Monday Mornings with Madison

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Never Borrow Sorrow from Tomorrow

Last week, we discussed the many mental, physical and emotional benefits to anticipating positive life events. From big events such as vacations to minor pleasures such as a nap, the anticipation of something positive is even more beneficial to a person than the actual vacation or nap. As a business strategy, anticipation can give entrepreneurs and professionals ‘a leg up’ against competitors, psychologically stressing the competition. It is a strategy used often in sports. That is the up side of anticipation.
However, anticipating negative events, while equally impactful, is believed to be detrimental. We give this kind of anticipation a name… it’s called worry. Dating back thousands of years, philosophers have been pondering the concept of ‘anticipating problems’. Seneca, the Roman essayist, philosopher and playwright, was quoted as saying “He who suffers before it is necessary suffers more than is necessary.” Indeed, the general wisdom from philosophers and religious scholars is that worrying causes a person to experience a sense of dread needlessly while waiting for the bad thing to happen.
Yet there are some who have argued that there is a benefit to anticipating a negative event in that it can serve to decrease the negative emotions when the bad thing finally happens. We can dub that the ‘soften the blow’ effect. Anticipating problems and issues ahead of time can also help make them a little less frightening, and allows for planning to avoid or work around problems when they happen. Moreover, worriers argue that even if the bad event doesn’t happen, there is additional joy that results from anticipating that something bad was going to happen and then finding that it did not happen. So what is true? Is anticipating trouble a positive or negative? It depends. Let’s look at the science to find the answer. Continue reading

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The Benefits of Anticipation

Summer is here and many are in the throes of planning their summer vacation. Plan away. It’s actually good for you. How so? Researchers from the Netherlands set out to measure the effect that vacations have on overall happiness and how long it lasts. They studied happiness levels among 1,530 Dutch adults, 974 of whom took a vacation during the 32-week study period. The research controlled for differences among the vacationers and those who hadn’t taken a trip, including income level, stress and education. Published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life, the study showed that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a vacation. Vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks!

The only vacationers who experienced increased happiness after the trip were those who said they were “very relaxed” on their vacation. For them, post-vacation happiness lasted for only two weeks after the trip. Those who experienced stress or had a neutral vacation (meaning that it wasn’t stressful but it wasn’t all that relaxing either) did not have any happiness after their vacation. So the biggest boost in happiness was derived in anticipation of a vacation, not during or after the vacation.

Clearly, anticipation – the expectation or yearning for something in the future – can be a powerful agent for happiness. Does this speak to something fundamental in human nature? Is looking forward to something better than actually living it? And does anticipation of other major life events have the same effect on people as ‘vacation anticipation’? Do we derive as much joy anticipating other big life events such as getting married, buying a property, closing a deal, or completing a project? Is working toward a goal more fulfilling than actually achieving the goal? And could there be any benefits to anticipating the small pleasures of life? If so, can businesses capitalize on the benefits of anticipation in its approach to sales and marketing? Continue reading

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What A Company’s Website Says About That Company

Ever visited a company’s website and thought ‘ugh?’ A website says a lot about a company, and it is often the first point of contact between the company and the customer. Business people know that image matters. Some would even go so far as to say that image is everything and that the public’s perception of that image is reality. The image that a company portrays becomes its reality. If a company’s image speaks of success, then that success becomes real. In fact, so many business people think this is true, that they take it a step further and advocate a “fake it ‘til you make it” image philosophy.

Even hardliners who insist that a company’s business model, products/services, management and operations are what primarily drive success will usually concede that a company’s image plays a pivotal role in a company’s ability to grow and thrive in today’s marketplace. And, today, a company’s website is a major part of its public image. A company’s website can either undermine or oversell a company’s success by telling the wrong story. And that can be damaging. What does your company’s website say about your company? Is your website telling the right story? Continue reading

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What Do Search Engines Value In Websites?

What do search engines value in websites or web pages in order to rank them higher? This is the million-dollar question. No doubt that anyone who could definitively and conclusively give a complete and correct answer to this question could become an instant millionaire. But it basically is a trick question because anyone who can answer it, would only be able to answer with regard to how one particular search engine’s algorithms work, not all, and even that is an ever-moving target. The answer valid today would be obsolete tomorrow… or soon thereafter. It is a question over which SEO professionals obsess and marketers distress. And the question to which few will confess that what is believed is as much supposition and speculation as insight and intelligence.

The truth is that except for the computer engineers who work at the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc., most people don’t entirely know all the variables or and weighting given to the myriad of signals used to determine a website’s rank by any search engine. It’s like the secret recipe for a great stew. There is a clear sense of what the main ingredients are, but not necessarily all of minor ingredients or the exact measurements for each or how they come together. So what are the most important ingredients and why keep them such a secret?

Anyone who is not deeply entrenched in the world of search may wonder why search engines are so secretive about how they do what they do. Why not just tell everyone how pages are ranked? The reason is simple. Search Engines keep their ‘algorythyms’ under wraps to prevent (or at least limit) people cheating, manipulating or skewing search results for their own benefit. Nevertheless, most SEO gurus agree that there are certain basics every website should have in order to rank well. Does your company’s website have them all? Continue reading

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Why SEO Should Matter To Every Business

Are you one of the many who don’t know what SEO stands for… and truth-be-told you don’t really care? Do you think that SEO is the marketing department’s concern? If you are the owner, Chairman, President, VP, CEO, COO, CFO, Controller, or the Director or Manager of a department in any company anywhere today, you should care about SEO. And if you are a salesperson, you should definitely care about SEO.

Let’s start with the basics. S-E-O stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the process of improving the visibility of a website or web page in “natural” or un-paid (also called “organic” or “algorithmic”) search results. In a nutshell, SEO is the strategy of optimizing a myriad of components that search engines (such as Google, Yahoo or Bing) look at to determine a website’s (or page’s) ranking for a particular search term in order to improve the ranking. If you’re one of the many who think only the Marketing Department should be concerned with SEO, think again. SEO is something that should matter to every business leader, manager and salesperson. Continue reading

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Protecting Accounts and Private Information

In the news lately, there have been reports about the hacking of contact information, user names, passwords and account numbers for a myriad of companies. From LinkedIn to Sony to VeriSign, companies are falling prey to cyber thieves who slyly steal millions of pieces of data from vulnerable companies. Unlike bank heists or muggings, these thefts occur gracefully in cyberspace, without guns or masks. Yet, the consequences can be just as damaging and costly to the companies and their customers as an old-fashioned burglary. And there may be even greater consequences to society at large. Security experts believe hackers are frequently targeting valuable digital information.

The first step is to understand that no company is either too ‘big’ or too ‘smart’ to be attacked by hackers. Cyber-security is becoming increasingly important to every company – and perhaps even to national security. The second step for companies and individuals to protect from such predators is to be vigilant and implement ever more sophisticated security systems. Let’s start by reviewing the most recent cyber attacks to determine what can be learned. Continue reading

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To the Point: The Power of Being Concise

In a world where knowledge is power and information rules, there is a growing push to share ever more messages with others. Sales and marketing teams are focused on more ways to ‘get the word out’. Newsletters. Eblasts. Websites. Magazines. Advertisements. Journals. Handbooks. Pocket Guides. Articles. Press Releases. Tips. Search engines compound the problem by rewarding the generation of ever more content. But it doesn’t stop with sales and marketing efforts. Leaders are also intent on communicating their mission and focus to their staff, customers and investors. Fireside chats. Letters from the President. State of the Company Addresses. Strategy Sessions. Annual Reports. There is just so much to say. Talk… talk… talk. Words abound.

With so much focus on generating real and valuable information, showcasing expertise and sharing vision, businesses have adopted a ‘more is more’ approach to communication. More touch points. More words. Why use two words when you can write twenty? Why express in two minutes what can be said in said in a video in ten? Why send one communication when you can send five? Why publish a short blog post when the same information can be explained in a more detailed article? Indeed, what is noticeably absent in all that chatter is brevity. Lost is the art of being succinct. Yet, there is power in being concise. When it comes to business communication, sometimes less is more. So when is it best to be brief and why? And is it possible to be economical with words without being terse? Continue reading

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Excellence versus ‘Good Enough’

In the world of software development, there is a concept called the Principle of Good Enough. It favors quick-and-simple software designs over elaborate systems designed by committees. Once a quick-and-simple design is deployed, it then evolves as needed, driven by user requirements. Some good examples of this kind of design include the development of the Ethernet and the World Wide Web. That is why most software have newer iterations such as Internet Explorer 8 and Microsoft Office Word 2007.

But this philosophy of ‘good enough’ is not new… it goes back hundreds of years. Voltaire once said that “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” This idea of creating something from the start that is not ‘the best’ but simply ‘good enough’ has increasingly bled into other areas of development and manufacturing. In fact, ‘good enough’ has been adopted as a business model where the focus was to create a new product based on an existing product but with far fewer features… literally something that is ‘less good’ but just ‘good enough.’ And, this approach to business has been successful in some cases. There is, however, one problem with the Principle of Good Enough. This approach is not always effective. Sometimes ‘good enough’ is simply not good enough. When it comes to companies and their work product, how do managers know when to strive for excellence and when it’s okay to deliver goods or services that are just ‘good enough’? Continue reading

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Falling On Deaf Ears

Ever had a conversation with a coworker or friend that you knew was hearing you but wasn’t really listening? Ever sat down to talk with your boss and knew you’d made the same point before – perhaps many times before – but you just weren’t getting through? The words came out of your mouth but weren’t absorbed by the other person. There weren’t any sound barriers or language impediments. There was no hearing loss. The person could certainly hear you, but they just weren’t listening.

Why is it that, even though the ears can hear, the mind does not take in the message? That’s because comprehension is tied to listening. Poor listening is a growing epidemic. There are many factors contributing to the increase in poor or non-existent listening. Yet, being an excellent listener is one of the most important qualities of a good leader, particularly in business. Great leaders spend more time listening than they do writing, speaking or reading. In order to understand problems and identify solutions, management must listen to staff and customers in order to identify the best remedies. So, given the importance of good listening, is there anything that can be done to improve one’s own ability to listen? The answer is yes. Continue reading

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Breaking the Desk-Ache Blues

How many hours do you sit behind a desk each day? One of the few things that most employees — from entry level staff to C-suite execs — have in common is that they spend a lot of their work day behind a desk… sitting in a chair, probably in front of a computer, either typing, calculating numbers, researching, reading, filing, talking or pushing paper. Compared to the back-breaking conditions of manual labor jobs such as plowing fields or digging ditches, earning a living by sitting in an air-conditioned room in a comfy chair at a sleek desk is certainly a major improvement. Or is it? Although no one would argue that tough manual labor in the hot sun or frozen tundra is physically daunting and exhausting – especially in the middle of a scorching summer or brutal winter – there are also some drawbacks to working behind a desk all day, day after day.

Just ask anyone who sits behind a computer, calculator or switchboard all day. Sitting at a desk all day can cause aches and pains of a different, but nonetheless hurtful, nature. People who sit at a desk all day can experience back aches, neck pain, carpel tunnel syndrome, headaches, eye strain, stiff shoulders and reduced flexibility. Using one’s brain while keeping the body motionless for prolonged periods of time can also contribute to weight gain, higher cholesterol and other issues related to lack of exercise. While most people can ill afford to give up their desk jobs to work as an aerobics instructor, personal trainer, or bicycle messenger, there are some things that can be done to reduce the impact of sitting still all day and eliminate the desk-ache blues. Continue reading

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