Saying ‘no’ and saying ‘yes’

During our first team meeting of the year, my colleagues and I were asked to present our respective New Year’s resolutions.

Besides the fact that I never make short-lived promises, for me this requests fits in the same category of odd social questions like “what’s your favorite color?” or “what animal would you choose to be? Trying to be a good team player, the answer I made up was something like:

“To spend more time on the things that can make a positive difference.”

My response could be interpreted in both a personal and a professional context. It was (partially) inspired by two old blogs by Seth Godin (whose musings are always to the point and spot on) about saying ‘no’ more often.

The first post, Saying ‘no’, discusses the choice of making the people with the loudest requests temporarily happy versus changing the world by saying ‘no’ more often.

The second one, On saying ‘no’, contains statements like:

  • If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it.
  • If you can’t do a good job, don’t take it on.
  • If it’s going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass.
  • If you don’t know why they want you to do this, ask.
  • If you need to hide it from your mom, reconsider.
  • If it benefits you but not the people you care about, decline.
  • If you’re going along with the crowd, that’s not enough.
  • If it creates a habit that costs you in the long run, don’t start.
  • If it doesn’t move you forward, hesitate then walk away.

Every decision you make is an opportunity to follow your heart and take control of your life. While sometimes saying ‘no’ is a must, remember that one single ‘yes’ can outweigh all the ‘no’ ones.

  • If you believe in what you’re doing, don’t hesitate.
  • If something really matters, take it on.
  • If it has purpose and meaning, embrace it.
  • If you’re really passionate about it, follow your dreams.
  • If it helps to make a positive change, always say ‘yes!’ (with an exclamation mark.)
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People are like trees

We moved into our current house in 1993. Our first Christmas tree was a small potted spruce with a root ball.

After the holidays we replanted it in our garden and a week ago, we celebrated our conifer’s 29th birthday (maybe I’d rather say plantday) in the open ground…

Always remember that people are like trees. By offering them a (second) chance, you give them an opportunity to grow and develop!

Writing the story of your life

Writing down the story of your life can be a powerful exercise in self-reflection and personal growth. By taking the time to explore your past, you can gain a deeper understanding of who you are, what is your purpose in life, and what has made you the person you are today.

It may help you identify your values, passions, and goals, and give you the direction and motivation to take full ownership of your future and live a (personal and professional) life that is authentic and meaningful to you.

The future is your story to write. By setting short-term and long-term goals, and taking small steps towards achieving them, you may improve your overall well-being and lay the foundation for the rest of your life.

Doesn’t this sound like a great resolution for 2023: Making the new year your best one ever…?

For the love of baking bread (a Valentine’s day musing)

“‘A loaf of bread,’ the Walrus said, ‘is what we chiefly need’” – Lewis Caroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter

When I started writing my previous post about vision, inspiration and thought leadership, I considered making an analogy between inspiring people and the role yeast is playing in making bread dough rise.

This could have been a good metaphor, but making bread goes way beyond adding a few grams of yeast and a pinch of salt to a mix of flour and water.

The basic recipe is as simple as that, though many variations are possible. From a plain loaf to pistolets (I’m Belgian, QED) to bagels to flatbread and focaccia…

Home made pistolets lovefully baking in my oven

The whole process is a bit labor intensive. That’s why, at home, we use our bread maker machine on weekdays. In the weekends, however, I love doing the real thing manually.

Kneading is surely the toughest task. But it’s also the most important and for me the most relaxing one. It’s so satisfying to shape the dough with your own hands and then see it rise under your proper eyes.

Of course, the real reward comes when the smell of fresh baken bread starts wafting from the oven. Followed by the joy of tasting your creation and sharing it with your family.

So, baking bread is not (only) about using yeast to make the dough rise. IMHO* it is also a lot about giving love and passion. And getting something delicious and genuine in return.

Isn’t that a wonderful thought on this Valentine’s day?

Bake often, eat your bread fresh from the oven, and add oysters, pepper and vinegar to your own taste (says the Walrus).

The Walrus and the Carpenter, illustration from “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There”, 1897 (source: internet archive book images)

(*) IMHO = In My Home Oven

About vision, inspiration and thought leadership

“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” –   George Washington

“Inspiration creates the highest levels of engagement” – Gifford Thomas

In my last blog before the winter holidays, I observed that 2021 hasn’t been a good year for thought leaders and concluded that, to be successful in 2022, thought leadership will need to start serving as an engine for change again.

All good, but what are the key attributes a thought leader needs? In my humble opinion, becoming a thought leader boils down to being visionary and inspirational:

  • Visionaries create a clear image of what is possible to achieve. They look beyond what is today and see the possibilities of what could be. Visionaries are creative, innovative, and often have strong personalities. They also need an audience to buy-in their vision – that’s where inspiration comes in.
  • Inspirational leaders leverage words and actions to uplift and encourage others. They are like yeast that permeates ordinary flour and water (and a grain of salt), making them rise into a good dough. They connect emotionally to people and inspire them to embrace and execute change. We look up to them because we believe they are authentic, sympathetic, and trustworthy.

By combining the best of these two worlds, thought leaders can leverage inspiration to ignite the passion in others to help them transform their vision into positive results.

But be aware that a thought leader without vision is nothing more than an influencer. Without inspiration, he or she won’t be able to captivate large audiences. And when lacking both attributes, well, we might be looking at a lost soul seeking alibi in a world that needs more purpose, meaning, and engagement.

Don’t follow books (a Christmas plea)

So, it’s holiday season again in my little corner of the world and I’ll enjoy the last days of 2021 with my family. Christmas is maybe also the time of the year to ponder about a maybe delicate topic: religion.

Comet Leonard C/2021 A1, aka the ‘Christmas Comet’ (CC BY-SA 2.0 by the University of Hertfordshire Observatory)

While I’m not a religious person and I’m not affiliated with any organized religion, life philosophy or sectarian ideology, I’m often impressed by how ancient stories (like the Chrismas tale) and religious books that were written centuries ago and cultures away still succeed in shaping the daily lives of billions of people. How they enable community building. How they give hope to the hopeless. How they inspire humanitarian volunteers and philanthropists. From the East to the West. From illiterate peasants to highly educated intellectuals. From voiceless followers to influencing leaders.

Unfortunately, the same stories and so called holy books have been misused through the ages and are still globally abused today. For political ends. For financial gain. To claim territory. To control masses. To oppress women. To recruit mentally unbalanced individuals for extremism and terrorism…

Here’s my Christmas plea: Always follow your heart. Give meaning to your life, with or without turning to religion. Be a good and kind person. Live up to making this planet a better place. Respect the diverse beliefs and non-beliefs of your fellow humans. But don’t take every word that has ever been written for granted — whether it has been engraved on a parchment scroll, printed in a book, published on a web site, or posted on social media. Scientific knowledge is universal, but stories are told and books are written by people, while opinions and beliefs are in the eye of the beholder. Also the views I expressed in this blog are my own.

Happy (holi)days from my little corner of the world!

Why 2021 wasn’t a good year for thought leadership

“Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They become the trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality and know and show how to replicate their success. Over time, they create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale their ideas into sustainable change not just in one company but in an industry, niche or across an entire ecosystem.” – definition by thoughtleadershiplab.com

In my previous post, “Are you ready for a post-pandemic narrative?“, I made a plea to stop whining about COVID-19 related challenges and start seizing new opportunities. Which is extremely relevant for corporate communicators, content marketers, and thought leaders.

In a September 2021 survey by Edelman and LinkedIn, 3600 global business decision makers and C-suite executives across a wide range of industries and company sizes were asked about the impact of thought leadership, how it influences their perception and buying behaviors, and what attributes B2B audiences want to see from companies.

Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a global cancellation of corporate events and conferences. With the absence of physical meetings and face-to-face networking opportunities, many companies and individuals have turned to delivering their messages using digital means, such as webinars, downloadable white papers, email blasts, and LinkedIn posts.

Photo by Kotivalo (CC BY-SA 4.0)

As a result, the pandemic has resulted in an excessive quantity of (often) lower quality content and, more recently, also a growing fatigue for virtual events. According to the report, almost 4 in 10 decision makers said there is more thought leadership content than they can manage or that the market is oversaturated with such material. This flood of digital content has also diluted its perceived value: 71% of decision makers concluded that less than half of the thought leadership material they consume gives them valuable insights.

On the positive side, more than half of the executives said that they spent more time-consuming thought leadership than before the coronavirus started its global spread – more than an hour per week. They still value quality content because it allows them to understand the trends affecting their industries and helps them generate new ideas for their businesses.

You may remember an article I wrote a few years ago about the sometimes thin line between a thought leader and an entertainer, in which I listed a few dos and don’ts for aspiring thought leaders. Some of these were confirmed by the respondents of the Edelman survey. When asked about the predominant shortcomings of low-quality thought leadership,

  • 46% answered being “overly focused on selling or describing products rather than conveying valuable information”,
  • 40% of them get bummed by “unoriginal thinking, or a lack of new ideas”, and
  • 31% don’t want content “authored by people who are not true experts on the subject matter”.

Building upon the definition I quoted higher on this page, thought leadership will need to start serving as an engine for change again. That’s why I believe that the 2022 secret code for pundits will include words like purpose, meaning, and engagement. And that true opinion makers will have to demonstrate insight, authority, and trust for being credible to business decision makers.

You may download the report here:

Are you ready for a post-pandemic narrative?

During the corona crisis, companies had to change their way of working, cope with on-site staff shortages, and deal with supply chain disruptions. Marketers were forced to reinvent their messaging and engagement strategies.

The past 18 months, we changed the way we told stories as well as the stories we told. Virtual events and webinars became the rule rather than an exception. The majority of business articles and remote presentations  started with an obligatory statement about COVID-19 and the obvious need to ensure business continuity. 

Excuse me for being too optimistic but, with more people getting vaccinated, our (new-) normal life is slowly taking up again.

And so, it’s time now to stop whining about pandemic related challenges, and start seizing post-pandemic opportunities: better balancing work and life, bridging the digital divide, reinventing education, building an inclusive society, becoming carbon neutral, … 

Photo by vperemen.com (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Let’s start creating this post-pandemic narrative today.  Let’s change our tone from comforting people to inspiring masses. Let’s promote hope. Let’s advocate change. And let’s metamorphose from COVID-era storytellers into post-corona thought leaders and storymakers!

Related posts on this blog:

After the gold rush

Would you rather read a SEO-optimized article or one with an intriguing title?

With the knowledge that I’m a (should-be digital) marketer, you’d probably expect me to defend the first option. But, if you’ve read last week’s blog, you also know that knowledge doesn’t always equal wisdom.  In my case, even seldom. As such, I’m frequently tempted to creating surprising, even nonsensical, blog headlines and presentation titles. Not the clickbait kind of stuff, but rather the ones that make my audience wonder what the rest of the content will be about.

Here are 10 more or less insane blog titles that I created during the past years. Can you imagine (or do you still remember) what these columns were talking about?

Even some of my favorite rock songs don’t have meaningful titles. Take, for example, Neil Young‘s “After the Gold Rush”. Nils Lofgren, who played piano and guitar on the same called album, once said in an interview: “Neil never told me what the song was about. I’d love to bend his ear about it.” While, when asked about the song’s meaning, Young admitted: “Hell, I don’t know. I just wrote it…”

Fragment from the original record cover by Joel Bernstein

Probably we’ve become just that tiny bit too rational when defining and communicating our message. We’re doing too much search engine thinking, ignoring Aristotle’s ars rhetorica, and abandoning the power of emotion.

If the godfather of grunge can be successful with a title that doesn’t teach you anything but with lyrics that sparkle emotion, why wouldn’t I do the same on my blog?

Expectations and promises

During today’s lunch walk, I passed two pedestrian crossings. The traffic lights had a push button that makes the cars stop and the pedestrian light turn to walk. As this was the button’s behavior I expected, the label that said “Want to cross? Push for green.” (“Oversteken? Druk voor groen.”) appeared no less than obsolete to me. There were no cars or police officers in sight, so I actually crossed the street ignoring the magic knob.

The second light pole was a lot more interesting. Someone had placed a sticker below the button that read: “PUSH TO RESET THE WORLD.” Now, that was a surprising, an intriguing, and even a thought-provoking instruction. While the first label was just confirming my expectations, the second one held the promise of spectacular —even though impossible— things to happen. Thinking of the disastrous floods, fires and heat waves our planet was confronted with over the past weeks, the sticker made me wish for such for a reset.

After a bit of desktop research, I found out that the sticker was designed by Space Utopian, a street art lover and sticker addict who applies the slogan “Changing the world, one sticker at a time.” Let’s go for it!