Great job Growthinker Brian Yanez!

Receiving notes like this from satisfied Growthink clients are a great way to start the day -  BIG kudos to Engagement Manager Brian Yanez for a job well done! 

 "I'd like to thank you for your tremendous hard work on this project.  You're availability and attention to detail, as well as your incorporation of your business/marketing expertise into our ideas and requests to create the plan we are looking for was extremely professional and well done.  I would recommend Growthink to anyone needing these type services.  Looking forward to taking our final, polished plan to our investors." 


and from his partner:


Thanks for the updated info - it really looks amazing.. we TRULY appreciate all your hard work. You are very talented, and we thank you for your amazing services.



Three Tips to Inspire a Healthy Corporate Culture

"Culture eats strategy for lunch."

~~ Peter Drucker

Business leaders reach C-Level status by developing innovative business plans, out maneuvering the competition, and shifting strategy when circumstances dictate.

Why then do so many C- Level executives achieve only marginal results  – or fail out right?

Here’s the answer: It’s the “human element” – the corporate culture – that often derails potentially profitable organizations – and careers. For example, interpersonal conflicts and behaviors waste valuable time – and divert attention from your mission and vision. Team disputes stall or sabotage key projects. Communication lapses during a crisis cause additional unnecessary complications.

Sound familiar?

Ailing corporate culture threatens the bottom line – and can challenge the leadership skills — as well as the viability — of even currently profitable organizations.

Here’s the good news: ailing workplace cultures can be transformed. This transformation always starts with you – the leader. After all, corporate culture changes every day. And it’s you – the leader – who determines the nature and direction of these changes.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Tip #1: Follow your employees. Successful corporate culture transformations begin by paying attention to your most valuable asset – employees who show up ready to work.

Of course, the pursuit of your mission and vision — looking forward — is your top leadership priority. That’s why it’s essential to stimulate the next idea within your organization. Otherwise, your visionary goals are never reached.

Too many leaders forget: it’s what happens after you float your idea that really counts.

Ask yourself: are your employees free to shoot your ideas down? Or modify them so that “your idea” ends up a much better idea?  Everyone has influence and demonstrates leadership in successful organizations  – no matter what their position within your organization.

Tip #2: Set the ground rules. How individuals within organizations communicate among themselves, make decisions, and resolve conflicts are issues to tackle early on. It’s critical that everyone knows “the rules” from the onset. Otherwise, when critical situations arise, you’ll be figuring out the process – not effectively addressing the immediate problem or crisis.

As mentioned before, it’s best to hardwire “the rules” from the start. Sometimes that’s just not possible. It’s never too late to train your employees – cost effectively – to improve your corporate culture. .

Tip #3: Stand apart – and just listen. How does your organization feel to a casual observer or potential customer? Ask yourself: what do you rub against when people spend with my employees? Were those staff members really talking derisively about a client in the elevator? Does bad-mouthing of supervisors or co-workers routinely take place in full earshot of other employees and customers? Are staff conflicts played out in full view of customers?

These observations – like nothing else — alert you to immediate necessary corporate culture changes key to the survival and growth of your organization.

Your Brain Is Hooked on Being Right

I'm sure it's happened to you: You're in a tense team meeting trying to defend your position on a big project and start to feel yourself losing ground. Your voice gets louder. You talk over one of your colleagues and correct his point of view. He pushes back, so you go into overdrive to convince everyone you're right. It feels like an out of body experience — and in many ways it is. In terms of its neurochemistry, your brain has been hijacked.

In situations of high stress, fear or distrust, the hormone and neurotransmitter cortisol floods the brain. Executive functions that help us with advanced thought processes like strategy, trust building, and compassion shut down. And the amygdala, our instinctive brain, takes over. The body makes a chemical choice about how best to protect itself — in this case from the shame and loss of power associated with being wrong — and as a result is unable to regulate its emotions or handle the gaps between expectations and reality. So we default to one of four responses: fight (keep arguing the point), flight (revert to, and hide behind, group consensus), freeze (disengage from the argument by shutting up) or appease (make nice with your adversary by simply agreeing with him).

All are harmful because they prevent the honest and productive sharing of information and opinion. But, as a consultant who has spent decades working with executives on their communication skills, I can tell you that the fight response is by far the most damaging to work relationships. It is also, unfortunately, the most common.

That's partly due to another neurochemical process. When you argue and win, your brain floods with different hormones: adrenaline and dopamine, which makes you feel good, dominant, even invincible. It's a the feeling any of us would want to replicate. So the next time we're in a tense situation, we fight again. We get addicted to being right.

I've coached dozens of incredibly successful leaders who suffer from this addiction. They are extremely good at fighting for their point of view (which is indeed often right) yet they are completely unaware of the dampening impact that behavior has on the people around them. If one person is getting high off his or her dominance, others are being drummed into submission, experiencing the fight, flight, freeze or appease response I described before, which diminishes their collaborative impulses.

Luckily, there's another hormone that can feel just as good as adrenaline: oxytocin. It's activated by human connection and it opens up the networks in our executive brain, or prefrontal cortex, further increasing our ability to trust and open ourselves to sharing. Your goal as a leader should be to spur the production of oxytocin in yourself and others, while avoiding (at least in the context of communication) those spikes of cortisol and adrenaline.

Here are a few exercises for you to do at work to help your (and others') addiction to being right:

Set rules of engagement. If you're heading into a meeting that could get testy, start by outlining rules of engagement. Have everyone suggest ways to make it a productive, inclusive conversation and write the ideas down for everyone to see. For example, you might agree to give people extra time to explain their ideas and to listen without judgment. These practices will counteract the tendency to fall into harmful conversational patterns. Afterwards, consider see how you and the group did and seek to do even better next time.

Listen with empathy. In one-on-one conversations, make a conscious effort to speak less and listen more. The more you learn about other peoples' perspectives, the more likely you are to feel empathy for them. And when you do that for others, they'll want to do it for you, creating a virtuous circle.

Plan who speaks. In situations when you know one person is likely to dominate a group, create an opportunity for everyone to speak. Ask all parties to identify who in the room has important information, perspectives, or ideas to share. List them and the areas they should speak about on a flip chart and use that as your agenda, opening the floor to different speakers, asking open-ended questions and taking notes.

Connecting and bonding with others trumps conflict. I've found that even the best fighters — the proverbial smartest guys in the room — can break their addiction to being right by getting hooked on oxytocin-inducing behavior instead.

Staying Great

As CEO, you know that you cannot build a world-class company unless you maintain a world-class team. But how do you know if an executive is world-class? Beyond that, if she was world-class when you hired her, will she stay world-class? If she doesn’t, will she become world-class again?

These are complex questions and are made more complex by the courting process. Every CEO sets out to hire the very best person in the world and then recruits aggressively to get him. If he says yes, she inevitably thinks she’s hit the jackpot. If I had a tattoo for every time I heard a CEO claim that she’d just hired “the best VP in the industry,” I’d be Lil’ Wayne.

So we begin with a strong bias that whomever we hired must be world-class even before performing one day of work. To make matters worse, executives who start off world-class often deteriorate over time. If you watch sports, you know that world-class athletes don’t stay world-class for long. One day, you are Terrell Owens and the next day you are Terrell Owens. While executives don’t age nearly as fast as athletes do, companies, markets and technology change 1,000 times faster than football. As a result, the executive who is spectacular in this year’s 100-person startup may be washed up in next year’s version when the company has 400 people and $100 million in revenue.

The Standard

The first thing to understand is that just because somebody interviewed well and referenced checked great does not mean she will perform superbly in your company. There are two kinds of cultures in this world: cultures where what you do matters and cultures where all that matters is who you are. You can be the former or you can suck.

You must hold your people to a high standard, but what is that standard? I discussed setting this standard in “Old People”. In addition, keep the following in mind:

  • You did not know everything when you hired her. While it feels awkward, it is perfectly reasonable to change and raise your standards as you learn more about what’s needed and what’s competitive in your industry.
  • You must get leverage. Early on, it’s natural to spend a great deal of time integrating and orienting an executive. However, if find yourself as busy as you were with that function before you hired or promoted the executive, then she is below standard.
  • As CEO, you can do very little employee development. One of the most depressing lessons of my career when I became CEO was that I could not develop the people who reported to me. The demands of the job made it such that the people who reported to me had to be 99% ready to perform.  Unlike when I ran a function or was a general manager, there was no time to develop raw talent. That can and must be done elsewhere in the company, but not at the executive level. If someone needs lots of training, she is below standard.

It is possible to take the standard setting too far. As I discussed in “The Scale Anticipation Fallacy”, it’s not necessary nor is it a good idea to evaluate an executive based on what her job will be two years from now. You can cross that bridge when you come to it. Evaluate her on how she performs right here and right now.

On Expectations and Loyalty

If you have a great and loyal executive, how do you communicate all this? How do you tell her that despite the massive effort and great job she is doing today, you might fire her next year if she doesn’t keep up with the changes in the business?

When I used to review executives, I would tell them: “You are doing a great job at your current job, but the plan says that we will have twice as many employees next year as we have right now. Therefore, you will have a new and very different job and I will have to re-evaluate you on that job. If it makes you feel better, that rule goes for everyone on the team including me.”

In giving this kind of direction, it’s important to point out to the executive that when the company doubles in size, she has a new job. This means that doing things that made her successful in her old job will not necessarily translate to success in the new job. In fact, the No. 1 way that executives fail is by continuing to do their old job rather than moving on to their new job.

Finally, what about being loyal to the team that got you here? If your current executive team helped you 10X your company, how can you dismiss them when they fall behind in running the behemoth they created? The answer is that your loyalty must go to your employees—the people who report to your executives. Your engineers, marketing people, sales people, finance and HR people who are doing the work. You owe them a world-class management team. That’s the priority.

One Small Step

I recently sat down with a friend who was down on his luck.  His situation, which had been worsening for years, felt hopeless.   Like so many Americans, he was in a state of despair and just couldn’t get unstuck.

When I asked him what he was doing to improve things, he rattled off a long list of obstacles.  He had obviously spent many thoughtful hours contemplating all the things that were holding him back.  All the reasons he couldn’t change direction.

To be sure, he was facing many real roadblocks.  Many of the same issues that are plaguing our country.  But he really didn’t answer my question.  He was solely focused on the problem and refused to let his mind explore possible solutions.

I decided to press him.  “Okay.  I get that you have many, many tough obstacles.  How about this…  Tell me ONE thing you could do to improve things?  Just one.  Doesn’t have to be game-changing.  Just one small positive action.”

When the pressure of solving the world’s problems with a magical potion was off, the conversation took a sharp turn for the better.  “Well, I could go to the library and start learning more about my industry to become better at my job.”

“Great!  Go on,” I beamed.

“I could start going for walks three times a week to drop some extra weight.  I could also cut out fried foods.  Oh, and I could spend more evenings engaging with the kids instead of hitting the couch.”

The guy who had been as tightly closed as a Wal-Mart on Christmas day transformed before my eyes.  His energy skyrocketed.  His list of small ideas compounded into a solid plan of attack to turn his life around.

While it’s overwhelming to try to solve all your problems at once, the act of putting just one small change in place can create the momentum you need.  Find one thing you can do to improve your condition and do consistently it for a week.  It will jumpstart your situation like a triple shot of espresso.

Here’s a powerful way to look at it: You are getting paid to train.  Athletes spend 90% of their time in training, and because their performance improves they command huge salaries on the field.  Your career is no different, except there’s a slight delay.  When you study your craft, go to the gym, eat healthier food, read a book or take a class, that is a high-paying effort that will be paid out in future earnings since you’ll be better equipped to drive your career forward.

The same is true in our community.  We need to identify positive action and get moving instead of wallowing in hopelessness.  We need to attack our challenges with vigor, and realize that with each small step forward, we’re earning a high rate of return by ensuring a brighter future.  This week, look around and find a single change you can make.

One small step.  The payback will be priceless.

Happy Anniversary Phil Frost

Today is Phil Frost's SEVENTH year anniversary with Growthink.

Congratulations Phil!
Phil started with us all the way back on March 1, 2006 - my daughter Izzy was only 3 back then which makes it seem even longer ago (she's nearly 11 now).

Phil has been instrumental in the growth of both Growthink and Growthink Publishing.

Thanks Phil for all your efforts!

The One Conversation That Could Solve Your Worst Business Nightmare

t all started with an email.

Around 7 p.m. on a Thursday evening, the CEO of one of my companies sent me an email asking me to take a look at some correspondence he had received from one of our largest technology providers.

As I begin to read the email chain, I could feel my annoyance turn into rage.

After months of painstaking work selecting this provider and spending considerable money on custom services, we were being kicked to the curb. It was worse than that though.

A large part of our agreement with this provider guaranteed exclusivity. Because we were sharing secrets with them and they were sharing their secrets with us, we worked out a comprehensive exclusivity agreement insuring that none of our competitors would ever have a chance to use the software that we were building together.

And now, the emails that I was reading made it clear that our exclusivity agreement was being voided.

To be frank, there really was not much to read. The CEO of their company sent the CEO of my company just 3 sentences. That was the extent of the correspondence — “You had an agreement. We are voiding the agreement. That is that.”

To make matters worse, the CEO openly inferred that they could make more money by screwing us out of our original agreement which prohibited them from sharing this technology with all of our competitors.

So I was in a rage.

Bear in mind, I run a world-leading consulting firm on marketing conversations that change conversations — of entire industries. We understand the nouns and verbs that get people to do what you wanted to do. Part neuroscience the other part psychotherapist, we embrace the art of being completely unreasonable.

We’ve negotiated tricky contracts with African diplomats, helps Indian companies out-fox their American counterparts, and trained European engineers how to deliver messages that get noticed.

But these three sentences were a whole new kind of unreasonable.

I told my CEO to stand down. I would send a reply later that evening.

Which, as you know, can be a tricky scenario. There are a lot of things you want to say; but you know deep down you should probably only say certain things in order to get the results if you want.

So I wrote an email with two or three paragraphs outlining why I was disappointed with this course of action. My intention was to figure out the motivation behind this unreasonable decision.

Early the next morning I received a response from the CEO. He replied to my two or three paragraphs with two or three paragraphs of his own. First, he let me know that he could make “3 times as much revenue” by not honoring our original contract. Second, he informed me that he had no desire to communicate with me further. In fact, he let me know that his email would be the last correspondence to me and that if I did not like what he was doing that I could fire him immediately and they would take all of our technology and services and leave “within 30 days”.

So I did what I do when I can’t resolve a situation with a normal side of conversations, I picked up the phone and called my legal team to begin the process of filing a lawsuit.

By the way, that’s a rare thing for me to do. In all my days of being a CEO I don’t remember a single time that I actually had to file a lawsuit against someone else. I bluffed many times. I had the paperwork in hand ready to go several times. But I never actually had to follow through. Usually, the right conversation would resolve even the most acrimonious of situations.

I already had plans to be meeting with my legal team for some other matters, so scheduling time to talk about this lawsuit was just a minor inconvenience for all of us. The wheels were in motion and I went about doing other things.

Like many of you, most of my day is spent on the phone or in meetings. My Friday was no difference. In the early afternoon, I received a series of calls from an area code that I did not recognize. Looking at my calendar I noticed that I did not have any calls scheduled for that time. So I ignored the ringing phone.

After several of these calls going unanswered throughout the afternoon I answered a call around 4 pm.

“Hello, my name is ‘Ted’ I know who you are, Daniel.  Before you do anything rash I wanted to talk to you.” — those were the first word I heard. Very quickly I understood that I was being called about the lawsuit I was preparing to file.

Over the next 60 minutes “Ted” and I spoke about the situation. He apologized for his company and for the poor communication that started this entire mess. We talked about the direction our company was trying to go and the direction his company was trying to go. We talked about our contracts and our ongoing relationship.

By the time we were done talking, I felt like we were getting a fair deal.  I never mentioned to “Ted” about my legal team working on a multi-million dollar lawsuit. I never had to. Because he did the right thing — emotionally and intelligently.

He picked up the phone and we had a hard conversation together. That took guts all by itself. The fact that he researched and knew who I was earned him even more respect.

(Too bad the CEO didn’t have enough guts to make that call himself. At least he had enough sense to hire a senior vice president with the smarts to know the simple secret that the right conversation can solve just about any problem.)

The next time you’re in a situation where you feel like there’s no answer to your problems, ask yourself what conversation you are avoiding.

Who do you need to call today?  Is it an employee who feels taken advantage of?  Is it a vendor or partner who could bring you more business but doesn’t feel valued?  Is it a competitor whom you need to ignore?

We call these “EDGY Conversations”.  That’s our words for them.  Whatever you call them, they share one big thing in common.  These conversations enable you to move past the confusion and noise and chaos at the middle of a problem to the edge where you can find breakthrough.

What is the edgy conversation you need to have?[EDGY]&utm_medium=email

Lessons in Persuasion From the Most Celebrated American Presidents

Good article from Entrepreneur earlier this week:


On President's Day, entrepreneurs might do well to reflect on what they can learn from our nation's greatest communicators.

"The chief business of the modern presidency is persuasion – convincing people to do things they ought to do but don't necessarily want to do – which is not so different than an entrepreneur selling a product," says presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, former head of six presidential libraries and author of Thomas E. Dewey and His Times (Simon & Schuster, 1982), a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize.

Here are six lessons you can learn from some of the most celebrated American presidents, each illustrating a different facet of persuasive communications

Lessons in Persuasion From the Most Celebrated American Presidents
President John F. Kennedy; Credit:Juan Cole

1. Aim big, but be specific.
John F. Kennedy successfully transformed his goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s from a "pie in the sky" idea to an attainable reality, according to Douglas Brinkley, author and professor of history at Rice University. "Kennedy had a good sales pitch – we can beat the Soviet Union; we can win – and it captured peoples' imaginations," Brinkley says. But it was the detailed, time-specific nature of his plan that gave politicians and the American people something to get behind.

Lesson for entrepreneurs: Companies should ask themselves, "What's our moon shot?" and then back it up with a specific strategy and time frame, Brinkley says. "Think about what's big and bold and what your company can do, and get the word out. And a timeline is hugely important so it's more than empty promises."

Related: How to Be a More Charismatic Leader

Lessons in Persuasion From the Most Celebrated American Presidents
President Franklin D. Roosevelt; Credit: NPR

2. Get out among the people.
Franklin D. Roosevelt suffered from polio and spent summers receiving treatment at the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, where he connected with some of the poorest Americans – the tenant farmers of the Great Depression. "FDR is a great example of a president who got out and listened to people," Brinkley says. "This is what shaped a lot of his New Deal ideas."

Lesson for entrepreneurs: In this age of conference call and Skype meetings, it's easy for small-business owners and salespeople to lose the personal contact that's so important in building relationships. "For small-business owners, it's often about showing up and working your business into the fabric of the community," Brinkley says.

Lessons in Persuasion From the Most Celebrated American Presidents
President Abraham Lincoln; Credit: Biography

3. Tell your story well.
"The best storytellers are the most rehearsed," says presidential historian Doug Wead, who served as special assistant to President George H.W. Bush and is the author of All the Presidents' Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of the First Families (Atria Books, 2003). The story of Abraham Lincoln pacing in his train car rehearsing the Gettysburg Address is legendary. In his speeches and conversations, he also was able to quote long passages from the Bible, Aesop's fables and other books he owned as a child. 

Lesson for entrepreneurs: Lincoln's penchant for memorization served him well, whether he was addressing heads of state, cabinet members or the American people. "Knowing your sales pitch to the point where you can talk about it in your sleep and anticipate every question is a key to success in business as well," Wead says.

Related: 4 Leadership Lessons From Abraham Lincoln

Lessons in Persuasion From the Most Celebrated American Presidents
Credit: Jason P. Hill

4. A memorable line goes a long way.
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." There's nothing as effective as a straightforward but memorable message like those iconic lines from Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, respectively. With such powerful rhetoric, both presidents stirred two generations to action. 

Lesson for entrepreneurs: "If I listen to a speech and can't repeat a line a president said, it didn't hit home," says Barbara Perry, senior fellow and presidential scholar at the University of Virginia's Miller Center. "The same can be said for a company's marketing campaign or sales presentation." She points to Wendy's "Where's the beef?" and Alka-Seltzer's "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" as examples of successful slogans that many people still remember.

Lessons in Persuasion From the Most Celebrated American Presidents
President Lyndon B. Johnson; Credit: LBJ Presidential Library

5. Put a human face on things.
When Lyndon B. Johnson tried to sell his Great Society reforms to the American people, he used his own experience growing up in poverty to humanize the program. "Stories grounded in his Texas experience brought the statistics to life, and programs like Head Start took on a whole new dimension," Smith says.

Lesson for entrepreneurs: Whether you're a president trying to sell a program or an entrepreneur trying to sell a product, talking about your own experiences can add life and depth to the presentation, Smith says. "You'll do a whole lot better if it connects with people emotionally first, and intellectually second."

Related: Best Inspirational Words From Business Leaders in 2012

Lessons in Persuasion From the Most Celebrated American Presidents
President Ronald Reagan; Credit: Fix Quotes

6. There's no substitute for personality.
Whether it was Kennedy softening reporters with his easy humor or Ronald Reagan using his persuasive powers to push policies through Congress, their charisma were key to their success. "It doesn't matter what the message is – FDR's message of more government help was diametrically opposed to Reagan's philosophy of getting government off people's backs – as long as it's delivered with wit, charm and a sense of integrity," Perry says.

Lesson for entrepreneurs: No matter what you're pitching, your personal appeal can be as important as quality and price in closing the sale. "In addition to selling their policies, these presidents were able to sell themselves," Perry says. "The same goes for entrepreneurs."