“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou
Imagine a future where everyone’s life has a clear trajectory and they have the support to get there. In this future, everyone has found their place and they focus their energy on the things that matter most. They have the tools to shape their own destiny. What do you think would change about the way we live? Would people have less anxiety and more fulfillment? Would they be more kind to each other? Would they create better products?
The history of emerging technology is littered with useful product innovations that never landed in the market because their companies and founders lacked an inspiring vision for the future. As humans, the way that we feel is the most real thing in the universe to us — it drives our buying behavior, our daily habits, our relationships and ultimately the value we offer to others. Even our economy can dramatically change based on our feelings — we call it consumer sentiment.
Inspiration goes much deeper than a cosmetic layer of brand identity — finding a company’s sustainable and genuine true north in the changing landscape of IoT quickly gets to the heart of some of the deepest questions of humanity like purpose, belonging, love, and passion.
Let’s be real… those things scare the living eyeballs out of our heads, so instead of digging deep within ourselves in an attempt to inspire others we focus on making a good product and hope people will like it.
If your pitch sounds rational, beware.
Most IoT product pitches sound like this:
- We have an IoT product — you know… a physical product connected to the internet.
- Now you can control this physical product with an app — you can get analytics, work faster, and ultimately save time and money.
- Want to buy one?
Is this different for an IoT services pitch? Let’s try it…
- We love making great IoT products that are useful and beautifully designed.
- We’ve been doing it for years for all kinds of companies and they’ve seen great results.
- Want to work with us?
With this pitch, would anyone tattoo your logo to their body like they do Harley Davison, Apple, or Nike?
We’ve been taught that this is marketing. It’s hard enough to get anyone to adopt emerging tech. We all think of ourselves as “innovators” and “disruptors” and yet, even if our products are unique and valuable, our stories all sound the same. Very rational.
If our pitches sound anything like this, chances are we’ll experience growth issues sooner or later. We’ll earn business, not because we inspired anyone, but because we’re around, we’re early to a trend, people like us and, lets face it, we get lucky sometimes. This is not much different than choosing to befriend or even marry someone because they’re familiar and close by. It’s not always bad, but we’re not actively choosing our own destiny. We’re letting life choose our path.
“You can go through life from one opportunity to the next hoping that you’re creating a cohesive story, or you can get to the heart of what really matters to you and choose your own destiny every day.”
Martin Luther King had a dream. So did Mother Teresa, Thomas Edison, Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Anne Frank, Sam Walton, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerburg, Elon Musk… the list goes on. These people didn’t build movements on strategy alone — they built them from the roots of their personal stories and the outcomes were inspiring. Do you aspire to be this kind of leader? Even if you don’t, I’ll say this…
You don’t have the alter the course of history — but you do have to like your own story.
It made me want to leave… to have more control over my own destiny
We’re all driven by deeply seeded pain and pleasure at our roots. They make us come alive.
As a kid, I grew up working for my father’s flooring company in the hot Louisiana summers. His office parking lot was nearly a football field of concrete, which seemed like miles to a 13-year-old boy.
My father, determined to teach me the values of hard work, would often resort to giving me the one task I was capable of — scraping weeds with a shovel from between the cracks in the sea of concrete. This created a good work ethic, but it created something else… fear. Fear that I would never be handed more than I was capable of. “This doesn’t matter to me” I said to myself, “I can be more than this.”
Years later, I met a wonderful woman while I was in college. The day after I graduated I happily packed everything I had (so like, a chair…) and drove across the country to marry her with no job, no apartment, and few professional contacts. I found myself cold calling small businesses for my first few paychecks. I was so afraid that I would never do interesting work. “This doesn’t matter to you” my young wife said to me “you can be more than this.”
I began to see a pattern — a mismatch between what people are capable of, what they care about most, and the economic opportunities that are available to them. This frustration is what fuels me today.
Today, I get to the heart of what matters most so that people can shape their own destiny.
I do it by reconstructing the assumed boundaries, acting with a mindful sense of urgency, managing change responsibly and mastering the fundamentals — all themes that have come from my past. Is it any wonder I grew up to be an innovation consultant, where I get to help people and companies shape their future every day? I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.
We know we’re not just motivated by money — our lives amount to more than that. We all have moments in our lives when we were truly at our best. There’s one common thread that brings out the best in us and makes us feel most fulfilled. The best part is, your purpose is already in you. It was fully formed by your mid-teens.
Notice that this isn’t a B.S. mission statement like “I help executives create products people love.”
Statements like this are easily made up and could easily change. They’re uninspiring and, most importantly, disingenuous. You may be creating products people love, but that is not what drives you and gets you out of bed. If you think it is, you’re lying to yourself. Your purpose is not something you can just jump to — trust me, I’ve tried.
Your company has a purpose, and it isn’t a watered down mission statement
Your purpose is the same at home as it is at work — it’s the reason why you do what you do. It’s always in service to others — it’s your contribution to the world and you don’t have to wait until the end of your life to do it. It’s something you can wake up and do every day. I literally can’t think of anything more exciting to do with my time than living out my purpose above.
But I have to tell you, until you can articulate your dream, you won’t inspire anyone.
If you’ve watched Simon Sinek’s classic TED Talk “Start With Why” this may be sounding familiar. I’ve used much of his process in my own discovery and I would highly recommend the book. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. Thanks for that gem, Simon.
Like a hammer, articulating your purpose is a versatile tool. You can use it to hang a picture or build a house. You can use it to ace a job interview or run a country. At work you can use it for product pitches, attracting talent, or just getting excited about the day ahead.
If you have a team, you have stories from the very beginning or even before the beginning. There’s a reason you were all brought to the same place to make a product or build a company, and it isn’t to make money. Your job is to find the common thread — a thread that is honest, consistent, and energizing. This is ultimately the core of your brand, your hiring strategy, and even your product portfolio.
Often, a startup’s purpose is derived from the founder’s individual roots. If it’s a group, it works best if the group has some history. If you don’t have much history, then you’ll want to find themes across everyone’s personal story.
Here are some questions to start asking when you’re discovering your group’s purpose. I suggest using a facilitator or coach to unlock these things from the group.
- When did the group feel most connected and alive?
- What was it about these moments that made them so meaningful?
- What wins and losses have brought the group to where they are today?
- What were you contributing in the moments you felt the team was most alive?
- What was the impact you had when you felt at your best?
Dig through the stories, find themes, and start to put your greatest feelings into words. When you can articulate why you do what you do, people will believe in you. Just ask MLK.
To construct your statement, I use the formula from Simon Sinek’s book. These words can change, but the structure is:
I/we [your contribution] so that people can [your impact].
Understand what drives your behavior when you’re at your natural best. Put the best feelings into words. How do you make other people feel? Do this and empower yourself to speak from the heart at work. When your customers do business with you, it will say something about them — which is much more valuable than saving a buck.
So, here’s your real pitch storyboard
Now you’ve figured out your whole life. Ain’t no thing.
Now that you have the magic of an inspiring story that comes straight from your roots, a story that’s a part of your DNA, you’re ready to make a story around your product. Here’s the outline that I use to get, lets face it, thundering applause. But don’t literally use my hero/villain/battle metaphors… it’s not actually cool… don’t be that person.
Start here. Your purpose helps your audience understand why they should care. When I tell people that what gets me up in the morning is getting to the heart of what matters most so that people can shape their own destiny… phones go down and all eyes are on me. If they care anything about shaping the future, I’ve struck a cord. Consider starting with a personal story here — just jump right into the heart of the issue. Try to carry this theme throughout.
This is not you or your product — it’s the customer. The reason you’re in business is to make your customer a hero — to give them a competitive advantage. Set up the context with this person, how they feel and what their life is like. For example, my customer is a business leader like an executive or product manager — they are the hero as they valiantly fight to shape their future.
Your hero is fighting an enemy — a system, a way of thinking, an immovable object, the opposition, the oppressors. Today this fight is resulting in a negative emotion — probably the opposite of your purpose. Focus this villain on macro problems, don’t get hung up on usability issues.
For example, when I’m talking to enterprises, I’ll talk about the pain of silos, conflicting KPIs, too much data, too little momentum, and startups that are eating the metaphorical whale like a school of piranhas. All of these things cause the picture of the customer to get fuzzy and make us feel like these boundaries are here to stay. That’s just the way it is.
Fighting With a Stick
The hero in your story is strong and valiant but at a loss. They’re fighting dragons with sticks — using the wrong tools. Harry Potter has no wand. Gilgamesh has no sword. Santa has no Rudolf. Talk about the pain of having the wrong resources. In my pitches, its often things like more committees, more programs, buying another silo, adding a new feature, treating new tech like a savior, or double-down on marketing spend to boost a lagging product. It all sticks.
The Secret Weapon
Finally, you become part of the picture. You’ve taken shelter in the bunker with other heroes before — testing which weapon will work best for every scenario. Bazookas may do the trick once, but might not be sustainable. Through trial, error, blood, and sweat your heroes have finally found the perfect mix of weaponry for the different dragons they face — a “Goldilocks” choice for each unique battle. Your app-based harpoon gun is unexpected, it’s elegant, and it kills foul beasts in one shot while keeping you out of harms way.
Show off your solution at a high level here — don’t get in the weeds with features. I often will say something like “the perfect solution for shaping the future would do 4 things — it would focus on the fundamentals of humanity, it would reconstruct the assumed boundaries, it would have a mindful sense of urgency, and it would manage change responsibly.”
People nod their heads here. In 10 seconds you’ve described the perfect solution — a solution they don’t have today and they’re all in agreement about what perfect looks like. Creating themes like these instead of features and benefits is powerful. The best part is, they can tie into the purpose — they too are a part of your DNA, your roots. You can create lots of “weapons” that all share the same guiding principles.
The New Battle
Demonstrate what the new battle looks like. Do your best to get visual here — show, don’t tell. This is the epic moment where your hero is victorious. Using a live demo, a video, motion graphics, music, still images or even stick figures will be better than words and data.
When I do product presentations, this often lines up with the customer journey map — the new journey. Instead of walking through the journey step-by-step I find a way to show it. Be careful about getting into technical demos here. Nothing kills a room faster than a slow feature-by-feature demo, especially in software. Think of this like those sexy videos of Apple products with the Jonny Ives voiceover.
The Message of Hope
They need to believe they can be victorious — that their battle can look like this new battle. Tie this message back to your purpose. An inspiring message of hope is not “so lets get out there and capture more data together!” It’s “lets challenge the status quo, lets shape our own future, lets take the good things and turn them into the best things.”
Playing With Weapons
After your presentation, get more hands-on with demos. This is when people get to engage, ask questions, give feedback, and learn more about different features. Let the heroes in the room guide this part — they know which dragons they’re facing and have lots of opinions about what will and won’t work.
10 More Guiding Principles for Inspiring
- Your first words are not “hi, my name is __ and I work with__”. Those words come after you have everyone’s attention.
- Rehearse for hours. Like 30 hours for the serious stuff.
- Get away from slides. If you do use slides use them sparingly. You should always try to use channels that most people are ignoring. If you can pull off your speech with a whiteboard, hands-on demonstration, flip chart drawings, videos, or still images — you’re better off.
- Don’t bury the lead. The “thing” is much more important than the process you took to get to the “thing”.
- Come back to the same point several times — repetition is memorable. Here’s a beautiful example.
- Wait. Silence is your friend — it can build suspense.
- Understand the hormones that effect your audience.
- Never get into minutia — no one wants you to go feature-by-feature through your product. Jesus.
- Get in the mood with these examples of inspiring talks.
- Learn about real humor from the world’s greatest comedians.