Am I The Only One?

by Bill Edmonds @nstarlead

Are you the only pink flamingo in your work group?

My friend Pete retired about a month ago from a thirty-five year career as a “wholesaler” in the financial services industry. He enjoyed his work, his colleagues, and most of all the end users of his offering – the financial advisors he served. His vocation offered a great living for he and his family and is now providing a very comfortable retirement life-style.

I answered a phone call from him last week with a typical “hello”. My greeting was countered by hearty laughter on his end of the line, followed by, “This is the craziest thing! People I’ve known in the industry are calling, asking for my help with out-of-the-box solutions to their challenging business problems. They’re asking me to provide them with the very non-conforming solutions that were rejected by my previous employer, and they even want to compensate me! Now all these people want to pay me for what I was giving my employer for free!” Lastly he said, “Bill, my employer used to say, ‘That’s not what we pay you for Pete.’ What’s wrong with this picture?”

Great question my friend.  What is wrong with this picture?

A pink flamingo is of no value to a black and white flock.  Perhaps “the devil wears Prada”, but pigs prefer mud.  Throw an exquisite handbag from the Italian luxury fashion house into a pigpen and you’ll notice that these large mammals don’t have an appreciation for Prada’s fine leather craftsmanship.  Fill the bag with corn and throw it in….now you’re talking!

Albert Einstein put it this way: “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it’s stupid.”

How about this one: Michael Jordan – greatest basketball player ever…a genius on the court.  He retired from basketball in October 1993, and signed a professional baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox in February 1994. And why?  In a 2007, Sports Illustrated interview, Jordan said it was to pursue a dream his dad had for him to be a major league baseball player. Jordan’s career lasted only one season where he failed to move any higher than the Double-A minor league Birmingham Barons, rounding out the season with a batting average of .202.

It’s a good thing Michael Jordan’s dad let him play basketball.  And it’s a good thing he allowed young Michael to pursue his own dream, rather than limiting his son to that of his father’s. I’d like to think that somewhere along the way Jordan’s dad read the quote by Einstein.

What would the American workplace look like if people were hired not only for their ability to perform the task, but for their talents outside their respective job descriptions? For one, the employee engagement rates (studies show only 30% of U.S. workers are engaged in their work: see: Gallup’s Employee Engagement Survey) would increase, increasing productivity and profitability exponentially. And once they became engaged, what about trying to figure out ways they can bring their unique value to the company with new products, ideas, procedures, etc.?

Are you the only pink flamingo in your black and white office? Do you feel a smoldering discontent in your current role, even though you’re making great money? Living your dream or chasing somebody else’s? Batting .202 when you could be winning NBA championships? Still trying to climb trees with those fins of yours?

If so, it might be time to spread your wings (or your fins).  Why live and work in a black-and-white world when you were made for color?  Find your “why” – what you were created for…what makes you come alive – and go do it!  As great as the box was, my friend Pete is finding that his value might just be even greater outside of it.  How about you?

3 Resources for adding some color to your life:

Heroes Among Us – The 1000 Year Flood

It’s been heartwarming and humbling for me to witness the heroism of friends, neighbors and total strangers as a frontline participant to what many are referring to as the “The 1000 Year Flood”.

To stand beside a neighbor that I barely know and hear him talk about rescuing two other neighbors neither he nor I knew, is surreal (see attached video).  These poor souls I’m referring to were clinging for their lives to the entrance of our subdivision gate after a surge from a local dam break released millions of gallons of water down-stream, immediately creating whitewater rapids that swept through parts of our neighborhood.  The picture you see in this post above is about an hour and a half after the incident.

Sadly, there have been eleven deaths as of this morning in the Columbia, SC area.  My heart goes out to these individuals and their families as they deal with this tragic loss of life of their loved ones.  Please keep these families in your thoughts and prayers.

Three hundred roads and one hundred seventy bridges are closed in our community.  Thousands are without electricity and water.  The good news is that almost all are safe.  The loss of valuable material possessions is sad, but I noticed smiles on the faces of many of the people who were dragging  ruined belongings from their dwellings.  I saw smiles on the faces of those assisting in the task.  People are putting down their smart phones and getting to know each other – not virtually but actually!  

For a while at least, we’ll forget the things that divide us and celebrate the things that unite us – we’re all humans in need of water, food, shelter, relationships, love…..and most of all each other!

(Please click on this link to find out how you can help)

#scflood


Bill Edmonds is an “Outside-Insider” (an Executive Coach and Consultant), who works with leaders to help them reach their full potential in the areas of organizational and personal development. He spent 24 years with Merrill Lynch until his retirement in 2014, where he led a $100+ million per year revenue wealth management business unit as a Director with the firm.


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How to Tell if You’re For Real

Book Brief: Building Brand Authenticity - 7 Habits of Iconic Brands

What do Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, BMW, Zippo, Harley Davidson, and LL Bean have in common? They are all “authentic brands” says Michael Beverland, professor of marketing at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, a brand marketing researcher and author of the book Building Brand Authenticity – 7 Habits of Iconic Brands.  So just what makes a brand authentic?

Beverland says authenticity is synonymous with truth.  One way tell if a brand is truthful or not is to look at the marketing efforts of a company.  Traditional marketers want to control the consumer with a top down approach.  Beverland says they try to manage consumers’ brand image – they want to tell you or show you what you want or what you should feel about a brand.  The traditional way to attempt branding is through price, product, promotion, and placement.

Building brand authenticity is more of a bottom up approach.  People like products that make them feel connected and understood.  Once they discover these products they express their loyalty to them.  Take Harley Davidson for example – people wear that brand proudly with identity.  People don’t say, “I own a motorcycle.”  They say, “I’m a Harley rider.”

Authentic brands share these defining attributes: They…

  • Stick to their roots – appreciate their heritage and traditions
  • Are passionate about their product or service
  • Are devoted to their craft
  • Generate breakthrough innovations by immersing themselves in their markets
  • Link together like-minded people
  • Nurture connections to their communities
  • Have employees that are as dedicated to the brand as their managers and executives

The author shares a story of a beverage company that goes from an authentic brand to an unauthentic one.  The company was founded in 1972 in East Meadow, Long Island under the the name Unadulterated Food Products.  People loved the quirkiness of its star product, Snapple.  So popular was the drink that Quaker Oats bought Snapple for $1.7 billion in 1994.  But consumers turned against the “adulterated” scheme of mass-marketing that Quaker employed, resulting in Snapple being sold for $300 million just three short years later.

Individuals are on “the search for what is real” says Beverland.  Authentic brands help buyers define who they are or want to be.  Company leadership at authentic brands are an important theme.  The leaders of these organizations  are:

  • Passionate about what they produce
  • Involved in all the decisions related to their brand
  • Committed to a heritage that is entrenched in tradition

Consumers are forming identities and communities around brands.  Customers voices are louder than ever with social media forms of expression like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.  If people believe the brand message is disingenuous, they’ll stay away from the product and tell their friends to do the same.

The 7 habits that define authentic brands are:

  1. “The Authenticity of Stories” – stories that originate with the brand user and unite like-minded customers
  2. “Appearing as Artisanal Amateurs” – these brand creators let the world know that they love what they do, and they take on the persona of zealous artisans devoted to their craft, with products that speak for themselves
  3. “Sticking to Your Roots” – they stick with what made them popular, all the while adapting to the current time”
  4. “Love the Doing” – these makers communicate sincerity and commitment through their passion for their products and they stand for something
  5. “Market Immersion” – not market research, by interacting with their fans and even hiring them as employees
  6. “Be at One with the Community” – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz identify as “German engineering”, while Burt’s Bees and L.L. Bean conjure up an earthy, natural Maine
  7. “Indoctrinate Staff into the Brand Cult” – the employees act like owners and they are taken good care of by the company once they’re hired

Here’s 7 questions to ask yourself about yourself or your organization to test your authenticity:

  • Does your product or service make your clients or customers feel connected or understood?
  • How passionate are you about your product or service?
  • How devoted to your craft are you?
  • How dedicated are your employees or your team members to your brand?
  • How involved are you, the leader, in all brand decisions or have you distanced yourself from these type decisions?
  • How important are traditions and organizational history to you?
  • Do you love what you do?

You can’t fake sincerity anymore than you can fake authenticity.  They are both rooted in truth.  A wise man once said, “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.”  Beverland says the same: “You cannot tell consumers that your brand is authentic – you have to show them.”

Go show them…and be real!


Bill Edmonds is an “Outside-Insider” (an Executive Coach and Consultant), who works with leaders to help them reach their full potential in the areas of organizational and personal development. He spent 24 years with Merrill Lynch until his retirement in 2014, where he led a $100+ million per year revenue wealth management business unit as a Director with the firm.


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How To Improve Your Business IQ By Watching TV

Want to improve your business practice, increase revenues and widen margins? Then watch more TV. Not just anything on TV, specifically The Profit.

The Profit falls on a continuum somewhere between a historical reenactment and a Harvard Business School Case Study. For those of us who prefer a text book with a story line, this 1-hour show that airs on CNBC is a must. Its great viewing for the business leader of a large corporation, all the way down to the individual that’s just leading a small mom and pop enterprise.

The show’s star is Marcus Lemonis. In each episode, the forty-one year old Lebanese-born Lemonis sets out to rescue a small business that has the potential to be highly productive, but for whatever reason, is currently floundering and headed for disaster.

But before you discount the value of watching a “reality TV show” to learn how to grow your business, you should consider the following about Lemonis:

  • He’s the Chairman and CEO of Camping World, a privately held company that operates 95 facilities in 30 states, with annual revenues in excess of $1.4 billion
  • He grew up in the automobile business – his grandfather owned two of the largest Chevrolet dealers in the United States
  • Lee Iacocca was a family friend and later became a personal mentor to Lemonis

Lemonis analyzes each business through the lens of the “3 P’s”, (people, process and product), a phrase that was first used by Motorola in their development of Six Sigma, and later adopted by Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric.  Welch used this as one of the core principals in building GE into one of the most valued and admired companies of the late ‘90s and early 2000’s.

After he does his analysis of the business in each episode, Lemonis offers the owner an opportunity to partner with him for the purpose of turning the business around. He invests his own money and always requires that his new partners give him complete control of the business. This mandate allows him to make the decisions that all too often, due to their emotional investment, the business owner cannot make. As you might imagine, this leads to conflict in every episode that adds to the entertainment value of the program.

Here’s how you can take the show from just being amusing to practical application in your business. Watch an episode and ask yourself these 4 questions:

  • What are the issues that are preventing maximum productivity and profitability for this business?
  • Do I have any of the same issues in my work group or business that is holding back my/our productivity and profitability?
  • If I were Marcus, what would need changing for me to invest in this business?
  • If I were Marcus, what would need to change for me to invest in my business?

Want to grow? Watch more TV!  But you don’t have to tell your colleagues that you’re not getting all your wisdom from The Harvard Business Review.  Just tell them you have a mentor that you work with for an hour each week who runs a $1.4 billion business.

And if you’re still looking for another reason to try to develop your business acumen from the television, remember what the great philosopher Yogi Berra said: “You can learn a lot just by watching.”

Watch.  You might learn something.

Happy viewing!

Click to link directly to “The Profit” official webpage

Have you seen the show?  What do you think?  Please share your comments.


Bill Edmonds is an “Outside-Insider” (an Executive Coach and Consultant), who works with leaders to help them reach their full potential in the areas of organizational and personal development. He spent 24 years with Merrill Lynch until his retirement in 2014, where he led a $100+ million per year revenue wealth management business unit as a Director with the firm.


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Book Brief: “Zero to One”

Advice for Building Your Future from PayPal Founder Peter Thiel

This week’s “Book Brief” of “Zero to One” highlights the unconventional thoughts of Peter Thiel, the 47 year old entrepreneur, venture capitalist and hedge fund manager.  Peter and his friends Max Levchin and Elon Musk founded PayPal, and Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook in 2004, one of his many ventures that has helped him amass over $2 billion in net worth.

Who should read this book:  Anyone starting a business or anyone who is wanting to take their business to the next level.

But read the book only if you’re interested in going from “Zero to One”.  If you think there are no more frontiers to explore and no new inventions to be created, don’t waste your time, just read Kim Kardashian’s latest biography.   Going from zero to one is what Peter Thiel says is the key to success.  He advises those who want to build a business with lasting value to not fall into the trap of building “an undifferentiated commodity business”.  What creates value is differentiation.  Business success is more attainable when a company differentiates itself, rather than attempts to compete with other companies.

Zero to one is simply “vertical intensive progress”.  Zero to one is when you have one typewriter and you build a word processor.  Thiel says the most common business model is “zero to n”.   Zero to n is taking one typewriter and building 100, which is just horizontal progress.  Too often people start businesses as just another player in a big market, or as a disrupter, hoping to clobber the competition with something slightly better than what currently dominates the market.

He warns against both strategies.

Going from zero to one is the way to build a monopoly.  Responsible, creative monopolies make the world a better place.  Google and Apple are great examples of this.  To build a monopoly the “essential first step is to think for yourself”, something he believes is the most important skill a leader should master.  When Thiel interviews someone he asks, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”  The answer to this question could very well contain your zero to one business opportunity.

He discusses the challenge that large companies have when it comes to innovation: “It’s hard to develop new things in big organizations, and it’s even harder to do it by yourself.  Bureaucratic hierarchies move slowly, and entrenched interests shy away from risk.  In the most dysfunctional organizations, signaling that work is being done becomes a better strategy for career advancement than actually doing work. ”

Thiel says you better keep these 4 things in mind if you seek to be “definitively optimistic” (the condition of building the future you envision):

  • It is better to risk boldness than triviality
  • A bad plan is better than no plan
  • Competitive markets destroy profits
  • Sales matters just as much as product

And he says there are 7 questions every business must answer:

  1. The Engineering Question: Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  2. The Timing Question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
  3. The Monopoly Question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  4. The People Question: Do you have the right team?
  5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
  6. The Durability Question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
  7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

My favorite quotes from the book:

  • “Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better – to go from 0 to 1.”
  • “If you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.”
  • “Every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot.”
  • “If you treat the future as something definite, it makes sense to understand it in advance and to work to shape it. But if you expect an indefinite future ruled by randomness, you’ll give up on trying to master it.”
  • “Monopolists can afford to think about things other than making money; non-monopolists can’t.”
  • “Don’t disrupt – avoid competition as much as possible….dominate a small niche and scale up from there.” 

Bill Edmonds is an “Outside-Insider” (an Executive Coach and Consultant), who works with leaders to help them reach their full potential in the areas of organizational and personal development. He spent 24 years with Merrill Lynch until his retirement in 2014, where he led a $100+ million per year revenue wealth management business unit as a Director with the firm.


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