Tim Sanders is senior vice president and chief solutions officer at Yahoo!, where he drives some of the company's largest partnerships. He consults regularly with Fortune 500 executives and helps create marketing and Internet strategies for world-class brands. Prior to his current position, he created and led the Yahoo! Value Lab, an in-house think tank for top clients and partners.
Raised in New Mexico, Sanders was a nationally-competitive debater while in college, then spent many years in Dallas as a rock and reggae musician. He got his big break in marketing at Broadcast.com, where in early 1999 he helped create the wildly successful Victoria's Secret fashion show webcast—which became a landmark event in Internet history. He joined Yahoo! when it acquired Broadcast.com. Sanders lives in Northern California with his family.
This is not an "easy" book. It is a genuine original. (And I know how overused that word is.) It will-should-must change your life. I know Tim Sanders—and he and this book are for real. Believe it. And become a (wildly successful) "lovecat."—Tom Peters
Aretha Franklin knew the secret: RESPECT. Tim Sanders knows how to spin it. In business, you get ahead by helping other people get what they want—it's simple, it's obvious, but it's so easy to forget. Love is the Killer App reminds us that maybe, just maybe, looking out for number one is not the way to get ahead.—Seth Godin
tompeters.com asks ...
What's a Killer App?
TS: There are a lot of definitions. But I think of it as a new technology. And in this case, a new business process that is wildly popular, and becomes a standard. This is difficult to compete with. And I would use that to describe love and compassion in business much the same way I would use it to describe email as a Killer App for communications.
How do you define love?
TS: I define it as the selfless promotion of the growth of the other. And that's taken pretty much straight from Milton Mayeroff in his book On Caring. He was defining the idea of charity and caring, and they're interchangeable. But it was a very succinct definition that a manager of people, an owner of a business, or a colleague should take to heart that when we get up and go to work, no matter what we do, we're supposed to grow other people without expectations. That's love in business.
I know Tom Peters talks about his friend, Tony Athos, the author, who taught at the Harvard Business School. When asked what he was most proud of, Athos responded by saying that he had spotted and developed three people who became tenured professors, and were now leaders at the institution.
TS: Yes. I think it's right. And I think that what it means furthermore, if you look at the whole value chain that any business person or any day worker in the world deals with, it's just four things on an axis: partners, suppliers, customers, and employees. It's four things in your life. And if you promote them all, you promote their growth selflessly, you're in a better world. You have a more sustainable business model.
What I loved about your book is this idea of sharing knowledge and connecting ideas as quickly as you can. I was reminded of speaking with David Maister, who in his book, True Professionalism, quotes Dale Carnegie, who wrote, "You'll have more fun and success helping other people achieve their own goals than you will trying to reach your own goals."
TS: It's more rewarding. It really is.
And I think people would gloss over that and say, "What?" And yet, now seeing your book, and getting a more updated version on it, and how it's working in this economy, I think it makes a lot of sense.
TS: Well there is one thing that's changed. I may not have read Dale Carnegie, but I've read about his life, and I've read about his impact. He and I were raised almost identically. We were raised by our grandmothers. We both joined the debate team because we wanted to be popular, but we couldn't play football or basketball. And we failed at trying to be musicians and actors. We all ended up figuring out almost too late in life that what we did was train people.
But here's this change, though. This can be a touchy subject, but, if you look at this book writing industry for management, or inspiration, or motivation, you've got two kinds of authors. You've got those who are like Moses and those who are like Aaron. You've got the gurus of folks that swear they've come up with something brand new. And it's not really a voice of the people, it's a voice to the people. And they figure out this epiphany. They write a book and they become gurus. These are the Moses types.
And then you've got the Aarons who I call the repackagers. They repackage the Koran, the Bible, and Homer's Odyssey. And they put them in words that make it easier for people to access and use the ideas, to express themselves. And they go to market. Dale Carnegie was one of those guys. Dr. Stephen Covey is one of those guys. And that's what I am. We're mouthpieces. That's why you will find so much self-effacing on their part when you read what they say about themselves. It's really never about them.
But here's what's changed. The voice of the people is being heard. They're knocking on the door. They want permission to be loving. And they're getting it. And technology has played a role in this.
Let me tell you what's different. If you're a crappy boss, and you treat people in a really bad way, the business cycle is still the business cycle. It will come back. But you know what? You've got Yahoo Careers. You have Monster.com. You have an Internet culture where people can email a warning about a bad boss in real time. That didn't exist 40 years ago.
So I tell you, the Soup Nazi's not going to always get our business in the connected economy. So this idea about the people taking over is real. It's going to happen, with or without a guy like me. This is coming. Judgment Day.
In Dan Pink's Free Agent Nation, what makes this new world go round is adhering to the Golden Rule. I think that's part of what you're saying here as well. You've got to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
TS: And to tie this to something that I'll never forget from that. I don't remember which one of Tom's books this came from. But I remember it from a speech I heard him give to an HR group. It was from Gordon MacKenzie, who wrote Orbiting the Giant Hairball. He described going to a school and asking the kindergartners if they were artists. Every kid in the class raised his hand, some of them two hands. By sixth grade, maybe a fourth of the kids still considered themselves to be artists. And by ninth grade, well, maybe two kids in the back of the class raise their hands, hesitatingly. They're considered the weirdoes. Schools beat the creativity out of kids.
Well guess what? You go off to college. A little creativity gets fostered for four years to eight years. And then, guess what? You're popped right into business culture. What do they do? They beat the compassion and caring out of you with numbers. They just beat the crap out of you with a bad set of rules. And that's what I mean when I say Judgment Day is coming. You're seeing it already, a revolution in education. There's about to be a revolution in HR.
And again, not spurred by me. It's a collective unconsciousness. I've received 100 emails in the two days since the Fast Company article appeared. And it's all the same email. People are saying, "I already am this way. I've done it my whole life."
Why is it that Dilbert is still so popular?
TS: Do you know what I call that? I call that a bad joke at a car crash. Were you ever told a bad joke at the scene of a bad car accident. Everybody laughs. But it's the ugliest sort of laugh I've ever heard. Dilbert is a horribly bad joke at a car accident, and it's well packaged. It will be forgotten about in time, like pet rocks. It is not an icon that people organize around.
Something is changing that you say we're going to be able to go into the workplace, and we're going to be able to talk about love and hug co-workers, and that won't seem weird. Right? Is that the message here?
TS: Yes. That's the message here. Again, there are a few disclaimers. Every prescription has a disclaimer. Like when you see the drug ads on TV, they say, "This may cause cancer." So, I'm going to give you a way to think about what I really mean here.
Draw a pyramid. And at the bottom of the pyramid put a "K" for knowledge. Right above it put an "N" for network. And at the little top, if you could squeeze it in, put a "C" for credibility. That's my system. Everything starts with a foundation of knowledge that's value-added. And you'll build credibility with people over time by sharing it, to the point where they'll actually participate in your network. And once you've done all that, a hug is welcomed, much like my story with Ken Weil from Victoria's Secret. I didn't start out hugging the guy. I'm not crazy.
What are you reading right now?
TS: I'm reading The Third Wave, by Alvin Toffler. And I'm absorbing it from the new generation attitude. And I'm saying, this is the Nostradamus of Business. He is right in many respects, wrong in a few, but fundamentally correct. And it's all about Ds: demassification, decentralization, demysticism. It's all falling apart. The whole second wave of industrialism. Or as Tom would say, the don't-screw-it-up world. It was built on a set of very artificial assumptions that are just falling apart because technology is being centralized to the people.
Information is becoming abundant, not scarce. Right? The technosphere is changing, delivering the power downstream. They can't stop it. Napster's just a symptom. It's not a problem. It's a symptom. And Michael Lewis would say, "It's the Internet consequence of society."
So what's changed over the last 30 years is that the third wave generation has gotten in, gotten to their seats, and started to show up in management. You'd be surprised how many of them there already are. I'm realizing there are more lovecats than non-lovecats out there. And they're in higher positions than they were ten years ago. And they'll be in higher positions ten years from now. But it's all part of this third wave. That's been enabled by a lot of things. Technology. Even the breakdown of the nuclear family—and the idea of the extended family—has assisted that. Because it's created more permissions, and lessens the emphasis on roles and titles.
I see it in what I'm reading, in my work experience. And I attributed it to the Internet. And maybe it's part of this third wave where people are collaborating. People are sharing. And I don't know if it comes from a kind of maturity. Is that what we're experiencing? Or, is it something that's been there just waiting to be let out?
TS: Yes. It's like Diffusion of Innovations, another fabulous book. There are great ideas that sometimes take decades to actually become diffused in society. There are usually a few very influential people that adopted it and evangelized it, and it catches on. It's a tipping point, if you will. So I think that's really what it's about. And certainly, world events are participating in creating pressure on top people who are discompassionate. Either you've gone from being considered focused and efficient, to being insensitive and a jerk, depending on what your HR policies were on September 12th about coming to work in New York City. And you read these stories.
And I hear about it specifically in the publishing industry. The difference between Random House and Simon & Schuster, if you talk to people at the line level, is that Random House said "Stay home. Work's not as important as your family." And Simon said, "We gotta go to work." And that's unacceptable. And the people are starting to revolt against discompassionate things. And it's being accelerated not just by September 11th, but the recession, the economy, the layoffs. Everything is making us submit to being human.
So, what is a lovecat?
TS: A lovecat is a person, to me, that is committed to growth; the only rational thing they do is grow people. And they do it by sharing really value-added knowledge. They do it by giving away their network, a person, a relationship where it makes sense. And they do it by learning how to sense and respond to people that need their compassion. And they commit themselves to that. It's a lifestyle.
The lovecat reads books X amount of hours a week. A lovecat spends X amount of time organizing a personal network, and going through different rituals to try to connect people. And a lovecat's always got the radar on for an opportunity to show love. It's a lifestyle.
The first time I called the business guy a lovecat, he sphinctered up on me, and just recoiled. And I thought, "Wow! That's awesome! I'm going to use it." Again, something I learned from Tom. It's got to be a ladle dropper.
If I just called them by the phrase I use in the book, "nice, smart people succeed," that's not a good brand. Lovecat is a brand that's controversial. People can rally around it. Do you know what I mean? It's like Seinfeld. It doesn't mean anything. But at the same time, it means everything.
I love it. Are you seeing negative emails about that? Is that turning people off, the lovecat thing? Or are they not understanding it?
TS: No, no, no. I think people are going to come out of the closet. It's really interesting. People actually gravitate to it because it's controversial. You know, people love that. People really do like to take a term that's, I wouldn't say contrarian, but I have a word for it. I call it "protarian." I made it up in an interview with Business Week the other day. Protarian, meaning I'm against the grain in a positive way.
And, it's an easy word for people to use. If you ask people to give you five words describing the book, lovecat will always be mentioned. It's like fairy dust. It's the most contagious thing about the book.
I see you've incorporated the personal branding idea into Love is the Killer App, which I think is very cool. It's a huge idea. And I love seeing more and more people dealing with it, incorporating it into their lives, and trying to bring it out there into the world. What kind of a reaction are you getting to brand you?
TS: That thing shot the bow. There's no stopping it now. We hire and retain people even during difficult times based on what they know and not their seniority. So the game's up. Everybody's got a brand. Even non-branded people have their own consequences. So the gig is you're going to have a brand, like it or not. Do you want to control it? Because to me, a brand is like this promise I make of what you're going to get when you deal with me in any way; when you read what I've written, when you talk to me in a meeting. It's a promise that I make.
Either I control the promise or I don't. It's really not a question of marketing for oneself. It's really a question of controlling your own destiny because people are branded. If you sat around in rooms like I did, making decisions on people that stay and go; people that are going to get hired; people that we're going to partner with; people that we're going to trust, it all comes down to a bunch of promises we sit around and talk about, or the risk that's associated with them.
Most of those people aren't even controlling it. Personal branding is about controlling your destiny. It will happen to you regardless.
You say people have got to get in the habit of sharing knowledge. But what about the 24-year old just out of school, she's going to say, "Yeah. Well, but I don't know anything yet. What knowledge can I add?" You seem to have an answer for that, which is, reading. Could you talk about that? About how to learn from them, and what you can learn?
TS: So, another analogy. Think of an hourglass. Think of the top of the hourglass as people that have been in business 25 years. They have a lot of context. They have a lot of cause and effect. But it's from their personal experiences.
And I want you to think of people at the bottom of the hourglass as people that just got out of college. And they've got really good study habits, theoretically. They read a lot. They write a lot. They think a lot. They talk a lot about things. They discuss context. They jump categories from one context to the other. They discuss cause and effect, and they actually go back 50 years, amazingly.
In the middle somewhere is a professional. So, to me, the opportunity for a youngster reading incredibly well-selected business books, and history books, and stuff that gives them superior context in cause and effect, has got a running shot to defeat the person that only has 25 years of experience in one or two businesses, and is trapped by their own success. I really think they have a tremendous opportunity. I think that they tend to gravitate to my system very, very well. It's not a big deal for them to go back to school.
Books are one of the best quality of businesses there is in terms of media value. You really can, if you spend a little time, find ten great books to read in three months that would help you become the smartest person that anybody in your company knows about what your business does. And you will understand cause and effect in a way that is astounding.
TS: Cause and effect is important stuff. That's why, when you think of the new economy—I want to be very careful how I say this because I'm really not age biased, because I'm an old man. And I would hate to say that you have to be young in the business world, because I'm 40. But, one of the things about the Silicon Valley that we have to take seriously is that guys like David Filo and Jerry Yang have been uncorrupted by the business world. They came straight out of Stanford grad school. And they had the opportunity to start fresh and augment that with context.
If you think about why Dell always wanted to hire everybody out of college and not out of the business world, it got back to the same thing. So I think the 24-year-olds have a fabulous opportunity if you think about them in terms of the hourglass.
You've got to get business experience, believe me. It's like me. I'm not going to write a bunch of books in the next few years. I'm going to go back to work on March 20th. And I'm going to be very serious for a few years because I don't know enough. I don't want to be a cut flower.
You can act this loving way in your real world, your personal life. But, it's divorced from the business world. And maybe what we're seeing is the breakdown of that distinction between our different lives. Thus this need to have books written about finding that balance between work and the rest of life. It's just breaking down. It's one and the same thing. You live your life. Your work is your life. That's the new reality.
TS: When Toffler talked about the breakdown of the nuclear family as a good thing, people recoiled in disgust. What did he mean? I'm paraphrasing him here. I think he meant that we're going to define things by the time and the effort we spend with them, as opposed to the roles they're supposed to play. So that if I spend a lot of time with you, Erik, you are family to me. That's easy for a guy like me to believe because I wasn't raised by my mother or father. And my brother is actually my uncle on the step side.
So as a result, it's easy for me to think that, literally, the guy that's 10 feet from me now that works for me is my family, as much as my kid. That's easy for me to accept. And Toffler predicted this.
As a friend of mine says, "One good friend is worth a thousand relatives."
TS: That's so true. One of the things about Seinfeld I loved was the discomfort of dealing with family. It's great stuff. Jerry said once that if his parents found a nickel, they'd dig a hole in the ground and bury it like a squirrel.
So let me finish with a funny story for you. Along the way though, if you evangelize love and you're successful in creating lovecat-ism in your life, one of the most important attributes you always keep sight of is humility, and remembering that, as Benjamin Zander would say, "Don't take yourself too seriously. It's all made up."
I was at JFK Airport the other day. And the Fast Company magazine with my picture on the cover had just come out. The Admiral's Club had copies of it sitting in the racks. This tall guy standing next to me—obviously a corporate dude—was reading the issue. And I can tell he's like looking at me. Finally, he walks up, taps me on the shoulder, and says, "Excuse me. I'm really sorry to do this. I'm not trying to bother you. But, I just wanted to let you know that your work really means a lot to me." I looked at him and I said, "Well, thank you very much. And it's a pleasure to meet you." And I shook his hand. As I dashed off, he whirled around and he says to himself, "Wait until I tell my kids." Then he begins to play air guitar and sings, "It's 3:00 A.M., I must be lonely."
At that I realized he was talking about the lead singer from Matchbox 20, who I do look like. And it became clear to me that this is a food chain. There are bigger fish that will always gulp the smaller fish. To quote Ben Zander again, "Get over yourself. It's not about you." It really helped me.
Because you have that moment when things go right, and you begin to start buying into whatever it is. And then you have something like that happen, which I'm sure happens to a lot of people. But it was funny. It was funny.
I'm a little disappointed in your Tim Sanders.com site. I thought there would be more going on. Why isn't there a discussion group growing there?
TS: I have a different viewpoint about website marketing in the book world. I've looked at enough log files to believe that it's about a 10-minute experience for most people. Have you seen the "Watch" button, and the video that's on the website?
TS: Over a third of all first-time visitors watch that video. That goes through the right mechanism in my mind. If they watch that video, I think they have a much more succinct idea of who I am, and what the book's about. If I had a bunch of stuff there for them to click on and do in the Bulletin Boards and Communities, and all this other stuff, the numbers would just go down in watching the video.
It's so early for me in getting this idea out to the world, I'd hate to have other people describe for me, for first-time people, what this is about. I call it a 10-minute website. If you go through the site, you can get a stop watch out. If you watch the video, listen to the clip, and read the Read page, it takes you 10 minutes and that's it. Because honestly, that's all that people want to do when they hear about it from publicity.
Now, I'm also converting about 20 percent of all visitors to the group, meaning that they enter their email address and they join the group. Once they're in the group, then I'm putting all my best files, the photos, the MP3s, all the great stuff is going to be available to those people. Because they've already bought in. But we're going to make sure we convert the first-time viewers by getting them to watch the video, and sign up for the group.
This is part of a bigger vision. And I'm not the guy who developed it. The guy who did my website here at Yahoo! talked to me about this in the context of movie marketing, that much movie marketing should really be done this way. They clutter up these sites. They have no control now of what the first-time experience is. For all you know, they just go to the Links and click off to other writers, and you've lost them.
The idea here is you come in, watch my video; if you like it, listen to my speech. And if you like it, sign up for my group, and then we'll take it offline. I'm so new at this, I want to control the environment so I can keep my clarity.
Web site: www.timsanders.com
Email: tim at timsanders dot com