Charging your customers a joy tax

The sanity tax is a minor cost that’s disproportionate to the massive value we get in return.

It’s when we pay a little bit more to get what we need rather than settling for less out of guilt, pride, consistency or frugality.

Like spending a hundred bucks an air conditioning unit for our bedroom so we don’t sleep in a puddle of our own sweat all summer. Doesn’t that seem worth every penny?

But that’s not the only tariff worth paying. There’s also something called the joy tax.

This is when we forego time, money or quality for the privilege of having a more delightful, connected and memorable experience.

Like the sandwich place by my office. Hank is the friendly, smiling owner who shakes your hand when you walk in the door, genuinely cares how your day is going, and almost always offers you a free cookie or beer sample while you wait. The staff is hard at work, but always singing and joking around. And the customers in the dining room can’t help but be in an upbeat mood.

We have never had anything less than delightful experience there.

The thing is, the food is average. Kind of greasy actually, expensive, and if you order the portabella sandwich, it takes seven extra minutes for them to cook it just right.

But customers don’t care. Because the experience is so wonderful. That’s the brand. And we’re happy to pay the joy tax. Doesn’t that seem worth every penny?

It’s proof that business is at its best when it’s about the service above what you really sell. The goal is creating emotional and social meaning above and beyond your actual product.

Here’s a formula companies can think about:

We’re really a _____ company that just happens to sell _____.

Hank’s restaurant is a joyful respite from the dull and robotic workday, that happens to sell sandwiches.

See the difference? Every other lunch stop on the block misses the boat on humanity and delight completely.

Sure, their food might be better, their price might be lower and their service might be faster, but because they’re not brave enough to charge customers a joy tax, we never make it through the door in the first place.

Have you considered what business you’re really in?

Responsible to you, not responsible for you

Mentoring has been a cornerstone of my personal and professional growth since the age of sixteen.

Bill, my high school writing teacher, was the first person to show an interest in guiding me. He still does today. In fact, since adolescence, there have been dozens of other mentors who have been critical in helping me become the person I am today.

What’re more, I have personally mentored dozens of other young professionals. Both as an entrepreneur, and also as an employee.

Point being, this is a very specific type of relationship that I have been close to for many years. Brings me fulfillment on both sides.

Mizzou’s management department put together an exciting scale for evaluating corporate mentoring programs. It’s a framework that beautifully characterizes this relationship. Whether you’ve been a mentor, had a mentor, or are seeking a mentor, reviewing these questions might help you hone your skills, get the most out of your relationship and inspire you to hold this interpersonal inheritance in higher esteem.

Here we go.

*Does your mentor serve as a source of emotional support?
*Does your mentor consider you to be a friend?
*Do you talk together and share ideas?
*Do you share interests in common?
*Do you exchange confidences?
*Do you share personal problems?
*Is this person fun to be with?
*Does this person give you encouragement?
*Do you respect your mentor’s ability to teach others?
*Do you admire this person’s ability to motivate others?
*Do you acquire knowledge, information or skills from this person?
*When you do things together, did they let you take the lead?
*Has this person devote special time and consideration to your career?
*Do they help you coordinate personal goals?
*Do they take an interest in your development?
*Did you learn how to do things by watching your mentor do them?
*Have you tried to model your behavior after this person?
*Did your mentor serve as a role model of achievement for you?

This list is not comprehensive. There are other things mentors do.

But in general, this inventory is a useful framework for thinking about this type of relationship. It’s not coaching, it’s not consulting, it’s not managing, it’s not parenting.

Mentors will not lead you beyond where they have lived. They are responsible to you, not responsible for you. You both share the relationship, but you own the results.

It’s more than a relationship, it’s an inheritance. Get one and be one today.

Whom in your life has been there to believe in you when you didn’t believe in yourself?

What we are holding inside colors our world

Stress doesn’t exist.

Not out there in the world like we think it does.

Like most things in life, stress is an inside job. It’s a subjective, inner experience within our consciousness.

The reality is, the source of what we call stress is actually our body responding to what is held in our mind.

When somebody complains about how stressed they are, for example, that pressure is a choice. Internal states like skin temperature, perspiration, heart rate, brainwave frequency and cortisol level may not seem like choices, but whatever people are experiencing emotionally and therefore biologically, is the result of their perceptions and expectations and way of being with life.

It’s all a function of situational appraisal.

That’s why you can’t trust any of those annual nationwide surveys that examine the state of stress across the country. All of their data is entirely based on people’s opinions of what they find to be most stressful. It’s inherently biased. They’re surveying people who hold the belief that stress is harmful, which is precisely what makes it so.

Proving again, that stress doesn’t exist. Thinking otherwise puts us at the risk of being victimized by life rather than empowered by it.

As long as we believe that stress, this foreign entity that’s out there in the world somewhere, has the power to make us unhappy, then we are setting ourselves up to lose.

You probably work with somebody like this. The individual for whom stress is always occurring.

But could it be that their life is harder than anyone else’s, or could it be they see all relationships and interactions as a never ending competition?

Could it be that they’re cursed by the unseeing eye of a blind idiot god, or could it be they enjoy being the victim so much that calm is something they don’t reach for?

No, life is not objectively more stressful for that person. They’ve just decided to create in their world the conditions of that which is stressful.

Hawkins breaks it down in his seminal book on letting go:

To the fearful person, this world is a terrifying place. To the angry person, this world is a chaos of frustration and vexation. To the guilty person, it is a world of temptation and sin, which they see everywhere. What we are holding inside colors our world.

The radical solution here isn’t to eat our feelings or drink our troubles away or play video games until we’re properly zombified. The solution is to engage imagination and shift the baseline appraisal of our experiences. This can literally alter our physiology, from heart rate to cortisol level to blood pressure.

Whatever pile of shit life decides to throw at us, if we can learn to respond not only with acceptance, but also gratitude, optimism and love, then our stress level will plummet.

And we will learn that stress doesn’t actually exist.

Not out there in the world like we think it does.

What expectation are you holding inside that colors your world?

What makes a brand stick?

In elementary school, reading the sports page didn’t appeal to me.

But that glossy free standing insert, with its colorful pages of promotional offers, holiday sales and new product launches, enraptured my attention.

From the ad copy to the pictures to the names of the items, my marketing education had officially begun.

In high school, playing in a grunge rock cover band wasn’t my thing.

But learning how to compose and record and produce my own music, not to mention help my friends and their bands do the same, made me feel more alive than anything else.

From the lyrics to the melodies to the rhythms to the digital eight track cassette recorder, everything a I needed to know about producing was right at my fingertips.

In college, getting drunk and high and going frat parties and hunting for girls wasn’t my core social activity.

But joining the radio station, learning how to engineer and edit commercials, ordering promotional materials, doing remote broadcasts, and hosting my own weekly radio program, that allowed me to feel a sense of accomplishment and belonging for the first time in my life.

There were a hundred of us who worked our butts off at the station, and we all shared one thing in common, a sheer obsession with music. Everything I needed to know about building culture and community came from that experience.

In my twenties, taking a job at a faceless corporation as an anonymous pixel in the gigantic corporate demonic pentagram didn’t call to my soul.

But starting my own publishing company in my parents’ basement from scratch made me feel like a real, working adult.

From daily blogging to building a web presence to working with the media to launching books to delivering training programs around the world to, everything I needed to know about entrepreneurship blossomed out of that period.

In my thirties, after over a decade of working alone in my apartment all day, entrepreneurship lost its luster.

And so, I reinvented myself as a creative strategist and copywriter in the agency and startup world.

From the pitches with clients of all sizes to the internal processes I facilitated to the knowledge management systems I developed to the product development and innovation gameshow I created, everything I needed to know about creativity started to crystallize.

And that brings us to today.

It appears that the first four decades of my life have revolved around a fascinating through line.

More of a question, really.

What makes a brand stick? That idea fires me up.

It’s the question I didn’t realize I was asking, and the question I didn’t realize I was answering. But here we are.

My book, The Sticky Brand, is everything I have learned about creating a sticky brand, Hope it’s useful to your life.

May your nametag never fall off.

Mind reading isn’t a love language

Here’s one of my favorite cheesy jokes.

A man walks into a bar and sits next to a women with a dog.

He asks her if her dog has ever bitten anyone.

She says no.

The man reaches down to pet the animal, and the dog jumps up and takes a chunk out of his hand.

Hey, I thought you said your dog’s never bitten anyone, shouts the man.

And the woman replies, I know, but that’s not my dog.

I’ll be here all night folks.

Anyway, this joke always resonated with me because it’s a story about a failure to communicate. Assumptions have been made, rather than expectation being set.

Bet it happened to you multiple times in the past week.

Maybe you watched your spouse sit seething about something you didn’t do because you didn’t realize that it was expected of you. Or your boss tried to hold you accountable for a task they never actually verbalized.

Isn’t it infuriating? People assume you can read their minds, then get pissed when you do something else.

Fortunately, there are a few truths about human relationships that will calm your frustrated mind.

First of all, our inability to read somebody’s mind is not proof that we don’t care about them. It doesn’t mean we’re stupid or poor communicators. And it’s certainly not an indication that we’re upholding some outdated gender or cultural stereotype. All it means is that we’re human.

Secondly, mind reading is not a love language. Randomly guessing correctly what is going in another person’s complicated brain is not a skill we should or even could aspire to. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been married, or how many years you’ve worked closely together with your business partner. You are not letting somebody down by not guessing correctly about what is going through their head.

Yes, it’s a beautiful thing when two people are so in sync that they can finish each other’s sentences. But let’s not shit ourselves here.

Shaw’s mantra comes to mind. He said the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

And so, instead of being upset when people assume you can read their minds, you take the first step.

When in doubt, assume that you are about to be misunderstood. Double down on specificity. State your needs clearly, early and often.

People will give you exactly what you ask for.

And maybe they’ll learn to behave the same way with you.

Are you making assumptions or managing expectations?

We beat ourselves up instead of gently return our attention

Once during a five hour bus ride, the woman across the aisle from me had ants in her pants.

Do you remember hearing that phrase as a child?

Parents and teachers would use it to describe kids who are unable to sit still, due to anxiety, excess energy, or impatience.

Anyway, the women next to me spent the entire bus trip executing the same series of tasks.

Check the notifications on her phone.
Switch sitting positions.
Rifle through her purse.
Eat a snack.
Pull out her notebook without actually writing anything.

It was fascinating to observe this routine out of my peripheral vision. And while there is no way for me to know if this woman was enjoying herself or not, it made me wonder about adults who have ants in their pants.

Do you know someone like this? The person whose attention gets hijacked by everything? They notice and respond to every sight and sound around them?

It’s a complex personality feature, because to a certain degree, it’s biological. This is brain chemistry. Some people are natively wired to be more distractible than others.

But there’s a nurture piece as well. Because we can learn to filter out unwanted information. We can chose not to accept the slavery to our idiotic notification culture.

Psychiatry researchers have found evidence suggesting that certain meditative practices ameliorate distractibility by activating brain regions implicated in both sustaining and directing attention.

This shouldn’t be news to most, as the mindfulness industrial complex has been going strong since the seventies. But as a person who has been accused of having ants in his pants more than a few times, I’m no stranger to training my brain to become less distractible.

One of the terms psychologists use is called open monitoring, or choiceness awareness. It’s where you pay attention to what’s happening around you without becoming attached to it. Instead of processing it, thinking about, judging it or trying to change it, you simply notice it, moment by moment, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

This is harder than it sounds. It requires patience and forgiveness and acceptance. Not only with the world, but with yourself.

That’s why most people can only do it for a few seconds or a few minutes at a time. When the mind wanders, we beat ourselves up instead of gently return our attention.

Ultimately, though, mindfulness pays off in the moment and down the road. Multiple studies have shown that people who engaged in a regular open monitoring practice, be it meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and so on, have demonstrated a greater ability to detect arising distractions or mind wanderings.

Note the language there.

These people didn’t reduce the amount of irrelevant stimuli, they learned how to reduce the effects of it.

These people noticed the world trying to hijack their attentional resources away from the task at hand, and brushed it off their shoulder like a piece of lint.

Or maybe more like an ant in their pants. 

Will you definitely use this piece of information for something immediate and important?

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