Advice from Seth

We recently replaced our old Dell desktop with a fast new Toshiba laptop. After a couple of hiccups I am now whizzing around Windows 8 and really marveling at the experience. (I can hear Steve Ballmer saying to his team, “We need apps!” Windows 8 was the response). I kid myself when I plunked down the $800 for the PC that I would NOT buy MS Office, opting instead for the free OpenOffice. That lasted about ten minutes. OpenOffice is not free–it comes encumbered with all sorts of adware–some of which is still annoyingly popping up. My previous version of MS Office only had Outlook Express  and I never got around to configuring my Gmail account in it. I just synced my Gmail with the slick new Outlook 2013 and came across this gem from Seth Godin.

Is Effort a Myth by Seth Godin

Here’s an excerpt:

1. Delete 120 minutes a day of ‘spare time’ from your life. This can include TV, reading the newspaper, commuting, wasting time in social networks and meetings. Up to you.

2. Spend the 120 minutes doing this instead:

  • Exercise for thirty minutes.

  • Read relevant non-fiction (trade magazines, journals, business books, blogs, etc.)

  • Send three thank you notes.

  • Learn new digital techniques (spreadsheet macros, Firefox shortcuts, productivity tools, graphic design, html coding)

  • Volunteer.

  • Blog for five minutes about something you learned.

  • Give a speech once a month about something you don’t currently know a lot about.

Good advice indeed!

Important and Urgent

When you’re working in a turnaround situation, resources are constantly scarce. One of the consequences is that you always seem to be working on tasks that are “urgent and unimportant.” Unimportant, in light of the fact that the building is burning down around us. The phrase comes from something called the Urgent/Important Matrix. This particular article calls these tasks “interruptions,” which is truly apt. I’m spending hours of my day on lame but necessary items that need to be done right now. In normal circumstances there would be someone on the team to whom a senior manager could delegate such tasks. But these are not normal circumstances. To combat the onslaught, I spend most mornings on the phone with clients doing the kind of shovel work that has a chance to build a new foundation for the firm. But when I’m doing the important and urgent work, the unimportant stuff is sitting there like a monkey on my back. It’s hard to stay motivated when the four page To Do list and the 200 emails are staring back.

To Glow

A year ago I started working with a coach. At the time, I was feeling really stuck in my job. I had hit a dead end and very little of what I was doing felt like it had any meaning or purpose.  One of the first things my coach asked me to do was to create a list of my values. When I shared it with him in my next session, one phrase really stood out for both of us: “to glow.” I had picked it up from this excellent book I was reading called The Midlife Crisis Survival Kit by Russell Wickens. To glow. It is not something you normally think of as a value. But at the time, it was the thing I missed most in my life. I am very lucky that soon after I began working with my coach, I began once again to have the opportunity to glow at work.


What does it mean to glow? For me, it means being in a challenging situation with at least one other person where the project we are working on has potential for success. Soon after I accepted my latest role within my firm, I began to have conversations with the editorial director about the lack of marketing attention being paid to the less sexy of our two divisions. I had already identified this division as the one with the greatest potential for growth and profitability. My next step was to begin to reach out to our authors (the generic business term for authors would be suppliers–publishing houses are essentially distributors of the content that authors create). From that point on, I began to get my glow back.

Everyday at work now, I have the opportunity to glow. Most of my authors are based in the UK and Europe. To fit with their schedules, I spend my mornings on the phone or Skype, strategizing with authors about their brands, managing the marketing of their projects and their social media platforms, and brainstorming new products. I have 8-10 “suppliers” that I am working with in an intensive way and a dozen more where I support our other product managers. My goal is to make everyone more self-sufficient so that I am able to move authors off of the intensive list and start the process with new ones. My biggest current frustration is that there are not enough hours in the day to talk to everyone that I want to.

The feedback from the authors involved with the program has been tremendous. Our editorial director is thrilled. And sales have started to tick up. Best of all, I’ve seen the culture within the company start to change. Where there used to a bit of the old-fashioned attitude of “we’re the publisher we know what we’re doing,” people are starting to realize that our authors bring a special magic to the sales and marketing process. By treating authors as equals, authors begin to open up and share what makes them glow. What makes them glow is often easily translatable into sensible, actionable marketing tactics that move product. A virtuous cycle where everyone gets a chance to win begins.

The Turnaround

We are conditioned towards winning. John Hodgman jokes that his books cover all areas of knowledge–except for sports. He then refers readers to every other aspect of our culture for information on sports. Sports is the arena where our Id and Superego get free reign. A manager in one of the Baseball Championship Series games remarked the other night, “I’m not looking ahead. We have to win THIS game.” Winning and losing. It is what we are all about.

Working for a company trying to accomplish a turnaround is tough. I want to go to work in a place where we’re all winners. What joy it must be to work at Google right now. If you can get in. A friend of mine went for an interview there and the way she described it made it sound like a vacation on that island in The Lord of the Flies. But nevermind–to be inside of Google must be amazing. They’re top dogs. Piston Cup winners. Jedi.

I have totally imbibed the winner-take-all ideology. When you work for a turnaround, it’s an effort to wake up everyday. As my co-worker says, “you feel like you’re wearing cinderblock shoes.” You say to yourself, “I must be a loser to be working for a turnaround company.” But there’s a little voice in the back of your head pushing you forward. You can start to see past the million and one projects ahead of you and the four page to-do list. There’s a spark of hope that you CAN turn this thing around. Your sheer effort might make a difference. There is still hope. You might win.