You Gotta Get a Gimmick

My brief theatrical career included playing a “Toreadorable” in a summer stock production of “Gypsy” when I was about 13. My sister had dragged me to the auditions because of her own thespian ambitions, and I think she just liked having some company and a ready-made fan in me, so I suddenly found myself in the chorus. Now, forty-plus years later, I can still sing every word of every song in that libretto. My favorite song is “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” the refrain of a song sung by three strippers who are instructing young Louise before she turns into the unforgettable Gypsy Rose Lee. Their sage advice is to get a gimmick that makes you stand out from everyone else.

The same holds true in the world of business. What makes people remember you? Maybe you aren’t wearing phony Roman soldier regalia and carrying a horn like one of the strippers in “Gypsy”–at least, I hope not. But each of us has our own unique style and sensibility. “Gimmick” implies that it’s false but I prefer to think that the essence of this theme is to find something special about yourself and then use it, leverage it, let yourself be known for it. For Jeffrey Gitomer, he’s known not only for his brash and in-your-face sales advice but he’s recognizable in his red shirt with his name patch sewn onto the chest, looking like an upscale mechanic. Another world-class speaker, Patricia Fripp, wears stylish hats that set her apart in a crowd. And her British accent, along with her nuggets of wisdom which she calls “Frippisms,” make her undeniably unique. Think George Will and his bowtie, Louise Nevelson and her turban, George Burns and his cigar.

Last year I was interviewed by a Wall Street Journal reporter, Elizabeth Bernstein, for a column she writes called “Bonds” (it’s about relationships, not financial instruments). Her article was about being a diva, and I was delighted to respond as a source. I’d been encouraging business women for years to redefine the word “Diva” to mean a woman who knows what she wants, knows how to get what she wants and honors the people who support her. When Elizabeth asked me what was diva-like about me, though, I was stumped. Somehow, I ended up describing my love of vintage jewelry, born during a time when that was all I could afford, my signature pearls and red lipstick. I defaulted to describing my style. Like Jeffrey Gitomer’s red shirt, it’s a uniform I put on every day because it feels like an expression of the authentic “me.”

So what’s your “gimmick?” What do you do or say or wear that most expresses your brand and your style? What makes you unique and unforgettable? Please share about your own way of expressing yourself that sets you apart from everyone else. We’d love to know.

[Photo: The Village Voice]

Promise Made, Promise Kept

My morning ritual consists of several important ingredients, the most critical of which is coffee. Armed with some strong Eight O’Clock Dark Italian Roast coffee, I retreat to my corner of the couch and curl up, ready to begin my day. I read a daily devotional, a faux-leather bound edition of Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (a gift from my friend Katy McDonough), and I usually read it twice because that’s how slow I am. I let the words wash over me and sometimes I even read it aloud. Then I pull out Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. This book caused quite a sensation when it came out and made Ms. Breathnach a fortune, which she later lost due to an errant and ne’er-do-well husband. That story is detailed in Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity by the same author. I read that next, a chapter or so at a time, to support my own rocky love affair with finances. And I recently I’ve been topping this morning ritual off with a chapter from Tim Sanders’ book Today We Are Rich: Harnessing the Power of Total Confidence. Oh, and then I pray. I guess that’s really the most important ingredient of my morning ritual.

Yes, I admit it, I’m a self-help book addict. I love beginning my day with not only Scripture but with messages from people who have been there, done that, faced adversity and won and who have a story to tell. In Tim Sanders’ book, he lists seven principles of confidence, and the last is “Promise Made, Promise Kept.” He tells a story of a woman who kept a promise not just to herself but to her boss and her physician–to quit smoking. Then she lost a significant amount of weight. She began keeping her promises and as she did so, she built that muscle and got better and better at it. That made me think, what promises am I keeping? And which ones am I failing to keep that, if I just paid more attention, would contribute to my life, my work and my relationships?

Each year I update my strategic marketing plan for my coaching and speaking business, and my first strategy for success is to “maintain and enhance client service.” One of the tactics supporting that strategy, a tactic I include each year, is to “return phone calls within 24 hours.” That’s a promise made but not always a promise kept. Whether it’s a client, a prospective client or a business associate, a family member or a friend, the value of returning that call can make the difference between success and failure. When I don’t return those calls–when I don’t keep my promises–I tend to see myself as a failure.

So today, I’m recommitting to that promise and (gulp) telling the world–that is, YOU. I invite you to hold me accountable to that promise and remind me when I’m breaking it (be gentle with me, I’m still learning). I know that by exercising my promise muscle, I will get stronger and stronger and there’s no tellin’ what might happen.

What promise will you make today, a promise you’re willing to keep?

[Photo: Hummingbird locket, available on Etsy]

Becoming a Positive Deviant

One of my author-speaker heroes is a physician named Atul Gawande, a surgeon based in Boston who is also a regular contributor to the New Yorker. Best known for his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things RightDr.Gawande wrote an earlier book called Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. The audiobook was on sale at my favorite Tempe, AZ, bookstore, Changing Hands, so I bought it thinking I could listen to it in my car. And in spite of the many clinical stories he told, some of which made me a bit queasy–after all, the guy is a doctor–I enjoyed the book. In the afterword, the author provided five tips for improving performance by becoming a “positive deviant.”

First, let me share the definition of “positive deviant.” People who do things outside the norm (often unknowingly) that have a good outcome are “positive deviants,” and they change the world, whether by improving the nutritional health of children in a village or stopping an epidemic. The book Better can be applied to all of us, though, not just physicians and healthcare workers. Here are those five tips on performance improvement and how they can apply to you and your business or career:

  1. Ask an unscripted question. Whether you’re in business or excelling at your job, you’re called upon to educate, inform and ultimately, to persuade (some call it “selling”). The best way to engage people to think is to ask an unscripted question, one they weren’t expecting. I know I’ve hit a chord when I ask an unscripted question and the person across from me pauses, looks up at the ceiling and takes some time to think before responding. Unscripted questions open up a whole range of possibilities that weren’t there before.
  2. Don’t complain. What a great piece of advice for us all! No one wants to hear our litany of concerns, petty or otherwise, and besides, complaining is bad for your brand. I’m not suggesting you be a phony or a Pollyanna; just have something substantive to say. Today, catch yourself before you complain and substitute a conversation that will really make a difference with the person you’re speaking to.
  3. Count something. “What gets measured gets managed,” according to the late great management guru Peter Drucker. Setting up metrics, whether its in the form of sales calls, revenue or client/customer satisfaction data, is critical to moving the needle. Without data, there is no needle. What can you count today that will move you toward your goal?
  4. Write something. My dad used to say that to me whenever we talked about my vision to become a writer. “Don’t just sit there–write something!” he would bellow with a grin. Writing is an act of courage, whether it’s keeping a journal, launching a blog, writing a poem or contributing a letter to the editor of a news organization. Writing is also a powerful way to connect with your audience, whoever that is. “The published word is a declaration of membership in that community and also of a willingness to contribute something meaningful to it,” says Dr. Gawande in his afterword. What will you write today to contribute to your audience?
  5. Change. Try something new. Become an early adopter. Recognize that there are gaps in your performance and seek ways to bridge those gaps. Our work lives are filled with uncertainties and failures, so it may seem best to keep doing things the way you’ve been doing them. Resist that impulse. What one thing will you change today in your business or your job that will fill a gap in your performance?

I love sharing my thoughts with you via this blog and invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section, below. What are you counting, writing, changing? What complaints will you give up to strengthen your brand? What’s a great unscripted question you’ve created to get your clients or employees to open up to you? “Ask people what they think,” Dr. Gawande recommends at the end of his book. “See if you can keep the conversation going.”

So, what do you think?

[Photo: An elevator sign, taken at Taipei 101, formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center, a landmark skyscraper in Taipei, Taiwan]