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Put Your Ear to the Ground: Engaging More Directly

Put Your Ear to the Ground: Engaging More Directly


    Get your ear to the ground.

    This approach has been called different things but commonly is summarized as getting close as possible to the interface of the product and producer or consumer. Famous practitioners include Bill Hewlett and David Packard of HP who popularized “management by walking around.” The same approach can be used in your personal and professional life to help you gain fresh perspective on old problems, sniff out issues before they become wildfires, and continue to innovate and create while on a schedule.

    Case Study: Lululemon — From the Folding Table to the Chalkboard

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    It is possible for many people to not know about Lululemon. Yet for those who practice yoga, the brand has risen rapidly in popularity and demand. Lululemon has become a rising star in a multibillion dollar market with comfortable, attractive yoga and athletic apparel. Chief Executive Christine Day attributes her success partially to eschewing conventional market research. Rather than relying on focus groups, website tracking, or customer purchase profiles, the company has designed their stores to eavesdrop on their customers. Folding tables are placed not out of sight, but immediately adjacent to fitting rooms. Sleeves too long? Crotch too tight? Chances are employees will be privy to that information. To allow customers to provide more direct feedback, a large chalkboard is propped up against a wall for shoppers to comment on existing products as well as wish for new ones.

    Take advantage of opportunities to talk face-to-face with people

    When people don’t feel threatened, rushed, or dismissed they are more likely to voice their concerns or frustrations. Rather than maintaining a course towards an iceberg, addressing conflict can prevent them from getting bigger. Likewise, allowing people to voice their honest thoughts can help generate consensus and group buy-in of a proposal even if initial reactions are less than supportive. For example, instead of email-soliciting money from your coworkers to pay for the office water cooler, approaching people known to “mooch” may generate enough guilt or raise awareness to modify their behavior. They may even bring up unrelated but important issues to them which you can support to enlist their cooperation. (“Yes, I’d be happy to remind the other people in the office to not leave old coffee grinds and stale coffee in the drip machine. Having bottled water and taking care of the break room makes work that much more bearable.”)

    Actually experience the good or service you provide

    Every job in the world provides either a product or service to others. It’s too easy to get entrenched in your perspective. Take time this week to actually use your product or experience the service you provide. Personally speaking, as a physician it is incredibly eye-opening and humbling to experience the hospital as a patient. Another example is the Lululemon sales representative who loves a particular brand of pants for the slimming and firming effect they provide without creating embarrassing wrinkles and lines.

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    Put yourself in different shoes to solve complex problems

    Likewise, when you can’t wrap your head around a problem try to approach it from the perspective of someone else. What would the janitor suggest to reduce operating expenses? Does the consumer really value the promotional mailings you provide? What has your boss focused on for other business cycles or projects? Even better is to directly approach the different people involved to solicit their input.

    Case Study: Levi’s Jeans — A Hot Idea from Hot Pants

    Walter Haas — one-time CEO of Levi’s Jeans — stumbled upon a problem he didn’t know about while sitting next to a campfire in the 1940’s. At the time copper rivets were placed at stress points like the crotch area to provide extra strength. Unfortunately, they also conducted heat efficiently and caused quite a few unpleasant campfire mishaps. After being burned, Haas promptly removed the copper rivets. Inspired, he went on to also cover exposed rear pocket rivets to minimize scratch damage to saddles and school chairs in response to complaints by cowboys and schoolteachers.

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    Adopt a new role with your family, friends

    Appreciation is like water to a desert plant. In the interpersonal realm, it’s been established that men and women commonly cheat because of emotional disconnection which can spring from being unappreciated. Have you taken the time recently to realize what your friends and family do for you? Take the initiative to wash dishes, walk the dog, take out the trash, drive the carpool, or organize that birthday party. It may be difficult to do the tasks we naturally avoid, but realize that you are gaining new understanding of your relationships. Gratitude makes life infinitely richer.

    Go where the water is fresh

    In marketing, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of popular trends and ideas. Just like how you need to stay in front of the wave while surfing, you want to develop your ability to sense energy and direction from other people, events, and activities. One way you can do this is by maintaining your hobbies. Do things that excite you and you’ll find that even on a tight schedule, you can work with more energy, enthusiasm, and creativity. Refrain from “dichotomizing” your life into disparate spheres. Try to bring as much of who you are into what you are doing at the moment.

    As you take a closer step to your work, relationships, and the things which make you tick, I hope that you’re able to accomplish more, improve existing relationships, solve difficult problems, and sustain creativity.

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    (Photo credit: Young Man Hearing Sounds via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on October 14, 2019

    12 Inspirational Speeches That Teach You the Most Valuable Life Lessons

    12 Inspirational Speeches That Teach You the Most Valuable Life Lessons

    The most valuable thing an experienced person has is their experience. People make mistakes, learn from them, and adapt their life around them to become better people. Those people would then tell tales to others to help teach those lessons so that others would not have to make the same mistakes.

    People still tell these stories today but in a slightly different format — they use speeches to express their experiences. Here are some valuable life lessons you can learn from some of the greatest inspirational speeches:

    1. JK Rowling teaches us to not fear failure no matter how bad things become

    It is a well-known fact that JK Rowling’s now-famous Harry Potter series was turned down by several publishers before it was finally picked up. Those publishers are likely kicking themselves in the pants right now. However, before that, JK Rowling was in a fairly dire situation and was on the brink of failure. Despite being turned down time and time again, she kept trying. Her efforts paid off. Harry Potter is now a ubiquitous character in today’s world culture. Despite failing over and over again, Rowling kept trying and fulfilled her dreams. You can watch her deliver some valuable life lessons in her Harvard commencement speech video above.

    2. Steve Jobs teaches us to never settle

    Steve Jobs had a fairly tumultuous life. He co-founded Apple, was kicked out of the company, came back, and then re-defined the mobile phone space with the iPhone. Even if iPhones aren’t the rage they once were, its iconic value is forever written in stone. One thing Jobs never did was settle. He lived life on his own terms and was rewarded for it by being dubbed one of the most revolutionary voices in technology of our time. In the Stanford commencement speech above, Jobs explains how you should never settle for what someone else wants out of your life. It’s your life and you should do what you want with it.

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    3. Admiral William H McRaven teaches us to make our beds every day

    Anyone who has gone through the basic training of a military service will tell you it’s pretty difficult. However, every seemingly obnoxious step is actually a life lesson in disguise. This even applies to flawlessly making one’s bed every single morning. As Admiral William H McRaven teaches us, recruits are taught to make their beds every morning to remind them that even the little things in life matter. After all, how can you be expected to handle the biggest obstacles in your life if you can’t even handle the small and the mundane like making your bed every day? You can watch the entire speech in the video above.

    4. Author David Foster Wallace teaches us that we’re a part of a greater existence

    David Foster Wallace found fame in 1987 with his book The Broom of the System. Nearly 20 years later in 2005 he game a commencement speech at Kenyon College that is worth listening to at least once. In his speech, he reminds us that was are but a part of a huge, dynamic, ever changing interaction of life forms. In order to truly experience life, we need to leave our personal bubbles and interact with others even if it’s in an unpleasant way. Wallace states, “It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.” You can watch the whole speech above.

    5. Stephen Colbert teaches us that life isn’t something you can plan

    If there is anyone who knows about improvisation, it’s comedian Stephen Colbert. In his commencement speech at Northwestern University in 2011, Colbert reminded students that you cannot plan life. Life throws too many curve balls. There are too many unpredictable things that can happen. The most successful and happy people are not those who have a plan, but those who can roll with the punches and overcome the obstacles. He goes on to site his time as an improv comic and how all of the actors working together to create a scene out of literally nothing are all working for one another. He states that like improv comedy, you don’t know what happens next in life. You just make it up as you go along. You can watch the whole speech above.

    6. Kurt Vonnegut teaches us to not sweat the small stuff

    Some of our younger readers may not know Kurt Vonnegut. He is a famous author that found of of his success during the middle of last century. In 1999, Kurt Vonnegut was at Agnes Scott College giving a commencement speech. During the speech, he mentioned that in order to live a more complete life, people needed to let stuff go. He argued that you cannot reasonably expect others to forgive you for your mistakes if you cannot forgive others and that you cannot live life fostering a personal vendetta against others.

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    7. Neil Gaiman teaches us that success can be distracting.

    Neil Gaiman is most known for his work in a number of literary mediums including journalism, comic books, and novels. In 2012, Gaiman gave a speech at the University of the Arts where he talked about success. He stated that when you become successful, you may be unintentionally swayed from performing the actions that made you successful. Gaiman recalled his early success and how he felt pressured to answer emails all day long and it actually prevented him from writing as much as he wanted. So he reminds us to keep doing what makes us successful and to not let others get in the way.

    8. Barack Obama’s life lessons teaches us that you really can beat the odds

    We know that not everyone likes Barack Obama but that doesn’t mean the man can’t deliver an amazing speech. In this 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convenction, Obama reminds that it is possible to beat the odds and become something great. He cites his own upbringing as an example and how he was never expected to make it as far as he did. It shows that when you’re passionate about something and when you try hard enough, you can accomplish almost anything. It’s important to note that Obama talks about this in 2004 and would become the President of the United States just four years later.

    9. Robin Roberts reminds us that we each have the courage to overcome challenges

    Robin Roberts knows a thing or two about courage. She is a breast cancer survivor and has done battle with a rare blood disease called myelodysplastic syndrome. Her sister once had to donate bone marrow just so Robin could remain alive. She was also ESPN’s first African American broadcaster in the early 1990’s. She’s a woman who works in an industry predominately populated by men. So when Robin Roberts takes the stage at the ESPYs and delivers a short lecture on having courage, we would do well to listen!

    10. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that some things are more important than success

    We all know the story of Martin Luther King Jr. So much so that we have a day of the year to celebrate him as a national holiday here in the United States. Most of us have listening to segments of his famous speech where he told the world about a dream he had. The main message of his famous speech is that racial inequalities needed to end and he was absolutely right. However, he also reminds us that there are things that are more important than success such as equal rights and treating each other with respect and kindness. If you somehow made it through school without watching the famous speech, we’ve got it linked above.

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    11. Jim Carrey reminds us that even if you keep it safe, you can still fail so you might as well go big

    Jim Carrey delivered a commencement speech at Maharishi University recently that went absolutely viral. You may know it as the one minute video that will change your life. They weren’t lying but they weren’t telling the whole truth because the speech was actually 28 minutes long. During the speech, Carrey talks about his father who wanted to be a comedian but decided to take the safe route and become an accountant. As it turns out, his father was laid off and his family ended up poor anyway. With that, Carrey tells us that you can still end up failing even if you play it safe so you might as well swing for the fences and do what you want to do.

    12. Bill Murray teaches us that it’s the hard times that determine if someone really loves you

    You may have heard the story about Bill Murray crashing someone’s bachelor party and delivering a speech. It turns out the speech was both short and fairly epic. During the speech, Bill Murray challenged the bachelors to travel around the world with the women they love and go to places that are difficult to go to and deal with. He says if you can get back to the United States and you still love each other, then you should get married right then and there. It’s a great message. It’s easy to love one another when times are good but do you still love each other when the times are bad? If so, that’s true love according to Bill Murray.

    Final thoughts

    Inspiration comes from everywhere and from anyone. There are a countless number of speeches and stories that can teach us an incalculable number of life lessons.

    All these speeches almost share the same message: Don’t be afraid to fail and keep trying.

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    If you also want to live your best life like the above successful people, this is what you should start doing:

    You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

    At the end of the day, everything is inspirational. It’s just a matter of finding the message that we need to hear to change our lives.

    Featured photo credit: Miguel Henriques via unsplash.com

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