It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Greetings. Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, the revered American baseball player and accidental philosopher, died last week at the age of 90. Baseball fans will remember him for his remarkable career as a catcher for the New York Yankees during one of the sport’s golden eras…a career that included being named an All-Star 18 times and the American League’s Most Valuable Player three times, 14 World Series appearances, and 10 World Series titles. And many will say that on one of the greatest teams in sports history, and one packed with much bigger and more glamorous stars like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford, Berra was the real catalyst for the Yankees incredible success.

Yogi Berra

But baseball fans and non-fans will also remember him as an exceedingly likable guy with a rare gift for saying delightfully memorable phrases that rarely made sense and often spoke to the very nature of life and what it means to be human. Within the joyful absurdity of his “Yogi-isms” there seemed to lurk keen insight, not only for our personal lives but the lives of our companies and organizations.

Here are some of my favorites which I remembered fondly upon hearing of his passing:

It ain’t over till it’s over.

It’s like deja vu all over again.

The future ain’t what it use to be.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.

You can observe a lot by just watching.

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.

No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.

It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.

Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.

Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.

Many of these have a valuable message for the challenges we often face in our collective work lives. And given the work that I do to help companies and teams explore and unlock genius in themselves and the world around them, I will always have a special connection with the notion that “You can observe a lot just by watching.” In fact, I am convinced that part of our challenge as adults and organizations is to do a better job of “watching,” paying attention, being present, and rediscovering how to be curious about all of the ideas, insights, and possibilities that we pass by every day but somehow fail to notice.

Words to live by from a slightly unusual business guru. And words that will hopefully be remembered for a long time to come. After all, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” And that’s a long time into the future from now.

We win in business and in life when we try to not take ourselves too seriously. And when we find joy and inspiration in crazy ideas that are filled with wisdom.

Cheers!

A “Collection of Opportunities”

Greetings. It’s the end of August and the start of a new school year. While I’m not sure where the summer went, I am very excited about the year ahead as our middle daughter Carly has started her freshman year at Beloit College in Wisconsin and our son Noah is starting 10th grade at a new high school that should be a better fit for his talents and approach to learning. And while I can think of many lessons from the first few days of school, I keep coming back to five words the President of Beloit said in welcoming the first-year students and their parents to campus a little more than a week ago…

Colleges are collections of opportunities.”

A simple and important notion about all of the possibilities that await students, faculty, staff, (and even families) in an environment filled with so many opportunities to explore, connect, learn, and grow. Some of those opportunities and possibilities are clear the moment you arrive on campus…a fun and engaging freshman seminar on a new and inspiring subject, a first meeting with your academic advisor, a poster in the atrium of the new science center announcing an awesome upcoming event, a chance to audition for the Fall musical, the prospect of making new friends from almost every corner of the U.S. and the world, work study postings that align with a possible major or a personal interest, a visit to the local farmer’s market, and the start to becoming a more independent person 800 miles away from constant guidance (or input) of well-intentioned parents.

There are also opportunities and possibilities that will become clearer as the semester and four years unfold…new and surprising relationships, favorite professors, the most awesome places to study or hang out, sparks generated by reading a new book or wrestling with a compelling question, a world of options for study abroad, and volunteer positions in the community that provide a chance to make a difference and even a bit of a reality check on an envisioned career.

beloit college-photo_17455.

Yes, colleges are “collections of opportunities,” and the young people who approach their time on and off campus with a sense of curiosity, wonder, openness, and humility are likely to be the beneficiaries of a remarkable gift.

But I would be remiss if I failed to suggest that colleges are not the only collections of opportunities we are fortunate enough to encounter. Or that our best chances to be inspired and stretch beyond our comfort zones can’t occur in our work and the rest of our lives. In fact, all of our companies and organizations would also be much more successful if they viewed their mission as providing a “collection of opportunities” for all of their customers and employees. Opportunities to explore, connect, learn, and grow. Opportunities to ask and answer important questions, take greater initiative, create and gain greater value, make more of a contribution, and even re-imagine what is possible. Opportunities to innovate and collaborate in new ways. Opportunities to be different and to make a compelling difference.

But in order to realize this mission we have to believe that, just like college students, all of us and all of our organizations are continually a work in progress in a world filled with opportunities. So why not think about how to bring the spirit and sense of possibilities of starting college into your workplace. It might be a great way to unlock the real genius in all of your colleagues.

We win in business and in life when we see the opportunities around us as a remarkable gift and college as simply one of the best starting points for capturing them.

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!

Digging Deeper for Innovation

Greetings. It’s hard to resist writing about what appears to be an important breakthrough in antibiotics that was reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature. After all, antibiotics are vital to our ability to fight infections. Yet many bacteria have become increasingly clever and increasingly resistant to the drugs we commonly rely on. So reports of a new drug called Teixobactin, that is potentially resistance-proof and seems capable of curing very severe infections without worrying side effects, is very encouraging news.

It is also exciting because it once again suggests the power of stretching our thinking to new places and new terrains in order to unlock breakthrough ideas. Terrains that include dirt or more specifically microbes that were discovered in “soil bacterium just beneath the surface of a grassy field in Maine.” These microbes are in a constant battle to survive and their unique skill in fighting could be the key to successfully battling many of the illnesses that threaten us including some seemingly intractable diseases. And while Teixobactin has not been tested in humans yet there is real cause for optimism about its potential.

As reported in the New York Times, researchers believe that the key to Teixobactin’s success is its ability to attack bacteria “by blocking fatty molecules needed to build cell walls.” This is a very different approach than current antibiotics which target the proteins in bacteria. These proteins, and the genes that encode them, seem quite capable of adapting and eventually resisting medicines designed to control them.

For most of our companies and organizations, our success is also dependent on our ability to continually look for new and better ways to respond to threats, opportunities, and the challenges of new and existing competitors. Competitors who are always looking to get around our best efforts by creating new offerings, experiences, or business models. And our ability to respond and innovate requires us to cast a much wider net and to seek new ideas and approaches from other industries, walks of life, strangers, and even places where we might have to get a bit dirty.

Antibiotics from Dirt

Which begs the question, where will you look for new ideas and possibilities?

We win in business and in life when we dare to dig deeper in our quest for new ideas that can change the lives of those we serve.

Cheers!