Episode 71: Beth Comstock, CMO of GE on Change Agents, Green Innovation and the Strength of Teams
Beth has been leading the communication of the Ecomagination strategy across the infrastructure, finance and media verticals that comprise GE's business. Learn how she innovates internally, what outside consultants she leverages and how she continues to build the global brand. Beth shares how she manages the CMO role with the 4I's: Instigator, Innovator, Integrator and Implementor and why she thinks the role of CMO is misunderstood. Find out what the 6,000 marketing pros across GE are tasked with figuring out. Trust me, it's good stuff.
And who does Beth track in the media, marketing and Web 2.0 industry? Which CMO's and entrepreneurs does she look up to and why? She reflects on some of the mentors through out her life and the value they brought. Then Suz and Beth talk about the wisdom of elders and move to the "Strengths Revolutions" that Marcus Buckingham so eloquently proffers. Gain perspective from one of the top CMO's of the biggest global brands. She's beautiful, smart, articulate and a delight. Tune in with Beth Comstock.
This program is brought to you by PersonalLifeMedia.com
Susan Bratton: Welcome to Dishy Mix. I am your host Susan Bratton and on today’s show you’re going to meet Beth Comstock. Beth is the Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer of GE. I have known Beth because she has also been the President of NBC Universal running integrated media where she oversaw television and ad sales and led the company’s digital strategy. She has gone back now because she was running marketing at GE before, she is back to GE and she is the Corporate Senior Vice-President and CMO now and really runs the innovation initiatives, marketing sales and communications for GE and we’re going to talk to her about some of the main programs that she is working on.
So on today’s show we’re going to talk about eco imagination being a change agent, Beth’s guilty pleasure of reading the tabloid, music discovery and what it’s like to be an introvert in such a high profile job.
Beth Comstock: GE is a 130-year-old company and we are in three careers, we are in infrastructure business, we are at finance business and a media business. The change agent is sometimes when people say that it’s a compliment, many times it’s not a compliment because many times it means pushing people and parts of the company to do things that don’t so comfortable and I think that’s the definition of what, a part of what marketer’s job is the role of marketers is, what we say the four-‘i’ period, to be an instigator, an integrator, an innovator and an implementer.
GE is a very complicated company and complexity is it takes a lot to navigate complexity so there’s a certain skill but there’s a real skill in being able to simplify your complexity.
Susan Bratton: Welcome back.
Beth Comstock: Hi Susan, thanks for having me.
Susan Bratton: It’s my pleasure, it only took us what’s February to October, that’s like 8 months.
Beth Comstock: Yeah, almost a year.
Susan Bratton: Not bad.
Beth Comstock: [xx] the calendar, it’s a miracle.
Susan Bratton: It is, well, and your team is really got to supporting you so I am glad you’re here. I really wanted to start with some of the work that you’re doing right now. I’d ask you to kind of prepare to tell us about that eco imagination and some of the work you’re doing, you did with the Olympics and the health so tell us about what’s big now for you?
Beth Comstock: Well, I think the biggest thing for us continues to be our eco imagination efforts and that’s taken us to places. We never would have dreamed back in 2005 when we launched it. It was originally an effort we started because we wanted to use it as a way to work with our customers, to have them make a better impact on the environment so that they could make money and we said we need to make money from this.
So we took a different twist when we started, it was about what we said ‘Green is green’, and it was also about us making a pledge ourselves to lower our greenhouse gas emission, to lower our water use in the mission and also to invest in new technology development and when we first started, we said we were going to set a goal of $20 billion of new revenues for the company by 2010 and we’re ahead of that and we expect by the year 2010 to be generating about $25 billion of revenue from our eco technology around the world.
So that was the basic backbone of the program and what is more distinctive for us is it’s just a lot of, to create a host of new partnerships. You may have read a couple of weeks ago we announced a new partnership with Google. We’re together, we’re going to look at investing in clean technology, especially in what’s called the smart cred, which is all about distributing electricity from new renewable sources into the electrical grid.
So it’s taking us in interesting places. We’ve begun working with venture capitalist and small startup companies to see how we can tap into their development and they can tap into ours and globally, it’s just given us a great entry and connection point in working globally with government.
Susan Bratton: Describe the GE empire a little bit so we understand the breadth of the products and services that are under your domain.
Beth Comstock: Well GE is a 130-year-old company and we are in three careers, we are in infrastructure business, we are at finance business and a media business and in the infrastructure business we focus on kind of big, complicated technology that really sort of makes the world go around. So think of energy, think of health, water, transportation, everything from airplane engines to locomotives.
In the finance side, we’re largely a business finance company helping businesses get the capital that they need. Think of us as sort of a source you turn to when you need to purchase a copying machine for your office. You need to lease a jet airplane, and then on the media side, we own NBC Universal and NBC Universal has been part of the GE family for about 22 years and that’s a niche about the company and that’s why something like eco imagination is so important for us because it really links the company together. It allows us to create opportunities like eco hospitals and health, to work with NBC and launching something like ‘Green is universal’ where we try to come up with new programming that’s focused on green and opportunities for advertisers.
So that’s where I spend a lot of my time as figuring out how do we link the various parts of the company together and find new value, you know if you’re an individual business you know what you got to do but there’s also some interesting opportunities by connecting them.
Another area we’re looking at right now is how do we connect the dots in health and that’s very exciting. It will connect GE Healthcare with NBC Universal and possibly even some of our financial services businesses.
Susan Bratton: When you do this, what kinds of organizations or external firms do you work with to find this connective tissue and mine it for new opportunities for business, for revenue growth, for more consumer and business connection?
Beth Comstock: Well, the first thing we do is we get together our great marketing teams from across the company. So in the past five years, we have doubled the number of marketers at GE, we’re up to about 6,000 marketing folks around the company. So every business has great marketing teams that are powered to see around corners and to help be the strategics or one of the strategic arms of the business to help figure out what’s next.
So the first thing we do is we get together and we share trends and we say, “Where is the business going, where is your industry going”, and we have a team at the center, at the corporate level, that looks at ‘oh, this trend’s happening in health and look, this is happening over at NBC and there’s maybe a connection here’.
We spend a lot of time with our customers like it is an external view. We actually like to, we have what we call ‘discovery sessions’ that we do with our customers where we kind of brainstorm together on industry problems, their trends, the way they see and that’s another input, and from time-to-time we do use outside consultants so it depends on the project.
I say it from a marketing and sales perspective, we tend to focus on consultants that more of what we call ‘innovation consultants’, people who give us tools and push us to see new opportunities and that’s pretty much how we pull things together. We tend to incubate ideas for a while, so eco imagination, it took us about 18-months of kind of internal study. We worked with a great outside company called Green Order and their job was to figure out how do we make sure that the products we certify is green, are absolutely green and how do they connect it with other external thought leaders.
And so from some of these big company-wide efforts, it takes us a good year to incubate and make all the right external connections as well as internal.
Susan Bratton: You told me that your scene is something of a change agent within the organization. Can you tell me some of the things that you’ve done to earn that moniker?
Beth Comstock: Well, the change agent is sometimes, I think sometimes when people say that it’s a compliment, many times it’s not a compliment because many times it means pushing people and parts of the company to do things that don’t so comfortable and I think that’s the definition of what, a part of what marketer’s job is, is to see where trends are and to push your company in that direction so you can be there for your customers when they need it.
So that means that sometimes as a marketer, you’re the one that makes people feel uncomfortable. So a couple of examples, we talked about the eco imagination campaign, that was a tough sell internally. Locally, the idea started from our Chairman Jesse [xx] sort of seeing from different businesses, interesting trends with customers saying we need more help in the text, the green text base.
So he is the one who said go forward, see what you can find out and when we came back and started presenting it to some of the other leaders in the company, there was discomfort with it, partly because just the idea of wrapping ourselves around clean text, made some people uncomfortable. We had had a pretty public situation with the Hudson River and PCBs in the Hudson River from earlier in GE’s heritage, and also just a sense of ‘do we really have the technology that can do that’ and we were able to come back and say not only do we have the technology but it’s 3 to 5 times bigger than we ever thought possible and our customers are asking for it.
People thought comfortable but those are the kind of, when you’re a marketer, you just have to, I don’t know, have an extra six scan or something to be able to get out there where people are feeling comfortable.
Susan Bratton: You know we talked earlier about the role of the CMO as being somewhat maligned in the industry. You always hear all these reports about with CMOs on the last four, 13 months or whatever it is and it’s in some ways a scary job, especially if you are taking it from the perspective of a change agent. You’ve been at GE many years but you have a perspective on the CMO being misunderstood, share that with us.
Beth Comstock: Well, I think you do to what you said, the average tenure of a CMO, I mean every time they do the studies, it drops. I think the latest I saw with it, 22 months was the average tenure of a CMO. When you think about less than two years, who has a chance to really get an idea incubated or a campaign started, let alone know of their perspective.
Susan Bratton: There’s no possible room from that story.
Beth Comstock: Yeah, exactly. So what it means I think is that there’s a very short expectation and a very short runway given to marketing leaders to be successful and if you figure out what a marketer has to do is they have to see opportunity and figure out how to organize the resources in the company to go after it, and the most successful marketers I have seen have generally started with something a bit more practical so that they can prove their way to say you know here’s kind of easy money, if you will, or here’s an opportunity that was just here but with fresh eyes I was able to see it, it’s not like some genius idea, it’s just here it was, and prove their way and that gives them a bit of the extra room, if you will, to then plant the bigger seeds or some of the bigger ideas.
But I think most business leaders, CEOs of companies who appreciate what marketing can do, understand that the role of marketers is to incubate and that they have to put down some roots and that they have to have a chance to work with different functions. We only say we like to talk here about marketers and sort of the marketers, the role of the marketers is what we say the four ‘i’s here, it’s to be an instigator, an integrator, an innovator and an implementer.
Susan Bratton: All right, say it again a little more slowly because we’re listening intently.
Beth Comstock: Ok, so the four ‘I’s, the first is to be an instigator, it’s really I call it an irritant, the second is to be an integrator, meaning you have to pull various functions together, you have a lot of work to do that it’s not solely marketing, it’s not there’s one matrix just for marketing. You have to be an innovator, if to find new opportunities, push the company into new areas and you have to be an implementer, meaning you got to get stuff done.
And I think sometimes people think marketers are the ones with the big ideas but they don’t maybe stick around long enough or stick around because maybe they don’t’ want to actually get their hands dirty and do the work, that’s a really unfair, you know bar that marketers and I think maybe that’s, it’s a vicious cycle. You got to let marketers incubate and you got to give them time to activate their ideas.
Susan Bratton: You’ve come from communications and publicity early in your career. I was speaking this, earlier this week in Boulder at the social media summit and one of the attendees was actually on the public relations side and she was from a publishing company and she said, “You know I think that the way I have been doing PRs, just completely going to change now and yet what I see with the advent of social media is that to be a publicist now, I am going to have to go over into other people’s silos to really be effective. No longer is this just one little thing where I send books out to writers and journalists. So I need to get on and create community and create buzz and..”, what kind of advice would you give to anybody who is in an organization where the world is quickly changing, the internet is transforming their business and yet they still feel silo. A lot of times it’s we’re holding beliefs that we need to abandon, how do you get over that? What advice would you give to some employees who ran into that kind of a problem?
Beth Comstock: Yeah, well it’s a great question Susan. I mean there are, technology is changing so much about the way we work and it’s forcing people to communicate, who didn’t think communications as part of their job and I would imagine pretty much anyone these days realizes communications is part of their job so if you’re a communicator as your profession, it means you’ve got, you’re super crazy, super busy, trying to connect all the dots.
So here the opportunities I think are out there for communicators and anybody in business. One is with the internet and digital technology. You have instant focus groups, you have communities of people who are getting together around shared passions and interests and you can find out all kinds of things that relate to how you do business or maybe where your industry is going, it’s just incredibly powerful if you can find a way to listen them on those conversations and they happen everywhere.
So smart communicators and business leaders hopefully are already doing that. The other thing is that you need to figure out how to be relevantly part of that conversation and I hear lots of marketers get together and say you know, we’re going to build a community around our brand, I just don’t think that’s possible. I mean if you’re fortunate enough to have a great brand the people are passionate about, you have a cult following for your brand, you’ve got a community and your challenge there is to make sure you’re seen as authentically part of that conversation but if you’ve got a brand that no one’s already buzzing about, you can’t just say I am going to create a community about, you have to find ways to take your brand to places where conversation is and certainly it’s relevant that you’re there, and that’s hard I think for many business leaders.
Susan Bratton: I think that’s fantastic advice. We’re going to go to a break because I want to thank my sponsors, you and I both know the value of that. When we come back, I want to talk more about your life, purpose, your passions, the people you looked up to, the things you’re doing that are really turning you on and get to know a little bit more about that. So we’re going to take a break, we’re with Beth Comstock and she is the CMO of GE. I am your host Susan Bratton and I want to let you know that I am interesting in hearing from you and I have put my listener’s survey in a place you can find it.
Now instead of trying to dig around for it on my website, I made it survey.personallifemedia.com and if you can go there, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for doing that and we’ll be right back.
Susan Bratton: We’re back and we’re with Beth Comstock from GE. I am your host Susan Bratton and Beth, I want to get into some of the other things that we talked about, you know, you have had a very successful career, who has been a mentor for you and what have they provided for you in that mentorship over the years?
Beth Comstock: Well I think I’ve had many different mentors. I was for a while in my career, one of these people who we go around, I don’t have a mentor, I didn’t have like an official like hey, [xx] hey, will you be my mentor. So for a long time I felt maybe something was wrong with me but as I started to sit back and think about, I thought well there were a lot of people who have influenced me and I also just it force me to become a lot more open and seeking advice from people.
I think about, I mean my mother was a great mentor. My mother worked when I was growing up and was one that would always kind of push me when I would maybe feel a little shy or not confident about something and kind of knew me well that way. When I got into the workplace I think of a couple of people, one of my first bosses was tough as all get out. She was incredibly tough but she would challenge me, she’d say, “You know what, you’re not coming across the way you want to, go to that again”, and I have just been fortunate and I think maybe I thrive in those kinds of situations and I am thinking of one mentor I had who was actually a generation, actually two mentors of what I meant the same, we were, they were generations apart on either side.
So one was a man who was really at the end of his career, ready to retire and he was in a senior position at one of the jobs I had and he became just a fantastic mentor because he was able to just speak very honestly to me, almost like a father in some respect, I have a dad but it was like a work father and I really appreciated. We were very different generations, I sometimes thought his ideas were a bit old-fashioned but I appreciated his point of view, he had had wisdom and experience and I was able to take that and translated in a way that was important to me and then I’d say I had a mentor who was about 15 years younger than me at one point and she was such an inspiration because she had such confidence and such kind of joyful way of approaching her job and at one point she had worked with me and I feel like I learned an immense amount from her in terms of balance and kind of see in a joyful part of work that maybe I sometimes didn’t look at.
Susan Bratton: Right, in knowing you, I think that you work very hard and you get right to things and maybe in her behavior she modeled some way of being that allowed you some opening in your approach to your work.
Beth Comstock: Yeah that’s a good thought, that’s perhaps exactly what happened.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, its interesting, I also had a mentor when I was very earlier on and one of my very first kind of corporate jobs, I was a purchasing agent and he was the purchasing director and he was on his way out getting ready for retirement and he let me do all his work for him. It was really generous of him but in reality it was quite generous because he didn’t need to own it, he would stand up for any mistakes I made, he’d let me fall on my face a lot, he let me expand in a way that I would have never had the opportunity to had he needed to keep his career a few more years and sometimes I think about organizations.
I am sure GE being such an older company, you have a wide range of ages of employees, right?
Beth Comstock: Oh we sure do.
Susan Bratton: Because in the silicon valley, it’s pretty crunched, you know, there’s so many companies that have people between the ages of 22 and 42 and not much older, and I think there’s a tremendous amount of value in looking for that elder wisdom, even if the way things are done has changed, that elder wisdom is really important.
Beth Comstock: I agree with you and I know at GE, there’s a lot of effort to even with folks who have retired, to bring them back, in consulting capacities if even they want to or just to have them stop in and give, you know especially when you’re in tough times in situations there have people who’ve been through similar situations. So it’s so valuable.
Susan Bratton: Well as we boomers age out of the workforce, I think we’re going to be very hard to get rid of.
Beth Comstock: Absolutely, I am not planning on going on anywhere, I may go a few other places. My life may take me to other kinds of chapters but I am not planning to go, sit on the beach anytime soon.
Susan Bratton: Well that reminds me, I noticed in your bio, and hang on, I needed to dig for it here, it’s like a trustee or something, yeah, you’re a trustee at the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. So that sounds really cool. How did that come about, because I think there are a lot of us who, you know we’re working, we’re running organizations, we’re sitting on boards of other companies, we might be doing those kinds of things, you know advisory or board level, but we’re not getting out of our own kind of domain. How did that work for you? Does it fulfill you, tell us about it.
Beth Comstock: Yeah, it does fulfill me in a lot of ways. I am a big design freak. I love design. I am just passionate about design for a lot of reasons, I mean like the creative expression of it, I like design and how it interacts with business so I think that’s actually been a motivation for me in a lot of our marketing, creative side of the marketing work we’ve done.
But I, just my passion for design led me to people who like design and I had got into work with Michael Francis, the CMO of Target and Michael is on the Cooper Hewitt’s Design Museum, he is on their board as well and so he had introduced me to them and they said, would you like to be on the board, and it’s been a great way to expand that design horizon and get to meet folks and also on the board is John Mada who I love, who is now the Head of Risdee and formally at the MIT Media Lab and so you just, you’re in such, some very interesting people. I love it and I think if I would to do another board it would be much more in the social responsibility philanthropic, the giving the more volunteering side of philanthropy I think but for fulfilling my design love, the Cooper Hewitt has just been a great outlet and it’s a great, they’re really the country’s only design museum and it’s a real treasure what they’re trying to create.
Susan Bratton: I didn’t realize that it would be interesting for you to categorize it that way, the only design museum in the country.
Beth Comstock: Yeah, actually they sponsor the National Design Awards which are coming up later this month and it’s a way to recognize design, everything from interior design to landscaping to fashion and they’re really trying to catalogue and acquire the history of design.
Susan Bratton: Wonderful. Well, and I think it’s under appreciated that there are a tremendous amount of opportunities to serve on boards of public and private institutions that are not business oriented, that are non-profits, that are design or I mean there are so many places where as a business professional, any one of us can land a very unique position to those kinds of boards. So we talk a lot about being on boards on Dishy Mix because so many of our listeners are on them or are interested in getting on them and wondering how to do it and I think it’s not, it would be who of us not overlook the opportunity beyond just the B2B world.
Beth Comstock: Absolutely, and I think for anyone, just one, go where your passion is, two, start to volunteer with those organizations and get to know them and I think that’s a good way to one, make sure you feel that’s the right board and at the least that’s the right place for you, but it’s a great way to feel like you’re doing something good at the same time.
Susan Bratton: Well coming back to the world of advertising and Web2.0, a world that you know very well. Who are some of the people that you keep an eye on or that you’re impressed with and watch to continue to flow more creative juice into your own work?
Beth Comstock: Well I mentioned MRIT but I think the work they target and Michael Francis’s team doesn’t target, I am in all of that, that they’re constantly refreshing and reinvigorating the way they express themselves, I love the work of the Apple marketing team. I think that what I love about what Apple does is just they, the simplicity with which they do it.
GE is a very complicated company and complexity is, it takes a lot to navigate complexity so there’s a certain skill but there’s a real skill in being able to simplify your complexity and so I feel like I am studying them quite a bit. In the Web 2.0 space, I was fortunate enough to work for a while with a guy named Jason Kyler who leads a site called hooloo.com which we started through NBC and NewsCorp. It launched about, maybe six months ago and if you haven’t seen hooloo, I’d urge you to go but I not mean this to be an ad for hooloo but what I love what’s Jason’s doing because he knows technology, he knows the web and he thinks from the users and with the user’s perspective and the new formats that they’re inventing on hooloo or for advertising, they’re refreshing, they’re user friendly…
Susan Bratton: Tell us about those ad formats, what do you see that you’re liking?
Beth Comstock: Well, I just for one he has a format, they’ve created format where you maybe you choose the ad you want to see so a car company comes in and they have four different models and you choose the ad you want to see, now ultimately you know where that’s going is they know you so well that they serve up the right car ad. You know, we’ve all talked about that for a while but what I love that Jason is doing is that they’re making it happen.
They have an opportunity to what, you can watch a movie trailor and you can decide to watch a program for free without any sort of commercial interruption for the price, if you will, of watching a movie trailor. It’s just that interactivity, that ability to click and learn more where we know TV is going, it’s not there yet but the fact that Jason is using the internet, and you’re talking to be in the same place anyway but the fact that he has got a real laboratory, it’s very exciting.
Susan Bratton: It’s funny because there’s choosing the ad you want to see. So many people have taken a run at that over the years and also it reminds me of hot linkable videos so many people have taken a run at that. Do you think that the time has come for both of these concepts now because I see them starting to take more hold or do you really think that, I mean a consumer has to pick one of the options to see the content, right? So I wonder is that really valuable, like they’re lesser of many evils or do you think that people actually are starting to understand that they have to enjoy some advertising before they get to their content.
Beth Comstock: Yeah, well I think why do people reject advertising? One, because they’re sick of seeing it so there’s a bit of fatigue. Two, because it’s just not good, obviously they don’t like a lot of interruptions but I think that’s again another thing I love about hooloo is they’ve been very thoughtful about when and how to interrupt you but increasingly I think, you know there are a lot of people who like ads as entertainment and there are, so I think if an advertiser can be inventive and the work is good, you’re going to have an engaged user but I think this is at least, when I was working on the NBC side and on the advertising and sort of connecting it with digital, we were spending a lot of time talking to marketers about how do we engage the programming and the advertising, let’s think about it as more continuity between the two and I think just seeing more of that, more creative development linking the ad to the program in a way that’s real not fake. But I think you’ll continue to see more of that and I think users are just, they just are able to say I like this and I don’t like that, they have more control than ever and marketers have to deal with that.
Susan Bratton: Well, I want to switch gears here too. One of the things that you told me about how you chill, you have a big job, how many people do you personally manage, who are under your group?
Beth Comstock: Oh, directly in our group we have about 100 people.
Susan Bratton: You have 100 people there, you’ve got a lot of agencies that you manage. You have two children at home, you run a very busy life and we talked about some of the things you do to chill and one of the things you said was music discovery and it reminded me of the hooloo piece because a lot of what happens on hooloo is also content discovery. What do you do, what kind of music do you like and how do you find what you like?
Beth Comstock: Well, I like all kinds of music. If you were to come in here and like steal my I-phone out of my purse and something and listen to my music, you probably wouldn’t believe it was mine because actually my whole family, my daughter, my husband, we’re all a big music family and so, what if you were to pick up my ipod what you would hear would be I guess as genre I am probably more alternative music, sort of rock alternative but it’s peppered with a little country, it’s peppered with some jazz and blues, its peppered with some acoustic music, so I have just a very eclectic sense of taste. So I am always looking for something that’s new. So I am your quintessential discovery focused person on the internet but I also tend to use pretty traditional tools or the non-traditional. I find itunes is very helpful. I love the new genius application they’ve created, you know really it’s a recommendation engine, suggests new kinds of thoughts. Well I am a big Pandora fan, I have got Pandora on my iphone and then I just like word of mouth, between my daughters, one who is 23, one who is 16 and between their friends, I get lots of good recommendations. So I find that word of mouth is probably my best recommendation and discovery tool.
Susan Bratton: I can’t believe you have a 23-year-old daughter.
Beth Comstock: I do.
Susan Bratton: How did that happen? What was it like, a high school mistake or something?
Beth Comstock: It’s yeah, [xx] you didn’t hear that on the Guinness Book of Records.
Susan Bratton: I can’t believe you have a 23-year-old, I feel like, I think we’re about the same age so you got started very early?
Beth Comstock: I got started early and I was 25 when I had her.
Susan Bratton: Well, you look fantastic.
Beth Comstock: Oh thank you.
Susan Bratton: For your age, well you’re so beautiful.
Beth Comstock: …good, I am not very good at maths.
Susan Bratton: I am not either, well you’re absolutely gorgeous, you’re unbelievably intelligent. I remember I was watching you at Adtech last November, you were up on a panel and I just, you know I was kind of like fending you as fawning over you and fending you at the same time because I just, it’s so wonderful to see a woman who lives fully into everything they can be and you probably aren’t even living fully into it, you know, you’re probably dumping yourself down somewhere.
Beth Comstock: I hope not but I maybe, thanks you said, thanks for the compliment.
Susan Bratton: So it’s wonderful and I know one of the things that she told me about yourself is that you really feel like you’re an introvert. You have such a high profile job, how do you manage that? What is it that makes you an introvert? What pushes the edge for you around being an introvert in your career and in your life and how do you manage through it?
Beth Comstock: Yeah, I don’t know what makes me an introvert, I’ve been it my whole life, I can guarantee you that, I don’t know, I’ll say a part of it certainly I think it’s genetics but I am especially now in a job where you have to be able to stand up quickly and speak and you know, I am dealing with sales customers and clients and trying to make sales. So you’ve got to be able to make it pitch fast and hopefully get an order and I don’t come to that easy and so I think for me it was tied up earlier on just in the lack of confidence and so some of it is as you get experience you get more confidence.
I think just feeling it’s ok, I am ok that I am reserved and shy and I maybe the one that sits back a little bit more and isn’t the first one to open her mouth or feel like I need to answer. There have been times in my life when I felt very uncomfortable with that and it would be a real challenge for me to even raise my hand or to speak up and I would leave a meeting often times, you know, such an opportunity, you know….
Susan Bratton: Yeah, you kick yourself.
Beth Comstock: Just kick yourself and get that, you know [xx] to yourself and get back in there. I was like I channeled my mother I think, get back in there and let people know what you’ve got. So some of it is just a lack of confidence and it’s just a feeling of maybe wanting to observe rather than participate.
Susan Bratton: It’s funny, I don’t know what triggered this and I know we need to wrap up but it was I was in Boulder at this event speaking and I also met with a few of the potential clients, advertisers and sponsors for PersonalLifeMedia, you know we do a lot of shows about meditation and spirituality and self-empowerment and so I was meeting with a couple of companies in Boulder who had products and services that fit that category and we had a dinner together and I discovered that these organizations, when they go to a meeting, one of the first things that they do is they go around the room and they, if anybody has anything they’re holding, any issues, any problems, they do this check in where each person kind of says hi, I am doing great, I am feeling really good or you know what, I’ve got a problem, this is what’s going on with me, and they all get to air where they are with things and one of the companies even does a two-minute meditation before they start their meetings. Then they go around to do the check in and at the end they go around to do a gratitude circle, well first, my first question was, do you get any work done?
Beth Comstock: Exactly.
Susan Bratton: but this is apparently what’s happening in Boulder, Colorado.
Beth Comstock: Oh, but maybe a little bit of that brought into the corporate workplace might be a good thing.
Susan Bratton: What do you think? So could you imagine at GE, if you did any one of those three things, what would that be like?
Beth Comstock: Well I think it depends on who you’ve been meeting with, I mean certainly, if you came in cold, you’ll probably think you’re crazy but I think on the marketing side, those are the kind of things we’ve tried to do, just getting people out of their comfort zone, getting people to feel more comfortable being themselves. I remember one session, you know, innovation sessions we’ve led where we took engineers to an art museum to make connection between the beautiful sort of work they do and if that just led us to putting one of the stand blades of a GE jet engine into, actually it had been accepted in Mulma as a work of art. So I find that, it’s a long way of saying to those ideas, sometimes that people might feel uncomfortable at first but as they go with it, it generally leads into a pretty good place.
Susan Bratton: Yes, create some more of an opening. I wonder how it would be to be an extrovert in that meeting though.
Beth Comstock: Yeah, that would be interesting.
Susan Bratton: It’s definitely more difficult, isn’t it?
Beth Comstock: Yeah, I would think so.
Susan Bratton: I think there’ll be more and more of a spread of those kinds of things happening in the workforce, you know a grounding, get it all on the table, like express where you are with things, I like it. I think it’s innovative.
Beth Comstock: Well I think it is and it’s also, it’s right in line with the times with a need for more transparency, more personal accountability, people just don’t have time for silliness and so the more you can just be honest and say here’s my feelings, what to do with it and move on, I think those are the teams that I found where the best work comes out of when people they’re at that level of mutual respect where they can just say what it is and deal with it and move on.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, it takes a level of personal evolution and a commitment for sure to being honest with the people with whom you work.
Beth Comstock: Absolutely.
Susan Bratton: I recently was on the advisory board of a company that Tony Robins was working on and I took that as a good opportunity to start hugging everyone who worked in the company and I tell you when I walked in, people would stand up like they were ready for their hug when I got there. People liked it. So it’s great.
Beth Comstock: They needed you to come around, they needed their hug.
Susan Bratton: I was the hug catalyst, and who doesn’t want a hug, I want as many everyday as I possibly can get.
Beth Comstock: Funny, I have often found, especially when we try to talk to people about being creative, you know the folks would say, I am not creative, I can’t get into this stuff, they are actually the ones that most want to be creative, they just maybe feel shy, they’re introverted on their creative capabilities…
Susan Bratton: Yeah, they’re not allowing themselves to believe.
Beth Comstock: They’re not allowing but we all want that. I firmly believe all people that you know, people want to be hugged, people want to be creative and the more workplace environments that can understand that and bring those other skills I think the diversity efforts in companies are great but I think they’re going to continue to involve and be much more about diversity of style and that’s where we spend a lot of time with our sales and marketing folks as making sure you got teams that represent real diverse styles. It’s not just where are you from, it’s how do you think.
Susan Bratton: Well I just had Marcus Buckingham on a Dishy Mix, maybe two weeks ago, do you know who he is?
Beth Comstock: Sure I do, I have read his book.
Susan Bratton: The truth about you, that’s his latest one and basically he says, he has coined the term ‘the strengths revolution’ and he says, you know what, I could care less what your weaknesses are, we’re going to compensate for those, we’re going to neutralize with those with someone who has those strengths and we just want to know what you’re really good at and that’s what we want you to bring to the table. So let’s get a real understanding of not only what you’re good at but what you feel good doing and then let’s have you do that for the company. And I love, he gave some good advice about almost recreating your teams based completely on the strengths and then how you share in the things that are weaknesses that no one really wants to do but how you still get them done. It was good stuff. He is a lovely man.
Beth Comstock: Yeah, I have been inspired by some of his writings. I really do believe in that that you’ve got to play to people’s strengths but it’s so against human nature or at least what we think of human nature.
Susan Bratton: I think it’s culture.
Beth Comstock: It is, in most workplaces, we often for a long time talked about what are your development needs, if you get a good assessment from your boss, you go right to the bad thing not the good thing and I am a firm believer that the more you can get people to, I mean why do you get up everyday excited to go to work because you’re good at what you do and you’re having an impact. If you’re every day having to come in and feel like you don’t belong in the team. you’re the odd one, everybody’s is accentuating what you don’t have as opposed to what you do, that’s not very functional.
Susan Bratton: Exactly, well it sounds to me like you’re very aware of that and probably a wonderful manager to boot on top of being gorgeous and smart and fabulous.
Beth Comstock: I love being part of great teams and I have been very fortunate to be part of some great teams, that’s what I get excited about.
Susan Bratton: Yeah, you can get so much done with a fabulous team, I know. That in itself is inspiring and motivating, isn’t it?
Beth Comstock: Absolutely.
Susan Bratton: It is, well I’d love to end on an aspirational moment and that was it. I had a really fun time talking to you today Beth, thanks so much for coming on Dishy Mix and sharing not only what you’re doing at GE but what’s happening with you, it’s really great.
Beth Comstock: Well thanks Susan, it was great talking to you. I had fun. Thanks a lot.
Susan Bratton: Good, all right. Well that was Beth Comstock. I hope you enjoyed getting to know her. I am your host Susan Bratton and I hope you’ll tune in again for another episode of Dishy Mix. Have a great day.
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