Positioning: What People Think About You Matters

Positioning is the idea that everything holds a position in someone’s mind, and that position matters and is very difficult to change.Positioning

If people think you and your department suck, life is going to be tough

For example, if you are well respected and have a reputation for getting things done, and one of your projects is horribly late, people might think “The project was late.” If however people think of you as an incompetent screwup, it just might be “Ted screwed up again, as always.”

In the highly recommended classic, “Positioning, The Battle for your Mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout (a fun and easy read, despite being a slightly but amusingly dated marketing book). In particular Chapters 1-8 and 23-25 are most applicable, but the entire book is fascinating, fun, and easy to read. Just get the damn book and read it!

What people think about you (and Security) matters

If people think you suck, well, “perception is reality” – or at least limited reality.

And if people find the security group annoying is your organization, well . . . that will not make your job easier.

Take a look at the below:

       Volvo – safety
       Keith Richards – drugs and rock and roll
       Starbucks – strong coffee and a nice place to hang out

When most people think Volvo, they think safety. Is it the safest car? Who knows? It has the position of “safety” in our minds. In fact I drive a Volvo since safety is particularly important to me now that I have little kids (the fact that I sunk my Porsche in the ocean is also a factor here – I’m serious!).

When I think Keith Richards, I think drugs and rock and roll, and Starbucks has the position of “strong coffee and a nice place to hang out” in my mind.

Positioning is hard to change

  • If people think you are a screwup, they may always think you are a screwup regardless of how well you may perform in the future.
  • If Volvo came out with an amazing sports car, well, it’s not going to challenge Ferrari or Lotus anytime soon if ever.
  • If I told you Keith Richards hasn’t done drugs in decades, would you believe me? I certainly don’t and won’t believe it!
  • And let’s say Starbucks starts selling alcohol (actually they do in some locations in Southern California). The idea of going to Starbucks for a beer seems strange, and I doubt it’ll take off.

Your positioning is influenced not only by your actions, but also many other factors.

  • The company you work for matters
  • The boss you work for matters
  • Your peers matters
  • If in management, the people you hire matter
A Cool Goat

Now if you have already developed amazing positioning (think of people with amazing positioning and highly related personal brands), like much less than 0.1% of the population ever will, these issues do not matter. But for most of us they do.

For example, I saw the less than great movie “Men Who Stare at Goats” with George Clooney.  George Clooney has such a strong brand, people went to the movie despite the horrible reviews and knowing it was a silly movie. By the way, I greatly enjoyed the movie, perhaps in part because I went with someone inappropriate and brought plenty of Jack Daniels along.

If Clooney wasn’t already a Rock Star, he would have been some guy who was in a bad movie. But instead, it’s “George Clooney decided to do a silly movie.”

Hopefully you are growing and gaining valuable skills where you work (both non-technical AND technical), and that is important.

That’s good but consider that:

Most of us are in part who we work for

  • Is our company (and industry) on the upward curve or downward curve? Is it respected or considered a laughing stock?
  • Do you work for an idiot who makes the pointy haired boss in Dilbert seem profound?
  • If you hire people, do you have the guts to hire people smarter than you? Many bosses do not.

I like to be the stupidest person in the room. That’s why I love working with SANS. Yes, I know things and have skills that perhaps no one else at SANS does, but everyone I’ve worked with at SANS has skills I can barely comprehend. I learn from them. I’m inspired by them. I do not want to be surrounded by bozos, even if I was highly paid.

So, how do you (attempt to) change positioning?

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