Your (brand) essence is not an inert element

For many years, as is typical in more junior roles in most big companies, I spent most of my time inside the organization.  Working hard, doing client or customer work, but really on the inside.  From there I had a view of what my company was and what it represented in the world, but that view was mostly informed by whatever the company wanted to tell its employees.

But then I got into the real world: I interacted with customers, funders, competitors; I gave talks on my company’s behalf and saw the reaction people had (good and bad) during and after my remarks; I was required, day in and day out, to understand and distill who we were and what we represented in the world; and then I heard back, just as frequently, whether and how what I was saying resonated with people.  If I listened hard, new truths emerged.

In the words, reactions, challenges, and excitement you hear back, you learn a lot.  You discover surprising things that you knew and that were dormant.  You connect dots in unexpected ways.  You see yourself through other people’s eyes, and have the chance to bring that energy back into the organization.

By spending time right at the edge of your organization, you react to the outside world, and in that process of reaction, your brand and its positioning change, evolve, and sharpen.  Your brand has an active reaction every time it has one of these interactions.

I used to think that CEO’s like Jeff Immelt spent a lot of time with customers just to hear the truth about what GE did and didn’t deliver on in the customers’ eyes.  I’ve begun to understand that it’s only through spending time looking outside that Jeff, or any of us, can figure out who we really are, what our company or organization represents, and what it can become.


We can’t argue about pinball any more

It was my first summer internship at my first real job.  One day at lunch I had a mock-heated discussion with a colleague about whether pinball was a game of skill or luck.  I argued for “skill” and as evidence offered up the fact that pinball tournaments exist in the world, which wouldn’t make sense for a game that’s pure luck.

My colleague didn’t believe me.  He claimed that there was no such thing as a pinball tournament.

And so a bet was struck: I needed to prove, irrefutably and by the end of the workday, that pinball tournaments existed.

This involved rushing back to my desk, finding a Yellow Pages, searching for pinball dealers in the Washington, DC area, and, from there, cobbling together a list of contacts until someone would send me a faxed entry form for an upcoming pinball tournament.

Of course this story is quaint today because we can no longer argue for more than a few seconds about this sort of thing.   If this were happening today, the argument would be resolved between sandwich bites by typing “pinball tournaments” into someone’s smartphone.

Less romantic, more efficient.

The fact is that nothing factual is out of reach these days.  While it wasn’t out of reach 20 years ago when I made this bet, the friction has been reduced to zero.  So if you want to know the difference between a Roth IRA and a regular IRA; if you want to know what “suited connectors” are in Texas Hold ‘Em and when to play them; if you want to learn how to knit or sharpen a knife or which mortgage is right for you or even what this whole debt ceiling debate is really about….well all of these answers are literally a click away.

So our ignorance about any topic is, in the most literal sense, willful in a way it never was before.  This is great news for people willing to make two (just two!) decisions:

  1. To be the kind of person who seeks answers, even when it’s scary
  2. To choose where to deepen your knowledge and to act on that decision by spending your time accordingly

That’s it.

No more pinball arguments, but so much more freedom for those willing to take that first step.

Wanted: open-hearted troublemakers

Katya posted here and here about a call for co-conspirators in creating Generosity Day 2012.  For newer readers, we launched Generosity Day 2011 as a reboot of Valentine’s Day, a chance to create a day about genuine love, openness and connection with everyone.  Katya’s post has the full scoop.

The first time we did it, it was a flash-mob of an idea created and executed in 72 hours over a weekend.  With no budget or plan, we created a mini-phenomenon, validating our hunch that there’s a hunger out there for permission to act differently.

Let’s make it bigger, bolder, better in 2012.

Here’s the sign-up form for any role you want to play, big or small (enthusiastic support from the sidelines; committing to spread the word; being part of the core planning team; etc.)

The day only happens if you’re part of it.  Sign up here. (No downside, no spam, we promise).  You can even click just to tell us you like the idea.

Eradicating the two-handed forehand

Last weekend I was playing tennis with my son.

To get a little more oomph on the ball, he has been hitting his forehand with two hands.  He’s definitely big enough now to hit it one-handed, so I decided to try to change the habit.

Me:                        Try hitting with one hand!

(thwack!!)             (two handed forehand)

Me:                        That’s great!  Remember, one handed!

(thwack!!!)            (two handed)

Me:                        Good job!

(thwack!!)            (two handed)

Me:                       Excellent.  Let’s try it with one hand now…

(thwack!!)            (yes, two handed again).


So, I tried another tactic.

Me:                        Let’s play a game.  You get one point for connecting with the ball, two points for hitting it over the net with two hands, and four points for hitting it over the net with one hand.

(thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack)           (ALL with one hand).


Kids are just kids, right?  That’s why this works, because they love simple, arbitrary games like this….  Something like “getting more points” for doing something would never motivate an adult.

Maybe, maybe not.

Too often we attack a problem or a behavior that we want to change (in ourselves, in someone else) by taking it head on.  This gets us there intellectually but not emotionally, which is why we so often fall short on making the changes we want to make.  We overestimate the capacity of our logical, deductive mind to influence behavior, based on a belief system that says that our logical, deductive mind is in charge – when it really isn’t.

One other observation.  While playing with my son, I started giving out “bonus” points for all sorts of things – long rallies, backhands, great gets, you name it.  But even with this good intention in mind, I would occasionally hold myself back in giving out these points – based on a vague notion of being “fair” and playing by the established rules.

Talk about crazy: being stingy in giving out made-up points in a made-up game, because I wanted to be fair.

It’s almost never the wrong time to be more liberal in giving out praise, rewards, acknowledgments that people value.  Yet somehow we hold back, keeping great words of encouragement to ourselves.

And so the two-handed forehands – the crutches people rely upon because they don’t know how good, strong, and capable they really are – persist.

Project leader or project doer

There’s a lot of confusion about this one, because you can “do” all the work and not lead, and you can effectively “lead” something without doing all the work.

So sometimes someone is asked to “lead” a project and what they hear is “please do all the work.”  And sometimes the fact that someone is asked to “do all the work” is confused with a leadership opportunity – it is a step towards leading, but it’s not the same thing.

“Leading” means: I’m ultimately accountable for the success of this thing.  If I’m successful at leading, it will be done better and faster than expected and all the people doing it will feel great about what they accomplished together.  They may not even notice that I “led” anything – in fact it could be a great sign if they didn’t.

The most interesting, underappreciated opportunities are leadership opportunities when you’re not in charge.  It’s important because it’s the top-LEFT quadrant in this 2×2 (lead but not doing) that has the most leverage, not the top right (leading and doing).

The upper right has you working as hard as is humanly possible and feeling in control, but there’s a limit to how much this quadrant scales.


Akil and Sciryl

A guy’s on the subway car with a guitar, ready to sing.  New guy for today, but really he’s just another guy with a guitar…the same old story.


The guitarist says he’s game.

The passenger stands up, starts goading the guitarist, starts goading the other passengers – “C’MON NOW, THE BRAVE ONES ARE SINGING.  HOW ABOUT THE REST OF YOU?”

And then, ten seconds later, the trouble-making passenger starts bee-bopping.  He’s part of the band, he’s the front man, in fact.



These guys call themselves Akil and Sciryl (“lyrics” spelled backwards).  And you can indeed find them at

Here’s the deal: you’re facing the same choices as these guys.  Your can choose to be a regular old street performer by showing up in the way you’re supposed to show up – you look appropriate, you act appropriate, you pitch in an appropriate way – in which case the only way you win is by being the single best street performer they’re looking for that day (and happening to sing the song they love).

Or, you can put on a show, a show they’ve never seen before, a show a lot of people won’t like but a few will stand up and say, “Finally, I’m sick of all these crappy performers, what I was dying for was a little entertainment!!  Let’s talk.”

It’s safe to be a street performer, and you won’t make any enemies.  But artists put on shows.  That’s what makes them artists.

The O’Jays certainly knew that.  Look at those outfits, look at those moves.  A SHOW.

Blog maintenance – for email subscribers

For those of you who subscribe to this blog by email, I just changed the “from” email address for the FeedBurner feed you receive.

There’s a small chance that new posts will get caught in your spam filter. If you don’t receive posts this week, please check your spam folder, and to be sure you can add sashadichterblogs [at] to your “safe senders” list.

Thanks for subscribing!!

Generosity Day 2012 – the visual

Had a great planning meeting this week for Generosity Day 2012.  We had our original group that hatched the plan (Katya Andresen, Scott Case, Ellen McGirt) plus a few new friends who you’ll get to know soon enough.

I won’t go into too much now, except to share the Wordle of the principles that we feel underpin Generosity Day, and to say that, YES we’re doing it again in 2012.

This is just a first draft.  Ideas welcome.

Spam tax

Somehow the spam I’m getting is getting better with subject lines that make me open the message (hmmm, maybe they’re reading some of my posts!). Things like “Can we meet this week?” and “Following up about next week’s lunch.”

I’m a huge, huge fan of Chris Anderson’s email charter and believe that there’s a LOT we can do to free ourselves from the non-spam email onslaught by changing our own behaviors and expectations.

But spam is still a huge amount of all email sent (as much as 90% in 2009, though it has been dropping lately), and spam that’s getting through my (and your) email filter is getting smarter every day.

So here’s an idea: create a $0.10 spam tax that is platform-independent (works on Google as well as Outlook).  If an email recipient hits the “report spam” button:

  • They are automatically unsubscribed from that email list (this may be difficult to implement, but if possible it would prevent abuse of the “tax them” link while also killing two birds with one stone – unsubscribing + tax)
  • If more than a certain number of people (100) qualify an email as spam, the tax kicks in (again to prevent frivolity)
  • Implement this universally with a single searchable web-based database of spammers, also listed tax paid, etc.

There’s some work to be done to make the tax big enough to have this be a real deterrent – ideally the tax level would be greater than what spammers pay to buy my email address.

This feels like a pipe dream, but maybe someone can take the idea and make it better.

My Outlook “Block sender” button doesn’t feel like enough any more, since these people are actively cutting into my (and your) productive time, and it would be of great public value to architect a “sin tax” that puts a damper on this.

For the comments section: what would you do with the money collected through this tax?

Innovation isn’t really like apple pie

No one dislikes “innovation” as a concept.  It’s like mom and apple pie (in the US at least) – no one will ever, ever stand up and say, “I’d like us to innovate less!!”

No, that would be too obvious.  Instead they say, “Of course we want innovation but let’s….

…make sure we don’t go over anyone’s head.

…ensure we don’t surprise people, or offend anyone.

…get buy in from all potential stakeholders.

…form a working group to think it through a little more.

…dot every i and cross every t.

…not go too fast.

Sorry but it doesn’t work this way.

Not all innovation is about lone wolves in back rooms – in fact the most innovative cultures are highly collaborative.  At the same time, you have to decide what you value, and be willing to make tradeoffs to protect it; add one thing too many to the mix (that extra approval, that check and balance, that unwillingness to step on a few toes) and you extinguish the flame.

Everyone loves the idea of innovation, but most people are unwilling to take their culture to a place where innovation thrives.

That’s why it’s so rare.