Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Collaboration versus competition: An interview with author Lynn Serafinn

Today I have the great pleasure of being the host on Day 4 of the Virtual Blog Tour of author Lynn Serafinn, whose book The 7 Graces of Marketing: How to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell launches on Amazon on Tuesday, December 13, 2011.

First, a little about our guest. Lynn is the queen of mind-body-spirit books, and has probably helped launch more #1 bestsellers in this genre than anyone in history. And she is a great friend and colleague. Here is the official bio:

Lynn Serafinn, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach and teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and bestselling author. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. In her work as a promotional manager she has produced a long list of bestselling mind-body-spirit authors. Passionate about re-establishing our connection with the Earth, she supports the work of the Transition Town network in her hometown of Bedford, England.

Yesterday, Lynn visited Freya from BookBuzzr, where they talked about purpose and 7 Relationships/Sins in marketing. Today, I'd like to share a recent interview where I got to ask Lynn some questions on collaboration, getting started and her personal music career. I hope you enjoy it!


Rich Gallagher: You and I have something in common: we don't see other people in our profession as competitors. But when I share this view with others, they often look at me like I have three heads. What would you say to convince others that collaboration beats competition?

Lynn Serafinn: I totally understand what you are saying, Rich. And I believe a lot of the reason why people look at folks like you and me as if we have three heads is because the whole “myth” of competition is something we have been fed since we were very young. I cannot count how many times my parents (especially my father) used to talk about competition as being “the” thing that makes the human race—and our economy—stronger. My dad used to cite the whole “survival of the fittest” argument, saying it was a scientific part of natural evolution. But what I found out when I started researching this book and speaking on the subject was that this was actually a common myth we in the Western world have embraced.

Speaking for myself, when I was growing up in the “Cold War” era, the argument for competition was actually part of the propaganda used to justify capitalism versus communism/socialism: We were told that if we didn’t have competing economies, everyone would become lazy and wouldn’t bother to work. Also, we were taught that competition was equivalent to economic freedom, when in truth these two things are very different. When we “fuse” together two ideas into one, that is neither one nor the other, it becomes what I refer to as a “collapsed belief”. And collapsed beliefs can be very dangerous, when they are used to sway public opinion. This whole notion of collapsed beliefs is something I return to again and again in the book.

While I’m not saying any “ism” is better than another (in fact, all “ism’s” become rigid and dysfunctional if they become a set of collapsed beliefs rather than dynamic systems that serve society), what I am saying is our belief in the value of competition is something many of us have passively accepted as an absolute truth over the past 100 years, when in fact it is something we have been taught through the “marketing” of politics and big businesses.

Ok, now, getting back to your question about what I would say to convince others that collaboration beats competition, here are some starting points. First, there have been many studies done that show that competition actually makes us less innovative, creative and daring in our work. A book I would cite that has loads of examples of this is Alfie Kohn’s book No Contest: The Case Against Competition, how we lose in our race to win. In that book, he cites numerous examples of how competition actually results in lower quality performance in everything from business to schoolchildren.

In my own experience as a career musician in the past, I have seen how competition can shut down creative expression, and limit the artist in just so many ways. In the natural world, although we have been led to believe that “evolution” means “survival of the fittest”, this is actually a belief that was created by 19th US and UK capitalists. In Nature, no such thing actually exists. Life is a permaculture—everything is interdependent. If we compete at the expense of others in our economy, we harm the whole economic organism of our society. This is really the main them of my entire book.

Rich Gallagher: The single biggest question I get from would-be entrepreneurs - and perhaps the greatest force pulling them toward old-school interruptive marketing - is "how do I get started in business?" How would you answer this?

Lynn Serafinn: My answer would be that if they really want to succeed in business, they need to shift away from a “hunter” to a “farmer” mentality. In other words, instead of focusing on making the quick “kill” (or sale), focus on planting seeds that will grow and generate seeds of their own. This is hard for new business owners, because it takes a lot of courage to survive through the first year or two of ANY business, during which time you quite likely to lose more money than you make. Surviving through that loss takes a lot of faith. Think of how seeds are when they are beneath the earth, but not yet sprouted. You don’t see that they are actually developing and growing because they are not visible to your eyes. But if you lose faith they will yield fruit, and as a result stop bothering to water them, they will die and you will indeed end up with nothing. That’s the point that so many new business owners end up going back to employment, giving up on their dreams.

Here’s a scenario I have seen again and again in clients, even those who have been in business for years: They start to panic when their business is struggling economically. And instead of thinking, “How can I be more innovative and adaptive, and create something that will take me forward?” they think, “How can I get out of this mess right away?” That is when they frequently resort to aggressive “interruptive” marketing strategies. But in my experience, while this might (not always!) bring some short-term results (like “the kill”), it frequently doesn’t align with the values, dreams and goals of the business owner, and hence there is a “disconnect” between the business owner, his business and his audience.

It helps to have a support network of colleagues who understand this kind of thinking. That’s one of the reasons why I am establishing a 7 Graces Global Community in 2012. I’ll be telling you more about that in the New Year, Rich.

Rich Gallagher: You start off your book with a great story about trying to make it in the music business (and many readers might not realize you once had a #1 trance hit). Ever dream of returning?

Lynn Serafinn: That’s such a funny question, Rich. Well, I have no dream of returning back to the electronic music scene (although psych-trance has still got to be my favourite kind of music). In the chapter on “Deadly Sin of Scarcity” in the book, you’ll also read about how electronic musicians so often get hooked on spending a lot to obtain all the latest equipment through very clever (and insidious) use of “perceived obsolescence” in marketing. That was a never-ending hamster wheel back when I was in the industry, and I never want to get on that ride again!

However, for some reason, I’ve been SINGING a lot lately. In fact, I can’t seem to stop singing. I was a singer for many years in my youth, and gave it up when I chose to focus on being a symphony violinist. But now my voice seems to want to wake up again. Symbolic? At age 57 (quite nearly…my birthday’s in January), I have no desire to start my career in music over yet again, but who knows? Maybe I’ll try out for the X-Factor, and show them how you can bring The Grace of Collaboration into a so-called competition.

(P.S. Rich here – I hope I'm not embarrassing Lynn, but here is a link to one of her trance hits on YouTube: Enjoy!)


I hope you enjoyed this interview with Lynn Serafinn, and that you’ll check out her book The 7 Graces of Marketing: How to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell at

I asked to join Lynn's blog tour because I truly feel this is one of the most important books I have read on marketing, and it resonates very strongly with my own philosophy. In closing, I want to share two very special events Lynn is planning for the launch of her book:

First is a free, no-purchase required telesummit happening from December 6-9, 2011, with a truly world-class lineup of bestselling authors, speakers, and media experts - some of the "all stars" include Escape from Cubicle Nation author Pam Slim, Dr. Joe Vitale, and even yours truly! Here is the link to register and receive a "launch reminder":

Here's the spectacular list of guests speakers for this 7-part event:

Dr. Joe Vitale * Greg S. Reid * Dr. Eric Pearl * Dan Hollings * Pamela Slim * Liz Goodgold * Allison Maslan * Suzanne Falter*Barnes * Tad Hargrave * Misa Hopkins * Richard S. Gallagher * Ward Vandorpe * Barbara Altemus * Andrea Conway * Renee Baribeau * Renee Duran * Michael Drew * Chris Arnold * Jeffrey Van Dyk * Tanya Paluso * Kate Osborne * Shelagh Jones * Paula Tarrant * Lynn Serafinn

You can listen to this free telesummit online in the comfort of your own home, and even ask questions during the broadcast. If you are reading this after Dec 9th, 2011 you can still access the playback for a limited time when you register at

Second is a set of great free gifts when you buy Lynn's book on its launch date of Tuesday December 13, 2011, including the MP3 download of all 10 hours of this historic telesummit, plus a complete library of beautiful personal development gifts from authors, speakers, coaches and other enlightened professionals from around the globe - including a free full-length book from me! To claim your FREE pass to the 7 Graces of Marketing Telesummit and read about the free gifts, go to:

Thanks for reading! As usual, please feel free to share your comments and thoughts below. I love reading your feedback. AND… be sure to follow Lynn's next stop on the Virtual Blog Tour with Shelagh Jones, who will be podcasting her interview with Lynn. Here's the link. Enjoy!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Service metrics: Pushing the genie back in the bottle

Just got back from the Voice of the Customer conference in Boston this week. VOC is a retreat for customer service executives run by my good friend Phil Verghis and his colleagues Fred Van Bennekom and Jeffrey Tarter, better known jointly as The First Wednesday Group. It is always a great meeting, but this time it was more like a religious experience.

You see, for the first time in recorded history, a major company got on stage and announced something that I always predicted would never happen: they *stopped* measuring the performance of their customer support teams.

For decades, one of the biggest trends in customer service has been the ability to measure anything and everything. We can now easily know things like how many keystrokes per hour you type, how many questions you answer per day, how much you sell, how long you are in your seat … even how long you spend in the bathroom. Nowadays these “metrics” are part of the daily reality of nearly everyone who serves the public.

Metrics have become the darling of business thought leaders over the last decade. We now talk effortlessly about things like balanced scorecards, accountability, and maximizing customer value. Many people see our ability to measure everything as part of a revolution in productivity.

But in my view – and that of a small but growing fraternity of others in customer support – there is a dark side to metrics:

-People are often measured on so many different criteria that many constantly fail at something. And the stakes are often very high for failing – in his heyday, for example, people like GE’s Jack Welch used to recommend firing the “bottom 10%” every year, and the fall of Enron was a case study of a culture where people had to “make their numbers” or else.

-Even when people meet their metrics goals, they often feel constantly pushed in the back, in an environment where managers treat grown employees like children. Except that if real parents constantly measured how long their kids took to brush their teeth, eat their breakfast, or put on their pajamas, we would probably be calling social services.

-Worst of all, these metrics often destroy the very things they were designed to measure. Have you ever called for help and spoken with someone who pushed you off the phone with a bad answer, or refused to let you speak to someone more knowledgeable? They undoubtedly put their “first call resolution” numbers ahead of fixing your problem. Because you can’t fire them, but the bean-counters can and will.

To be fair, as an engineer by training, I am also a big numbers guy. Good metrics have at times helped me make positive changes in how I managed customer support teams. So with apologies to Caesar, I have always taken an approach of both praising and trying to bury metrics. In past writings, I often proposed a compromise: continue to measure things, but don't hold these numbers over people unless they vary far from your norms. To me, this reflected cold reality: how could you tell your management to stop measuring productivity, without them looking back at you like you had three heads?

So along comes my friend Phil Verghis, who consulted with this major company and took things a big step further: he told them that their metrics had to go, period. Don’t even measure them at all, because people will still find out about them. Instead, focus on the really important things – customer satisfaction, retention, costs, and sales – and get everyone behind them.

They bit. The metrics are gone. So are some of the “old guard” of micromanagers who wouldn’t change. The result? A substantial increase in productivity. (I don't have the exact number, which was shared verbally, but I believe it was on the order of 20-25%.) And more important, teams of employees who now feel they are part of something bigger than themselves.

So, are you feeling really brave? Stop measuring people. Today. And then watch what happens.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Horrid Picture: A new look at teambuilding

Just had a great speaking engagement yesterday, doing a workshop on customer skills here in Ithaca for my friends at the New York State Nursery and Landscaping Association and their annual conference. Afterward, they were gracious enough to invite me to their evening reception, where I saw a great example of teambuilding that I have never encountered before.

The highlight of the evening was an auction where members contributed their wares to raise money for the Association's work. (I was proud to see a signed copy of my own book What to Say to a Porcupine sell for a high bid of $100.) But they saved the best for last: the Horrid Picture auction.

As the name implied, the Horrid Picture was a truly horrid framed painting: a color-blind rendition of a rural landscape, with stars and a silhouette of a duck's head inexplicably floating in the upper left corner. And people weren't bidding to purchase it – they were bidding for the right to require another Association member to display this picture, where their employees and customers could see it, at their place of business for the next year. So one person would bid $100 to have it in Chuck's office, then another would raise the bid to $200 to have it put in Bud's office, and so forth.

Eventually the winning bid reached a thousand dollars, with groups of people teaming up to choose their favorite "victim." Which brings up something that sets this group apart from any other group I have met: how close are you really to your network of business colleagues? Do you know them well enough to force one of them to hang an ugly picture in their office – for a year – and do it with a smile?

As the auction was rolling along, one person after another was telling me what a tight-knit group this was. One large, successful business owner told me that he was always happy to give advice to new people getting into the business in his town, even though they would technically become his competitors. Another shared that he had been in the business for 50 years, and had more work than he could handle from word-of-mouth. Still another described himself as the "baby" of the group, with only 12 years under his belt.

So how about you and your colleagues: Do you support and learn from each other? Do you build and maintain a network that is profitable for everyone? Do these relationships and friendships stand the test of time? Could you put a horrid picture in one of their offices for a year?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Feel the fear and don't do it anyway

Hi there, all you people who write motivational articles about how to "go for it," "feel the fear and do it anyway," and "get out of your comfort zone." I really appreciate what you are trying to accomplish with these articles.

Now, respectfully, could you all please knock it off?

Over the last two and a half years, I have done a lot of work with people with anxiety disorders. These are not people with quote-unquote too much stress, but rather people who suffer from issues like fears, phobias, and compulsions. They can't board airplanes, drive over bridges, or stop washing their hands 50 times a day. And whether you know it or not, articles like yours are part of their problem.

Since early 2009 I have been running a group program called "Anxiety Camp," and to a man or woman, its participants all tell me the same thing: well-meaning friends and relatives have always pushed them to engage in "Nike therapy" about their fears (e.g. just do it). The results are always the same. At best they suck it up, muddle through fearful situations, and then feel no better the next time they face them. More often they freak out, have setbacks, and end up worse off than where they started. And then everyone assumes that the sufferer simply isn't trying hard enough.

In reality, trying hard *is* the problem. It goes against your neurobiology. Being afraid is a survival instinct that protects us, and when we try to short-circuit that instinct, our subconscious pushes back - hard. So how do you get well from anxiety disorders? In tiny baby steps. While paying a lot of attention to what you tell yourself. That way, you start re-programming your circuits about what is frightening to you, as you gradually expand your comfort zone.

You see, the suck-it-up types want you to face your fears by gritting your teeth, putting your head down, and enduring situations. At best, doing this simply distracts you and teaches you nothing. At worst, it sensitizes you to situations you really want to become *de*-sensitized to. I want you to learn to become fully present in feared situations. And that almost always requires experiencing them gradually.

To be fair, I do understand the value of these motivational articles. Sometimes people decide to make brave, fundamental moves that change their lives. They choose to take control instead of take cover. And sometimes it works. For example, the day I leaped without a net from corporate life into self-employment will always rank up there as one of the most life-affirming things I've ever done.

But that is not the same as dealing with the fears that, statistically, one in five of us struggle with. And when fearful people read these articles - or worse, are handed them by well-meaning others - they become disheartened. And worst of all, don't realize that from a clinical standpoint, these words are often leading them toward illness and not wellness.

Conversely, when people start taking tiny baby steps from within their comfort zone, magic often starts to happen. I've watched this happen over and over. Anxiety scores drop, limits start disappearing, and people develop a renewed sense of faith in themselves. So if you're fearful, remember: learn all you can about your fears. Take things one small step at a time. And stay far away from motivational speakers.