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Chuck Dymer and I presented to a group of logistics managers in Chicago last week. The topic was how to handle uncertain times successfully.

Tomorrow, I’ll be closing the Nature Explore and The Outdoor Classroom Project Leadership Institute with a comparable message. The conference theme is building resilience and joy in uncertain times. The audience for the presentation consists of educators, landscape designers, government officials, and others involved with creating outdoor classrooms for children. It’s all about getting kids outside to experience nature, interact, and learn. The closing presentation will be about staying strong as an idea magnet even you are uncertain of what is ahead.

Next month, Emma Alvarez Gibson and I will be delivering a couple of workshops for the Friends of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites. The message will once again be similar: carrying out your mission when times are changing in ways you have not previously experienced.

Yes, dealing with uncertain times (while facing fewer or nonexistent resources) seems to be in the forefront for many different types of organizations these days.

25 Infinitely Renewable Things in Uncertain Times

One theme for the Leadership Institute presentation is finding the blue sky – the open opportunities – even amid what seems to be an onslaught of constraints and limitations. That took me to the idea of abundance thinking, one of the fundamental strategies of idea magnets. These creative leaders recognize constraints but turn their attention to the available resources that are plentiful and can always be grown.

Wanting to leave the Leadership Institute participants with a starting list of ideas, here are twenty-five things that are abundantly available – even in hard-nosed business settings.

  1. Affiliating with Others
  2. Asking Others for Help
  3. Asking Someone If You Can Help
  4. Caring for Others
  5. Cheering Each Other On
  6. Coming up with another idea
  7. Creativity
  8. Determination
  9. Doodling a Smiley Face or Heart
  10. Enthusiasm
  11. Focusing on Your Core Purpose
  12. Forgiveness
  13. Good Humor
  14. Good Intentions
  15. Hugs
  16. Humility
  17. Imagination
  18. Jumping for Joy
  19. Positive Thoughts
  20. Prayer
  21. Reaching Out to Others
  22. Remembering Successes You’ve Already Had
  23. Sharing Stories
  24. Smiles
  25. Trying One More Time

What else is abundantly available in your part of the world? If your team could use some ideas and motivation right now with handling uncertainty, we’d love to come spend time with you to share strategies that are working!  – Mike Brown

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

Things aren’t getting saner and more calm. Are you ready to pursue an implementation strategy that works in uncharted waters?

The Brainzooming eBook 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times will help you examine your strategy foundation, insights, profitability drivers, and decision making processes when few things ahead are clear. We share suggestions on:

  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.
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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Emma Alvarez Gibson is here today, as a Gen Xer, to get the multi-generational workforce on the same program. Well, maybe as a first step, to get the Baby Boomers and Millennials to understand there are options for them (beyond whining to the Gen Xers) to upgrade their own performance and make more sense to each other. Because the Gen Xers have their own work to get done, and translating for all of you is making it tough for them.

Short story, it’s a powder keg out there in the multi-generational workforce, so here is to making it a little safer!

Field Notes: A Gen Xer Speaks to the Multi-generational Workforce from Emma Alvarez Gibson

Hello, colleagues.

We have a pretty decent working relationship, don’t we? We are gracious and professional, we exchange pleasantries even when we don’t have to, and we weather the ups and downs of corporate life together, or anyway near one another. Things are fine! I think we probably all agree on that.

You may not be aware of it, but as the lifeblood of our organization, as a Gen Xer, I’m holding together two disparate worlds in the multi-generational workforce. Having one foot in Baby Boomer Biosphere and the other in Millennialandia, I translate all day long, you to me to them and back again. I tell the youngs what the olds want, and I tell the olds what the youngs mean. I switch gears so that the inhabitants of both worlds will understand that I know what I’m about and that I’m trustworthy. (It’s tiring, yes, and I imagine this is the sort of situation that led Atlas to shrug, but that way lies a discussion about Ayn Rand, which, frankly, I’m too worn out to consider at the moment.)

It is in the spirit of our mutual respect and collaboration, then, that I implore you to consider a simple upgrade to your modus operandus. Herein I shall recommend one upgrade for the Baby Boomers, and another for the Millennials. In both cases the goal is the same: greater productivity within our multi-generational workforce.

via Shutterstock

Millennials, I’m going to start with you.

You are much maligned, it’s true; but all of us could benefit from some improvement. (And hey, Gen Xers know from being maligned. Everything was our fault until you guys were in grade school, at which point everything magically became your fault.)

Here is the one weird trick to improving your reputation around the office: have good manners. That entails, for instance, making eye contact. It means that when someone greets you in the hallway, you say hello back, even if you don’t know the person who’s just spoken to you. (The odds of your needing to ask that person for permission in order to carry out various parts of your job repeatedly over the course of an average week will be high. Trust.) Don’t just waltz into someone’s office and say, “I’m supposed to get a folder from you?” Knock, even if the door is open, and introduce yourself. Say please. Say thank you. Respect the pecking order, or make the effort to appear as though you do. You’re probably way faster at what you do than the majority of the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers you work with. But we’ve got years on you, which translates into breadth, depth, context, and relationships. Relationships are everything. Remember that.

Baby Boomers, you’re up now.

You have that aforementioned breadth, depth, and context. You have the relationships. We rely on you for structure and order, for insight and reason. So please, please, please: learn how to use technology, already.

Stop spending so much time talking about the ways you used to be able to do your job without it. Stop finding clever ways to avoid doing tech-related things because you don’t want people to think you’re too old. Spoiler alert: it’s heartbreakingly obvious to us when you’re avoiding it. We can tell from the language you use whether or not you’re scared of technology. Avoid the mental calisthenics: admit what you don’t know, and then learn what you should know. Stop pretending you can be as good as you once were without it. Change is inconvenient for everyone. It’s just that your generation is the only one still in the workforce that’s ever had the luxury of stability. We understand the impulse to ignore this pesky quicksand atop which we all stand. But we know it’s futile at best and self-destructive at worst.

Manners, meet technology. Technology, say hello to manners.

And yea verily will the skies part and the hallelujah chorus sound. Well, anyway, things will get better for our multi-generational workforce: we will grease the wheels of both form and function, and the Gen Xers will get a little breathing room, which in turn will make us a whole lot less resentful and irritatingly prone to dramatic statements about what martyrs we are.

So, now it’s your turn. Because fair’s fair. What are Gen Xers doing to drive you nuts? How can we contribute to the good of the group? Let us know on the Brainzooming Facebook page. (Yes, Millennials, we know it’s for old people. Yes, Boomers, we know you don’t want your life all over the internet. But everyone else is using it, so…c’mon. Do it for the team.)

Change is not only possible; it’s inescapable. So let us go willingly. The only thing we stand to lose is a bad stereotype.

– Emma Alvarez Gibson

 

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Following up the post about why so many mid-career marketers have missed out on becoming outstanding content strategists, Emma Alvarez Gibson, from our West Coast (or Best Coast) Brainzooming HQ, is here discussing the steps to become a content strategist and avoid marketing career extinction.

How to Become a Content Strategist and Avoid Becoming Extinct by Emma Alvarez Gibson

Once I was a creative writer.

Then I was marcomm. Then I was a copywriter. These days, I’m a content strategist.

Titles change; it’s a fact of Western business life. But in this space, that’s not all that’s changed. Take a good look at the job description for any number of content strategist positions. More often than not, we aren’t just creating content. We’re managing SEO and Google Analytics, editing images and graphics in PhotoShop and InDesign, sending and tracking emails via a CMS or two. Or seven.  

I’ll admit it was a transition I came to reluctantly, and with a fair degree of resentment. Look, I remember saying, If I’d wanted to be a marketing analyst, I’d have become a marketing analyst. Are they also looking for chemical engineers who can rollerskate and sing opera? It seemed ridiculous and not a little unreasonable. But it’s been a few years now: I think that model’s going to be calling the shots for awhile.

Earlier this week, one of my fellow writers who’s looking for full-time employment expressed dismay over these broadly-drawn requirements, ending with: When did this happen? If you’ve not had to look for a job in a number of years, it’s a fair question. There were no announcements made. These expectations crept in slowly, like fog. When the market crashed in 2008, I saw many organizations let people go and distribute the resulting wealth of tasks among the employees who were left standing. No one’s going to complain about having a heavier load when their neighbor doesn’t have a job. You make it work. We all made it work as best we could.

Nine years later, here we are with a stronger economy and the continued legacy of these career mash-ups. We made it work, and we have to continue to make it work. That means getting on board with the expectations of our chosen field. It means stretching. Learn that CMS. Take the InDesign class. Familiarize yourself with basic photo editing. Pick up a copy of Web Analytics For Dummies. Read a few blog posts on how easy SEO really is. Things have changed, and that means we have to change. To deny it, to refuse, to stay stuck in the outrage, is professional suicide.

At the start of my career I worked at a PR firm. One of the publicists there was roughly 107 years old, to my twenty-something eyes. He was pure 1960s camp, only he didn’t know it. He seemed intrigued by the fact that women were in his workplace and held positions of authority. He referred to us, the assistants, as “the girls” (despite the fact that some of the assistants were, in fact male).  Best of all? He refused to have a computer in his office. He’d never needed one before, and he wasn’t going to start now. And if he did need to look something up that wasn’t in a book, “one of the girls” could do that for him. He repeated this speech often, and everyone would smile and nod, and wait for him to leave the room so they could roll their eyes and get back to work. He was a ridiculous old dinosaur.

But I’m not.

What about you? – Emma Alvarez Gibson

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I spoke about Social-First Content at the April 2017 Social Media Strategies Summit in Chicago. As always, I left this Social Media Strategies Summit with valuable insights on social content strategy plus great ideas for further developing our brand.

Social Media Strategists at the #SMSSummit

From this Social Media Strategies Summit, I took away a specific insight on the challenge for social media strategists.

With traditional marketing communication, there were numerous clear divisions among important roles:

  • Creative vs. analytical
  • Writing vs. visual communication
  • Strategy vs. design
  • Developing content vs. publishing content
  • Spokesperson vs. reporter
  • In front of the camera talent vs. behind the camera support
  • Media creation vs. media buying
  • Offline execution vs. online / technology execution
  • Mining customer and business insights vs. audience targeting

Looking back on the combined internal and external team we assembled to market our Fortune 500 B2B brand, we rarely had one person doing both sides of any of the pairs of talents and responsibilities above. Depending on a project’s size, in fact, there may be ten or more people involved across these roles.

Social Media Strategists Face Complex Roles

Now, consider today’s social communications landscape. The divisions between the complementary roles have largely disappeared. Today’s social media strategists must be functional, if not fully adept, at nearly all these roles to succeed.

This idea started developing for me as we started using Hubspot for inbound marketing. I’m continually moving between intense analytical and creative roles in developing and executing content-based workflows.

The realization really hit me while attending a Facebook list building, advertising, and re-marketing workshop at the Social Media Strategies Summit. The presenters covered audience targeting and Facebook advertising in detail. We don’t use Facebook advertising very aggressively, so the topic isn’t one that has occupied much of my attention. As workshop presenters continued, I recalled that in the corporate world, I told media buyers that I’d ask questions, but I understood they had a knowledge base that was difficult to have without living in their world. I depended on their expertise to guide and lead us toward accomplishing our marketing objectives.

Today, however, you can’t afford to make that distinction. Outstanding social media strategists must understand Facebook targeting, advertising, and remarketing. It’s just as important as understanding the fundamentals of writing a compelling story. They also must understand everything else on the list of communication roles.

Sure, in a smaller organization, I’m now taking on many more communication roles than as a VP in a Fortune 500 organization. A team of ten no longer exists for me. Talking with other attendees at the Social Media Strategies Summit, though, it’s clear a team of ten doesn’t exist for many of them either – even within large organizations.

Why Many Mid-Career Marketers Are Dinosaurs

Put all this together, and I think it explains why I see so many mid-career marketers are dinosaurs, either limiting themselves in comfortable, but career-threatening ways (“I just do PR” or “I write but don’t do SEO”), or floundering while they rework the calculations on how much longer until they have enough money to retire.

The much smaller group is leveraging career experience and diving into social content strategy with a passion. These folks are learning to become perhaps the best-positioned marketers: they heave experience AND social sensibilities.

Seeing this landscape for mid-career marketers is why I encourage them to attend as many social content marketing events and conferences as possible. It’s the foreseeable future. If they want to be a part of that future AND get paid, they must be aggressive and prepare to work with multiple generations that grew up in a marketing world where role divisions that made sense ten years ago no longer apply. – Mike Brown

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Mess Wright, who just recently opened Mess Labs in Dallas, has been an online friend for many years, and an in-person friend since August 2016.  

Invariably, Mess puts words to ideas that rattle around in my head in a half-formed state. Mess not only pulls ideas together; she puts herself out there by articulating them. Here’s the most recent example of this, with Mess weighing in on business mentoring and the importance of protecting your time and attention when you are trying to make things happen.

Trust me: Mess is a person that makes things happen! – Mike

Business Mentoring – Be Careful of Who Promises You Help by Mess Wright

Abe Nadimi and Mess Wright of Mess Labs

You can go ahead and file this one under, “Things You Aren’t Supposed to Say but Mess Says Anyway.” Oh, well, here goes:

It seems there is some sort of incubator, accelerator, or entrepreneurial center popping up everywhere lately.

I think this is supposed to (and can) be a good thing, but I have to tell you something.

I’ve been in this startup world for nearly a year, and I’ve found the majority of the “entrepreneurs” and “mentors” I’ve met are actually either hacks, delusional liars, con-artists, or people who are otherwise lost or unemployable.

It takes a minute to decipher the people who are actually “in business.” That minute is long and hard, but my advice is to take the time to really vet people you might let into your life.

I’ve taken a lot of hits (mostly inside my co-working space) for pointing out the people who are time and money sucks. I’ve been told it’s rude or impolite. I’ve been told “community” means “supporting” people, even people who are clearly trying to take whilst offering nothing.

I say all this because I think a lot of people romanticize self-employment or entrepreneurship. My advice for them is if you take that jump, be very selective about who gets time with you. You don’t have to say Yes to every invitation, every introduction or entertain every opinion. It’s way okay to be exclusive in some ways – don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.

Just because someone is older, more experienced, more educated, or did the thing you want to do, that does not make them mentor material. Gravitate to people who lift you up, listen to you, and help you grow. Don’t worry if those people aren’t marketing themselves as leaders or guides. The ones who do aren’t always the support you are seeking and needing anyway.

Everyone who is in a position to refer mentors to mentees needs to also vet people better. Let’s hold anyone we call “mentor” to a higher standard and drop the assumption that “accomplished” or “perceived as accomplished” translates to “can mentor.” It’s a horrible assumption, if you think about it. And a bad mentor figure can do amazing harm to a mentee.

Finally, if you feel you want to mentor someone ask yourself if you have the time, you have the inclination, and if you truly hold the mentee’s best interests as a priority.

If you’re doing business mentoring to feed your own ego, stop. Just stop! – Mess Wright

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Chatting with a mid-career professional who is at the height of job frustration, she placed a career strategy challenge on the table:

  • “A résumé is supposed to have metrics, but I have no real metrics I can own for my contributions at my day job.
  • “What I’m doing in my day job isn’t the kind of work I want to do in my next job – at least under the same circumstances. I need to find something more fulfilling.
  • “I’ve done outside work at various times, but it’s not a consistent work history. Plus, I can’t jump back into entrepreneurship with its lack of stability.
  • “I have some starting points describing myself that have potential to go on a résumé, but they seem fluffy and lack concrete accomplishments.”

With all that backdrop, the question was, “What should I put on my résumé that is going to help me attract an employer’s attention when I email or post my résumé?”

I know this isn’t an isolated career strategy challenge.

Parts of it feel a lot like what I was facing at various points in my corporate career. When you are part of a big organizational machine, it is often difficult to isolate what you do to create metrics. And if you tend toward under-selling yourself, you freeze when faced with touting your own capabilities and accomplishments.

5 Career Strategy Challenge Ideas When You Lack Résumé Metrics

What’s the answer to this career strategy challenge?

I don’t know that there is one answer, but here are the ideas I shared:

  • You can always go to a professional to help prepare your résumé. Here is one I’d recommend if you pursue this idea. A professional creates compelling stories for job seekers all the time, and there’s tremendous value in both that experience and the objectivity of someone else looking at your great capabilities.
  • Create your own metrics. Every organization wants to improve what it does and do it more efficiently. If you’ve struggled to compile metrics for your personal contribution to the organization, create a performance improvement project in your department. Go to your internal customers under the banner of bettering your department’s contributions. Ask them for specifics on where your contributions improve good things, reduce bad things, accomplish results with fewer resources, and improve efficiency and effectiveness in any other quantitative ways. Collect success stories, too, even if they aren’t metrics-based. All this work will improve your day job while giving you ample résumé material.
  • Reach back out to your outside clients and ask them comparable questions about performance improvements, cost efficiencies, and customer successes they can attribute to the work you did for them. Those could be easier, more compelling metrics to establish.
  • Beyond the success stories you are collecting, ask several people close to you to create a recommendation letter for you that highlights at least five key characteristics, talents, work accomplishments, and selling points that they would use to communicate about you positively to others. They will likely share things you don’t see in yourself that you should be communicating in your résumé.
  • Network like crazy! Start now, and continue for the rest of your career. If you are a unique talent who is hard to adequately and differentially describe in a couple of pages, why limit yourself to selling yourself in a couple of pages? My advice to this job seeker was that her next position is going to come from someone that sees and gets her talents and finds the right role. By meeting hiring decision makers personally through an aggressive networking effort, the résumé becomes less important. Then, instead of selling you sight unseen, it becomes a crutch for the decision maker to better describe you and what they see in you to others in the organization.

Those are my ideas.

They helped get her thinking about new possibilities. Ultimately, these ideas are all about action, and doing the hard work to bring them to life! – Mike Brown

 

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Here is Emma Alvarez Gibson’s report from a conference she recently attended. With a lot of suggestions and a little bit of arm-twisting, Emma implemented the ideas captured in our Introvert’s Guide: 23 Ideas to Meet New People at a Conference. She’s being very kind to share how she fared implementing the ideas to meet new people even though she was going solo at the conference!

Ways to Meet New People – Confessions of a Conference Newbie by Emma Alvarez Gibson

Make yourself socialize, he said. You need to meet new people, he said.

It’ll be fun, he said.

I doubted that last part. Very much. But I was going to a conference, alone, and it was clear I needed to do these things, because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that Mike Brown knows how to conference. (To be fair, I knew that long before he inadvertently wrote an entire post while gamely encouraging his slightly terrified, sometimes-misanthropic friend. That’s me, by the way.)

So I went with a select few of the items in that post, and remain surprised by the results. To wit:

Pack the clothing or jewelry you own that most often generates comments from others. Wear those as conversation starters.

This was the easiest step. I packed a big red statement necklace and a bigger silver statement necklace. And it worked. Both pieces garnered a ton of compliments, giving me many an opportunity to talk to people I might not otherwise have met.

Find out the conference hashtag(s) ahead of time, and begin monitoring them. Reach out to other attendees and speakers using the hashtag.

I was dreading this part. It felt forced and phony. But it worked. Within a few minutes my tweet (something about how I was packing for the conference) got favorited and had a couple of responses. This was when I started to think that maybe these steps would work for me.

Prepare a few open-ended, easy-to-answer multiple part questions to ask. Prepare to use them. Try, “Is this your first time at the conference?”

Well, it seemed a bit obvious. But–and I hope you’re sitting down–it worked. It got the shy people out of their shells, and it gave the outgoing people a willing participant. Bonus: I was relieved that no one seemed to think it was too obvious a question to ask.

Wear your nametag.

I’ll admit it: I loathe nametags. I feel like a jerk wearing a lanyard around my neck and a card that trumpets my name at everyone from behind a sheet of plastic. But of course it’s the only sensible thing to do at a conference. And Mike surely had a reason for spelling this one out. Can you guess what happened? Yeah. It worked. People repeatedly approached me, addressing me by name. (It’s almost like there’s a pattern, or something, here.)

Take advantage of social media to reach out and increase your visibility. Live tweet the sessions you attend.

This was fun as well as easy. The speakers and their presentations were engaging, informative, and often very funny. I live-tweeted speaker quotes and photos from their presentations, and used the conference hashtag. Several times this resulted in fun banter from attendees I’d previously connected with, as well as from those I hadn’t yet met.

Sign up for networking events and excursions. Make yourself go. Boost your confidence that you can enjoy these events on your own, while you look for opportunities to share experiences with others!

Here’s the thing: I dislike large groups. I dislike field trips with large groups. I particularly dislike field trips with large groups in which everyone seems to know someone and I’m on my own, and we have to eat dinner together. But off I went. It started disastrously. I had less time than I’d realized to get to the meeting point where we would climb aboard a handful of buses which would take us to the riverboat where we would spend three hours. My choices: hustle, and arrive sweaty and discombobulated, and possibly get there just in time to see the buses pull away and watch everyone point and laugh, or throw in the towel, find dinner on my own, and admit defeat. Conveniently, as I was deciding, two people from the conference hurried past, making jokes about being left behind. I asked if they were on their way to the dinner cruise, and that was that. They told me that if we missed the bus, I could hang out with them. Well, we didn’t miss the bus. And I felt so buoyed by the friendly exchange beforehand that it was much easier for me to talk to people for the rest of the evening.

Look for small groups at networking events, ideally with people you’ve seen at sessions during the day. Find a way to join them through proximity, listening, smiling, and shared interests (i.e., you all are at this event, were in some of the same sessions, and have drinks). Being around the crowd can be the right opening to start meeting other people on the edge of the crowd.

I was sitting on the boat by myself, near the end of the third hour, when I heard a group of people tipsily discussing the medicinal uses of the gin and tonic in days of old. One of them was earnestly trying to remember what element was important to those applications. “Why not?” I thought. I got up and approached them. “It was the quinine,” I said, and we had a rousing discussion practically all the way back to shore.

What I learned: a little bit of effort goes a very long way toward making the most out of a conference, especially when you’re on your own. Simple, straightforward tactics netted me great results, so much so that a few times I forgot to be self-conscious. (If that doesn’t sound shocking, I’m not telling it right.) In any case: thanks, Mike! – Emma Alvarez Gibson

 

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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