Curiosity – Vital to Businesses of All Sizes

Greetings. Last Thursday I had the pleasure of giving a relatively short presentation on innovation, curiosity, and the importance of strangers for the Small Business Network here in Maryland. The audience was an interesting and quite diverse group of business owners and potential entrepreneurs who were engaged, enthusiastic, and eager to gain some new ideas about how to deliver greater value and jumpstart their own success.

Needless to say, I was excited to share and exchange ideas about why the most successful companies are the ones that inspire all of their people to consistently take a fresh look at the world around them. I was also excited to challenge everyone to think about how their companies and organizations could be different in ways that really matter, and how they could consistently bring the best new ideas, products, services, solutions, and business practices to their customers. Ideas, products, services, solutions, and practices that would make customers smarter, more capable, more effective, more efficient, more complete, more inspired, and more innovative themselves. Ideas, products, services, solutions, and practices that would make their customer’s world more “awesome” to quote my favorite song from the original Lego movie. Ideas, products, services, solutions, and practice that were most likely to be sparked by looking at the world around us with fresh eyes and by being curious about the wisdom and best practices of folks in other industries, other walks of life, other places, and even other cultures.

And as many of you have asked to see one of my talks, I thought you might find this one interesting and quick. It is just a bit more than 20 minutes…which is all the time they gave me. A constrain that forced me to be focused and probably talk a bit faster than I might normally.

In any event, I hope that you find it useful and (if you do) please feel free to share it with friends, colleagues, neighbors, and even strangers as I am continuing to spread the word, especially in these confusing times, about the essential value of outsiders in driving innovation and enhancing our ongoing success as individuals, organizations and nations…

Cheers!

To a New Year Filled With Success

Greetings. While it is hard to believe that 2017 is already here, the start of the New Year provides a great opportunity to reconnect and thank you for being part of the life of our company in 2016.

It also seems, in these less than certain times, like the perfect moment to start a new conversation about the importance, or rather the “necessity,” of being curious and open-minded in the year ahead—a year that will be filled with remarkable possibilities for innovation and growth if we are able to see the best in everyone around us.

In a world in which new ideas and business models are quickly changing our industries and organizations, we will all need to step outside our comfort zones in order to re-imagine how we can deliver greater value to the customers, employees, and shareholders we have the privilege to serve. And the best way to do this is by being more open to the world around us and more willing to connect with, and learn from, people with different ideas, insights, backgrounds, and points of view.

2017 image

So here’s hoping that you and your colleagues will take the time to explore and connect with new people and new ways of thinking in the year ahead. And if you could use a little help in sparking a new conversation in your company or organization, please do not hesitate to ask.

But most importantly, giant thanks again for everything you have taught me during the past twelve months and best wishes for your most open and successful year yet!

Cheers,

Alan

The Power of Similarities and Differences

Greetings. In the two years since “The Necessity of Strangers” was published, I have been struck by the willingness of audiences around the U.S. and the world to embrace a simple and (I believe) important idea…

That our similarities are the glue that should bring us together, and our differences are the raw materials that should enable us to learn, grow, innovate, and do remarkable things.

But recent news, and the responses of some politicians to it, suggests that we still struggle to value and appreciate people who are different than us. People with different religions. People of different colors. People from different parts of the world. People of different generations. People with difference sexual orientations. People with different knowledge and training. People who look at the world, or at least some important aspect of it, with different understanding. Even though almost all of them wake up each day with same hopes, dreams, and fears that we have.

We seem programmed to hone in on differences as though they are way more essential or predictive of someone’s worth than our similarities.

But what if we were to focus on the essence of what makes others who they are? People who care deeply about family and community. People who are working hard to create a better life for their children and themselves. People who desire to make a positive difference and live lives of meaning. People who find joy in simple and important things. People who believe in finding the goodness in others. People who believe in a god (or gods) that is (are) just. The overwhelming majority of people who are a lot like us when we dare to be at our best.

So I was struck by the following video that our daughter Carly shared today titled “Meet a Muslim.” A video that strikes at the heart of what it means to be human. A video that is really about all of us and what is possible if we choose to look at others based first on what we have in common.

It turns out the biggest challenge facing all of our companies, organizations, and societies is not a lack of knowledge or expertise. It is a lack of openness to other people, their ideas, and their humanity. And a lack of appreciation for the necessity of strangers and the power of what we can accomplish together when we dare to think differently.

Cheers!

Gadgets That Have Changed Our Lives

Greetings. Time magazine has just come out with its list of “The 50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time” and it is definitely a blast from the past (and present). It is also a really fun way to think about innovations that have shaped our lives and changed the way that we connect, explore, listen, picture, learn, play, make, share, and entertain ourselves.

As you go through the article and the gadgets and their brief histories, try to think about why each of these inventions generated so much interest and what lessons they offer in how you and your colleagues can create even greater interest and value in the products, services, and solutions you offer. Then imagine how some of the most recent gadgets, especially those that deal with connecting and educating people, might be used to enhance your work and build an even stronger bond with your customers, team members, and stakeholders.

regency-transistor-radio

But most importantly, have fun taking a stroll through this brief history of every day technology.

And in case you are pressed for time, here are the Top Ten…

10. The Hitachi “Magic Wand” (1968)

Let’s just say that this is the only item on Time’s list that is not always intended for children of all ages.

9. The Apple iPod (2001)

The device that changed the way a new generation consumed music and made Apple and the iTunes Store the world’s biggest music retailer.

8. The Kodak Brownie Camera (1900)

Talk about a revolution, Kodak put photography within everyone’s grasp 116 years ago when it made it possible for the world to capture and share the moments of our lives.

7. The Regency TR-1 Transistor Radio (1954)

It is fun to think back to countless evenings as a child when I fell asleep listening to San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s baseball games with my transistor radio under my pillow. It is also fun to think about how we tell our kids today to put away their slightly more versatile electronic devices and go to sleep.

6. The Victrola Record Player (1906)

While the phonograph was invented in 1877, the Victrola was the first record player to bring classical music and opera to homes around the U.S. and the world.

5. The IBM Model 5150 (1981)

Remember the day when almost everyone had an IBM PC or an “IBM Compatible” computer running the DOS operating system? And to think it wasn’t that long ago!

4. The Sony Walkman (1979)

I fondly recall having my first Walkman at the University of Michigan and delighting in my ability to take my music anywhere, in multiples of twelve songs. All by the same artist. I was literally a party waiting to happen! I also fondly recall trying to explain to our kids who have grown up in the digital age, why this large, limited, and somewhat lame gadget was so cool and revolutionary.

3. The Apple Macintosh (1984)

Bold, brash, intuitive, and launched with much fanfare and symbolism in 1984. While it might not have been what George Orwell intended, the first Mac would begin to reframe our connection to “thinking” machines.

2. The Sony Trinitron (1968)

While it wasn’t the first TV or the first color TV, the Trinitron would raise the state-of-the-art in televisions and establish Sony’s place as a global leader in consumer technology.

And Number One is…

1. The Apple iPhone (2007)

An elegant and user-friendly device that would revolutionize our notion of phones and smart phones, and that today places more apps and more computing power in the palm of our hands than a major university computer center did when I was going to college.

It is an intriguing list and an interesting lesson in modern history. And except for missing the waffle iron, twist top bottle, nose hair trimmer, and Popeil’s “Pocket Fisherman,” I would have to say that the folks at Time are pretty spot on in capturing the gadgets that have shaped our lives.

Popeil

Cheers!

The Power of Freshness

Greetings. If you would like to be totally inspired about the real power of music, and the real potential of life, work, and learning, then commit to spending fifty minutes listening to the BBC’s recent interview with Chinese pianist Lang Lang. But you will have to hurry because it is only up on their website for the next 26 days.

By way of background, Lang Lang was a child prodigy and is now one of the world’s foremost and most dynamic classical pianists. But he is also, at the age of 33, a renowned teacher, United Nations cultural ambassador, and remarkable voice for the power of learning across cultures, generations, and genres. And his thoughts about how we continue to stretch, grow, and stay fresh, focused on music but with much broader implications, are worth our time and attention.

In listening to the interview I was struck by his passion for a wide range of musical traditions, his sense of why so many young people never get past the early stages of learning (an instrument like piano), his thoughts on why being perfect is overrated, why it is important to “look for the notes between the notes,” and his belief that the greatest composers throughout history would probably delight in the knowledge that future generations were passionate about their music but also willing to try to reinterpret it. And the more I listened to his words and his playing, the more I felt the value of his insights and their broader application to life, business, and innovation.

Lang Lang, Piano / 18.02.2010 / Koelner Philharmonie

All of us and all of our organizations need to dare to try new things, figure out how to not become discouraged when the going gets tough, find joy in the work we do, and build on the ideas and brilliance of others.

Here is a fascinating excerpt on the power and necessity of keeping music (and whatever we work on) fresh and new…

“In music we need to always remind ourself why you play the piece over and over and over it again. You forget about the freshness. You really forget why we are loving music so much. You know. Because you repeated the same thing so much.

What I think we need to do is always play the music but try to imagine in a different eyes everyday. Different angle. And then when you play this piece you feel more like ‘Oh, it is quite fresh.’ I know the piece, but I don’t really know the piece. Today is my first time playing it. You always need to have that and if you start repeating the same thing you become, what you call, ‘autopilot.’ And that’s the worst part because then it’s not art anymore. It became kind of like ‘whatever.’ ‘Whatever’ in music is the danger. It’s the biggest danger.”

Think about how this might apply to your company and how you can avoid the danger of your work becoming ‘whatever.’

And if you would like to see and hear one way to avoid ‘whatever,’ check out Lang Lang’s collaboration with Metallica at the 56th Grammy Awards.

We win in business and in life when we approach the things that matter with different eyes and from different angles. And when we are open to learning from others and from different walks of life.

Cheers!