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Do You Have the Heart For It?

Do you have the heart for it?If you were an artist, which would you choose: To create your own unique and inspired works of art (even if it meant scratching a meager living) or bring others’ inspiration to life as a well-paid, commissioned painter? In world of business, each of us makes this choice. The real question is whether you know it or not.

In high school, I was perfectly prepared to launch into a career as a starving artist. I could weave wonderfully twisted stories through oil pastels and water colors, but sadly discovered the business-side of “starving” wasn’t quite as glamourous as I’d expected. While some aspiring young artists make it in the big city, I had a change of heart. I knew it would be a long road to success (if at all), and most artists who could afford to put food on the table were commissioned. In other words, I’d have to paint others dreams to make a decent living.

While youthfully noble, I quickly inventoried my other skills and determined I would fair better in the world of technology — and actually enjoy it. So I pursued another of my goals in tandem and joined the United States Marine Corps. I became expert at  two things:

  1. Expert Rifleman: I was an expert marksman with an M-16 assault rifle, and could put a bullet in a man-size target 500 yards away in a 30 knot wind 9 out of 10 times. (Thankfully, I never had to use this skill in real life).
  2. Expert Technologist: I became expert with all manner of computer technologies, and got to work in some of the most challenging technology environments on the planet. (Thankfully, I got to use this skill a lot in real life).

Over the years, I’ve made my trade as a commissioned painter of sorts, painting beautifully intricate designs with technology for employers and clients alike. I’m especially proud of some of the things I’ve accomplished individually and as part of a larger team. My heart is always beating, leading me to new adventures.

Are You Lost?

I recently heard a speaker say, “The surest way to attract others is with a smile. Why? Because deep down, that lets others know you are passionate about what you do!”

Neither being your own artist nor being a commissioned painter is wrong. But as I look around, I see a world filled with people who want to be artists but are living off of the commission. They are desperately seeking fulfillment in a mismatched existence, falsely living the life of the other sapping their passion and joy. This ultimately leaves them impotent and dissatisfied.

Which choice have you made? Do you have the heart for it?

Are You the Boss?

Every one of your team members wants do good work. Most may not think of themselves as artists or commissioned painters, but that won’t stop you from seeing them this way. Take some time to look at yourself and your team. Seek out your hidden artists who want to be set free to create beautiful things for you and your customers. You may find that you’ve chained some too tightly, while others have unwittingly allowed themselves to become chained as a commissioned painter.

It takes a confident leader to recognize the signs, but it takes a true visionary to help others see the “right choice” in themselves. Do you have the heart for it?

 

Feel the Rhythm: Your Customers Need to Hear You!

I’m a big fan of music, and would just about listen to music all day and night if I could. There is something therapeutic about music, and a good song exists for just about every situation. I think it is because it evokes such raw emotion – and depending upon the mood you are in, or the mood you want to be in, listening to music calls upon a subconscious element at the core of our psyche.

A good beat gets you moving, tugs at your shoulders to move one way while your hips move another. You know it, a strong beat gets your knees and feet moving, stands you up and tells you to shake what the good Lord gave ya! I don’t care what your skin color, gender, religion or nationality – music speaks to the inner-you underneath all of that outer-you.

Think of your favorite, fun song – the one that puts a smile on your face. Is your head bobbing, ever so slightly as you do? I’m sure you know how it ebbs and flows; you feel the rhythm, don’t you? Your business, your customer, your relationships are like this too, but most of us have a hard time hearing those beats quite as well.

Each business process is an instrument in an orchestra – finely tuned or not. How well the various pieces of music are written, how expert each musician handles their instrument, and how well they work to follow the conductor’s instructions all impact how well we, as customers of the music, enjoy the performance (and tell our friends about the must-hear performance).

Can you feel the beat, the rhythm within your business? Does it speak to you in tones you find soothing or does irritate you. Most likely, your reaction will be similar to that of your customer – so be sure you tune your company into a channel your customers – and your associates – will feel. Your customers need to feel the rhythm when they hear you.


Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. As a senior consultant with the Photizo Group, he comes from and works directly with channel providers in the managed services space, developing educational tools and resources to promote lasting business transformation.

Get the latest industry news, and follow ChangeForge on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook. You might also be interested in reading more from Ken in his weekly column on MPS Insights every Tuesday.


You Shall Seek Out New Adventures

Transitions are always a challenge and the prospect of the new adventure stirs the blood while the uncertainty of the unknown can be daunting. The last week has been a whirlwind of change. I really appreciate your patience as I made this exciting transition over the past few days into my new role of senior consultant with the Photizo Group, a research and consulting firm specializing in the managed print services space.

The night before my last day with my former employer, we went low key;  my daughter and I took went to a little Chinese restaurant down from our house. We love lo mein and rice, and since my wife works even schedules during the summer, it’s a great time for a little Daddy-Daughter time. As much as we love the main course, I’ve always been fond of the cheesy little fortunes inside the crumbly fortune cookies. As I broke open mine, I enjoyed reading what I found:

“You shall seek out new adventures.”

While one may very well be counted as hopelessly goofy for acting on advice of a fortune cookie, it put a smile on my face all the same. As Malcolm Gladwell stated in his book The Tipping Point, the context of a situation – the crowd which surrounds you – can often be an extremely strong influence. And so it was, sitting there with my beautiful daughter, supping on a cheap Chinese dinner, in blue jeans and a T-shirt, I found myself smiling at the prospect of a new adventure.

For my loyal readers, you know how much I write to the importance of culture and team fit. My choice to join the Photizo Group was a carefully weighted decision process, as was their choice to allow me to join their team. At the summit of it all, I believe I was most excited to join a group of fellow though-leaders who not only gather knowledge, but practice its application for the betterment of their clients and this evolving industry.

Change is all around us, and while it is daunting there is a brave new world awaiting those who are open to act. In my new role, I will be spearheading the development of something I am so very passionate about – helping you.

I stand on the at the helm ready to navigate the open waters ahead. I hope you will join me as I seek out new adventures.


Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. As a senior consultant with the Photizo Group, he comes from and works directly with channel providers in the managed services space.

Get the latest industry news, and follow ChangeForge on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook. You might also be interested in reading more from Ken in his weekly column on MPS Insights every Tuesday.


Your Good is not Good Enough.

Customer satisfaction is often thrown around like the word “good”. Good might be meant in the best of intentions, “I had a good day!” Or it might not, “How are you?” someone asks. “Eh, — I’m good I guess,” is the response.

But customer satisfaction is a number easily measured but not necessarily easily converted. It is certainly not a thing that will keep your customers coming back for more if your offering is not solid too. But what of things like customer retention and innovating as a means to thrive – not just holding steady in order to survive?

When a company culture begins caring less about constant and fanatical innovation to acquire and retain customers than it does simply surviving, perhaps it’s time to step away. The tough question to ask is whether you are culpable of being asleep at the wheel too.

What do you think?


Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Ken serves on the board of the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA), an international industry organization seeking worldwide best practices for the managed print services industry. He is also the founder of Seeking the Son. He is always interested in connecting with you.


Will Your Team Bring You Home?

iwojima Times are tough and many are struggling with disappearing 401k portfolios, shrinking wages, or even outright unemployment. Times are tough – no doubt, and even I am not immune to it. While today may have been another hit I’ve got to take on the chin, everyone seems see signs of a recovery in their future.

Is this hopeless optimism or simply an subconscious wisdom that things will return to an upright position?

Last year, I wrote an article about surviving in tough times entitled “4 Keys to Success You Need to Survive.” Things like Honesty, Vision, Will, and Communication are all key to survival in tough times, but I saw something this past week that simply amazed me.

This past week, our company, like many others, have been dealing with the tougher economic conditions, underscoring that no one is immune to bad times. Sharp Corporation, our parent corporation, announced losses for the first time in more than five decades. According to AOL Money & Finance:

Sharp expects to post a net loss of 130 billion yen ($1.3 billion), worse than the 100 billion yen loss it had projected in February. … Sharp has said it will cut 1,500 contract workers in Japan by the end of March, and its directors will forgo bonus pay in June and accept pay cuts of up to 50 percent. It had closed some panel production lines for mobile phones in response to the slowdown, which worsened last year.

Rippling throughout the organization, pay decreases found their way to our doorstep an ocean away and in a very ungracious manner.

However, today our branch president stood before us, looking us in the eye and delivered the news with an honesty and candor denoting his trust in our team to handle the news in stride. And we did.

While it was somber news, what I saw amazed me; it started small and built to a crescendo:

A service technician spoke of how his neighbor did not have a job and he was thankful to still be employed. A billing coordinator was thankful to have a pay decrease rather than loose a member of the team. A service manager looked at his team and thanked them for being their when the chips were down. An entire sales team asked how much it would take them in sales to offset their teammates losses in new sales.

You don’t see this everyday. You can’t buy loyalty like this. Not since the United States Marine Corps have I seen loyalty to a team such as this. Staring adversity and hard times in the face, this team asked what more they could do for the teammate standing next to them rather than scurry away and sulk.

We used to have a saying in the Marine Corps, “It’s not the Corps that takes care of Marines, it’s that Marine standing shoulder to shoulder with you that will bring you home.” When the chips are down and you are looking at troubled times do you have a team that will bring you home?


Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Ken is also the founder of Seeking the Son. He is always interested in connecting; To discover the many ways you may connect with him, visit him at DandyID.


Trading Progress for Process

bicycleongrass Companies both large and small always wrestle with things like revenue, cash flow, profitability, head count, and maybe even the P&L once in awhile. But from an abstract point of view, I see many companies I work with (and for) struggle with the concepts of progress and process – especially as it relates to business process and culture.

Think about it. Everything in a company is driven by some type of process. Whether it be the opening and sorting of mail or a complex insurance claim process – we all have processes we use and are exposed to. Thoughts of progress enter the mix when some environmental dynamic forces us to change our process. Maybe growth dictates more accountability or market consolidations force a realignment of market places. Just as in nature, change requires evolution – it requires us to progress past where we are to where we must go in order to survive; Many fall by the wayside, but enough will survive.

This, of course, is the way of things in most normal economies. But as a company grows larger, many times, a strange transformation seems to begin to occur. The ability to evolve and rapidly respond becomes diluted under an increasing sea of bureaucracy and decisions can often become relegated to simple choices based around a spreadsheet or policy manual. In essence, these afflicted companies begin to trade progress for process.

In general, having processes can bring sanity to any organization and ultimately ensure consistency. So long as the process is intended to underscore the mission and not undermine the culture, a process can be a wonderful thing. However, when form becomes more important that substance, when the process becomes ritual and religion, trading progress for process may well lead to trading in your company’s soul.

Don’t let this happen to you and your company. Fight to build and preserve a culture where people can take pride in what they do, knowing that their work makes the world a better place. Don’t forget that both progress and process are vital to any companies survival, but both should be taken in measure.

Image Courtesy of: Lewis Chaplin


Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Ken is also the founder of Seeking the Son. Ken is always interested in connecting; To discover the many ways you may connect with him, visit him at DandyID.


Who Moved My Cheese? Why Culture and Process Are So Important.

In my line of work, and perhaps due to my insatiable and somewhat annoying need to always ask, “Why?”, I come across a lot of issues that always seem to come back to two major problems: culture and process.

I’ve spent lots of time talking on culture and process. The bottom line is if your culture and your processes are broken – no amount of business or technology acumen is going to save you.

Having said that, I received a call from a friend a few days ago asking for a some advice on an issue he was dealing with (let’s call him Jamie for our story). Jamie had come to the conclusion that many of his customers were not being serviced properly when calling in to place orders. They were complaining of either being treated rudely or not receiving shipments of his product in a timely fashion.

We both agreed that there were some issues with the people handling the calls, and in talking back and forth zeroed in on a change in the process that would sidestep the problem department and forward the order requests down a different path.

I asked a simple question of why he didn’t prefer to deal with the issue head on because it seemed something was amiss. He instantly came back with the rebuttal that we couldn’t address that issue because 1) it would make too many people angry, and 2) nothing would ultimately change.

The Rub

Here’s the rub with this: The process is not working for his customers so the typical solution would be to simply address the deficiencies while promoting the correct behavior. However,  the culture is clearly diseased, suffering from a real lack of perspective needed to step back and embrace truth instead of hiding from it.

Of the two (culture and process), culture is the most important and will ultimately decide whether the company and its many processes survive. Culture is to a company like the blood flowing through your very veins. If it is not functioning optimally, you will eventually die.

So, Jamie decided to implement his solution and solve the problem by redirection to his “A-Team”. While this may work in the short term, in the long term not only will those high-capacity people on the his “A-Team” come to resent the lower-capacity team, the lower-capacity team will end up resenting the “A-Team” once they discover what is going on (behind their backs) – and notice I said “once” and not “if” – because it will happen.

In general, breeding and grooming a winning culture takes time, energy, money, and lots of patience. It doesn’t happen overnight and everyone involved will generally be frustrated. As long as it is frustration of the “creative” persuasion, everything will work out just fine. But when you start seeing this end-run around the center, something is way out of whack – not just a little, but a lot!

The Sipping Life

It has been a crazy week, filled with a few tears, much frustration, and even more laughter – to my amazement. A season change is in the air, palpable to all senses. As the leaves of our trees turn, so do I feel the turning of a chapter in my life.

In the swirling winds of chaos and change – in the rushing around all of us find ourselves guilty of – it is a pleasure to sit down, sip a glass of wine, and share some reflections with each of you.

Today has been hectic, maybe more so than the week – a perfect punctuation to the type of week I have had. Now that I steal away some time to reflect upon my week, a smirk finds its way to my lips.

Quite possibly the wine is relaxing me; maybe I am a cheap date. But I think not. You see, my friends, I took time this week – of all weeks in my year – to stop and breathe, to look around (I mean really take notice), and share laughter with each and every team member I work with.

Much like a fine wine, life is meant to be sipped not gulped. Sure there are times when all of us just need to put our head down and get it done. More importantly, however, I believe we must be able to sense when to stop and drink it in – just where we are in that instance.

I found time this week to see just about everyone I worked with, shake their hand, pat them on the back, or share a joke amongst friends. Smiles were there to be had by everyone, and smiles were given freely in return.

This next week we will return to the tasks at hand, busy keeping our heads down. And in keeping with the doing of those deeds our team, my team, will find its way through any adversity – to victory. But what I must remember, what I must remember to practice and not just preach, is that life will try to run away with us. What each of us must focus upon is simply remembering those deeds do not define our lives, it is the way in which we handle ourselves in doing those deeds, fulfilling those tasks, and living our lives that defines each of us.

Remember, look up every so often so you do not lose that sense of wonderment about all things around us; remember that we are part of something larger than ourselves, it demanding a gentler appreciation than our grooming might normally dictate.

… And remember, our glass of wine was intended to be sipped, not gulped.

Is Your Product Like a Cold Cup of the Corporate Coffee?

It’s Monday morning and you are rounding out your morning routine by getting into the office, powering up the ole’ laptop, and deciding by royal proclamation, “It’s time for coffee.” You make your way down the hall and pass a few offices as you waive to some of your co-workers.

cold cup of corporate coffee You make your way into the company break room and smell that wonderfully cheap smell of the corporate coffee. Not Starbucks’ or Seattle’s Best, but it’s free, right?

You poor a slow cup while idly conversing with another corporate suit about the weekend happenings, all the while deciding which flavor of the Coffee-Mate you want to gamble on making this steely brew drinkable today.

You walk back to your office, cup in hand, and get pulled into one or two ad hoc and impromptu meetings someone just had to have you weigh in on. It might’ve been this Sunday’s game or that latest promotion (can you believe it?), all serving to slow your return to your now-ready computer.

You sit in your chair, place your coffee cup on your desk, and saddle up to read the morning volley of e-mail exchanges over the weekend. Suddenly, the boss needs to speak with you, steps in and closes the door (you know this is going to be a ride).

Thirty minutes later, your boss stands, shakes your hand and leaves to go on with his day. Now that you have put his mind at ease that everything is under control, you reach for your coffee, pull it to your lips, and find it cold and lifeless.

“Blehhh!”, you think. “Cold corporate coffee is worthless.”

So you hike back to the break room and with a flick of the wrist, wash the foul brew down the drain – only to return to the same pot to pour another cup.

Notice a few things here:

  1. The coffee is part of the routine.
  2. It needs a lot of help to perform as expected.
  3. There is virtually no price, thus literally no value.
  4. There is no thought in simply discarding it should it not meet expectations.

happy_coffeeMuch like the corporate coffee, you have positioned your product to carry no intrinsic value. Have you instead all but given it away and continue to pander to your customers whims while not seeking a solution to their problems, nor empathizing with their pain?

Well then, you can expect to carry the same value as the cup of cold corporate coffee I throw away and never drink. I pay roughly $4.50 for a medium-sized latte in most establishments. Crazy or no, the point is I almost always finish the entire cup – hot or cold. Why do you think that is?

  1. The coffee is not part of a routine, but part of a ritual of enjoyment.
  2. It exceeds expectations just about every time.
  3. The price is quite high, and thus it carries a lot of value.
  4. I will work with the Barrista to make right any deficiencies – so I will leave satisfied and with a product I will enjoy.

This is simply food for thought on how you might make your product offerings better than just a cold cup of corporate coffee.

Did you have any?


Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Ken serves on the board of the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA), an international industry organization seeking worldwide best practices for the managed print services industry, and writes a weekly column for MPS Insights. He is also the founder of Seeking the Son, and is always interested in connecting with you to see how he might help you.


Are We Truly Free?

A friend at KnowTheNetwork, wrote a rather interesting opinion regarding liberty and freedom. Tsudonimh wrote:

Liberty – 1: the quality or state of being free: a: the power to do as one pleases (Merriam-Webster)

What does it mean to be a free society? Or for a citizen to possess freedom?

Liberty allows you the free will of action and speech up to the point that you infringe upon another’s liberty. The ideal of liberty is uncomfortable and uncompromising and belief in such an ideal makes me a radical in most every circle.

My response is as follows:

Tsu, I would agree with the very principal of your belief. I have become a little more jaded in the simple fact that people have forgotten a very primary component of Liberty – the responsibility and accountability that accompanies such a power as being free.

Freedom, in my humble opinion, is much like love. I can be selfish and call it love – but true love is a relationship where both partners are committed to the other selflessly. This creates restraint and borders where both parties can feel completely protected. Why? Because each party has the other’s best interest at heart.

Liberty and Freedom: Are we truly free?Extend my argument to liberty: You are correct in that your freedom ends where it will infringe upon another’s liberty – but who is to decide this? The problem here is liberty works only in a society where its members are focused upon an attitude of service and selflessness – protection for each other.

Every argument in a marriage – every argument – comes from one party doing, saying, or acting in a selfish manner. As such, every conflict in history stems from another’s belief in something that is opposite from another and an unwillingness for compromise.

One thing that people have forgotten is that government is supposed to be the people. We in point of fact, live in a more socialistic culture where we have traded our rights of freedom for creature comforts – traded our liberty as currency to pay for the outsourcing of our hassles and worries.

Some efforts by our “government” have been good, but most have been stretched and twisted – resembling something wholly different than the original spirit of law intended.

Keep in mind, legalizing everything is not the answer, excusing irresponsible behavior is never the solution. Successful societies hold to the covenant of some standards – and agree to live by this social contract. Why? To preserve the greater good, to perpetuate humanity itself.

I admire your idealism, and I once to held to a standard that everyone could self moderate, but what I have been sadly made aware of through experience is that so many people do not – or worse – will not self-moderate their behavior.

What is truly sad to me is that these same abusive and selfish individuals claim it is their “right” to act in such a way as not acting in this fashion would impose upon their freedom. If you need any grander social experiment as proof, I would encourage you review a little thing called Woodstock 1967… Great ideals, but a miserable failure exemplifying self-indulgence and excess which resulted in soulless physical exchanges, malnutrition and disease.

No my friend, we are not mature enough to handle a “no holds barred” society.


Ken Stewart’s blog, ChangeForge.com, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology. Ken is also the Director of Technology at Kearns Business Solutions.