Welcome to Readers Week, 2012!

This Might Work cover

Today kicks off an annual tradition: taking a look at why reading is important for leaders, hearing from leaders on reading, and announcing my version of the best books of 2012.

And there’s no better way to start it off with a little make that a lot of Seth Godin…

Yesterday I met our mailman at the door with a not too happy look on his face. In addition to the increased volume of holiday mail, he was straining to carry a large, heavy box – one I have been anticipating since mid-summer:

Seth Godin’s latest work, This Might Work, is a huge behemoth of a book weighing in at 15.4 pounds and measuring 15x11x3 inches. It contains Seth’s incomparable blog posts from 2006-2012, curated by his most avid follower, Bernadette Jiwa. Jiwa is an Australian writer and Seth’s only choice to undertake this Herculean task.

She succeeded.

Here is her choice for the opening page, from Seth’s blog on May 20, 2004:

Five years from now…

Assume that:

Hard drive space is free

Wifi like connections are everywhere

Connections speeds are 10 to 100 times faster

Everyone has a digital camera

Everyone carries a device that is sort of like a laptop, but cheap and tiny

The number of new products introduced every day is five times greater than now

Wal-Mart’s sales are three times as big

Any manufactured product that’s more than five years old in design sells at commodity pricing

The retirement age will be five years higher than it is now

Your current profession will either be gone or totally different
What then?

Classic Seth Godin…

Also in the package was Seth’s latest normal book, The Icarus Deception, due out on 12/31. Continuing with the theme he first introduced in Linchpin, Godin shows how we can thrive in an economy that rewards art, not compliance. He explains why true innovators focus on trust, remarkability, leadership, and stories that spread. And he makes a passionate argument for why you should be treating your work as art. A review will be coming soon!

In a few sentences above, this is why leaders read..

And why you should, too.

Next: Thomas Edison on Reading

Communicate to Influence…

…write to inform.

Communication is about getting others to adopt your point of view, to help them understand why you’re excited (or sad, or optimistic or whatever else you are.) If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, then cancel the presentation and send in a report.

– Seth Godin

I’m headed to Atlanta GA today for the 2012 Worship Facilities Expo (WFX). I have been very fortunate and honored to have been a part of every WFX since it began in Nashville TN in 2005. Because WFX held two events in some years, this will be the 10th time I have made a presentation (or two – or three) at the event.

I would like to think I’ve come a long way in my communication style.

When I look back at that first presentation, I cringe. Not because of the topic or content – it was well received. I just remember it being a very dense verbal communication that was all one way – a classic data dump. Coupled with my rapid-fire delivery, (I was born in Nashville TN, but must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle set at 78 rpm. Note – anyone under 30 reading this will have to check Wikipedia for the scoop on that) I’m surprised the audience remained upright.

But they did (I actually have proof – two of the participants that day were on the leadership team at Alliance Bible Fellowship, and we started a conversation that day that eventually led the church to pick me and my company (at the time) for a $5.6 million dollar, multi-phase construction project that is in its third phase at this writing). But I digress.

Our brains have two sides – an emotional right side and a logical left side. When you show up to speak to an audience, you can be sure they are showing up with both sides of their brains ready to be engaged. If you aren’t aware of the way you talk, the way you dress, your body language, and by the way, your content, you may be tuned out by the second slide of your PowerPoint or Keynote or Prezi.

You can wreck a communication process with lousy logic or unsupported facts, but you can’t complete it without emotion. Logic is not enough.

According to Seth Godin, a home run presentation is easy to describe: You put up a slide. It triggers an emotional reaction in the audience. They sit up and want to know what you’re going to say that fits with that image. Then, if you do it right, every time they think of what you said, they’ll see that image (and vice versa).

A presentation isn’t an obligation – it’s a privilege.

If you’re in Atlanta attending WFX, drop in on one of my presentations Wednesday 9/19 at 11 AM (The Servant Blueprint) in A313 or 3 PM (Selling Change) in A314.

As Andy Stanly says, I’d love the chance to challenge your mind in order to change your life.

Excuse Me, Can I See the Manager?

The best place to start thinking about process is at the end; in this case, where a customer or guest didn’t have a great time/meal/service/whatever.

The customer/guest usually takes it out on the person who was most involved in the transaction – a clerk or waiter or flight attendant – a front-line person.

But is it really their fault?

Seth Godin wrote a great post entitled “Who’s responsible for service design?” which provides an excellent starting point for a better understanding of the “process” that must go into your Guest Services Team. Here are a few highlights, but be sure to read the entire post:

Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault. Sadly, the complaints rarely make it as far as the overpaid (and possibly overworked) executive who made the bad design decision in the first place. It’s the architecture of service that makes the phone ring and the customers leave.

Three quick tips for anyone who cares about this:

  • Require service designers to sign their work
  • Run a customer service audit. Walk through the building or the event or the phone tree with all the designers in the room and call out what’s not right.
  • Make it easy for complaints (and compliments) about each decision to reach the designer (and her boss).

That’s powerful.

  • What are the processes behind the scenes that make your Guest Services work?
  • What are the processes you have in place when something unexpected pops up?
  • What are the processes you have in place when something needs to be changed?
  • How do you even know that something needs to be changed?

A closing quote from Seth Godin:

In my experience, most of the problems are caused by ignorance and isolation, not incompetence or a lack of concern.

Are you ready to be a process engineer for your Guest Services Team?

Organizational Physics

A team at rest tends to stay at rest.

Seth Godin, writing in “Linchpin“, states that forward motion isn’t the default state of any group of people, particularly groups with lots of people. Cynics and politics and coordination kick in and everything grinds to a halt.

In an old school, top-down factory model this isn’t really a problem. The owner controls the boss who controls the foreman who controls the worker. It’s a tightly linked chain, and things get done because there is cash to be made.

Most modern organizations are now far more fluid than this. Responsibility isn’t as clear, deliverables aren’t as measurable, and goals aren’t as cut and dried. So things slow down.

Sound familiar? Like maybe your church?

Enter the linchpin. Understanding that your job is to make something happen changes what you do all day. If you can only cajole, not force, if you can only lead, not push, then you make different choices.

In many organizations, but especially the church, you can’t say, “Get more excited and insightful or you’re fired.” No, the men and women who go beyond their job description (if any at all) to do the unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary do it because they were inspired to do so by a leader who isn’t even around when the team is at work.

Are you that kind of leader?


The Bell Curve is Flattening…

Seth Godin is at it again.

Godin’s latest book “We Are All Weird” was just released last week. As one of the most influential thinkers of today, I always eagerly anticipate a new work by him – and I was definitely not disappointed. Here’s a sample:

The distribution of a population is often shaped like a bell curve. For example, if you asked all the kids in a school to line up in order of height, the graph of how many kids were of each height would be shaped like the classic bell – you’d have as many 4 foot kids as 6 foot kids, and a whole bunch more in the middle at 5 feet.

Not surprisingly, this curve is called a normal distribution. It’s incredibly common in almost any phenomenon you look at (Internet usage, miles commuted to work, length of hair).

Something surprising is happening, though: the defenders of mass and normalcy and compliance are discovering that many of the bell curves that describe our behavior are flattening out.


Distributions of behavior remain, but as the anchors holding that behavior in place have loosened, the bells have spread, like a thawing ice sculpture.

There are now many bell curves, not just one. We don’t care so much about everyone; we care about us – where us is our people,  our tribe, our interest group, our weirdness – not the anonymous masses.

If you persist in trying to be all things to all people, you will fail. The only alternative then, is to be something important to a few people.





If you cater to the normal, you will disappoint the weird. And as the world gets weirder, that’s a dumb strategy.


The Meatball Sundae Goes to Church

Seth Godin’s 2007 book The Meatball Sundae examines fourteen trends of the realities of what he calls New Marketing. As with all of Godin’s books, it’s a fairly quick read that will have you wondering “Why didn’t I think of that?” So, with apologies to Seth Godin, here is a quick analysis of the fourteen trends in The Meatball Sundae as applied to ChurchWorld.

  1. Direct communication and commerce between producers and consumers – The Internet; need I say more? Organizations hear more, and more often, directly from consumers. Church leader, you may hate that word consumer, but your church is full of them, and there are many more in your community that you could reach. Are you listening to them?
  2. Amplification of the voice of the consumer and independent authorities – In a market where everyone is a critic, the need to create products and services that appeal to and satisfy critics becomes urgent. The same is true for after-purchase issues of service and quality. Your church probably doesn’t have a guest experiences department, team, or even single person. Why not?
  3. Need for an authentic story as the number of sources increases – Consumers hear about organizations from many sources, not just one. As a result, you have to get your story straight. Saying one thing and doing another fails, because you’ll get caught. Wait a minute – didn’t the church invent hypocrisy?
  4. Extremely short attention due to clutter – The death of mass marketing is partly due to the plethora of choices and the deluge of interruptions. As a result, complex messages rarely get through. Does your vision take a wall to display – or can you put it on a t-shirt in large type? Do you communicate one big idea every week – or dozens of unconnected thoughts?
  5. The Long Tail – it’s a book by Chris Anderson, but it also demonstrates that in almost every market, “other” is the leading brand. Domination by hit products is fading and consumers reward providers that offer the most choices. Wait – doesn’t that contradict number 4? Maybe; maybe not. You’ve got to figure out the difference and do it.
  6. Outsourcing – it’s not just possible to find someone to make/code/do something for you quickly and cheaply; it is now easy. The means of productions of physical goods and intellectual property is no longer based on geography but is based on talent and efficiency instead. The biggest resource for churches is surprise, within the church; it just may not be your church.
  7. Google and the dicing of everything – No one visits a Web site’s home page anymore – they walk in the back door, to the page Google sent them to. By atomizing the world, Google destroys the linear, end-to-end solutions offered by most organizations (churches). It is being replaced by a pick-and-choose, component-based solution. Chaordic is a term I’ve come to like very well; church leaders might want to get comfortable with it!
  8. Infinite channels of communication – New forms of publishing, communication, and interaction are arriving by the second in an already cluttered world. Some organizations will thrive from this increased chaos, some will be unprepared, and some will merely fight it and lose. Which will you be?
  9. Direct communication and commerce between consumers and consumers – eBay and Craig’s list on the commercial side, social networking on the personal communication side. As these networks become more powerful, consumers will gravitate to each other, not just informing each other about their experiences but banding together into groups that will pressure organizations for more of what consumers want. How do you know if someone is talking about you? To someone else?
  10. The shifts in scarcity and abundance – your organization is based on exploiting scarcity. Create and sell something scarce and you can earn a profit. But when scarce things become common, and common things become scarce, you need to alter what you do all day. Okay, this one really messes with my head. Churches don’t “sell” – or do they? They don’t make a profit, right? What are the things that are becoming ever scarcer? How can the church leverage these things? Here’s a biggie to get your brain spinning: time.
  11. The triumph of big ideas – in the industrial society of commoditization, little ideas are the key to success. Small improvements in efficiency or design can improve productivity and make the product a little more appealing. New Marketing in a noisy marketplace demands something bigger. It demands ideas that force people to sit up and take notice. The Church is happily humming along, tweaking ideas, practices, and policies from the 50’s – the 1850’s. Have you checked your calendar lately?
  12. The shift from “how many” to “who” – organizations used to market to the mass: shovel attention in the top of the funnel, and over time, sales come out the bottom. The funneling process sorts the wheat from the chaff, separating those who can buy from those who aren’t interested or can’t afford to participate. That works if you assume all consumers are pretty much the same, or if you can’t tell them apart. Unfortunately, they aren’t, and you can. Now we need to focus on who is hearing and talking about our message, and reach out to them.
  13. The wealthy are like us – rich people used to be all the same, just different from the rest of us. Now they’re not just different from the rest of us but different from each other. As the number of people considered rich increases daily, the diversity of the rich increases as well. It may not seem like it in this troubled economy, but we in the US are filthy rich in comparison to the rest of the world. Even in the US, there is a growing gap between groups of people. How will this play out in ChurchWorld?
  14. New gatekeepers, no gatekeepers – one way big organizations got bigger was by working with the other big guys. It was who you knew, and what they could do for you. There were channels to work through, gatekeepers to work with. Not now; it’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and dozens of other social networking options. It’s you going to the world, and the world discovering you.

Movements are at the heart of change and growth. A movement – and idea that spreads with passion through a community and leads to change – is far more powerful than any advertisement ever could be. ChurchWorld – or at least what it could be, what it started out as – is all about that kind of movement and message. After all, it’s the Good News we have.

How are we sharing it?


Good Cooking is Simply a Series of Problems Solved

The title of this post is actually a quote from one of the instructor chefs at the CIA’s cooking school. Author Michael Ruhlman, in “The Making of a Chef,” chronicles his time at the legendary cooking school, the oldest and most influential in America.

The comment came in response to a student’s unique suggestion of how to keep hollandaise sauce at just the right temperature to keep it from “breaking”. The chef had never thought of his idea, and encouraged him (and the rest of the class) to approach a problem from a unique angle (outside the box” thinking?).

This line of thought falls right into a post by Seth Godin entitled “Sell the Problem.” He noted that many business to business marketers tend to jump right into features and benefits, without taking the time to understand if the person on the other end of the conversation/call/letter believes they even have a problem.

The challenge is this: if your organization doesn’t think it has a  problem, you won’t be looking for a solution. You won’t wake up in the morning dreaming about how to solve it, or go to bed wondering how much it’s costing you to ignore it.

And so the marketing challenge is to sell the problem.

I’m passionate about helping churches thrive by turning challenges (problems) into opportunities. It’s very personal with me – I want to understand prospective clients so well that I know their situation almost as well as a leader or staff member. In fact, that statement, made a couple of years ago by a pastor, is one of the highlights of my career!

It’s my job to understand their problems.

When a prospect comes to the table and says, “we have a problem,” then you’re both on the same side of the table when it comes time to solve it.

All I have to do now is follow the recipe – a series of problems solved.