Friday, January 8, 2010

My Values Are Important …. Most of the Time


In August of 2009, I mused in my blog “Consistent Messages – The True Source of Inconsistency” about whether or not the messages we broadcast to the world are in resonance with our values and actions.

One of the things I discussed was in regards to a national supermarket chain and their inconsistent message around plastic bags, announcing that they did not want their customers to use them.  The reason was because the environment was important to them and this was one way they were demonstrating their commitment.  To accomplish this, they would begin charging 5 cents per bag moving forward. 

The reason they selected 5 cents was that in fact they only wanted to lightly discourage people from buying them without offending anyone.  They didn’t in fact want you to stop as the signs in the supermarket suggested and I thought the inconsistency between message and intention was amusing.

I was listening to a spokesperson on the radio this morning from the same supermarket chain describing why the chain offered the bags free of charge to customers during the holiday season and had extended the free bag offer for the time being.

Here was the explanation that was provided (paraphrasing).  Tell me if you see a pattern:

1. Holiday time is a busy time and customers have enough to worry about without having to worry about bringing their reusable bags in.

2. Customers are going to the other supermarket that offers the bags free of charge all the time.

3. We are still committed to removing “x” number of bags from the environment.

4. Customers are going to the other supermarket that offers the bags free of charge all the time.

5. Some customers have complained that people using the reusable bags are causing delays at the checkouts.

6. Customers are going to the other supermarket that offers the bags free of charge all the time.

7. Customers need more time to get used to the concept of reusable bags and so we have relaxed the requirement to buy plastic bags.

8. Customers are going to the other supermarket that offers the bags free of charge all the time.

The spokesperson then summed it all up with a choice of words that I found interesting.  This is a direct quote:

“In the end, it comes down to the business.”

As a business person myself, I agree that bottom-line financials are important.

However, when one promotes through advertising, in-store signs, etc., that they are committed to the environment, perhaps they should change the message to read:

We will do our best to be committed to the environment by keeping plastic bags out of landfill but if you don’t like that, that’s ok with us also.  We don’t want to offend you and lose your business.

Or, to put it another way:

Our values are negotiable.

I’m not an uber-environmentalist by any stretch although I try to do my part.

However, this causes me to wonder:

1. Are our values something of convenience?

2. Are our values a useful promotion tool?

3. Are our values based on intentions and not actions?

4. Are our values something we aspire to have at some point?


5. Are our values consistent with who we are, what we do, and how we do it and are we willing to stand by them at all cost?

The answer to those questions has profound impact on our lives personally, professionally, economically, politically, ecologically and socially.

Are your values negotiable?

If you say they are not, how do you know?

In service and servanthood.


To read my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “My Values are Important …. Most of the Time”, please click here.


Addendum: In March of 2010, the same supermarket chain announced that they would offer customers plastic bags free of charge for the foreseeable future.  The reason given?  The competitor was doing it.   Their values are for sale.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Most Important Question of All

In all of my years of consulting, there is one question that I ask my clients. 

About 20% attempt to answer it.  Of that 20%, 20% of that group does a good job of answering it well.  The rest do their best and I commend them for trying.

The other 80% either say “because” (which is a non-answer), get frustrated by the question or simply don’t try to answer it at all.

It is a complex question after all, although deceptively simple in appearance.

If you can’t answer this question in regards to your personal and professional life, then little alarm bells should be going off in your mind.

If your organization cannot answer the question, then the organization is in trouble.  You may not see it yet but it is coming.

The question is:


Consider these examples:

1. Why do you believe you are here on this planet?

2. Why are you in business xyz?

3. Why does your organization exist?

4. Why do you believe your product is better than xyz?

5. Why do you believe you offer something that no one else has?

6. Why should this project that is important to you be important to anyone else?

7. Why did you consider this option when so many others were available?

8. Why do you think your teams are motivated? 

Seems like a simple question and yet when I put my strategy hat on and guide clients, it seems that this question gives them the most difficulty.

Consider this paraphrased conversation that I experienced about a year ago.  My responses are in italics.


My product is the best product in space xyz.

Why do you believe it is the best product?

Because it is.

Have you performed due diligence against competitive offerings?

No – I didn’t need to.

Why not?

Because I know my product is the best product on the market.

Hmmmm.  Ok.  Let’s change direction.  Why does your company exist?  What need does it solve?  What is its purpose?

It exists to create and promote product xyz.

Ahh … I see (now I am getting nervous of the obvious circular reference here).  Why do you believe that such a need exists – what does your research tell you?

Well, I didn’t do a lot of research.  I know this from what I have observed and what I have been told.

Why do you think you can be successful with no market intelligence or competitive analysis?

I just know it.

Ok. Why would a customer buy this product from you?

Because my product does things that the competitor products don’t do as well.

Why do you believe this if you haven’t gathered any competitive intelligence?

Because I just know.


Usually by now, they are getting agitated.

I never take their agitation personally.  I know that when the agitation sets in, the client is discovering that I have brought something to light that they already knew but didn’t want to admit or face up to.

After all, as Gerald Weinberg, author and consultant once said in “The Secrets of Consulting”:

“The Five-Minute Rule:

Clients always know how to solve their problems, and always tell the solution in the first five minutes.”

Can you answer the question of “Why”?

When you find that  your personal or professional life or perhaps the life of your organization seems to be stuck in a quagmire, can you honestly answer the question?

Do your answers stand up to close scrutiny?

If they do, good for you – you are on your way to eventually wrestling your challenges to the ground.  It may not be easy, but your eye is “on the prize” and this will keep you focused and moving forward.

If your answers do not stand up to scrutiny, take some time to explore this space.  Preferably allow someone to objectively guide you through this exploration.  This keeps your exploration honest and authentic and has the best hope of producing a better result.

If you can’t answer this question, you are only pretending to be moving closer to your personal, professional or organizational goals.

You will indeed get somewhere – it just may not be what you hoped for.

Why would you want this to happen?

Why would you allow this to happen?

Why indeed?

In service and servanthood.


For my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “The Most Important Question of All”, please click here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Authenticity – The Emperor Is Naked

Do you remember the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”?  It is a story of an Emperor who is duped by shysters who convince him to wear clothing that has so many wonderful powers that the clothing is invisible to people who lack the intelligence and insight to see it.  Of course we know that there was no invisible clothing and the Emperor goes sauntering down the street completely naked.

Everyone witnessing the parade, not wanting to look like an idiot, marvels out loud about how beautiful the clothing is.

It takes the innocence of a child, someone who doesn’t feel the pressure to tell people what they want to hear, who calls it as it is and thus alerts everyone else to the truth.  The Emperor is in fact naked.

I wonder if we face many situations where we are afraid to exclaim that the “Emperor is not wearing any clothing” for fear of how people will receive the message and for fear of what the repercussions could be.

Airport Security and The Emperor’s New Clothes

This thought came to mind this morning as I listened to people on the radio discuss airport security.

Airport security keeps the "amateur nut" from doing stupid things on aircraft.  That being said, a security system is only as strong as the weakest link. 

I travel quite a bit and have witnessed in airports where airline crews go around security.  Incidents such as the EgyptAir crash and the Air Canada copilot who needed to be restrained on a flight to London last year show that flight crews are human also and can place aircraft in jeopardy.

I watched in Toronto as a cleaning woman with her cart was sent around security so she could make her rounds inside the secure area.  She may be clean from a security standpoint but if someone observes her daily routine, something could be planted on her cart to be picked up on the inside by someone else.  I have been given tours of airport grounds without going through security and could have left something on the grounds for someone else to pick up.

Suicide bombers in the Middle East are now putting PETN (the material used by the individual on the Amsterdam to Detroit flight) INSIDE their body.  This will not be picked up by the new imaging systems that governments are insisting on installing

So the measures are good.  However, let's not get so complacent as to believe that the measures will catch everything as some officials want us to believe.  The tighter we grip something, the more likely we believe things are secure.  The truth is that, like grains of sand, the tighter we squeeze our fist, the more likely that some things will slip through. 

Air travel will never be completely safe and we need to accept that instead of being shocked when incidents arise.

Consulting and The Emperor’s New Clothes

When I look within the spheres of influence that I move in, whether it be in the professional consulting world or in many of the volunteer initiatives I participate in, the Emperor doesn’t just have some invisible clothing – he has a whole wardrobe that grows by the day.  I have many examples I could give but in doing so, my blog would be hundreds of pages long and I might inadvertently violate a few nondisclosure agreements along the way.

Suffice to say, many people tell their clients exactly what they want to hear and not what they need to hear.

Conversely, some clients create projects where the message they want to hear is the deliverable.

In either situation, no one is doing anyone else any favors.  In fact, they are just adding to the wardrobe of invisible clothing while telling the world that the world would be an idiot if they didn’t see the beautiful patterns and materials that the invisible clothing is made of.

In other words, they are sending more and more people into the world totally naked.

Perhaps that person is themselves. 

Perhaps that person is you.

If you are such a client, demand better from those offering advice to you.

If you provide guidance to someone else, insist that you be allowed to call it as you see it instead of providing something that the client wants to hear.

To not demand and expect authenticity in information exchange is to not empower people to make appropriate decisions in a timely, effective fashion.

Receivers of poor information find that they are not in demand after awhile as their poor choices are a reflection of the poor information.

Providers of poor information find that they eventually are not in demand either as their resume fills with one failed client after another.

Failure, like success, is a process that takes time to develop.

Do your best to demand authenticity in every exchange you have.

Otherwise, you may find yourself parading around your sphere of influence totally naked.

In a metaphoric way, of course.

In service and servanthood.



To read my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Authenticity – The Emperor is Naked”, please click here.


PS There is a wonderful book, “The Ugly Duckling Goes to Work” by Mette Norgaard, that readers of this blog may find quite interesting and thought provocative.




When I first read this book, I could tell by its opening line that I was in for a wonderful voyage. 

Work can bring us alive, but it can also kill us.

Thus opens a fascinating book that evokes a fascinating structural tension in the reader – the nostalgia of revisiting childhood storybook favorites versus the A-HA moments of enlightenment one receives when discovering fascinating insight into our personal or professional lives.

Taking six of Andersen’s stories, including “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the author, Mette Norgaard, shows how a story enjoyed by children has deep insight into the life we live as adults.

I highly recommend this book to everyone and have given many clients a copy as a gift.