It’s very hard to have ideas. It’s very hard to put yourself out there, it’s very hard to be vulnerable, but those people who do that are the dreamers, the thinkers and the creators. They are the magic people of the world.

Amy Poehler, Actress and Author
Sharing Ideas - How to get Comfortable Outside your Comfort Zone

Sharing Ideas - How to get Comfortable Outside your Comfort Zone

Posted by martin.parnell |

I was recently presenting a workshop on how to implement a Strategic Plan. As part of an exercise, I asked the participants to come up with discussion ideas for goal setting and action plans. Some of the attendees were very forthcoming, but others less so. I think there were two reasons for this. Firstly, they may simply have not had any ideas come to them, at that moment in time, but, secondly, I realise that some people are not comfortable articulating ideas aloud. 

I’ve been thinking about, why some people might find this type of exercise intimidating or perhaps think their ideas are not worth a mention. Contributor, Gabi Mostert, addresses this issue in a post Too Many Creatives Still FeelScared To Share Their Ideas, on thecampaign US website, March, 2018. and suggests these reasons as to why:

“We’re scared that they’re not good enough. We’re scared that if someone else adds to the idea, it’s not 100% ours anymore. We’re scared of negative feedback and sometimes we’re scared of those people stealing our ideas.”

In her article, Mostert is addressing the “creatives” in industry. But, reading it, I feel the content applies to many areas of business. Whether you are working in marketing, sales, IT or any branch of business, changes are constantly being made, with the aim of improving production and, therefore someone has to come up with ideas in order to make progress happen. So, what to do if you have an idea? Mostert speaks to this question and offers this advice:

“Every time you discuss your work with people, you get better at your job. You get better at articulating your ideas and selling them. In that way, when you present them you’ve had a bit of practice along the way.

Sharing ideas leads to a natural exchange, which makes people feel valued and opens a door for them to share their ideas with you. The more minds that come together from all different backgrounds, the better the chances of coming up with new and exciting work.”

This is why it’s important to get your ideas out in the open. Test your ideas on different people outside the workplace, they can often give a different perspective. They may be able to see the pitfalls and positives in a different way to the people you work with. No matter whom you share your ideas with, listen to all their feedback. Well- considered feedback can be invaluable and remember that if someone pitches an idea to you, it’s important you give genuine, thoughtful, constructive feedback to them.

As far as being confident in business is concerned, I did some further research and found some tips on the Entrepeneur website, from guest contributor, Anka Wittenberg. In her piece entitled:  7 Ways to Help Boost Your Confidence at Work,   August, 2015, Wittenberg tells us:

 “Building confidence does not require a complete personality overhaul. Instead, you can take smaller steps to become more self-assured and boost your confidence.” She then recommends some key actions you can take, in order to address the issue:

Push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Volunteer for a project that will help you build new skills. Apply for a job that feels like a stretch but matches your interests. Sign up to present or speak at an event and tackle your fear of public speaking head-on. 

Visualize what you want as a first step to meeting a new challenge.

For example, see yourself in the role you want to achieve. Golfers are routinely advised to picture where the ball should travel as part of their swing. By imagining yourself in the job you want, you can create that vision for those around you, too. Give yourself a head start by getting into character. Want to take an executive role? Be sure to dress, talk, and act like an executive.

Assess your competencies.

Write down all of the skills you bring to the table right now. Don’t forget to include broader talents that can help your organization succeed -- now and in the future.

Create your own environment.

Instead of moving on when a workplace doesn’t meet your needs, reshape it through your actions. Work with your team in a way that feels true and honest, sharing your competencies with complete confidence. In doing so, you will brand yourself within your organization and begin to attract people with similar values to your team. As your team expands to include more people with your mindset, your environment will evolve to one where you want to work.

Have others instil confidence in you.

People who are able to cut through bureaucracy and make decisions quickly are rewarded for having the confidence to get the job done. According to a study from Knowledge@Wharton and SAP, 62 percent of business leaders say they are overburdened with complicated process and this inhibits productivity and performance. Raise your hand to tackle a few of these projects. Once your peers recognize that you are a problem solver, they will instil confidence within you. Having others reinforce this belief will help you realize your potential. 

 Be the change you wish to see.

Once you’ve taken steps to build your own confidence, don’t forget to give someone else a hand up. Through peer coaching, you can partner with others to create a positive change.

Choose someone who works closely enough to see you in action. Each week, give positive feedback to one another on the strengths that you have each displayed. By refusing to accept self-critical behavior and helping one another to erase blind spots, you can enhance one another’s confidence. Better yet, you’ll be helping your peer advance her prospects while liberating talent that will benefit your organization. 

Of course, the reluctance to share your ideas may come down to a matter of personal confidence, or low self-esteem, rather than the ideas themselves. Here are selected extracts from an item Chris W. Dunn in Entrepeneur Magazine September 2016, “10 Things You Can Do to Boost Self-Confidence”, that may help:

“Visualization is the technique of seeing an image of yourself that you are proud of, in your own mind. When we struggle with low self-confidence, we have a poor perception of ourselves that is often inaccurate. Practice visualizing a fantastic version of yourself, achieving your goals.

Affirmations are positive and uplifting statements that we say to ourselves. These are normally more effective if said out loud so that you can hear yourself say it. We tend to believe whatever we tell ourselves constantly. For example, if you hate your own physical appearance, practice saying something that you appreciate or like about yourself when you next look in the mirror.

To get your brain to accept your positive statements more quickly, phrase your affirmations as questions like, “Why am I so good in making deals?” instead of “I am so good at making deals.” Our brains are biologically wired to seek answers to questions, without analyzing whether the question is valid or not.

Some of the harshest comments that we get come from ourselves, via the "voice of the inner critic." If you struggle with low self-confidence, there is a possibility that your inner critic has become overactive and inaccurate.

Strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy help you to question your inner critic, and look for evidence to support or deny the things that your inner critic is saying to you. For example, if you think that you are a failure, ask yourself, “What evidence is there to support the thought that I am a failure?” and “What evidence is there that doesn’t support the thought that I am a failure?”

Find opportunities to congratulate, compliment and reward yourself, even for the smallest successes. As Mark Twain said, “[A] man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”

Too many people are discouraged about their abilities because they set themselves goals that are too difficult to achieve. Start by setting yourself small goals that you can win easily.

Once you have built a stream of successes that make you feel good about yourself, you can then move on to harder goals. Make sure that you also keep a list of all your achievements, both large and small, to remind yourself of the times that you have done well.

Instead of focusing only on “to-do" lists, I like to spend time reflecting on “did-it" lists. Reflecting on the major milestones, projects and goals you’ve achieved is a great way to reinforce confidence in your skills.

Helping someone else often enables us to forget about ourselves and to feel grateful for what we have. It also feels good when you are able to make a difference for someone else.

Instead of focusing on your own weaknesses, volunteer to mentor, practically assist or teach another, and you'll see your self-confidence grow automatically in the process.

Self-confidence depends on a combination of good physical health, emotional health and social health. It is hard to feel good about yourself if you hate your physique or constantly have low energy.

Make time to cultivate great exercise, eating and sleep habits. In addition, dress the way you want to feel. You have heard the saying that “clothes make the man.” Build your self-confidence by making the effort to look after your own needs.

Learn to say no. Teach others to respect your personal boundaries. If necessary, take classes on how to be more assertive and learn to ask for what you want. The more control and say that you have over your own life, the greater will be your self-confidence.

People with low self-confidence see others as better or more deserving than themselves. Instead of carrying this perception, see yourself as being equal to everyone. They are no better or more deserving than you. Make a mental shift to an equality mentality and you will automatically see an improvement in your self-confidence.”

Hopefully some of these strategies will help. We all have experience and knowledge which we can apply to formulating ideas and we should not be afraid to use these skills in order to share them.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, was released on October 30th 2018. He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential” and has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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The customer's perception is your reality.

Kate Zabriskie, trainer and designer - Business Training Works
How to see Negative Feedback in a Positive Light

How to see Negative Feedback in a Positive Light

Posted by martin.parnell |

Everyone loves a happy customer and the way we know if a customer is happy is from feedback. This may come in the form of written feedback, a passing comment or just the fact that they come back and use your company over and over again. We all love positive feedback, apart from making us feel good, it lets us know we’re on the right path and we’re doing things well and this is especially pleasing if it comes from customers. 

After all, we all strive to give our best and we know that a happy customer will most likely stay with you and give you repeat business. 

However, even in a perfect world, you really can’t please all of the people all of the time and nobody likes having an unhappy customer. The good thing is, if you are made aware of a reason why a customer is less than happy, at least it gives you the opportunity to do something about it. 

Complaints from customers should not be ignored, but dealt with as quickly as possible. It’s better to nip things in the bud rather than let them fester and grow into something that becomes a greater issue. 

Also, they should be used to identify areas in your business that might be improved. Of course, some complaints may seem trivial, but to the persons making them they are of importance. Peoples’ standards vary and what may seem perfectly acceptable practice to one, may not be to another. 

Bill Gates, Co-Founder of MICROSOFT, once said “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”. 

We should learn not to be afraid of a complaint and see it as a sign that we are failing, but be glad that a customer has taken the time to make their feelings known. They could so easily just take their business elsewhere and you would be none the wiser as to the reason why. If a customer complains, it is probably a sign that they wish to continue using your services but in one particular instance they are not happy with your product or service. 

If you do receive a complaint, try not to become defensive, rather, thank the customer for bringing the issue to your attention. If you do receive a complaint, ensure that colleagues, employees and your immediate boss are aware that there has been an issue, this will be valuable information that they too can act upon. It would not look good if the same issues kept arising. 

If you resolve an issue with a customer, do make a point of checking back with them, at a later date, to ensure they were fully satisfied with the outcome. It’s a good idea to have a process by which customers can offer feedback, both positive and negative. You might like to have a space on your website or send out emails to customers asking for their degree of satisfaction with your product and service. 

Some people can be reluctant to complain and so you might consider doing an anonymous customer survey. This will give them the opportunity to give honest feedback without any embarrassment. It may mean that you cannot resolve issues on a personal level, but at least it may bring to your attention certain issues that you were unaware of and enable you to rectify them. It could be that several people will raise the same issues. 

We all see our businesses in a certain light and we hope our customers see us in the same way. It’s important that we make every effort to ensure that is the case and customer feedback can go a long way to making that happen.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, was released on October 30th 2018. He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential” and has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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Advertising is the ability to sense, interpret . . . to put the very heart throbs of a business into type, paper, and ink.

Leo Burnett - American advertising executive
Think Outside of the Box if you want to have More Influence

Think Outside of the Box if you want to have More Influence

Posted by martin.parnell |

I was listening to a recent episode of “Under The Influence”, on CBC Radio and presenter, Terry O'Reilly, was talking about someone he refers to as The Most Interesting Adman in The World i.e.  Albert Lasker.  In  O’Reilly’s words, “Lasker had a hand in influencing professional baseball, Planned Parenthood, North American breakfast , the American Cancer Society and not one, but two presidential elections. And he just happened to change the world of advertising in the process.” 

He lived from 1880 until 1952 and brands he helped launch nearly 100 years ago are still with us today. Lasker began his career at ad agency Lord  & Thomas, where he was introduced to co-founders Daniel Lord and Ambrose Thomas. Thomas took young Albert under his wing and began teaching him the ad business. One day during his apprenticeship, Lord & Thomas received a small advertising request from a company that made knitwear for infants.

It was run by a very difficult German man, so the agency sent young Lasker over to convince the clothes-maker to increase his budget. A nervous Albert Lasker made his pitch, but the owner was insulted the agency had sent over such an inexperienced man, saying, "They think because this is a baby business, they can send children over here!"Lasker began to fret, but then - on the spot - decided to repeat his entire pitch in German, the language he had learned from his father.

The cranky owner was won over by Lasker's chutzpah. Then increased his advertising budget. Lasker went on to impress his bosses with further successes. At only 23, Albert Lasker had already earned enough money from salary and bonuses to buy Daniel Lord's shares when Lord retired.

But the more Lasker learned about advertising, the more he believed agencies were leaving a lot of money on the table by not offering copywriting services. His instincts told him that what the advertising said was more important than just where it was placed. There was only one thing standing in the way of his success: Lasker wasn't exactly sure what made good advertising work.

He began analyzing all the advertising he could find, looking for an underlying theory. All he saw was advertising that announced new products or new ways to use old products. Then one day, the answer came to him, in the form of a Canadian named John E. Kennedy. He was a strapping 6-foot tall, ex-Mountie who used to write ads for the Hudson's Bay Company. The secret to advertising, Kennedy said, can be summed up in just three words: "Salesmanship in print."

Those three words would change the advertising world forever. "Salesmanship in print" was an epiphany to the advertising world in 1904. Essentially, Kennedy was saying that advertising had to persuade. It had to give people reasons to buy the product. It had to convince. Up until then, all advertising was just straight facts. Here's the product, here's what it costs.

Lasker decided to try out Kennedy’s idea. He knew of a washing machine maker that was spending $15,000 a year on advertising but wasn't getting much of a response. So Kennedy wrote a persuasive print ad that gave women reasons why they should buy a new washer. In the first week alone, the ad pulled in 1,547 inquires. Within four months, the washing machine company doubled its advertising budget.

Within 6 months, it was one of the four largest advertisers in the country. Within a year, its business had tripled and the company had to build a new plant to handle all the orders. Lasker was convinced. Writing ads was more important than just placing ads. With this new approach, Lasker went from strength to strength.

A small firm from Milwaukee called the B.J. Johnson Soap Company approached Lord & Thomas with a laundry product. Lasker felt the laundry category was too crowded and cutthroat. Do you have anything else, he asked? The soap company said yes, they had a bar of soap made from palm and olive oils. It was called Palmolive, but they didn't have much hope for it.

Lasker  created a campaign around the "beauty appeal" of Palmolive, rather than its cleaning qualities. Then he sent letters to 50,000 druggists telling them Palmolive was about to launch a massive coupon promotion and to get ready for a stampede of shoppers. The soap company immediately received one thousand orders from retailers.

One year later, the B.J. Johnson Soap Company was redeeming two thousand coupons per month. 99 per cent of drugstores were stocking Palmolive Soap. By 1916, Palmolive was the best-selling soap in the world. The B.J. Johnson Soap Company changed its name to the Palmolive Company. Lasker went on to have similar successes with Goodyear Tyres, Sunkist, Puffed Wheat and Sun-Maid Raisins, to name but a few.”

I find the whole story of Albert Lasker a fascinating one, partly because he was able to achieve all his many accomplishments whilst suffering from severe bouts of depression and crippling anxiety. 

Lasker  was able to make the most of every opportunity and persevered where others had failed. The way that Lasker was able to achieve such significant accomplishments was by not only using his initiative and incredible streak of creativity but also by thinking outside of the box.

This is not an easy task for most people. In fact, according to Jim Haudan Co-founder and CEO of Root Inc. In his article, 3 Ways to Think Outside the Box More Often, published on the INC. website, January 4th. 2018, Haudan explains:


“Thinking outside the box is supposed to mean confronting problems in atypical ways, thinking creatively and freely, and encouraging frequent challenges to the status quo. Outside-the-box thinking, in the creative words of Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, is "constructive noncomformity" behavior. This is behavior that deviates from organizational norms or common expectations, to the benefit of the organization.” 

However, he reveals that “In a study of 1,000 employees in a variety of industries, fewer than 10% said that they worked in firms that encouraged nonconformity or thinking outside the box. Additionally, the Harvard Business Review conducted an internal study asking employees how often they saw senior leaders challenge the status quo or ask their teams to think outside the box. Only 29% said "often" or "always," 42% said "never" or "almost never," and 32% said "sometimes."

So, if you are someone who thinks that this strategy may work for you, Haudan tells you how you can “nurture the ability to look at things differently and encourage constructive nonconformity”. Here’s how:

  1. Question the status quo regularly. Make nonconformity the expected conversation. Ask "Why?" "How might we...?" and "What if...?" Put apparent conflicting issues side by side and begin to solve for them as a team. Conventional wisdom might say resolving conflicting issues isn't possible, but if you challenge "the way we do it today," you'll come up with new thinking.  Here's an example activity: Give your people the opportunity to imagine they work for your competitor, and their job is to attack your organization where you are most vulnerable. This is a great way to challenge the strategic status quo and identify new issues from a different perspective. 
  1. Take a wider perspective and oscillate between uncommon content!  Breakthrough thinking and creativity often come from making uncommon connections. Keep widening the lens aperture to take in different and broader perspectives that could make sense. The key is to oscillate between seemingly unrelated topics, concepts, or issues to find the uncommon connection that causes a different view or an idea to move "outside the box." Don't discount anything as unrelated or unconnected. 
  1. Draw a picture as a team. Draw a picture of your challenge and possible ways to solve it. You don't have to be Da Vinci. Drawing engages your right brain and can release the hold your logical left brain has on thinking about the issue or "the box" the same way. Metaphors are also very powerful tools for holding a lot of information in a small amount of space. The key is to engage your team in the process of visual thinking and visual iteration to encourage different views about how a solution could take a new path.” 

This may help you if you wish to succeed not only in marketing your product, but in many areas of business where a little creative thinking and a challenge to the status quo may help you come up with new and interesting initiatives.

To listen to the full podcast about Albert Lasker, Download S8E07 - The Most Interesting Adman in The World: The Story of Albert Lasker (An Encore Presentation) on Under The Influence on the CBC’s website.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, was released on October 30th 2018. He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential” and has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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