Stop Planning, Start Doing

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I used to be part of a group that met every few weeks to plan all the awesome things it was going to do.  There were action plans, charts, and PowerPoints.  There were discussions about global strategy, leveraging platforms, and other important sounding phrases.  It was mind-numbing.  Eventually, I realized that planning had become camouflage for the absence of doing.  Observers saw very serious people doing some very serious planning for some very serious objectives.  It looked very serious, for a while.

Eventually, I split.  I hate planning.  I especially hate meetings where people who seem to specialize in planning want me to listen to them plan, when I could be out there doing.  Or sleeping.  Or anything else.

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Stop planning.  Start doing.

One of the favorite tools of planners is networking.  Which is usually just a fancy word for trying to convince prospects that they are semi-friends so they will, at least in theory, be more likely to buy whatever you’re selling.  The problem is that it rarely works like that.  If you want to sell your house, are you going to hire a broker just because he likes the same music you do?  Of course not.  You’re going to look around and see who’s kicking butt in the house selling department and hire her.  I realized long ago that no one is going to hire me just because I share their love of fishing, or because I agree that Rectify is a great show.  They’d rather go fishing with their kids and watch TV with their spouse.  When they hire me, it will be because they looked around and figured out I’m really good at what I do.  And maybe a little because they like me, probably because I’m not always trying to sell them something.  People buy brands.  People don’t buy your product just because you stuff a business card into their overflowing pocket and bullshit with them for five minutes about how bad or good the local sports team is doing.  When you are at a so-called networking event, everyone is selling.  No one is buying.  PandoDaily puts it in harsher tones:

Contrary to popular advice, networking is for losers. Why? Because the kind of people you want to meet aren’t out at networking events, handing out business cards. Think about it. Have you ever seen Marc Andreessen at a Tweet-up or a monthly chamber of commerce mixer? Of course not. He doesn’t have time to hang out with smankers and people trying to sell him things. Going to an open networking event is like going to a dating party for really unattractive people. There might be an occasional diamond in the rough, but usually it’s just rough.

I wouldn’t put it in quite those words, but I reach the same conclusion.  As does Jeff Archibald in a post at Lifehacker:

How many of you approach a networking event (man, I hate that term) with that sort of mindset? “I’m going to meet people who I might be able to get some business from”, or “There will be a lot of potential business opportunities at this event,” etc? That mindset is wrong. It’s inherently selfish. That’s why your networking attempts are failing and fruitless.

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You don’t want to plan, and you certainly don’t want to network.  Rather, just start doing it, and by letting others see you actually doing something they find useful, you can build your personal brand, let them figure out why they want to hire you without making them suffer through a poorly disguised sales pitch, forego the nonsense and get down to business.  Which is, you know, the point.

Let’s be clear, however, that a decision not to over-plan and to avoid traditional networking does not mean you just fly by the seat of your pants in a chaotic flight to who knows where.

So, yes, I plan.  A little.  Really, I think about what I need to do, until what I need to do becomes clear to me and then I do it.  Everyone is different, but for me this process usually happens when I’m working out.  Not because I’m some fitness buff, but because when I’m working out I’m so eager to be done (the best part of the day is when you step off that treadmill) that my mind does amazing tricks to pass the time.  A year or so ago, I had a major network (the computer kind) failure at home.  As a part of the fix, I wanted to greatly simplify my network setup.  While suffering through a 90 minute treadmill session, I had three successive revelations, the last of which resulted in a completely different network setup using some of the devices I already had, while dispensing with a bunch of other hardware I didn’t need.  There was a lot more to it than that, but you get the idea.  Most of my planning, from work to home, from farm to family, gets done that way.  No meetings, no mind map, no PowerPoint.

And being a geek, I use technology.  To help me.  Not as another chore where I become bound to log every decision and note every step.

The key is to use technology to help keep you organized, without letting the process of being organized take on an inefficient and burdensome life of its own.  That’s where many tech-savvy folks get turned around.  Sometimes the best mouse trap is the simple one you’ve had for years.  Everyone needs to create a system that works for them.  I use a semi-connected combination of Evernote, Reminders on my iPhone, Fantastical (my favorite calendar app) and Dictate+Connect, a handy dictation app I learned about via David Sparks, to do this.  Simply stated, I put things to do on my calendar, the status of those projects that need to be tracked (and most don’t) in Evernote, and I delegate both word processing and tasks via the dictation app.

But here’s the thing.  90% of the tasks you need to do can be simply done or delegated in the time it would take you to set up some sort of task management process for them.  Don’t over-plan.  Don’t over-organize.  Just start doing.

Trust me, it works.

Social Media Question of the Day: Does Anyone Really Want to “Connect” to Brands?

This question, in one form or another, has bugged me for years.  Some people wonder if Bigfoot is real.  Or if there is a God.  Or if there are any women Herman Cain won’t hit on.

I don’t wonder about any of that.  Here’s what I really want to know…

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DOES ANYONE REALLY WANT TO “CONNECT” WITH A BRAND?

Is there someone sitting down at his or her computer this very moment thinking “I wonder what Target is doing?”  Or “I think I’ll tag General Motors in a meme.”

I think it’s stupid to (capital F) Friend a non-person on Facebook.  I’m  (capital F) Friends with one cat, and the Guy on a Buffalo band, but that’s about it.  I don’t really want to be (capital F) Friends with my grocery store or the pizza place down the street.  I go out of my way to avoid contact with people trying to part me with my money.  I sure as hell don’t want to volunteer to be marketed to.

This whole connecting with a brand business is nothing more than a desperate attempt to recreate the dying traditional advertisement business.  It’s a volunteer brigade of allegedly easy marks cleverly compiled in the name of targeted advertising.

So, is there anyone out there who doesn’t have skin in the game who really wants to “connect” to a brand?  If so, please tell me why.

Exposing the Fatal Flaw in Social Network Marketing

I read (via a link from Hutch Carpenter) with absolute glee today an article at the Harvard Business Review that points out what I and about 3 other voices have been screaming from the wilderness for years- customers don’t really want to “socialize” with companies:

Maybe customers are shifting toward self service because they don’t want a relationship with companies. While this secular trend could be explained away as just a change in consumers’ channel preferences, skeptics might argue that customers never wanted the kind of relationship that companies have always hoped for, and that self service now allows customers the “out” they’ve been looking for all along.

In fact, the trend has long been towards company avoidance, with two very different exceptions, which we’ll get to in a moment.

First, let’s look at how most people shop and consume today.

My Time is Not Your Money

Time is precious in this day and age.  I buy virtually all of my products, other than groceries, online.  Even at the grocery store, we are in the middle of a shift to self-checkout.  I thought that was an insane idea the first time I saw it.  Now I use it all the time.  It’s all about saving that precious commodity- time.

It takes a fraction of the time to buy a product online, and my goods get delivered to my doorstep.  Amazon Prime delivers by second-day mail.  I have found Apple and even Dell to be very fast shippers, with items often arriving even before the estimated date.  All of this gives me more time to do what I want to do, whether that’s make more money for me, or spend some extra time goofing off with my kids.

If you want to talk to me, in whatever capacity, that takes time.  Time that I probably don’t want to give you if the idea is to part me with my money.  The fact that I can read (or click, in the case of buying something online) faster than you can talk is why I get my news online and not on TV, and why I have never been into the video-blogging thing.  I want to consume information and goods at my pace, not yours.

Time being such a precious commodity, why in the world would people want to prolong the process they have to go through to get the goods they want?  In other words, people, even those who play Farmville, are smart enough to know that (a) some company who invades Facebook is there, ultimately, to make money off of them, and (b) time spent on some pseudo-conversation with a company representative (or likely a series of them) could be better spent looking for lost chickens (or whatever you do in Farmville).

The Tupperware Effect

I have never been to a tupperware party, OK?  But I know that the idea is to get a bunch of people you know together, have some sort of faux party and try to sell them something.  There are a million different versions of this “monetize your friends” angle.  The problem is that when you’re gathered in a circle talking about the newest Apple rumor and half the people are secretly trying to sell you a sandwich container, it’s only a matter of time until the conversation goes from iMacs to re-sealable sandwich holders.  In other words, the conversation quality is lower.  If you are only waiting for me to shut up so you can make your pitch, what’s the point?

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Art by Hugh

I’m clearly not the only one who feels this way.  Listen to Kathy Sierra talk about social networking at something called the Gov 2.0 Expo.

On TIVOs and DVRs

If I’m right- and I am- that all of this social network marketing is really just some new age, dressed-up advertising, then how long before the conscripted universe of potential customers rebels?  I have spent thousands of dollars on satellite TV, XM radio (though Mojo Nixon is in the process of single-handedly driving me away from it), TIVOs and the like, all in the name of ad-avoidance.  Hell, I just bought a season pass of the current Big Brother season, just to avoid having to fast-forward through the ads.  There are entire industries based on avoiding the very thing marketers want to subject us to.

It boggles my mind that so many people are betting so much on the infinite willingness of people to be marketed to.

Anyone Remember Email?

At the end of the day, most of this social networking business is just an email replacement that people use, generally on their own time, to communicate with friends and have fun.  Business, even if you try to disguise it, thrust into a goodtime is a buzz kill.  Period.  It’s spam 2.0.

If we react so negatively and passionately to spam in our email inbox, how can anyone expect us to allow spam in our social stream?

We won’t.  Because at the end of the day, people hate advertising.  They always have and they always will.

What About the Two Exceptions?

I’m glad you asked.  There are exactly two times when people will seek out contact with companies.  To get something cheaper and when something is broken.  These are very different situations, and only one of them is an opportunity for companies to improve their brand.

I don’t like coupons, and I hate rebates.  That whole business makes me feel like a lion standing in front of a burning hoop.  It would be more fun to bite the head off of the person expecting me to jump through it, but it would be easier (i.e., it would save me a few dollars) to jump.  No company has ever made me feel affection by offering me a coupon or a rebate.  Sure I may buy your product and fill in your stupid rebate form, but I’ll hate you for it.

The way to my heart is to forget marketing and just make a great product.

Product support is a different story.  When something breaks, I want to get it fixed, quickly (because, again, time is precious) and permanently.  There have been many instances in which a blog post here or a post on Twitter has resulted in a email from a support person offering assistance.  That makes me feel warm and fuzzy.  Your third request that I “Like” your Facebook page, not so much.

Companies should send their support department to the social networks, not the
ir marketing department.

The Bottom Line

People hate ads.  People want to buy things their way, on their terms and without a lot of hoopla.  Nothing is going to change this.  If companies want to improve their brand via the social networks, they have to stop trying to turn the internet into a giant tupperware party, and focus on giving customers what they really want- a great product with great support.