What Have You Done for Us Lately?

Greetings. I often find myself making lists as a useful way to understand complicated things or as a starting point for sorting out the pluses and minuses of new opportunities. And I’ve also found lists to be a helpful tool in setting priorities and, hopefully, getting the most important stuff done.

ancient greece

So amid the current debate about “bailing out” the Greek economy, I thought it might be fun to make a list titled “Greek Contributions to the World as We Know It” or as “I” have come to know it. A list that might put things in a bit more perspective as a world full of experts, economists, pundits, and comedians continue to debate the pluses and minuses of giving this once proud nation another chance to mend its modern economic ways. After all, it struck me as somewhat sad that one of the “cradles of civilization” was now viewed by most people as the poster child for economic irresponsibility and the birthplace of some really exceptional yogurt.

And here are the things I came up with:

Greek Contributions to the World as We Know It

– democracy

– the concept of citizenship

– Socrates and the importance of asking important questions

– Plato and the value of idealism

– Aristotle and the basis for the scientific method

– the olympic games

– mythology

– theatre as well as tragedies and comedies 

– Aesop’s fables

– innovations in art and especially sculpture

– the Trojan Horse

– cannons

– trial by jury

– Pythagoras and his theorem

– Euclid and geometry

– Archimedes

– cartography and the first map of the world

– Hippocrates, his oath, and the foundations of modern medicine

– classical architecture and the Acropolis

– columns

– central heating

– the shower

– the lighthouse

– the first weather station

– stadiums

– the water mill

– automatic doors

– the alarm clock

– the odometer

– the first robots

– the gyro sandwich, moussaka, and spanakopita

– a beautiful setting for the movie version of “Mamma Mia”

So while I am not smart enough to know what kind of “bail out” the European Union (or the rest of us) should provide to Greece and its citizens, or what changes they should make to get their economy in order, I am pretty certain that we owe Greece a considerable debt of gratitude for many of the things we hold dear.

And I am also sure that Greece’s challenges have at least one important lesson for all of us in addition to reminding us of the value of living within our means. It is the powerful notion that we are all likely to be judged by what we have done for others lately. It’s a notion that suggests, in business at least, that we can never rest on our laurels (also an idea given to us by the Greeks) and that we must always be keenly focused on understanding and delivering the greatest possible value to those we have the privilege to serve. For while it is not entirely fair, it is the way that the world works…and at an ever faster pace.

We win in business and in life when we appreciate and honor those around us, even when they have hit a bit of a dry spell. And when we figure out how to enable them to once again innovate and rediscover their mojo (which, for all I know, might also have its roots in ancient Greece).

Cheers! (or should I say Opa!)

Awesome, Scary, or Something in Between

Greetings. Giant thanks to my dear friend (and wonderful consultant) Becky Ripley for letting me know about a remarkable innovation that might be a sign that the future, or the end of civilization as we know it, has arrived. All with the simple touch of a finger.

Yes, Tesco’s Homeplus store in Seoul, Korea has proudly accepted the crown as the world’s first virtual store that is actually a physical store. Sound a bit confusing? Well it certainly might be for those of you who think of websites like Amazon.com, Zappos, eBay, and Etsy as “virtual” stores, i.e., stores that exist in what most of us tend to think of as the virtual world of commerce. A place where our favorite products are only a few keystrokes and a UPS truck ride (or drone flight) away. A place where colorful images, clever descriptions, easy price comparisons, and the promise of free shipping enable us to buy anything from books to bicycles to trips around the world without ever having to leave the comfort of our offices or kitchen tables. But imagine walking into an actual store where you can simply touch a screen with pictures of actual products and then have your entire actual order, or the sum total of all of your touches, appear at the checkout counter packed in actual bags that are ready for you to actually take home.

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Amazing. Weird. Awesome. Scary. Or something in between.

I must admit that I actually like the act of shopping in a physical store. Though not all of the time. Yet there is something appealing about being surrounded by actual products as they compete for my attention. And there’s also something about being able to hold them in my hands and gauge their substance as I study their list of mind-numbing benefits, features, calories, and ingredients.

But maybe the folks at Tesco are on to a different way of experiencing products that is all about merging our growing love of technology and ease of buying with the human desire to still be out there in the public marketplace surrounded by other actual shoppers. Or maybe this experiment is simply a powerful reminder that in today’s economy there is no end to the variety of business models that we might imagine.

We win in business and in life when we challenge ourselves to do more than simply lift a finger. And when we never stop wondering how to deliver real value to a changing world of customers and technology.

Cheers!

Saved by a Drone

Greetings. Most of us have a slightly skewed image of drones. Until recently we thought of them primarily as remarkable and lethal weapons of warfare…sleek, stealth, and precise unpersoned aircraft that could be launched from literally anywhere with the touch of a single key stroke and sent into unfamiliar territory to blow up a building or a bad guy in a fast-moving car. And hopefully with little or no collateral damage. Just like in a video game.

More recently we have been encouraged to imagine them as the handiest of personal assistants, cleverly dispatching our parcels with the greatest of ease for companies like Amazon.com in their quest to use technology to meet an insatiable desire for ever quicker response times. Need a new book or Fido’s vitamins this afternoon? No problem. We’ll fly them from the closest distribution center to your front porch in thirty minutes or less.

Super cool. I guess.

But what if drones could do more than blow things up and deliver packages? What if they could actually save lives?

In fact, they can. And one awesome application of drone technology is the work of Alec Mormot, a graduate student in industrial design at TU Delft University in the Netherlands, who has created a drone with a built-in defibrillator that can not only be sent quickly to the aid of someone experiencing a heart attack but also give their companion clear and effective guidance on how to zap them back to life. Take a look at his innovation in the video below and you will quickly appreciate the power of this idea, the level of thought that has gone into every detail, and the greater potential for drones as tools for delivering remarkable good…

It strikes me that his idea is just a starting point for thinking about all of the ways that drones might be designed and used to provide emergency services that include medical care. And it might be a fun exercise for you and your colleagues to imagine how this technology might enhance the work that you do.

We win in business and in life when we see the real potential of technology in not only making things easier for all of us, but also saving our lives.

Cheers!

The Snowball Effect

Greetings. Many of us were either shocked or amused a few days ago when Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe brought a snowball to the floor of the United States Senate, threw it to a colleague, and offered this simple act as proof that climate change was a myth. How else might one explain that it was still cold enough to snow in late February right here in the nation’s capital? The fact that Inhofe is a long-time denier of climate change is not surprising to those who follow American politics. The reality that he is now chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee should be cause for greater concern as he is in a rather influential position when it comes to U.S. environmental policy.

But this isn’t really a post about climate change or the political and/or personal views of a senator from a state that’s economy relies heavily on fossil fuels. Or one man making a confused connection between the weather in Washington, D.C. on one particular day and the evolving climate around the globe. Rather it’s a post about how leaders and organizations too often think and act based on their own misguided beliefs and an unwillingness to understand and acknowledge the facts. Facts about the market, the changing needs and desires of current and prospective customers, the quality and value of their products or services, or the quality and value of the customer experiences they provide. Facts about innovation, how it occurs, and how to unlock the real genius in people at all levels of their enterprises. Facts about technology, the internet, new and emerging business models, and how easy it has become for clever folks from different industries, backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life to literally change the game in all of our industries overnight by figuring out how to create significantly greater value at significantly lower cost.

In turns out that Inhofe is not alone in denying what is really happening and, while we can’t easily change his worldview, we have to be willing to change our own views of the world. Continually. By paying attention to the marketplace and the offerings of our best and newest competitors. By embracing and capitalizing on the power of the Web, the Cloud, mobility, social media, and a range of other transforming technologies. By being open to a much wider set of ideas and inspirations from a much wider set of people…including people who don’t really understand or appreciate the way we’ve always done things and how our world has always operated.

The days of hiding behind “business as usual,” of milking the cash cows we know best, and of thinking that we can keep believing in our own outdated beliefs, are over for practically every business on earth. And if we need more proof we can simply look at the once-remarkable firms in our own industries that failed to keep up with the times. Or we can look at once remarkable companies like Borders, Blockbuster, Radio Shack, and even McDonald’s that refused to accept the fact that the world around them was changing and it was time to change along with it and place new bets on a new and evolving future.

A senator, a snowball, and a sad but urgent wake up call for all of us to get our facts straight and our actions right in order to thrive, prosper, and remain relevant.

It turns out there is a not-so-subtle difference between being innovative based on the facts and being innovative with the facts.

Senator Inhofe CSPAN

We win in business and in life when we pay attention to the world around us. And when we use facts and reality to guide our most innovative and inspired thinking.

Cheers!

Digging Deeper for Innovation

Greetings. It’s hard to resist writing about what appears to be an important breakthrough in antibiotics that was reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature. After all, antibiotics are vital to our ability to fight infections. Yet many bacteria have become increasingly clever and increasingly resistant to the drugs we commonly rely on. So reports of a new drug called Teixobactin, that is potentially resistance-proof and seems capable of curing very severe infections without worrying side effects, is very encouraging news.

It is also exciting because it once again suggests the power of stretching our thinking to new places and new terrains in order to unlock breakthrough ideas. Terrains that include dirt or more specifically microbes that were discovered in “soil bacterium just beneath the surface of a grassy field in Maine.” These microbes are in a constant battle to survive and their unique skill in fighting could be the key to successfully battling many of the illnesses that threaten us including some seemingly intractable diseases. And while Teixobactin has not been tested in humans yet there is real cause for optimism about its potential.

As reported in the New York Times, researchers believe that the key to Teixobactin’s success is its ability to attack bacteria “by blocking fatty molecules needed to build cell walls.” This is a very different approach than current antibiotics which target the proteins in bacteria. These proteins, and the genes that encode them, seem quite capable of adapting and eventually resisting medicines designed to control them.

For most of our companies and organizations, our success is also dependent on our ability to continually look for new and better ways to respond to threats, opportunities, and the challenges of new and existing competitors. Competitors who are always looking to get around our best efforts by creating new offerings, experiences, or business models. And our ability to respond and innovate requires us to cast a much wider net and to seek new ideas and approaches from other industries, walks of life, strangers, and even places where we might have to get a bit dirty.

Antibiotics from Dirt

Which begs the question, where will you look for new ideas and possibilities?

We win in business and in life when we dare to dig deeper in our quest for new ideas that can change the lives of those we serve.

Cheers!