Thoughts on The Overlap (a New Book)

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1/18/14

Dear You,

I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve decided to write you a letter instead of a blog post. Why? Because I like letters…

and because I like doing things a little differently whenever I can. Please excuse my handwriting. I don’t have great penmanship to begin with and its made worse by the fact that I’m using…

a Zebra stylus to write this in the Paper app on my iPad. I’m also sitting in my car in a parking lot while my son is have his first indoor (obviously) baseball practice of the season. It’s snowing…

really coming down, and I’m warm in my car. Last season was tough; we lost all but three of our games, but our coach has high hopes for this year, which has me thinking about something I think…

about a lot – namely the relationship between expectations and reality. (my handwriting seems to be getting worse!) Why is this relationship so important to me? Well, because it is, I believe, the most important relationship…

in our lives. What ties our hopes to our lives, our work to our wishes, our hearts to our heads. I’ve been working on a new e-book about just this. It’s called “The Overlap” and it…

should be out in a month or so. But the premise is simple: Value and meaning and satisfaction and enjoyment are all the results of our expectations being in line with reality. It looks like….

this:

Where the circles overlap, we have value, the the name of the book. I’m playing with this relationship now. You didn’t expect a hand-written blog. But that’s…

the reality. So, is it valuable? Well, that depends upon why you read this. If you read it because were looking for something different, it probably is valuable. If you read it because…

you expected legible words on your screen, then probably not. Either way, the value (or lack thereof) you experience in directly related to your expectations of my offering…

Make sense? Maybe, but I the book explains it a little better. I’ll let you know when it’s available to read. In the mean time…

I’m going to go watch practice. I too have high hopes for this season… and for warmer weather…

As always, leave me a comment with your thoughts or send me a thought on Twitter @cheimbuch…

And, if you were wondering, right now I’m listening to Matt Costa.

Take care my friend.

CJH 

(PS- I’ve typed this post as well- you can find it below)

Post No Bills: Aren’t We Selling Soap?

NOTE: Post No Bills is a series about business, marketing and humanity.

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Mostly books about marketing and presentation of information, about content marketing and social media. And some have really struck a chord (see the bottom of this post for a list and links to my new favorites), especially those that deal with story telling as a marketing principle – well, not just a principle, but a marketing bedrock.

There are a lot of reasons why these resonate with me, not least of which is that I am both a) completely convinced that story telling is the foundation of all human interaction and b) an instinctive story teller.

And, to be sure, these and a lot of other books, podcasts and conferences do a wonderful job of covering the need for story telling and some of the basic (and some advanced) principles of story telling. They discuss mode and media, the discuss intent and authenticity, how story telling and content marketing create emotional resonance with potential buyers (I really HATE the word ‘consumers’).

But, it seems to me that, while many books and personalities put a premium on the message of the importance of story telling, few follow through to the ultimate and necessary conclusion – sales. To read and study storytelling as marketing is to become enamored with the art of story telling itself rather than the results it creates – which is a story in and of itself and one that continues to sell books for these authors. I can’t blame them for that, but it seems that as much emphasis needs to be placed on the art of creating a measurement infrastructure that proves the ROI of story telling.

A little aside…

In the late 1990s Wall Street was abuzz with fascination and speculation of Silicon Valley. The now-infamous DotCom bubble is the perfect example of how story telling can blind us to the necessary reality of results. Millions, billions of dollars were sunk into companies that were little more than a URL and a story. The value these companies represented was implied and inferred, but it was not intrinsic.

Nor were the values of WorldCom and Enron, both of which told a story with creative accounting and rising stock prices. But beyond the gossamer veneer of stability lurked a much darker truth that would wreak havoc with our economy and leave scores out of work, without a savings and reeling for years to come. Why? Because as powerful of a force as story telling can be for good, for making connections between companies and customers, between thought leaders and eager audiences, it can also mask instability and a dangerous lack of substance.

I haven’t watched South Park in a decade, but one of my favorite episodes of those I have seen involved the Underwear Gnomes – tiny people living underground and tormenting Tweek, an over-caffenated friend of the main group, by sneaking nightly into his room and stealing his undergarments. At first, the boys didn’t believe Tweek, but eventually the relented and set out get to the bottom of the caper. When, at last they discovered the subterranean Gnome lair, the questioned them and the Gnomes explained the business model behind their pilfering this way:

Step One – Steal all the world’s underpants.

Step Two -

Step Three – Profit.

My point here is that, as it relates to content marketing and story telling, we need to be careful to not miss that second step. You may have Oprah shooting videos for your Etsy page, but if you don’t have the goods that people want, it won’t matter. But, even more importantly, if people don’t want what you have, they won’t buy it and if they don’t buy it, you won’t be able to make any money. If you can’t make money, what good did it do you to have Oprah creating those videos?

One of my favorite phrases of all time is “post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

It’s a logical fallacy that translates to: “after this, therefor because of this.”

It’s a fallacy because it ties a result to a stimulus simply because the stimulus came first. It is a correlative relationship, not a causal one. You may be able to tell a brilliant story and execute a flawless content marketing strategy and sales may go up, but don’t make the mistake of assuming your story is why they went up. Instead, seek to prove the connection.

Likewise, your story may be brilliant, but sales are bad. It doesn’t mean your story was bad, it means there’s a disconnect between your story and its intended impact on your bottom line. And, be clear, the bottom line is the most important line in your story. We can never lose sight of that. Because it doesn’t matter how creative and resonant our story is, if it doesn’t sell more soap, it is not sustainable or, even, viable.

I whole-heartedly agree with the need for good story telling in marketing. I’ve staked my livelihood on it. However, just as it is vital to tell a good story to make those connections, it is equally vital to ensure that the story you are telling is effective at delivering against your goals. While it may not be quite as artistic, romantic or sexy, your analytics and measurements tell the more important story of your brand, company, business or self. Try not to lose sight of that.

In the beginning of this post, I promised a list of the wonderful books I’ve been reading. I highly recommend each, so long as you take them as advisement and pay attention to impact, not just authenticity.

Also, I’ve decided to start noting what I was listening to when I write these posts. Music always helps me write and, if I’m honest, I think listening to something while I write makes me a better writer. Today’s selection – in addition to some Tazo English Breakfast Tea – was brought to you by “The Essential Django Reinhardt” – perfect for a snowy morning of writing, made all the better by my Beats Solos.

Books

How do you measure your marketing, content or social marketing success? Got any books you think I should read? Let me know in the comments below or send me a message via @cheimbuch.

Useful Idea: Turn Business Travel Into an Adventure

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I’ve been traveling a lot for work over the last 18 months – enough that I now select my preferred seats on nearly every aircraft in the Delta Airlines fleet when I book my flights; enough that I can speak the secret language of gate agents; enough that I have a standard format for my packing list; enough that when I go more than a couple of weeks without going somewhere, I feel a little lost.

And, at first, it was all very exciting. Coming from a background of covering local news for newspapers and magazines – where a ‘big’ trip would still have me home for dinner – the idea of getting paid to get on a plane and go someplace else was thrilling. I remember listening to the haggard road warriors at the gates complaining about the inconveniences of business travel and thinking they were fools. How could anyone complain about a trip to Houston or Minneapolis? How could anyone complain about traveling?

It was about the time when I got my  first frequent flyer medallion – 25,000 miles in less than six months – that I began to understand. Especially when I found myself going to the same places over and over again. I never really felt settled. Not local enough to know where to go that was interesting. Not new enough to be naive. It was getting tiring.

Then, last June, I had to take a trip to Geneva, Switzerland for work. I had been there in May and had enjoyed it, but the idea of getting on the same plane and flying all night, catching the same connection and staying in the same hotel seemed anything but exciting. The fact that on this second trip I would be all alone made it even more daunting.

My boss, who has a a lot of travel experience, recommended that I spice things up. She suggested I skip my connecting flight from Paris and spend the day exploring the city before getting on a train to Geneva later that evening. It would actually save the company money – the train ticket was cheaper than the connecting flight – and I would arrive just a couple of hours later than what I would have had I gotten on the connection.

That simple move saved my travel soul and reignited a wanderlust that had become jaded by frequency and boredom. I spent 11 hours in Paris. I attended mass at the Notre Dame. I walked Hemingway’s old neighborhood. I ate the best omelette of my life. I walked nearly 22 miles, carrying my bags and nearly filling my iPhone with pictures. When, late that night, I arrived in Geneva, I was invigorated, exhausted and happy.

Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to make the most out of every business trip possible, adopting a few rules and some planning techniques to squeeze a little adventure in, whenever and wherever possible. Last weekend, I was attending a conference in Las Vegas. My flight connected via Salt Lake City and the second flight was running way late. Rather than waiting for the flight in the crowded, dismal airport, I gave up my seat (the flight was massively overbooked anyway), rented a car and drove 400 miles to my final destination.

Interstate 15 descending into Arizona.

Interstate 15 descending into Arizona.

It may have taken me a bit longer, but instead of staring blankly at the other frustrated travelers in the airport, I got to watch as the ash-gray Wasatch gave way to the Great Basin. I could nearly imagine buffalo herds stampeding their way down the valley. My ears began to pop outside of St. George, Utah, as Interstate 15 descended to Arizona’s Virgin River Valley and further into the southeaster expanses of Nevada. I arrived in Vegas at about the same time as my original flight took off and was a whole lot more happy for the experience.

The point is that business travel can be tedious and boring. If you do it enough, the bloom fades hard from the rose. In order to keep it fun, you have to look for opportunities for adventure. Here’s a few of my tips for getting the most out of business travel – turning making a living into making a life:

  1. Plan for Flexibility - Direct flights are great, but if a connecting flight means a little time in a place you’ve never been and have always wanted to see, then go for it. Carry your bags on, if possible, and be prepared to go. A credit card, a loyalty card and a curious spirit can make the worst parts of business travel – delays, cancellations – an opportunity for adventure.
  2. Avoid Routine - Some people take comfort in routine. The same room in the same hotel. The same restaurant. I go to New York a lot for work and, while I enjoy staying in the same hotel, I try to never eat at the same place twice – unless, of course, that place blows my mind.
  3. Avoid Chains - If you can get something at home, what’s the point of getting it on the road?
  4. Get Social - On more than one occasion I’ve been to a new place and had no idea what to do with my time, so I reached out to Twitter and asked. You’d be surprised how good the advice is that you’ll get from friends and followers.
  5. Avoid Down Time - Nothing good ever happens in the hotel room. Chances are pretty good you’re not going to get all the work done you planned on getting done and there’s only so many movies available on demand. If you have some hours to kill, make an appointment with yourself to go see, do, eat, witness something new. Business travel can be extraordinarily lonely. Staying busy helps with the homesickness.
  6. Be Active - Hotel gyms are a little funky, but exercise has been proven to improve mood and relieve stress. I exercise more when I travel than I do at home, just to keep my mind right. Worst case – go for a walk. The world is much better seen at ground level than nearly any other way.
  7. Make an Appointment – Not a meeting, but an appointment. I try to pick one destination every trip to see before I leave. Big tours, huge lists of landmarks – they sound great, but you’re really there to work and time is an issue. Still I try to force myself to go somewhere interesting every time. For inspiration, I recommend joining the community at AFAR. The magazine is great, but the website and app help connect you to local recommendations, track all the places you’ve been and discover new places in ways most guidebooks are designed for.
  8. Be Dedicated to Enjoyment - When I first began traveling, I felt guilty every time I went on a trip, leaving my wife and kids home. And I tried talking to my wife about the tedium, but she told me – you better make the most out of the trip to make being gone worth it. Guilt and loneliness are fun killers. Don’t feel bad about enjoying yourself. It’s probably appreciated by the folks at home – otherwise, what are you doing? Why?
  9. Turn off the TV – Sure, there’s comfort in it. And who doesn’t like watching TV. But when I travel, I try to avoid it like the plague. I read. I take courses on Lynda and Code Academy and catch up on TED talks, the Walking Dead and other things I can’t find the time to do at home. And that’s only after I’ve done as much as I can outside the hotel. My DVR will catch the latest episode of Downton Abbey. No need to take the time to do it while I’m going.
  10. Just Go - There’s nothing worse than adventure regret. You had an idea the last time you were in Tulsa. You didn’t take advantage of it and now you are wondering if you’ll ever have the opportunity again. Obviously, you need to take care of your responsibilities first, but then… go. There are a few places I wished I’d gone to in my early days traveling that I may never be able to again – without taking a personal trip. Since then, I’ve become a big believer in the idea that my instinct to wander is usually correct and I try to heed it whenever I can.

These are just a few ideas on how to get more out of business travel. But, like all things, I’m always looking for new ideas, thoughts and tips. Share them below or find me on Twitter @cheimbuch. I look forward to learning how you break the tedium of travel.

How to Survive (and get the most out of) a Conference

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If you had told me ten years ago, when I was working for a local newspaper covering local news and never really going anywhere, that one day I would be traveling all over the country (and the world) to attend and speak at conferences, I would not have believed you. Or, if I had, I would have dreaded my future.

They seem so boring. A bunch of people getting together at an event center or hotel convention center, droning from room to room, standing at booths and wearing name tags. I mean, no thanks, right?

And my first couple of conferences were very much like I just described – unpromising, unfulfilling, unrewarding, un, well, fun. But over the last few years, I’ve grown to appreciate and even enjoy attending conferences and it’s all because I’ve observed or created a few ‘rules’ for getting the most out of my time.

I won’t belabor the preamble here, just know that these methods are not definitive, but I have tested them at conferences ranging from auto shows to blogging conferences, South-by-Southwest to the Sturgis motorcycle rally and they’ve worked pretty much every time. Not exactly scientific proof, but not without testing either.

Here we go.

1. Get there early, scope it out and leave

I like to arrive at the venue as early as possible – the night before, the morning of, whatever is most practical. I get checked into my room, pick up my badge and wander the venue. I take note of the room locations, where the bathrooms and refreshments are, where the show floor is. If I’m there early enough and have an idea of a vendor I would like to visit I might even see if I can help them set up. It never hurts.

2. Make a Hit List

This is a list of attendees or exhibitors that I absolutely cannot leave without connecting to. This list keeps me honest and on track. Keep the list relatively small and manageable, especially with people. No more than one or two. If you want to meet them, so too do a lot of people and you can’t control other people’s schedules.

3. Limit Your Schedule

Limit? Really? Shouldn’t you try to maximize your time? Probably, but do that when you get there. I’ve met a lot of people with grand plans to attend sessions or talks like books stacked on a shelf. It never works out for them. Or, if it does, they end up missing the best part of a conference – the place where all the work gets done…

4. Work the Halls

Talks and panels and presentations are good, great even. But business gets done in the hallways. It’s where connections are made, where ideas are shared in a way that they can actually come to life. I was recently at a conference attended by Chris Brogan. In three days, I saw him out of the hallways twice – both times he was presenting. Instead, he spent most of his time meeting new people, but more importantly, introducing people to one another.

5. Be a Connector, not a Vacuum

I like nothing more than meeting a new person, learning a little about them and introducing them to someone who they should know. I take a lot of personal satisfaction from it, but more than that, I derive a lot of value from it. I’ve met lots of people at conferences over the years that want to hoard, to Hoover attention and connections into themselves. Don’t do this. Conferences are designed for connection, inspiration and insight – all three of which must be shared in order to be useful.

6. Pack Light

You’re not going to get work done on your lunch break. You probably don’t need that extra battery, the iPad, iPod and twelve notebooks. Leave them in your room or, better yet, at home. The less time you spend with your eyes down at a conference, the more likely you are to follow #5.

7. Leave the Swag

I like free stuff as much as the next guy, but how important are those cheap sunglasses and how badly do you need three pairs? Travel light, leave the freebies for the newbies and focus on building relationships.

8. The Things to Carry

Keep it simple:

  • Two Pens (one will get stolen)
  • A Notebook (the only swag worth taking)
  • A Smartphone with the following:
  • Evernote Premium, which allows you to scan business cards, take pictures and make notes
  • A unique cover – for some reason it’s great conversation starter.
  • An empty hard disc. Take pictures, record interviews. I like to use a Blue Mikey running through Garage Band for quick and dirty podcasts on my phone or iPad.

9. Learn, Listen, Do

The last conference I went to, I met a guy who could have been terribly interesting. He had a fascinating job, a fascinating story and a horrible attitude. It was obvious to me that the guy just wanted to give his talk and get the hell out of there. I wanted to talk to him, to ask him questions. He gave one word answers and wouldn’t look me in the eye. This isn’t social awkwardness- that can be forgiven. This was idontwanttobehereness, which is the wrong attitude to have for a conference. I tend to skip a lot of big speakers and focus on small group sessions, work sessions, discussions. Why? Because I’m there to interact, not to absorb. Some people may like to listen. The point is that you engage.

There’s some sort of weird space-time thing that happens at a conference. If you’re involved, the days fly by. If you are timid, they drone. Get involved. Get specific. Make connections- for yourself, sure, but mostly for others. And, for Gods sakes leave the swag behind.

Do you have any conference survival tips? Contact me below or hit me up on Twitter @cheimbuch.

Is Being Happy Useful?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few weeks. Maybe it’s the time of year – when smiles linger a little longer, movies get more touching and people seem to be more generous – or maybe it is just the sentimental side of me that wants to believe in the idea that the things you put into the world are reflections of how you’d like the world to be, but I’m kind of fascinated by happiness right now. Like, really fascinated by it.

I’ve also just fulfilled a long-held dream of buying my first house, the release of which was like a double shot of adrenal mirth between my toes. I’ve been very focused on reaching that goal for a very long time. Everything I did was somehow related to it and, now that we are (nearly) all moved in and the kids are settled down, I realize that, for the first time in a long time, I can make choices related to something else. I’ve checked off those base levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and can begin thinking about what I’d like to put into the world.

And I’ve decided to do what I can do to put happiness into it.

Happiness is an interesting idea. It’s more complicated than you first think. It’s not just a moment of brief joy. It’s about contentment and purpose, curiosity, accomplishment, satisfaction and a whole lot of other things. And when you look at happiness in this holistic way, you begin to understand just how useful happiness is.

Very useful.

Usefulness and utility are prime concerns for me, but the idea of usefulness being a result of happiness is a new thought. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize just how completely impossible it is to be useful without being happy. It’s what distinguishes human utility from, say, a steam shovel.

There’s a lot of thinking I want to do on this idea. A lot more to come. But, in the spirit of the holiday, I thought I would try to share a little happiness from YouTube. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.

Useful Thought: What If?

I was taking a walk the other night and listening to the Freakonomics podcast when I had an interesting thought: what if?

Now, to put it into perspective, I’ve been thinking a lot about the story at the heart of my first book, “Chasing Oliver Hazard Perry,” lately. This is for a couple of reasons. A) Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory at the Battle of Lake Erie was amazing and incredible and all kinds of other wondrous superlatives and B) Because I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it as the basis of a young adult novel – as a framework? The setting? The outline of a different story told through the eyes of a young man living in a dystopian society? It’s probably one of those things, I just haven’t figured it out yet.

So, thinking about this, walking and listening to Freakonomics, I began thinking – what if Perry had lost? What if he had squared off against the British and not won? What might have happened then?

What if is not an original question. It’s asked all the time and always has been. It’s not even a novel thought for me. When I was younger, I used to imagine what might have happened in an Apache helicopter had made its way to the battle of Bull Run or what would have happened to the Browns in 1997 if they had won the Super Bowl in 1986. Truth be told, I wonder this kind of stuff all the time.

It’s no coincidence that I was having this thought around the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. What if JFK had not been shot? What if Oswald had missed? What then?

These are questions without answers, but perhaps asking them is useful. Perhaps by asking what might have been, based upon the historical context, is the best way to understand the importance of what did happen. After all, the margin between what is and what could have been is razor thin. Our entire universe is defined by the difference between what if and what is.

So, as I am wont to do, I immediately began planning a book (or TV show) in my mind. I came up with a list of questions that I’d like to pose to historians, economists, scientists, political thinkers and the like.

  1. What if Perry had lost?
  2. What if JFK had lived?
  3. What if the stock market didn’t crash?
  4. What if Lincoln lost the second election?
  5. What if Edison had failed to invent the lightbulb?
  6. What if Harriet Tubman had been caught?
  7. What if Babe Ruth was never sold to the Yankees?
  8. What if Native Americans were resistant to Small Pox?
  9. What if Jefferson balked at the Louisiana Purchase?
  10. What if the Russians had gotten to moon first?
  11. What if Rockefeller hadn’t gotten into the steel business?
  12. What if we hadn’t dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
  13. What if Ray Crock had never met the McDonald brothers?
  14. What if Reagan had died when Hinckley shot him?
  15. What if the US had won in Vietnam?
  16. What if Jonas Salk had failed?
  17. What if 9/11 never happened?
  18. What if the internet didn’t exist?
  19. What if Churchill never existed?
  20. What if …

So, I have two questions: Would you read a book/watch a show like this? And what would you want to know?

Again, the goal here is not to have me answer these questions, but to pose them to experts. I’m fascinated by this idea. Have you ever wondered… what if?