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Archive for June, 2009

I was honored to be asked to introduce the 2009 graduating class from Nashville OIC (opportunities industrialization center), a not-for-profit center designed to provide GED and soft skills education to ANYONE who wants it.  117 adults who defied odds, social stigma, economic condition, or whatever obstacle prevented them from graduating high school the first go around walked the stage into opportunity.  I cried.  I was moved at the stories, the range of ages, the hearts of the families who supported them and the barriers each of them rose above to be on that platform today.  For all the education these people achieved (and some came from a 2nd grade level), the true lesson today was for me.  For all I have been given and for all the advantages I have been afforded, I realized I have never worked as hard as those graduates did to get where they are today.

Many overcame addiction, incarceration, stereotypes and poverty.  The fact that they each made a personal decision to go beyond society’s labels puts me in awe.  I’ve never done anything so significant in comparison.  I was born into my good fortune and really, from that perspective I did nothing to be excluded from their plight.  For that too, I am in awe.

I wanted to write about this because every day we pass people on the street from different walks of life that we assume are where we are.  If we have a job, if we can pay our bills, if we have a well-running car and vacation money, then we are the minority–and we are blessed.  We don’t always realize it.  I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt this was one of the proudest moments I have ever had for 117 people as a whole and as individuals.

I want to impose a personal challenge today to anyone who happens to read this post; assume the guy in traffic who’s driving aggressively needs our love and compassion today, assume the kid at the drive-thru needs our reassuring smile; assume the woman at the bus stop is fighting for her family’s well-being and could use our encouragement.  Somebody out there loved, supported and encouraged these graduates and chances are it wasn’t me.

I assure you tomorrow it will be.  Tomorrow, I will wake up with a sense of appreciation for what I have and for what was given to me for merely being a product of the environment I was born into.  And even more so, I was given a gift today that I can only repay by having an attitude of gratitude going forward.  How lucky am I to have learned this valuable lesson from 117 unlikely teachers?  Thank you.

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This past week I was introduced to one group as, “the queen of manure” and to another I was setup with the comment, “not only does this woman work out of the box, she doesn’t even know where the box is.” Both, given the context, were complimentary believe it or not. I had to laugh because I’ve held many titles in my career, but seriously, manure queen? It may actually turn out to be one of my proudest moments in the end, so stay tuned for the rest of that story. This post isn’t about my role in the conversion of manure into bio fuel during the TN State Fair; it’s about how I aligned myself with people and thinking that defied “normalcy.”

Part of what makes the ordinary, extraordinary is when someone is willing to go beyond, “the way it’s always been done” to evoke change. I get to experience limitations daily; I work for metro government. And you’ll notice I wrote that I “get” to experience limitations. The fact is I thrive on limits because they are the very thing that causes me to go beyond normal expectations. I am in no way suggesting that you break the rules or defy policy, I am saying that it brings out the creative side in all of us when we have to develop new ways of getting ‘er done!

I’ve developed a system that works for me when confronted with “what if’s” and “it can’t be done’s” with the people I work with. If you want to know how I really feel about limiting beliefs, read a previous post As If vs. What If, but here’s what I call the IMAGINE method of climbing out of others people’s boxes:

Inhale: then exhale and try to understand the others’ perspectives

Map it out: clearly understand the problem and write down actions steps

Ask the question: “If we were to look at this positively, how could we proceed?”

Go to: trusted leaders and experts, as well as co-workers from other areas

Ignite: energy by asking, “what do we have to lose by trying it differently?”

Negotiate: with new, positive scenarios

Establish: a commitment to persistence without exception

You don’t have to remember the acronym or the particulars; you just have to be willing to find a way…where there is no way. You don’t have to actually do anything to get in the box…it just happens if you’re not constantly paying attention…and it’s your job to get yourself out. Andy Andrews has taught me to IMAGINE that there was nothing in my way and to make a new plan based on that reality. IMAGINE that money wasn’t an issue, THEN ask “could I make things happen that defy the odds?” IMAGINE that everyone I interact with was FOR me and not AGAINST me, “would that open some doors and minds in my day?” I love Andy Andrews…he’s funny, fresh and “fixed” on making things happen. I’m a “make it happen” kinda gal as well…mostly because I’m claustrophobic and don’t fit so well in that ordinary, little box.

You may not even know how you got in the box, but you can still imagine your way out. Inevitably, your creative thinking will cause change in the people, attitudes and maybe even the policies around you. Just because you happen to work in a cubicle doesn’t mean you can’t climb out with some fresh ideas. My most recent out of the box experience was deciding to find a sustainable (green) way to dispose of 560 tons of manure at the end of our fair…they’d always just taken it to the landfill and paid heavily for it…I’m turning it into bio fuel and saving 95% of the prior expense…what box?

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Each day when I head into the office I know that my day requires some basic preparation…and today to celebrate my husband’s recent promotion; I’m going to use an analogy that is near and dear to his heart—fishing!

Our fishing outings require preparation, contemplation, strategy, finesse, patience and persistence…much like a typical sales day. Fishing begins by plugging in the trolling motor to charge the battery before we head up river…for me; I charge my batteries with a decent breakfast, tons of coffee and reading the Word of the Day to get my “charge” from Above.

Next begins the process of selecting what fish to go after, which poles to get ready and what types of bait to use.  Truly, if I started my work day preparing to fish, I might land a few more big ones in the boat.  In my sales experience, I have not only been prepared for what I want to catch, I have to be willing to either cast a wider net or use different bait…it’s about being prepared for anything.

In the boat, we bring rain jackets, bug spray and emergency lights in case of a sudden change in weather or environment.  And if you’re in sales, you know that it has gone from sunny to overcast in so many industries that the fisherman most able to adapt to change is dominating at weigh-in time.

There are times when I’m out there on the river that I bait my hook, cast my line and picture what the fish thinks as I dance my worm above him.  I try to think like the fish…which sounds half crazy, I know, but almost inevitably when I get into this mode, I catch fish!  There are other times, it doesn’t come so easy and rather than pack up the poles and head home, we move to a new location and try another angle or lure…again, it’s about being flexible and creative…and persistent.

Naturally if it works with fish it could work with people.  I can’t ever be so rigid in my strategy that I forget to think about what the sponsor is looking for.  I can better adapt to their message if I think like they think.  I can better deliver them an experience they’ll benefit from if I empathize with their audience and their objectives.  I know this is a given, but so many times salespeople forget that the sale is not about them.  It’s not about anyone buying anything…it’s about creating a unique and beneficial solution that fulfills a need for the customer.

Knowing that makes it more relevant that your worm is fresh, bright, and stands out from the many that dangle in front of them.  To the fish, the low-hanging may not be the most appealing…and the ordinary almost never catches their eye!  Having the flashiest or the shiniest doesn’t always work either.  There’s a place in between that shows the fish and your customer that you understand his world, you’re sympathetic to his needs and you’re primary concern is his satisfaction…for the worm, he is temporarily getting his needs met and for the customer, it’s not a temporary fix he’s looking for.

I practice the “catch and release” rule when fishing, but not in my business.  I am completely committed and usually they are, too.  It’s not about a one-time hook; it’s about catching and keeping. Catching and keeping takes patience, persistence and practice…and speaking of practice, I gotta go!  My husband has the boat hooked up and we’re headed to the river.  There are so many things on my to-do list that will still be there tomorrow.  The big fish, however…today just might be my lucky day!

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I’m fully engaged in the assault on social media.  I’m a warrior.  I love it. I have a website to maintain for work, two blogs, a LinkedIn profile, a Facebook account, two groups, a cause and two fan pages; I text often, I live on email and Blackberry, I message through myEmma and now I “tweet.” However, I don’t yet see the true value to the one-sided conversations I have on twitter.  Most of my “twittersations” are one-sided because I’m rarely sitting at a desktop reviewing who’s saying what to whom throughout each day and responding.  I think I’m burned out.

I’ve committed to one tweet a day for the State Fair and abhor the 10-tweet overload I receive from some of my “followers.”  People are over-tweeting and it’s getting excessive. I don’t care to know that much about anyone or anything. Am I cynical?  Maybe, but I’m practical. It’s hard to calculate the ROI from an oftentimes open-ended “relationship.” I’m not old by any means, but I’m old-fashioned. I still like interaction and reciprocation. All that said, I get excited when someone “retweets” one of my announcements or mentions me in a “#follow friday.” It’s like a glorious train wreck…you can’t stop looking and you are horrified at what you see.

Do we know who really reads our tweets? Who takes action on them? Who is capitalizing from them? I am beginning to wonder if there is any more substance to the platform than feeding my own ego. Today’s blog is completely rhetorical in nature, but I really do want the answers. I can’t help but want to put a practical value on each initiative and my time.

With my website for instance, I can track visitors to my site, see which pages they viewed, know how long they were on my site and tally each city and state …that is something I can sink my teeth into. You can’t judge a tweeter by his followers, that’s for sure. There are people out there with thousands of followers who think that actually means something…then I see the content of their messages and think, “will someone think I’m like these cheesy salespeople?” Quite honestly, I’ve seen so many of these “get rich quick” or “multi-level marketing” people on twitter its scary. Is it a smoke-screen that gives an appearance of importance, of wealth and of value? It seems that you can be anything or anybody you want when the conversation is controlled by you. You can tell people anything you want about your wonderful self…whether it’s true or not. Should this frighten us about the future and integrity of social media? Again, I just don’t know the answer.

It’s a double-edged sword…now that I have followers, I am committed to sending a message…but even if I tried to stop cold turkey (I say it as if it’s like an addiction, because it is) I can’t stop…my people are WAITING…as if news from the Tennessee State Fair could change the world. Seriously, would they notice if I stopped? I’d like to think there are people hanging on my every word, but chances are, they’re just hoping that I mention them in one of my next tweets. Yep, I’m twitterfried for sure! And speaking of fried: @tnstatefair Don’t miss the TN State Fair September 11-20; home of the Deep Fried Goo Goo Cluster! It’s relentless.

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