Proven Ways You Can Increase Your Focus & Cut Down on Distraction

Which is worse for your powers of concentration?

Doing several things on technology (email, texting, surfing the web) at once.


Trying to get all of those things done, but after you’ve had a few puffs of marijuana (medical or not)?

According to a study by Dr. Glenn Wilson, from the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, electronic multitasking (ringing telephones, email dings etc.) lowers IQ by ten points–more than double the drop from lighting up a joint, and equal to the loss after missing an entire nights sleep.

So if you live in a state where marijuana is legal, I strongly suggest you take this not as a marching order to pick up the pot, but rather to put down the cell phone–at least while you’re doing other things.

A new study from Aalto University based on having the participants watch the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and James Bond movies has shown how multitasking overloads our brains. This includes social media, which the researchers believe, from the brain’s point of view, is at its core a multitasking activity.

“We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure different brain areas of our research subjects while they watched short segments of movies,” explains Aalto University Associate Professor Iiro Jääskeläinen.

The brain imaging found that shifting rapidly between tasks impedes the areas of the brain responsible for turning bits and pieces into a more cohesive story.

The researchers, who cut the film into 50-second segments to disrupt their continuity, found that certain parts of the participants’ brains were higher functioning when the films were viewed in longer, 6.5-minute segments. In short, the brain works better when it focuses on one thing at a time.

That multitasking is not good for our concentration or productivity is well known, but overcoming this neuroscientific nuisance can take some practice, and while technology may be the culprit, it can also be part of the cure. I regularly use several apps including Pomodoro and Forest to carve out highly focused and timed work sessions. These apps are simply structured to encourage and reward you to stick to the schedule.

In addition, I asked Paul Armstrong, author of the new book Disruptive Technologies, out this week from Kogan Page, to weigh in with a few of his best tips for managing multitasking madness. Here’s what he had to say:

Lessen the lure of your most loved apps.

“Don’t make your favorite apps the first port of call on your cell phone,” says Armstrong. Instead he suggests moving them to a new screen on your phone–preferably at the back of the stack.

“The red circles notifying you that you’ve got a message can become a game of whack-a-mole. You will be less distracted, and more focused, if they are not right in front of you all the time,” he says.

Lose one screen.

Stop and right now count how many screens you are using. Armstrong says that while people think that background noises or images help them focus, it is harder to concentrate when being interrupted by different devices.

“Lose one of the screens by putting your phone in a drawer or turning off the iPad,” suggests Armstrong. “It will reduce the potential for interruption and trick your brain into feeling more in control–a key for focus.”

Create a calendar bubble.

Have you ever set aside time in your schedule to work on an important item and then blew it off when a call or email came in that grabbed your attention away?

Well, of course you have. Armstrong suggests you create a burst-free bubble by scheduling 30 minutes every day to either prioritize your most important to-do’s or to work uninterrupted on something essential.

With an ever-increasing reliance on screens, it seems unlikely that the temptation to multitask will magically disappear altogether. However, learning to keep the habit in check is an essential skill for success.

The next time you find yourself doing two (three, four, or five) things at once, put your attention squarely where it belongs–on one thing at a time.

This article originally appeared on

1 Thing You Already Do Every Day That Can Make You More Productive

My butt hurts. Seriously. I’ve been sitting in my ergonomically designed desk chair for the past eight hours (with only short bio breaks) writing. I’m not a doctor, but I know this can’t be good for my back or backside. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting an adjustable desk (designed for sitting or standing) and even considered a treadmill desk, where the user walks at a steady pace while working.

To date, I’ve acted on neither of these options, but earlier this week, a study came across my desk that has lit a fire under my, well, you know.

In the first study of its kind, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reveals that standing desks can significantly boost cognitive skills.

The researchers considered the consequences of going from sitting in a chair to standing at a desk and found significant improvements in the following skills that anyone could arguably be better at:

• Problem solving

• Fact memorization

• Working memory

• Prioritizing

Apparently, the increase in blood flow caused by standing seems to get the brain up and running. And it’s not just our cognitive and executive functioning that’s impacted but our longevity as well.

A 2012 report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that 50 to 70 percent of Americans spend six hours or more a day sitting. The same report stated that if those same couch-potato citizens reduced their sitting by 50 percent (to less than three hours a day), life expectancy would be increased by two years.

So how can we get off our butts and boost our brainpower? Here are 10 suggestions:

1. Try the 20-8-2 pattern.

Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, recommends sitting for 20 minutes, standing for eight minutes, and then moving around for two minutes — every half hour — while at work.

2. Use a timer.

To keep pace with the 20-8-2 pattern, try setting an alarm on your cell phone or using a time app to keep track. I personally like Focus Time, a free app that lets me designate different amounts of time for the different activities of sitting, standing, and moving around.

3. Gab upright.

Get into the habit of standing, rather than sitting, while talking on the phone.

4. Take the stairs.

If you work in a building where there are stairs — and you’re not on the 78th floor — skip the elevator and get in some exercise instead.

5. Commit to 15.

Calendar in a 15-minute window in your lunch hour that is dedicated to walking.

6. Tidy up.

One way to stand up is to straighten up. Dust your bookshelves, organize your cabinets, and wash out the coffee cups in the break room. Any kind of cleaning that gets you up and out of your chair will do.

7. Merge working out and watching TV.

I’ll admit it: One of my guilty pleasures is binge-watching television shows. I went through the entire first season of Amazon’s Hand of God scripted series in a weekend. The only problem was that I was sitting on the coach for most of it. So instead of going all coach potato when you watch TV, try walking in place, lifting weights, doing mat Pilates, etc.

8. Park farther away.

If you go to visit an office or other place outside of your home, try parking as far away from the entrance as reasonably possible.

9. Walk and talk.

The next time you have a meeting, rather than sitting in a pair of chairs facing each other, suggest taking a walk side by side.

10. Buy an adjustable desk.

Hedge recommends looking for one that lets you make the adjustment from sitting to standing easily and quickly. There are a ton of types on the marketplace, including the tabletop Varidesk, which gives you a quick hit when you want some height, and the Human Solution sit-stand desk.

I’d love to stay and chat, but my alarm just went off, and it’s time for my two-minute movement session. I think I’ll walk briskly over to the Nespresso machine and make myself a cappuccino. But don’t worry. I’ll be sure to stand while I drink it.

This article originally appeare on

The Surprising Connection Between Your Soul & Money Might Surprise You

Ask any businessperson worth their salt to define “success,” and one of the most common answers will most certainly be “making money.” All enterprises strive to be profitable as part of the fruits of their labor. Money, after all, is what makes the world go round. So, it stands to reason that more money would be a worthy goal. Or is it?

Should money be at the heart of our business goals?

I sat down with my former client Lynne Twist, who was a guest this past week on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and is the author of the newly updated and re-released book The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life. Twist, who is also a fundraising consultant, says that while money is no doubt a way to measure productivity and ensure financial security, its place at the center of our business world may not be the best strategy.

“When we think of how we earn, spend and invest money as a carrier of our intention, we can see the often-obsessive devotion to money, profits, accumulations, market share and the grasping for more in a pathological, dysfunctional and unconscious light. When we make money itself the destination, we get confused,” says Twist.

Make money the fuel of your destination.

“On the other hand, when we know that money is the fuel toward that destination — a much higher purpose than simply the accumulation of wealth — we can create a healthy relationship not only with money but with ourselves. We can actually see that it’s our vision or mission that we are really all about, and that the financial resources are what support us in getting there.”

So how can today’s business leaders — who need to manage both short-term results and long-term impact — learn to think about money as a motor of purpose, rather than just a measure of success? Twist suggests starting with what drives you.

Find what drives you.

“If we look at what drives us, we find that it’s the doing of something, and doing it well, that often comes first for the most successful people. And a vital part of that is doing something fulfilling and meaningful, beyond just making the business successful,” says Twist.

She goes on to explain that when companies ground their business and business decisions in a deeper commitment, it often generates results that reach far beyond the bottom line.

“When the vision of the company and the service that we’re providing (and not just money) are the point, our financial resources become what allows us to achieve that. Then we have our attention on the right thing,” says Twist.

Set up an opportunity for service and contribution.

Twist says that business owners can also help their employees participate in a larger vision by creating opportunities for them to serve their families and community with such actions as:

• Creating a policy that allows for a certain number of paid volunteer days

• Generating HR policies that include thoughtful child care and family leave

• Creating a matching fund for employee charitable contributions

The meaning of money to Millennials.

Consider the case of companies like TOMS or Warby Parker, who began with social consciousness as an integral part of their brand from the beginning. In a world concerned with sustainability, they have both been hugely successful and stayed true to their deeper mission. This way of thinking about money and business that Twist proffers is particularly important as companies engage in the recruitment of millennials, many of whom hold contribution and community at the heart of their work-life goals.

“Today’s younger people are looking for career success with a soul. I think we’re in a new business movement that has service, sharing, collaboration and making a difference at the heart of it,” says Twist. “For everyone who strives to be among the best, their work is a representation of what’s in their soul. After all, what’s the point of your business if it, and you, don’t have a point?”

To learn more about Twist’s philosophy, check out my podcast with Lynne Twist about The Soul of Money in your life. This article originally appeared on

Are You a Multiplier or a Diminisher?

Are You a Multiplier or a Diminisher?

Drawing on interviews with more than 150 executives and on her own experience as the former vice president of Oracle University, Liz Wiseman, author of the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, argues that leaders are either Multipliers or Diminishers:

We’ve all had experience with two dramatically different types of leaders. The first type drains intelligence, energy and capability from the people around them and always needs to be the smartest person in the room. These are the idea killers, the energy sappers, the diminishers of talent and commitment.

On the other side of the spectrum are leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. These are the leaders who inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations. These are the Multipliers. And the world needs more of them, especially now when leaders are expected to do more with less.

For this week’s blog, I interviewed Wiseman to get her take on how small business owners can multiply or diminish those who work for them.

Q. What exactly is a multiplier?

A. A multiplier is someone who uses his or her intelligence to amplify and bring out the smarts and capability of those around them.

Q. What is a diminisher?

A. The multiplier’s evil counterpart who always needs to be the smartest guy in the room and shuts everyone else down.

Q. What other differences did you find between managers who are multipliers and managers who are diminishers?

A. To begin with, there is a big difference in how each of these types sets direction. Diminishers tend to be know-it-alls in how they set direction. They base strategy on their insight. They only see what they know and then never ask their company to do something other than that. In this way, they limit what’s possible in an organization because their business can only take on something they have an answer to or know how to do.

Q. What about managers who are multipliers?

A. In contrast, multipliers play the role of challenger. They ask the big strategic questions and contribute what they know of the markets and trends to frame up the organization’s challenge. They ask questions that make the organization stretch and take on something that seems impossible, but frame it in a way that makes it possible.

Q. Don’t multipliers add their own knowledge to the mix?

A. Yes, but they are comfortable asking questions. They have a strategic agenda, but not all the answers. They let the organization figure it out.

Q. Is the way a business owner makes decisions impacted by which type they are?

A. Yes. Diminishers are the decision maker. They are quick to determine what should happen and isolate themselves to an inner circle of trusted advisers. Their point of view is that the smart people in the know should make the decisions, and the rest of the company should execute.

Q. How does this impact the rest of the business?

A. The problem with this is that the diminisher thinks they are being effective and agile because they are making rapid decisions. But the rest of the company is struggling to understand why these decisions were made, so they are slow to execute. So diminishers make great strategic decisions that don’t get implemented very quickly or effectively.

Q. How do multipliers approach this?

A. Multipliers tend to be debate makers. They frame a decision with, “Here are the key questions,” and then assemble brainpower and key players to weigh in on the topic. It may take longer to make the decisions, but because everyone has had their voice heard and has insight into why something is being implemented, the decisions are executed more intelligently and rapidly.

Q. How big is the difference really in the results diminishers versus multipliers get from their people?

A. We studied 150 leaders in 35 different countries across four continents and found that diminishers got less than half of people’s intelligence and capability — about 48 percent. Multipliers, on the other hand, got twice as much (1.97 times) greater intelligence and capability out of their people.

In the end, Wiseman says that staff reported that working for both diminishers and multipliers could be exhausting. But here’s the difference: Those who worked for diminishers said they found it exhausting and frustrating, while those who worked for multipliers found it exhausting yet exhilarating.

Are you more of a diminisher or a multiplier? In what way? We would love to hear your comments.

Study Shows We Are Overworked and Overwhelmed

Study Shows We Are Overworked and Overwhelmed

Any small businessperson who currently swims in the swirling mass of a high-pressure workplace doesn’t need another study to tell him or her that they have reached their limit. However, just in case your overflowing email inbox and chaotic to-do list weren’t proof enough, according to a national study released earlier this month by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, one in three American employees are chronically overworked.

“Ironically, the very same skills that are essential to survival and success in this fast-paced global economy, such as multitasking, have also become the triggers for feeling overworked,” reports Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute and a lead author of the study. “Being interrupted frequently during work time and working during non-work times, such as while on vacation, are also contributing factors for feeling overworked.” Key findings of the study included:

Fifty-four percent of American employees have felt overwhelmed at some time in the past month by how much work they had to complete.

Twenty-nine percent of employees spend a lot of time doing work that they consider a waste of time. These employees are more likely to be overworked.

Only 8 percent of employees who are not overworked experience symptoms of clinical depression compared with 21 percent of those who are highly overworked.

In addition, as we round the corner into summer, the study also found that 36 percent of employees had not taken and were not planning to take their full vacation days. Ironically, however, of the employees who did take one to three days off, 68 percent returned to work feeling relaxed, and 85 percent who took seven or more days away report that they returned more refreshed.

As for the source of these warrior work habits, the study highlighted several key factors including:

Lack of Focus. Fifty-six percent of employees say they often or very often experience having to work on too many tasks at one time and/or experience interruption during the workday, making it difficult to get their work done. Sixty percent of employees who very often have to work on too many tasks at the same time feel highly overworked, compared with only 22 percent who sometimes experience excessive multitasking.

Job Pressure. Eighty-nine percent of employees agree somewhat or strongly that they never seem to have enough time to get everything done on the job, and those who experience greater pressure feel much more overworked. Fifty-four percent of employees who feel highly pressured on the job are highly overworked versus only 4 percent of those who experience low levels of job pressure and 18 percent who experience mid levels of pressure.

Low-Value Work. Twenty-nine percent of employees strongly or somewhat agree that they spend a lot of time doing things that are a waste of time. More importantly, 51 percent who feel they have to do a lot of low-value work are highly overworked versus 25 percent who don’t feel this way.

Accessibility 24/7. The electronic leash of cell phones, computers, texting and email has blurred the lines between when we work and when we don’t. The study showed that the respondents who were in contact with work once a week or more outside of normal working hours more often reported being highly overworked (44 percent) than those who had little or no such contact (26 percent).

Wait a minute; wasn’t technology supposed to be the panacea that would automate our most mundane tasks and bring us the leisure time needed to improve the quality of our relationships with friends and family? Apparently not.

While there are no simple solutions to how a small business owner can keep his or her staff and self on the sane side of productivity, there are some standard practices to consider implementing, including:

• Offer more flexible work hours so staff can customize their schedules to meet their personal needs to a greater degree.

• Experiment with telecommuting to allow more work to be conducted from home, lessening travel time.

• Do a quality workflow audit of your business to determine where wasted efforts and rework exist.

• Create a no-cell phone/text/email policy in meetings. The meetings will go faster and be more productive.

• Train all staff in the skills of time literacy, including how to manage interruptions, overcome procrastination and use focused time planning to get maximum work done, in minimal time.

Oh, and for heaven’s sake, please take a vacation this summer — your small business will thank you.

What are your biggest overwhelm and overwork challenges? We would love to hear your comments.

Mobile Devices Are Creating Meeting Madness

Mobile Devices Are Creating Meeting Madness

A few weeks ago, I was off site at a client’s office facilitating a strategy session. At the start, everyone in the room was constantly checking their cell phones for email messages, texting and attempting to be both in the meeting and working — at the same time.

When I suggested we would get further in a shorter amount of time by focusing on the agenda in front of us and putting away the electronics for a few hours, I received looks that screamed everything from, “Surely you must be joking,” to, “Heretic!”

“I need to check my email,” stammered one participant.

“I’m on deadline for a project,” said another, barely looking up from his keyboard to make the point.

“But we always answer our phones, even in meetings,” said another.

I’ll spare you the ugly details, but what ensued was a discussion about how the constant use of technology impacts our focus (hence productivity) and even our sanity.

Things have gotten so out of hand, in fact, that a June 2011 survey by Qumu conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that the majority of those surveyed (62 percent) believe that during work meetings, their co-workers are sneaking a peek at their mobile devices. The most common ways people believe others are stealing a glance at their handhelds include:
47% – Hiding their mobile device under the table
42% – Excusing themselves to go to the restroom
35% – Hiding their mobile device in their folders/notebooks/papers
9% – Pretending to tie their shoes
8% – Creating a distraction

Interestingly, 37 percent of the respondents didn’t think “sneaking a peek” was necessary — they thought people would just look at their mobile devices in plain view. It’s a slippery slope, and it seems the embarrassment of not paying full attention in a meeting has been trumped by the self-justified importance of being wired in.

The real problem with all this mobile madness is that it can take a heavy toll on our relationships with others at work and has been proven to dramatically reduce our productivity.

In one study, the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that when workers are constantly juggling emails, phone calls and text messages, their IQs fall 10 points.

Another study by Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans found that when people switched back and forth between tasks, there was a substantial loss of efficiency and accuracy, in some cases up to as much as 50 percent.

In my experience, small businesses suffer just as much as major corporations from their constant checking of cell phones in important meetings and even one-on-one conversations.

And while big businesses have a much larger group of staff to cushion the impact, small businesses are by nature tight on people resources and need to get the most productivity out of those they do have.

But most of us don’t need a study to tell us what we see in front of our eyes daily –that distraction is bad for business. So if you’re ready to take the leap and let go of your mobile device in meetings, here are some ways you can step away from the cell phone and come face-to-face with your focus.

• Make it company policy to not use cell phones during business lunches, one-on-one meetings with staff and customers or in-group meetings.

• Don’t bring your computer into meetings for note taking. Instead, use a recording device or take notes the old fashioned way — on paper with a pen. If you do need to use your computer to take notes, use a software program to lock yourself out of your email for the duration of the meeting.

• Create a cell phone collection box and gather up all cell phones at the beginning of meetings and give them back at the end.

If all of this isn’t enough to make you want to throw your cell phone out the window during your next meeting, consider this report just in from TeleNav.
One third of us would rather give up sex than part — even briefly — with our phones.

How has the use of cell phones during meetings impacted your productivity? We would love to hear your comments.

How Small Businesses Land Superstar Clients

How Small Businesses Land Superstar Clients

I did a post for this column on identifying bad clients and knowing when to fire them. In the emails and comments that followed, many of you mentioned the flip side of the coin — building a business based on ideal clients.

These are the clients we created our companies to serve. The ones who make it all worthwhile. They are the customers who, when they ring us up or ping us with an email, brighten our day. Interestingly enough, they are often also the best paying, most profitable and least pain in the (fill in the blank) clients we have.

But how exactly does a small business secure this magical stable of superstar clients? It starts by defining what makes up your unique ideal client profile.

“The ideal client profile is a clear description of the type of client you would love to have more of. It may be an exact replica of a client you’re working with today. Or it could be a combination of qualities you’ve seen in past and current clients,” says small business coach Maria Marsala.

I asked a roundup of small business owners, experts and authors to give me their tips, take and wisdom on the ins and outs of small businesses and ideal clients. Here’s what they had to say.

The concept of an ideal client profile can be revolutionary for small business owners who have assumed that all business is good business. If a business depends on referrals, finding the ideal customer profile will have a long-term impact. These customers spread the word, attracting more customers like them. Taking on customers that don’t fit the profile also generates referrals — but for less-desirable business. Time spent with customers outside the target profile takes business owners further from their goals, making success more elusive.
–Joellyn Sargent, BrandSprout Marketing.

Ideal clients must appreciate the value you bring to the table and have realistic expectations. They also need to be willing to do their part in whatever process or journey you go on together. When clients meet these criteria, you can do your best work, instead of spending time bickering or playing games.
–Patti DeNucci, Author of The Intentional Networker

The first challenge is to get your ideal clients to step out of the crowd so you can begin that conversation. This becomes easy only after you understand that it’s not about getting someone’s attention, it’s about getting his or her interest. Two things get our interest: When someone talks about a problem we have and don’t want and/or a result we want and don’t have. The best way to get more of your ideal clients to seek you out is to ask and answer these questions.

  • What problems can I solve through my products and services?
  • What changes, or results, can I help create?
  • Who has these problems?
  • Who wants these results?

When you have these answers clear, they form the foundation for all your marketing.
–Dov Gordon, The Alchemist Entrepreneur.

The most important attribute to look for is trust. If a potential client or existing client trusts you completely, then you can be most effective in your role. Trust means fewer questions and disappointments. Clients who will never trust you take too much time challenging every recommendation you make, reducing efficiency and frustrating both parties.
Dylan Valade, Web Designer.

Whether you determine your ideal client profile by asking and answering a series of questions or graphing the greatest attributes of your best customers, taking the time to articulate who your A-list clients are is smart small business all around.

What makes up your ideal client profile? We would love to hear your comments.

Inspiration Breathes Life Into Branding

Inspiration Breathes Life Into Branding

One of the first things I do when I start working with new clients on their personal or business brand is to ask them to consider what mood or energy they consciously strive to bring to anything they do.  In other words:

What is it that you can be counted on for in terms of your presence? Not what do you do (the description) or even the how (the mechanics) of what you do, but the way you do it.

You can think of this as the style, the energy, the mood you bring to any situation you are a part of.  Clearly identifying and consciously practicing the inspirational aspect of your brand is key.

For example, one of my highest goals is to always bring creative inspiration to my clients. No matter what I’m doing — be it a speech, a writing assignment, a consulting session or a strategic off-site — I aim to leave my clients with creative inspiration about who they are and what they do. 

A good deal of the marketing and branding I see out there today is sorely lacking in inspiration. The marketing spin may be an accurate description of the service or product being offered, but it misses the boat in terms of the essence of the brand. 

So how do you breathe inspiration into your personal or business brand and marketing? To begin, let’s look at a few meanings of the word and how your business might bring this into the way you express your brand in the world.

To affect, guide or arouse by divine influence. When you think back on what your past and current clients say about you, what is their experience of how you have guided, influenced or affected them? What words and phrases have they used?  Consider integrating these into your marketing message.

To fill with enlivening or exalting emotion. While this may seem like a high bar to reach, in what ways are you going beyond simply providing a service or product to enliven your clients? Learn how to talk about this when you present what you do.  Speaking to the higher ideals of your client (keep in mind Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) helps to connect them to the bigger purpose of why they do what they do.

To stimulate to action; motivate. In what ways does your business get others into action? A big part of my brand is that I help entrepreneurs and executives overcome inertia and make their personal brand, goals and objectives manifest in the world.  How do you inspire others to go from talking, thinking and hoping to making something happen?

To affect or touch.  Are your clients and customers ever deeply touched by what you do? If so, how? What is the difference that you make personally in the lives of your clients? Think about what you generate emotionally with your products or services. Is it peace of mind, confidence, certainty, love, creativity?  

To stimulate energies or ideals. How do your clients or customers expand their thinking by working with you? The more you can articulate the specific ways in which you enhance and expand your customers’ world by what you do, the bigger an impact your brand has. 

Remember, in the end, people do business with people they like and trust. By breathing inspiration into what you bring to your clients, you elevate your brand from business as usual to a higher plane of purpose — and that’s a marketing message you can take to the bank.

‘Ruby Sparks’ Reminded Me That Persuasion Marketing Sucks

‘Ruby Sparks’ Reminded Me That Persuasion Marketing Sucks

“Ruby Sparks” Reminded Me That Persuasion Marketing Sucks

“Yup, instead of changing himself, he’s going to try and change her.” That’s what my friend Randy turned to me and said during a pivotal plot point in the new film “Ruby Sparks”.

Now I don’t want to be a spoiler and give the big reveal away, so I’ll stay away from the details, but suffice it to say that the scene that followed was painfully hard to watch.

Why? Because, as Randy so pithily put it, what we all do when faced with a person or circumstance we don’t like is try to change it or them.  As fruitless as this exercise often is, we are sometimes so fixed on our point of view, being right or getting what we want, that we continue to waste vast amounts of time, emotional energy and even psychic efforts trying to force the situation. 

Although “Ruby Sparks” deals with this dynamic in a one-on-one romantic relationship, I see this played out daily in my work as a branding and marketing consultant and leadership coach.

I observe high-powered entrepreneurs, C-suite executives and marketing managers attempting to get others to tow the line and do what they want them to do. I’d be less than honest not to suck it up and say I’m just as guilty of this fruitless exercise in trying to force the outcome I want from time to time as well. 

But I’m not as bad as I used to be. Over the past year, I’ve actually made a conscious effort to learn to stop persuading and start inspiring, to stop trying to make things happen and leave more room for allowing, to say what I want and need authentically and vulnerably, but then let the chips fall where they may. I’m far from perfect at this, but I am evolving.

I think this evolution is also at play in the larger world of branding and marketing.  Old-school marketing was about persuading clients, pushing them as to why they should hire you or buy your product. New-style marketing is about inspiring potential customers to come out and play, pulling them toward you — of their own free will.

As luck would have it, besides seeing the movie, I happen to be reading a fantastic book called “Igniting Inspiration: A Persuasion Manual for Visionaries” by John Marshall Roberts.

“I view persuasion as a fading 20th Century art for those who don’t yet know how to grasp and apply the basic laws of human inspiration,” says Roberts.  “Does this mean persuasion is somehow ‘bad’?  No, but it’s just not as much fun as inspiring, and not nearly as effective.  In the end it all boils down to this: persuaded people do things because they are seeking some extrinsic reward. Inspired folks do those same exact things because they intrinsically want to.”

Marshall’s book clearly delineates a three-dimensional view of human nature:

The material dimension of human beings. This includes the body and all material things in the universe. These things are brought to the mind via the five senses.

The mental dimension of human beings. This consists of thoughts, feelings and ideas.  These thoughts — especially the re-occurring ones — tend to occur within a specific context (usually not conscious), based on certain hidden assumptions.

The spiritual dimension of human beings. This is the pure potential we all have. It’s the source of intelligence and life energy and underlies the material and mental realms.

Roberts’ very on-point point is that if we view our customers, clients, co-workers and others from the material plane, we see them as objects to manipulate and will engage in actions to pursue or, even worse, force the outcome we desire.

However, if we think about these same people from a spiritual dimension, we realize that speaking to bigger truths, larger purposes and deeper insights results in inspiration.

Just think of the last time you were forced to do something.

How about persuaded?

Now how about inspired to take an action?  

I’ll bet the price of a movie ticket that the qualitative difference between how you felt about doing whatever it was you did changed substantially based on which of the three areas your answer falls into.

So how do we inspire? Pretty much in the same way that “Ruby Sparks” protagonist and novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (played by actor Paul Dano) discovers in the film. We allow other people to be who they are, and address our actions to that higher part of them.  That’s easier than it sounds, especially when we live in a business world chock-full of the persuasion-as-power model.

One side note: Calvin’s brother (played by the always-captivating — and sexy — Chris Messina) has a scene where he encourages Calvin to turn toward the dark side and try and make Calvin’s love interest, Ruby, do what he wants. The point being that it’s important to surround ourselves with people who recognize the value of building our branding and marketing on inspiration, rather than persuasion, if we are to have any hope of succeeding. 

Wondering if your brand needs an inspirational brush-up? I’m holding a contest for a free 30 minute Lightning Strike Strategy Session to the five people who email me with a compelling case for why they need to crank up the inspirational language and message of their brand. To apply, fill out the contact form on my site and let me know your business, your brand, what your inspiration goal is and why you think your brand needs some inspirational polish.

Karen Leland is a best-selling author, marketing and branding consultant and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses implement modern marketing, hone their business and personal brands, and create winning content. Apply to win a free 30 minute Lightning Strike Strategy Session by filling out the contact form here and letting Karen know why you think your brand needs some inspirational polish. For questions or comments, please contact her at