At the SMPS conference — pondering the questions about achievement, success and personality

ben Casnocha
Ben Casnocha speaking at Build Business

I travelled to Philadelphia today for the annual Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Build Business conference. The conferences follow traditions. This year, I found myself reverting to my personality ‘norm’ — with an impressively ineffective social functioning character. In other words, put me in a room with a few hundred (or, worse, thousand) people, and even though I might actually know some of them, I feel as if I know none — and so spend the time in total mental isolation.

Needless to say, this is an awkward form of behaviour. I sometimes get around it partially by reverting to my journalist role. I listen to the speakers, maybe ask them a few questions, usually sit in the front row, and take some photos. The social stuff, nah.

(My status as a conference guest afforded me an invitation to the VIP reception. I visited it for a few minutes, having a bite of hors d’oeuvres and drinking one vodka and orange, before decamping to my “own” world.)

My accommodations aren’t?conventional, also. The informal AirBNB space is in a third floor walk-up in South Philadelphia. There’s air conditioning, but the homeowner asked me to keep it off when I’m not in the place — so it was stifling when I returned here this evening. I also discovered Philadelphia has something I haven’t seen in other cities; a cross between a subway and trolley car system. The small trains run above ground on their routes, then disappear into the bowels of the earth for the final few miles to the central terminal.

All of these observations have little to do with construction marketing, but they set the stage for the observations about today’s events.

In the first, I attended a panel discussion based on this question: “Is marketing leadership Moving our Profession Forward in the AEC Industry.” This was a program of the SMPS Fellows — an honour granted to long-standing members who have made signfiicant contributions to the association and the industry. Kind of a grey eminences club.

leadership symposium
Panelists Mark Hebden, president and COO of EwingCole, Carl Davis, CEO of Array Architects, Thomas Scarangello, chairman and chief executive officer, Thormton Tomasetti with moderator Steve Gido, principal of Rusk O’Brien Gido + Partners addressed the question: Is Marketing Leadership Moving our Profession Forward in the AEC Industry” at the SMPS Fellows Leadership Symposium

The speakers, and the questioners, generally?gave the answers I expected: Yes, marketing leadership is helpful and is adding respect, but firms and practices have their own cultures, traditions and models, and there isn’t a magic bullet to bring AEC marketing to a higher level.

Then, after a break, introductory speaker Ben Casnocha outlined some of his thoughts about entrepreneurship and risk taking. ?He suggested entrepeneurs are “intelligent risk takers” and “intelligent network builders” — in other words, they are able to build a team of employees and supporters around them who truly carry their weight. (I?think I’m not doing so well on the “intelligent network” building at this conference, given my awkward social isolation.)

opening audience
Some of the audience for Ben Casnocha’s presentation

One of Casnocha’s claims to fame is his close relationship with LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman. From that experience, he has outlined some rather powerful basic success principles.

16 Lessons Learned (Among Many!)

  1. People are complicated and flawed. Root for their better angels.
  2. The best way to get a busy person?s attention: Help them.
  3. Keep it simple and move fast when conceiving strategies and making decisions.
  4. Every weakness has a corresponding strength.
  5. The values that actually shape a culture have both upside and downside.
  6. Understand someone?s ?alpha? tendencies and how that drives them.
  7. Self-deception watch: even those who say they don?t need or want flattery, sometimes still need it.
  8. Be clear on your specific level of engagement on a project.
  9. Sketch three possible outcomes for a project: the likely upside, likely ?regular?, and likely downside scenarios.
  10. A key to making good partnerships great: Identify and emphasize any misaligned incentives.
  11. Reason is the steering wheel. Emotion is the gas pedal.
  12. Trade up on trust even if it means you trade down on competency.
  13. Tell the truth. Don?t reflexively kiss ass to powerful people.
  14. Respect the shadow power.
  15. Make people genuine partners and they?ll work harder.
  16. Final: The people around you change you in myriad unconscious ways

Each of the thoughts here is worth a story in its own.?Casnocha also has blogged about his participation in Buddhist meditation “silence” retreats — where there is nothing to do (most of the time) but meditate. Ahh, being alone in a crowd — where you are supposed to be alone (unlike my experiences of being alone where it isn’t so cool to be that way.)

Tomorrow, I’ll do my “work for the conference, judging the Marketing Communications Awards to determine the best of the best. It takes several hours and requires me to connect with others in the room. (I will.) But the evening gala will be something different. Tables full of people from different chapters; friends, connections, socially belonging. Hopefully?I will sit with some other people and may even get to know them a bit.

If you want you can communicate with Mark Buckshon by email at or leave a comment.

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