In addition to the iconic rendition by actor Richard Harris, Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park” has been recorded by some of the industry’s most celebrated artists, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, The Four Tops and, most recently, Carrie Underwood. As any good story goes, it challenges us to want to know more. Whether it’s a lament over his lost relationship with a woman who later got married in that Los Angeles park on a rainy day or his bet with Richard Harris that he could write him a #1 song the prize of which would be a Rolls-Royce, the real impact is the emotion that wells up in us from listening to MacArthur Park and how it connects with our own feelings. Some of the greatest hit records can stand on their own as stories that move us: The Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” The Kinks Ray Davies’ “Come Dancing” and so many more.
Stories have the power to inspire, to motivate, to touch deeply, to challenge and to lift us to an entirely different level of being. Stories make us come alive. We need to find and tell our own personal story in order to reach out to others and connect in authentic ways. Think about a song that has had a powerful emotional impact on you. The feelings that it brought about in you were genuine. They tapped into the authentic YOU where all personal greatness begins.
To reinvent our careers and to find out what we truly want to do in life, we need to find our inner story and share it with others. In business, we need stories to position ideas in order to make the greatest impact on our audience. Our personal stories, our lyrics, our brush strokes, our PowerPoint slides need to convey our story so that others are moved from where they are now to where we want to take them.
The Beach Boys’ 1966 release of “Pet Sounds,” produced, arranged and almost entirely written by Brian Wilson, forever changed the landscape of pop music and is considered one of the most influential albums in the history of popular music. Inspired by the immaculately constructed and filler-free Beatles album, “Rubber Soul,” Brian’s masterpiece incorporates unconventional instruments such as bicycle bells, buzzing organs, harpsichords, flutes, Electro-Theremin, dog whistles, trains, Hawaiian-sounding string instruments, Coca-Cola cans, and even barking dogs.
Record producers, musicians and arrangers are continuously on the lookout for unique ways to incorporate novel sounds into their productions. The 13th Floor Elevators are remembered fondly for Tommy Hall’s work on the electric jug in “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” That’s an ocarina solo happening halfway into The Troggs “Wild Thing” and Nirvana on “Drain You” made musical use of a rubber duck, some chains, and aerosol cans. On “Harvest Moon” that down-home sound is created by an old corn broom being swept across a sheet of sandpaper and Brian Eno fastens down a contorted guitar solo with a deft typewriter beat on “China My China.”
Being able to see alternative uses of anything is a key to jump-starting the creative process. A slice of white bread with the crust removed will eliminate greasy fingerprints from painted walls and bicarbonate of soda sprinkled into offending shoes will eliminate the odors. Crayola crayons serve as excellent fillers for small gouges or holes in resilient flooring especially since the color options are immense. And, don’t throw away those scratched CDs. Screw them onto stakes along your driveway and they make great nighttime reflectors.
My point: looking at objects and problems from different perspectives is key to coming up with novel solutions to any challenge. Right now, wherever you are sitting, pick up any object within reach and think of all the alternative uses you can imagine for it. And, when you think you’ve exhausted the possibilities, think again. The best ones are waiting for you. Now, apply alternatives to life and career. The possibilities are endless!
Producing and engineering for London Records during the height of the British wave of music was a rush that has never left me. I’ve applied to business, leadership and team building the lessons I learned in the studio to bring out the best performance in any setting.
One dynamic in particular that occurred naturally when working with bands and groups was this: as rehearsed as I made sure band members were before they entered the studio (this was the pre-digital analog era and hourly studio costs prohibited wasting any time) I always allowed for natural, spontaneous creativity to emerge. While working through a part like a guitar solo or background harmonies, band members would give immediate feedback to one another as to how they heard or saw a particular part and the suggestion would be tried. No pre-thought was given to the exchange of feedback. It just happened. As invested in a musical part any band member was, they were open and creatively quick to listen to the suggestions of their mates and to try them.
To amp up our own creative juices we should condition ourselves to step back from the challenge at hand to “see” it and “hear” it as we would imagine others might; especially our targeted audience. What would they say or recommend at this stage of the process that might direct us in a more productive or unique way. When I’m working on a creative project of my own I sometimes get up from my desk chair and imaginatively “invite” someone else, often a specific person, to give feedback. I literally stand behind my chair, like I used to do in the recording studio during playbacks when I put my “commercial audience ears” on and assessed whether a song was a hit or not, and try to imagine others’ responses and suggestions. You can be involved in a solo endeavor like writing and still engage the recommendations of others. Think of it as conjuring the creative spirits of those you respect the most! You might surprised at the outcomes!
Anything American author Jane E. Brody writes never fails to capture my interest. For her to cover my favorite topic, reinvention, is a double treat. For her to reference Dorie Clark (who I’ve had the pleasure to interview on my radio program) as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives,” hits it out of the park for me.
In her New York Times article, Reinventing Yourself, Jane , a master of information and storytelling, provides inspiring examples of people who have “reinvented themselves, sometimes against considerable odds, other times in surprising ways.” I encourage everyone who is somewhere on the road from “not me” to being the “real me,” to read this article and give it an email folder so you can access it anytime and anywhere for a much needed dose of inspiration.
I’ve been in sales since August 1983. From the first telemarketing call I made pitching long-distance telephone service for MCI Telecommunications during the height of divestiture to fueling multi-million dollar revenue pipelines as a senior leader for such notable corporations as MCI, DSL.net and Grand Circle Travel, the business of selling has provided me with a career ladder taller than I would have been able to climb in any other discipline.
But, for much of my career, selling has been on auto-pilot; so much a part of my DNA that I’ve found myself naturally doing well what so many salespersons spend weeks and even lifetimes trying to learn in workshops, seminars and strategic soul-searching. When I do reflect on my career success in selling and look for the roots of what I do well I don’t find the kernels of enlightenment in any of the books, tapes and seminar binders that have filled my bookshelves over the decades. In fact, I find the ingredients of great selling where you might least expect to find them yet where they simmer and percolate each and every day: a diner.
As a species that has added multiple levels of complexity to the simplest of so many behaviors, selling cries out the loudest to be kept free of complication in the face of overwhelming salesperson insistence that the process be as front-loaded as possible. Growing up as an army brat, my life was about as complicated as it could be with my father continuously getting reassigned and relocated and my having to perpetually go to new schools, make new friends and never feel roots growing under my feet. That is, until my father retired from the military, bought our first house and our sense of family, togetherness and community grew out of Sunday morning breakfasts at the College Diner. What I learned from those early outings stayed with me in childhood, in high school, in college, in my own family life and throughout my career in selling:
If you’re not selling with passion find another career. Selling is not for the faint of heart. Every classic diner owner and operator I met researching and writing my book, Classic Diners of Connecticut wanted nothing short of living the American dream, giving their children a life better than their own and becoming successful at serving others. Compromise was not on the menu and they’d often work 7-days a week making their dream happen. If you’re not prepared to put in the time to live your dream then your dream needs to be bigger or you need to find the real one.
Emotion has as much a place in selling as product knowledge. Prospects learn about what you’re selling intellectually but they buy emotionally. And, the fastest path to emotion is telling great stories about what your product or service has done to change the lives, bottom-lines and experiences of your customers. Sit at a diner counter when all the stools are taken and listen…really listen…to the stories being told and the responses to them. Storytelling is in our DNA as a species since the first campfires were the stage lights for the day’s hunting adventures. Know what your own story is and share it. What challenges have your customers faced that your product or service resolved? What was the struggle of change that took place the culmination of which brought your customers to a higher place because of your product or service? Customers won’t buy unless they’re emotionally engaged. No customer leaves a diner counter in the middle of a great story. Your prospect shouldn’t either.
Marketers everywhere are incorporating the word “trust” into their product and sales literature. We use it so much that I don’t trust its sincerity as much as I see it as a well-worn word of habit. Yet, no prospect is going to buy your product or service unless they trust it and, more importantly, unless they trust you. Sales training programs talk about trust as the end result of building rapport. But, if you have to build it as opposed to it being a natural part of the selling process, it will not be embraced by any prospect with even the most elementary perception skills. Trust is as natural an ingredient of the classic diner experience as conversation and community. A diner is one of those rare eateries in which you can see a judge, a construction worker, a CEO and a down-on-his-luck executive sitting shoulder to shoulder at the counter being what everyone simply wants to be in life: himself or herself. Judgement is not served in a classic diner. Only acceptance and heaping servings of it. Be real in presenting yourself to prospects. It’s the comfort food that satiates sales success.
4. Many classic diners hold true to being ALWAYS OPEN. But, never be afraid of CLOSING a sale. If you are, you’re in the wrong occupation. Prospects expect you to ask them to buy so don’t be afraid of fulfilling their expectations. Burgers and fries wouldn’t be on the menu if they weren’t being served so place your order…ask.
5. Many patrons have long-term relationships with the owners of the classic diners they frequent. The wait staff know the “regulars” by first names and what they like to order. They also know about their families, their jobs and what’s going on in their lives. Relationships develop and solidify over many years because service staff takes a genuine interest in their customers’ culinary as well as human needs. A diner counter is the prototype for creating business relationships built on a solid ground of knowing your customer, servicing their needs and being there without trepidation whenever the encounter presents itself. Salespersons exist to service their customers. Asking for the check only comes after their needs have been satisfied. A waitperson would never give you a check before you ordered your food yet so many people trying to sell read everything on their menu of offerings without ever listening than ask for the close never knowing or even acknowledging what the customer came to the counter hungry for. A generous tip is the acknowledgement that the customer has had a beneficial and trusted experience and will return again.
6. Classic diners are an endangered species. Fast food restaurants have crowded them out of the restaurant marketplace replacing home-cooking served and at reasonable prices by a waitperson who knows your name by never having to converse with anyone other than through a metal speaker under the outdoor menu then having your food served in a bag that you can eat in your car all by yourself. Some call it progress. Others call it the exigencies of the modern world. Undeniably, it tragically heralds the loss of true conversation, asking questions to engage others, telling stories, serving others, entrepreneurism, being yourself and welcoming differences…all elements of successful selling.
The diner has been a symbol of American ingenuity ever since 17-year old Walter Scott first started selling food from a horse-drawn wagon back in 1858. Scott’s wagon became a cultural icon as well as an entire industry that would shape the way that Americans eat out. Classic diners also became symbols of prosperity and venues for the American dream to become a reality. They are the holdouts of values and behaviors fundamental to our communication with others so central to successful selling as it should be done.
Listen to my interview with Dan Lovallo, Host of WDRC radio’s “Front & Center,” on “Everything About Selling I Learned in a Diner.”
"You've had such a varied and impressive career. It's awesome to read about your adventures and reinventions and how you're now helping others do the same," branding expert Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You, Stand Out and Entrepreneurial You