The Answer to How is Yes

Imb_ibm_do Because she was one of three business development executives in an advertising agency, my mother was on the road a lot.

And in the pre-smartphone with Google maps or GPS world, she often asked for directions when going to see a new customer in a less known part of the city or another town.

One time she approached a traffic cop with the question.

He patiently explained were she needed to turn and go. When he was done, he asked her to repeat the directions back to him to make sure she understood and remembered.

People avoid these kinds of exchanges because they don't want to be wrong. Tell me how I get there, he asked.

She stumbled through several corrections and had to start over a couple of times, but eventually she was able to repeat the steps. That was the only time she got to her appointment without having to approach someone else for directions.

She got there because she had to visualize for herself how to do it. That's what made the cop's "how" hit home.

I see it all the time in conference evaluation forms: "speaker didn't tell me how to do something". It is a case where you just couldn't play it back because you're not executing it. Then there is the equally troubling situations when the speaker provided plenty of "how-to" examples, yet you are never going to execute on them.

You know why?

Instead of Benchmarking, Start Bench Pressing

Do you ever wonder why the usual posts and articles with what seems like the same advice over and over get so much traffic and comments? I do.

The "how" question answers whether the authors are actually implementing the advice or just talking about it, for starters. That's not all. Are they asking and answering the bigger question? The question that would and does warrant a response before any "how".

Before we get motivated in any one direction, we need to diagnose our own challenge. Are you having exactly the same problem as the business used in the example? Surprisingly, the answer is not just because we need to get busy doing.

For your actions to be feasible, they need to be marshaled within a guiding policy — they need to be coherent.

It's great that one can sit down at a conference and hear someone from a large organization implement a big creative program, or a large scale integrated project with all sorts of good content and tools. How are you going to implement that within your resource constraints? Cut Facebook? Cut the events? Do Webinars instead? 

What makes their program successful is the marketing foundation — and budget — they have, their company culture, the number of staff working on it, and their services that lend themselves to the tools. Are you going to tell me their "how" applies to you?

Furthermore, even if it did, your results may vary depending on the relationship you have with your customers and the challenges your business faces in the first place.

Having said all that, maybe you have tried something similar. Maybe one to three months after you attended that conference session you raved about how you went about adapting the advice to your situation, given it was stemming from a similar challenge.

Stop Whining, Start Winning

It will be helpful when and if you do because you can then build on your experience at the next event. Which is a much better alternative to not learning as much as you thought you would. And a welcome report back to your organization when they're financing your attendance, which could be your own.

You cannot delegate your experience — you have it proportional to your desire to be involved, leaning forward, and active.

Social media is not the same destination for everyone. Often the question is not "how" exactly you get there — that is probably more appropriate for you to figure out. There are better questions.

For example, why do it? A strategy, as you know, is as much about what you do as it is about what you choose not to do. How are you going to design around your existing strengths? Who will be involved? Critical thinking needs to marry common sense. You're responsible for supporting a coherent set of actions in your organization.

Coherence of design and focus in executing, one could argue, is not in the scope of work of a conference talk or even a brief discussion in the hallway.

You may get to test a few theories in another format, like a workshop, where you'd actually do some of the work yourself. The real work in your daily routine might need to change and be re-focused. Social media encourages likely confusing reporting, sharing, and reading news/information with the actual actions it takes to do.

The Answer to How is Yes


Organization development consultant Peter Block used this title in a book he wrote a few years ago, which I enjoyed and often revisit for a different point of view on work, among other topics.

Why? Why is a different questions than how, and we continue to operate as if they were interchangeable, addressing issues with "how-to" pat answers. The challenge is to rethink basic cultural assumptions.

Block asks how the pervasive archetypes of engineer and economist — those of cause-and-effect and predictability — could truly share the stage with the creativity, imagination, mystery, and heart of the artist and architect.

In the book, he talks about change, which is what is holding us all back (rather fear of change). The tremendous value and opportunity of social media is still unexplored. When we apply the same mechanisms and terminology of traditional marketing to social media, we short ourselves of a good buy strategy.

How do I get more customers to buy more? How do I get more new customers? The answer to how is yes. You need to identify the biggest challenges your business faces in the way of closing the gap between the promises you make and those you deliver on, and design a coherent approach to close that gap.

Indeed, you can go direct with social. Yet your customers cannot tell you how directly, you need to get into listening-to-comprehend mode to discern that from interactions in the moment. Your choice is to look at fresh ways to trade better promises and close the gap.

Become flexible at comprehending, or you're just like the conference attendee who's constantly hoarding information they're never going to use.


[images: IBM ad campaign and Peter Block redesign of social space]

[updated from archives]


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