Fired does not mean failure

One of my favorite students came to my office the other day, and it was great to get caught up. He’s in his early 20s but we’ve know each other for a few years. Our conversation covered a range of topics but at the end, he surprised me with this question: “If you get fired… does it mean you failed?”

Short answer: No.

I mean, maybe you did indeed objectively fail, say, to complete an important project or meet a sales goal.

But in the broader sense, getting fired does not mean you’re a failure.

The first time I got fired, it was in the late 1980s and I was a very young MBA student – about 23 years old, without full-time work experience. I was working part time in the HR department of a regional bank. My job mostly involved setting up interviews and setting up typing tests.

I didn’t really enjoy my work.

And apparently I wasn’t very good at it, somehow, because given the job description I just shared with you, there really wasn’t that much to be good at or not good at.  But somehow I managed to do just that.

My supervisor walked with me to her boss’s office where they told me the news. I really didn’t see it coming but I felt relief when it happened.

I told my boss and her boss that I appreciated their time and this opportunity but I think I could have used more guidance about how to do my job better.

My grandboss’s response: “The first thing they do is look for someone to blame for their failure.”


Uh, I’m still sitting right here.

And technically blaming wasn’t the first thing I did. Actually, I don’t think she was talking to me. She was talking about  me. She didn’t call me a failure, but let me know that in her eyes, I had failed.

At least, I’m pretty sure I was among the “they” that she was thrashing. But who else was with me in this finger-pointing club? MBA students? Part-time HR employees? Twenty-somethings? Generation Xers, disaffected and directionless?

Doesn’t matter. I’ve recovered and applying some wisdom to my student’s question.

If you get fired, are you a failure?

Despite my assistant vice president’s artless accusation, the answer is no.

I mean, maybe you screwed up and committed an unforgivable offense. If that’s the case, take your medicine and work on being a better part of another organization like the one that just cast you aside.

More likely, getting fired can be good, and can be the best thing that happens to you. It’s acknowledgement that it wasn’t a good fit and forces you to move on with your career.

It can be devastating, if you didn’t see it coming. It can be disastrous, if your income is about to be halted but your costs and expenses aren’t going anywhere.

The key is to stay in control… and not only after, but before and during too.

Always have an exit strategy. This applies even if you have no reason to think your job is in danger. You never know when the ax is going to fall from above or better yet when opportunity might tap at your door.

When you get the news, be graceful and rise above. You may very well need the person telling you the bad news to say nice things about you when your future employer asks about your references. Or when the bad times end and job openings return. Never burn bridges.

Remember, though, that the best time to find a new job is while you’re still employed. If you think the fit isn’t right or there’s writing on the wall, see what you can do proactively. That might mean sitting down with your boss and redefining your role. It could mean moving within the organization, or looking outside for your next, better opportunity.

Many connections shared their thoughts and they serve as illustrations and support.

Thank you to my friends, colleagues, and alums Asad Azam, Sarah Corbin,Renee Hogan, Matt Kusek, Lorena Nunez, Gabe Perez, Janelle Wazorick for their awe-inspiring input.

Some of their wisdom:

Gabe Perez affirmed that the key is to look at yourself and not blame others. Jake Leganski knows that the key is to stay in control.

Janelle Wazorick and Renee Hogan know that the key is to learn and grow from misfortune, even if someone calls it a failure.

Lorena Nunez and Sarah Corbin recognizes that factors might be beyond our control. Don’t we all know somebody who lost their job due to an acquisition or downsizing or change in management?

Sarah and Asad Azam recognize the opportunity that come from this disruption. Embrace it. Matt Kusek knows that it might simply be a bad fit. And that means that all parties involved need to be separated.

That was certainly the case with me losing my job. Sometimes it’s deserved, sure. Companies have rules and cultures and if somebody violates these, often they’re given the ax.

But very often it’s just a bad fit. Be glad it happened and look for a better fit, for your career and your sanity. That’s called staying in control, as best you can.

Talk to you soon,



BrainTrust Your Next Brainstorm

mentorvention logo july 2016 darknessTrust your brain. You need to solve a problem but feel stuck, right? Here are five quick ways to generate new ideas, either by yourself or with your brainstorm team, but before you do, remember not to be distracted by the symptoms, focus on the key problem to be solved.

Heal the Pain: Imagine the pain felt by those affected. What would make that pain go away?

Stand on the Shoulders of Giants: You aren’t being asked to invent social media or advertising or the color spectrum, right? What can you learn from the world around you and adapt to your situation?

What Would Midas Do?: What if there were no restrictions on your resources? What would you do? Well, can you do a scaled down version of that?

It’s Opposite Day: The way things are right now aren’t working, right? What’s the opposite approach?

Go Crazy: The way things are right now aren’t working, right? What’s the craziest way you can think of to make things work?

Once you’ve gone through these possibilities, take another look at what you and your brain or brains created. Do you at least have a set of starting points to choose from? Yes you do. Now go do brilliant things!


It may be in tents: Embrace or replace if you can’t outrace

What we Learned in Marketing Class
Entry #15


One of my favorite old jokes is one I first read when I was much younger. Maybe you’ve heard this one before:

Two campers are in their sleeping bags in the tent they share, trying to fall asleep when the first camper sees the shadow of a bear, cast by the full moon, through the top of the tent.

The first camper gasps and in a loud whisper tells his tent-mate of the impending danger.

The second camper quietly and quickly slides out of his bag and begins to put on his hiking boots.

The first camper, in a hushed shriek, says “what are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear!”

The second camper calmly replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.”

Now in a much different context, not related to tents or bears, I was talking to a friend who had just lost his job as a marketing executive. He had only been there a year. He’s good, with a lot of up-to-date experience in a fairly specialized industry.

So what happened?

From my perspective… could be a few things.

  • The job description changed.
    • The job description is not exactly a contract. Probably more like a vague boilerplate or at best, the hiring manager’s snap-shot wish-list… what I need right now. And yet, who’s hired right now? It could take weeks or even months to complete not only the hire but also the onboarding of the hire after the time the job description is posted… not to mention the time between the manager feels the need and the opening is announced. So a mini-lesson here for all of us: don’t be surprised when the work you’re asked to do doesn’t match the job description.
  • The players weren’t all in place.
    • From my vantage point, it sounded like not everybody in the place agreed on what the new person should do or if the new person was even needed. Not a harmonious place to work.
  • Oh wait… A BEAR!
    • More like unbearable: my friend’s admission that he was putting in insanely long days, at cost to his family and other relationships outside of the office.

Did you ever think that the bear outside your tent might be the best thing that could happen to you?

My analogy is falling apart here so forget about the bear. My friend was in the wrong tent.

It was a bad fit.

Now that may sound like a weak answer to give to an interviewer when my friend is back on the market: “Why did I leave? It wasn’t a good fit.”

No, that’s not enough. My friend will have to be more analytical than that, accept responsibility for his current jobless condition, and perhaps most importantly, make it clear why this next opportunity WON’T be a bad fit.

A brief tangent here. In the college professor world, there is a phrase called “publish or perish.” Perhaps you’ve heard of this. It means that when you are a tenure-track college educator, you usually are expected by your college or university to meet certain expectations regarding your publication activity. This might be academic articles, books, presentations, exhibits, chapters, and so on. That’s the “publish” part of the equation. Do all this and you get promoted and you earn tenure. Don’t do all this, and you “perish,” at least at that institution and then it’s back on the job market for you.

(This also answers the question that some people ask, the one about what we do for the rest of the day outside of the three hours a day when we’re teaching in class. The answer is actually a lot longer, but let’s not make this all about me.)

Another thing about the academic career is that the climb toward tenure, at least in one’s first job out of grad school, almost always takes about six or seven years. So if one academic sees that another academic spent about six or seven years at their first position before moving on, well, we all know that means “perish.”

That’s not to say it’s always that way or that it’s always fair. There are some places where getting tenure  is the exception, not the rule, and that new hires are run through the grinder and then disposed of, maybe after only three years if the “trajectory” doesn’t look promising.

So here’s where this becomes about me. My current job is not my first job. I was at my first job for, oh… about six or seven years.

I must have perished.

My employer was kind enough to let me find the door before they picked me up and tossed me through the window, so thanks for that. Remember what you read about job descriptions a few lines ago? I stubbornly continued to work for the job description job instead of the reality job. That didn’t turn out so well.

Was it fair?

Actually, yes.

Everybody hired at this place around the same time I was is still there and thriving.

And here I am at my current job, still here and thriving.

That first job? It wasn’t a good fit. My current one is.

And it took me a long time to get to this place, the place you’re reading about right now. And the topic of why I left my first employer was rarely brought up, much to my relief.

But now I know why it wasn’t brought up.

There was no reason to bring it up.

Six or seven years.

We all knew what that meant.

Back on the market, I had to unlearn a lot of bad advice that I had taken… repeat, “that I had taken”… the worst of which was “keep your head down.” No, don’t keep your head down… keep your head UP! unless you want to miss what’s going on around you. This spins off into more stories, but let’s stay focused here.

“It wasn’t a good fit.”

That may be true but no, that’s not enough. You might lose your job or want desperately to escape your job because of a bad fit. Get out of the wrong tent and into the right one, ideally before the bear catches you.

You can’t outrace the bear.

Embrace the bear. Whether it’s by choice – yours, theirs, or the bear’s- You’re not the first person to need a new job. What could you have done differently? What will you do to make a better decision for your career?

Replace the bear. You are going to do your best to find a better fit and a better situation.

These are better uses of your energy than trying to outrace the bear.


Not Elite but Still So Sweet

What we Learned in Marketing ClassThe first part of the next sentence you read is a not true:

I just got an article published in the Journal of Marketing, one of the elite academic journals in my field.

The second part of that sentence is absolutely true. Take my word for it, I’m a marketing professor.

Quite frankly, it would be amazing if I ever got published in JM, especially since I’ve never even sent them anything to publish. Just an occasional subscription payment.

Also because I made the professional decision years ago that, as much as I enjoy the research that I do, I can build a very rewarding career even if it’s not… what’s the word I used… “elite.”

Why am I telling you this?

Well, the JM article that caused me to write the half-truth in the second sentence, the one that was published recently, was on a topic that I did write about, not so very long ago.

By the way, I’m on not going to mention the name of my article or the other article because I don’t want it to sound like I’m complaining.

Like I said, I did publish an article on this topic. A colleague and I brainstormed, developed a research idea, turned it into a project, and that led to two journal articles and three conference presentations. For us, that’s a pretty good outcome.

But it’s not “elite.”

Could it have been elite? I don’t’ know.

When we put our ideas together about six years ago, there weren’t a lot of articles like ours to refer too. Am I slyly trying to suggest that my coauthor and I were just too brilliant, too far ahead of our time for even the most elite journals to understand our vision?

Sure, why not?

Okay, my second lie of the day. That was just an excuse.

Part of being brilliant, a visionary, a leader, is the ability to not only have wonderful and inspirational ideas, but the talent to communicate those ideas to others, to sell them so that others can share your vision and help you reach goals that you have in common.

At least as far as that research idea goes, I didn’t do that.

Part of my decision to be okay with not being elite stems back to my academic training. There are programs where if you aren’t publishing in the elite journals like JM, well, don’t bother.

Just don’t bother.

It might look good at your next job, but not here.

I saw people for whom that was a perfect arrangement, transcendent research artists… and people who collapsed under that pressure.

That wasn’t for me.

But now, the good news. Somebody published an “elite” take on the idea that my partner and I have worked on.

This isn’t one of those “the second mouse gets the cheese” scenarios. The folks who published in JM, they got the cheese. Well-earned cheese.

More importantly, their publication gives credibility to the idea that we share. That shows that maybe we are on to something worth exploring. A door is open.

In fact, I want to encourage you to decide. Do you want the big sale, the desirable promotion, the sweet job that you don’t currently have?

Then my friend, you have to determine that you’re not satisfied any other way.

Then put in the time and the effort and the background research and the networking to make it happen. To use just the punchline to an old joke, “Would you at least buy a ticket?”

(Let me know if you want the set-up to that punchline, too… long version or short version.)

I’m happy where I am. I’m even happier knowing that a door is open for me when I’m ready to push myself harder.

I hope you’re happy. If you can be happier, find an open door or put in the work to blast it open yourself.


Problem: What’s wrong with the way things are now?

When a new project crosses your desk or a new problem crosses your mind, here are a few questions to help you organize your thoughts and ideas:

What we Learned in Marketing Class

  • What problem are you going to try to solve?
  • Why do you think this is a problem?
  • Who is affected by this problem?
  • Why hasn’t this problem been solved yet?
  • For whom is this not a problem
    • They’re happy with the status quo
    • A solution might cause them a problem
  • What other barriers do you face?
  • What will it look like when this problem is solved?

The first few bullet points are important warm-ups so you know your purpose, your project mission, and who your audience is. The rest of these points may be even more important. Take another look.

Is there a reason why this situation, whatever it may be, still exists? What unique qualities and strengths to you bring to the party?

Remember that one of the barriers to solving the problem might be that somebody, somewhere and for some reason, likes things the way they are! Maybe it’s a competitor, either in the market place or in your organization! What can you do to overcome not only inertia, but the momentum of some other product, person, or presence?

The last point is also important: what will it look like when the problem is solved? Are we talking about a new world order or just a happier customer? A happier you? This visioning exercise will give you goals to strive for as well as a more clear deliverable to win others to your cause and gain their support.

Doc DA

My Lucky Cup and My Dry Pants

Let me tell you about my lucky cup.

happy coffee

I was sitting in a coffee shop with my wife before she had to work her shift. Time’s up. She had to go to work, and I had go to my office for a bunch of meetings. The coffee shop was near her workplace and about halfway between mine and home.

I refilled her cup with boiling hot water for her tea, then I topped off my cup with coffee. Grabbed our newspapers, crossword puzzles, books, keys, purses, lunch bag, etc. We travel heavy. My hands were full as we walked back to our cars.

My wife opened up her car and got in, taking her purse, lunch bag, newspapers, and leaving me with just my keys and my coffee.

Back to my car.

Unlocked the door, opened the door, and dropped my coffee.

Just fell out of my hand.

The cup emptied its steaming hot fury all over the driver’s seat of my minivan.

Since I’ve raised three kids in a long series of minivans (let’s see… Big Red, Blackie, Silvy, and now Truffles. Yes we name our minivans.) dating back to 1992, I’m long past worrying about spilled food in the car. If I ever was. Knowing me, probably not.

Sixteen ounces of hot coffee poured all over my seat.

Hardly any on the carpeting… it just kind of pooled on the chair.

And not a drop on me.

I stepped back and stared at my car seat.

Wow. What a mess.

And not a drop on me.

I closed the car door and returned inside the coffee shop. I grabbed what could conservatively be called “a ton of napkins” and soaked up all that coffee. Back in one more time for a refill. Two hands, this time.

Back in the car, I enjoyed my coffee and the ambient coffee aroma as I drove to my meetings. In my dry pants.

That really could have been worse. It wasn’t great, but all I could think of was how dry my pants were.

I carried that cup with me all day long, from meeting to meeting, even after I had emptied it (by drinking the coffee, of course). Proudly, I showed off my lucky cup.

It’s easy to see the negative in a situation like that. I mean, I sure didn’t help whatever trade-in value that minivan had with my clumsiness. And I really don’t like being clumsy either; it’s just not that cute.

But really, that coffee could have landed on the ground, on the car’s carpeting, on the seat, as it did, or all over me. Or the cup could have just landed on its bottom, without a drop spilled but come on, let’s stay real here. Maybe it could have landed in the cup holder too.

So this was my lucky cup. I no longer have the cup, I threw it away after a few days of quiet admiration.

Can  you see the positive in whatever’s happening to you? You know the old saying, when a door closes a window opens, or something like that?

How about when one cup of coffee spills, another pair of pants stays dry?

It could be worse, so look for the opportunities in front of you, even if you didn’t expect them. There’s something there for you.

Doc DA

What if he’s in your group next time?

Seems like no group project is immune: one or two teams in the class will be dysfunctional in some way.

It’s inconvenient but not always bad… sometimes tension can lead to effort and creativity that too much harmony might otherwise smooth over.

When conflict stifles or obstructs performance, though…. That’s bad. It might be a case where somebody doesn’t do their work. Or someone refuses to hear others’ ideas… or refuses to share their own.

Sometimes these issues go unknown until I see end-of-the-course evaluations. More often, I can tell just by watching how the team members interact, their body language, their withdrawal or tone of voice.

When this is the case, I’ll sit in on in-class team meetings to offer encouragement and reminders of the team’s common mission. Doesn’t always work but often it does help.

In many cases I’ll be made aware of a problem by a member of the team. I offer an online peer evaluation form throughout the project, not just at the end, so I may find out that way. Many times students will come to me to share their frustration.

Here’s a life lesson that tastes bad going down but ultimately proves to be good medicine.

“Do you know if he has anything going on, in school or at home?”

This provokes empathy. Maybe there is something going on that, while it might be hard to relate to, will shed a new light on the situation.

If there’s no apparent explanation, I’ll ask a different question:

“What if he’s in your group next time?”

This forces the unhappy team member to start thinking about solutions instead of problems. Could you have prepared for this somehow? Can you think of any different way to allocate responsibility, assignments? And if so… why not start right now?

One time, a student told me “I wish I thought of that question last semester… because he WAS in my group last semester, too.

So, what if the difficult student, or another one like him or her, is assigned to your group in another class?

(As a side note, I assign my class teams, generally by random or alphabetically. Students self-selecting… Nope. Good friends don’t always make good group project teammates, and there’s always one or two folks on the team NOT among the initial friendship squad)

(Another side note: I don’t allow teams to fire members… peers don’t fire peers)

There are lessons I’ve learned from my colleagues and from experience, including:

  • Have teams do an “asset inventory” early in the semester, so everybody has an idea of what they can offer and expect from their teammates
  • Make it clear that meetings are and will forever be difficult to schedule. Use online sharing tools and email to communicate
  • Set deadlines
  • Buddy up… don’t leave work to just one person. A group of four, if my math is correct, can form six pairs of buddies for six elements of a project.
  • Don’t worry about the other guy’s grade, just worry about your own.
  • But don’t let anybody ruin your project.

Those last two don’t always go down easily either. Why, my students ask, should I work harder than her but she gets the same grade?

My answer: is your grade, your outcome important to you?

Of course it is.

Then focus on your outcome, not theirs.

I’ve seen this approach restore peace of mind to some students. For others, I’ve seen them recognize an opportunity to grow and to lead their team.

How do YOU handle difficult team members, at work or at school?


I just got a mentoring intervention

This morning I ran into my friend Steve at the coffee shop. Steve is an expert on coaching, career management and the job search, and he spoke to my MBA students a few weeks ago.

Steve offered praise for my students, and asked me to remind them that they should connect with him on LinkedIn and send him their resumes. He told me about some of his new projects, and we talked about mentoring for a few minutes, debating on which word is better: protege or mentee.

Which word is better to describe one who is being mentored: protege or mentee?


I mentioned the project on my mind… exploring the relationship between mentoring and marketing. Do mentors have to market themselves to their proteges/mentees? How about he other way around? I think this would be a great project to better understand how connections are made, and how missed connections can be avoided.

Steve looked at me for a moment.

“Dave, you told me about that six months ago.”

I probably also told him about it one year ago and two years ago, but he was being nice.

“Just get started.”

Steve gave me a mentoring intervention. A Mentorvention.

So I’m getting started.

What are YOU going to get started on? Even a small start (like this) is infinitely better than wondering and standing still.

This is a space to talk about getting started, about mentoring, and marketing, and mentoring marketers. And marketing mentoring. And whatever else you need.

See you back here in a few days. And thanks for the Mentorvention, Steve!


Dave A


To Teach or To Sell? Or… Building my Body of Work

I stopped at a local diner to grab some coffee, sit down and plan my day. It was early and the line to the counter was disorganized. Just as a path seemed to clear to the nearest cashier, I was blocked. A man, a large man, roughly my age and height but much wider, with flowing gray hair and missing teeth that a skilled dentist might describe as “important,” stood in front of me.

“Do you live around here?”

A fairly standard icebreaker, I guess, given the venue.

“No,” I started, “but I work nearby.” This was in case he was going to ask me for driving directions.

He was not that foolhardy but he was direct.

“Okay. What do you do?”

“I teach marketing.”

“Good. You’re a teacher. So tell me this,” he started as he stood even closer to me. “If I just want some advice, should I have to pay for it?”

“Depends on the kind of advi…”

“Look,” he continued as he raised his very thick left arm over his head, “I know my body, all right?”

I had no reason to doubt him, unless his teeth count as part of his body.

“I don’t want to pay somebody for physical therapy. It’s like a dart board.”

Let me interject by assuring you that I’m not clever enough to make this up. This really happened. Indulge me for a few more lines and I’ll get to my point.
I asked a legitimate question. “How is PT like a dart board?” I’ve had physical therapy on a couple of occasions and while I’ve never experienced dart- or dart board-like symptoms, I still didn’t follow his logic.

“I mean that I’m this close,” he said as he moved his left shoulder really close to my face, I think to indicate how close he was to whatever it was that he was talking about. I’m glad he had put his beefy arm down before he did that.

“I know my body,” he repeated, “and I know I don’t need to pay some guy a lot of money when I’m really just this close to figuring out what’s wrong with my shoulder.”
Part of my brain wanted to see where this conversation would end up while another part of my brain wondered “where’s this coffee I was promised?”

“So you just want someone to take a quick look at your problem and tell you what’s wrong.”

“Exactly! When I’m this close, why should I pay somebody to tell me? I know my body. Like throwing darts and just missing by a little bit.”

“Is that how you hurt your arm?” I figured I was in a crowded public place so if this large man got angry, he could only do so much damage to me.

“No, man, I’m a body builder!”

This, I believed.

He then started telling me about his workout regimen, focusing, as you might have already guessed, on the upper body. Since my next pull-up will be my first pull-up, I just listened politely.

Okay, I promised I’d get to the point (no dart pun intended).

My new work out buddy thanked me for listening and walked away. I wonder if this meeting was somehow meaningful.

I’m reminded of the old story of the computer user who, despite many attempts and much time spent on trying to solve a technical problem, comes “this close” to figuring out what’s wrong. The IT specialist shows up and five minutes later, the problem is solved.

The customer begrudgingly pays the technician. “Seems like a lot of money for five minutes of work.”

The fixer smiles. “You want it cheap and fast and good, but you only get two of those three. You wanted fast and good.”

My new friend was in the same situation, and cheap and fast wasn’t working for him, either.

But let’s switch perspectives.

Why should a physical therapist (or anyone else) give away what they know, the skills they’ve acquired through devotion of their own time and effort and money and other resources?

When you’re good at something, you deserve to be paid.

And yet another way to look at it is that by doing things for free, you’re building your reputation, your credibility, your business, to the point where somebody will want to deepen that relationship.

Or you do something for free because you’re paying forward.

Or just because you like doing it.

Then, you can negotiate the exchange and maybe even earn a living.

What do you think of that?

What can Mentorvention do for you?

What do you do, how do you cope, when you have a rough day at work?

Here’s the proverbial elevator pitch:
For the young careerist frustrated at work, feeling they’ve screwed up or been screwed over, is an online community and content site offering an immediate, anonymous online and mobile outlet for sharing one’s needs and concerns with peers and advisors who can provide ideas, resources, and reassurance that things often aren’t so bad and can be better. A Mentorvention is an opportunity for dialogue and improvement, not just complaining. Mentorvention recognizes the pain of transition and focuses on surviving and improving at your current job.

What can Mentorvention offer you?
Would you like to share your story?
Would you like to share your wisdom?
Mentorvention is for you.