Industry Disruption and the Productive Malcontent

About thirteen years ago, I took a job editing medical journals for a small company in San Antonio, Texas. The woman who was tasked with training me sat me down on my first day to show me how she tracked article submissions and approvals. She pulled out a stenographer’s pad, a ruler, and a pencil, and proceeded to draw a grid on the paper. She labeled the columns and rows appropriately, and then handed me my own pad, pencil, and ruler to create my own log.

I sat there dumbfounded for a minute. Remember, I said this was only thirteen years ago—in the year 2000. I asked my coworker why she didn’t just use Microsoft Excel instead of drawing everything out by hand. Her response was, “This is the way we’ve always done it.”

Since that day, that kind of rationale in the workplace has been a pet peeve of mine. Continuing to do something in a cumbersome, illogical, and inefficient way simply because that’s the way it’s always been done shows a lack of ingenuity and imagination. It also impedes innovation, an essential component of industry disruption.

If you’re going to make your mark in an industry, you don’t need someone on your staff who doesn’t question the norm. You need a productive malcontent.

What the Heck is a Productive Malcontent?

Productive MalcontentsI first heard this term last month when I attended TEDx San Antonio along with nearly 500 other people. I’d only ever watched TED talks online, so it was great to be able to go in person and feel the energy in the room given off not only by the speakers, but the crowd.

While I enjoyed several of the talks, I was especially intrigued to hear Myric Polhemus, Human Resources Director at H-E-B (a Texas-based grocery chain) speak about vulnerable leadership and productive malcontents.

He told a story of embarking on a corporate-endorsed project, and then having the validity of that project challenged by one of his employees, the one he calls a productive malcontent. She went into his office and asked whether the project was moving too fast, and whether Polhemus had considered the increased workload the project would mean for all the department employees, and how that would be mitigated.

At first, Polhemus confided, he was annoyed. Why couldn’t she just go along like everyone else? Why did she have to be so damn difficult all the time? And then, he said, he allowed himself to be vulnerable and really think about what she had said. Rather than taking the “I’m the boss, and what I say goes” attitude, he opened himself up to the possibility she might be right—and realized she was.

Polhemus explained that he calls this employee a productive malcontent because, although she may seem to be a thorn in his side, constantly questioning and challenging, she’s also one of his smartest, most productive employees. She’s also different from the kind of malcontent who is contrary for the sake of being contrary.

Good Malcontent, Bad Malcontent

Look around, and most of the information you’ll find that focuses on malcontents tells you they’re to be “dealt with,” “handled,” “eliminated,” and generally quashed in the workplace. They’re a cancerous tumor to be cut out so the rest of your team can continue to function harmoniously. Sure, this is true in many cases. We’ve all worked with those people, right? The ones who are never satisfied with anything, who criticize the company and management on a daily basis, and who never seem able to cooperate with their coworkers.

The difference between a run-of-the-mill malcontent and a productive malcontent is the source of that malcontentedness, how it’s expressed, and what results it generates.

It’s long been my feeling that unless you have an alternative solution to offer, you don’t get to complain about something you don’t like. You don’t agree with management’s latest decision? Fine. How would you do it differently? No ideas? Then be quiet and do your job until you have something of value to contribute. Complaining for the sake of complaining helps no one, and has no place in a business.

But think about the word malcontent for a moment and what it really means. It’s someone who’s not satisfied with the status quo, who sees a need and opportunity for change, and is quite often the catalyst for that change.

Add to that someone who does their job—and does it well—and you have a productive malcontent.

As annoying as she may have seemed, the H-E-B employee’s intentions were good. Had she not questioned what was going on, and had Polhemus not opened himself up to being challenged in that way, the project may have failed, or caused difficulty for the department. Instead, because she raised concerns and he listened to her, he got together with his team, and they made some changes to how the project was being carried out, resulting in much more effective execution, and a much happier team.

When that employee does challenge him, it’s with good intent, and with the offer of possible alternatives. And as was demonstrated by the story Polhemus shared, she’s very often right.

I think this example makes a lot of sense not just for managers, but for business owners and entrepreneurs. If you have someone like this on your team, are you allowing yourself to be vulnerable to their criticism in order to make positive changes? Or are you simply stifling them, and writing them off as a troublemaker or saboteur?

Business as Usual is Bad Business

Now, consider for a moment what might have happened if Polhemus’s employee were like my former steno pad-loving coworker. What if the H-E-B employee had not just kept her ideas to herself, but not even bothered to try to come up with new ideas, or new ways to do something? What if she had contented herself with doing things the way they’d always been done? What if Polhemus had blown her off and continued down the original path?

Few people start a business to maintain the status quo. Yes, you may see potential demonstrated by other successful businesses, but if you’re going to do things exactly the same way, or offer exactly the same product, you may as well just get hired by that company rather than take on the burden of starting your own.

Conversely, if you turn a deaf ear to your productive malcontents, they will inevitably leave your company to find a job where they’re heard and their opinions are valued. Or, you may just find yourself with a new competitor in the marketplace when your former employee starts their own business.

Productive Malcontents as Entrepreneurs

Despite its reputation as one of the top business schools in the country, Harvard didn’t always treat its entrepreneurial alumni very well. By the school’s own admission, entrepreneurship was considered by Harvard for many years to be a “personality defect,” and the general consensus was that an entrepreneur was “a chronic malcontent.”

While Harvard’s attitude toward its entrepreneurs may have changed, that sentiment is actually still quite true, only with a less negative connotation. How many entrepreneurs become entrepreneurs out of frustration with their job, company, or industry? How many people start their own companies so they can do things differently?

The appeal of being your own boss isn’t just taking vacation when you want, or not having to report to anyone. A big part of it is being able to do things the way you think they should be done, and not having anyone tell you “no,” something a productive malcontent hears a lot. Matt Mickiewicz, co-founder of 99Designs, has said, “The best disruptors are outsiders.”

So yes, starting a business, taking a different approach, finding a point of difference, and potentially disrupting an industry are all very appealing.

The thing is, you may not always be the one with all the ideas anymore.

You, as a productive-malcontent-turned-entrepreneur, may very well find yourself on the other side of the problem you faced as an employee. You may discover your own productive malcontent on your team. How you choose to handle it can set the tone for your business, and mean the difference between status quo and disruptor.

Until you can admit that, and be open to accepting the ideas of your productive malcontents, you may be denying yourself and your business a whole new level of success. Rather than disrupting your industry, and taking your place as an industry leader, you’ll have to settle for being lost in a sea of competitors, lookalikes, and wannabes, and becoming the very thing you were trying to escape—just another corporate stooge.

(When TEDx San Antonio posts video from the 2013 event, you should be able to find the talk by Myric Polhemus here, as well as many other interesting talks!)

Image Credit: Shutterstock Minerva Studio

How to Create an Interactive Dashboard

Interactive dashboards are basically the sliced bread of data visualization. They are dynamic, easy to use, and compatible with Mac and PC. This tutorial is best applied to clients who are tracking a domain’s rankings in multiple locations. But, these principles can be used to make many interactive dashboards. This tutorial was heavily inspired by Annie Cushing, author of Annielytics, and her interactive chart blog post. Alright, let’s get started!

If you would rather watch the tutorial, here it is:

For you readers out there, carry on. There will be links to the specific part of the video tutorial for each of these steps.

Collecting the Data

I first started this dashboard by exporting the ranking data from my grouped site Olive Garden. Once you’ve collected the ranking data from each of your cities, compile that data into one document.

step1_compile exported raw data

Next, grab the Keywords, Google rank, and Search Volume for each of the cities and add that data to one table in your Raw Data tab. Pro Tip: The Raw Data tab is sacrosanct, it should be kept free of formulas and charts. Save that for the Calculated Data tab.

step3_raw data tab

Calculate the Data

The first step in calculating the data is creating a list of cities. You can type this out manually, use a VLOOKUP, or just copy and paste.

step4_list of keywords

The second step is a little bit more labor intensive. First make sure that you have the Developer tab open. You have to select this tab to viewable through File > Options > Customize Ribbon. Then you will need to create a Combo Box using the Form Controls.

step5_make combo box_step2

Once you have drawn out the Combo Box, right click to select Format Control.

step6_select formatting combo box_step2

Now here is the fun part. Under the Control tab, select the Input range to be the list of cities you made earlier. (That will be the list that your Combo Box shows.) Next, select your output, or Cell link. Lastly, change the Drop down lines to 4 (because we only have four cities).

step7_inputs combo box_step2

The third step is to put in an INDEX formula. This formula will allow you to look up the Cell Link we set up earlier, and output from our Cities list. This means that when you select Chicago, IL on the Dashboard tab, it will output the text, “Chicago, IL” in that cell.

step8_index formula_step3

Collect Location Specific Data

Bring over the data from the Raw Data tab with a SUMIFS formula. Never worked with SUMIFS? No problem, just follow this handy-dandy image. I would recommend referencing the video tutorial for this bit.

SUMIFS have two criteria that need to be met to output the data you’re looking for. The first criteria in our SUMIFS will be finding the Rank number for the Keyword “italian restaurant”.

step9_sumifs rank_step4

The second criteria will look to make sure that Keyword matches the location in cell F4 (where our INDEX formula is).

step10_sumifs rank_step4

The second SUMIFS formula is exactly the same as the first except for in the “sum_range” you select “Table1[Volume]” instead of Rank.

Concatenation Formula

In this step you will perform a simple concatenation formula. It will combine the text string “Keyword Ranks & Search Volume for ” and the city that the user will select from the Combo Box (which is in cell F4).

step11_sumifs rank_step5

Create the Chart

Create the chart by navigating to the Insert tab and selecting Recommended Charts > All Charts > Combo Charts. Make the Rank data a Line with Markers chart, and the Volume a Clustered Column chart. Also, move the Rank to a Secondary Axis. Move the chart to the Dashboard tab.

step12_creating the chart_step6

Format the Chart

Now that the Rank data is on a secondary axis, reverse the order of the values. This will allow you to view the Rank data in the order that one is positive, and 100 is negative.

step13_format axis_step6

I like to remove the line and just leave the markers. You can do this by right-clicking on the line and clicking “Format Data Series”. Also, add in the Primary and Secondary Vertical Axis Titles. That way we know which axis is Rank data and which is Volume data.

step14_format lines_marker_step6

Add the Chart Title

This is where the chart title we made in the Calculated Data tab will come into play. We want our chart title to automatically update when a user selects a different city.

step15_format lines_marker_step6


Congratulations on making your first Interactive Dashboard!

Focus on a Glass Full of Reality and Empty of Unreasonable Envy

What thoughts come to mind in hearing mention of celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston?

Let’s take a look Pitt-related Google discussion results:

Brad has a new movie coming out; people want to know why he’s so ‘hot’; and bloggers wax poetic on how he and Angelina stay ‘sexy as ever.’  These are more than kind and positive sentiments related to the international star.

What about Jennifer Aniston, his former wife?  She’s inspiring conversations regarding preparation for her sexy role in current movie, We’re the Millers, a film with an above 80% ‘liked it’ rating and millions in box-office earnings.

Us vs. Them

It’s no secret.  The celebrities are doing well.  If we think about it, it’s likely better than we’re doing.  Amid a country hungry for ongoing entertainment news, it’s easy for Americans to compare themselves to the more rich and famous lives led by chronicled celebrities.

Upward social comparison prompts one to view themselves in relation to someone of superior social or economical standing, such as celebrities.  We want to be like them, and since this is genetically impossible, marketers look for other ways to convince us we can be like them.

However, if constant social cues remind us we are not alike, or at least not viewed to be as prestigious nor lead the lifestyle to go along with the adjective, are we really identifying with particular services and products as advertisers hope?

Advertisers align a product/service (A) with recognized and revered celebrities (B), hoping observers and consumers (C) assume the following logic:

If C desires to be like B (C=B), then C will eventually equal B because A+C and A+B occur.

The consumer becomes more like the celebrity due to the commonly shared/experienced product or service, which can be a cologne, shoe style, workout routine, religion, etc.

Do we actually make such associations?

Some sociological theories observe:

… a firm basis for arguing that advertisements featuring celebrities who closely resemble the potential consumers of the promoted product are more likely to serve their purpose.”

Hornstein, Fitch, and Holmes left wallets around Manhattan, fixed with $2, a note, and a return address, with differences regarding:

  • An articulate English writer versus a supposed foreigner
  • Positive, negative, and neutral tones of voice within

Letters penned by ‘foreigners’ resulted in a 30% wallet return rate, but those written by a ‘native’ using a positive or neutral tone garnered a 65% return rate, making researchers conclude people are more likely to act upon prompts involving those similar to them.

Celebrities and Associations

While only a select few of us will ever achieve the level of stardom similar to the likes of a Pitt or Aniston, advertisers are better off having us ‘compare’ ourselves to people aligned with a reasonable and realistic level of achievement.

Should makeup brands feature super-model faces, health-drink brands host many-muscled endorsers, or guitar advertisers tune ads around prodigies?

This past year, one weight-loss brand started using ordinary people in advertising rather than celebrities; their marketing team’s impetus adjacent to the closing thoughts of the social psychology researchers above:

It’s much easier for an observer to grow agreeable when behavior is ‘modeled’ by a person of similar aptitude and situation.

“We just feel like people don’t connect as much with celebrities…Because they know that perhaps the celebrities also may have had a personal trainer or a personal chef, which normal people don’t have.”


I think they’re brilliant because they feel authentic…They didn’t feel staged, they didn’t feel trite — they were all very believable, and that’s what’s going to make them resonate with people.”

If it makes you feel better, view two clips from Pitt and Aniston early days in film (Pitt was in B-movie, Cutting Class, and Aniston in the first Leprechaun movie.)  Even celebrities compare and contrast; some present moments are better than those of the past.

Reaching the Audience

Advertisers can make better impressions and save more ad dollars by emptying pursuits of celebrities and filling them with representations within the means of ‘the norm’ when aligning products, services, and sought market behaviors.

Is Google Webmaster Tools Ranking Data Useful for Tracking Your SEO Campaigns?

If you’re not already using Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), you may be missing out on some great data on how your sites are seen by Google. Whether it’s for notifications of malware being found, crawl issues, tools to check structured markup, or numerous other tools available in there it’s definitely worth using. They even offer a “Search Queries” report which is a very stripped down and basic way to check on how you’re ranking on a limited set of keywords. While that may suffice for some, it leaves a lot to be desired and is even potentially misleading data.

You Should Be Tracking Separate Geographic Locations

If you’re doing SEO for a company that relies on ranking well within localized results, it’s probably in your best interest to just ignore ranking data in GWT. Let’s say you have a chain of restaurants that are spread out across numerous cities. You should be tracking each city separately to make sure your SEO campaigns are working. Looking at the data as a whole will potentially be misleading and skewed. Sure, you can add location modifiers to a term and get somewhat of an idea but if you’re Famous Dave’s, wouldn’t you want to know where you’re at for [bbq restaurant] in each city you have restaurants?

Famous Dave's

GWT Doesn’t Differentiate Between Universal Results and Standard Organic Results

Did you know that the “Avg. Position” in GWT factors in universal results as a position? If you have an image that shows up in an image pack from time to time, that gets counted as a #1 ranking. Don’t get me wrong, that’s definitely not a bad spot to be in but it skews the data to the point where it’s unusable if you’re targeting typical organic rankings.

[Read more...]

New AuthorityLabs Features for Better Domain and Keyword Management

We recently launched a new interface and have had a lot of great feedback on the appearance and added features. Several of these features were added to save you time and to give you many new options for organizing an account. We feel that AuthorityLabs is now well ahead of other seo software when it comes to options for organizing your data and we will continue to add great new features that save you time and make SEO campaigns easier to monitor.

Named Groups

In the past, users have been able to group related domains within the AuthorityLabs interface. These groups have typically been used for monitoring competitors, multiple client domains, or to better organize lists of keywords into related topics. Groups were visually broken up within the interface and shown at the top of the domain dashboard. The next logical step was to allow these groups to be named, giving almost infinite possibilities for organizing and managing domains.

Named Groups

To group domains, select the checkbox next to the domains you want to group and use the “Group” button that shows up in the left side navigation. Once you have a group, you can edit the name by clicking the icon next to the current name of the group. The system defaults to “Unnamed Group” and all unnamed groups are listed at the end of the domain list.

Syncing Keywords

Syncing keywords across domains can be a huge time saver. If you’re tracking the same set of keywords across different domains or even the same domain for numerous locations, our syncing feature makes this a quick and painless task. Once you’ve grouped the domains you want to sync, select the checkbox next to each domain and click the “Sync” button that shows up in the left side navigation. This will merge all of the keywords in those domains and they will share the same list.


Compare Domains

One of the biggest feature requests we’ve had over the past few months is being able to compare rankings with competitor domains. This is now available once you have grouped and synced domains. Just click on the name of the group and you’ll be taken to a page comparing ranking data for all domains and keywords in the group. This doesn’t have to be limited to competitors either. If you’re tracking client domains across many different locations, this makes it easy to compare the performance of each location.

Compare Domains


Our new favorites feature just went live yesterday. We’ve taken feedback on how agencies and users with large numbers of domains are using the interface. Many times, a user only wants to focus on a small set of domains within the account. Maybe an account manager just wants the ranking data for their accounts or you’re currently focused on a specific campaign and don’t want to wade through dozens or hundreds of domains to see what is important.


To start using favorites, click the star icon in the far right column of the domain dashboard and you will see a “Favorite Domains” tab show up at the top of the interface. Use this and the “All Domains” tab to navigate back and forth between what is important and your entire account. Once you’ve enabled favorites, each time you load your account, your initial view will only be the list of favorites.


Disavow Links Tool Recap: Explanations and Tips

This past week at Pubcon Matt Cutts attended and announced the new Disavow Links Tool. SEO’s started speculating and forming opinions on it right away. Below we have collected a great group of articles about the Disavow Links Tool. However, first we have a video by Matt Cutts explaining the tool. We would love to know your opinions on the tool and what you feel Google’s reasons were for creating it.

A New Tool to Disavow Links

Google’s Webmaster Central’s Blog gives an explanation of the tool and answers some questions regarding the tool.

Google Launches Disavow Links Tool

Danny Sullivan was at Pubcon for the tool announcement by Matt Cutts and he reviews what Matt said and also gives suggestions on using the tool.

Google’s Disavow Link Tool: Their Best Spam Reporting Tool Yet

Barry Schwartz was also at the tool announcement at Pubcon and he gives you his opinion on what the tool will really be used for.

Google’s Disavow Tool – Take a Deep Breath

Dr. Pete breaks down how to determine if you need the tool and how the tool is used. Great post!

The Many Shades of Google’s Link Disavow Tool

Jennifer Slegg goes over what you need to know based on Matt Cutt’s comments at Pubcon.

Google’s Disavow Links Tool: First Impressions

Jayson DeMers offers his insights and goes over some very important questions regarding the tool.
Google Disavow Tool

Aaron Wall (SEO Book) gives his take and suggestions on the tool.

Will Google’s Link Disavow Tool Come Back To Haunt Webmasters?

Chris Crum gives his thoughts and opinions and also discusses a question Danny asked Matt at the tool announcement. It was a great question with the typical Google response.

Disavow Me and My Blog, Google – I Don’t Give a Sh*t!

Sarah Arrow tells it like it is and makes some fantastic points!

The Disavow Tool Works! Real Sites, Real Recoveries!

Lots to learn from Tim Grice; go read and learn about penalties, link audits and the disavow tool.