited!

We had the most delightful day bonding and spending time together.

I remember when I started this tradition with my oldest son John. He really loved musicals, so we loaded into the car and headed north. I played the music to Wicked as we drove. It wasn’t until we got all the way to Salt Lake City and pulled into the airport parking lot, that he realized that I was taking him on a trip. We flew out to Los Angeles to see Wicked.

This tradition has created surprise and delightful memories that the boys will continue to talk about. It is important that you also do this in your work environment and for yourself too.

I often comment that we are nothing more than Pavlov’s Salivating Dogs. Indeed we have to give rewards and feed that inner animal. Surprise and delight go a long way in helping to get yourself loose, fluid, happy, and in the right, positive mindset. Not to mention—it’s just plain fun.

There is nothing better than the delightful surprise that feeds a life full of good memories and passion. Far more powerful than handing someone a stack of dollars is helping to make a meaningful memory.

Please make sure that you do that in your business, because it really is about the memories. It really is about the experiences that make it meaningful and lasting. Go forward and motivate yourself and your team and have a blast doing it!

Great Intent—Terrible Delivery

November 8th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Last weekend I was in Dallas Texas lecturing on the book. As I was racing home I was very excited to see my family–most specifically I was looking forward to spending some time with my beautiful wife.

As we frequently do when I’m traveling, my wife and I exchange texts back and forth. Just as I was getting on the airplane and the stewardess was scurrying us along and rushing us to shut down our cell phones so we could have an on-time departure, I quickly sent this final text to my wife, “Loving my wife.”

I thought, what a fitting way to send a message before I departed for home. I pressed send and didn’t think anything about it. I sent the message, shut down my phone, buckled up, had a productive flight working on some things, read a little bit of a book—it was great.

When we landed back in Salt Lake City, I turned my phone back on and…bop, bop, bop, bop, goes the phone. It delivered a whole sequence of text messages from my wife. I looked down in dismay to see that my wife was slightly ruffled.

When I had sent the text, “loving my wife”. The autocorrect had interpreted it to say, “leaving my wife”, not loving my wife.

Of course my wife knows I’m totally committed and I’d never leave her so we got a bit of a chuckle out of it. But I thought, how frequently in our businesses we have good intent, but we’re very sloppy on the communication and the delivery of our messages–specifically on our elevator pitch, or what we call our catalyzing statements, or the emotional fuel for our businesses.

In the elevator pitch, you only get one chance to tell someone about your business. You have just one sentence to get their interest. Anytime someone asks what you do, and you go on for 5-minutes, you’ve lost them. You’ve got to able to quickly and concisely drop them a snippet and capture their attention.
My experience is that more often than not we have very good intent, but very poor delivery. If there’s one place that you could use a marketing expert or someone to really craft your message–it’s on that elevator pitch, or in those really critical communication deliveries. Certainly you don’t want to convey a missed message, as I did.

Zig Zag, communicate effectively, and have a great life.

No, I Will Not Take Out The Trash – Zig Zag Principle #40

September 23rd, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Adding resources is harder than it sounds, but it’s the only way you’ll build your dream.  I have a neighbor who owns a shoe repair shop.  This man makes a decent living and takes care of his family’s basic needs.  However, to keep his head above water, he has to work day after day, week after week, repairing those shoes single-handedly.  If he needs a day off, he has to close the shop.  Same if he’s under the weather or has to take care of a sick wife or child.  Of course, that leads to a loss of income.  Now, his business model allows for some days off, but it’s a pretty thin margin.  If something major happened, the effects could be catastrophic.

My friend has made it through zig number 1 profitability—but he has not thought to turn his skis in the other direction for zag number 2.  In other words, he has not added the resources that would allow him to live a fuller, richer, and safer life.

A key reason many people have a hard time adding resources is they have become accustomed to micromanaging every aspect of their business. As hard as it can be to let go of control, as you hire the right people to fill in the gaps of knowledge or skill that you don’t have, and then as you help them learn your processes, your company will begin to reach its full potential.  Think of yourself as being akin to Emperor Shah Jahan, who may not have known how to carve flowers out of stone but was able to hire someone to do that job—and thus help him create his masterpiece.

I’m familiar with a family-owned business, run by a father and his sons, where the father has micromanaged every aspect of the business.  The father is now getting old and is about to retire.  He has talented sons who want to modernize the business, but his response is always, “We have been doing business this way for over forty years.  This is how it has to be done.” When the sons bring up the need to modernize equipment or processes, the father adamantly refuses. 

It’s no wonder the sons and their families are frustrated.  They feel stuck in a business that is archaic, and they would like a little leeway in bringing the business into the computer age and making it more productive. 

This example is common among family-run businesses, but the same plight is found among businesses founded by a strong-minded personality, who is then unwilling to bring in additional resources and let them do what they were hired to do. As you begin to take zag number 2 in order to grow your business, remembering that it is all about disciple will help you loosen your grip on the controls.  The imagine I keep in mind to help me do this (because, I’ll admit it, I can be a bit controlling) is what I call the “Yes, Yes, Yes, NO! Principle.”  While you are working on zig number 1 and trying to get to cash, you will, of necessity, say “Yes” to many things, such as:

  • Yes, I will do the accounting.
  • Yes, I will sell a small order that has potential for larger orders.
  • Yes, I will answer the phones.
  • Yes, I will take out the trash.
  • No, I will not compromise my values.

 

Now, as you add resources, it’s time to add a few more “Nos.”  Some of these might be:

  • No, I will not take out the trash. I will hire a cleaning person.
  • No, I will not do my own accounting. I will outsource my taxes to an accountant.
  • No, I will not answer the phones and do the bookkeeping. I will hire an administrative assistant.

Subway Directions

August 28th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Subway Directions:

1. Look up

2. Look Down

3. Look up

4. Look Down

5. Look up

6. Look Down

7. Look up

Now I am not talking about the subway in New York, even though it would be a similar to these instructions: look up and look down. Indeed you have to look up and down often as you board, watch for your stop, and read the map. So indeed, those instructions are very appropriate and applicable for any rapid transit. However; the subway that I am speaking about is a hike in Southern Utah.

If you know me, you know that I love the metaphor of the mountain. Well, today I did a little canyoneering deep into a slot canyon. This hike is about 10 miles long, beautiful, and a perfect activity for my family. The Subway is probably my favorite hike in the entire world.

The first thing we did was look up to see the beauty of the canyon, then we looked down to ensure a good footing. Throughout the day we followed this sequence: 1. Look up to see the views. 2. Look down to see the obstacles that we are attempting to overcome as we are traversing down steep terrain. 3. Look up at the gorgeous canyon around us. 4. Look down very carefully as we swim underneath rocks, carefully traverse logs, or pass over a very difficult rock slide. The entire day was a sequence of zig zagging.

The mountains are a brilliant example of zig zagging, but I have to tell you that canyoneering is an even better zig zag analogy. Even though we are heading in a general direction, we are continually climbing over and up and around obstacles. We wouldn’t have even made it five minutes without killing ourselves if we hadn’t zig zagged through that day. Additionally there was a tremendous amount of looking up and down. The encouragement that I give to everyone, not only in their business, but also in their personal lives, is this. Look down. Make sure you’re on track and avoiding the big obstacles. But for heavens sake, take time to look up to enjoy the beautiful things around you.

We hit one point where there were these amazing dinosaur footprints on a huge slab of rock. But we had to look up to see that. If we had just been looking down at all the little obstacles and stumbling points, we would have completely missed the entire experience.

Now how ironic is it that often times the real joys in life comes from those tricky little traverses. There is one place called the choke stone, where we literally are swimming in freezing cold water. We have to dive underneath the water, turn sideways and go underneath a log and then continue this crazy, big-hairy swim. It was scary! Every time I do it, it makes me a little uncomfortable. Now that we’re done, what do you think my entire family is talking about? They’re recalling that tricky traverse.

Then at the end of the hike there is a steep climb. It takes a lot of endurance to climb out of that canyon. Indeed in life and in business traveling the path takes a lot of hard work.

Let me leave you with a little advice I’ve been contemplating on the hike. Look down, pay attention to the details, but don’t forget to look up and enjoy the beautiful things around you. Both in life and in business take time to savor your sweet experiences.

Staring Deep into the Eyes of the Dragon

August 8th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “How do you ensure that you’ll be a successful entrepreneur?” Many people think that it requires a high degree of intelligence or some great insight or an extensive network. I continually tell people the number one factor in business, and I think in life in general, is unalterable determination—or in other words, looking your dragons in the eye and spitting on them, despite the fact that they are trying to eat you up.

I love the movie Cinderella Man. The story is of a man who is a professional fighter. He’d previously given up fighting, but because his family is starving, he goes back and faces a Goliath in his life.

There comes a point in the movie where he’s facing the most formidable opposition. This particular opponent is actually known for killing people in the ring. The protagonist takes several hard body blows…and then there comes a point during the fight where he turns and shouts “Hit me! Hit me! Is that all you have?”

He takes blow after blow until he ends up winning the fight despite the brutal beating. Sometimes we have to face such dragons.

Last week I found myself in a tough situation as I was preparing myself for a little respite I’m going to be taking with my wife. I really found myself in an impossible situation, with some factors in my life attempting to dish out every body blow that I could possibly take.

Then I experienced an interesting change that came over me halfway through the week. This change was similar to the change in Cinderella Man.

My approach and my attitude toward my conflicts became. “Is that all you have? Bring it, bring it!” Then I had to proceed to face those dragons and stare them in the eye.

Indeed we will all have intense challenges in our life, but particularly as you face entrepreneurship. The biggest challenge I leave to you is this: As crazy as it sounds, embrace those body blows! Look them in the eye. Fight the dragons. You will reach a level of exhilaration when you get through the challenge. Then go forward, prosper, and enjoy the wonderful ride and life of becoming a small business owner.

Taste Testing Dark Chocolate

August 2nd, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

Last weekend was my wife’s birthday. As part of her birthday present I wanted to get her a special treat that she would really enjoy. Several nights before her birthday we went to a friend’s home. This individual is quite a charismatic connoisseur of chocolate, and as part of the dessert he had us sample some very high-end, dark chocolate, one of which was laced with bacon, of all things. Another was flavored with a certain type of mushroom.

My wife really enjoyed the chocolate and the entire experience. So as a good husband, I decided to get her some really high-end, fancy dark chocolate. Indeed, my wife loves dark chocolate. So on her birthday, I presented her with several bars of Amano Artisan Chocolate. The intriguing thing is that the only difference between each of these designer chocolate bars is where the cocoa bean is grown, yet there is a remarkably different flavor that stands out with each bar. Then to make it a little more fun, I got her some other types of chocolate. I got her a Lindt Swiss Chocolate bar. I even got her, from all places, some chocolate from Ikea. Of course, I also added in some famous Ghirardelli.

I have to admit I was pretty excited to present these elegant chocolate bars to my beautiful, chocolate-loving wife. When she started eating a little bit of the chocolate gift, much to my dismay she wasn’t salivating or even getting super excited about the expensive artisan chocolate. I was of course a little bit put out…indignant that I spent $7.00 for each small designer bar that she was glossing over. (Yes $21.00 for just little bit of chocolate.)

So I decided, okay, we are going to sample these seriously. We are going to test the artisan chocolate against the grocery store brands. We gathered my family and my brother’s family for the taste test. I cut the samples into little pieces, covered it with a cloth, had everyone blindly taste the samples one by one, and then rate the chocolates.

Indeed there was a dramatic difference between each chocolate. And everyone could pinpoint dramatically different flavors that came out of each of these chocolates.

Instantly Nathan, my 15-year-old son identified the gourmet chocolate and zeroed right in on it. He loved it. However, everyone else, for the most part, actually enjoyed the regular, non-designer chocolate better than the fancy stuff.

It was really a fun experience to go through and sample each chocolate. As I thought about this I saw the analogy. I realized that in business we often go through a very similar concept. We think that everyone is going to prefer the exotic, the way-out-there taste, or the highest priced option. However, sometimes the pallets of our target are not necessarily over-the-top extravagant, bacon-laced, dark chocolate experiences.

Now none of these chocolates were low quality. None of these chocolates were just the cheap stuff from the check out aisle. Nonetheless, they were dramatically different in price. So as you present product offers to your customers, make sure that you actually understand the taste of the consumer that you are subscribing to.

Additionally, when you are the consumer, consider this chocolate analogy. I never encourage anyone to go with cheap stuff that falls apart, but sometimes people just like the simple dark chocolate that isn’t the handmade designer style. You don’t have to spend extravagantly in your business when your flavor isn’t suited to that either. You can get decent office chairs and decent office equipment that isn’t necessarily over-the-top, high-priced stuff.

The interesting thing about this taste test is that the winner was the second lowest priced bar. Most everyone voted that the Lindt chocolate bar was the favorite. Whether you’re tasting chocolate or whether you’re buying or selling services, you don’t always have to be extreme.

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