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

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!