Emotion: Does it have a place in business?

It’s funny when you notice something that becomes a pattern… Kind of like when you learn a new word and then you start hearing that word all the time. Once you see it in one place, you see it everywhere.

The same thing has happened to me with the following concept…

  • I’m doing some consulting with a company that is going through a period of rapid growth. They are expanding in several different and exciting ways, and all this change is mostly good but it also creates some challenges. While talking to the owners yesterday, they said to me that they are trying to take emotion out of the situation so they only deal with things logically.
  • I’m also writing a book for a client and he talks about the value of making decisions based purely on a logical decision-making criteria versus basing your decisions on in-the-moment emotion.
  • And in my personal life, I have a family member who is considering the positives and negatives of a fairly big change in their life. And in a conversation they had yesterday, they said to me: “I know the logical reasons for the change but it’s the emotional reasons that are holding me back right now.”
  • I was watching a TV show that took place during the suffrage movement, and the argument made in the show (and presumably in real life, at the time) was that men were logical and should be the ones to vote while women were emotional and therefore not equipped to make good voting decisions.

In each case, I encountered someone who sought to remove emotion from the picture so they could only look at things logically.

At first glance, this idea of logic trumping emotion sounds good: Logic is clinical, analytical, focused (Hey, didn’t SuperTramp sing about this?)… and in our modern, scientific society, this approach is highly respected. We’re advanced enough to know that we aren’t guided by fate or luck but that our own decisions shape our future. We also think that applying 100% logic and 0% emotion to every decision will give us the very best outcome in every situation; that the application of a scientific approach will, by its very nature, take us to the best choice.

But is that true?

Until recently I probably would have said it was. I’ve always been kind of a studious academic kind of person who appreciates a logical, analytical approach to things. (Well, most of the time. My high school science teacher might disagree). But I’ve been rethinking it a bit and yesterday’s encounters have forced me to articulate my thoughts.

Here’s what I’m thinking about…

IS LOGIC THE OPPOSITE OF EMOTION?

I think this is a big part of the puzzle. We tend to think that logic is the opposite of emotion. On the one hand, you have a logical, analytical approach. On the other hand, you have an emotive, impassioned approach. One is step by step, the other is a frenzy of feeling.

I don’t think that’s true, though. Logical approaches can’t always arrive at a conclusion through a step by step process. Logic is true for a moment but as the world changes, the logic that decisions are built on will change as well. Take the example of my family member contemplating a large move. For many years, their current location was right. It was the logical approach for their situation. But now the situation has changed so the logic needs to change. Therefore, logic isn’t as clean and as precise as we want it to be.

We tend to think of logic being driven by our brain while emotions are driven by our heart, which, scientifically, is of course not true. Both logic and emotion come from the same place.

We tend to think that logic and emotion compete with each other. But do they? Sometimes it seems that way (as is the case in all four encounters I had recently) but it’s not always the case. Your marriage, your decision to have children, your decision for a career, and the purchase of your home (to randomly choose four HUGE decisions we make in life) are often born out of a congruence between logic and emotion. For example, logic says: “This person will make a good life partner” and emotion says: “I love this person” — so there’s congruence between the two. So there are times when logic and emotion work together.

(Admittedly, there are often times when emotion and logic are not congruent — when there’s a logical approach to something and an emotional approach to something. In those situations, we often think we need to defer to the logical approach.)

I think if logic and emotion were truly opposites of each other, they would more often work at cross purposes — logic would tell us to do one thing and emotion would tell us to do another… way more frequently than they do. And although that does happen (sometimes too frequently), it doesn’t happen consistently.

So I don’t think we can say logic is the opposite of emotion. They’re two approaches we take or two viewpoints we have or two “lenses” through which we see the world. They come from the same place (our minds) and they sometimes take divergent paths (but sometimes they don’t).

Which leads to my next point…

IS IT POSSIBLE TO REMOVE EMOTION FROM DECISIONS?

Name a decision in your life in which logic made 100% influence on the choice and emotion had 0% influence.

I think you’ll have a hard time finding one. Logic and emotion are intertwined in every decision. Sure, one usually wins out over the other and there are times when you deny one in favor of the other. But each was still present; each one still influenced the decision in some way.

Even a sale that is made logically is really made emotionally first. Ask any salesperson or copywriter. You always sell to emotions first and foremost and then you back it up with logic. Even when you’re selling to a large corporation, you’re still selling to the emotions of the decision-makers first. That’s a sales 101 concept that has stood the test of time.

We all have logic and emotion — both are present in, and shape, every decision we make from the largest to the smallest. The choices we make throughout the day are guided by whether they are fully congruent or whether we choose to listen to one and ignore the other.

EMOTIONS ALREADY GUIDE SO MUCH OF OUR LIVES

On a piece of paper, create two columns — one that says “Logic” and one that says “Emotion”. Now start listing decisions you made in your life in which one trumped the other. Again, I think it’s impossible to say that any decision was made solely on the basis of one of these influencers over the other. But I think you’ll often end up with ideas like “Career, house purchase” in the Logic side and “Spouse, children” in the Emotion side. We believe our logic guides us on the practical issues while emotion guides us on relational issues.

But I think you’ll agree that logic and emotion present in all of our decisions. And we’re okay with emotion being the dominant influencer in very important decisions (that are often relational in nature). So it’s not like we don’t trust emotions to guide us properly. In fact, I’d argue that we trust our emotions to guide us during our most important decisions (my emotion-dominant choice of a spouse is considerably more important than my logic-dominant choice of a car).

Furthermore, we’re emotional creatures who often measure the quality of a day by how happy or sad or angry (or whatever) we were that day.

We can’t suck emotion out of our lives.

So if that’s the case, what place do emotions have in business?

SHOULD EMOTION HAVE AN EQUIVALENT PLACE TO LOGIC IN BUSINESS?

I think they should.

Emotion is the weather vane of our satisfaction. When things are going well, we’re happy. When they’re not going well, we’re upset. Our goal in business should often be (within reason) to pursue our own satisfaction by increasing the things that make us happy and decreasing the things that make us upset. Negative emotions point to problems we need to address right away. The more acute the emotion, the bigger the problem that needs to be addressed.

Emotions are connected to our intuition. Anticipation and anxiety are both emotions that grow out of our intuition of what something is going to be like.

Logical and emotional alignment feels right. When that happens, we feel confident in our decisions and actions.

SO, SHOULD WE DO BUSINESS IN A FRENZY OF EMOTION?

Logic and emotion both come out of the same place yet sometimes they take divergent paths.

But I think we often try to deny emotion in favor of logic… and we shouldn’t: We can’t ignore or eliminate emotion entirely from any decision, plus emotion gives us an excellent guide to how things are going.

  • So, when our logic and emotion align, I believe we can move forward with confidence.
  • And, when our logic and emotion do not align, we should take that as an indicator to zoom in more closely and inspect the situation. Rather than deny emotion and go with the logical choice, we need to accept that something is not right and we should try to discover what piece of the puzzle is missing that is causing the misalignment.

Intentional magic: How to conjure more moments of pure awesomeness

I recently started working with a new client — one of the biggest clients I’ve ever worked with; a real “marquee” client that has the potential to change the game in my business.

So, when they sent me my first copywriting assignment, I definitely didn’t want to screw it up! Hitting my marks on this first assignment would mean a steady flow of great work from them for years to come.

That first assignment came in. I sat down to write it, sweating through every detail. It came together really fast and really solid and when I got the first version back to them on time, I was really happy with it. (In fact, after sending it to them, I thought, “wow, this is good.” and I read it a couple more times).

But I was nervous (yes, even though I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades)… would they like it? What if I totally missed something?

Then the initial feedback came in: “Love it. VERY strong work.

(Whew).

We made a couple of tweaks — not very many — and they sent the copy off to their web team and followed up with additional feedback to me: “Fantastic. Love it.

Awesome. I don’t get tired of hearing that. And given the amount of effort (and the bit of nervousness I felt), the feedback was even sweeter.

And, I couldn’t stop thinking about the work. I was really happy with it. I knew it was good. I count it among my best pieces of copywriting yet. I achieved magic. A moment when a bunch of things came together to create something special… to create a result that was a level above what I normally produce. I’m NOT telling you this to boast about it (which is why I’m not going to show you the copy or tell you who the client is; that doesn’t matter). I’m telling you this because it got me thinking…

I achieved magic that day. It felt good and the result was amazing. I’ve had a few of these moments throughout my career and I suspect you have too. They happen from time to time. In retrospect, they’re the times when I send something off and think “wow, it felt great to write that” and then I go back and re-read it, barely believing that it my was fingers that typed it.

If I could do it once in a while, why can’t I do it all the time? Why do I hit a certain level occasionally and how can I conjure magic more often?

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way or who wants to reach higher. I have friends in many industries that I’m sure also touch magic from time to time and want more. Maybe you do too.

So I set about to quantify that magic and to see if it can be repeated.

I’ll be drawing from my own copywriting experience but I hope that the concepts and lessons here will easily translate to your (non-copywriting) situation…

QUANTIFYING THE MAGIC

The first thing I needed to do was quantify the magic. What made it so magical?

It’s pretty clear that the copy itself wasn’t the magic. It was the result of magic. I think the magic was the entire process from start to finish.

There were several aspects of this project that were similar to every other project (it was a topic I was familiar with, they needed direct response copy and there was a deadline. These things are pretty standard across all of my projects for nearly all of my clients so I’m not including them in the quantification because they are common).

So I started looking at what was different about this project compared to other projects and the list below is my best estimation about what made this project so special:

  • I received very detailed instructions: This doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. Often I get a small list of vague goals or concepts and I’m tasked with creating copy from that. I don’t mind doing that — in fact, I think it’s a value I add for real estate investors who don’t necessarily know what good copy can do. They’re not copywriters, I am; so I know what info is needed. But the guy who gave me instructions has plenty of copywriting experience and a lot of business experience so he knew what information I needed before I could start, and he delivered it.
  • I did a thorough analysis: Since this was the first copy I’d ever done for this client, there were plenty of things I didn’t know about them so I invested a bit of time up-front to learn about them. I try to do this for every client but I don’t always go as deep, and after I get to know a client, it kind of stops. But the effort here was helpful and important, and it reminded me that I don’t need to stop once I’m familiar with a client’s business… there are always things to learn.
  • The stakes were higher: This project was different in that this was a first project for a potentially game-changing client, so the stakes were higher. It seemed to matter more. This was a make-or-break assignment because if it sucked, they’d pass on future work. (Of course I love all of my clients and try to deliver great work to them, and I try never to “phone my work in” but we all have days where we give a bit more or a bit less of ourselves).
  • I pushed myself harder: Probably because the stakes were so high, I worked very hard on this project and examined every word under a microscope. I kept pushing myself, focusing in on perfection and working relentlessly until I knew I had “it”.
  • I focused: When I sit down to write, I try to stay focused on the project. But sometimes my mind wanders or I’ll think of something else on a different project and I’ll quickly jump to that other project to deal with that distraction before returning. But on this project, I was 100% into the project; nothing could have pulled me off of it.

As best as I can tell, these are the points of difference that separate this assignment from most of my other assignments.

And as I look at this list of five elements, I can immediately identify two that are primary drivers from which the others flow: A stronger foundation (more information from the client and from my own analysis) and higher stakes (which led to focusing and pushing myself harder).

CONJURING THE MAGIC

I want to repeat that result again. I don’t want magic to “just happen”… I want it to appear regularly.

(Side note: Maybe it’s no longer magic when it happens regularly but by quantifying it and systematizing it, I think I can push to a higher level… and maybe when I’m experiencing that higher level, I’ll encounter a new type of rare magic that seems inconceivable right now).

On future projects, assuming that all else is equal (the topic, the type of writing, the deadlines), then I should be trying to re-establish the five magical elements I quantified above. And I should be able to do it with a stronger foundation and higher stakes — when I do, all five elements will be present.

To get these a stronger foundation, I need to do more up-front work before I start writing. I need to do more research earlier and let the ideas “percolate” in my head for a while. (This is a real change for me, since a lot of my writing starts very early in the process). To make this happen, I’m putting together a checklist of information I should collect after I get an assignment but before I start on it. I don’t think this up-front effort will slow me down substantially — because I wrote very fast when I did finally sit down to write.

To increase the stakes, I need to make sure that the project truly matters. I would say that my clients’ work is always important to me and I love working on it but I have to admit: After I’ve been working with a client for a while, I get comfortable with them; the stakes seem lower than they did with my big new game-changing client. So how can I increase the stakes? I’m not sure yet. Here are a few ideas:

  • Perhaps a more robust guarantee, such as a 200% refund if the work does not deliver?
  • Perhaps a personal goal of trying to stretch myself and do something new in each project?
  • Perhaps an “internal” reward that raises the stakes on the project for me (even if it doesn’t raise the stakes for my client?
  • Perhaps just a mindset shift that recognizes how critical every single project is to every single client?

I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve hit on the right formula just yet. The 200% guarantee sounds like it’s the closest so far but I would like something that raises the stakes in a positive way rather than a negative way.

CREATING INTENTIONAL MAGIC

So far I’ve used my own copywriting experience as the model. But I suspect that similar things are true in other industries.

Think about your work. When the “common things” are true (whatever those things happen to be for you) then perhaps a stronger foundation and higher stakes will create magic. What does a stronger foundation look like for you? What do higher stakes look like for you? Can you “force” those things to happen?

This blog represents some really early-stage thinking on the topic. I’d love to hear from you — in the comments or through email or Twitter — to let me know what you are thinking. Am I off base? Am I missing anything? How would you raise the stakes?

How to start a business when you DON’T have a product or service

I’ve always aspired to be a business owner, even when I was a kid. And I would stay awake at night dreaming up business ideas. In high school and college, I obsessed with the question: “What product or service should I sell?” I remember coming up with and discarding so many ideas.

I think the need for a product or service actually held me back from taking action.

When I finally started my business, it was out of desperation to get out of a job I hated — I couldn’t stand it anymore so I quit on the Friday and on Monday I was “in business”, even though I didn’t fully know what I was going to sell.

Even though I didn’t start with a product or service, here I am today with a fully-booked writing/consulting practice that primarily delivers copywriting for real estate investors.

And that was a huge lesson for me. I would love to go back and tell my younger self this lesson. (And it’s the exact same lesson I tell EVERY aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start a business and may or may not know what they want to sell).

Understanding this lesson will transform your new or existing venture, bring in more money than you ever thought possible, and eliminate all the worry and frustration that most business owners face about where their next sale is coming from.

Here’s the lesson:

YOU DON’T NEED A PRODUCT OR SERVICE TO START A BUSINESS

The ONLY thing you need is to find someone who has a problem and then solve that problem.

That’s it. Find a problem and solve it.

And the great news? There is no shortage of problems in the world. And, people are willing to pay (sometimes a lot) to have their problem solved.

I started a business once and it struggled because I tried to sell what I thought needed to sell. But the second time I started a business — after quitting the job I hated — it was different. On the first day I decided I was “in business” I connected with a friend who had a problem that I could solve. And I solved it. He became my best-paying, longest-lasting client, and I only recently dropped him as a client when our businesses evolved in different directions and I was no longer able to solve the new problems he faced. (Good news: Someone else is helping him now).

BUT WHICH PROBLEM SHOULD I SOLVE???

There are a million problems out there — from the relatively simple need of learning how to read sheet music all the way to a larger-scale need of solving global hunger. You can’t help them all. So consider the problems that your knowledge and skills and passion and industry contacts can solve.

I have a friend who is very skilled at analysis and she has been in management for many years. She feels somewhat trapped by her position and she’s been at it for so long that she isn’t sure how to make the move away from the job she has. She doesn’t realize how valuable her analytical skills and industry contacts are (well, I’m trying to tell her!). Here’s what she needs to do (and, if you’re in the same position, here’s what you need to do)…

  1. She needs to think about all the problems out there that her analytical skills and industry contacts can solve.
  2. She needs to find the people who are facing those problems.
  3. She needs to offer to help them solve those problems… for a fee. Some won’t want help but some will.
  4. Then she needs to solve those problems.

Voila! She has a product or service to serve a ready market.

Find the point where the problems of the world intersect with your skills, knowledge, passions, and contacts.

Heck, if you don’t feel that you have skills, knowledge, passions, and contacts, that’s okay too. (When I started my business, I had passion and a bit of skill but that was it.) You can figure out the rest. Just go and help someone.

HOW DO I MAKE MONEY SOLVING PROBLEMS WHEN I DON’T HAVE A PRODUCT OR SERVICE?

If you’ve never helped anyone before, I would just go out and help them. Maybe ask for some money to cover any expenses you might incur. But mostly just invest your time and effort to help one person.

With that success story in hand, figure out what it was worth to that one person and set a price around that, then go find other people with the same problem.

Boom. There’s your business plan to start your next business… or your next 10 businesses. It really is that easy.

And you don’t have to actually know the solution before-hand. You just have to know the problem and have some confidence that you can figure out how to solve the problem with the combination of knowledge, skills, passion, and contacts that you have.

MORE EXAMPLES

What I’ve been telling you applies to every single industry or niche or sector or marketplace (or however categorize yourself).

A friend of mine is a musician. He’s enjoyed a bit of national recognition but his marketplace is primarily regional — Western Canada. For a long time he’s been “selling” (although he would never use that word) his concerts. But one thing he does pretty well (and he’s getting better and better at it) is that he positions himself as a problem solver. He knows that his concerts solve a problem, just as all products and services do. He identified the group of people who have the problem and he’s been marketing to them and positioning himself as THE solution to their problem.

I know someone else who is trying to start a nursery school in a small town. Frankly, they’re struggling to find clients, even though their marketplace should be able to sustain the business. I’ve been trying to help them understand that they can’t just push their nursery school concept and then wonder why people aren’t signing up. Instead, they need to figure out what problem their nursery school solves and tell people the good news that their problems are completely solved by signing their kids up.

I’m starting another brand (because I don’t have enough already — haha) and the only reason I’m starting it is because I’ve noticed that there’s a problem that is not being solved. I’m not 100% sure how I’m going to solve it but I know I can so I’m putting the pieces in place for it right now.

What problems are out there that you have some combination of knowledge, skills, passion, and contacts to solve? Great! Go out and solve it.

Break your business to build a stronger business

This past year I broke my business. On purpose. And I’m happy with the result…

BrokenBusinessRubbleAbout a year ago I was contacted by a previous client — an insurance company — to do some writing for them. It was a huge year-long writing/consulting gig.

I almost said no.

Unlike most of my clients, this one required me to commute every day (because of the sheer amount of meetings and on-site proprietary software access. It was a full-day commitment, every weekday for a year. And, the project was a type of writing that I enjoy but don’t do very often (it was a technical writing project in the insurance space instead of copywriting for real estate investors, which is what I normally do).

In short, it was basically a job (in that it was an 8-hours-a-day, Monday-to-Friday) kind of gig. And in saying “yes” to this contract, it would blow up different parts of my business — including clients I was used to working with on topics I love to write about.

But I said yes anyway. And for the past year, I packed my lunch, hopped a bus, and commuted like a working chump. :) I purposely detonated a bomb in my business to shatter what I had built. And here I am, one year later, and the contract has ended. I’m back at home and rolling up my sleeves, ready to get back to the way I worked before I took on the contract.

So why did I do it? Here are the reasons:

  • The client is a marquee client — someone I’m proud to say I worked with. And the project (actually the one project led to 3 more this past year) provided some great experience to add to my portfolio.
  • It was an exercise in writing in a style and on a topic that I don’t get to do very often. Although my preference is to write sales copy for real estate investors, technical writing for insurance is a “muscle” I like to keep active lest it atrophy.

These were good reasons to take the contract a year ago, even if the contract didn’t break my business. But since taking this contract did break my business, here are the other reasons I said yes…

  • On the subject of atrophy: Working at home is fun and easy… and you can sometimes end up atrophying in general. After a while, I start to get pretty focused on my business and I forget that the larger world out there has different problems and opportunities. This pushes me out there. Kind of like when you complain about how your phone has a crappy signal and then you realize that it’s a first world problem. That was me this past year, realizing that my home-based biz problems are ONLY home-based biz problems. It’s a new perspective.
  • Not only do I gain a new perspective but I’m also pushed outside of my comfort zone. This was huge. I no longer had the luxury to take client calls whenever I wanted; I no longer had the luxury to write at any time of day. I had to become VERY disciplined to work at this big client while at the same time work with my other (smaller) clients. I had to get creative to serve both my big insurance client and my many small investing clients, and to continue providing a high level of service to both. (Because even though I broke my business, I still had clients to deliver content to!)
  • And the biggest reason: When you’re running your biz, you rely on the income to pay the bills. And it’s hard to make changes and improvements and take risks in your business if you rely on that income. So by taking a year long contracting gig, I had the freedom to take big swings at my business. I mean: OF COURSE I continued to serve clients but I didn’t need to be marketing and selling every day; instead I was able to market my business in new ways, try new selling techniques, and create new types of contracts and agreements with clients, and deliver new services… all with very little risk because I wasn’t dependent on the income… plus I had the time to manage these changes. End result? In March I closed up one of my biggest clients ever. In June I went to a conference and made some amazing connections and that resulted in new business plus a few tweaks to how I run my business. In July I established really creative new deals with two clients that will result in some great ongoing income. In September I closed my two largest clients ever.

This past year was NOT easy. Frankly, I hate commuting and although I loved working with this insurance client, I definitely prefer working with smaller real estate investing clients. But there are so many good things that came out of this contract that it made the effort worthwhile.

It’s been said that when a bone breaks, it heals stronger than it was originally. I’m not sure if that’s true (and the two fingers I broke when I was a kid don’t seem any stronger than the rest of my fingers) but it sounds right and, from the perspective of my business, it seems to be true.

I’m now sitting in my home office again. I have a huge list of great real estate investing clients to write direct marketing copy for. And my business is stronger than ever because I took the time to shatter it and put the pieces back together.

[Image source: Colin Broug]