My year of thanks: 52 folks who made a difference in my life

I have decided to take a cue from one of my MSU students, Megan Gebhart.  Megan, in her senior year at MSU, had coffee with 52 different folks each week of year and wrote about it here.  Her 52 cups year is over, but it is worth reading about the conversations she had because it was an interesting journey and led her to a new job as an ambassador for the MSU alumni association.  You can also follow her @megangebhart.  Combining this with my recent writing on thank-you notes, it seemed like a thank-you each week would make perfect sense as I wind my way towards the big 5-0.  It seems like an intimidating number.  Maybe if I focus on my blessings, it will not seem so overwhelming.

I will start on my 49th birthday, on the 4th of July, and then end next year at the same place.  I try to be a disciplined person, but this will be an entirely new level of discipline.  There are so many friends, family members, teachers, and even strangers who have been a blessing in my life.  I hope you will enjoy meeting them.


Telenav Restores our Trust, and We Restore our Service

As we were traveling to Michigan last week by car, our AT&T Telenav service became unavailable on all three of our iPhones that use it.  Even though we realized that it couldn’t be the phones themselves that were the problem, and it had to to do with Telenav, it took quite some time for that to be determined as the problem.  As we were trying to find some locations along the way to stay and eat, having GPS navigation was critical (none of the AAA TripTiks as Karen and I used in the ’80s), and so we downloaded a competitor navigation app which worked flawlessly for the rest of our week-long trip.

I Tweeted about my poor experience in resolving the problem, but decided to give Telenav another chance when it reached out to me asking if there was anything they could do.  Also, we’d come to prefer the simple yet ever-improving interface that Telenav uses, especially its summary routing feature.

Here is where one of Telenav’s stars, Kenji Onozawa, Social Media Manager for Telenav, rose up to take ownership of the problem and fix it on multiple levels.  It took some doing, and several emails back and forth, but resolve it he did, and in a way that completely demonstrated that this is how he would have done it if it had been is own navigation service which was disrupted.  If this is how TeleNav treats all of its customers, then it is one outstanding company!


Do you trust your feelings as information?

A new study shows that consumers trust feelings as information when making purchase decisions.  This means that instead of trusting facts, we sometimes trust the way that we feel, instead.  I studied this concept with Dr. Larry Sanna at UNC-CH in my doctoral program, so I was intrigued to read this study.

For instance, if we receive an offer on our house that is less than we paid for the house, we feel it is not fair, and we reject that offer, even if it is a fair market value offer.  We can relate to that feeling, and had to get over that feeling, in order to sell our house and move on in this down market.

This is also why you see some advertising appealing to how the product will make us feel as opposed to the features or benefits of the actual product.  Marketers know how to use that knowledge to their advantage.  This may also be why there is a 50% divorce rate in this country:  folks get caught up in their feelings and forget to think through the facts of their relationship.

This is good for us to remember in so many instances and is probably why my father always had me do a pros and cons list when making a decision–don’t get too caught up in your feelings without considering the facts, as well.

This study was done by:

University of Chicago Press Journals (2012, June 19). Should consumers trust their feelings as information?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 24, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/06/120619225953.htm?utm_source=rss1.0&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+(ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News)

Brand Disagreement: What if we don’t agree with either party?!

A new study shows that Republicans and Democrats only agree on brands like Coke, Google, Apple–which we also agree we like.  Basically, one headline said that Dems are from Starbucks and Republicans are from Dunkin’.  That will be unhappy news to my good friend, a loyal Democrat who loves Dunkin’ coffee so much that I bought her some on a trip to Boston before a store opened here.

On the other hand, as you can see in their graphic here, we like brands from both sides (Starbucks, Subway), but also don’t prefer brands on both sides (Jeep, Sharp) and prefer others that aren’t even here (Chick-fil-A, LG).  What category does that put us in?  Are there others like us?

Buyology is the firm that conducted this study.  They claim that “At least 85% of human decisions are governed by the non-conscious (instinct, intuition, emotions & desires and memories & values). Over $80 billion is spent each year measuring the 15% that is conscious.

So, what does your conscious tell you about your brand preference?!

Meredith MBA students create exciting digital marketing projects

I am so proud of my MBA students at Meredith College that I just have to brag about the creative digital marketing projects they just completed for our summer hybrid course on digital marketing.

We met once a week for 6 weeks together and then co-created the rest of our content together on-line in a course blog.  The students found interesting and exciting articles about trends in digital marketing and together we critiqued the direction digital marketing is going, culminating in the creation of their own digital marketing projects.  These projects could be for their own personal brand, for the company they work for, or to help out another local company that needed their new digital expertise.

Here are the projects that they created and the goals they set for each project:

1) SunTrust Bank’s Institutional Real Estate (IRE)

  • Use social media to increase awareness in the bank and the marketplace.
  • Increase new client relationships and resulting business opportunities through
  • Be seen as the experts in their field through thought leadership

2) Furever Dogs, custom made dog products to pay for owner’s pet chemo treatments

  • Increase sales through a more prominent internet presence
  • Leverage digital presence to increase word-of-mouth referrals
  • Build loyal relationships to increase repeat business

3) United Property Management is a property management company that targets and serves individuals and families of lower incomes.

  • Create an interactive website to attract more families

4)Michelle Lewis Design, event planner, invitations, etc.

  • Goals to increase sales, customer base and expand name recognition.
  • Improve presence on Facebook with recommendations; likes
  • Create accounts on Twitter, YouTube Channel with videos and free tips
  • Develop Pinterest page to drive ideas for customers and an informal blog to get to know the designers

5) Syncfusion, computer software company

  • Focus on listening online; harness employee engagement
  • Increase brand awareness by including embedded videos in news releases
  • Utilize social media monitoring tools

6) GENBAND is a B2B telecommunications company providing network equipment solutions based on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) infrastructure, multimedia applications and solutions for fixed wire line, mobile and cable network service operators.

  • Increase company awareness through better use of LinkedIn
  • Increase product knowledge through more attention to the company blog
  • Increase use of Skype to improve customer relationships

7) The Triangle Off-Road Cyclists (TORC) is a volunteer organization dedicated to ensuring the future of mountain biking in the Triangle area of North Carolina through the promotion of responsible riding, establishment and maintenance of mountain biking trails, and preservation of North Carolina’s natural resources.

  • Build membership using online social media
  • Build thought leadership using blogging
  • Create LinkedIn group to harness corporate sponsorships and increase club awareness

8) KS Personal Branding

  • Develop multi-author blog
  • Goal of Klout score of 35 by graduation
  • Convert videogame to open source

9) CT Personal Branding

  • Polish Facebook page for more professional look
  • Follow appropriate professionals on Twitter and re-tweet relevant topics
  • Update profile
  • Join the Women’s initiative network at employer
  • Complete informational interviews to network with prospective hiring departments at current employer

10) Tinted Image is a window film application company

  • Utilize Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Harness recommendations from satisfied customers
  • Use reviews to engage customers in conversation

11) Schneider Electric (SE) is a global specialist in energy management focused on offering its customers energy efficient solutions that reduce energy consumption up to 30 percent.

  • Use focus groups to understand how customers want to engage with company
  • Be flexible in using social media

12) @MysteryCoach, an online long-distance running training system

  • Distribute training system through website and e-book
  • Give away samples of e-book to influential running bloggers
  • Use social media sites (YouTube, Twitter, FB, Google+, WordPress, AdWords and SEO) to advertise and develop circle of users for engagement/conversation

If you have any feedback for my students, please send them a tweet @MeredithMBA.  I know they would love to hear from you!


We learn about trust from Dad

On Father’s Day, I thought I would reflect on the lessons Aneil has taught our kids about trust.

We have lived through some challenging times in the life of our family.  Aneil survived cancer at a young age and the kids have had to move to new schools due to our job changes.   Our kids have seen friends let us down yet have also experienced the joy of friendship of those who have become like family.

As Maggie and Jack ministered to our neighbors this spring who recently lost their son, Preston, to acute myeloid leukemia, we witnessed the lessons we taught them.

Show up and help when you can:  Maggie started babysitting for Preston’s family before she knew he had leukemia, and remained a faithful babysitter (for free) once he had to go back into the hospital, in order to help out with his sisters.  Jack started helping out, too, and now both of them check in on both girls often to play and let them know they are thinking of them.

Share your appreciation for others:  Both Maggie and Jack regularly say thank-you to their family members and teachers.  They genuinely know how to express their thanks and let others know how much they mean to them.  I heard Maggie say thank-you to the cashier at Chick-fil-A today and when I expressed my appreciation for her kind words to that server, she reminded me that it doesn’t take long to say thank-you to someone else.

Do your best:  When Jack didn’t make the golf team this spring, he tried out for lacrosse, even though he had never played.  He knew that he wouldn’t get much playing time, but wanted to try.  He worked hard in practices and earned the respect of his coach and teammates for giving it his all, even though he didn’t get to play much in the actual matches.  Maggie missed almost a month of school this spring due to her migraines, reflux and spring sinusitus.  She was frustrated by missing so much school, but was determined to do her best.  We were so proud of her when she was feeling her worst, she went ahead and acted out a spanish music video that was due with a partner, even though she had a reaction to a medicine she had taken and vomited right before going on camera.  She didn’t want to let her partner or her teacher down.

Show you care:  I know I am bragging when I say that my kids are the most caring kids I know.  They wear their heart on their sleeve and I’m sure it makes them a bit different than their peers, but Preston’s sisters know that Maggie and Jack absolutely care about them.  If you give anyone a gift, that is the most important one.  I know that they hope they gave that gift to Preston, as well.

So, on this Father’s Day, we are blessed to have a Father that shows us by example how to be trustworthy in our daily actions.  We see it in our kids.  I’m sure you see it in yours, too.


The Role of Luck in Life, and Why Not to be a Greedy Leader

Here’s a terrific Baccalaureate speech by Michael Lewis, Princeton Class of 1982.  It’s worth reading in its entirety:

Princeton University’s 2012 Baccalaureate Remarks

Posted June 3, 2012; 04:17 p.m.  by Staff
“Don’t Eat Fortune’s Cookie”

Michael Lewis
June 3, 2012 — As Prepared

(NOTE: The video of Lewis’ speech as delivered is available on the Princeton YouTube channel.)

Thank you. President Tilghman. Trustees and Friends. Parents of the Class of 2012. Above all, Members of the Princeton Class of 2012. Give yourself a round of applause. The next time you look around a church and see everyone dressed in black it’ll be awkward to cheer. Enjoy the moment.

Thirty years ago I sat where you sat. I must have listened to some older person share his life experience. But I don’t remember a word of it. I can’t even tell you who spoke. What I do remember, vividly, is graduation. I’m told you’re meant to be excited, perhaps even relieved, and maybe all of you are. I wasn’t. I was totally outraged. Here I’d gone and given them four of the best years of my life and this is how they thanked me for it. By kicking me out.

At that moment I was sure of only one thing: I was of no possible economic value to the outside world. I’d majored in art history, for a start. Even then this was regarded as an act of insanity. I was almost certainly less prepared for the marketplace than most of you. Yet somehow I have wound up rich and famous. Well, sort of. I’m going to explain, briefly, how that happened. I want you to understand just how mysterious careers can be, before you go out and have one yourself.

I graduated from Princeton without ever having published a word of anything, anywhere. I didn’t write for the Prince, or for anyone else. But at Princeton, studying art history, I felt the first twinge of literary ambition. It happened while working on my senior thesis. My adviser was a truly gifted professor, an archaeologist named William Childs. The thesis tried to explain how the Italian sculptor Donatello used Greek and Roman sculpture — which is actually totally beside the point, but I’ve always wanted to tell someone. God knows what Professor Childs actually thought of it, but he helped me to become engrossed. More than engrossed: obsessed. When I handed it in I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: to write senior theses. Or, to put it differently: to write books.

Then I went to my thesis defense. It was just a few yards from here, in McCormick Hall. I listened and waited for Professor Childs to say how well written my thesis was. He didn’t. And so after about 45 minutes I finally said, “So. What did you think of the writing?”

“Put it this way” he said. “Never try to make a living at it.”

And I didn’t — not really. I did what everyone does who has no idea what to do with themselves: I went to graduate school. I wrote at nights, without much effect, mainly because I hadn’t the first clue what I should write about. One night I was invited to a dinner, where I sat next to the wife of a big shot at a giant Wall Street investment bank, called Salomon Brothers. She more or less forced her husband to give me a job. I knew next to nothing about Salomon Brothers. But Salomon Brothers happened to be where Wall Street was being reinvented—into the place we have all come to know and love. When I got there I was assigned, almost arbitrarily, to the very best job in which to observe the growing madness: they turned me into the house expert on derivatives. A year and a half later Salomon Brothers was handing me a check for hundreds of thousands of dollars to give advice about derivatives to professional investors.

Now I had something to write about: Salomon Brothers. Wall Street had become so unhinged that it was paying recent Princeton graduates who knew nothing about money small fortunes to pretend to be experts about money. I’d stumbled into my next senior thesis.

I called up my father. I told him I was going to quit this job that now promised me millions of dollars to write a book for an advance of 40 grand. There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “You might just want to think about that,” he said.


“Stay at Salomon Brothers 10 years, make your fortune, and then write your books,” he said.

I didn’t need to think about it. I knew what intellectual passion felt like — because I’d felt it here, at Princeton — and I wanted to feel it again. I was 26 years old. Had I waited until I was 36, I would never have done it. I would have forgotten the feeling.

The book I wrote was called “Liar’s Poker.”  It sold a million copies. I was 28 years old. I had a career, a little fame, a small fortune and a new life narrative. All of a sudden people were telling me I was born to be a writer. This was absurd. Even I could see there was another, truer narrative, with luck as its theme. What were the odds of being seated at that dinner next to that Salomon Brothers lady? Of landing inside the best Wall Street firm from which to write the story of an age? Of landing in the seat with the best view of the business? Of having parents who didn’t disinherit me but instead sighed and said “do it if you must?” Of having had that sense of must kindled inside me by a professor of art history at Princeton? Of having been let into Princeton in the first place?

This isn’t just false humility. It’s false humility with a point. My case illustrates how success is always rationalized. People really don’t like to hear success explained away as luck — especially successful people. As they age, and succeed, people feel their success was somehow inevitable. They don’t want to acknowledge the role played by accident in their lives. There is a reason for this: the world does not want to acknowledge it either.

I wrote a book about this, called “Moneyball.” It was ostensibly about baseball but was in fact about something else. There are poor teams and rich teams in professional baseball, and they spend radically different sums of money on their players. When I wrote my book the richest team in professional baseball, the New York Yankees, was then spending about $120 million on its 25 players. The poorest team, the Oakland A’s, was spending about $30 million. And yet the Oakland team was winning as many games as the Yankees — and more than all the other richer teams.

This isn’t supposed to happen. In theory, the rich teams should buy the best players and win all the time. But the Oakland team had figured something out: the rich teams didn’t really understand who the best baseball players were. The players were misvalued. And the biggest single reason they were misvalued was that the experts did not pay sufficient attention to the role of luck in baseball success. Players got given credit for things they did that depended on the performance of others: pitchers got paid for winning games, hitters got paid for knocking in runners on base. Players got blamed and credited for events beyond their control. Where balls that got hit happened to land on the field, for example.

Forget baseball, forget sports. Here you had these corporate employees, paid millions of dollars a year. They were doing exactly the same job that people in their business had been doing forever.  In front of millions of people, who evaluate their every move. They had statistics attached to everything they did. And yet they were misvalued — because the wider world was blind to their luck.

This had been going on for a century. Right under all of our noses. And no one noticed — until it paid a poor team so well to notice that they could not afford not to notice. And you have to ask: if a professional athlete paid millions of dollars can be misvalued who can’t be? If the supposedly pure meritocracy of professional sports can’t distinguish between lucky and good, who can?

The “Moneyball” story has practical implications. If you use better data, you can find better values; there are always market inefficiencies to exploit, and so on. But it has a broader and less practical message: don’t be deceived by life’s outcomes. Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with  luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.

I make this point because — along with this speech — it is something that will be easy for you to forget.

I now live in Berkeley, California. A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

Never forget: In the nation’s service. In the service of all nations.

Thank you.

And good luck.


Buzz does not equal Buy

I applaud this effort to try to figure out what Dads are buzzing about, but I don’t think they asked the right question.  The survey asked, “If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?”  All this is asking is whether or not the person has heard about the brand–it has nothing to do with purchase intent.  If we really want to know the brands that Dad’s perceive as the best brands, we need to ask them “What brands did you buy this week?

If you asked the Dad in our house this question, there is one brand he would tell you he buys on a daily basis.  Can you guess which one?! (Hint: this is a picture of my own personalized cup!)

Trust Drives Results

A new study confirms what we know:  higher levels of trust drive bottom line results.  Despite finding that distrust is still prevalent, this study finds that the presence of trust will increase business performance.

“Trust is at rock bottom, but if leaders want to drive trust levels higher, we say: focus on openness, transparency, and involving employees,” said Linda Stewart, CEO of Interaction Associates. “Shared responsibility for success is a key characteristic of high trust organizations — meaning employees are committed to a common goal and are eager to collaborate to make it happen,” added Stewart.

We agree that openness, the second step in the ROCC of Trust, is critical for building trusting relationships between employees and managers.  When employees feel engaged and a part of the the mission of the organization, then they are also committed to the health and success of their company.

By totaltrust Posted in Trust

Responding to Requests: Why Reliability is the First Piece of the ROCC of Trust

We get lots of requests from people we know, students, alumni, clients, friends, family.  We can’t obviously say yes to all of these requests, but we do our absolute best to respond either yes or no, and not leave people wondering if we ever heard their requests.  We actually try to respond within 24 hours, as a courtesy to show them that we are reliable and can be counted on.

That is clearly not the case with a lot of people to whom we have sent requests, either simple or complex, trivial or important.  If we had a dollar for each time somebody never replied to an email or a voicemail–at all, we’d be rich!

How often are your requests ignored, and what is the proper response to being ignored?  If it’s a good friend, we would of course remind them at least once, but with others, the trust deposits are fewer, and so we’re not sure what the proper response is.  Do you give them a gentle reminder?  Do you delete them as a contact?  Do you give them a not-so-gentle reminder?

Is there really any reason to never respond to someone’s request?  The only reason we can think of, is that they are just not important to you.

By totaltrust Posted in Trust