Every company, and every individual, reaches a point of stepping back and needing a reboot.

Sometimes, it’s a full-on re-start – more often, it’s a re-evaluation leading to a change in direction.

Either way, there’s one place, and one place ONLY, to start.

I am/We are unique. Everything else has to flow from that.

As an individual, your utterly unique DNA, your unmatched personal experiences, and your very particular strengths suit you to contribute in ways that no-one else can. And, a company is a collection of individuals with a track record of unique successes and failures that point to specific areas of value that no-one else can add in quite the same way.

We all know this; but the world around us constantly seeks to force into a commodity box.

“We’re looking for an Account Manager with these attributes.” How do I fit into their box?

“We need a vendor who can fulfill this set of requirements.” How do we match up to their list?

Everyone approaches the marketplace with their specific needs in mind. We should approach life and business in a similar way – with our unique and differentiating abilities at the forefront.

If we’re going to gain clarity, as companies and as individuals, we have to step back from the forces that put us in reactive mode, and instead, take a very pro-active look at who we are. Our unique DNA, qualities, capacities, values, and offerings.

Clear direction and a clear message do not start with what others devise. The first step of a courageous reboot is discovering and embracing your uniqueness.

The process starts with the blank canvas of your own unique About page. You are unique – but do you see it clearly? And know how to express it?


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Discovering Your Professional DNA

What Do I Want to Do When I Grow Up?


Wouldn’t it be nice if each of us, at age 20, got a personalized report and one-on-one counseling session detailing exactly what our professional capabilities and strengths are? What a time- and trouble-saver! “We’ve sequenced your professional DNA, Jacqueline, and here is the career arc you should pursue…”

Dream on.

The reality is, we tend to discover our professional DNA by a trial-and-error process. We move from job to job, finding out what types of roles and work environments seem to bring out the best (or worst) in us.

Some people stumble into their life’s work early on, but for most of us, the process looks something like this:

(horizontal axis equals time; vertical axis represents nearness to DNA sweet spot; blocks represent different job roles)

We often focus on climbing the ladder of bigger titles and higher salaries, when our first priority should be discovering our true purpose and identity. You’ve seen people who absolutely flourish in their roles, right? They’ve hit their sweet spot. Yet many others feel that they’re trapped, working at maybe 50% capacity, and spending far too much time in the grey than the blue (referencing my Ugly Graphic above).

Sadly, some never come to understand what their true potential is, or become stuck in a mis-matched job role with diminishing chances of escape. This happened to my Dad and it set me on a determined quest not to end up in that same position. Hence my passion for Clarity Therapy.

What if you rushed out to buy a brand new iPhone, with maximum memory and a 2-year data plan, all for the sole use of making one 5-minute phone call a day to check on your daughter in college. Would that be best use of its real potential? That’s what happens when we settle for less than discovering our unique professional DNA, and designing our career around it.

We often need assessments, and outside expertise, to help us figure ourselves out. Take the time to do it. It’s your future. No-one else should be designing it. That’s your role!


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Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage

What Do I Want to Do When I Grow Up?

You have only a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and get across a clear message. That’s true whether you’re selling a product or service, or if you’re selling yourself in the job market.

That’s why you want your LinkedIn profile to be a help, not a hindrance. Here is an example of three things you should NOT do when describing yourself to potential suppliers (note: all identifiers have been removed):

1. DON’T position yourself as a jack-of-all-trades. It’s your responsibility to be decisive about who you are and what you’re seeking. Have a definite headline!

2. DON’T just talk about yourself – tell us what you can do. Save the “I am such-and-such…” for dating sites. Potential employers and customers are looking through one lens only: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?).

3. DON’T pretend to have a baker’s dozen (actually, 15) specialties. Bullet-point lists like this give one message: “Will work for food!” If you have a bunch of competencies, then package them into one or two directions that someone can more easily digest.

Those three points above? The very same things apply for company positioning also.

LinkedIn can be a great friend to your career development, if you use it to tell your story. Seek to make an immediate impression in the first few seconds. Use word pictures. Say something – clearly. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do when you grow up!


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Telling Your Story on LinkedIn

Drop the Jargon

I came across one of those About pages on the website for a solutions provider that was unfamiliar to me. However, it sounded suspiciously like a hundred other About pages I’ve seen!

It was a jargon-load of biz-speak phraseology. Here are some samples:

________ was created … in early 2005 to build and deliver world-class online … solutions.  We specialize in delivering highly customized solutions and insight for our clients by utilizing a consultative approach to fully understand their … needs, building processes to support those requirements, and consistently delivering to their exact specifications.

Our people are our most valuable resource (please don’t say this. Please. It’s so cliche…)

Our leading edge platform by which we create and deliver our solutions offers the ability for us to focus on highly customized solutions while creating a foundation for our partners to depend on.

The resulting value in combining (our) strong heritage, a strong core of professionals and an adaptable yet robust infrastructure gives our clients the assurance they need to continually depend on _______ for their critical business needs.

Now I’ll give them credit for not using “leverage” once on the entire page! But when a company name and specific offering can easily be swapped out with a hundred other company names and offerings, employing the same-old biz-jargon (world-class solution…customized solutions…leading edge platform…robust infrastructure, etc.), then any unique messaging is impossible. It’s lost in the fog.

It’s commodity language. This reference may date me a bit, but I’m tempted to publish a Mad Libs book for About pages. Just fill in the blanks to complete the pre-packaged phrases!

You’re a research company. So how about this instead:

While everyone else is looking, you’re finding. Call us.

Nobody wants your blah-blah – except maybe Dilbert. Customers want an answer. Simply put.


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Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage

What Do I Want to Do When I Grow Up?

I was reading one of the typical articles about crafting your elevator speech – you know the one-minute summary of who you are, what you do, the features and benefits, etc.

I get the idea, but that’s about 50 seconds and 35 floors too long. People don’t have the headspace to absorb, process, and remember all that. And if they can’t remember it simply, how can they pass a referral along?

The answer: word pictures.

I remember talking to Shannon Whitley last year about the various creative programming projects he’s worked on, including all kinds of interfaces to other platforms. I blurted out, “Oh – so you’re the API Guy!”

That’s a very short compass of words, which can be uttered before the elevator door even closes. If you need help with anything to do with APIs, Shannon is THE go-to expert. Period. Memorable. Refer-able.

Let’s take a glance over at my tweetstream. There’s…C.C. Chapman. Now C.C. is a challenge, because he does so many different things well – all having to do with the use of media (all forms) in marketing. To my mind, he’s like a one-man marketing prism, a stained-glass window of media. But that doesn’t quite capture the consulting and expertise factor. The pushing-the-envelope stuff that’s always been part of his approach. Maybe he’s more of a Media Navigator. Have to think about that one more…

Then there’s my friend Sarah Morgan, who works in the pharma sphere (we were among the first pharma social media troublemakers), but that’s not what her blogging is about. Her Twitter bio states, “Bascially, I write.” – but that’s not really descriptive enough of Sarah. She writes heart-words.

Dan Rockwell (@LeadershipFreak) and I just exchanged messages. I could see him getting into an elevator with someone, and respond to the inevitable “What do you do?” question with three words: “I speak leader.”

These short, memorable expressions create images in the minds of others. They are meant to convey, not just information, but word pictures. You can spend thousands on advertising, but there is nothing as powerful as a well-chosen word picture.

Instead of thinking elevator pitch, think memory dart.

That’s what will make you stick, when everyone else is forgotten.


Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

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Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage

What Do I Want to Do When I Grow Up?

I was on LinkedIn again yesterday, in preparation for a call with someone who had been downsized, and found myself sighing, for the umpteenth time, over the format of an on-line resume.

Another list.

This job title. That company. This short list of tasks. Even some undefined insider acronyms. Just swap out the particulars and you could be any one of a billion commodity people.

Don’t undersell yourself. You’re not a list!

When people hire me to help re-write their LinkedIn profiles, I employ some of my Clarity Therapy process to extract three things from them:

  • What they’re really good at and want to do more of;
  • The story of how they got to where they are;
  • The key point of brilliance they want to “sell” to their next employer.

Then, we go back through the profile and turn it into a story. The main themes leading to the new desired role are woven into the past job responsibilities, highlighting the individual’s greatest strength and accomplishments, and showing how they lead in the direction being pursued.

Bullet points and biz-speak words don’t paint a clear picture. They leave you undifferentiated. A resume should not merely be a summary of facts; it needs to tell a story. Your story. And it needs to strongly suggest what your next chapter should be.

Your next employer doesn’t have the time to help you figure out who you are and where you’re going. That’s YOUR next job, before you seek your next job!


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Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage

Re-Branding – Get Used to it?

I don’t have many answers to give in this post – just questions to ask.

By and large, I’ve been a fan of keeping brand consistency as much as possible – if you keep changing the name, the message, the logo, the promise, and the look/feel; well, then, pretty soon, no-one has a clue about your identity.

Because you’re not sure of  your identity.

However – the fact is, we live in a rapidly-evolving time. If a company is going to manufacture clothespins forever, they might be able to maintain a single focus and brand. But for those of us who are entrepreneurs/SMB people, in fast-moving spaces like technology and communications, the issue isn’t so simple.

Our businesses often evolve quite a bit over the first few years. And, our marketplaces are shifting continuously. We might start with one offering, and end up in quite a different place; a derivative solution; a new vertical; unanticipated customers.

In fact, I’d argue that this is mostly a sign of health. Staying in one place on a placid lake is one thing, but trying to set anchor in a fast-flowing river is dangerous.

So when do we re-brand?

My simplest broad-stroke statement is that a re-branding is recommended when the identity and message you’re projecting outward no longer corresponds to reality (and I mean your current and your desired-future reality).

Let’s make up an example. You’re a small digital agency. You started earning your chops 6 years ago by creating slick Flash-based websites, and your name (WebWonderWizards) and tagline (We Dazzle UR URL!) fit your work and mission. But two years ago, a major client in the tourism industry, and then another, starting calling on you to do mobile apps, and pretty soon almost all your work had gravitated toward mobile development, and your domain expertise started to grow in one area – travel and tourism – where there was a ton of opportunity. Plus, the world is going away from the old web model toward mobile, and away from Flash and toward HTML5.

Is it time to re-brand? No-brainer. The name, the identity, the message – it’s all obsolete. And it’s even confusing. Instead of providing clarity to potential customers, you now have to waste time explaining how you’re NOT what you’ve been projecting about yourself. You haven’t dazzled anybody’s URL in a long time and don’t intend to anymore!

That’s a real simple example, but it’s not too far from what I often see. We start at one place, but circumstances and client requests and growing self-awareness and the current of the river bring us elsewhere.

So is branding becoming more unstable to some degree? Do we just bake that into our expectations?

What do you think? Is re-branding going to be more of a dynamic, repeated process? What should be the indicators that it’s time to make a shift – and what are the cautions to consider? How can we create brands that better endure through inevitable shifts?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

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Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage

What Do I Want to Do When I Grow Up?

It happened again, twice, in a powerful way recently – seeing people begin to be “sold” on themselves.

And by that, I don’t mean emotional hype or baseless self-esteem affirmations – I mean seeing their true value and ability come into clear focus, with a growing recognition that they had something truly worthwhile to offer.

One of the joys of my Clarity Therapy work is seeing gifted and experienced people begin to see themselves in a new light. I find that an outside set of eyes is almost always quite necessary to wipe the fog off the mirror so that we can see ourselves more clearly.

Let’s be honest – for most of us, the default setting is self-doubt. We know we could be doing more valuable work, but no-one has sold us on how that might look in a different role or direction. And we’re hesitant to believe that we can really make that step. We find it hard to sell ourselves on ourselves, or on our own company.

How is that overcome? Here’s how I do it in Clarity Therapy sessions:

– We discover your unique DNA – that specific set of strengths and skills that you need to build your direction on.

– We create a message around it that you can wholeheartedly affirm and believe in. It’s amazing what power is contained in a few well-chosen and accurately-targeted words.

– We explore what direction that might take (instead of just looking at someone else’s idea of a predefined company role or career ladder).

– We weave the past, present, and future into a story that highlights the real you (this also is critical in selling yourself – when you see how the threads actually DO come together).

– We re-create all messaging on resumes, websites, LinkedIn, etc. to reflect the new message and direction.

The process and outcome is essentially the same for individuals and companies. But there’s this one mysterious and powerful deliverable that transcends all changes in strategy and wording. It’s the most marvelous outcome of all – confidence.

When you’re sold on yourself, you can then sell yourself and your offerings. And the better you understand your identity and direction, the more confidently you sell; resulting in more validation from your customers, and an even greater growth in confidence.

All because you’ve finally got clarity.

(Image credit: by David Smith via Wikimedia)


Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

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Your Ultimate Competitive Advantage

What Do I Want to Do When I Grow Up?

You can have boundless energy, a really hot product, great pricing, solid staff, and a top-of-the-line Lexus in the CEO parking space, and still go down in flames.

If you want to succeed (long-term) as a leader, as a business, as a consultant – really, as a person – then there’s one thing you absolutely need to have. One huge advantage. And it’s something that we can ALL acquire. Clear vision.

It can be a process getting to 20/20 clarity – sometimes, a lot of “doing” is what gets you to better “seeing” – but when you know who you are, what you want, what your core competencies are, what your differentiator(s) are, and how to express all that – you’re way ahead of the game.

I have pathetic uncorrected vision – my glasses have always been pretty thick (yes, I still have Lasik envy – maybe someday…). Without clear sight I won’t recognize obstacles, or see opportunities; I’ll just bump into stuff. Have you seen a lot of businesses that behave like that? I have. They’re not on a well-defined course because the destination isn’t clear, nor is the pathway to get there.

Success starts with clear vision at the top – leaders who know what rabbit trails to avoid because they can see the destination, and they have a reasonably clear roadmap.

For quite some time, Kodak had a well-defined place in the market, and a successful business model. But when digital began to upend the need for film, it soon became evident that this company did not have a clear vision of how to re-make itself, how to navigate in a rapidly-evolving world that was doing a complete market makeover. Or, there’s Yahoo. What’s their vision? Does anyone know?

On the other end of the size scale, I see someone newly-laid-off from a client company who has hung out his/her shingle as a consultant, without a single differentiating anything in the company message. “We just do the usual stuff, so hire us” might as well be the company motto.

Will Work For Food may get you a little cash flow for a while. But a far clearer understanding of what you will work for – and why – is the ultimate competitive advantage.


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20/20 Vision in 3-D

What Do I Want to Do When I Grow Up?

A little while back, I got new prescription glasses. And there was that moment, putting them on, when I realized what it is like to see 20/20 again. All of us who wear contacts or glasses know that wonderful feeling.

The slow drift toward unclear vision often goes unrecognized until someone fits us with a new pair of lenses.

The fact is, clear vision is not an option. Whatever other investment I may forego, I will always spend the necessary funds to see clearly – because that is foundational to everything I must do! Amazingly, however, few of your competitors will do so. That’s why clarity can become your strategic advantage.

When I work with you on a Clarity Therapy session, we’re looking for a 20/20 vision for you or your company. We’re interested, not merely in creating a tagline, but in discovering your purpose.

If you’re going to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, you need to have a crystal-clear message and identity. This unfolds in a 3-D process:

  • DNA – during the first part of Clarity Therapy, which involves a lot of free-flowing Q&A, we’re digging deep to find your professional DNA – uncovering your drives, your gifts, your strengths, your dreams.
  • Direction – next, we explore options, figuring out ways that your differentiating individual/company qualities could optimally succeed in the marketplace.
  • Distillation – finally, we take all these themes and condense them down to 4 elements of expression to position you in the minds of customers: Offering, Message, Story, Analogy.

In less than a day, you’re seeing 20/20. In 3-D. You’re not throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what sticks (what’s the ROI of that??). You’re taking charge with a roadmap that’s clear.

It’s a great way to win in business!


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Clarity at the Crossroads

What Do I Want to Do When I Grow Up?