Inc Small Business
If you want to connect with people, remove the obstacles and implement systems. You'll be amazed at how far it takes you.
Smart companies use systems to provide great service at scale. At dotloop, I do just that for real estate companies. By removing obstacles like paperwork, our customers can deliver what I call "human" experiences. Regardless of what industry you serve, systems are the only way to scale.The Apple Experience
In particular, a Peoplework company is obsessed with making the human touch scale. One such experience is visiting the Apple Store. From the moment you enter, you are greeted by a rep, then after finding what you need, you get to test it in-store. To check out, you just swipe your card, and then the receipt is sent to your inbox, all before you've walked out the door.
What makes all of that possible with thousands of stores, employees, and customers? Systems.
As a realtor you could never scale helping more people buy or sell a home without a system like the Multiple Listing Service. This allows you to view thousands of homes so you can then show them to interested buyers. Without the ML or something comparable, like a more accurate version of Zillow, a real estate agent can only work with a few people.People Connect with People
Unlike most people who have a small circle of friends or family members, many businesses serve hundreds or thousands of customers. Being a Peoplework company requires systems, because just a few can't serve the many. People connect with human companies, not robotic ones. So let it become part of who you are as a company. Encourage your employees to think this way, too. Lead by example, and make it known what being a human company means to you and your business. You don't have to be perfect, and your customers don't expect it. Even Apple screws up sometimes.The Wrong Goals ...
The goals of most businesses today are impersonal. Those with call centers focus on minimizing the time per call, rather than maximizing the value of each conversation. If the goal with all your friends was to keep the calls short, how long do you think you'd stay friends? What if you forwarded your wife's calls to a guy around the globe who could barely speak her language? Flip your current thought process on its head and as Apple said, think differently. People think about business the way we were trained to think about business. However, if you approach your business the way you approach friends and family, things are bound to be far more compelling.Focus on Existing Customers
My co-author Chris Smith and his business partner Jimmy Mackin launched a real estate digital marketing company called Curaytor in January 2013. By October, they had exceeded their annual goal by 125 percent. However, they decided to hit pause and stop adding new customers, even with demand at an all-time high. This action appeared counterintuitive to growth, but Chris and Jimmy's goal was to focus on providing a better product and service. They rebuilt their infrastructure, and in turn grew their business. Most importantly, their customers felt like family when they heard the news.
In the Peoplework era, companies will see the big picture and realize that quality, not quantity is what matters. Focus on the customer experience, and you're guaranteed to win.
For more information about Peoplework, visit pplwork.com.
Adapted with permission of Peoplework LLC from Peoplework: How to run a people-first business in a digital-first world by Austin Allison and Chris Smith. Copyright (c) 2014 by Peoplework LLC. All rights reserved.
Are you too focused on the big stuff and missing the important details? Here Inc. columnists identify simple mistakes overlooked by even the most diligent of leaders.
Most CEOs and managers do try and improve themselves as leaders. Billions of dollars are spent on growth training, leadership books and personal development in hopes of becoming a better boss or team leader. While there are many complexities to being a great leader, some of the most significant mistakes are made by ignoring simple details.
Sometimes I personally get so wrapped deep in the details of producing a live weekly radio show that it's easy to slip on some of the simple easy habits that support my team and get them running effectively and efficiently.
When the pressure and stakes are high it's sometimes hard for me to remember to use the simple niceties of "please" and "thank you". I have been working on this lately. I find that these little forms of respect and gratitude actually keep things calmer than just being brisk and impersonal. It helps people stay warm and focused on what they need to do rather than how they feel.
Here are additional leadership mistakes from my Inc. colleagues.
1. Delaying Getting Rid of a Bad Employee
I see leaders spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to salvage a team member who is obviously not a good fit. They believe they are doing the right thing by rehabilitating this person or giving them a chance to "work things out". This results in bad morale and means that the work not being done simply falls to other team members. More times than not when I have sat across the table from a contractor or employee to let them know that I was terminating their relationship with the company I have been thanked or greeted with a sigh of relief. Both of us know it hasn't been a good fit and it allows us to move forward in a more positive direction. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward
Want to read more from Eric? Click here.
2. Not Being Self-aware
All leaders have strong points and weak points. You can't avoid having weaknesses as a leader, but if you're really dumb, you can avoid knowing what they are. Instead, get as much feedback as possible, from your peers, from your board, perhaps from an outside consultant or coach, and--most important--from the people who report to you. They know what your weaknesses are but they won't tell unless you ask. And they'll need to know that saying stuff you hate to hear won't come back to hurt them later. Minda Zetlin--Start Me Up
Want to read more from Minda? Click here.
3. Skipping Personal Details
Early in my career I was given the honor of attending an executive management retreat where I was one of only six people in a half-day breakout with a man who would soon become one of this country's most iconic leaders. While he was kind, he twice referred to me by the wrong name--an understandable mistake given he was in the presence of fifty new faces. But I was young and questioning my worthiness of being there, so this left an indelible mark on my psyche. Don't diminish someone's experience of you, and themselves. If you're not certain of a name it really is best to simply ask. Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist
Want to read more from Marla? Click here.
4. Taking Employee Attitudes for Granted
The most ironic mistake that leaders, particularly entrepreneurs, owners and top executives make is thinking that--absent some reason to do so--their employees are going to treat the business like they do. They are then surprised when they don't. So instead of working long hours, and giving their all to the business, employees give the minimum necessary effort and check out the minute they hit the parking lot at the end of the workday. If you want your people to treat the business like you do--like an owner-- then you've got to give employees a reason to do so. At minimum, set up a system of rewards that recognizes their performance, and provide your people with meaningful decision making opportunities. Even better, give them equity in the business in the form of an ownership stake--whether through stock, profit sharing, an ESOP, or some other vehicle. You can't expect your people to treat your business like owners if you don't turn your employees into owners. Peter Economy--The Management Guy
Want to read more from Peter? Click here.
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Local ecosystems help entrepreneurs thrive.
Let's face it. Silicon Valley, New York and Massachusetts own the history of venture capital technology entrepreneurship, with storied tech names on buildings everywhere you look. Smart experts like Maxwell Wessel will tell you straight out not to build your company outside these entrepreneurial centers. He's got the data to show you exactly how much harder it will be to hire your team, finance your growth and sell your company. And he is right. It's good advice. It is harder outside those centers.
But Silicon Valley, New York and Greater Boston don't exclusively own the future of venture-backed tech entrepreneurship. There are dozens of entrepreneurial hotspots emerging all over the country now, from Boulder, Colorado to Austin, Texas, Portland, Oregon and the Research Triangle in North Carolina.
So, rational or not, you've decided to stay and grow your company right where you are. How do you make your decision work for you and your company? How do you turn "harder" into "way better"?
To connect into your local smaller entrepreneurial ecosystem:1. Find local angels and venture lawyers.
Get to know the venture lawyers in your state, because they know all the key players in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Somewhere in your state, probably in your university towns, there is an active angel investing group working with early stage entrepreneurs. Meet them as well, but don't get excited yet, as they aren't going to fund you, unless they are tech entrepreneurs themselves. If you're credible, they'll send you on to someone they know who can help. In small eco-systems, everyone knows everyone and word quickly spreads about a quality entrepreneur with a great idea. You are in.2. Target focused, small funds.
Smaller funds are springing up around the country that either focus on your geography or your industry. This fit alignment makes them more likely to jump on a plane and work with you than some of the larger, more famous funds who want to write bigger checks later in the process anyway.3. Go to entrepreneurial watering holes in your region.
Investors gather at equity conferences, entrepreneurial competitions, demo days and pitch days. Scout them, get to know them, seek their advice and help. Get to know other entrepreneurs as well; they can help you navigate and evaluate the investor community. Getting to know investors at the regional level is important when you need to stitch together financing from several angel groups or smaller funds.4. Understand how national networks can help with specialized needs.
Don't settle for local solutions when you need to build national-level credibility in the early stages. Recruit the best talent, both tech and management, that you can attract, and bring on the highest profile industry-specific advisors, initial corporate pilot partners and other key partners as early as you can. Finding good talent willing to relocate is often the biggest headache in smaller ecosystems. Prove you can do it early on.5. Act with integrity.
A smooth-talking entrepreneur with a great resume may be able to hide past problems in a big city. No way in a smaller entrepreneurial community. Every one of the angels, lawyers, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in a smaller eco-system will know how you treat your employees, how you negotiate a deal and then live by its terms, whether you are "good people" or not. An entrepreneurial failure can be forgiven. But cheating the spirit of an agreement, skating an ethical line, treating people badly doesn’t get forgiven. So don’t be a jerk.
Small is beautiful and focus wins.
Plug into the network, the local ecosystem, and let it connect you to the larger entrepreneurial network that includes Silicon Valley. Know what makes you and your company special and unique and hunt down the allies that will put you on the map and get you the national exposure and relationships you need even if you are in a flyover state. Go find one of them and help build that future.
Stephanie Spong is a venture capitalist, gamer and a business-savvy geek, founder of Moksa Ventures, a micro venture fund dedicated to building out the game layer. She has more than 20 years' experience in financial, operating and consulting roles at Goldman Sachs, Citibank, McKinsey, Monitor and Razorfish, as well as seven years in venture at Epic Ventures and now her own firm, Moksa Ventures. Follow her @moksaventures.
Go beyond the rote, the boilerplate, and the expected.
Admit it. You cringe a little whenever you receive an email from someone you know that starts with: "I was just thinking of you and hope you're doing well," because 99 percent of the time, the next paragraph will include some sort of request: for help, for a referral, for business, for something.
The same is true when you receive an email from someone you don't know that starts with: "I love your new product/service/book/blog post," because 99 percent of the time, the next paragraph will include some sort of request in return for compliments that now seem insincere.
Either way, any warm fuzzies you might have been feeling instantly disappear. And you're a lot less likely to connect, much less become a customer.
Want to connect with people without seeming self-serving? Want to keep in touch with your customers without seeming obvious or gratuitous? It's easy. The key is to have a reason: an unselfish reason. The key is to get or stay in touch in a meaningful and memorable way--unforced, natural, and with a purpose that benefits the other person, not you.
Here are some ways to pull that off:
1. Set up alerts. First, know the other person. Then set up an alert on his or her name, company name, and industry and topics of interest. Then you can connect or reconnect with something to offer: congratulations, information about a competitor, breaking news in his or her market, etc.
And that way you turn a generic "Thinking of you" into a much more meaningful "I immediately thought of you when I saw this."
2. Ask for input. Though the "How can we improve our products or services?" inquiry is fine, it's also boilerplate. If you have a blog, ask a connection or customer to share his or her knowledge or expertise. Your customer will appreciate the exposure to a broader audience (and will definitely be flattered you asked).
For example, I've photographed weddings for years. (It's fun.) A few years ago, I wrote an article for The Knot and asked some of our couples what, in retrospect, they would have done differently in regards to wedding planning. They loved talking about what went right and what went wrong.
But don't just limit yourself to connections and customers. Seek input from potential connections for articles, blog posts, whatever media you use to communicate with your customers and your industry. They'll be flattered you want to tap their expertise.
But don't follow up the request with an immediate sales call. Ask because you genuinely want to highlight their expertise.
3. Offer recommendations. Many companies actively solicit blurbs and words of praise. They have to; very few people volunteer kind words. That's why offering an unsolicited recommendation is a great way to stand out.
Say you attend an event and love the speaker. Send her a note and conclude with, "If you like, please feel free to use my comments for promotional purposes. It would be my honor."
You can do the same with any product or service you genuinely like.
Here's another simple way to reconnect with customers. Many people feel uncomfortable asking others to complete LinkedIn Recommendations. Instead of waiting for a customer to ask, jump in and write one. Not only will you strengthen a connection, but you will also get the chance to (subtly) describe your business and services when you discuss how you and the customer did business.
Remember, people tend to like--and remember--the people who like them. And they definitely like the people who offer genuine, unsolicited praise.
4. Comment. Millions of people and companies publish blog posts and articles. Few receive any comments on their posts (which can be pretty disheartening). Regularly check out a potential connection's or customer's blog. Use Google Alerts or Mention to find articles the person writes for other sites, or articles where the person is quoted, and leave thoughtful comments.
He or she will greatly appreciate the support--and the fact you provided it.
5. Offer to provide a credit reference. I realize this one is a little unusual and only applies to customers, but it can be very powerful.
Most suppliers ask for references before extending credit. If a customer has a solid history of paying on time, offer to serve as a reference if the customer sets up other credit relationships.
Just call and say, "We were asked to provide references to a vendor, and I thought about how great you are to work with. If you ever need someone to provide a credit reference, just let me know."
Even if the vendor never takes you up on the offer, you'll show you not only respect but also trust your customer.
The success of your company, your products, your people--it all rests on your shoulders. If you don't already have a plan to ease the pressure, you need one.
It can be stressful and lonely at the top. What's a business owner to do when the pressure of running a company seems too much to bear? We asked a few members of the Entrepreneurs' Organization for their best coping strategies.Develop guidelines for stress relief.
"After two startup failures, we built a successful template that we went on to use in all of our future ventures. Our stress-relief template includes quiet rooms for staff to relax and recharge, flexible hours, unlimited vacation, and a no-internal-email policy between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m."
--Bill Faeth, EO Nashville
Co-founder and CEO, Inbound Marketing AgentsSolidify a shared vision.
"I genuinely believe that everyone at Punchkick wants to help us grow and achieve success. But in order to allow that to happen, I've worked hard to ensure we have a shared vision. Transparency in the good times and bad has helped me align myself with my team and vice versa. Dinners with my co-workers, weekend brunches, and late-night work sessions have all united us in ways I can't describe."
--Zak Dabbas, EO Chicago
President, Punchkick InteractiveShare and distribute.
"The best way I've found to effectively manage the stress of entrepreneurship is to share it. As a first step, hiring amazing people and empowering them to take ownership of goals is a great mechanism. However, at the end of the day, I know it comes down to me."
--Pavel Sokolovsky, EO Chicago
President, Ecomfort HoldingsFind and enjoy your passions.
"I get a great deal of joy and relaxation by cooking, going shopping at the local farmers' markets, mountain biking, and hiking. I tend to work 50-plus hours a week, but I find time to enjoy my passions and escape the pressure of work."
--Peter Taffae, EO Los Angeles
Managing director, Executive Perils, Inc.Surround yourself with peers.
"I find that surrounding myself with other entrepreneurs, whether through personal networks or professional ones, is the most effective way to not feel so lonely. It never ceases to amaze me how similar all of our stories are, whether it has to do with the challenges of balancing work and family, making decisions in our companies, or living a healthy lifestyle. Being able to share our experiences with one another allows me to get perspective on how other entrepreneurs have dealt, or are dealing, with similar struggles."
--Jeff Nazar, EO Los Angeles
"Twice a year, I'll pack up my laptop, I'll pick a country, and then I'll settle into that country for a month or so. After 16 years in business and more than 40 countries visited, I've found that this keeps me fresh and relaxed. In addition, it gives me new perspective on my work. I am seeing firsthand how people of different cultures are utilizing technology and how the global village we serve is actually operating."
--Michael Gellman, EO Colorado
CEO, SpireMediaBuild a support group.
"One great way I learned to manage this feeling was when I discovered a subculture of informal board of adviser groups. Having a confidential place where I can share challenges and get advice on things I never had to do myself is just fabulous! We can discuss things that we would never discuss with employees, and we have the benefit of group members' experiences on how to handle very challenging situations."
--Cheryl Biron, EO New Jersey
President and CEO, One Horn Transportation
Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller says allowing websites ending in ".sucks" is bad for business and not in the public's best interest.
If Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) has his way, you won't have to worry about seeing your company's name in a Web address followed by ".sucks." In a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Rockefeller made clear he thinks .sucks--one of many new Internet domain names being vetted by the agency--is bad for business, and entrepreneurs in particular.
"I believe any potential this gTLD [generic top level domain] might have to increase choice or competition in the domain name space is overwhelmed by the ways it will be used to unfairly defame individuals, nonprofit organizations, and businesses," he wrote.
Business owners may feel obligated to purchase a .sucks domain to protect themselves from being disparaged by competitors or disgruntled customers. "It is clear that the companies competing to operate this gTLD view it primarily as an opportunity to generate income through 'defensive registrations,'" Rocekfeller adds in the letter.
ICANN, which regulates domain names, green-lit a host of gTLDs in 2011, allowing companies to jazz up their Web presence with business-specific suffixes.
The first seven gTLDs to become available--including .guru, .bike, and .ventures--were purchased by Bellevue, Washington-based Donuts, a registry that sells addresses to businesses and individuals via registrars such as GoDaddy.com. And while the benefits of those names will take time to measure, it's clear that Donuts sees a robust market for them: according to TechCrunch, the company initially applied for 304 gTLDs and currently has contracts for more than 100.
Ditch the facts-only pitch. Stories with emotion are your most powerful selling tools.
The rule that governs creative writing also governs sales: showing is more powerful than telling.
Entrepreneurs like telling because it is the most efficient way to deliver the myriad facts they have accumulated about their products. And buyers do care about those things. But we are inundated with facts to the point where they have become just noise. Buyers buy on emotion. Facts are devoid of emotion.
You convey emotion with stories. Stories don't tell: they show. As such, they are your most powerful selling tools.
There are two kinds of stories. One kind is about you and your company. The spark of an idea that led you to create the business. A near-death experience and what it taught you. These stories won't come up in every sales conversation. But when introduced as background they communicate values and build trust.
The other type of story provides context. Sometimes buyers need help defining their own challenges--the reasons why they might buy. Stories describe real people to whom buyers can relate, which evokes emotion. The buyers follow those people on their journeys to to the buying decision. That is a more immersive experience than simply reading testimonials. It's the difference between watching a game on TV and checking the score the next morning.
Here is a facts-only pitch for a business-to-business product. It incorporates features and metrics but no emotion.
When there's a lot on the line, you need a solution that works. Our services are designed with that in mind. We have developed a 5-stage model for tackling process efficiencies. Our people bring years of experience helping large organizations diagnose process issues, establish action plans, and measure results. Our clients experience up to 65 percent efficiency improvements over three to six months. That's a substantial ROI.
Here is a story-based pitch for the same product:
One of our clients, Sam, was put in charge of a high-profile project, and he needed help. The problem was, he wasn't sure what type of help. He knew that if he didn't move quickly, the project would be in trouble. He consulted us: we diagnosed the situation and determined we could help. Sam had never heard of our company before, so he was understandably hesitant. But he brought us onboard and our team went right to work, using the first parts of our 5-stage model to get some early wins for Sam. We were delighted because Sam was a fantastic partner, and using our approach he was able to deliver significant results quickly.
Notice that this story both starts and ends with Sam, whose travails and triumphs the buyer will relate to. Sam's "early wins" are much more evocative than those "65 percent efficiency improvements" in the facts-only pitch. And the story shows not only the product doing its job in context but also a believable and satisfying human relationship developing between the company and its client.
As you work with clients, be alert for stories. Ask for testimonials or references: but ask also "what was this experience like for you?" You also need stories about things that didn't go quite right, because those build trust. Your credibility hinges on confessions of vulnerability.
For every set of facts that underpins your business, distill a story or two that give context and connect to emotions. Buyers don't remember facts. They remember stories.
It's how you ask that matters.
“At least once a day I get an e-mail asking me for some ridiculous, selfish thing that someone wants. And then they write under it, as if it excuses them, ‘You can’t blame a girl for asking.’ Well actually, I can. And I will.”
Godin may be the godfather of the “ask economy,” but he’s still baffled by the fact that so many business people don’t understand that how you ask for help matters. His point: It can’t be about you. “When you’re asking for someone to spend time with you, you gotta think really hard about why they ought to do it, [and find a reason] that has nothing to do with you.”
So, how do you ask for a customer referral?
Whether you want someone to make calls on your behalf or to promote you on their social networks, the key is knowing when to ask, says marketing veteran Kern Lewis. “The best time to do so? In the midst of delivering excellent service, and regularly thereafter,” he writes in the Forbes post “Five Steps to Generating Better Business Referrals.”
This article was originally published at The Build Network.
Moving into new roles is critical for your employees as they grow your business.
As CEO of a company that grew 450% last year, I often think about creating resiliency at The Grommet. With a team that went from 12 to 50 people in the last 18 months, people are constantly being stretched. Promotions often prompt a star player to fundamentally redefine what success means in their next role. This can be really disconcerting, but relying on an old playbook within a known comfort zone can be very counterproductive.
It's a common CEO problem: how to get your best people to "promote themselves."
At The Grommet, we recently had a team member leave and quickly realized that she was one of only two people who knew how to perform a critical daily activity. She likely dealt with it quietly while she was employed with us. But at her departure we realized that this 'good soldier' behavior inadvertently put the company at a slight risk. As CEO, it is ultimately my responsibility to make sure our organization is resilient, so I am grateful that this alerted our team to look out for other single points of failure.
I have been thinking about how to be more resilient for many years working executive VP level jobs on a part-time basis. My boss in three of these assignments (Keds, Stride Rite, Hasbro) was the now-famous Meg Whitman and I was under constant pressure to deliver at a very high level, even though I only had 60% of the time my peers had in the office. I simply could not compete on the basis of "hours worked" so I had to find another way to be valuable to Meg and my employer.
These are two key ways I learned to promote myself and my employees.Delegate as a rule of thumb.
My advice to anyone rising through the ranks is that you have to change your idea of what it means to be responsible to your company. When you are early in your career or starting a new role, you have to cover all the bases to show your competency. Once you've done that, delegate.
You need to let other people learn the same skills and activities you learned so they can advance, and you create a pipeline of talent. Your company needs you to bump yourself upstairs. There is a beautiful synchronicity between spreading out the knowledge base and getting yourself promoted. An insecure or inexperienced person might "hoard" knowledge, while a confident or experienced person will share it. This advice applies to CEOs too.
David Rosenblatt, CEO of 1stdibs.com says, "I only do the things that only I can do. So if it's someone else's job to do it, I try not to do it. If I find myself doing too many of those things that are actually someone else’s job, then… I probably don’t have the right person in that role."
This reminds me of the advice I heard from an elementary school principal: "When helping your child do their homework, if you find yourself holding the pencil, back off."
As a CEO my job is to establish goals, ie. the "what" we need to do, and allocate resources correctly. But I expect my direct reports to be experienced enough to figure out the "how" of deploying those resources to meet the goals. Same goes down the ranks.Accept that your time is worth more.
Stop trading your time for your salary. A promotion means your hourly rate has gone up. Your company is paying you to move the ball forward and paying you for your brain, not just your time. Both business owners and employees need to 'think up' in this way--this will also be reflected in the way you approach clients and fees. Your growth as an individual and company will create better products and services for which you can charge more.
The end goal is to make sure your company is recognizing the competencies of your rising stars and rewarding them in turn which advances the company as a whole. And this, coincidentally, keeps you operating as the CEO, not someone you used to be.
New research finds that it is possible to get people to talk about even the most mundane products. Here's how.
Go online and have a look at what products people are chattering about. The results won’t surprise you. New gadgets, trendy apparel, delicious cupcakes: These are the sort of attention-grabbing products that spur people to post on Facebook or comment (positively) on review sites.
So, does that mean if you sell toothpaste, lawn chairs, auto parts, or something else that’s decidedly unsexy, you’re out of luck when it comes to word-of-mouth advertising?
Common sense may suggest yes, but apparently, new, in-depth research from a pair of Wharton marketing professors says no. The multiphased study delved into an anomaly noticed in earlier studies of what gets people chatting--discussion topics seem to be quite different online and off.What Marketers (and Online Daters) Know
First, to determine if this effect was in fact true, the researchers conducted a series of lab experiments in which they asked study subjects to talk about products both face to face and through text messaging. Online communication did indeed focus on the new and shiny, they confirmed, while face to face we are more likely to mention products nearly everyone would classify as boring.
So why do we apparently get less interesting in person (a question asked not only by marketers but also frequently by online daters)? The answer, as revealed by further experiments, is probably the same in both cases. The slower nature of online communication means we have more time to rack our brains for interesting topics and consciously think about and manage our level of coolness. Put people on the spot in person and their well-cultivated exterior cracks under the time pressure, leaving them with nothing to discuss but what’s top of mind, however interesting--or not--that might be.Putting the Research to Work
The insight that we all talk about more boring things in person than online is interesting, but what good is it to you as a business owner? For less-sexy products, the key isn’t to be new or noteworthy, the research suggests, so skip that video of the gorilla playing the drums, and instead try to associate your products with everyday situations to have it top of mind and easily accessible when people are stressing about what to talk about next.
Study co-author Jonah Berger offers the example of a recent campaign for Kit Kat candy bars: "Think about a coffee break; think about Kit Kat. Kit Kat and coffee, coffee and Kit Kat. Did that make Kit Kat seem really exciting?
"No. Is it going to make people talk about it a lot online because it’s interesting? Not really. But that campaign got huge word of mouth offline, because it triggered people to think about Kit Kat every time they were having coffee."
The message from the researchers is simple: Don’t abandon all hope of word of mouth if your product lacks excitement. Just tweak your approach to getting folks to talk about it. "Some of the brands I work with say things like, ‘We could never do word of mouth, because there’s nothing exciting about us,’" Berger commented. "But people talk about the weather all the time.
"They talk about what they had for lunch. It’s not that these are the most exciting things in the world; it’s that they’re top of mind and people are thinking about them. So that’s a great way to get people to share as well, particularly offline."
A surprising amount of U.S. small businesses don't offer employees any paid time off.
Looking at how U.S. policies on paid vacation compare to those of other developed nations, the difference is clear. That's because the U.S. is the only nation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that doesn't require businesses to offer any paid leave. It's up to employers to decide how many days off to allow their employees, and according to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, many companies simply don't. In fact, more than 30 percent of U.S. small businesses don't offer their employees paid vacation at all.
The graphic below from statistics company Statista shows just how many vacation days some Americans are missing.
Most companies want to engage employees in purposeful work. That's not always an easy task, but here's how gamification can help.
Let's be honest: Most workplaces don't help. They turn work hours into a litany of mundane tasks to be completed--the antithesis of engagement. Employees spend the majority of their waking lives at work where they spend the majority of their time apathetic and uninspired. It's a damned tragedy.
And it's certainly not good news for business owners. The most successful companies of the future will need to create ways to motivate people and instill purpose.
The problem is, how do you measure purpose or improve it? I'm starting to see some new tools that do just that, and the potential is incredible.Why Gamification Works
Gamification isn't a new concept. It's been around for decades. But I'm absolutely in love with its latest evolution. It's becoming more than gimmicks and badges; it's actual improvement to the quality of work.
Recently, I discovered a gamification tool I'm thrilled with: It's called Ambition. It has the potential to overhaul company culture by instilling a deeper sense of purpose--even across mundane, repetitive tasks.
The tool's maker, also called Ambition, is a newly minted Y Combinator company with very humble beginnings. It adapted Fantasy Football to the office environment, because it's something the creators "wish they could have had for themselves."
They're now realizing that their relatively simple system is incredibly effective, because it promotes camaraderie, competition, and a sense of accomplishment. Its users are becoming evangelists, because Ambition is changing the way they do their jobs.
The best part? It aligns incentives, which is critical for any purpose-driven tool for the workplace. These tools must not only motivate employees but also drive productivity and profitability.What Really Motivates People
Managers can create a lot of unimportant tasks to be completed. This is not productivity. Pushing a red button 1,000 times a day is indeed productive. But is it really producing the results you want?
Don't just help employees be more productive. Measure their progress toward the right goals, to make sure they are motivated to do the right things.
In his landmark book on human motivation, Drive, Dan Pink makes a case that true motivation consists of three elements--autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
He discovered that external factors (carrots and sticks) don't really motivate employees. You can, however, create the right conditions to help employees develop intrinsic motivation. This is where gamification can help.
Gamification allows you to focus on what sustainably motivates people:
- Autonomy is enhanced, because employees must own their performance. Their numbers are very clearly displayed on the dashboard. There's no room for excuses.
- Mastery is developed, because employees are consistently being challenged and given opportunities to receive feedback.
- Purpose is clarified, because everyone's work is recognized as a part of a whole. When the whole tribe pulls in the same direction, purpose is strengthened.
Perhaps the only thing humans crave more than progress is feedback. People want to know what others think about them. And it's not always the positive feedback they want.
Employees want honest feedback. They want to know how they compare with peers and how they stack up against others doing roughly the same things they do.
The problem is that most feedback is far too subjective. Without adequate measurement of an employee's performance, your emotions can hijack your ability to evaluate someone effectively.
Any HR professional will tell you to keep your feedback behavior-based, but unless you're basing feedback on the right behaviors, that too will fall short.
Gamification tools allow you to define your key performance indicators, or KPIs, and then help you structure your feedback on the basis of those KPIs. You know exactly what is being measured and how everyone is faring."Coopetition" Among Teams
Salespeople are naturally competitive. Gamification uses that competitiveness to your company's advantage. It turns intrinsic competition between individuals and teams into a vital part of company culture.
With gamification, competition is no longer about posturing for some nondescript power. The competitive drive can be unleashed in an engaging and fun way to meet company goals.
But humans also need connection with others to flourish. Our best work is not siloed or self-contained. Our best work consists of interactions and negotiations between different minds all working together to solve the same problem.
Gamification tools boost accountability by connecting individual results to the team's collective outcomes.Transparency
When an organization can be a transparent one, it has achieved something great. Similar to self-actualization in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, organizational transparency sits at the top.
Transparency builds trust between managers and team members. It makes expectations clear, as well as the criteria by which success is judged.
Gamification tools create a real-time dashboard on which metrics are timely and indisputable. Employees no longer have to wait for annual reviews to ask, "How am I doing?" They'll know.
And managers no longer have to make educated guesses about an employee's performance. The tools make all that information easily accessible.
Purposeful work is created when employees know how their performance contributes to the progress of the organization.
If you believe this is a necessary part of a thriving company culture, then you might want to give gamification a try.
A roundup of the day's news curated by the Inc. editorial team to help you and your business succeed.1. Bossy Backlash
The nearly inevitable backlash to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's "Ban Bossy" campaign has begun, but not in the way you might expect. Sayu Bhojwani, founder of the New American Leaders Project, takes exception with the campaign's notion that girls should speak their minds without first editing the words in their head. "I don't want my child, my team members, my colleagues, male or female, just speaking up because it is good practice," she writes. -- Quartz2. Here Come the Bots
Loan officers, receptionists, and paralegals might be the most likely to see their jobs overtaken by robots in the future, according to an Oxford University report. Lawyers, the study shows, have the least likely job to be automated. Entrepreneurs? So far, you're safe. -- Business Insider3. Goldman Sachs on Bitcoin
For all the companies out there that accept Bitcoin or have business models built around the digital currency, a new report might give you pause. Goldman Sachs researched the currency and its exchange rates over time and has declared it, for now, too volatile for mass adoption. The research did say, however, that Bitcoin has transformed how transactions are made. -- Business Insider4. Pay for Performance
Average Wall Street bonuses grew 15 percent to $164,530 in 2013, the largest average since before the 2008 financial crisis, and the third highest ever recorded. Year-over-year profits, however, were 30 percent lower, at $16.7 billion for 2013. Imagine if you rewarded your business commensurately. -- NY State Comptroller5. Silicon Valley's Youth Problem
A story in the upcoming Sunday Times Magazine shows how much Silicon Valley loses out because the new generation of techies and the old guard don't communicate with each other or work together. The result: hot apps, but no great new technology. Are there similar splits--and costs--within your company? -- New York Times6. Minimum Wage Debate
If you oppose the Harkin minimum wage bill (which would boost hourly pay to $10.10), you're now in prestigious company. More than 500 economists, including three Nobel laureates and several former Administration officials, warned the Senate committee holding hearings on the bill to reconsider the recent Congressional Budget Office report, which says the Harkin bill would cost the economy 500,000 jobs by 2016.--Economist Letter7. Second Acts
Though many say the Affordable Care Act has created new challenges for existing businesses, some experts predict the law will spur startup creation--to the tune of 25,000 new companies a year, according to the Kauffman Foundation. Aspiring entrepreneurs who have been holding onto their day jobs for the health insurance, now have more reason to strike out on their own. -- NPR
Just months after raising $40 million from Google Capital, Renaissance Learning is getting acquired in one of the biggest exits in the hot ed tech industry.
Well, that was quick.
Less than a month ago, I spoke with Renaissance Learning CEO Jack Lynch about the company's recent $40 million round of funding from Google Capital, which valued Renaissance, a nearly 30-year-old company, at $1 billion. Now, it looks like Google's prediction was right on the money (pun intended).
On Thursday, Renaissance announced it was being acquired by the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman for a $1.1 billion, one of the largest exits in education technology history.
"I have to say it does look like it was staged, the Google investment and the acquisition, but I swear they were two separate transactions," Lynch said by phone Wednesday evening.
Founded in 1985, Renaissance makes student assessment software for K-12 schools to help teachers fine-tune their lessons to student needs. In 2011, its founders Judi and Terry Paul sold the company to Permira Holdings, and according to Lynch, the company has been approached about acquisitions ever since. "A company that has been as successful as this one has a pretty steady stream of interested parties to acquire it. We just haven't been for sale," Lynch said, noting that Renaissance's technology is currently being used by more than 20 million students across approximately one third of the country's schools.
The $1.1 billion price tag offered by Hellman & Friedman, however, was too good to pass up. "I think that helps a lot," Lynch admitted.
One question I'm wondering is whether or not the Pauls are kicking themselves for missing out on the billion-dollar payday. They sold the company for $455 million in 2011, and in a controversial move, did not take the highest bid for the company, instead selling to Permira, in a move that many believe the Pauls made because they wanted to ensure Renaissance's mission would be preserved. Now that Permira is passing the torch to Hellman & Friedman, it remains to be seen how the new owners will position the company going forward. Judi Paul has not yet responded to my request for comment, but I'll update this post if she does.
Lynch, however, says he expects the founders to be "very pleased with the outcome."
"They worked very hard with a number of the employees who will now get a nice payday," he said. "They founded a great company that's having a huge impact in education, and they were always focused on the mission and genuinely care about the impact."
Meanwhile, for other aspiring education entrepreneurs out there, Lynch anticipates this will be a watershed moment. "I think this will probably get a lot of entrepreneurs very excited, which is great," he said, adding, however, that aspiring entrepreneurs should know it takes a great deal of time to build a distribution footprint like Renaissance's.
"Those are things that are hard to replicate," he warned. "But there is room for innovation in education and there's a lot of investment going into it right now. I expect that to continue."
No one wants to ever have to let a co-founder go, but sometimes, for the good of your company, you must.
The first months of running a startup are exciting--almost intoxicating.
You and your co-founders have been working nights and weekends to craft your product and company vision. Maybe you've quit your jobs and are working feverishly to get something to show. Perhaps you have a prototype and started showing it around to a few friends and friends-of-friends to great applause. You might have even gone public with a website or app and acquired a few customers or users.
Things are looking pretty good. But once your company sheds its side-project status and morphs into a this-is-serious company, you have entered the startup pressure cooker and everything changes.
The official kickoff typically entails making tough decisions--quitting your job, raising some capital, or taking on obligations (space, new hires, etc.). This stage is also when you may need to jettison your company's deadwood--that is, a co-founder who isn't pulling her weight.
It's a bitter pill to swallow, no doubt. After all, this person was with you from the beginning, and you probably have a long history together. But cutting loose a free-riding co-founder is potentially business-saving medicine that can help move your company forward.
If you're ever in this unenviable position, here are six steps:
1. Heed the warning signs.
The members of a good team like one another. Great teams consistently communicate and ask the tough questions. Great teams consistently test the business assumptions and review the role everyone is playing to meet the company goals. In this process, great teams and great team members know when something is amiss.
Missed deadlines, tasks completed that are low priorities, discussions about tasks continually morphing into a discussion about vision are just a few areas that tip you that someone is out of sync. If you are seeing examples of this, you must sit down with the founding team and get it out in the open. Now. Every day of delay is a waste and burns valuable fuel (time and capital).
2. Ask your advisers and mentors for council.
I have talked about the need to find advisers you can trust. If you raised capital, these can be your investors or board members. These are the people to whom you reach out to raise this serious concern. Believe me, this is not the first time they have seen this. If you have built a foundation of trust and transparency with your advisers, your anecdotes regarding your co-founder should easily resonate with them. They know your collective vision, priorities, and tasks. Share the founder-disconnect concerns with them and use them as a second set of eyes.
3. Talk out options with your legal council.
There are certainly legal bases to cover to make sure that you execute this change the right way. In most cases, we are referring to things such as salary, equity vesting or distribution, and equipment. These are easily handled with your legal council. Do it.
4. Check in with advisers again (this is not an easy decision).
There are softer, more informal issues that are many times more important than not breaking the law. These are important, as they set the tone and represent your culture to employees, customers, partners, and supporters of the company. Think through the message you want to leave with all of these constituents. Consult your advisers again and test the message.
5. Bite the bullet.
Your first task, when you have your ducks in a row, is to sit down with your co-founder and lay out the plan. Be honest. Be direct. Tell her that this decision has been made, and move on to the outcome. Be respectful. Minimize your words.
6. Be open with your company's stakeholders.
Execute the soft plan with employees, customers, and partners. Again, minimize the explanation, message with confidence, and then move on. Too much conversation shows weakness. Ignoring that there was an issue is naive. Remember, it’s all about the business.
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Looking for winning talent at a reasonable price? Here's how the smartest football teams have approached recruiting this offseason -- and what you can learn from them.
For football fans, Tuesday's 30-minute Twitter outage was something like an oxygen deprivation. The NFL's free agency period -- when players not under contract are free to sign with any team -- was about to begin. Panic set in. Circumstances appeared dire. But then Twitter bounced back, and fans resumed the important work of tracking their favorite teams and players on one of the biggest recruiting days of the year.
Now that the first day of the free agent period has passed, one clear trend is clear: Teams no longer want to invest heavily in the running back (RB) position. Once a star-laden, highly compensated role deemed vital for any high-functioning offense, RBs are now viewed as a commodities worthy only of league-average salaries.
Instead, football teams are catching on to what smart small-business leaders have known for years: When it comes to cost-effective hiring, your main goal is not filling a position; it is creating a positive business outcome. This, of course, is a tenet of "Moneyball" -- specifically, gaining a competitive advantage by finding bargain employees who can outproduce superstar (i.e. highly compensated) employees.
By devaluing the RB position, football teams have now hit on a Moneyball strategy of their own. They've learned to steer clear of paying big money to RBs, since any link between superstar RBs and winning games is tenuous at best.Paying for Outcomes, Not Names
What does all of this mean for your business? HubSpot founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah beautifully articulated this Moneyball tenet -- paying for outcomes, as opposed to names or titles -- in a blog on LinkedIn. To explain the concept, Shah paraphrased a chat he'd once had with an entrepreneur:
Shah: What do you need?
Them: We need to build a management team.
Shah: No, what do you actually need right now?
Them: Well, right now we need a VP of Engineering.
Shah: What for?
Them: Well, we need someone to head up our product development effort.
Shah: No, you actually need to write code and release a product. You need to respond to customer issues. You need to iterate quickly so you can learn quickly. You don't need a VP of anything, you need a doer of stuff that needs to get done. Don't think about buying titles -- think about buying outcomes.
In both baseball and football, the desired outcome -- what teams are hoping to buy -- is winning games. In business, it might be something else, but in most cases it's probably related to sustained growth, brand, or profitability. In the same way a startup shouldn't splurge on a VP of Engineering when what it needs are coding workaholics in the trenches, football teams have learned not to splurge on RBs.The Demise of the Running Back as a Marquee Role
How do we know, for sure, that football teams have stopped spending on RBs? For one thing, not a single RB got a major deal on March 11. If anything, the day belonged to left tackles: Branden Albert (Dolphins), Eugene Monroe (Ravens), Rodger Saffold (Raiders) and Jared Veldheer (Cardinals) all received multi-year deals with a combined value of more than $160 million.
Defensive backs also did well: T.J. Ward (Broncos), Donte Whitner (Browns), Vontae Davis (Colts), Aqib Talib (Broncos), Alterraun Verner (Bucs), Sam Shields (Packers), Malcolm Jenkins (Eagles), Antoine Bethea (49ers), Mike Mitchell (Steelers) and Jairus Byrd (Saints) all got major deals.
By contrast, some of the best RBs on the market -- Ben Tate, Knowshon Moreno, Maurice Jones-Drew -- were left hanging. Arguably the best available RB, Darren McFadden, signed a remarkably reasonable one-year, $4-million deal to stay with the Raiders. Other potential starters (Donald Brown to the Chargers, Rashad Jennings to the Giants) signed for peanuts.
On top of this, not a single RB went in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. It was the first time in 50 years that this happened. And plenty of experts believe it could happen again in the 2014 draft.
You could argue we're witnessing a sea change in football history: Namely the demise of the RB position, which was once made great by legends like Jim Brown, Walter Payton, and Earl Campbell.
Clearly, teams have decided that acquiring talent at left tackle and defensive back is more essential to winning than is acquiring big-name RBs.What the Analytics Say
As a lifetime football fan, I found this news hard to believe. Could it possibly be that the position made heroic -- nay, immortal -- by legends like Payton and Campbell was now a fungible commodity? My heart didn't want to believe what the salary numbers were clearly saying.
I even wondered if the RB position was now becoming too undervalued. And, if so, was it not possible that a smart NFL team could gain a competitive advantage by buying bargains at the RB position?
I posed my thesis to the team of experts at Football Outsiders (FO), who perform advanced analytics on player performances -- including each athlete's contribution to a successful team.
Their answer? A firm no. "It isn't that running backs are 'undervalued,' it's that they are 'properly valued,'" explained FO's Rivers McCown. "Teams are realizing that running back performance tends to be a very fragile thing -- especially as RBs tend to get into their late 20s -- and they are planning around needing at least two backs."
In other words, RBs are low-priced for a reason: They don't exert much influence over wins and losses. When it comes to RBs, teams have already learned their big Moneyball lesson: Don't overpay for talent at an injury-prone position that doesn't necessarily correspond to wins.
According to McCown, there's little tying a team's running attack to wins beyond its pure volume of rushes. Which is to say, how often you rush matters more than who is doing the rushing. In which case, why does it matter how much you pay the player who is doing the rushing?
Moreover, even this statistical correlation -- between the volume of rushes and winning games -- is more of a lagging indicator than a leading one. That's because the team that amasses more rushes is usually the one that is already ahead in the game, anyway. They are, essentially, "running out the clock," to use the football cliche.
So if your favorite team is still coming up thin at the RB position this offseason, fear not.
They have more important things to worry about it.
And so do you.
Brutally cold temperatures aside, small business lending heated up this winter.
The ground still may be frozen in parts of the U.S., but the small business sector has been blooming for months, as small business borrowing launches in 2014.
Demand for lending and financing among small companies last month increased 9.7 percent over January, according to the Direct Capital Small Business Lending Index. This spike occurred despite a Polar Vortex that cancelled thousands of flights and kept many potential customers shuttered indoors.
The uptick, paired with a recent bout of warmer weather, could signal an increased willingness among banks to throw open their coffers--or at least, entertain giving you a loan when they might have shied away before.
“Small businesses are perseverant people,” says Stephen Lankler, senior vice president of Direct Capital. “Despite what people describe as a tepid small business economy, more small businesses are taking out loans.”
The Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based small business lender’s Index also reveals a 23 percent increase in February over the same period a year ago. Direct Capital considers this surge in lending--as well as businesses paying back loans on time--a testament to increased confidence in consumer demand. The algorithm for the Index measures search engine inventory, credit activity of small businesses, and the demand Direct Capital itself sees.Not a Bank Rush
But surely, not all businesses are rushing to the bank. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which publishes a monthly Small Business Optimism Index, tells a different story for February. The Index dropped 2.7 points to 91.4 last month, well below the pre-recession average of 100. The NFIB attributes survey respondents’ diminished optimism to uncertainty about the economy and the government.
If you're confused, you're not alone, says Ami Kassar, CEO of MultiFunding.com. He notes that contradictory indexes can make it difficult to nail down what’s happening with small business lending, despite anecdotal evidence that companies are healthier and lenders and more willing to dole out funds.
“It's extremely difficult, at least from my perspective, to consider any of these indexes that have come out to be statistically valid,” Kassar says. “There are so many new, alternative lenders in the market who are not required to report on their lending activity.”
Lankler, too, admits that conflicting information clouds the truth about the state of small business lending. But, he emphasizes that business owners would not be risking debt if they didn’t believe they would be able to leverage new capital.
“We talk to thousands of companies on a daily basis, and they’re expressing that they’re doing better than they have been,” Lankler says. “Many of them have plans to purchase equipment and grow their businesses.”
Following President Obama's successful Between Two Ferns appearance, the White House launches a new Obamacare marketing campaign aimed at startup "geeks."
Whoever's doing the White House marketing strategy is doing a bang-up job lately, using a humorous, tongue-in-cheek approach to pitch Obamacare to a youthful, upwardly mobile demographic.
Earlier this week, President Obama's punchy guest appearance on the online faux-talk show Between Two Ferns, hosted by comedian Zach Galifianakis, gave a big traffic bump to Healthcare.gov. The interview, in which the President encouraged viewers to enroll for health coverage through the site--"it works great"--was posted to the Funny or Die website on Tuesday morning. Tuesday's traffic to Healthcare.gov was up almost 40 percent compared to the day before. It's too early to know yet, but supposedly--hopefully--many of these visitors are precisely the "young invincibles" (Galifianakis: "Young invisibles? That's impossible") whose participation in the healthcare market is key to making the economics of Obamacare work.
Then today, the White House kicked off a new campaign, called Geeks Get Covered, with a ready made hashtag (#geeksgetcovered) and a one-minute YouTube video in which a young, diverse bunch of "geeks" employed at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy share reasons why their fellow geeks should get covered.
"America's full of geeks, and that's a good thing," says Ryan Panchadsaram, senior advisor to the chief technology officer Todd Park, in the video. The ad's definition of "geek" is broadly inclusive, with shout-outs to entrepreneurs, inventors, heads of tech startups, scientists, researchers, engineers, app developers, coders, and freelance web designers. What these drivers of the economy need to succeed is "the freedom and security to keep innovating, and that means not worrying about access to affordable health care."
In a message announcing the Geeks Get Covered campaign on the White House website, Todd Park gets even more specific about the benefits of this "security," including the ability for innovators to "pursue their dreams without fear of losing coverage or worrying that a preexisting condition or new illness will bankrupt their families." And he cites a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study that predicts the number of self-employed Americans will be 1.5 million higher in 2014 because the Affordable Care Act makes it easier to go it alone.
According to the National Association for the Self-Employed, nearly 78 percent of U.S. small businesses are solo entrepreneurs. The Census Bureau's annual tally of "nonemployer businesses," taken from tax return data, shows about 20 million of these solo-businesses in 2011. "Geeks" make up a significant share of the self-employed: the number of independent web developers has roughly doubled in the past 10 years, according to analysis by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. Other free-agent categories on the rise include scientists, human resources specialists, computer and IT managers, editors and technical writers, and market research analysts.
Whether the latest charm offensive from the White House can go viral with this grab bag of geeks remains to be seen. But successfully wooing this influential and relatively affluent demographic could go a long way to ensuring Obamacare's ultimate success.
Multitasking has its downsides, but one experiment suggests it might help you devise more creative solutions faster.
Multitasking, difficult to avoid though it may be, is generally frowned upon as a productivity killer. But a recent study, detailed on the HBR Blog Network by writer and professor David Burkus, suggest that multitasking might ultimately aid in creative output -- if done the right way.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney and examined three groups of students, who were tasked with completing an "alternate uses" test -- a common creativity drill wherein subjects are given an object and asked to come up with as many uses for it as they can.
The first group was given four straight minutes to work on the exercise.
The second group was given two minutes to work on it, then told to work on a different creativity test -- namely, they were tasked with coming up with synonyms for a list of words. They were then given two minutes to return to the original test.
The third group was given the same two minutes on -- two minutes off -- two minutes back on structure. But during the subjects' two minutes off, rather than taking on a different creative task, were instead given the much more passive activity of completing a survey that asked them about themselves.
When the results came in, they were fairly stark. The first group, the one that worked for four minutes straight, generated an average of 6.9 ideas during the alternative use test. The second group, which took on creative work in between different legs of the alternative use test, generated 7.6. And the final group, which stepped away from creativity tasks for a few minutes, came up with 9.8 ideas.
The implications could be taken in a few different directions, but the results definitely indicate that creativity might flourish when it's approached piecemeal. And stepping away from creative tasks for more passive ones might generate a bigger boost compared to shifting from one creative task to another.
As Burkus puts it, this allows creative ideas to "incubate":
One possible explanation for these findings is that when presented with complicated problems, the mind can often get stuck, finding itself tracing back through certain pathways of thinking again and again. When you work on a problem continuously, you can become fixated on previous solutions. You will just keep thinking of the same uses for that piece of paper instead of finding new possibilities. Taking a break from the problem and focusing on something else entirely gives the mind some time to release its fixation on the same solutions and let the old pathways fade from memory. Then, when you return to the original problem, your mind is more open to new possibilities -- eureka moments.
So if you're in the middle of a creative process, you might benefit from stopping yourself cold and reading your emails for a few minutes before returning to the task at hand.
Previous research about multitasking has led to divided results. Some studies show it hurts productivity, as people tend to struggle to get back into an activity after stepping away from it for some time. But other research shows that an executive teams' propensity for multitasking can often have a positive effect on a company's bottom line.