It’s the courage holding you back

It’s likely the only thing holding someone back from revolutionizing their industry is courage.

There are infinite improvements out there, so why hasn’t anyone been audacious enough to take a leap?

Making a list of all the resources lacking, they will likely fall into:

  1. Money
  2. People
  3. Time
  4. Tools
  5. Knowledge

These things are easily solved by:

  1. Banks/Investors
  2. Recruiters
  3. More People
  4. Partners/Vendors
  5. Consultants

The not easily solved part is finding the courage to trust that your skills, experience, and drive will be enough to pull it off.

How to write better as an engineer

This is more for persuasive writings and marketing type communications, rather than technical reports, and it certainly isn’t about grammar.

  1. Be more authoritative.
    • Just delete the “I think”, “I believe”, “It seems”, etc. Too many of those make your entire premise turn to mush. It lacks conviction. As engineers, we’re all critically aware of how many possibilities exist to be wrong, but when trying to persuade, leave those assumptions to the audience.
  2. Stop prefacing everything.
    • Get to the heart of it. If telling a story about a journey you took, talk about the path you went on, what you saw, the perils faced and how they were overcame, too many details that are irrelevant, will make it hard to follow the big picture. An example, my wife will tell me story about her visit to the veterinarian with our cat, and a weird thing that happened there. She’ll tell me about packing up, the car ride, the parking, the waiting, then finally the weird thing the vet did. The whole story was about the weird thing, but all the mundane details before it, got my mind wandering, and made it less exciting. 5 minutes painting a more detailed picture of the weird part of the story is much better than 4 minutes of lead up, and 1 minute of the weird part. The details to include depend on the audience.
  3. Think in terms of brevity.
    • If what you’re saying can be removed without losing the audience, it’s extraneous and should be removed. Don’t fill space, or waste someone’s time. If it’s important include it, if it’s overly repetitive remove it.
  4. Emotions win the day.
  5. Use active instead of passive voice.
  6. Write like you talk.

Running out of things to talk about…

with customers is a sign it is time to invent some new ones. The cheapest price is a the determining factor in industries that are out of generous ideas.

The world is constantly changing and evolving, with new products coming out daily. Whether making something internally, or partnering with someone who has something that expands the current offerings, it’s necessary to have something new to offer customers that they value.

Here’s some thoughts about how to find additional value where currently there isn’t some:

It’s possible that a company that has a massively popular product, is focused on solving one problem for it’s customers. This comes naturally, as having a big customer base to server, means there is plenty of money to be made by focusing. However, it’s often that there are plenty of related software and technology in the same space, manufacturing for example, that someone who could come along and “integrate” these into a larger, powerful solution for companies is a valuable resource. Integration is an opportunity for just about anyone.

Personal touch. Charging more for hand-holding, and personal engagement is always a possibility. To do this means figuring out valuable offerings related to education, training, and customer service that others can’t provide. Examples might be:

  • Custom classes not available anywhere else.
  • Custom vision presentations that are developed with executive teams at customers.
  • Expanded customer service team, with dedicated representatives to customer accounts.
  • Investments in employees that are better communicators, better skilled, or better personalities.

What the golf?

Recently, while browsing, I came across a gentleman in a forum promoting a game he made called What the Golf?Clicking the link, there is a video which will show a game that is unlike any other expected. It’s not easily described, other than “A golf game, for people who don’t like golf.” Take a look to see what I mean, it will be well worth your time if you continue to match it to what I wrote below.

The product is the marketing. After seeing this game, it was so different I wanted to share it. It makes me want to at least try it after watching the video, though I haven’t had the time. I may not ever play it, as I don’t game much these days , however, this game certainly catches my eye, and if I can’t find the time, I’d like someone I know to try it and let me know.

This may be one of the best examples in recent memory of a product that is remarkable, that makes people want to share it with others. Some things on the list that it checks off:

  • Different than anything else in it’s category? Check.
  • Is it clear what it is? “Golf for people who don’t like golf.” Check.
  • Is it for everybody? No, it’s for people who don’t like regular golf games. It will delight them. It will likely infuriate people who like current golf games. Check.
  • Does it give a feeling that it’s been done with thought and care? Check.

Working on projects that are different is scary. Working on projects targeted at specific groups is scary. Finding the energy to put in thought and care is hard, and so it not working out is scary.

It turns out putting in all that effort, and wrestling with all that fear, is the path to a product that has marketing power, I definitely wouldn’t write this post, or share something about another Tiger Woods <Insert year name here> game.

 

 

 

 

Why 3 and 4 ct chicken strips?

Those are the two “sizes” of orders at Chick-fil-a.

One chicken strip different?

Really?!

Of course, it seems 1-count and 2-count orders would be too small for most people, or too low in cost to make much money on. So why 3 and 4 count? Instead of 3 and 5? Or 3 and 6?

  • They are close enough that they can use the same size box, making inventory easy.
  • They allow for every combination of orders seeking a different number of chicken strips other than 1,2, and 5.
  • They are both large enough to make money on.

This is the most flexible, and easiest solution to offering chicken strips in the amounts that individuals want to order regardless of appetite size. Simplest possible solution that allows for the most flexibility is often the best.

The 5 minute meeting

When starting noneofthisisright.com, I had a brainstorming session to decide on the logo and the tagline. It took about 5 minutes for the logo. I allowed a few days to let the name just come to me before focusing on a logo.

I’m writing a blog, not building a full business, but this certainly shows the beauty of what it’s like to work at small companies on small, meaningful projects. Decisions are quick, rather than by committee. At Microsoft, it may have taken an hour to figure out who needs to be in the meeting to decide, two weeks to get all the stakeholders to agree to a date, and multiple meetings to determine what needs to be conveyed to the consumer through the name and logo and whether or not the proposed ideas meet that.

Small is fun to me, it skips all the bureaucracy and focuses on what’s important. If doing fun, important work is on your list, take some steps today. The best part is the meetings are quick.

Keep in mind, being small allows for editing, everything is adaptable, being big means better be right because no one has the energy to setup and sit through all those meetings again.

P.S. Once up and running with some success, it’s always a possibility to spend the money on the expensive logo meeting.

How to help salespeople

I’ve been involved in manufacturing, design engineering, consulting and in the most current portion of my career sales and customer interaction. This has given me a perspective that not all engineers have. I’ll start with something most young engineers, and some older engineers haven’t learned yet:

It’s difficult for engineers to be rewarded for technical prowess alone. How would a non-technical executive know how difficult your task was? However, everyone in the executive team knows how hard sales is. That’s why it’s important for engineers to use their skills to assist the sales team with a vision for clients. It’s also your ticket to working on the biggest, most advanced, most exciting project of your life. After all, if it takes an engineer to create the future, it probably also takes one to sell it.

What’s in it for you, and what’s in it for them?

I already mentioned it may be your ticket to working on better projects, and the salesperson and the company stand to make more money. Some resent this, but peak profits isn’t why you’re an engineer, right? If it was, taking that knowledge and going to sales would be an option, but making good money and getting to be technical, do design work, and build prototypes is a sweet gig. It’s not like asking for a raise is out of the question either if the sales start to pile up as a result of your efforts.

With that in mind, there are many ways engineers can help sales people:

1. Educate them on your product. I can’t reiterate this enough. Most salespeople are tasked with selling multiple products or services. Inevitably, they are comfortable talking about certain items more than others. Ask them what their pitch is. Critique it in a kind manner. Explain to them anything that sounds off. If you want sales to set better expectations to customers, teaching them more is necessary.

2. Run any numbers they need. Return-on-investment calculations, estimated sizings for structural members, motors, etc, that help them make better quotes, or even the running the data for a preliminary design. The more information they are armed with in talking to the customer, the more places the conversation can go.

3. Explaining the process as a means to justify the price tag. The salesperson doesn’t always know what needs to be done in order to deliver. I’ve had experiences where I didn’t clearly communicate to the salesperson what was involved, and been on the other end to. Both times, it stank for everyone because the customer ended up with the wrong expectations.

4. Give the customer a vision of the product placement against alternatives. Why is it better? Can you put some numbers to the differences?

5. In a meeting with the customer, talk to the customer confidently. Self-doubt is likely, but keep it in check, unless they are signing on the dotted line and it’s self-evident the promises can’t be delivered, take the discussion outside the meeting. Another call to the customer is always possible to adjust expectations if nothing has been signed.

6. Present any analysis/visualization that shows product fit. If other products can’t deliver what yours does, prove it. This can land you bigger, better projects. That tends to lead towards a bigger, better career.

7. What are the edge cases of the product for this customer? Share that with sales. Without the deeper technical understanding they may not see it. It may prevent them selling to the wrong customers too.

This list isn’t comprehensive, but the overall point is, sales is a necessity to keep a company running, and a struggle. Sales often feels they are lacking support, and engineers often feel bullied or thrown under the bus by sales. Teaching each other is the only way out.

 

Controlling your destiny

In football, I’ve watched plenty of teams on 4th down with ten seconds left, 10 yards out, go for a field goal to tie it and go to overtime. However, overtime in the NFL is sudden death. It’s possible losing the coin toss, they may not control their fate.

There was another option, instead of kicking that field goal to tie it up, the team could go for a touchdown. Destiny at that point is far more in their control than they believe.

Why is it so scarce for them to accept that control, instead opting to kick and “safely” tie the score?

My hypothesis is about excuses. Something to blame if it doesn’t work, like losing the coin flip in overtime and then the other team scores.

That’s bad luck.

If the team had gone for the win prior to overtime, and didn’t get the touchdown, they lose. It’s the same result, but in the scenario where they go for it, someone called the wrong play, or executed poorly. Someone is at fault.

It seems that even people that have reached the pinnacle of their field are scared of making the wrong call.

Don’t let it stop you.

Believing in a future touchdown, while the ball is currently in your hands, seems like a good way to shirk off what is possible here and now.

The drop off

When I was in high school, those who wanted to go to college needed 2 years of Spanish. For the first two years, there was multiple classes per day to fit the demand. For those that went onto a 3rd year, there was only one class.

Roughly 80% stopped after the minimum requirement for college was hit.

The number of students in the 4th year class?

Just 3.

That’s right, three students took four years of Spanish.

Can anyone argue that learning another language, particularly with a country who is a strong trade partner and geographically our neighbor is worse than anything else that high school could be teaching?

Doubtful.

However, it wasn’t required, no need to keep pursuing more. That’s the mentality most take. Standing out, starts by taking a different approach, that usually means doing more than the minimum.

Ways to be compensated

  • Increased respect
  • Increased goodwill
  • Connections
  • Raises or promotions
  • Direct payment

Most people prefer the last one, however, at the highest levels, the others are more powerful. Two examples of the power of spending years building the first three:

  • Speakers like Seth Godin, Tony Robbins, Simon Sinek who can draw a crowd on their name and reputation alone.
  • Tim Ferriss who raised $500,000 in an hour for a startup leveraging his connections.

If seeking compensation for every piece of work you do, make sure the value of the compensation being offered is clear to yourself.

 

Your assets…

are different now then they will be in the future. If falling on the younger end of the spectrum, your assets probably include:

  • Energy
  • Nothing to lose
  • Mobility
  • Lack of experience

“Lack of experience as an asset?!”

Absolutely.

Start brainstorming with those who have been around a while, and have experienced a lot. One thing that’s noticeable in everything but the most open-minded groups, is that nearly as many ideas as can be generated get reasons attached to them why they are impractical. It’s the curse of experience.

As your career progresses, the assets transition to:

  • Connections
  • Financial Assets
  • Experience
  • Family

The difficulty is overcoming the feeling that our assets are at risk. They are, but likely not in the ways we think.

Insightful marketing trick from Fight Club

The first rule of Fight Club is don’t talk about Fight Club. It’s also the second rule.

Yet, the club kept growing. Obviously, people were breaking the rules.

The whole concept is psychological. The type of person who wants to beat up others, isn’t the type to follow societal structure like laws or rules. So, wanting to grow the club, simply tell these rebels to NOT spread the word!

Of course they won’t listen.

And that’s how the growth happens.

There are a couple things to note here, this sort of psychology doesn’t work when your audience is diverse. It’s hard when the attention being sought is from the masses, but if serving a specific niche, it’s possible to figure out ways to nudge your audience to help the work spread.

That may mean your work simply attracts helpful people. Or like Fight Club, all rebels told not to help, who disobey. Or it maybe that your audience is full of status seekers, and your offering raises their status.

It may be worth reviewing the psychology of the group of the you serve.

 

Are you running Target yet?

A “friend” used to make me feel bad for working at Target. The economy had crashed, the industry I was about to enter, after getting my degree, tanked, and I enrolled in grad school after my internship of two years couldn’t hire me.

The company I had worked for was in such dire times, they couldn’t even keep me on as an intern, and so I had to seek out a job at Target to pay the bills. I could have skipped grad school, and moved to find work, but my girlfriend, now wife, was still in school, so I made a personal choice.

I did what I had to survive and stayed in my relationship.

However, there was this “friend” made me feel bad about it.

Every. Single. Time. I. Saw. Him.

He would poke sarcastically at the job, and ask snidely, “Are you running Target yet?” knowing I was still in a dead end job.

Here’s the kicker, that “friend” hasn’t been able to hold down a job. He’s not far in his career, and he’s not a great worker. Perhaps the reason he gave me such a hard time is because he could never see himself working that hard for that little money.

Back then, I let that guy get to me for doing what I needed to survive. In his mind, I was nothing for working at Target, but today, that same work ethic has been transferred to my other jobs, and that’s “Do what’s necessary to survive and get it done.” It’s served me well, and earned me respect.

Don’t let people make you feel bad for doing what’s best for you.

 

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and Seth Godin

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee was a small web show, later licensed by Netflix. It’s great because all the guests are comedians. They discuss their creative process and what it was like on the way to becoming known. The interesting part is that Jerry Seinfeld, as famous as he is, built the show himself, and only after it was popular, 5 or 6 seasons in, was it licensed by Netflix. Even a guy like Jerry, who wrote the most successful sitcom in history, needed to get started before someone would take him seriously.

Seth Godin is the most successful marketer of all-time. He’s written 18 best-selling books and blogs every day. The fact that he ships daily to his audience is amazing. I understand that engineering work isn’t as easy to ship as writing. There are often multiple wordings of writing that can go out and are acceptable, yet in engineering there are things we know are wrong, but it takes time to figure out where it happened. That doesn’t change the concept. We should ship what we’re working on out into the world, get other engineers discussing it, or customers waiting for it, or investors interested in it. It doesn’t always have to be public, but sharing with a group can be a beautiful way to get feedback and encouragment.

Both Jerry and Seth show creativity is work, not mysticism nor talent. If you haven’t checked either one of them out, you should. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is entertaining, occasionally inspiring, and some of the best background noise to work to. The pacing of it is soothing, and for engineers, every episode has a different car! And Seth is inspirational in that marketing doesn’t have to be intrusive. We can market in a way that people enjoy, and that it doesn’t have to be for a product. It can be for a group, an idea, a company.

These are two sources of my inspiration worth sharing.

Why we wrap gifts

Does wrapping a gift make the gift better?

It increases the surprise.

It shows care.

It reminds us of the season or the reason.

All in all, it does. That’s why it caught on and is now customary for all gift giving.

Now take an introspective look at all the ideas that you’ve shared that and wanted to bring to life as projects. Did you wrap them up? Was there a powerpoint? A report? Was there defined tasks , associated costs , and expected benefits? If not, you didn’t wrap your gift. You simply shared and expected delight, but the wrapping is an important component of that joy, without there is no surprise.

The world we grow into

The world is bigger than us. At least it starts that way.

When we’re small, cabinets are too tall. The stairs are too big. The toilet seat is easy to fall through. The world doesn’t fit us.

All of those things we’ll grow into with proper nourishment and time. That’s nature doing it’s thing. The real growth that needs to happen is the emotional growth to understand everyone has something to offer. The growth of our own confidence to solve problems. Or to connect. Or to invent.

This type of growth doesn’t come natural, but it will open us up to the world if allowed to happen. This type of growth is scary because when maturity is reached, there’s not much left we’re not capable of.

It’s who you know

Connections and Networking are two things of the LEAST natural things for engineers. However, it’s an overlooked aspect of moving up the career ladder.

Consider for a second, a made up company that needs an Engineering Director to manage engineers who create custom ovens for drying paint on car parts. Part of that role is going to involve being in the room when meeting with automotive executives that will be purchasing them. Consider the company has two candidates, one who knows everything about designing and building ovens, but knows no automotive executives. And another candidate who’s never worked specifically with ovens, but knows a handful of automotive executives who could buy the ovens.

Which hire will they make?

I’m putting money on option B, the guy who knows the executives. A network and connections take a long time to build. A few days or weeks in the shop will resolve most knowledge shortcomings in the understanding of ovens, and hiring option A as a consultant could be possible to assist in this.

Consider that if the option B produces sales immediately from his connections, the hire paid for itself right off the bat. That’s an ROI that any businessperson would be happy with.

If this thought hasn’t occurred to you already, it’s time to start thinking about it. Take some initiative and find some ways to start increasing who you know. The earlier the better.

Why we hold back.

“I could try harder next time.” That’s a phrase that’s only available if you held back this time.

The reality is sometimes our best doesn’t work. It’s not our effort, it’s our offering. That offering isn’t just our skills, or our knowledge. It can also be our story, our connections, where we live, etc.

Holding back doesn’t change our offering other than “I could do more if you’d like” becomes an excuse. Of course, if that’s necessary, there is already an issue.

The biggest reason to hold back is protect the ego. To cast uncertainty on our failures and whether they could have been prevented. The irony is that by holding back, more likely we’re creating the likelihood of failure, and as a result more need to protect our ego. It’s a cycle. It needs breaking.

P.S. I once heard that “the butterflies” are the moments in life we’ll remember. So, if not getting them regularly, it’s a sure sign you’re holding back.

Acts of generosity

Society seems to think of generosity as money, something to be thrown around without thought. It doesn’t have to be that way, and the most generous acts aren’t about money at all. Here’s a list of generous acts, that don’t cost much:

  • Mentoring someone
  • Writing a blog that helps even 1 person
  • Sharing advice on forums
  • Sharing an idea with your boss, a new job prospect, a customer, or community
  • Creating a video to teach someone
  • Being an emotional support for someone taking on a big task or responsibility
  • Sharing a positive review of a business or coworker
  • Connecting people that can improve each other’s lives

The more effort put into these acts, the more generous. It’s nice to say, “Boss, I have a marketing idea, let’s start attending more tradeshows.” It’s another to prepare everything saying, “I have a marketing idea, let’s start attending tradeshows. I made a sketch of a booth we could build. I wrote a document that we could give out. I created a list of tradeshows we could attend and costs associated with each. I also prepared a rough estimation of an expected ROI.” All of that preparation takes time and effort without a guarantee of return, that’s what makes it generous.

Of course, it seems like doing all of this is a waste, the company may not use it. However, going above and beyond is never a waste, even if its value isn’t immediately realized.

A boulevard of lights

There is a small, dimly lit downtown in my neighborhood. At night, when it’s dark, it seems depressing.

In the winter, around the holidays they wrap some trees in warm, white lights. The entire feeling of being in the area changes.

Doing a lot of business reading, talk about culture is everywhere. It’s big business. It’s a strategy. However, they all talk about how hard it is to change culture. And it is, but something that’s a bit easier, is changing the mood. And that can be simpler because it’s easier to be romantic in candlelit atmospheres.

One opportunity to start changing the culture, is changing the mood, which can be done with a change in location, change of background, change of responsibilities, etc.

Consistency

There are over 28,000 Starbucks locations across the world. No two that I’ve been in are exactly the same, though they all feel like Starbucks.  People all over the board have different takes on how good their coffee is perceived to be. What is impressive isn’t the coffee, it’s the recognition. When traveling for work, I know the sign. I know what to expect about service times, cleanliness, wi-fi availability and bathrooms.

It’s often overlooked how important consistency, and repetition are. Good enough quality delivered with consistency, will surpass great quality with failed executions popping up every few attempts. Raising the bar is no good if getting over that bar every time doesn’t happen. Consistency is the difference between being a good amateur and being a professional.

I had this conversation with a good friend of mine, and he quoted Moneyball, “You get on base, we win. You don’t, we lose.”

That’s a fitting sports analogy.

There’s other sports analogies that are great as well, in bowling, without repeating shots, it’s impossible to adjust to strike again and again instead of leaving a 10 pins.

In golf, if the swing isn’t consistent, the ball won’t fly the right distance or direction.

In all cases, consistency allows for adjustments. Take the case of this blog, I’m writing one post a day.

Every. Single. Day.

Over time, I’ll have an idea of traffic, topics that resonate, and what styles of writing are preferred. If the alternate was a changing number of posts week-to-week, it would be harder to draw conclusions and adjust accordingly.

Consistency can also be treating everyone the same. Giving the same pitch over and over again, until it’s determined it works, or it needs adjustment.

If taking only one thing away, take this, consistency isn’t boring, it’s critical.

 

Engineers and Salespeople

“Salespeople and Engineers, what a dream it is they communicate together so well,” said NO ONE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD! Salespeople have the reputation of being pushy, engineers the reputation of anti-social.

While there are some who fit those descriptions, for the most part the truth is much simpler.

They are both trying to get their jobs done.

For sales, their job requires conversations to move a deal along. For engineers, that requires alone time to think, calculate, draft, etc. Each one’s job interrupts the other.

Very few are bad people, we’re all just trying to get our job done.

Addressing things in the long term

Profits and pressures often lead to only thinking about the near term. The focus is on getting sales up for a certain product this quarter. Or by year end.

What about the next year?

What about the next decade?

My employer offers a service (I won’t share specifics), and the sales for that service were starting to dwindle year over year for the last few years. There would be calls for ideas to get the sales up to hit quota. Ideas like dedicating a certain amount of time to selling it, dedicating a full-time sales rep to it, or adjusting the price. All of these aren’t great solutions because they are a zero sum game. Dedicating more time selling this, means less time selling that. Lowering the price, means selling more volume. More volume isn’t in the stars due to the structural nature of the market. People only need this service once, then never again. More of the market has been tapped every year.

So what should be done?

A long hard look at the service itself. It’s obvious it needs a revamp if it’s going to stay viable. The problem is no one wants to address is that it’s going to take a year or two of 1-3 people working full-time to revamp the offering. That’s a lot of costs. Costs that certainly aren’t recoverable if thinking in months.

Thinking in decades though, the previous service had remained largely unchanged for two decades, revamping would likely to make it viable for another decade.

Sometimes thinking about next year is long term thinking, especially in fast-changing industries, however, sometimes looking a decade out will reveal other options.

Is engineering held back by the collective attitude?

When I look at engineering forums, I see an interesting set of attitudes. On one hand, when someone asks a technical questions, wanting to learn more about a topic like thermodynamics, experienced engineers share helpful answers, links, and insight. They want to help engineers grow as people.

On the other hand, I find that when people share new ideas for new inventions, the collective is brutal. And perhaps that’s the engineer’s personality at work. Rationally evaluating everything with what they know. However, it’s easy for these brutal comments on how no new invention is practical or possible, to kill the drive for any vision.

While eventually the rubber has to meet the road, and practicality and feasibility need to be determined, too much negativity in the discovery phase will kill the interest and it may be holding society back. Engineers have insight into energy, AI, clean water, and other important topics, but if we don’t allow for the people component, none of these insights will ever be brought to market.

It’s great to state challenges for an invention being proposed and what would need to be overcome, it’s another to start that with “This will never work because…”

To add a line I heard from a motivational speaker once, “Use ‘Wow!’ Not ‘How?'” When a new concept is forming, it’s not that you should be skeptical but be appreciative of the new idea, start by saying, “Wow! Thanks for bringing something new to the table. Let’s explore how we would get there.”

Subtle changes in feelings can have a big impact.

What to do with a “let down”

The world is filled with “let downs”, outcomes from events that had high hopes before turning south. These are the college rejection letters, lost job opportunities, the sales that fell through, the promotion that didn’t go your way, and the like. They often weigh us down more significantly and for longer than the flip side would have elated us, had we received the positive outcome we expected. It’s asymmetrical, in the WORST way possible.

There is good news. It’s mostly a choice. We’re all players in a game, and the game only stops when we allow it to. We choose how long to feel bad, and how long to let it drag us down. On the other side, we also choose how elated we feel when things go right.

If making “the choice” of how to feel, it may be difficult to overcome and process what happened. Here are three things to do:

  1. Call your friend, mentor or wife, and discuss what happened, and how you should interpret it. Is an outside observer feeling the same way about it? Don’t react much to what they say if it is more let down. Such as, “Well it may have been that you said…” coming out of their mouth.
  2. Think through what the real issue is. The other person doesn’t know what you know, they haven’t been through what you’ve been through, and communication is a tricky thing.
  3. Channel any frustration into productivity and generosity. For each “let down” there is an opportunity for salvage, learning or both. That college may reconsider if you call or write. Or the next one might accept you after adjusting the approach with what you’ve taken away from the experience. Or that sale might happen if you rethink how you pitched them, think about how it didn’t fit what they were thinking, and put in the effort to try again. Or it may just improve the pitch to the next customer. At the least an opportunity to improve always exists.

Anger and despair are choices. Turning a “let down” into generosity and improvement is a choice. If you flip a mostly empty bottle of water in the air, it wants to always land right side up, that’s due to it’s asymmetry of water distribution. You can make that same choice to always land right side up after a “let down”. If you decide not to, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself why.

Part of your project is you

If what you’re making isn’t something that everyone is going to buy, like plastic sandwich bags, then your reputation, personality, and helpfulness should be part of the project.

I’ve been in coffee shops that have signs stating how patrons there are helping to send the owners daughter to college, rather than buying Howard Schultz another yacht.

That’s powerful.

So is your reason why.

There’s a reason that you put in the effort, even if it’s not totally customer serving. That coffee shop sign, doesn’t serve the customer, but it’s relatable. And a project could live or die, based on how much of yourself is put into it. A small business is usually indistinguishable from it’s owner.

Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Sell some in-person at swap meets, farmers markets, trade shows, etc. Anywhere your audience is, be there. Meet people, talk about their experiences, listen to them. Learn about them. They’ll like you more and be more likely to buy the goods. Don’t sit and wait for someone to approach while browsing your phone. Be standing, willing to listen and talk. Smile at people walking by. More people talking to you will draw more people to look. I learned this selling at farmer’s markets and attending craft shows with my wife.
  • Tell people what drives you. How your product came to be, everyone loves a great story. Don’t worry if it’s choppy at first. Keep telling and tweaking. After 100 times, it will be good, after 1000 times it will be great. Then put that on the website, or the marketing materials.
  • Put your face and your voice somewhere on your website. People should feel like they know you, even if they’ve never seen you in-person. You’re not a brand yet, you don’t have a reputation, so they need to feel as comfortable as possible from who they’re buying.
  • Always start with why.

This isn’t an inexhaustible list, just some ideas that might help you get a little more traction.

Future Masterpieces

To any engineer out there who doesn’t consider himself artistic, there is still a lot to learn from art. For example, it’s easy to think the artists like Picasso created nothing but masterpieces. They had plenty of projects they used to practice new skills or techniques that no one cared to look at. While today’s engineering project might not be the most exciting, it may be exactly what you need to prepare for your future masterpieces, so give it your best.