Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Say What You Mean

A little more thoughtfulness in our daily communications could go a long way to preventing cliché traps, irritating patterns and shortcuts that creep into our businesses. Okay, at the risk offending some people, here are some examples of what I mean.

“Let’s continue the conversation off line.”- This one comes up during a conference call or webinar. It kind of dehumanizes things. I get it. Sometimes the leader needs to suggest follow up on side issues not germain to the larger group.

“Think outside the box.”- This phrase is used by non-creative people in an attempt to classify their efforts as creative, but what does it really mean anyway? Only the most inarticulate among us needs a crutch phrase like this.

“My plate is full.” - Unless your business involves eating contests, find a better way to say you are busy. You just want to finish up projects on which you are currently working before accepting additional tasks. Fine. And eat your vegetables, they are good for you.

“At the end of the day…” - The day doesn’t end in a world connected by global commerce and 24-hour web presence.

“Thanks for reaching out.”- This sounded kind of sweet the first time I heard it, but as I started to see more and more people affected by economic setbacks, it seemed to take on a tone of pity.

“Getting the right people on the bus…”- Good to Great is a well researched business book by Tom Collins. It offers a lot of valuable insight. Sadly, some of the rhetoric it generated leads to some unfortunate, maybe even downright wrong conclusions for everyday business people. Getting people in the right seats? Be careful. You are talking about real people and their livelihoods. It’s not a game, a parable or a formula. If it were, wouldn’t every company be GREAT?
“We are a Solution Provider.“ - This is one of my favorites. Sales guys sometimes think in a vacuum, so they love this one. The next time you go to a big trade show, be on the lookout and listen for it. “We like to think we are a solution provider.” I heard a printer say it recently. Printing is tough to sell these days. Printing firms are branching out into other areas not so much about paper and ink. A good salesperson will benefit from corporate strategy and find more exact language.

“It’s right in our space.” - What are you trying to say? You don’t own space. It isn’t a parking lot. Space is used instead of business, expertise, process or industry. I hope you find a space where you can be comfortable.
“Let’s go Viral.” - Malcolm Gladwell and his books, including The Tipping Point, and the emergence of Social Media made this a common phrase to describe internet strategy. It’s overused and with all of the tactical based options available, it’s not very precise terminology.

“Core Competencies” - Come on, why can’t you just say it straight up? We are good at certain things, and not so great at others.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

But enough about me, How did you like my last movie?

Mark wanted to meet for lunch. His idea, he said, was to learn more about my background and experience. “Bring your portfolio and/or samples of your work,” he said “I know you like to write since I’ve read some of your stuff but I’d like to know more.” Naturally I was flattered. I am my favorite subject. I am happy to talk about myself. I’m not sure Mark is fully prepared for what he’s gotten himself into. He assures me that he is. The result was a three hour monologue.

I’ve had an interesting career journey. The things of which I am most proud do not fall neatly into those pithy but memorable mnemonic devices that business coaches recommend. I could certainly engineer such disingenuous statements as “I managed the strategy and execution around this product launch for the wholesaler segment that resulted in over $2 Million in sales in year one,” or “I lead corporate communications for a architecture/engineering/construction firm, earning over 3 million dollars worth of media exposure, that resulted in new business wins of over 100 million dollars for the company,” but in my heart I know my efforts are never that solitary. In fact I don’t believe anyone can honestly claim that their greatest successes can accurately be described in such definitive terms. Maybe a sales manager can get away with a claim like, “I improved sales performance by 83% in my territory,” but  doesn’t that tend to discount the efforts of manufacturing, distribution, customer service and operations? Come on. No man is an island. Furthermore, isn’t is a bit unfair to the previous territory sales guy who managed to keep the company in business during the economic downturn in spite of lackluster sales numbers?

“I’m looking for threads in your career journey,” says Mark as he enjoys his hamburger at the sports bar/tavern we chose for this meeting. “One thing I notice is you are about strategy and execution. You have solutions and you know how to get it done.” Very nice. Thanks for listening Mark.

Net-Net. I’m happy to tell you where I’ve been and share career highlights. It takes about three hours. Or, even better, let’s talk about your biggest marketing challenge and invest three hours brainstorming ways to improve your chances of out-thinking your competition, earning market share, delivering value and improving profitability.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Docents visit Chrystal Bridges (AR)

Three Questions…
During the weekend of November 9, 2012, 39 members of the Laumeier staff and docent team traveled by bus to Bentonville, Ark., to experience the first anniversary of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The best thing about the trip was travelling with Laumeier Docents and Friends, experiencing the wonderful indoor and outdoor spaces at Crystal Bridges, looking at and talking about the architecture, the setting and the art collection. Sharing our knowledge, experiences and responses with each other—it’s what we love! The trip to Crystal Bridges is one of the continuing education opportunities offered to Laumeier Sculpture Park active and honorary docents; it’s also an opportunity for new recruits!
Fieldtrips to other museums, to view collections and observe other docents in action, offer both educational opportunities and camaraderie. The Crystal Bridges Museum itself is site-specific architecture at its best, fitting naturally and jubilantly in the landscape. Although we had read about the museum and shared articles, including the celebrated purchase of a Rothko painting—the value of which is rumored to be from $25 million to $57 million—we were all blown away by the magnitude of the collection and the building itself.
We toured inside and out, enjoyed the Crystal Bridges Documentary Film Public Premiere in the Great Hall and hiked the trails. A few of the Crystal Bridges docents and staff visited St. Louis during the 2011 National Docent Symposium and graciously returned the hospitality with their “Greatest Hits” tour. My greatest hits tour would have included personal favorites, a smaller sculpture by Jackie Ferrara, reminiscent of our Laumeier Project, 1981, as well as work by Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Ursula von Rydingsvard and James Turrell’s, “The Way of Color,” 2009—worth getting up 45 minutes before sunrise to see!
I enjoyed the exhibition, “Moshe Safdie: The Path to Crystal Bridges”! Would love to tour Safdie’s earlier buildings, especially “Habitat 67″; what a different approach to public housing compared to our current discourse about the Pruitt-Igoe public housing disaster showcased in Juan William Chávez’s “Living Proposal: Pruitt-Igoe Bee Sanctuary, 2010-2012,”on view at Laumeier through January 20, 2013.
What I liked least about the trip was there was not enough time to thoroughly enjoy the collection—which means I will have to go back!
What would I have changed? Definitely scheduling more time to look and explore on our own the life-long learning opportunities across every bridge, yes every bridge, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art!
– Clara Collins Coleman, Curator of Interpretation
This post by Clara Collins Coleman originally appeared in Laumeier blog in November of 2012. I was on this trip and enjoyed the place thoroughly.