Four signs you’re drinking too much of your company’s Kool Aid, and how to stop

Stop me if this sounds familiar. A product lead takes you through a very optimistic presentation or an executive goes off on a rant about how no one outside the company walls gets it. All you can think to yourself is “wow, they’re really drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Kool-Aid drinkers are people who have lost perspective. They’re hype-believers who fail to see what is so glaringly obvious to you: that the product or service they want to promote isn’t all that different from the competition, falls short of customer expectations, or only matters to a very small group of people.

There are two types of drinkers, in my experience. The first type starts chugging the minute they walk in the door. They’re excited and they can’t help it. It’s embedded in their DNA. The second type is more gradual – afflicting people who once carried a healthy skepticism, but have worked too long in an environment where incremental change is revolutionary, and “me too” feels ground-breaking.  

Like bad driving, a loss of perspective is a trait we tend to easily spot in others, but rarely in ourselves. And that’s dangerous, because as we know, the best communicators are the ones who view things objectively – sometimes skeptically – and speak truth to power.

I’ve sipped from time to time, I’ll admit. And I bet you have too. In fact, you may be drinking the Kool Aid right now without even realizing it. Here are warning signs to watch for, what to do about them.

1.      Everyone around me is doing it wrong!

You’re a PR leader inside a big company. Pitches keep falling flat. Blog posts aren’t resonating. And your first reaction is that the team isn’t positioning/pitching/understanding it properly. Now failure *could* mean that there actually is a disconnect. But if you’re pointing the finger at your people too much, and asking why they didn’t cover all the minute details, or didn’t put every last fact in the media pitch, then it’s time to check your expectations. A cold hard look at what you’re promoting is a good idea here, because you may be drinking Kool Aid. Consider changing course.

2.      All I get is pushback!

Hey, it could be that you have an agency that’s not being bold or creative with their thinking, or a team member that always has a reason to not do something. Or, maybe all the resistance, reluctance and rolling eyes should be telling you something else. That they’re right, and you’re not. Consider getting someone from outside your team or department to take a look at the challenge you’re facing. A trusted second opinion can save you work, and even embarrassment!

3.      But I’m in total agreement with my marketing and product teams!

Going to work each day is so much easier when everyone can simply high-five each other. Being on the same page is wonderful. And hey, it can happen. But I’d wager that any communications professional who nods their heads in agreement with every idea or opinion born elsewhere in the company is either not doing their job correctly, or drinking away. If all you’re getting is violent agreement with your viewpoint, it may be time for an outside perspective. Or learn to say no. Too many nodding heads likely played some role in bringing Pepsi’s infamous Jenner ad to life. Note that in the SNL parody, the director bails… after getting a second opinion.

4.      I love all these other ideas, but let’s focus on this instead

I live in the world. I know sometimes you have to roll a big boulder up a steep hill because it just must be done. But if you’re annoyed because all the people around you keep wanting to go in different directions, and never focus on that thing you keep coming back to, then ask yourself if you really have to be doing that thing. It may be that your idea is tone-deaf, and your team is concerned you’re not open to the feedback. This actually could be hinting at a broader culture problem. It might be time to sit down with the group, and have a frank and direct discussion about how you exchange ideas with each other.

And finally...

Remember, always trust your instincts. That little voice saying “uh-oh” when you’re being briefed on something shouldn’t be ignored. When something sounds irrelevant, unoriginal or boring when you’re being told to promote it, it probably is! Speak up.

You may not always get your way, but losing the odd battle is better than always pouring yourself another glass of Kool Aid. It can sometimes be tough to recover a healthy perspective once you’ve lost it, so it’s worth fighting for it!