Giving Thanks

Greetings. Another Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and another chance to pause, if only for a weekend, to think about all of the people who have made a difference in my life during the past year. Needless to say, friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and customers are high on my list this year and every year. You are the anchors in so many parts of my work and my personal, social, and civic life. You are the folks I count on for support, encouragement, good humor, thoughtful conversations, new opportunities to learn, grow, and make a difference, as well as great suggestions for the best books, articles, and blogs to read, the most compelling movies, plays, and concerts to attend, the coolest new restaurants to check out, and the best places to visit across town and around the globe. And you were particularly important to me during the second half of this year while I was recovering and re-energizing after my hiking accident in Canada. But I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank a lot of strangers for making this year so meaningful. New neighbors I met while taking our dog Vincent for a walk. New customers who welcomed me into their organizations to exchange ideas and spark fresh thinking together about the power of innovation. New nonprofit organizations that gave me the opportunity to volunteer and play a very small role in their important efforts to change the trajectory for kids and adults in our community. New students who shared their energy and curiosity in the classes I taught at the University of Maryland, Georgetown University, and a wide range of corporations.

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I was truly blessed this year to have lots of awesome people enter my life and stretch my understanding and sense of possibilities.

And, of course, another giant thank you to some wonderful strangers who came to my rescue in the Rockies at the beginning of June and whose kindness and skill turned a difficult situation into new friendships and a wonderful affirmation of humanity at its best. I’m delighted to report that I am back on two feet again and will never again taking walking for granted.

Friends + Strangers = Greater Success

Friends and strangers. Just the right combination to help us learn, grow, innovate, and try our best to make a difference in the things that matter most.

Cheers!

To a Year of Innovation and Strangers

Greetings.  The start of each new year is a great time to stretch all of our thinking about a world of new possibilities.  A time to imagine new initiatives and offerings that will deliver even greater value to the customers, employees, and shareholders we have the privilege to serve.  A time to challenge conventional wisdom and even reinvent the way our businesses or industries operate.  And a time to reach out and connect with people and organizations that are very different than we are–people and organizations with very different ideas, perspectives, ways of doing the things that matter most, and even different dreams.

In September my newest book titled The Necessity of Strangers will be coming out, and in the year ahead I’d like to challenge you to make strangers–i.e., people you don’t already know and who could be very different than you–an important part of your learning and action.  To connect with people around the corner and around the world who might hold the key to innovation and your greater success. To step out of your comfort zones and look across disciplines and cultures for new insights into the big questions, challenges, and opportunities your business faces. To look to make even stronger connections with the customers and colleagues you might not know very well.

And to approach each day with sense of curiosity and greater openness to finding new and more powerful sources of inspiration.

In a world filled with strangers and remarkable possibilities.

I always begin each year with a bit of inspiration from our children–Sara, Carly, and Noah (shown below outside Fiskekyrkan or “The Fish Church” in Goteborg, Sweden)–who continually remind me of the value of being open to new people and new experiences.  And I recall fondly one time when Carly was in fourth grade and we were taking our morning walk to the school bus stop.  On that particular day a fellow walked by who seemed somewhat odd and more than slightly disheveled.  A fellow we had never seen in our quiet neighborhood before.  And once we were out of listening distance, I quickly turned to Carly and reminded her of the importance of not talking to strangers.  It was sensible advice my parents had given me in far less uncertain times.

To which Carly quickly replied:

“But Papa, if I don’t talk to strangers how will I ever make new friends?  And, how will I ever learn new things?”

They were words that I now think about nearly every day, and words that inspired my new book and my ongoing commitment to help our customers and my readers to find value and even genius in people they don’t yet know.

With a bit of (appropriate) caution.

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We win in business and in life when we explore and connect with new people, new ideas, and new possibilities.  So here’s to your strangest and most successful year yet!

Cheers!

The Importance of Different

Greetings.  There are not a lot of advantages to living in a place with plenty of traffic, especially when it can take two hours to drive twenty miles during rush hour.  But there are definitely a few.  One is the chance to listen to a book on tape or a favorite channel on SiriusXM.  Yes, I’m hooked on satellite radio after only a month and a half of my free trial.  Another is the opportunity to have some “alone” time after a busy day, surrounded by thousands of one’s closest strangers who are in various stages of enjoying their own “alone” time.  And a third is the chance to see, and think about, some odd but occasionally inspiring bummer stickers.  It’s a perk that is particularly engaging when stuck in bummer-to-bummer traffic.

So yesterday as I got stuck rounding the Capital Beltway, I happened to notice the following idea:

DIFFERENT IS NOT ANOTHER WORD FOR WRONG.

Simple enough.

Yet an important reminder of the real challenge of reaching our full potential as companies and individuals.  Because, try as we might, most of us–and most of the organizations we work in–have a real aversion to “DIFFERENT.”  Different people. Different ideas.  Different ways of doing things.  Different opportunties.  Different points of view.  As a result, we tend to hang out with roughly the same people–i.e., people who are a lot like us.  And we tend to be most comfortable with ideas that fit our current understanding.  And we tend to prefer to do things the same way we’ve always done them–with a few minor tweaks or a few incremental changes along the way.  And we tend to be most interested in new opportunities that are just like the opportunities we’ve pursued in the past–similar jobs, similar collaborations, similar investments, and so on.  And we tend to be less open, the older we get, to different perspectives and points of view.

All because we equate “different” with being “wrong” or at best “less than equal.” Even when we should realize that different could be the real key to our success.

It turns out that no one ever did anything remarkable by being the same.

And no one ever stood out from the pack by fitting in.

And no one ever changed the world by daring to not make waves.

In fact, as we begin 2013, DIFFERENT should be our mantra.  Being different in ways that really matter to our companies, organizations, and the customers we have the privilege to serve.

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We win in business and in life when we choose to appreciate people who are different than us and ideas that are different than the ones we hold dear.  And when we take the time to notice a bumper sticker on the car and the world right in front of our eyes.

Cheers and have a great and different start to the year ahead!

Remembering 2012

Greetings.  As 2012 winds down, it’s fun to look back at a few of the year’s most interesting innovations…

While I tend to focus my work and writing on new ideas in the worlds of business and organizations, I would be remiss if I didn’t begin with the government-based innovation that has captivated America for the past several months–affectionately known as the “Fiscal Cliff.”  It’s a political innovation so powerful that it threatens to throw the U.S. and global economies into a new recession.  And, at the time of this blog post, the very people who had created the cliff and were waiting until the very last minute to come up with a less than satisfactory solution, were also hard at work trying to look thoughtful, caring, and busy.

On the technology front, 2012 was a year marked by the ever-growing promise of mobility and the increasing power of the internet.  New and cooler mobile devices seemed to be announced almost every week–highlighted by the arrival of Apple’siPhone 5, a bunch of new, more powerful, and more interactive Android phones, the iPad Mini, and the Microsoft “Surface.”  And the number of totally or at least partially, amazing apps for these devices seemed to expand at a faster rate than the universe itself.  In fact, many people began envisioning lives based almost entirely on the use of smartphones and some futurists even suggested that we were getting close to the day when these devices would actually be implanted into our bodies. Until then, however, we might have to be content with serving as guinea pigs in the personal assistant battle between the totally frustrating and over-hyped Siri and the promising new Google Voice Search.

As for the web, it continued to grow as a place for commerce, managing business processes, and living our social and personal lives with companies like Amazon, Salesforce.com, Pinterest, and Instagram capturing even greater market share and attention.  And a growing number of leading retailers and other brick-and-mortar businesses spent much of the year trying to figure out how to compete in a world turned upside down by the ease of clicking and the availability of nearly complete information.

On the automotive front, electric cars were all the rage even if very few people were buying them.  The one exception was the long-awaited all-electric Tesla Model Ssupercar which made its debut to rave reviews.  It proved to be a wonder of design and technology and as soon as I find an extra $100,000 under the mattress I will sign up to buy one.

Other innovations that caught our attention this year include Izhar Gafni’s $20 cardboard bicycle, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, LiquiGlide, advances in 3D printing including the Formlabs’ Form 1 and the MakerBot Replicator 2, the Black & Decker Max Gyro motion-activated screwdriver, the Eliodomestico solar water distiller, Goodyear’s new self-inflating tires, and the NASA Curiosity Rover.

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Have a wonderful New Year wherever you are and we’ll see you in 2013…

Cheers!

Time For Change

Greetings.  It is hard to write this week or to find words or a business topic that matter in the face of the unbearable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  And even harder to imagine what an entire community of parents, siblings, grandparents, family, friends, and neighbors will do to cope with the loss of their loved ones–especially their children.

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We are all diminished more than we will ever know by the sudden loss of all their smiles, their enthusiasm, laughter, and genius that will never have the chance to flourish.  And if we can’t, as a society, finally find a sane response to the plague of gun violence now, we will miss the sad but important opportunity to acknowledge that each of their lives mattered.  And we will miss the chance to show that we are a nation that really does care–a nation that believes more fully in the safety of its people than in the right of gun manufacturers, lobbyists, and gutless members of Congress to sell assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons to citizens.

Last year their were more 10,000 murders in the U.S. involving guns.

Last year there were 18 murders in the United Kingdom involving guns.  Faced with their own school “massacre” in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, the people and government of the U.K. chose to change the accessibility of guns in their lives.  Do we have the moral and political will to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens, hunters, and especially our children?

I often write about the power of individuals and groups to make remarkable things happen against the greatest of odds and the most powerful competitors.

Now is such a time.