Here’s a short video that is part of the Connecting the Dots Series. Be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed or, join our email list to get notices when new videos are posted. The transcription from the video follows.
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In his bestseller, Winning, Jack Welch says that there is not enough candor in corporate America today. I would submit that there is also very little stand. We’re so conscious not to offend, not to polarize, not to leave anyone out, not to discriminate, and not to differentiate, that many often go through a day, week, month, year, or lifetime without saying anything. If you don’t stand for something, what do you believe in? What is it at your core, which you are so fundamentally passionate about, that you are willing to sacrifice? In examining over 1,000 Match.com ads, brothers Dan and Chip Heath, authors of Made to Stick (Random House, 2007), made an amazing discovery. Their research yielded clever headlines to personal ads such as, “Hey” – If that’s your opening line, you better be hot, and “Looking for Love” – well, duh! You’re on Match.com! But even more striking was that well over 600 of headlines simply said nothing.
For many, our personal and functional interactions are very similar – they simply say nothing. Why? Mostly, it is because of fear. Fear of saying too much. Fear of saying something clever that others may think is stupid. Fear of saying something relevant that some might find offensive. In an effort not to exclude anyone, we often succeed at boring everyone. The “Hey” phenomenon is so prevalent in the corporate world that it is turning executives, which one could argue are a company’s personal ad, into something very similar to the Match.com headlines that say nothing at all.
Executives with the responsibility to lead an organization have become so bland that you wonder, as a company, who exactly are they trying to date? In an effort to please everyone, they often succeed at engaging no one. Executives and their companies believe that with enough clout, scale, and arrogance, they can simply survive by being generically likeable. And for some, it may work – at least in the short term. But for the rest of us, almost everyone has to be ready to turn some people off. If everyone refuses to discuss the elephant in the room – if mediocrity is not only tolerated, but accepted as the norm – and if the status quo is encouraged as “not shaking the boat,” isn’t that just another version of, Hey?
The fear of being disliked afflicts many because of the greater perceived risk. Most executives fear that if they make a bold statement, they risk alienating customers, their bosses, and their boards. That fear ultimately takes the edge off of the candor – the authenticity – and the core of that executive and the company. When you think of executives such as Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Ted Turner, and Carly Fiorina, regardless of your opinions of them, one thing few people will argue with is that they stood for something. If you want everyone to like you, can you really motivate? Can you really light a fire under those with far greater potential than what they show? If you read an opinion that hits close to home, although you may completely disagree, do you see the perceived insults as a jumpstart to a candid conversation or do you hide behind being offended? Date sophisticated, intelligent, and articulate, and repulse the mass market and corporate mindset. Adopt the HR mission of, “If candor isn’t your cup of tea, we don’t want you.” Stop trying to meet all of the “Hey” people in the world and instead focus on concrete images, language, and execution that make it easier for like-mined people to identify, build and nurture a relationship with you.
By the way, some singles have figured this out. Here’s a brilliant example: “Athletic nerd seeks someone to watch Seinfeld reruns with.” While excluding, he is simultaneously becoming more interesting to potential soul mates. Here is an appropriately polarizing corporate headline for you, “No C-players need to apply.”
Give us your best polarizing corporate headlines others are afraid of saying and the best ones get a Relationship Currency Exchange T-Shirt!