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