Run Your Own Race

High School was a long time ago for me. It wasn’t a particularly bad time for me, nor was it anything close to the highlight of my life. I don’t have “moments of glory” from my high school days to reflect back at. It was, however, a time and place of defining moments, and one of those moments came one hot and dry day, while on a training run for my high school cross-country team.

I was a back of the pack runner out on a stretch of the dike alongside of the Coweeman river (near Kelso, Washington); a regular training route for the Kelso High School cross-country team. I had run the dike many times before, and been near the back on most of those runs. What differed on this particular fall afternoon would stick with me to this day.

It was my senior year, and we had a new coach in the mix. He was a former Kelso graduate that had set records in college, and could run in the company of world-class distance runners. I didn’t know more than that about him; just that he was really fast.

It wasn’t my experience that coaches, especially coaches that were world-class in their own right, would spend much individual time with the kids that wouldn’t be helping to win tournaments. Joe Stewart wasn’t like that. On that training run, he came up to me from behind, and matched my pace. As we ran together, he gave me feedback on my form, advice on how to improve it, and words of encouragement. After running together for a bit, he sped up and met up with the next runner in the pack.

It was clear that I wasn’t going to take a top place in any meet, nor, as a senior, was I material to build on for the future. That didn’t seem to matter to him. What I suspect mattered to him, was that I was out there. I was doing it despite trailing the pack. Instead of berating me for running slow, or telling me to “suck it up”, he encouraged me to run my own race. He told me that running my own race, that bettering myself, and measuring myself against my own goals and my own performance, was the most important competition I would ever have. I’ve kept that with me through my life and career.

Running your own race isn’t just about athletics. It’s a metaphor for a philosophy of life. It’s a way of thinking, a defense mechanism against anything and everything that life can throw your way.

Now, some people live to overtly compete with others. These folks are largely extroverts. They have to look around them for motivation and measure. The way of competition – of external motivation –  isn’t better, nor worse than the way of running your own race. It’s just different. Competing against others is always an option. It’s easy to do. If that’s you, go for it. But know that it’s not necessary.

Measuring against others can limit your potential. If you stretch and gain a lead against your competitor, once ahead, your motivation diminishes significantly. It goes from offense to defense, from “playing to win” to “playing not to lose.” It becomes more difficult to think in terms of improvement. You can quickly fall into the trap of looking backwards, not forwards.

If you think in terms of competing with others, it’s easier for judgmental people to hold you back. People sneering at you or jabbing at you can have a tremendous negative effect on you if you’re living to compete. Yes, it can trigger an “I’ll show you” response, but again, once you’ve “shown them”, you go back to defense. You become vulnerable again.

Certainly, it is possible that your best is only just a little bit more than your competition’s best. That could happen, but it’s much more likely that you have a lot more to give beyond what competition is doing. By living for external competition, you put all of that extra potential at risk.

On the other side, if your best really is slightly less than that of your competitor, and your motivation is to beat that competitor, you may never be good enough. You’ll put what motivation you do have at risk. You put yourself at risk of switching from motivation as your driver to desperation as your driver. That rarely helps.

Run your own race. Let the others, individuals or organizations, compete with you. Let them see you as a threat. Let them live defensively. Set your own goals based on what you can or would like to achieve, not based on what others are doing. When you pick your own definition of success, you can’t be beaten.

30 Minute Job Interview Seminar, Part 1

I’ve been interviewing potential hires for close to twenty years now and a number of years back, I had a long unemployment stint myself. I think it’s fair to say that I have quite a bit of interview experience on both sides of the table. I’ve been recruiting a few positions here at Screaming Circuits recently. At times it’s gone quite well, and at other times it’s been pretty frustrating.

There aren’t really that many things to think of when attempting to get a job. Most should be pretty basic. Sadly, though, it’s frequently those very basics that candidates miss on. There are a million books on the job searching process – yes, a million. Not one more and not one less – and there are day long and multi-day seminars and classes all over the place.

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One way social media marketing

Social media marketing is all about engagement and two-way conversations. Or is it? With a great product or service and a vocal customer base, companies utilizing social media can run very successful campaigns with small capital expenditure. But, what do you do if you don’t have all of the pieces in place?

It starts with a good product or service

If you don’t have a great product or service, fix it before doing any of this. If you do have a great product but don’t have a vocal audience, you have a big challenge relative to social media, but you don’t have to leave the table. Case in point, Screaming Circuits; an EMS (electronics manufacturing service) provider in the Portland, Oregon suburb, Canby. By breaking several social media marketing conventions, Screaming Circuits has experienced strong growth while EMS giants like Benchmark Electronics, Solectron Corp and Suntron have closed their doors or reduced their presence in the Portland area.

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DIY PR

I wrote this a number of years ago and ran across it recently. Even though it’s from 2007, it’s still very relevant.

Jumping back to 2014; people might say that PR is dead and has been replaced by social media. Not true. Social media is a very powerful vehicle with which you can spread PR, but it’s not a direct replacement. Social media is a channel. PR is a type of content that can go through that channel. That being the case, good PR help can be invaluable to a small business.

Back when I wrote this in 2007 I had run across a couple of Public Relations-related posts on Guy Kawasaki’s blog. I’m a big fan of PR. I’ve used DIY PR and big-agency PR. I’ve had the privilege of working with The Bohle Company, out of LA, with a fairly reasonable budget. The crew there taught me about the real value of efficient, highly targeted, well messaged Public Relations.

Unfortunately, I’ve more recently found myself in a situation where I don’t have the funds to hire help to do it right. The upside is that I have developed opinions and methodologies surrounding the do it your self or do it mostly yourself pr plan.

The agency vs. DIY argument seems to run like an anti-US or anti-Microsoft argument. “The big guy is always unconditionally bad” and “It’s a conspiracy to suck money out of companies without adding any value.” If I had my choice, I’d always hire a great agency, like The Bohle Company; professionals that will push me to think about the audience, not my own ego and who will relish results. But if I have to, I will do with what I have.2cc406a

I enjoyed Guy’s post about Margie Zable. Although, I did disagree with a few points. The post by Glenn Kelman, on the other hand just upsets me. A while back, an executive in the company I worked for at the time told me that “we don’t need to do any PR because that’s just what big companies do to waste money.” Mr. Kelman’s post seems to be a continuation of that theme. Well, you can waste money doing just about anything, but PR, if handled properly, can be an extremely cost efficient method of getting attention.

1. About Glenn’s first point, the truth setting you free – Publicists tell their clients to stick to the “decided upon message” because many folks are simply not capable of coherently answering a question from a seasoned press professional. Public speaking is called, what, the second most feared thing after death? Speaking to a reporter is public speaking – just through a conduit.

Journalists may tell you that they are after the truth, but, being mostly human, they are really after a “story”, and not necessarily your story. It takes a certain skill to navigate through the manipulation to make sure that your story is actually represented. A good PR professional is only trying to help you do that.

If you have the skill to take on a seasoned journalist, by all means do so. If not, hire a good PR specialist. Be involved and make it clear to them that you are interested in results and not self-coddling. This is where people get into trouble. They don’t help the PR folks help them or they use the PR folks to boost their own personal egos or as a shield.

2. Yes, the Rolodex is already on line, but count the hours in the day. If you have the time to sift through every site then you probably don’t need any PR help. You probably need a real job. PR folks do need pressure to be creative and search beyond the top level publicly published editorial contacts, but, in theory, they have the time and expertise to do so. I know how to speak with my customers better than just about anyone else. That’s why I’m successful in my job. Editors speak a different language and a good PR person will speak that language.

3. “grown up and boring?” Mr Kelman’s challenge is that he likely hasn’t been working with the right PR agencies. The good ones will keep you from sounding grown up and boring. The good ones will take your words and adjust them so that not only will your audience find them exciting, but the editors will hear them and see circulation numbers and most important, it will be the truth.

4. Journalists do love great ideas, but they are busy folks and see a million of them. How you speak to them counts. Again, my voice is targeted at my ultimate audience. If you don’t have any customers, perhaps you can afford to make the press community your ultimate target audience, but it can be a lot more effective to have someone that lives in that world do it for you.

5, 7. Maybe many PR people are afraid of a controversial or dramatic story. That’s probably true, just as it is probably true for most people in general. If drama and or controversy are good for your cause, or can be made to be good for your cause, make sure your PR people understand that. If they don’t, perhaps you don’t have the right PR people. Get some that will relish it and will build on it.

8. When I was 16, I had my driver’s license but I wasn’t a good driver. I thought I was, but I wasn’t. I recall a few excursions when I was so nervous that my driving made my passengers nervous enough to just want to get home. That didn’t work out so well. Another way to look at this is the journalist may very well get a charge when the publicist sits back and you take control of the interview. Use the PR resources for coaching before you go in and as a prop when you get into the interview. You can even add some drama by asking the PR person to leave the room or wait outside. Let them clear the way so your passion for your cause won’t be obscured by lousy driving skills.

9. Most publicists don’t have the same passion that I have for my business. But, they also don’t have the same self-love and ego that I have. The publicist should act like a sounding board and tell me when and where I’m just full of myself. Sure there are times that I’ll fight back, but a good back-and-forth will far better prepare me to really let that passion out without having self-centered glurge interfere with the real message.

I currently do much of my PR myself. I have a few outside contract PR specialists that help me out and if I had more money, I’d have more outside help. There are plenty of contract / commission / hire options, but the real message should be to pay attention to whom you are hiring, be it an agency, a consultant or an employee. Pay attention to what they are telling you and make sure they pay attention to you and make sure you both pay attention to the truth. If they aren’t the right person, get a different one. Don’t throw away a great tool based on one or a few bad experiences.