Measuring Human Impressions

My recent post Elephants Don’t Bite was about companies focusing on big things, like the strategic plan or the latest marketing campaign (the elephants), came at expense of the little things, like answering the phone or greeting the customer at the front desk (the mosquitoes) and it’s the latter that can kill you.

In Marketing Rebellion, Mark Schaefer explains why that happens:

We see our foundations of command and control marketing collapsing before our eyes. There are no more lies. There are no more secrets. There is no more control. For more than a century, we’ve built our greatest brands – like Ivory – through an accumulation of advertising impressions. But to survive this final rebellion, companies and brands must be built through an accumulation of human impressions. That is the only thing we trust. That is the only thing that matters.

That’s why the subtitle of Schaefer’s book is “The Most Human Company Wins.” This is also why my company, FiveFour, helps our clients get their customer experience right before we start marketing. The job of marketing is to get a logical prospect to try your company once. It’s the job of your customer experience to get them to come back.

But even marketing is becoming mostly about your customer experience. Writes Schaefer:

Two thirds of the touch points during the evaluation phase of a purchase involve human-driven marketing activities like internet reviews, social media conversations and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, family and online experts…Two thirds of your marketing is not your marketing.

If human impressions are the most relevant advertising metric, how are yours? Do they create and keep customers? Do you measure them with something like the Net Promoter Score?

Only Coach the Coachable

I’m a third of the way through reading the Trillion Dollar Coach. At the end of chapter three, the authors summarize Bill Campbell’s coaching style:

He started by building trust, which only deepened over time. He was highly selective in choosing his coachees; he would only coach the coachable, the humble, hungry lifelong learners. He listened intently, without distraction. He usually didn’t tell you what to do; rather, he shared stories and let you draw conclusions. He gave, and demanded, complete candor. And he was an evangelist for courage, by showing inordinate confidence and setting aspirations high.

This is a great summary of the book so far and the recipe for being a great coach. But the one line that stood out the most to me was: “he would only coach the coachable, the humble, hungry lifelong learners.” It’s really tough to coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached, even (especially) if they need it.

In order for coaching to succeed, the “want to” of the coachee is more important than the “have to.”

Elephants Don’t Bite

Near the end of The Invisible Leader (a book about which I will have more to say on this blog), author Zach Mercurio gave a useful analogy about African safaris to make a great point about modern business.

Mercurio pointed out that when people are on safari in Africa, they are focused on the elephants and giraffes in front of them. What aren’t they focused on? Malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Writes Mercurio:

Elephants don’t bite, but mosquitoes do. It is the small, even tiny, things that have a huge impact. Similarly, organizations focus on the big things – the branding initiative, strategic plan, key meeting, value proposition – while the little things are creating their reputations. How the receptionist out front says hello, how a call is handled or how an email is returned, these are all important experiences that, when added up, become the organization’s reputation.

What Mercurio is talking about, and something we wholeheartedly agree with, is the impact of customer experience on an organization’s reputation. Organizations can get the big things right, but it’s the hundreds or thousands of daily interactions with their customers that determine the public perception. It’s the little things that can kill you.

By the way, I looked it up. Elephants kill approximately 500 people per year, according to National Geographic. Mosquitoes? The W.H.O estimates 435,000 annual malaria deaths, or 870 times as many as elephants. Elephants don’t bite. Mosquitoes do. Get your organization to pay attention to the mosquitoes and you’ll stand a better chance of survival.

Get Bitter, or Get Better

In his sermon this morning, my pastor had a great message for everyone who has had life upended by COVID-19. The advice he gave to our congregation is useful for any person or organization dealing with this crisis, or, as he stated, any crisis that comes along.

Think about not getting caught waiting; waiting for everything to return to normal…most likely things are going to be different in the future. There’s no going back to what was, so we need to lean into what’s coming and not miss out on the opportunity that this season – this situation – gives us. We want to look back at what we’ve lived through in this season and accept the challenge of it for what it is and see it as a part of moving forward.

So my challenge to us is this: ‘Are you going to look back at this season with rejoicing or with regret? Are you going to rejoice in the opportunities that you had to learn and to grow and to engage with your life in a new and maybe different way and set yourself up for a better future or are you going to regret having all of the time that you’ve had and all this opportunity that you’ve had different than it’s been before; are you going to regret not having taken advantage of this opportunity. Are you going to sit back and let this all happen around you and to you or are you going to grab a hold of the opportunity and grow into what you want to become when this is all done and we’re on to whatever the new normal is after the storm?’

As pastor McCready said, we get to choose how we respond to the crisis – we have a choice in how we respond when anything in our life doesn’t go the way we want. He put it like this:

“In every storm, we have a chance to respond. We have the choice. We can either get bitter or we can get better.” Pastor Bill McCready

So, what mindset will you choose in the midst of COVID-19? Are you going to use the time of isolation to get better? To read good books, build new skills, shape better habits? Prepare for a new future Or, just follow Twitter and Google News all day and get bitter, hoping that the world quickly goes back to what it was? It’s your choice.

Here’s his full message:

Focusing Attention in an Age of Distraction

I recently finished listening to Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. “Flow” is one of those concepts, the definition of which you can find in my previous post, that I have read a lot about without ever reading a book from the source. There was one aspect of flow that surprised me.

When most people describe flow, it takes on a mind-less quality; you’re in the zone and simply repeating a task where the brain disengages and muscle memory takes over. However, as Csíkszentmihályi points out, it starts by being mind-ful; it starts with the ability to focus attention.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, the people who are more often in flow don’t have a greater capacity for attention, but have learned to pay attention to what’s happening around them. As they engage with the world, he writes:

The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.

Being in state of flow starts with paying attention to the world around you and how you engage with the world. This includes our work.

Without some effort a dull job will just stay dull. The basic solution is quite simple: it involves paying close attention to each step involved in the job and then asking is this step necessary? Who needs it? If it is really necessary, can it be done better, faster, more efficiently? And, what additional steps could make my contribution more valuable? Our attitude to work usually involves spending a lot of effort trying to cut corners and do as little as possible. But that is a short-sighted strategy. If one spent the same amount of attention trying to find ways to accomplish more on the job, one would enjoy working more and probably be more successful at it, too.

I admit that I have often thought of attention as a limited resource. And there are no shortages of competition for our attention in a digital age. This perspective – of the ability to focus and multiply attention is very interesting. The lesson is clear: if you want more experiences of flow in your life, start by paying attention.

Finding flow in reading

This morning, I was listening to Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who originated the concept of Flow. Something he wrote about reading and flow jumped out at me. But to understand it, you’ll have to understand the concept of flow.

Flow, which is also known as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.

As Csikszentmihalyi points out, flow can happen with any activity, but is most common where the level of challenge to the person and the level of skill in the person are both high (see image).

Now, back to the book. Here’s what Csikszentmihalyi said about the difference between two common leisure activities, reading books and watching television:

People who view television more often than the average tend also to have worse jobs and worse relationships. In a large scale study in Germany, it was found that the more often people report reading books, the more flow experiences they claimed to have. While the opposite trend was found for watching television. The most flow was reported by individuals who read a lot and watched little TV. The least by those who read seldom and watched often.

As I said in my last post, we cut the cable cord long ago and I read, on average two books a week. I can tell you that this quote is definitely true of my experience. I can easily get lost in a book, but rarely enjoy watching television. In fact, last night I was watching a movie with my family and went to bed before the conclusion because I was tired. Then, I read for a while before going to sleep.

Do you get into flow when reading? If so, what books challenge you? If not, what gets you into flow experiences?

What I read last quarter

I read. A lot. Last year, I read 164 books. No, that’s not a typo. Yes, that’s an average of three books per week. I’ve been asked how I can possibly get to that many books and there are three reasons:

  1. I don’t sleep much
  2. I cut the cable cord years ago and mostly replaced it with audio books
  3. I love to read all kinds of books

And thanks to COVID-19, I’ve suddenly had a lot more time to read. It’s not because work has changed; for me it really hasn’t. But, rather, all of the family activities have been canceled and I have more of my nights free. Since we’re all dealing with social isolation, I thought it would be a good time to launch this blog.

I had planned to start it anyway, because this year I’m taking a little more time to document what I’m learning from all these books. So, each month I’m going to write a paragraph on each of my favorite books from that month and share it all with you. For this first one, I’m going to cover the first quarter.

The books will be broken into three sections:

  1. Those related to my work. Business, organizational culture, teamwork, sales, communications, customer experience and leadership.
  2. Fiction and biography. I read fiction and biographies to calm my brain at night before sleep.
  3. Everything else. I also read a lot philosophy, theology, history, biography and really anything else that catches my eye. I post favorite thoughts and excerpts on my Tumblr blog.

If waiting a month between recommendations is too long for you, I post snippets from my work-related reading here, on LinkedIn and Tumblr. I also post all of these reviews on Goodreads. Here they are from the first three months of 2020:

The Infinite Game

Start With Why is one of the most important business concepts of the last 20 years. But Simon Sinek’s book of the same name is mostly forgettable once you understand that concept. Which happens about 20 pages into the 250-page book. Save yourself the time and money and just watch the Ted Talk. But Leaders Eat Last was a little better and Find Your Why even better. But The Infinite Game is without question Sinek’s best work. Unlike sporting events (before they were all canceled) that have firm rules and clear endpoints – that are finite – business has no such game to win. There’s always a new set of challenges and no such thing as “winning” – business is an infinite game. The goal is not to win, but to out-innovate and out-last competitors by playing an infinite game. Businesses get into trouble when they try to play an infinite game with a finite mindset. So, what do businesses with an infinite mindset do? They follow five essential practices: they Advance a Just Cause, Build Trusting Teams, Study their Worthy Rivals, Prepare for Existential Flexibility, and Demonstrate the Courage to Lead. This is a must-read for business leaders who want to operate for the future; not just the next financial statement.

The Fearless Organization

Remember Project Aristotle? This was from Google’s research to discover why some of their teams performed so much better than others. Things like the structure and purpose of the team mattered, as did the belief that the work the team was doing made a difference. But none of those mattered as much as psychological safety – the individual’s perception of what happened when they took a risk. Those teams whose members felt safe to take risks and be vulnerable outperformed the others. If psychological safety is a new term to you, Amy Edmonson’s book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, is all about how to create a culture of high standards and psychological safety. Psychologically safe team members are willing to take risks, admit mistakes, have productive conflict and share information. This is a big deal in the modern workplace because teamwork is how most work gets done today. If you manage a team (or teams), you’ll want to read this book.

Lead Like Walt

Only by being a great leader could Walt Disney accomplish the amazing things he did. This book is a catalog of the leadership lessons we can learn from Walt. A paragraph in the final chapter summarizes those lessons well:

“He dreamed big dreams – impossible dreams they told him. Then he moved heaven and earth to make his dreams come true. When you, as a leader, start with a vision, then communicate that vision to the people you lead, utilize your people skills to motivate and inspire them, maintain your character and integrity at every decision-point, command with competence, lead with boldness and confidence, and support your people with your serving heart, your vision will become your reality.”

Better Under Pressure

The best business book I’ve read so far this year. Author Justin Menkes, a consultant who evaluates and places CEOs, wrote this book based on his experience evaluating leaders and interviewing some of the most recognized CEOs from recent decades. Menkes shows how the complexity of modern business necessitates a leader’s ability to function under extreme pressure. But the best leaders not only survive tough times – they thrive in them. He identifies three traits that CEOs must have to perform under pressure: realistic optimism, subservience to purpose and finding order in chaos. A common theme throughout the book is the need for leaders to continually learn because change is so constant.

The Motive

My favorite organizational consultant, Pat Lencioni, is back with his 11th book and what he says should have been his first. Why? Because his first 10 were about the “what” of leadership and this one covers the “why.” According to Lencioni, there are two motives for becoming a leader: as a personal achievement of status or to serve others within the organization. Leaders who are in it for status will typically avoid the hard work necessary to lead, while those with the right motive will do the difficult things, like lead good meetings and hold their people accountable.

Catch and Kill / She Said

Harvey Weinstein has got to be one of the most evil scumbags on the planet. To call what he did “sexual harassment” doesn’t even come close to capturing the depth of his depravity. For decades, he used his position of power to prey on women with dreams of acting, assaulting and raping them and then terrorizing or bribing them into silence. But what is equally unconscionable is his paid army of lawyers, publicists, and private investigators who – after he physically attacked these women – carried out the financial and emotional attacks that cowed them into silence. These two books were from the journalists who did heroic work to uncover the story in the face of that onslaught from Weinstein’s army. If you only have time for one, Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow was by far the better read.

Midnight in Chernobyl

The best book on the Former Soviet Union I’ve read since Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. Higginbotham tells a story that is incredible, suspenseful and captivating. I’m just waiting for it to be made into a movie.

What Higginbotham shows so well is that Chernobyl was far from an “accident” but rather was the inevitable outcome of a society so built on lies that it couldn’t tell the truth if their lives depended on it…which, by the way, for millions of people around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, it did.


The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen contains lessons from the desert fathers of Christianity, teaching that we all need a little solitude and silence and a lot of prayer. This book was a short, good reminder for a driven person like me.

The Platinum Rule by Dr. Tony Alessandra takes readers through the four behavioral types (DISC) and how to do unto each the way they would have you do unto them.

I also enjoyed Crushing It! by Gary V, Get Sh*t Done by Jeffrey Gitomer, Servant Leadership in Action by Ken Blanchard, Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday, the Making of a Leader by Robert Clinton, and many more. But the two best books I read last quarter were both re-reads: The Hobbit and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Both are beyond parallel in world creation and storytelling.

Happy reading.

Resilience > stability

I recently read Simon Sinek’s latest book, The Infinite Game. It has a lot that can be applied to the current situation we’re in with COVID-19. One I’ve been thinking about the past week is the need to build companies for resiliency rather than stability.

And it’s how companies perform in times of crisis that determines the difference. Here’s how Sinek puts it:

An infinite-minded leader does not simply want to build a company that can weather change but one that can be transformed by it. They want to build a company that embraces surprises and adapts with them. Resilient companies may come out the other end of upheaval entirely different than they were when they went in (and are often grateful for the transformation.

Sinek said something similar in a virtual meeting with his team that he posted on his YouTube channel:

Leaders who are building companies for stability are simply waiting for the current crisis to pass so they can go back to doing the exact same thing as before. But crises always leave their mark and leave the world in a different place. Resilient companies understand this and are – right now – planning for what they’ll do differently in a different world.

The Purpose, Partners and Plans of Paul

We’re in Holy Week and today is Maundy Thursday, so I thought it appropriate to post about a sermon my friend Jason Folkerts preached at our church a little over a month ago.

Jason preached on Acts 18:1-4. To me, the four verses seemed like an unimportant introduction to the rest of the chapter, but in Jason’s hands, they uncovered the most important thing about Paul’s mission to take the good news of the Gospel beyond his nation.


“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth (18:1).” Athens was the intellectual center of the world. A place where the scholar and theologian Paul would have felt right at home.

What would cause him to leave Athens for a port town like Corinth? His was following his purpose that we learned about in Acts 9:15. Pursuing his calling necessitated that Paul leave the familiar and comfortable for something new and uncertain.


“There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. (18:2-3).” Paul didn’t go to Corinth and try to do it all on his own. He got partners from the city and worked with them.

As Jason pointed out, when God is up to something really good, it’s rarely around one person. Even someone as influential as the Apostle Paul had partners that he worked with throughout his ministry.


“Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks (18:4).” Lastly, Paul had a plan for accomplishing his mission. Every sabbath he went to the place where practitioners and seekers of religion gathered for debate.

I like the word “every” at the start of verse four. To me, it shows commitment to the plan. I think of Paul on the days he didn’t feel like going to the synagogue, but doing it anyway out of commitment to his plan. His plan wasn’t just a dream. He built a routine.

So, the Apostle Paul had a purpose that was bigger than himself, he joined with other people to complete the important work, and he followed a plan.

How did that turn out? Maundy Thursday is a celebration of the Last Supper, when most of the Christians fit around one table. Today, Christianity has almost 2.5 billion followers. That would require a little bit bigger table.