Flying without the seat of your pants

What happens when the seat of your pants ceases to exist?
What happens when the seat of your pants ceases to exist?

Speed: a core ingredient of success in the technology marketing world. Here in Silicon Valley, you need to:  be a quick study; have hair-trigger responsiveness; and learn to make your point in a nanosecond to an increasingly distracted audience of peers, customers and influencers.

And if you are a consultant in this world —surviving on your instincts, context, contacts and flexibility—you sometimes need to fly by the seat of your pants to ensure you meet the speed requirements of your clients.

But what if you discover that the seat of your pants has literally ceased to exist?

Yup, it happened to me this morning.  On route to a new business meeting at 9:40 am, my biggest concern was the one thing you can’t plan for: chemistry. I’d done my homework, read market research, prepped key points and business questions and had a proposal on my iPad.

I’d also given thought to my wardrobe—which in the post business suit world is a social minefield for women— navigating the fine balance of professionalism, function vs. fashion, dowdy vs. trashy, etc.  But I felt confident in my choices:
-Sweater and shoes: fitted and fashionable styles, neutral palette, but still functional enough to walk a mile from the train without heat stroke nor injury,
-Fitted leather jacket: took the edge off the windy 55 degree morning without being an “establishment” suit blazer;
-A few select accessories:  bold designs, yet sleek and good quality silver, and
-A pair of tailored pants: age-appropriate cut and material, and comfortable enough to navigate whatever start-up situation awaited me—bean bag, floor mat or rolling ball chair.

I was on my game with eight minutes to spare if I walked quickly.

What I was totally unprepared for: a  nasty “wardrobe malfunction.”

It started innocently enough. “Excuse me, Miss, I thought you might prefer hearing this from a total stranger,” said the handsome business man walking up from behind me. “It appears that the back of your pants has…um…come undone.”

Aghast, I felt the backside of what I’d thought was a flattering pair of trousers, to find a gaping—and growing— hole at the seam. “Oh, no! I am on my way to an interview!” I managed, incredulous at my predicament.

“I’m sorry, perhaps I shouldn’t have told you,” offered the kind man, who had been following  behind a demure, age-appropriate pair of gray pants with a peek-a-boo swatch of silky bright orange panties competing for attention.

It was my very own Bridget Jones moment.

With a ten minute walk still ahead of me, I had to come up with a plan:
a. try to buy a pair of appropriate pants (requiring a 15 minute wait for the closest stores to open) and call the client to request we start the meeting half an hour late, or

b. attempt to cover my blooming backside with my (well selected, outfit-coordinated) bag, and back into the room, praying that the act of sitting down didn’t blow my cover.

Flabbergasted, I decided to keep moving toward the meeting and option B.  For peace of mind, I called my husband.  “What would you do?”  After he remarkably swallowed at least three inappropriate scenarios that jumped to his creative mind, he suggested: “Tie your jacket around your waist, march in there and let them know that you are dedicated enough to their business to overcome a wardrobe challenge.”

As I contemplated tying the bulky leather jacket, unable to help himself, he added: “Or, buy a gray Sharpie to replace the orange panties.”

Three blocks and seven minutes from the meeting, I found a new lifeline, Siri.  “Women’s clothes near here.”  Miraculously, she served up the Levi’s store, directly across the street from my meeting—and even more fantastical—open at 9 am instead of 10. I jogged the last block, well aware of the refreshing breeze, and dove, laser-focused through the door. A lovely salesperson asked if I needed help. “Oh, yes, this is a retail emergency!” I gave her my details and requirements and she yanked two pair of jeans from the hundreds folded on the wall display.

I must’ve done something kind somewhere in my past: the first pair fit. Perfectly.

Two minutes later, I strode into my meeting, on time, with a slightly bulging briefcase filled with great ideas, strategy and a pair of butt-less pants.

No one was the wiser. I got the job.

I haven’t worn Levi’s since high school.  I am now a brand champion for life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persuasion: Art, Science or Pride-free Experimentation?

Marketing challenge: persuading a dog past fresh spring grass.
Marketing challenge: persuading a dog past fresh spring grass.

Beyond my profession as a marketer, I draw on  skills for persuasion daily in my other roles: as a a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sibling, a neighbor, a friend, a volunteer and a pet owner.

An incident yesterday got me thinking about the ingredients of effective persuasion.   When you mix all of the art and science tricks in your repertoire to no avail, how far are you willing to reach to help cajole someone to change their thinking or take a different course of action?

Case in point: persuading a 14 pound dog to run around a 3 mile lake.

No brainer, right? Wrong.

Understandable challenge if the dog is old, overweight, arthritic or ill. Or maybe just lazy or unwilling to brave an unseasonably cold, rainy or hot day.  But, what if  there is no reasonable reason?

In marketing speak, my dog was already a satisfied “customer” that I was sure would be an easy “renewal”. She already loved our daily runs in every conceivable venue from mountain trails to beaches to neighborhood sidewalks and even across the noisy new span of the Oakland Bridge with a zillion lanes of traffic. And her Net Promoter Score (customer satisfaction) was off the charts: she cajoled every other dog–and even tried with a few cows, deer and turkey–to come and run with us.  So I thought I was good judge of her overall customer experience, level of engagement and willingness to respond favorably to an adjacent offer.

As we hopped out of the car at the lovely local reservoir on a stunning, sunny afternoon (in a small window of time between kid sports), I was comfortable that I was backed up with my time-tested communication tools to see me through a successful experience:

1. A leash and one word: “run?”  This does the trick 99.99 % of the time and is equally, efficiently effective for trips to the beach, jogs in the neighborhood, and adventures across miles of open space trail running.

2. Occasionally, there is a need to pull out the big guns: “treat?” Which brings the girl back, boundingly, across hillsides, from muddy ponds, and even tantalizing explorations of a hillside brimming with squirrel holes.

And then the inexplicable happened. My ever-ready running friend and ally stopped. Cold. She was suddenly, maniacally consumed with a grass-born OCD.  Each and every blade of grass along the trail now needed her personal triage: to be sniffed then methodically sorted into a to-be-eaten or to-be-peed-on classification.  Every single blade.

Amused, I watched carefully,  determined to understand her motivations and needs. About 5 minutes and 89 blades of grass into this, I engaged her with a little “campaign prompt” about how much better her experience might be with a change of venue.

She gave me the doggie version of an email unsubscribe. Not interested.

Then I tried proving the clear value of my customer service –and without her asking– I picked her up and carried her for a while, free of charge.  When I put her back down to let her test the new experience for herself, she balked.

GE’s CMO, Beth Comstock recently said in a keynote address to a roomful of marketers, that the ultimate skill of marketing is “to fly well in the fog.”  And even though everyone else out on this glorious day at the reservoir was indulging in 75 degrees and a bright sunny sky, I realized I’d run a-ground (or a-grass) in the fog.

Cajoling (“run?”) and bribery (“treat?”) were not working.  Then, I tried the toddler- tested skill: distraction (“see the squirrel?”). Finally,  the signal in the noise! She temporarily dropped a blade of grass from her mouth and looked up for a furry plaything…  Buoyed by that momentum, I tried again: “Oh! Let’s go find that squirrel… I see it over there, let’s chase it!”  She jogged 10 steps, then sniffed out my totally over-hyped promise. And went back to her fascinating weedy triage.

Flabbergasted, and with the carpool clock ticking in my ears, I made one more desperate attempt.  A bit of a high-wire act for me to attempt on a deadline and in front of dozens of happy, sun-drenched exercisers. But desperate times…

A little shyly, I tried the first one in a suitably high pitched tone: “blah-dahl, lah-dahl, lah!” My dog stopped her 312th pee and looked up, warily.  So, empowered, I let it rip, full-throated with no pride left to protect and a deadline to meet: “BLAH-DAHL, LAH-DAHL, LAH!” She was transfixed, alert, attentive to my every movement–we were on the hunt! She and I could both see and smell them in our imaginations–a gaggle of ungainly, opinionated turkeys.  I’d reached her actionable core, and it was time to make my move to persuade the ultimate action–a full out run around the 2.99 remaining miles of this lake loop.

And so there I was, the fearless, feckless marketer,  delighted to have hit on the magic elixir that persuaded my pint-sized canine to change course and try a new action.   Loudly doing my best turkey imitation: over and over and over, past every single blade of grass.

 

 

 

 

 

Buoyancy at a Career Crossroads

I’ve built my career as a wordsmith.  As a marketing professional, words are core to my craft. I love to collect them, to connect them and run my mind across all their direct, nuanced and euphemistic possibilities.

Over the past few months, as I’ve explored my next career move, I’ve had to explain myself with words: in resumes, during interviews, in application forms, on LinkedIn, in 140 character Tweets, etc.

Once, I was even asked to choose the one word description that close friends, my husband or colleagues would pick to describe me.  Intrigued, I actually asked. Here’s who I am to others cornered with this socially-awkward request (you can guess which one might be the spousal reply): Honest. Smart. Creative. Caring. Demanding. Fun. Energetic. Persistent. Engaging.

And, as I consider becoming a consultant and starting my own business,  I’ve asked myself for the words that best describe my values, my mission, my aspirations and my “freak factor” that sets me apart from others.  I feel stymied and even shy about applying words to myself, a bit like trying on a bikini in a brightly-lit dressing room.  I am tuned to inspect, interpret and cultivate stories for others, their business models, their products, their visions.

But yesterday, at the beach, I caught a moment that captured my imagination. One I’ve been mulling ever since.

A solo swimmer, 30 yards from shore, relentlessly, effortlessly, exuberantly sliced through the water, again and again, to catch and hitch a ride amidst the gentle waves.  A perfect, 75 degree sunny day had snuck in, unannounced to weathermen nor Spring Breakers, leaving the wavy playground  to him and no more than a three dozen other people along this long stretch of Stinson Beach coastline. And he was clearly oblivious to anything but the joy of the surf.

As I watched him repeat his dance — slicing forward, darting beneath a wave, cresting the surface to turn and ride another one in– I noticed something else.  Not six yards away, every time the swimmer ducked under a wave, another head popped to the surface to observe him. It was a harbor seal.

boy and seal

The hide and seek game lasted for about seven rounds of body surfing. The seal successively and successfully dipping beneath the water just as the boy turned to glide back in. Then, the water unexpectedly calmed. Boy without plaything, seal without cover, the two emerged simultaneously, serendipitously, mere yards apart.  They each stopped, looked unflinchingly at the other, as the sun glinted off their two dark, wet heads. Just as quickly, the next wave brought them back to their respective missions.

That energy, curiosity, playfulness, openness, boldness and purposefulness was all empowered by one thing: buoyancy.

Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.

— Archimedes of Syracuse

I recognized, in that moment, the word that captured and connected my mission and my passion: to create a level of buoyancy in marketing storytelling. To enable ideas to push up against the weight of market pressures, distractions, and apathy with an unflinching vibrance and purpose.

Thanks to those swimmers, the sunshine and Stinson beach. I am propelled forward.

 

 

March Madness: Brides, Birthdays and the Portable Office

In a world where your office can be anywhere, how fun is it to constantly change your desk?
In a world where your office can be anywhere, how fun is it to constantly change your desk?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the first time in 19 years, our family’s Spring break broke this year.  Okay, maybe it was just me. And I guess it was really more of an uncomfortable contortion, than a break.

This is our inaugural year as 1/2 nesters, proud parents of two freshmen: one in college and one in high school.  To underscore the dichotomy, their respective schools delivered separate–but equal–spring break schedules.  Exactly one week apart from each other.

Add to that, a few key milestone events: the week before break was the wonderful, inspiring celebration of my 73-year-old mom’s marriage. And the following week was our daughter’s 15th birthday.

The final touch: a  little real-time work/life rebalancing as my husband and I test drive the concept of two separate consulting businesses: same house, different specialities, different clients and different home office spaces.  A lot of uncertainty and many spinning plates, but off to a promising start.  That is, until one of those office spaces — the sunny, quiet and recently-converted guestroom/office that I have claimed–reverts during college break to a temporary teenage hibernation vortex.

So, with wistful memories of last year’s Spring break road trip down the California coast, filled with kayaking, biking and even dune riding on ATV’s, we all agreed to a plan-free, play-it-by-ear spring break season, 2014, anchored between a bride, two clients and a birthday.  What I didn’t anticipate was my own long, strange trip within the walls of my home:  in a quest for the consultant’s holy grail, a private spot with working computer and phone charger.

In one tragi-comic four hour span –with a bylined article deadline looming and two conference calls set right in the middle– I went from:
-Temporary squatter’s rights in my husband’s well-appointed den for an early morning conference call,  until his pending video editing deadline got me booted to the
family room table, where I wrote 3 marvelous paragraphs of copy until heart-warmingly rare sibling bonding over a video game prompted me let them savor the sweet shared moment of digital assassinations.  So, I stole away to the briefly-abandoned, darker and messier
office/hibernation vortex for about 45 minutes, before said college boy reclaimed it for his internship project and like a pinball, I went reeling back to
-the family room table where, in the blissful post-assassination quiet, I discovered that our very old Mac desktop was vomiting a trail of gray pixels wherever I moved the mouse, burying unsuspecting files and tool bars alike in its wake of gagging, gasping health.

Apparently, I must have emitted a bit of gagging and gasping myself, as my husband soon came downstairs without a word, crashed around in the garage for a few minutes, then disappeared upstairs, arms full, for some more scraping, crashing mayhem. Five minutes later, he collected me, a functioning laptop and an armful of cords, keyboards and accessories and deposited me into my new office: a folding picnic table set up in our bedroom.

Voila! A genius move.

Just as I got re-acclimated and finished the first page of my article, my lovely college boy peeked a look around the door. “Hey, that’s cool! Look at all that space! Can we trade desks?”

Suffice it to say that my son is back at college today, and the sweet little red writing desk that I assembled myself, stands unused in his recently vacated room, awaiting our reunion. But for now,  on this cold rainy April Fool’s eve,  I am content here at the big plastic picnic table in my bedroom.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you turn off the faucet when your cup runneth over?

I had the great good fortune to meet with two wonderful former colleagues for dinner last night. It was one of those rare occasions that three working women– and mothers– could indulge in a four hour dinner, and dig into not only ample amounts of glorious sushi, but also explore topics of kids, marriage, work and our respective approaches to balance it all.

One of us was clearly good at drawing boundaries with work and talked about how she carved out time every day for “me time” after the kids were off to school, to sit, read the paper and enjoy breakfast. Her secret: “to get to my work email I have to dial into the VPN, so the VPN waits until I finish my eggs.”

Another says “I wake up excited to open my laptop every morning and see what customers have responded, what’s new from engineering, etc.” but she also admits to never really shutting down from work in the first place. “I figure if I don’t always give more, do more, produce more than my male counterparts, that I am not making my mark.” Indeed, her boss calls and texts during our dinner looking for a file he’d lost since she created it that afternoon.

I am in an entirely different head space right now. Taking time off between jobs and treasuring the sweet indulgences of driving carpool and slipping in after-school treats to a carful of 14 year olds; spending warm fall days kayaking with my husband; and dodging the rain with a matinee movie; writing a blog.

So what is the right answer when you find yourself lucky enough to have a full work and family life? Do you let that cup of good fortune overfill and resolve to deal with any mess that might result? Or do you reach for the faucet and close off new opportunities?