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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Drucker's good questions

This post from Lois' Foghound partner Janet Swaysland:

Peter Drucker sure had a way with questions. Today during an online tribute to Drucker, 600 of us Drucker-philes -- including speakers Tom Peters, Marshall Goldsmith, Frances Hesslebein, and David Maister -- were reminded of the simple brilliance of questions like “What needs to be done?” “Why are we here?” “How can we do things better?” And of course Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions:

1. What is the mission?
2. Who is the customer?
3. What does the customer value?
4. What are our results?
5. What is our plan?

“The leader of the past knew how to tell. The leader of the future will know how to ask,” Drucker said.

(Marketers, take special note. We can do better than asking, “What’s the ROI on that program?” )
The very best advice is often common sense. But sometimes we need a push, a reminder. Those who ask the best questions -- and who listen most intently – win.
The best questions take us off the beaten trail, they are bank shots to uncovering unexpected beliefs, desires and ideas. They are bold, heartfelt questions. That’s Step 1.
Step 2 is being brave enough to not dumb down or bury the bold, heartfelt answers…

PS -- Another favorite Drucker quote: “I don’t predict. I just look out the window and see what’s visible but not yet seen.” Asking the right questions can be a real eye opener.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Women Running Countries: Giant ears vs. big mouths?

Women stepping up to run countries were in the news today.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a 67-year-old Harvard=trained economist, is being inaugurated as the president of Liberia, the first woman president in Africa. Michele Bachelet, a doctor and former political prisoner, was yesterday elected as Chile’s first woman president. German Chancellor Angela Merkel just finished a visit to the White House. And Finland’s first female president, Tarja Halonen yesterday failed to win enough votes to secure re-election, forcing a runoff against a conservative challenger.

Why is it that women are succeeding as CEO’s of countries, but not of businesses?

I believe it’s because people today are screaming to be heard and to be understood, and women use a conversational communications style that recognizes those voices.

Look no further than the online world for evidence of wanted to be heard and involved. An estimated 50,000 new blogs start every day. Millions share product reviews and recommendations online. Communities are thriving. MoveOn.org has changed political advocacy, making it easy for people to be heard and get involved.

Women‘s communications styles tend to be more engaging, involving, and conversational than men. Most men talk more than they listen, not recognizing other people’s voices. Women, it seems, may have the inside track on knowing how to genuinely connect with people.

In her fascinating book, “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” Deborah Tannen explains that men are more comfortable using “report-talk” while women use “rapport-talk.”

“For most women the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships,” she writes. “For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order.”

In Alice Walker’s novel “The Temple of My Familiar,” the main character falls in love with a man because she sees in him “a giant ear.”

Maybe women are succeeding because they are giant ears, and people prefer to be led by big ears instead of big mouths.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The cookbook on constructing a story

“Stories are the large and small instruments of meaning, of explanation, that we store in our memories. We cannot live without them. So why is it that when many of us are asked to construct a story as a formal presentation to illustrate a point, we go blank?”

Joe Lambert, director of the non-profit Center of Digital Storytelling, puts his finger on the question that so many marketers are wrestling with. We know the value of stories, and best selling marketing books by Seth Godin and Steve Denning offer further proof of their value.

But how do you put together a story?

Next week Janet Swaysland, a Foghound partner, and I are taking a Center for Digital Story telling workshop to learn more -- and actually put together a digital story of how Foghound came to be. I recommend Lambert’s book, The Digital Storytelling Cookbook and Traveling Companion for anyone who wants a helpful “how to.”

In the book Lambert explains that there are seven elements in constructing a story:
  1. Point of view. Stories need to make point.
  2. Dramatic question. What keeps people interested?
  3. Emotional content. How do we overcome something hard part to get what we want?
  4. The gift of your voice. Real person, conversational style vs. the scripted.
  5. The power of the soundtrack. Music can put the story into a clearer perspective, or at least entertain us.
  6. Economy. The hardest part of storytelling. How to tell the story with few words and images.
  7. Pacing. The rhythm of the story is the true secret of successful storytelling.

    PS – My professional story, as you can see in the picture (stop laughing), started when I was a teenager, reporting for the Arlington (Mass.) Advocate.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Listening or spin at White House today?

I got excited this morning when I heard that President Bush had invited about a dozen former secretaries of state and defense -- from both parties -- to the White House today to talk about Iraq.

Imagine the potential value of putting such talented people to work to figure out how to best navigate the complexities of this situation?

But was the intention to really listen to new voices or simply to put a more positive public spin on the Bush Administration? Here's how to tell the difference.

My communications scholar friends, like Walter Carl at Northeastern University, say that there are three general categories of listening, a sort of Maslow's hierarchy of listening, if you will. People tend to feel listened to when they reach the third level.

1. Recognition: just recognizing the other person's existence
2. Acknowledgement: acknowledging what another person feels or thinks or says
3. Endorsement: accepting another person's thoughts or worldview as valid and legitimate

Were these former global public policy leaders really listened to today?

PS: This listening hierarchy is also helpful to assess whether we're really listening to customers.