Tag Archives: success

if you’re getting criticized, at least you’re doing something.

A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tried out a few of the old proven “sure-fire” literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.
— William Faulkner on Mark Twain

I picked up a copy of Bad Press: The Worst Critical Reviews Ever! over the weekend at the Oswego County SPCA‘s yard sale fundraiser. In addition to being full of words spiteful and sensational over works famous and forgotten, it offers a great lesson for everyone working hard at something who suffers the barbs of the jealous, the ignorant and the uninformed.

[I]n the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.
— Mark Twain on James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Deerslayer”

At conferences and in online communities, I hear from such folk regularly. They talk of some exciting new direction they try to steer their institution toward, only to deal with cross-currents of those who prefer still waters to charting new currents. Of plans for the greater good that garner resistance from those looking to pad their own ego. Of ideas for user-centric websites that get blank stares and requests to prominently post a mission statement that means nothing to anyone.

The scientific machinery is not very delicately constructed, and the imagination of the reader is decidedly overtaxed.
— New York Times review of H.G. Wells’ “The Invisible Man”

Such motivated, creative people who deal with criticism and petty complaints  have something in common with the recipients of brickbats in this book: They’re doing something. Perhaps something awesome. Perhaps something that represents a small step in the right direction. And perhaps something slightly misguided. But they are trying to break a stale and staid status quo. They are trying new things. Good for them! If you’re one such person, good for you!

This obscure, eccentric and disgusting poem.
— Voltaire on John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

Great writers did not become famous by not publishing their work for fear of criticism; they forged ahead believing their work had value and a potential audience. Whether anyone’s fresh ideas succeed or not, there is much more success in trying something than in never taking risks at all.



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branding is a battlefield: winning lessons from pat benatar.

Since in a high school English class, I once used Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield” as an example of a metaphor, her music has been around a while (as have I). So when I was fortunate enough to pick up her Best Shots greatest hits disc *free* at a tweetup/swap meet/BBQ in Ithaca this weekend, I realized just what an amazing body of work Benatar produced — and what she can teach us about branding.

In addition to her many solid, catchy, memorable songs, Benatar the entertainer has a lasting image. An unmistakably tough yet tender persona that always seemed authentic. Sexy, but never slutty. A string of hits including “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Heartbreaker,” “Treat Me Right,” “Promises in the Dark,” “Fire and Ice,” “We Live for Love,” “We Belong” and many more. (Archeologists cite her song “Invincible” as the only proof the movie “The Legend of Billie Jean” ever existed.)

Pat Benatar in "Love Is A Battlefield"

Pat Benatar's "Love Is A Battlefield" video is considered groundbreaking in its insertion of dialogue into the narrative (image courtesy of Yahoo! Video).

But Benatar’s brand is substance with style. While so many acts from Samantha Fox to the Spice Girls sold sizzle but no steak, Benatar provided content. Quality content. Enduring content. “Love Is A Battlefield” pioneered inserting spoken dialogue into a video to help tell its story and provided a strong message of female empowerment. She scored a hit with “Hell Is For Children,” an unflinching look at the then-taboo subject of child abuse. Among her 10 gold/platinum/multiplatinum albums, some sold better than others, and she did make a (credible) foray into the blues, but she stayed true to herself and never did anything misguided or embarrassing (yes, Madonna, I’m looking at you).

If great branding is consistency, Benatar had it covered with good songs and her distinctive delivery and vocal style. With so many ’80s bands based on gimmick or image becoming one-hit wonders, Benatar focusing on music and messages provided her a long, influential time in the spotlight. Her popular albums, videos and nearly 20 top 40 singles led to Billboard declaring her the most successful female rock vocalist ever, so clearly her “brand” was successful. If not everyone is a Pat Benatar fan, I’ve never heard of anyone disliking her or not respecting her discography.

If you work in branding, think about Benatar in comparison to your brand. Is your marketing about gimmicks, or content and connections geared for the long haul? Are you authentic, or pretending to be something you’re not? Are you creating content that’s relevant for the next 30 days, or for the next 30 years? Is your message consistent enough to be recognizable, like hearing Benatar’s trademark vocals or the timeless opening riff of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”? If not, aren’t those nice targets? Branding, like love, is a battlefield — but I think Pat Benatar’s career provides us a bit of a field manual.

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super bowling: models of risk-taking vs. yielding to self-interest.

It’s the last Sunday in the National Football League regular season, and eight of the 16 games have implications on who will make the playoffs and compete for the Super Bowl. By contrast, NCAA DI football will stage 34 post-season bowl games this year, only one of which means anything for the national championship.

Quick: Which system do you think is more popular? Which do you think was built on risk-taking and which is steeped in self-interest?

Just as it’s clear that many more people will watch Denver and San Diego compete for the final NFL playoff spot this evening than will switch over to see Northern Illinois play Louisiana Tech in tonight’s Independence Bowl, it’s easy to see the NFL is the king of all sports in America. But it took a lot of gambles to get there.

In the 1960s, the established NFL assented to play a championship game vs. the upstart American Football League. The title game became known as the Super Bowl, almost as a joke, and the first two years the NFL winner crushed its AFL foe. But before Super Bowl III in 1969, a brash QB named Joe Namath guaranteed his New York Jets, heavy underdogs in everyone’s mind, would beat the powerful Baltimore Colts. Namath and the Jets won 16-7 and, the stigma of inferiority gone, the NFL and AFL merged in 1970. In also embracing other risky ventures like Monday Night Football, the NFL has become a model league whose 2008 Super Bowl attracted more than 148 million viewers in the U.S. (making it the second most-watched program of all time).

If the race to the Super Bowl is the Eiffel Tower, the NCAA’s bowl season is a series of small erector sets. While every other NCAA sport has some kind of open championship (including Division IA, II and III football), DI football works with the Bowl Championship Series using computer formulas to select who plays in the national championship game. This is good news for this year’s title teams, Florida and Oklahoma (who have each lost once), but bad news for other teams who lost once (including Texas, Texas Tech, USC, Alabama and Penn State).

While fans, coaches and supporters of teams who miss out on the championship game complain, college presidents, bowl organizers and sponsors keep this unpopular non-playoff format in place, giving us things like the St. Petersburg Bowl (South Florida vs. Memphis), the Motor City Bowl (Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan) and Papajohns.com Bowl (North Carolina State vs. Rutgers). Sure, 34 teams get to win their last games, but 33 of them are just earning consolation prizes. Compare this to the DI basketball tournament — known as March Madness — where 65 teams chase the championship on the court.

To my point: How many of us have worked places where we were allowed to take risks in pursuit of excellence? How many of us have worked in places where self-interest stands in the way of greater success for customers and internal stakeholders? Where would you rather work?

For the new year, I urge workplaces everywhere to take more chances, when those chances can support better customer service, happier employees and improved solutions. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gearing up for a big day of important NFL games.

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