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Archive for November, 2011

What To Do With Criticism

November 30th, 2011

I don’t care what anybody says, criticism sucks. And it especially sucks when you’ve poured your heart and soul into something, pushed it tenderly out into the world and BAM! some mean nasty says something unkind about it. (Unkind meaning anything other than raving praise of course.)

But, unless you want to live safely under a rock, the business of being unmediocre will absolutely include criticism. So the question is what to do with it when it shows up.

I’m not a big fan of the FancyPants Gurus standard, one-size-fits-all response of “People criticize me because they are jealous.” Some people may be jealous and some people may criticize because of it. But to say ALL criticism is driven by jealousy is sophomoric.  It implies that the FancyPants Gurus should never be called into question. Yeah. Not real comfortable with that.

Another option is to take all criticism personally and to the heart. This is another blanket, one-size-fits-all response that assumes all criticism is created equal and that all critics are somehow superior. It implies that EVERYONE who has anything to say about your work is smarter than you are. Responses that include words like ALL and EVERYONE are usually a tad extreme. Not comfortable with that either.

I think one of the reason we opt for these kind of extreme responses is that it’s easier. If either everyone is right or no one is right, then we don’t have to go to the trouble of actually assessing the criticism to see whether it is valid or complete horse shit. That takes work. and discernment. and willingness. And who’s got time for that?

I’ve learned that if I want to get better at what I do, I’ve got to have time for that.

In case it’s helpful, I thought I’d give you a brief outline of how I (mostly) handle criticism when it gets lobbed my way. (Oh – and it does. Recently, someone on a blog said that I have unresolved child/parent issues which drive me to question authority all the time. Good times.)

Sarah’s Highly Mature  Method For Handling Criticism

1. Criticism arrives. Again, remember that my definition of criticism is anything other than effusive praise.

2. I work myself into a perfect storm and will tell anyone who will listen how horrible, terrible and generally unpopular the critic is. Mercifully, this length of this phase has shortened considerably in recent years.

3. I go for a walk. The first half of the walk is a continued rant in my head about the injustice of the criticism and perhaps the tiniest bit of revenge plotting. Somewhere around the halfway point, I weary of this. I know it comes as a shock but I do get tired of listening to myself after a while.

4. The second half of my walk usually involves looking sort of sideways at the criticism. Not full on – can’t handle that – more like looking at it out of the corner of my eye. Hmmm…..

5. Then I, ever so gingerly, consider the source of the criticism. Is this someone who, up until ten minutes ago, I adored, respected or at least holds the respect of people I like? Or is this someone whose opinion never mattered a hill of beans to me up until ten minutes ago? Or is it some unknown person (these are the worst because I give them all kinds of super-powers in my head). The source has a great deal to do with accuracy. Though I’ve learned that the source doesn’t have everything to do with accuracy.

6. As soon as I feel strong enough and way less defensive – sometimes minutes, sometimes weeks – I pull out the criticism. Upon review, I might learn that it isn’t really criticism at all. Just a really helpful suggestion. Or I might find that the criticism is accurate. I did misstep. I did make a mistake. I did do something (gasp) badly. Or I find that the criticism is small and petty. Here’s a secret  I’ve learned though – if my knee jerk reaction is to write it off as small and petty, chances are there’s some truthful gem in there that I’d just as soon not examine. Icky. But true.

7. I smoke the peace pipe with the criticism, in whatever form that might take. I say thank you for the suggestion. I clean up if I made a mess. I feel pity for the small, petty person.

8. I move on.

In case you are wondering, this is not a linear list. I go backwards and forwards through it until I finally arrive at #8. Sometimes this process is done in an hour. Sometimes this process is done in months. I try not to rush it and I try not to dwell on it. Mostly, I try to learn whatever it is this pighead is supposed to learn to make what I do better.

So there you go. That’s how I deal with criticism. Would love to hear what you do with it. 🙂

The Treasure Hidden Inside the Treasure

November 28th, 2011

I’ve just returned from one of the most perfect weeks of my adult life.

My family and I spend Thanksgiving week every year on Cumberland Island, Georgia. It’s a remote barrier island with no stores – at all – and one dirt road that runs the length of the island. The only way to get there is by boat and you have to bring everything you could possibly need with you because there’s no store to run to if you forget.

Cell phone service is limited because the tree canopy is so thick you can’t get a signal and internet service is sporadic and dial-up slow at best. At worst, it is non-existent.

We spent our days on the beach at low tide where the boys swam almost every day. We had cookouts in the dunes, played wildlife bingo, hunted sharks’ teeth, held a dune diving contest, went on sunset safari’s and crammed as much fun into every waking moment that we possibly could.

The weather was a wonderful co-conspirator, delivering warm sunny days and cool evenings, perfect for being outdoors until children collapsed in exhaustion.

We were surrounded by friends we see each year on the island and our gaggle of children greeted each day as an opportunity to create adventure. I’ve never heard such laughing and shrieking in all my life.

In short, it was perfection.

Well of course it was, you may be thinking.

But see, I went into this vacation about as stressed out as I’ve ever been. so much on my mind, so much to figure out and sort through and plot. I planned on doing a lot of figuring and sorting and plotting while I was on island. I’m a multi-tasker, right? I can enjoy my days and still have my brain in full gear, right?

Apparently wrong. As each magical day trumped itself again and again, my mind was fully immersed and occupied in the joy of the moment. Flying kites, building sand castles, naming the birds in the sky were the only things my brain was willing to entertain.

And believe me, I tried to gently guide it other things. I even got out my legal pad and tried to “just jot a few notes”. No dice. The minute I tried, some delicious new distraction would present itself and I was off.

After a few days, I just quite pretending I was going to get any work done or even thought about. There were far more enticing people, places and things around me and that’s just the way it was.

And, I have to say that after a week of no work at all of any kind – not even business thoughts – my brain and spirit are filled up, ready to bring it, ready to think and solve and plot.

And the best part is, I think that whatever I come up with now is going to head and shoulders above anything I could have come up with before.

I know I often say “Eye on the prize.” But sometimes I think we need to take our eyes off the prize and just breathe and be. That is the unexpected hidden treasure I discovered amongst my treasured days last week.


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A Thanksgiving Gift For You

November 24th, 2011

I just finished reading Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy by Isadore Sharp, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. It impacted me far more than I expected.

As a Thanksgiving gift to you – you have know idea how incredibly grateful I am for you, your energy, your enthusiasm and your friendship – I’m sharing the simple document that guides this incredible company. I hope it inspires you and the way you do business as much as it inspires me.

Happy Thanksgiving!




Who We Are

We have chosen to specialise within the hospitality industry, by offering only experiences of exceptional quality. Our objective is to be recognised as the company that manages the finest hotels, resorts and residence clubs wherever we locate.

We create properties of enduring value using superior design and finishes, and support them with a deeply instilled ethic of personal service. Doing so allows Four Seasons to satisfy the needs and tastes of our discriminating customers, and to maintain our position as the world’s premier luxury hospitality company.

What We Believe

Our greatest asset, and the key to our success, is our people.

We believe that each of us needs a sense of dignity, pride and satisfaction in what we do. Because satisfying our guests depends on the united efforts of many, we are most effective when we work together cooperatively, respecting each other’s contribution and importance.

How We Behave

We demonstrate our beliefs most meaningfully in the way we treat each other and by the example we set for one another. In all our interactions with our guests, customers, business associates and colleagues, we seek to deal with others as we would have them deal with us.

How We Succeed

We succeed when every decision is based on a clear understanding of and belief in what we do and when we couple this conviction with sound financial planning. We expect to achieve a fair and reasonable profit to ensure the prosperity of the company, and to offer long-term benefits to our hotel owners, our shareholders, our customers and our employees.

Hunting for Treasure

November 21st, 2011

I am on my annual Thanksgiving vacation to Cumberland Island, GA with my family. Tomorrow, we will hunt sharks teeth – one of my favorite expeditions on the island. The post below was written two years ago shortly after I taught my older son how to hunt. I hope you enjoy it. 

Hunting for Treasure

This afternoon I am teaching my son the fine art of hunting for shark’s teeth.  It’s a challenging pastime, to say the least, but as absorbing and all consuming as any good hobby should be.

Our hunting grounds are off the coast of Georgia where, ages ago, dredge from the bottom of a river was dumped during the construction of the Inter-Coastal Waterway. I’ve found teeth as small as a grain of rice and as big as my hand when hunting here. Most important, the teeth are plentiful which makes for an excellent classroom.

First, I show my son the unique “T” or “Y” shapes of most teeth. Then we review the particular shades and combinations of black and gray that are found only in these fossils.

The final part of our lesson is slightly more nuanced – especially for a seven year old. Holding a picture of the shape and color of a shark’s tooth firmly in our minds, we must start scanning the shoreline, filtering out anything that does not match our mental image.

This is especially tricky because the beach is littered with Grand Imposters – bits of black shell in the coveted “Y” shape or a smooth gray stone half buried in the sand. They appear to be the treasure we seek, but upon closer examination, they are nothing more than fool’s gold.

I think the reason I love hunting shark’s teeth is that it requires so much of me. All of my focus and attention must be laser sharp – there is no room for distraction. I must be fully present and in the moment – seeing only what is right in front of me. Anything less and my treasure will elude me.

My son’s attention span is short and the bright sunlight has given way to long gray shadows, making it difficult to spot our quarry.

Tomorrow, as long as the tides and weather cooperate, we will try again. My hope is that with practice, he will learn to overlook the Grand Imposters and train his eye on the particular prize he seeks. I tell him that if he can learn to do that, one day he will look down to see his treasure lying at his feet. He will simply reach down and take hold of it.

He smiles and takes my hand.

Community Management: For Online Communities Only?

November 16th, 2011

I’m paying attention to conversations about “Community Management” – boy are there a ton to pay attention to. The curious thing about these conversations is that the discussions center almost exclusively on managing ONLINE communities. If offline/IRL communities are brought into the mix, it’s mostly in a “oh by the way, don’t forget” kind of way.

There is no doubt that the web and social media in particular have opened up an incredible opportunity to build connection and relationships with customers and prospects in a virtual way. Using online strategies, community managers can reach an untold number of people and, if done well, rally them around their business, head off pr disasters, mitigate customer complaints and create a marketing army.  These are amazing things indeed.

However, limiting the focus of these efforts to online only (or to a secondary position at best) is overlooking one of the greatest loyalty building strategies available – in real life communities. People crave connecting face to face with other people who share common interests, if doing so is compelling to them. Chances are they aren’t going to organize such connections themselves (hey – we are all overworked and over-scheduled), so it is up to the company to facilitate that.


As a case and point, let’s look at Harley Davidson. I cited them in an earlier article, 4 Thriving Communities to Learn From, because they have mastered the art of the offline community. Go to their community page here and you see online connection points pushed to the margins. Front and center you see five, count them FIVE, distinct, in real life connection points, each designed for a specific kind of customer (or end user) who has very distinct community wants and needs.

Why would Harley Davidson invest resources into organizing and facilitating offline communities that are run by enthusiastic and loyal customers?

Hmmm… you think these customers ever bring non-Harley owners along for a ride?! Do you think being a part of a group of shared enthusiasts drives deeper customer loyalty? Do you think when it’s time for a new bike, community members would even think of purchasing anything other than a Harley?

And just in case you think Harley Davidson is primarily focused on these IRL communities, think again. They have nearly three MILLION wildly active fans in their Facebook community. But again, these online efforts run parallel to and in support of offline connections, not as a substitute.

So, what do you think? Should company “Community Managers” broaden their attention to include more of an offline focus? Or should there be a different person who handles offline community building? Or am I overrating the business asset of offline communities?

As always, I’m wildly curious about what you think?!

10 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Occupy Wall Street

November 14th, 2011

Regardless of what you think about the politics of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (that isn’t the point of this article – at all.), there is something to admire about their ability to galvanize people all over the country – and the world – into a movement that is drawing so much public attention.

I’ve spent some time looking at the organization through a business lens – particularly the business lens that is focused on building a community. While there are a TON of shortcomings to point to (aren’t there always in any community?), there is much to learn from what they’ve done right.

From a business perspective, here are 10 lessons that I’m really paying attention to:

#1 – At the outset, OWS tapped into a deep emotion felt by a broad swath of people – in this case anger.


#2 – Early on, OWS crafted a succinct, sticky message to help people identify in (or identify out) – “We are the 99%”.


#3 – They tell people exactly what they need to do to be a part the community – “occupy wall street”.


#4 – They stayed dedicated in the early days of chaos.


#5 – They stayed dedicated when most everyone thought their idea for a community was a flash in the pan. And while they haven’t lasted through the winter yet, they’ve lasted a lot longer than most people thought they would.


#6 – They quickly established an internal, democratic structure to hold the community together (and are experiencing very public growing pains).  While this may not be the most efficient system in the world, it allows members to have a voice in their community, which is essential community glue.


#7 – They create and rely on specialized teams, or work groups, to handle specific community management tasks, i.e.  PR Work Group, Sustainability Work Group, Finance Work Group, etc.


#8 They use social media as a vehicle to build In Real Life communities, not a s a substitute for In Real Life communities.


#9 They find a way to get what their In Real Life  communities need. No electricity for laptops? No problem. They set up bicycle powered generators. Alas, they haven’t quite figured out how to handle the bathroom thing yet.


#10 In the end, one of their biggest keys to getting as far as they have is their ability to galvanize smaller, well-organized groups into a bigger movement.


BONUS LESSON: Manage your image problems before they manage you. In recent days, OWS has lost a lot of public opinion points because they failed to have this in place. Is their image irreversibly tarnished? Only time will tell.


As I said at the top of the article, these lessons aren’t about whether you agree or disagree with what OWS is up to (and neither is the comment section for this post, just fyi.) This is about looking at a group that got some things really right, learning from them, and putting those lessons to use in our own communities.

I’m keeping this list close at hand as I continue with my community building. At the moment, I’m choosing my top three to start working on now. Which three do you think will be most useful for you to put into place quickly? Please share in the comments, okay?

Four Thriving Communities to Learn From

November 9th, 2011

I’ve gotten lots of questions about HOW to build a thriving community into a business. While I have some ideas about that, I really want to spur your thoughts and creativity around the subject. So, I’ve put together a short list of some kickass communities that really get it right.

Some a large, some are small. You’ve heard of some; you haven’t heard of others. And all of them have something to teach us. Get a pen and paper so you can make notes about how to apply what your reading. 🙂

Running Room

Running Room COULD be just another store that sells stuff runners want. Lots of stores do that and are quite successful. But the Running Room, a successful chain of Canadian stores,  decided to be much much more than that.

With terrific insight into what their customers (and potential customers) REALLY want, Running Room created both online and offline gathering places for anyone interested in running or walking. If you never buy a thing, you can gather there for a live clinic, find running buddies, start and end your run, participate in their online forums or peruse the list of running events they keep meticulously up-to-date. In short, it’s a place that runners BELONG.

The Running Room knows that loyalty is built by much more than a pair of shoes.

Have you created a gathering place in your business?

Verdugo Woodlands Dads Club Inc

I don’t know about your experiences, but when I think of organizations involved in elementary schools, I always think that they are comprised of women – moms to be exact.

Not in Glendale California.

The Verdugo Woodlands Dads Club, in existence since 1957, owns and operates a youth house for the children of the community. The house is used for school and community activities like Scouts, Pancake Breakfasts, Little League meetings, and  special classes. The Dads Club sponsors the school robotics team and raises money through a totally dad run talent show to provide extras for the school above and beyond the regular PTO contributions.

These dads choose to build a community for themselves and for their children in an arena that many consider “woman’s domain” because they are passionate about their children.

Is your community built around passion?

Harley Davidson

If any business has “community” at its core, it’s Harley Davidson. Harley owners are absurdly passionate about their bikes and gather in clusters on any given sunny Sunday and the corporate office does everything in their power to encourage and foster this passionate connection.

Go to the Community page on the corporate site and you won’t find just one community of Harley enthusiasts to join. You’ll find FIVE, each appealing to a specialized group with specific needs and interests:  women riders, military riders, Hispanic riders , the Iron Elite and a general owners group.

Are you paying attention to the diverse needs of your community?


No discussion about creating community would be worth it’s spit if it didn’t include a conversation about TUT. TUT (Totally Unique Thoughts) started in 1989 as a shop selling t-shirts to tourists. Fast forward to today and TUT is now and “Adventure Club” with 385,000 members world-wide complete with a charitable 501(c)3.

How did TUT make such a leap? There are many reasons I supposed, but I believe TUT tapped in early to our deep deep desire to tap into the often elusive magic of live. That, paired with the owners uncanny ability to deliver that magic, has created a thriving, wildly profitable community that combines online and offline gatherings to create an unparalleled bond with its members.

What deep desire does your community tap into?

As you can see, there are all kinds of ways to approach this thing called community and build it into your business plan. The question is, are you going to sit there and read about how these organizations do it or are you going to start making notes on how you can start adding community into your business, right now?

Would love to hear your ideas about that in the comments!!

Why a Thriving Community MUST Be a Part of Your Business Plan

November 7th, 2011

Okay – so let’s all agree that “community” has become an overused buzzword, much in the same vein as “authenticity”, “guru”, and “ninja”. It seems that if we throw the word “community” around enough, it makes us sound like a) we have one and b) we know what to do with one. From what I’ve seen out there, nothing could be further from the truth for most businesses.

Here’s the thing. For a business to thrive, communities cannot be a nice-to-have, touchy-feely, give-it-to-an-intern kind of thing. For a business to thrive, Community must be built into the business plan from the get go. (Actually I believe that Community must be the CENTER of a business plan, but that is the subject of another post for another day.)

A robust, active community, brings business advantages with it. Advantages that will put you above and beyond the competition. Because I’ve been building and fostering communities in some form or fashion since 1986, I’ve experienced the power of these advantages first hand, again and again and again. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Research and Development

We know we are supposed to ask our “niche” (another over-used word) what solutions they want before we go and create them. But here’s the thing about that. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

But if you have a  group of people who are deeply connected to you and your brand, who are as committed to it as you are, you can do more than just ask them what they want. You can talk with them, empower them to help you tease out the REAL problem. You can give them stuff you’ve thought up to beta test and give you feed back on.

I’ve done this a TON with the Escaping Mediocrity community. I’m actually doing it right now as I work on my book. And every single time I go to them with a “something” and then let them take it where they will, it gets better. More important, I get better.  And most important, the “thing” gets better.

2) Raving Fans Who Will Help You Spread the Word

After your community has spent time and energy (read “invested”) on helping you refine your thing, guess what happens when you take it to market? They want to help you spread the word! They helped create the thing, you’ve given them ownership in the thing, so they want to tell their friends all about it.

I see lots of businesses try to create a community for this sole purpose. A free marketing department, if you will. And I’ve never see that end well. That’s kind of what Klout facilitates, right? They help companies give swag to a community of influencers in hopes that said community of influencers will spread the word. I think it’s safe to say that that model is working marginally at best.

The more successful strategy is to create a reason for people to gather or rally around you and your business. Give them ownership (noticing a theme here?!); empower them; treat them as a vital part of what you are up to. An invested heart is the greatest marketing asset in the world.

3) A Client Base Waiting to Gobble Up Whatever You Offer

In the end, a business needs people who are willing to trade money for their “thing”, right? If they’ve been involved in developing the “thing” from idea to offer, they will line up to buy it when it’s finally ready. Even if they haven’t been that involved (think Apple), a thriving community of loyal fans will count on the fact that you’ve created something awesome just for them, because that’s what you are known for doing.

Again, some business I see out there go about building a community for the sole purpose of selling them something. All I have to say is “Good luck with that.”

With all of these real, tangible, and (gawd) profitable advantages to be gained, why on earth would anyone not focus major resources on building, supporting and empowering a thriving community?

Yeah – I’m stumped. 🙂

What business advantages have you seen a thriving community create?

Notes to My Discouraged Self

November 2nd, 2011

I’ll admit it. The past few days have been very very hard for me. I feel like I am stumbling around in the dark a bit, unsure of what might be around the next corner. I feel tentative and distant, devoid of my usual sharp clarity and focus.

No need to worry or offer up coaching advice. This will pass – it always does. It happens to everyone, I think, as we push and grow and shift and change. It’s just that many, make that most, of the experts and gurus we listen to never admit it out loud or talk about what to do when it comes knocking on your door.

As I am currently in the throes of it, I thought I would share a strategy live from the front line. You may not need it now – I sincerely hope you don’t. But you will very probably need it soon if you are shifting and growing as much as I think you are.

My strategy is simple, some of you might call it silly actually. But it works for me, so here it is. I write encouraging notes to myself.  They aren’t long or flowery or complex. They are simple and direct ( I talk to myself the same way I talk to other people).

Here are a few of them:

~ There are times when it will feel pointless to attempt to create awesome. If you don’t create awesome anyway, what will you create in its place?

~ There are people who will disappoint and dishearten you because they are something other than who they presented themselves to be. Don’t pass a sweeping judgement based on this small (in more ways than one), isolated sampling. “They” are not “everyone”.

~ Having strong opinions will cost you the popularity contest. But do you really want to win it being shallow and vapid?

~ Days (or weeks or months) will pass when you feel like the only one reading what you write is you. That may or may not be true. And if it is true, it’s all the more reason to write something you will enjoy reading.

~ As you grapple with your desire to have the admiration and respect of the “right” people, remember that you already have the admiration, respect and love of those who matter most.

~ Yes, you may have temporarily lost the ability to come up with anything original or interesting to say. Now is the time to fill your well with those who always have something interesting to say. Read a good book, watch a great movie, talk to [my best friend].

These aren’t all the notes I write to myself. There a many MANY more where these came from. And the point isn’t really what I wrote in them anyway. The point is that I wrote them.

So if and when you feel lost or discouraged or uncertain, remember that everyone else feels this way too at some time or another. Whether they admit it out loud or not. And write encouraging notes to yourself. You know you best – draw on that knowledge. Lean into it. Count on it.

Your notes, and my notes, are like breadcrumbs leading out of the dark, bleak forest and back into the sunny, familiar meadow.