Reinventing Your Wheel

Greetings. It turns out that reinventing the wheel or simply making a good thing a lot better is not so easy to do. Our companies often get a bit too comfortable with business as usual, and as customers we often get a bit too too comfortable with the products and services that we rely on. This thought came to mind yesterday as I drove past a La-Z-Boy furniture store, or should I say “gallery,” on my way to New York. After all, isn’t this brand synonymous with getting comfortable…having invented the reclining chair back in 1928? And somehow they have survived and adapted to a changing world by evolving their original ideas for comfortable seating in a relatively incremental way. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. One might even say that they have leveraged the fact that a growing number of us are becoming a bit lazier…even creating a chair with a built-in cooler in the armrest so that TV enthusiasts can enjoy a six-pack of beer without the inconvenience of having to get (their butts) up. Now if that isn’t innovation, I don’t know what is.


And other companies survive by making modest changes in their offerings. A while back I wrote about the stethoscope–a 200-hundred-year-old device that had not changed for 190 years until the folks at 3M Healthcare and Zargis Medical decided to attach a small digital computer to it and, in the process, transform its power as an even more valuable diagnostic tool. And how many of us are still driving cars with internal combustion engines? Or sending our kids to schools that are pretty similar to the ones we went to…give or take a bit of extra technology and a bit more “high stakes” testing? Or going to doctors’ offices where they continue to keep our records in almost mystical manila folders?

Which makes David Patrick’s creation even more remarkable because in his quest to make a more perfect skateboard he has literally reinvented the wheel. In fact, his new “SharkWheel” re-envisions the wheel (a 6,000 to 10,000-year-old invention with its likely origins in either Mesopotamia or China) as a set of cubes that produce a smoother, faster, and more friction-free ride.

Shark Wheel

So if he can take on one of the most fundamental technologiess in human history, isn’t it time for you and your colleagues to reinvent your wheel as the key to innovation or simply remaining relevant and meaningful to the customers you have the privilege to serve? By creating the next generation of your product or service. By crafting a way more compelling and valuable customer experience. By using technology to rewrite your business equation. By figuring out how to be way more efficient and cost-effective in delivering your stuff. By making your customers much smarter and more capable.

We win in business when we challenge ourselves to reinvent the things that matter most. Sometimes by blowing them up completely, and other times by simply imagining how they could be even more compelling.


Making Your Ideas Spread

Greetings. Looking to create much broader interest in your products, services, and ideas? If so, Jonah Berger’s new book Contagious: Why Things Catch On should be at the top of your reading list. Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School, is a thoughtful researcher and a wonderful storyteller…but more importantly, he is one of the smartest people around when it comes to helping us understand why some things take hold, spark amazing buzz, and go viral in a matter of days. And his insights can make a powerful difference in any business or walk of life.

Using powerful examples that include $100 cheesesteaks, blenders that can turn cell phones into smoothies, homemade videos of customer service nightmares, and the clever creation of Hotmail, he shares the “science” (and practice) that drives word-of-mouth…science that will change the way you look at your world and the challenge of being heard. It’s a formula that he summarizes in six essential STEPPS…







And while I’m particularly keen on the power of triggers and emotion, each chapter is filled with clear examples and ideas you can use today to spark your thinking and hopefully unlock the real genius in what you have to offer.


We win in business and in life when we fuel compelling conversations about ideas that really matter. And when we understand what makes ideas and possibilities spread.


Apologizing to Customers

Greetings. None of us like to say we’re “sorry.” Sorry we forgot your birthday. Sorry we missed today’s meeting. Sorry we didn’t let you know about our change in plans. Sorry our incredible products didn’t work as well as we intended. Sorry we didn’t have the part you needed in our stock or that it took us forever to respond to your service request.

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

Yes, Elton John and Bernie Taupin were probably right in 1976 when they wrote their popular song “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.” And while this tune wasn’t about business or our lives dealing with organizations, it certainly could have been. Because just like many personal relationships that go bad, sometimes our relationships with companies also go bad. Often it’s simply unavoidable, we change and the companies we do business with are either unwilling or incapable of changing with us. And that’s okay. But sometimes it happens because they decide to change without asking us. And that’s less okay, because it suggests that they either know better than we do or that they believe there are better and more valuable customers out there.

Which brings us to the curious case of J.C. Penney, which today decided after a failed change in strategy to ask its customers for forgiveness. Yes, the folks at this venerable retailer (that began in 1902 in the town of Kemmerer, Wyoming) took to Facebook and YouTube to say that they were so “sorry” for trying to reinvent themselves at the expense of their loyal customers. Sorry that they tried to become more upscale, trendier, and way more focused on a decidedly younger demographic without letting anyone in on the secret. A secret that failed to resonate with their old or new customers. And now they were asking their old customers…the unhip shoppers who loved the old Penneys…to come back with the following mea culpa:

It’s no secret. We’ve made some changes.
Some you’ve liked and others you didn’t.
We’ve heard you – and we’re listening.
Let us know what you think.

“Sorry” is one of the hardest words in business. And we can avoid having to say it very often if we commit to being as “customer-centric” as possible. Not that Penney’s old customers were sufficient to carry the day. But one might imagine the company asking them to be part of any effort to reinvent the business and keep it relevant in changing times.

That part of any business is no secret.

And soon we’ll see if this public apology works.

We win in business and in life when we work hard to maintain our relationships. And when we try to change and grow together.


The Importance of Selling

Greetings.  Dan Pink’s latest book–“To Sell is Human“–provides a fresh and intriguing look at the business of selling.  And it thoughtfully suggests that just about every one of us is a salesperson, whether we think about ourselves that way or not…because most of us are involved in persuading other people to do things that hopefully are in their best interest. We work hard to build teams and foster greater collaboration at work.  We launch new ventures that require broad support and often funding from others.  We try to convince our neighbors that initiatives will benefit our communities.  And we encourage our kids to prioritize school work, sports, music, art, time with friends, texting, walking the dog and even keeping their rooms clean in a way that will lead to their current and future success.  We just don’t think of these as “sales” activities even though they are.

And while we are doing all of these things, most of us continue to have a strong aversion to most salespeople…seeing them as pushy, self-serving, commission-driven folks, who aren’t particularly interested in our real needs, aspirations, and best interests.  Maybe we’ve simply been burned too many times.

Which is where this book comes in…showing all of us how we can reinvent or just enhance the way we go about selling based on a clear commitment to understand the real needs of those we are trying to serve by asking the right questions, paying careful attention to the answers, connecting in more meaningful ways, and committing to deliver value that makes a powerful difference in the lives of our “customers.”

As he does in all of his books, Pink taps into a wide range of social science research along with some very interesting stories from the “history” of selling to push our thinking in new ways while offering lots of practical guidance that should make all of us, including the most experienced professional salespeople, more effective and successful.  And it is an engaging read.


We win in business and in life when we seek to deliver the greatest possible value in all of our work and personal endeavors.  By persuading or helping others to reach their full potential.


The End of Manual Labor

Greetings and Happy Valentine’s Day.  I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands.  There’s just something energizing about repairing an appliance or a bicycle, planting a tree that I’m probably allergic to, preparing a remarkable and innovative dinner for kids who would likely prefer cheese pizza, painting a room in a new and interesting color, or refinishing a piece of furniture made out of real wood.  And for many of us, doing something by hand provides a much needed break from our days spent in meetings or hanging out in front of a computer screen.  In fact, I would argue that manual labor is not only essential to our economy but essential to our lives as human beings.  It keeps us grounded, connected with the physical world around us, skillful, and even refreshed.

But there’s a different type of “manual” labor that is quickly biting the dust…the art and practice of writing operating and instructional manuals.  Those handy sources of insight that have always come with everything that we purchase…from automobiles to HD televisions to smartphones to espresso makers.  Manuals that show us in step-by-step detail exactly how to use these machines in order to ensure their proper operation as we maximize their utility. Manuals designed to unlock their full value and potential in our fast-paced and gadget-centric lives.  Because a new generation of buyers don’t seem to use or even want manuals. The very manuals that our parents warned us to read in excruciating detail before we did anything.  Instead, they quickly pull their latest purchases from their boxes, plug them in, and start figuring out how to use them without the aid of any wisdom from any of the world’s manufacturers.  Either because they are too clever to need help, too rushed to find the time, too disinclined to read boring instructions, too ADD’ed, or too convinced that any semi-intuitive person can quickly figure out how to get the most out of an intuitive device …and in the process customize it in their own image.  Or because they would rather build their own relationships with things than be told how to interact with them.

And come to think of it, even the well-publicized classes at Apple stores seem to be filled with relatively “old” folks who are simply struggling to keep up with all the other folks who threw their instruction manuals away as soon as they opened the super cool box.

Which suggests the need for a bit of career development advice for everyone who develops operating manuals for a living, and the bigger need for the rest of us to figure out how to make our offerings as intuitive, simple, and inspiring as possible.  Otherwise we run the risk of missing the point for a whole new generation of employees, customers, and partners.

A generation that it turns out is so hands on that they are once again appreciating, on their own terms, the simple joy of manual labor.


We win in business and in life when we enable people to create their own magic, on their own terms, with the things we create.