Unlock the magic in your story now.

Get the free 20 Questions to ask before launching your Idea Workbook when you sign up for updates.

Why Meaning Is A Competitive Advantage

filed in Brand Strategy, Success

The day after she turned fourteen, my mum (number ten in a family of eleven), woke early to catch the bus that would take her to work at her first full-time job in a sweet factory. I don’t remember her telling me about how she got the job. It’s likely it happened through word of mouth, and she never had an interview. The factory supervisor simply needed bodies who were motivated to clock in and do repetitive, mind-numbing work, that has long since been automated, for eight hours every day.

By the end of day one, my mum knew she wouldn’t care if she never saw a caramel toffee again. She wouldn’t spend her says dipping caramel squares into vats of pink and white icing. She told her widowed mother so as soon as she got home that evening. ‘I’m not going back,’ she said. Her protests fell on deaf ears. Work was work, and the family needed the money. She finally left the factory when she turned eighteen.

My mum’s greatest aspiration was to be a seamstress. She wanted to sew and to make things—later evidenced by the number of colour-coordinated fair isle patterned jumpers me and my brother and sister wore, for as long as she could make us. But she didn’t have the luxury of choosing.

Last year, one of my sons graduated with a degree in design and architecture. He commutes four hours a day, there and back, to a casual job where he works with his head, hands and heart—helping to design and build custom cubby houses that will bring joy to families in back yards around Melbourne for years. What’s worth more to him than the money in the bank at the end of the week, is the feeling he’s doing meaningful work each day. All the while his grandmother worries and wonders that the degree hasn’t landed him a steady, tie-wearing desk job.

Most people reading this are fortunate to be working for reasons beyond only bringing in enough money to put food on the table. We are the lucky ones—intrinsically motivated to do work we care about and enjoy. Work that gives us a sense of purpose while helping us to fulfil our potential.

In our quest for success, we spend the majority of our time chasing the kind of growth we believe bolsters the bottom line. We aim to expand our reach, convert more customers and overtake our competitors—sometimes at the expense of doing what lights us up. We often ignore the things that motivate us to do the great work, that will ironically enable us to expand our reach, attract more customers, be competitive and feel fulfilled. When we prioritise meaning the marketing and sales fall into place. Putting purpose before profits is still and underrated business strategy.

Image by Frans Persoon.

What’s Your Reason?

filed in Brand Strategy, Success

The pressure to take part in the race to be first is real, and not just in business. We’re subtly enrolled and invested in this quest from the moment our parents start comparing our progress from cutting teeth to crawling, with that of our peers.

Our culture associates coming first with being happier, having more freedom and an abundance of choices—but one doesn’t necessarily follow the other. Success and fulfilment don’t always go hand-in-hand, and ambition alone is not what drives accomplishment.

It’s more important to understand our motivation for taking part than it is to strive to cross the winning line first. What’s your reason?

Image by Frans Persoon.

The Secret To Being Exceptional

filed in Brand Story, Success

You might remember when you were a high school student (as I do) trying to work out a revision system that helped you to maximise your chances of academic success. I never had much luck. Teachers held up model students as examples of how ‘hard work’ paid off. Straight-A students it seemed were just the ones who did ‘the most’ work. And ‘most’, being infinite was a daunting place to start.

It’s taken me a good thirty years to realise that exceptional performance is not a result of expending the most effort—trying to reach the summit in a single, spectacular leap. The secret to being exceptional is in the small choices we make moment-to-moment. The student who organises his notes from the very first lecture of the first semester. The hotel receptionist who consciously makes every interaction meaningful. The athlete who pushes through the last three uncomfortable reps. The CEO who intentionally seeks out and acts on the wisdom of his team. The doctor who greets her patients warmly by shaking them by the hand. Ordinary people making small choices that incrementally make them exceptional.

Small, deliberate choices, made moment-to-moment, have a huge impact over time—not just on the work we do and the people we serve, but on our belief about what’s possible. It’s easy to fall into the trap of complaining about things outwith our control that we can’t change. If we want to be exceptional, we need to get into the habit of finding reasons why we must, instead of making excuses why we can’t.

Image by Louis Vest.

The Limitations Of What We Measure

filed in Success

A friend recently posted a photo on social media of a star chart pinned up in her son’s classroom for all to see. You will have come across one of these before. Maybe the one you remember had your name clearly written in neat handwriting on the left alongside a blank column to the right, where your stars, once earned, would go.

There was a predictable distribution of stars on the chart in the photo—nothing unusual amongst an average population of 7 year-olds. Most had earned two or three stars. One boy was streaking ahead with six. Then there was Ethan without a single star to his name. There’s always an Ethan.

Everybody, including Ethan, knows he’s at the bottom of the star getting pile. Nobody, including Ethan, knows why. Starless, Ethan now bears the label of ‘the naughty one’ because he can’t seem to get to grips with performing at the star-worthy things that can somehow be easily measured.

And so it goes in business—where all success is defined by what it’s easy to put a number on. Revenue, sales, profits, growth, footfall, impressions, open rates, page views and likes—all the things that fit neatly on a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets, like star charts, don’t lie, they just don’t tell the whole story about the intentions we have, the effort we made, the impact of our work and the difference we will have over time—not just this term or this quarter.

The people with the most gold stars don’t always win. And sometimes they lose. Because they are so busy reaching for stars to stick, they forget to look up at the brightest ones, too numerous and too far off in the galaxy to count.

Inage by Jeffrey.

The Relationship Between Metrics And Progress

filed in Brand Strategy, Success

There are many things we can and do measure in our quest for progress. We measure revenue and how many units we sold. We measure footfall and customer conversions. Numbers of followers and how this marketing campaign performed compared to that one. The irony is what looks like progress in the moment does not always lead to long-term results. Progress is often made and sustained by things we can’t or don’t measure.

We don’t measure how the customer felt an hour after she bought the expensive body lotion. We can’t determine the last thought she had before she clicked on the link. We will never know what she hasn’t told us about a bad experience as she leaves the restaurant vowing never to return. We don’t often question how our employees feel at 7 am on Monday morning or the significance of their weary smiles at the end of the week. We forget to question the effect of a toxic organisational culture or unnecessary and unproductive meetings.

On the flipside, we can’t always know the impact our product had on the life of a single customer. We often don’t hear the stories about what happened once the thing we made left the factory or the words that someone needed to hear left our lips. Progress is not always to be found under the spotlight—sometimes it’s hidden in the shadows. We get to choose where we shine the light.

Image by Gina..