I’m so glad you joined us because we have Lew Jaffe and Mark Modesti here. Lew is a CEO Speaker and he’s the godfather of video conferencing. Mark is a corporate leadership trainer and he has an interesting TEDx Talk. We’re going to talk to both Lew and Mark.
Listen to the podcast here:
Bringing Back Video Conferencing with Lew Jaffe
I am here with Lew Jaffe who is an entrepreneur, a former high-tech CEO. He’s a college professor and a philanthropist. He is also known as the godfather of video conferencing, which he’ll explain later. It’s so nice to have you, Lew.
It’s delightful being in the neighborhood and I’m glad to be part of yours.
I’ve been looking forward to this as well. You’re a futurist, you’re a professor at Loyola. You do a lot of things and you’ve created over $1 billion in shareholder value. I’m looking at the list. I don’t even know how to introduce you. Let’s start with a little background so people couldn’t figure out exactly what you do.
What I do at this point in my career is I help others. I live a life of service, but for the most part, technology is my first love. I come out of video conferencing. Years ago, I was at a conference and somebody who was talking with a bunch of us, because we all, at some point in time, touched a company named PictureTel. One of the guys runs Polycom and one of the guys run Cisco, as far as the video conferencing. Somebody said, “Lew is one of the fathers of video conferencing.” One of the guys that have worked for me, who now runs one of these companies said, “No, he’s not the father. He’s the grandfather.”
I looked at one of the other guys who’s considered the father of video conferencing. I said, “Dude, you’re older than me. I must be the godfather. You’re the grandfather.” At trade shows, they slide a little newspaper under the door when you’re there for the week. The newspaper is about the trade show, the conference events and the upcoming stuff. On the headline was, “Lew Jaffe, the godfather video conferencing,” and a little story about me. I said it as an off-handed joke. I’m not ready to be a grandfather. Although I became one a few weeks ago, so that’s cool now. I said that that’s a joke and it stuck. In this scheme of titles, who wouldn’t want to be known as the Godfather? There is a power to it.How perceive you is your brand. Click To Tweet
I say embrace it. It’s interesting to even talk about video conferencing. I had Tripp Crosby on one of my first shows.
I love that video. I have shown that video. At this point, I am a student of the business because I love studying companies. I’m an executive coach. I work with lots of companies. My favorite professor of finance, James Porterfield, at Stanford Graduate School of Business walked into the class the first day and he gets into somebody’s face, “What business are you in?” Somebody said telecommunication. Somebody said finance. Somebody said document storage, whatever, because you kids don’t get it. You’re in the same business, gain and retain customers profitably in order to create shareholder value. To me, all businesses are the same. That stuff is so cool. I like studying business. I like helping people with their businesses because there are many things that are so similar. Even though I am a tech guy and that’s where my heart will always be, it’s all fascinating to me because it’s all about building relationships.
There are many companies that understand the value of relationships more than when I entered the workplace a million years ago. It’s hard to do through video sometimes. I was thinking of when you were talking about the video conferencing thing. I worked for a pharmaceutical company in the past where they had a year where they were interviewing people through video interviews. They didn’t have the person who they’d be actually interviewing with. They had the videographer in the room and said, “Here are the questions. Just look at the camera and answer them.” There were no interaction and people just freaked out. They couldn’t do it. It didn’t give a good picture of how good the people were going to be. There are some good uses to it sometimes.
Here’s the thing, it’s interesting especially now with the next generations that are coming into the workforce with the Millennials. You have the Ys and soon to be the Zs. With video conferencing, back in the day, we sold it. I’ll take some responsibility for this. The original concept was you can save travel expense. It replaces travel. That was the biggest mistake that our industry ever made because it doesn’t replace travel. The beauty of video conferencing is it’s a two-way dynamic. If there’s a videographer, that’s not an interaction. That doesn’t work, but what it does is it builds relationships between face-to-face meetings. It’s interesting you look at this generation, everybody’s on FaceTime.
They’re looking at the whole world and changing the nature of relationships because they have a relationship with a five-inch device more than they have a relationship with somebody else. At least with video, it forces people to talk to each other. We’re now seeing so much communication via text. It drives me nuts. The first day of class with my MBA students, I say to them, “Folks, to the best of my knowledge, there has never ever been a transaction closed on text. You’ve got to use the phone. You got to talk to people. You got to show up.” The Tripp Crosby thing is a great example. Any of you that have never seen the video, just look up Tripp Crosby conference. It’s an awesome little video. With video conference, you gain the benefit of when you’re in the room, what we call visual accountability.
If you’re on a video conference, you know if somebody’s spending more time petting their dog, than looking at the spreadsheet that you’re sharing. It gives you a higher level of relationship. If you think of relationships in a pyramid shape, we call somebody a friend if we’ve linked to them on Facebook. That’s not a friend, but as you move up, you start talking to somebody on the phone, you and I were building a friendship. The next time in Arizona, maybe we’ll meet for lunch or for coffee and it’ll take it to the next level. We are visual, audio and tactile learners. We need to have a blend of all these different ways to relate to people. We did something cool. We didn’t get far enough with it but now guys like Eric Yuan at Zoom has made it so much easier. Then again, remember back in the day, it was a machine the size of a refrigerator. It wasn’t living on your laptop or on your iPhone. It was a little more complicated way back then and way more expensive.
Zoom is one of my favorites and I’ve had them on my show, people from Zoom. I use Zoom a lot with my show when people are in other countries because you can see them and it works so much better, but the sound still isn’t quite there. It’s much better through the phone. That’s why I still do a lot of it through the phone on my show. Do you think that they need to improve the sound quality?
The sound quality from the tech at the computer or at the phone point is phenomenal. We also have to understand there are some limitations in the network. If somebody dropped a video call, they would pause up and say, “Your equipment stinks,” and we knew it was a network problem. Then you think about the cell phone, when your call drops, you never blame Motorola or iPhone or Apple. You say, “I can’t stand AT&T or I can’t stand Verizon” or whatever the case is because you know it’s the network. Some of that’s the network but you have a wireless side. You have 5G coming up. The networks are getting better and better. The sound will get better and better, but it’s a network issue. We can bring that right back to it. The reason we’re together is that a mutual friend of ours connected us because it’s about networking and that’s what builds a business. It always comes back to people and relationships.
I’ve met so many amazing people through LinkedIn and different sites. You don’t realize how well you can connect. One of the best things about having this show is all the people I get to meet. Like you, I was an MBA program chair at Forbes and I did a lot of different training online. I’ve been online teaching. I taught more than 1,000 courses online. I’ve used to interacting online, but I never got as in depth connecting as they did when I started this show years ago. LinkedIn was the most useful thing to me. When you’re teaching your MBA students, are they very sophisticated in terms of their networking abilities? What are you seeing?
It’s across the board and I teach both MBAs. I teach undergraduates, but I’m what they call a clinical professor. I’m not a research professor. I am not an academic by any sense of the word, but because I have run many companies, whether it’s been PictureTel, whether it be an Oxford Media, which was the movies in hotels. I was the lead independent director at Benihana Corporation. I’ve touched so many different businesses. I have this depth of experience and contacts. My role at the university is to talk about what happens when you leave because academia is a safe space. Sometimes I hate the word because I don’t believe in safe spaces because we are what we are. We need to be resilient when it’s not safe. If you only grow up in a bacteria-free environment and then you’re exposed to bacteria, you’re going to die. I can talk about the practical lessons, the things that happen in the workplace and about resilience.Make things worse in order to make them better. Click To Tweet
If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you don’t try to fail but embrace failure because it’s only a failure if you don’t do something with it. We talk about the concept of working the problem. The worst thing that ever happened was the invention of the color laser printer because every plan looks spectacular off the color laser printer. Then you put it in the real world and all hell breaks loose. We talk about, “What’s going on here?” I use the expression work the problem. We talk about the difference between interesting and important. Often as business leaders, we get the two concepts confused. Now, I look at medicine, they get it right when you talk about triage. They rush you into the hospital and you have a gnarly cut on your thumb and you have a heart attack. The heart attack is important. The gnarly cut is interesting. We don’t necessarily always focus on this and it all goes back to gains. All businesses are the same. Gain and retain customers profitably.
If you stay true to that mission, that’s the most important thing you can do. It’s interesting because we talk about gain customers. Every time you hear a business pitch when you watch Shark Tank, the first question they say is, “What’s customer acquisition costs?” That’s important. I’m not saying it’s not important, but they never talk about what’s your customer retention strategy? If you make a customer happy, they tell two or three people. If you make a customer miserable, they tell everybody. Those are the things we focus on. We focus on tools like the balanced score card, which is a great way to run an idea through your business and think about all the potential unintended consequences. Businesses often die because of unintended consequences. It’s not we fixed these five bugs, but they cause 27 more. It’s ways to think things through when it goes back to an engineering background of working the problem. I keep coming back to certain things because they’re the ones that make the difference between failure and success consistently.
I was thinking about what you said about spreading bad news. I put this in some of my classes. I’m sure you’ve probably seen the chalkboard outside the restaurant where it says, “Come in and try the worst meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life.” I love the embracing of, “This is what is so bad.” Sometimes there is some stuff you have to face as a company. I get out there and I love that people are facing their problems and trying to deal with it. I wrote about failure. You mentioned failure. That’s one of the four factors I found, even though I did some academic work on that to do the research behind the Curiosity Code Index I created. The four factors that hold people back from being curious are fear, assumptions, technology and environment according to what I’ve researched. Fear, you’re talking about this in your MBA classes at Loyola and in any of the work you’re doing. The fear in organizations was if you failed, that was it. Now, they’re embracing fear to some extent because if you’ve failed, you’ve learned something. Do you talk about that in your courses?
I take it to the next level. It’s not if you fail, you learn something. It’s if you fail, you have the opportunity to learn something. It’s what do you do with it? I always kid when I talk to people. They don’t want to use the word fail. You hear the expression all the time that it was a learning opportunity. Every time I hear somebody says it’s a learning opportunity, my mind goes to, “I wonder how much money you lost on that.” The fear thing, I address it head-on because I believe transparency someway clears everything. Transparency is important. I agree with your list of fear, but the biggest one especially when you’re in the group dynamic is change. It’s the fear of change. I go right in and I tell people, “The only constant is change.”
That goes back to your safe spaces comment.
If you cannot embrace change, all you’re doing is wasting resources to holding onto something. Here’s the best example ever. It is mind-boggling to me. This is not to discount Amazon, but there was a company in the mid-1800s, Sears They sent out catalogs with pictures. They could sell you a tractor. They could sell you underwear. They could sell you kitchen equipment and they had to logistics to get it everywhere. Then a bunch of consultants in the early ‘90s went in and talked about the internet and you need to have an internet store. Sears was so focused at that point on, “People love coming in and touching the garment and feeling it and looking at it and they love the retail experience, that online thing is a fad.” First of all, poor Roebuck, whatever happened to Roebuck. It was Sears and Roebuck. He’s gone and now Sears is gone. Look at Amazon, they embraced change. Netflix and Blockbusters. Uber did not kill the cab business. A lot of people say, “Uber’s are killing cabs.”
No, the cabs’ way of regulation, poor user experience, their holding onto the past and not embracing change is what killed the cab company and what made Uber and Lyft and all those other companies exist. It’s that fear of change. If you can say, “Listen folks, things are going to change and it’s okay.” Don’t fight the change, actually, augment the change. Say, “We’re doing this, but I have even a better way.” If you can unify your entire organization around, “Change is happening. Either get on the change train or this isn’t the right place for you.” That’s okay. Go somewhere else and help my competitor and not change. I’m a big fan of that. If you can get everybody aligned around, it’s going to change. How do you make that change even better?
Is this what you deal with in your one-day MBA program? Tell me a little bit about that.
The One Day MBA program is a play on words, “One day I’ll be an MBA.” It’s not an MBA program. Unlike a lot of the internet gurus, I did it in my career with the companies that I’ve been a part of. I created in excess of $1 billion in shareholder value. That’s not an insignificant amount. My nephew, a couple of years ago bought a real estate program online. It was a horrible experience. He called me and said, “They didn’t teach me anything. They didn’t show me anything. It was horrible. I tried to get a refund and they wouldn’t give me a refund. Can you help me?” He was 23 years old. “Can you make the call because it was a lot of money?” I said, “Sure,” and I wired him the money because I knew those companies would never give you your money back. I gave him the money back and he still loves me.
I started looking into this internet guru thing and many of them have never done anything and they charge a lot of money for a program. I said, “I’m going to do something different. I’m going to be the antithesis.” I’ve done stuff. I’m going to be transparent. I’m not going to make you the guarantee, “You’re going to make $1 billion next year.” Many people buy a book and it sits on the bed stand and they never even read it. I can’t promise somebody is going to do something because the real value is created by doing the work. What I did is I took some of the critical stuff they don’t teach in business schools, except for my program. The critical stuff takes years of being beaten up and years of observing and learning. I filmed these eleven videos ranging from twenty to 30 minutes because I want to keep them manageable. I am a full believer in the mind can only absorb what the seat can endure. Keep them reasonably short and pithy and high energy, but they’re not basics. I’m not going to teach you accounting. I’m not going to teach you financing. I still can’t do an IRR without a calculator. I don’t need to do that math.Start small. One of the biggest mistakes people make is jumping into things. Click To Tweet
As silly as it sounds, I have this thing, I call it the French Fry rule. I remember when I bought my very first car because I finally had a couple of dollars. I went in and I ordered everything exactly the way I wanted it and I am never going to eat in this car. I’m going to keep that new car smell forever. I used to live in Boston. My guilty pleasure was I loved McDonald’s French Fries. “I’m never going to eat in my car. I’m never going to eat in my car.” Then one day the French Fry Jones got a hold of me. I went to the drive through and I have 9,000 napkins. I am not going to make a mess. I’m not going to put any grease on the steering wheel and one French Fry drops between the seat and the console, that spot you can never reach. Then all hell breaks loose. I was having sandwiches. It didn’t matter anymore. We talked about the French Fry rule because in business that’s so critical. You had to make a decision to either always do something or never do it because once you violate it the first time, it’s like integrity. Once you give up your integrity, even if you get it back, you can never average back down to zero. It’s going to bite you in the future because then, “I can compromise it again.” People say, “I’m going to work out in the gym. I’m going to go every day.” Then you don’t go for a day. Then you give permission the second time.
In business, we’re not going to take the calls from the small customer, but you don’t know when that guy from the small customer may become the buyer and a big customer. If you didn’t take care of them when it was small, this person’s going to remember that. You make the decision. We never ignore a customer issue. That’s the French Fry rule. We take care of every single one. We make sure they’re satisfied. We take care of our employees, we take care of everyone. We don’t say, “You’re at the janitor level, but if you’re a senior engineer.” The French fry rule comes into play many times. If you commit to something, see it all the way through because once you compromise, then your ethos is compromised, not perfection. Those are the kinds of lessons I talk about. I talk about the balance scorecard and methodology. I talk about integrity and talk about the entrepreneurial mindset. Just the things that you don’t think of when you focused on learning how to do an IRR or reading a financial statement. It’s the practical lessons.
What about like soft skills and that type of thing? Did you get into any of that?
First of all, EQ, it was never not important. Back in the dictatorial days of business, EQ was less important. Now, because a lot of the workforce is smarter, they ask questions. The person on the other side of the table is always the most important person. I know I’m wicked awesome. I feel wicked awesome. That’s my boss thing coming out, but that’s irrelevant. Do you think I’m wicked awesome?
How do you impact perception? I would love to hear how you talk about that in your program.
Impacting perception starts with alignment. If I’m shaking my head left and right and I’m telling you “Absolutely, I’m going to get it done,” I’m not in alignment. You see no, you hear yes. You’re confused. Perception starts with being consistent. As silly as it sounds, I talk about the five love languages because I can be this most giving individual. In my personal life, my giving doesn’t matter because they need to be touched. In business, you have left brains and you have right brains. You read their personality and speak into it. Myers Briggs is awesome. A lot of people took Myers Briggs and said, “This is what I am.” It doesn’t matter what you are. It’s fifteen others. If I’m a big picture speaker and I know somebody needs detail, did I have to speak into the detail? Even worse, you often have people that they tell, “I’m an outcome guy. I want to know what actually happened,” as opposed to where I’ve had people who would come in and they need to disclose the entire process that they got to the outcome. When you’re a CEO, time is the most perishable asset we have.
There are only 84,600 seconds every day. You don’t get more. Some of them, you want to sleep. You want to get to the outcome and you want to get to where you can add value. If you can understand their language, if somebody’s talking to me about the process, I had to let them get a little bit of that, so they feel trustworthy. Then I might say something like, “I have three other meetings. How can I help you?” That is the most important question. How can I help you? The second I go to that other person, I can elicit that, “Here are my needs.” If I don’t let them do some of their process in their thinking, they’re not going to trust that I heard them or I understood them. Mathematical people, big picture people, learn to listen to the cues from the person on the other side of the table. While your smile is your logo, if you’re out networking and you’re grumpy-faced, nobody’s walking up to you.
How they perceive you is your brand. If you keep that in the back of your mind, what is your brand? We don’t want to admit we’re animals, but we’re pack animals. We want to be part of something. How do you bring somebody in? If they perceive I want to be a member of team Lew, then they come in. In order for that to happen, “How do I help you? Tell me your story. What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Whatever it is, learn about them so that they feel that bond changes everything. You can’t be faking it. That’s why I can teach anybody how to be a manager. Managers manage process. I can show you what the behaviors of the leader are, but you either embrace it or you don’t and not everybody’s meant to be a leader. We talk about all of those things.
You bring up some important things and a lot of people get a lot of value out of your work. They’re probably interested in knowing how they can find you. Could you share that? I’m sure a lot of people would be interested.
I have two websites. I have LewJaffe.com. My video program, which is called the One Day MBA is all spelled out at TheOneDayMBA.org. They can get to either website from the other. One’s more about my background because I also do executive coaching. I run a couple of master minds. I’ve been a member of YPO for 30 some odd years. I’m a YPO resource. I’m still a member of YPO. YPO stands for Young Presidents’ Organization. They thought that OPO would be a pejorative. They call those of us over 50 YPO gold. I have lists on the LewJaffe.com site of some of the programs that I do, some excerpts from the public speaking that I’ve done and the TheOneDayMBA.org, it’s specifically about the program, which is the critical stuff they don’t teach in business school.
It’s all so important and I hope everybody takes some time to check out your site. Thank you so much for being on the show, Lew.
Thank you. I’ve enjoyed the conversations. It’s been awesome.
Why Troublemaking Just Might Work with Mark Modesti
I am here with Mark Modesti who is the Co-Founder of Platform Creator, winner of the altMBA Walker Award and he’s presented an interesting TED Talk on the Argument for Trouble. It’s nice to have you here, Mark.
It’s great to be here, Diane. Thank you.
I loved your TED Talk. I love trouble. I love that you started that way about being a trouble maker. What made you interested in that? I’m interested in your background. I know Dondi Scumaci had introduced us. I think leading up to what made you interested in trouble might be a good start for the show.
It began innocently enough. I started as a UPS package car driver. I did that for four and a half years and then I rotated through a lot of different positions at UPS. I had a great career there. Then my last assignment, I was a supply chain consultant for a subsidiary of UPS. It was there that I got to do some interesting work. At that point, in 2015, UPS started hosting a TED event. The way that they find the speakers, they send out invitations to all 400,000 some odd employees and say, “Do you have an idea?” It was interesting that goes to all 440,000 some odd employees, but the number of employees who say, “Yeah, I’ve got an idea,” was about 1%. I almost didn’t do it. I was persuaded that I should give it a shot and I thought, “I’ll make a go.” Then I started thinking about what I do. It occurred to me that a lot of what I do is to suggest to clients that they make things worse in order to make them better, like redesigning your work process or workspace. Those are things that can make a huge difference, but they mean a little bit of messiness before we get to the solution.
That’s interesting because I could see why Dondi would think we would have a lot to talk about because I am working on developing curiosity in people. Some people are afraid to cause trouble or make things worse. How are trouble makers curious?
It’s almost cliché to talk about curiosity with you because you wrote the book. A big part of it is curiosity. At first, I had to get past the notion that I don’t know how to give a TED talk. Later, I thought about it and I thought, “You’ve never given a TED Talk.” I don’t know it was the starting point. For a lot of people, I guess it was the stopping point. For me, I thought, “I wonder.” A lot of great things have happened to me in life because I said that to myself.
I think a lot of people would talk themselves out of things because they would be afraid to. You didn’t come across as afraid. You actually stopped and looked at your note, I remember, for a minute. I love that you address the elephant in the room if there’s a problem and I love that. Were you nervous at all?
I was extremely nervous. I tell people, “No, I wasn’t nervous. I was terrified.” The thing about TED, is that they are such consummate professionals from the coaches. I had coaches in Tel Aviv, the way everybody works together and brings out the story. It’s your story and they keep it that way. Part of it is nervous and part of it is eager to share. The little mess up there, I asked them to keep that in because I felt like it just made it seem more real.
I like that. I have a lot of things mess up on the show once in a while, but I like to keep the reality of the conversation. It makes it more interesting. There are a lot of very interesting troublemakers out there and I’m curious if you have any favorite trouble makers?
Seth Godin is one of my favorites. He calls it ruckus-making. I’ve got a lot of heroes. One of them is also Viktor Frankl. I think that he entered a world of trouble. I love the way he dealt with it. There are fellow troublemakers, they might not call themselves that, at UPS that I’ve loved to meet and come alongside. They are names that most people wouldn’t know, but people who want to make things better and being willing to put themselves out there to do that. That’s a powerful force to harness in organizations.
You mentioned that Seth Godin is funny. I was on a TV show here in Arizona where Pat McMahon interviewed me and he’s a big name here in Arizona. I’ve asked him who his favorite people he’s ever interviewed, huge names that he mentioned. He goes, “Have you heard of Seth Godin? I said, “Yeah, I’ve heard of him.” He loved his work. You graduated from Seth’s altMBA. Tell me about that. What’s that like? I haven’t heard anybody talk about it.
It was an incredible experience. It’s a month-long intensive workshop. You’re paired with five different teams over that month and you work on a total of about thirteen projects. Most of them are with teams and there are people from all walks of life; young techie types to older, more mature people like me to people in education, technology, healthcare, all across the board. All of them have this same incentive to figure out how to make a ruckus or how to step out. It’s just an eye-opening experience to go through that process. I found that it took the blinders off in terms of what am I capable of and do I know until I try? That was what I took out of it and then it changes some things for me. One of the things, I started doing a lot more of is writing. That’s been rewarding. I find it incredibly difficult. I enjoy the process. It helps me think clearly. There are a lot of writing in the course itself and a lot of feedback among your peers. You get a whole new perspective of your work and an inspiration from the work of others that you meet in the course. It’s an incredible experience.
How long has it been? I am curious how that works? How long is the program?
It lasts for a month. During that month you have three Zoom calls a week or so and you’re working on projects all week. Most everyone has a full-time job. It’s Zoom, Slack and WordPress.
Does Seth actually teach that? I used to be an MBA program chair, so I’m always interested in how they do this.
You would imagine from the title that and Seth Godin, but it’s an alternative. He takes a completely different approach. There are little video snippets from him and some of his work. He points a lot to the great work of other people. It’s more about prompting you to make something and then seeing how it lands. That process is repeated over and over throughout the process.
I always like to see what everybody is doing in terms of education and what they offer because I’ve written many different types of curriculum in my day. You mentioned Seth and you mentioned Victor, but you also talked about Lincoln. He was a trouble maker, wasn’t he?
I loved the way he formed his inner team after he was elected. His opponents and the new ones that gave him the perspective, the way he embraced that mess, I loved it. It was such poise and patience. I think it’s remarkable.You've got to be willing to come up with a certain number of bad ideas to get to a good idea. Click To Tweet
How did you get to know Dondi? She was saying good things about you. I met her through Marshall Goldsmith’s group and a few other places.
I got familiar with her work when she was facilitating a program that I was involved in. We hit it off and started having a few side conversations. Anybody that knows Dondi loves her. She’s a great mix of positivity and creativity and she’s so competent at what she does. I feel smarter talking to her.
She’s amazing and she was a great guest on the show. I think that’s nice to see her style. It’s warm and that’s unique. I loved your style in your TED Talk and I’m curious to what you’re doing now with Platform Creator. Let’s talk about that a little bit. What do you do?
We started in 2012 and the idea was there are a lot of people building websites, but not many people are building platforms. By that I mean the conceptual side of it, who you are, what you do, who it’s for and what it’s for. Getting real clear on that before you build a website or maybe you don’t even need a website. Maybe you can do what you need to do with LinkedIn or social media platform. This platform in both senses of the word. That’s been very rewarding. I helped start it and then I realized I wasn’t good at moonlighting. I kept up the day job and then I got offered early retirement and my partner John welcomed me back. We’re working on a few things. We’re putting together a new product called Platform Starter. They will be for solopreneurs and freelancers.
What does that do, exactly?
It’s going to walk you through the process. Before you start thinking about the technical side of this, let’s get the conceptual side down and figure out what your cause is. Why should people listen to you? Get clear on your messaging and branding and your name before you start on the website.
Anybody who tries to write a book hears the word platform. Is that what you mean by platform, your following? Because when you write a book, all the publishers go, “What platform do you have? Who is interested in what you have to say? How many books can you sell? Do you have a following?” What advice would you give to people writing books about developing their platform?
I’m short on the book writing part, but as far as the platform part, I guess the advice I would give you is to start small. Plan to start small and plan for it to take some time. One of the biggest mistakes people make is they jump into it. They set up the website, they push ‘Publish’ and it’s like, where is everybody? It takes time to put it together. You’ve got to be clear on who the target is. Who are you working for? That could even be friends who you could run it by before you start pushing that publish button and getting clear on how they react to what you have to say. A lot of it is about empathy.
I’m a big fan of empathy since I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence. A lot of people could use some help with that. It’s challenging though. What do you think are the biggest mistakes people make other than to create something quickly and hit and start thinking they build and people will come? Are there other things that they do?
Let me hit on the empathy thing. First is to consider how you would react to someone coming at you the way you’re coming at them. How often does an email hit the inbox? How are you speaking to your tribe and their challenge? Are you being too friendly? You know what you look at and that should guide what you anticipate your tribe wanting to look at. The biggest part is putting yourself in their shoes. Notice the things on how you behave online. What do you pay attention to? What turns you off? It’s funny, we can see things that we don’t like. I’m thinking of something, let’s take the LinkedIn scenario where someone connects and they say, “It’s great to connect with you. Why don’t I tell you about my service?” You haven’t met and it makes me question my strategy there, whether I should have accepted it on the first point. I don’t like it when people come at me like that. Then I started putting together something I wanted to promote and I thought, “Maybe I had to start connecting with people on LinkedIn.” Then I’m faced with some of these people I don’t know. I haven’t talked to them in a long time and the first thing I want to say is, “I’m selling something.” The empathy thing is huge to me.
I have the same problem with the general mailing that comes out from everybody every month, even if you’ve opted-in. A lot of times I don’t even know how they figured I’ve locked it in. I’ll be on somebody’s radio show and it’s apparently that opts-me-in or whatever. Then you get all these emails. A lot of it is giving you free content or giving you all this usable information. I don’t know how much everybody’s reading that stuff. Are we doing too much of that? What’s your opinion of that?
A lot of people are behaving very similar to the way you and I, about how they handle email and what they look at on Twitter, their social media persona or email persona. I think it’s very similar. The thing too is that we have to check. We have to be willing to make experiments when we’re building a platform.
That’s tough though because if you’re new and you’re trying to get people onto your website, you have no database yet and you’re trying to establish your database. How do you do that without spamming even if they’re opting in to some extent? I think that’s challenging.
That is the most challenging part. It’s because the answer is pretty simple. It’s to provide valuable content.
Some people think they are. How do you judge if it is valuable? You could be giving ten free tips for how to do something and maybe that seems valuable to you, but to them that’s just another spam email sometimes.
It’s similar to the way we come up with good ideas. We come up with some bad ideas. You’ve got to be willing to come up with a certain number of bad ideas to get to a good idea.
That is a tough decision of what worked and how do you know?
There are technical ways to approach that with AB testing and things like that. Over time, determining what resonates is a process of refining it and seeing what the response is. It’s also helpful to run it by people that will be objective and tell you how they react to it. They are people that you know well who fit the target criteria of who you want to reach.You don't know until you try. Be willing to step into uncertainty and see what you're capable of. Click To Tweet
It is a challenge for a lot of people to get their platform created to get their whole marketing message across. I’ve had a few people on my show who are great at helping people think of it strategically because some people just jump in and they get a cheap website. They get whatever it is. Do you have to have an expensive website? Do you think that that’s an important step?
No. Most people can figure out how to use WordPress at an acceptable level quick. There are even free sites to get started. The big thing is to get started. I think of platforms like Strikingly. I know Wix is a big provider in that area. WordPress has its own free website platform.
I started on WordPress because it’s free. I’m one originally. I liked it better than Wix. It had more punctuality. Wix all look the same to me after a while.
WordPress is probably the best platform out there at the moment.
I know you’re working with a lot of colleges on different things, tell me a little bit about that.
I’m part of a team that visits colleges around the US and talks to students about what’s next. We call them our What’s Next Round Tables. There are probably 60 team members altogether. Those of us who visit the colleges most are retired or older than me. We talk to the students about building their network, finding mentors, then the topic of perseverance. It’s the passion project of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything outside of my family life that’s been more rewarding. It’s an incredible experience and I met many great young leaders who are in the wings and learning to go. It’s really inspiring.
How do you help somebody with perseverance? That’s a tough topic.
It’s the one that brings it all together for the students. It’s usually the second day. What does that is talking about your own failures. This is when the students lean in. They hear a lot of people talk to them or at them about success and how to be successful. When you started talking about how to fail, they get interested. It’s funny because when they first come in, they’re a little attentive. I was talking to a student yesterday who was saying that the dean of the business school said, “You need to do this. This could be a life changer for you.” He’s like, “Okay, what is it?” He said, “I walked in the room and there are all these old people.” He thought, “This is not going to be a life changer.” By the time we walked out, he’s hugging the team members and we’re talking and laughing. It’s interesting to watch the transformation come up with the students during the time we spend together. The perseverance topic is the one that drives it home, I believe.
There’s a tenacity that some people have naturally. Then other people are terrified of some of the failure aspects. I notice that they’re starting to embrace failure a lot more in younger generations. They are starting to talk about it more in companies. It used to be you failed and you’re out of there. Now they’re like, “What’d you learn from that?” Do you see more of that?
We could go way down the trail here, but the students in their early twenties, they’re confident, but they’re very uncertain and they’re not as willing. They don’t necessarily want to take the same linear path they saw their parents like my age take, where you get married, have a family, get a job, retire, then die. They want to do something and they do want to make things better, but they have some uncertainty about it. It’s similar to the uncertainty we all have. Am I enough? There’s a little nuance to theirs because all their lives, they’ve been told, “You’re incredible, you’re amazing, you get a trophy for breathing. What we try to tie into is the fact that at the bottom of it, our answer to the “What’s next” question is, “We don’t know.” You’re what’s next.
The question is, “What are you capable of?” The answer to that is, “We don’t know until you try.” You don’t know if you’re going to hit a home run or if you’re going to strike out. There’s only one way to find out. That’s what we’re trying to encourage, “Are you willing to step into the uncertainty and see what you’re capable of?” Even if you do fail, it doesn’t mean that you’re not capable. It may mean you’re not capable at this moment, but you can try again. That’s what we’re trying to foster during that session. That’s where a lot of I see the lights come on.
I dealt a lot with fear in the book because I found one of the four factors that impact curiosity is fear. I love that you’re addressing that because that’s such a huge issue.
Back to south on that point, it is learning to dance with fear. It’s okay that it’s there, but how can we dance with it?
It’s great that you’re helping people figure out how to get started, figure out who they are, what they’re doing, what are their messages. I found that’s very challenging for a lot of people. I wrote a Brand Publishing Course as part of my work with Forbes. It’s so challenging for people, even CMOs to know how to get ideas across and what you’re working on is all fascinating to me. A lot of people would probably like to know more about how to reach you, how to maybe watch your TED Talk and all that. Are there some sites you want to share?
If you Google my name Mark Modesti, you’ll see some things there. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. I have my own site that I’m building out. It’s fairly new because I just rejoined Platform Creator. The name of our website is PlatformCreator.com and we’re in the process of revamping that as we put together what we’re going to call Platform Starter, which is going to address what you just asked about is how do you go from zero to one?
It’s very challenging. Are you going to be doing any more TED talks or writing any books?
One of my good friends is someone you might want to interview, Bob Beaudine The first thing he asked me when he saw that, “Yeah, I saw the TED Talk. Where’s the book?”
You did it backwards. A lot of people write the book first.
That’s in the back of my mind. In the front of my mind is the Platform Creator and then I’m doing some corporate training and I’m also doing these visits to colleges around the US.
I worked for several colleges still and they need a lot of help with a lot of this foresight for what they’re going to need for their website and platform and different things when they get out. All your work is great and it was so nice of Dondi to recommend you for the show. It was so nice to meet you, Mark.
Thank you, Diane. I just want to say I love your book.
Thank you. I appreciate it. You had a chance to read it. That’s nice.
Yes, I loved it. It’s one of those books where you’re like, “Why hasn’t someone written this book before?”
I was wondering the same thing as I was researching it. There are books on motivation and drive. There are actually books on curiosity, but not what holds you back. What’s interesting to me was to determine the factors that keep people from being curious. I love that you’re curious and I love that you’re a troublemaker. Thank you again for being on the show.
I’d like to thank both Lew and Mark for being my guests. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamiltonRadio.com and find out more about the Curiosity Code Index or the book, go to CuriosityCode.com. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.
- Lew Jaffe
- Tripp Crosby – previous episode
- Tripp Crosby
- Mark Modesti
- Platform Creator
- TED Talk
- Dondi Scumaci
About Lew Jaffe
About Mark Modesti
Mark Modesti is the Co-Founder of PlatformCreator.com, and recent winner of the altMBA Walker Award. He presented a TED Talk on “The Argument for Trouble.”