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!

How Amazing is That?

Greetings. On a recent visit to a veterinarian’s office a bright red brochure caught my eye. A brochure that promised to solve one of the most important challenges of dog ownership…keeping Fido’s, or in our case Vincent’s, teeth as clean and healthy as possible. For while we have taught Vincent to sit, stay, lie down, be gentle, pick up the Wall Street Journal from curb, stay off of the furniture, watch English Premier League soccer games with focus and passion, and remain calm when the mailman or UPS driver knock on the door, we have somehow failed to teach him how to brush his own teeth. And, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure that this skill was within his grasp.

How to Teach Your Dog

So when the folks at Milk Bone promised to solve this problem for us, my ears jumped straight up as though someone had just offered me a peanut butter-coated biscuit or the world’s largest squirrel had just appeared outside the back door. And I quickly imagined placing a new soft bristle brush in his furry little paw and then demonstrating the proper technique for keeping his adorable canines all pearly white. (Yes dogs and humans have “canine” teeth!…but I digress.) I also imagined taking Vincent to CVS where he could pick out his favorite brand of salmon-flavored toothpaste along with a spool of rabbit-flavored floss. That is until I actually opened the brochure and discovered that the innovative folks at Milk Bone were simply being clever marketers of a clever new dog treat designed to remove tartar, plaque, and halitosis (a.k.a., dog breath). Simply by chewing on. And that these benefits had somewhat miraculously been “proven in clinical trials.”

Not quite as impressive as teaching a world of dogs to actually brush their teeth. But it got my attention.

And it struck me that all of us, and all of the companies and organizations we work for, have the same ability to make remarkable promises that we could keep in slightly less remarkable but “clinically proven” ways.

So why not spend a few moments thinking about a new and bold promise that would really matter to the customers you have the privilege to serve. Then follow it up with a very creative and engaging way to solve it that gets their attention and inspires them to want to know more. After all, a big part of marketing and business success is the act of starting a conversation.

We win in business and in life when we get the attention of others. And when we use that attention to deliver on a promise that really matters.

Cheers!

Getting “Out of the Box”

Greetings. While I am keen on the importance of strangers in our work and lives, I have a bit of an aversion to the popular notion of thinking “out-of-the-box” as the key to greater creativity and innovation. Yet it is still a widely-used phrase in companies and organizations that are trying to figure out how to think and act in new ways. My biggest concern is that too many businesses believe that simply calling for “out-of-the-box” ideas, often accompanied by a “suggestion box,” will create a veritable landslide of brilliance as employees suddenly feel liberated to suggest amazing possibilities for new products, services, solutions, customer experiences, and new ways of doing the things that matter most.

If only it were that simple.

As we all know, coming up with (and implementing) the right new ideas takes strategic focus, real discipline and commitment, curiosity, humility, a willingness to take calculated risks and make some mistakes, a sense of urgency, and a culture that is truly open to learning, fresh thinking, new perspectives, and the insights of people and places that are very different.

Having said this, and in the spirit of trying to be as open-minded as possible given that some things are just plain weird, I must admit that a recent feature in the New York Times challenged me to be a bit less critical of “out-of-the-box” thinking…or at least one particular example. The article in question was about a remarkable innovation in the world of funerals in which the star of the show (a.k.a., the “deceased”) is able to attend their own service in a favorite setting or pose. Settings that include sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by favorite possessions or important life symbols like a bottle of Jack Daniels, being dressed like Che Guevara with a cigar hand, sitting behind the steering wheel of an ambulance, sitting atop a favorite motorcycle, or standing up dressed as a boxer in the corner of a boxing ring.

Yes, even I must admit that this seems to represent a new and graphic way of getting “out of the box” (or out of a specific type of box).

According to the Times, this new approach to funerals first appeared in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and has now become increasingly popular in places like New Orleans…which doesn’t seem like a big surprise. And its growing popularity might even suggest a world of untapped creativity aimed at making us look as fantastic as possible until closing time. It even brought back memories of the passing of my favorite great uncle who had just returned to Boston after spending the winter in Florida. Upon seeing his tan self, one of his closest friends remarked: “The winter by the beach did him a world of good!” Not exactly. But as Billy Crystal use to say on Saturday Night Live, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

NYT FUNERAL-articleLarge

Which begs the question of how all of us might conspire to reinvent our industries in ways that get us out of the traditional context in which we offer value to our customers. And how we might do an even better job of customizing our offerings to the unique needs, desires, and personalities of those we have the privilege to serve so they can look as good as possible.

We win in business and in life when we seek to create greater meaning in our most important moments. And when we always try to look our very best.

Cheers!

The Genius of Nap Time

Greetings. When we were kids, nap time was an essential part of life and every school day. A chance to take a break, rest our minds and bodies, recharge our spirits, and keep the demons away. A time to journey far from the task at hand, if only for a matter of minutes, in order to possibly dream about new and even more amazing worlds.

And then one day we became adults and the notion of taking a nap became only a distant and comforting memory. After all, what company or organization in its right mind would want its employees to nod off when they could be slogging through all of the cool stuff in their in-boxes or struggling to stay alert in the day’s umpteenth meeting? Napping was viewed as the province of folks who were either total slackers, completely sleep deprived, or had a major iron deficiency.

Now the world, and particularly the business world, is changing, and none other than the Wall Street Journal is suggesting that taking a nap is possibly a good thing…and that “more naps, albeit short ones, might make for a more functional workforce.” And possibly even a more energized and innovative one. They report that there is actually an emerging art and a science to napping, and that new research in the field is more and more relevant to companies and organizations of all types.

It’s an interesting shift in our growing understanding of what makes people as productive and creative as possible… understanding that could provide remarkable benefits for workers and workplaces alike.

And that could change the parameters of what it means to be a great and supportive place to work.

Businessman sleeping at desk

We win in business and in life when we take the time to nap as a great way to recharge our batteries and our motivation to do the most important things in new ways.

Cheers!

Learning From The Worst

Greetings. While many of us were enjoying college basketball’s Final Four championship, the readers at Consumerist were holding their own “final four” of sorts to determine the worst company in America. And for the second year in a row, the winner is Electronic Arts…a leading maker of video games. It seems that the folks at EA have been running their business with a compelling disregard for their customers. Who ever thought that would be a winning formula?

But the rest of us can learn a lot from their missteps and from the elegant response to the award, or should we say defense of their performance, provided by their COO Peter Moore who replied:

Are we really the ‘Worst Company in America? I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve made plenty of mistakes. These include server shut downs too early, games that didn’t meet expectations, missteps on new pricing models and most recently, severely fumbling the launch of SimCity. We owe gamers better performance than this. But I am damn proud of this company, the people around the globe who work at EA, the games we create and the people that play them.”

Though probably not “damn proud” enough of the people who play their games (a.k.a., their “customers”) to understand and deliver what really matters to them. And he went on to suggest that EA should never be compared to companies that pollute the planet and evict people from their homes. It’s an interesting but self-serving comparison.

In fact, customers really do matter. And the most successful companies seem to put them at the center of their decisions and actions. The companies that EA beat on the road to the trophy were three other well-known brands that customers love to hate…Ticketmaster, Bank of America, and Comcast…because they also seem to delight in taking advantge of their customers.

ea

We win in business and in life when we pay our greatest respect to those we have the privilege to serve. And when we spend less time covering our bottoms and more time exceeding their expectations.

Cheers!