Virtual Healthcare

Greetings.  There are a lot of ways that technology can be used to improve health and reduce the cost of healthcare.  One very exciting alternative is the use of video systems that connect local and regional hospitals to specialists in major medical centers who can provide expert diagnosis, second opinions, and even recommend appropriate treatment.  This is particularly powerful when time is of the essence, in cases such as stroke or severe trauma, and it isn't possible to get the necessary expertise directly to the patient.  Using a remote camera, smaller hospitals now have the ability to tap just the right specialist who can quickly "see" and assess the patient, review any tests that have been done, and communicate directly with the local medical team.  To learn more about this new development, check out today's feature by Ben Worthen in the Wall Street Journal.

Then try to imagine the role that a similar technology could play in making your company or organization more collaborative internally and more responsive in delivering compelling value to the customers you serve.  Here's a wonderful case of genius that is readily available and affordable that takes us far beyond the notion of simply using video to "conference" with our remote colleagues.  So try to stretch your thinking about the power of this and other related technologies in rethinking your business.  

We win in business and in life by bringing the right expertise to bear as quickly as possible.  What can you do today to provide your customers with all of your organization's genius?


Embracing the Obvious

Greetings.  A new week has started, filled with challenges and possibilities.  But before you find yourself driven by your calendar, in-box, "to do" list, PDA, and all of your regularly scheduled meetings and responsibilities, try to find at least a few moments to take a fresh look at the most important things on your plate.  Maybe not today, but some time during the week ahead.  And make sure to put those moments on your calendar.  Then use that time to get off of your bottom and out into a world around you filled with ideas and inspiration.  A place where other companies, organizations, and people from all walks of life might know something that could, when combined with your own insight, greatly enhance your success.  

To give you a clearer sense of why this is vital, think of our friends at the Census Bureau who are responsible every ten years for counting all of us in great detail and using that information to allocate our representatives and influence public policies and programs.  It's a big job, especially given that there are now over 300 million of us, and one can only imagine the importance of technology in doing it well.  That's why it was surprising in April 2008 when the Census Bureau decided to pull the plug on a major initiative to automate the collection of data for the 2010 census.  The specific project, which was to create a handheld device that would be used by census takers, had already cost over $600 million and was not close to being ready for prime time.  And the government contractor, Harris Corporation–a company probably filled with its share of geniuses, was requesting more time and money to complete the job.  Not a perfect result.  Not to mention the direct hit in the taxpayers' pockets.  

But it didn't have to be that way.  In fact, there is reason to believe that the insight and inspiration needed to find a better solution was always in plain view of the key decision-makers in the public and private sectors.  They simply failed to notice it. Because we can only imagine that each and every day men and women wearing the most stylish brown apparel were regularly visiting their offices, dropping off packages, and carefully logging detailed "tracking" information onto cleverly-designed handheld devices.  Probably not much different, in the most important ways, from logging information that "tracked" the people who make up the United States.  And yet, no one ever asked: "What can Brown do for us?" 

UPS Driver

More often than not, we fail to realize that the answers to our challenges–or at least a better starting point for the answers–have probably been thought of by someone else.  Often in another industry or walk of life.  Often just outside our door.  And being curious about what others know could be an amazing tool in efforts to deliver compelling value on time and at a reasonable cost.  But for many government agencies and contractors, the thought of starting from scratch is appealing.  That is until they screw-up big time!

We win in business by assuming that we aren't the smartest people on the planet, and by looking around for powerful ideas and solutions that can be adapted to meet our needs.  So once again, please bear with the census takers and their pencil and paper forms.  Even if it is, according to our kids, "so last millenium."

Cheers and have a curious week ahead!

You Are What You Read

Greetings.  If you're like most people in the workplace, you read a predictable set of things.  Internal reports, industry publications, and newsletters and magazines in your own area of specialization–which could be marketing and sales, HR, IT, RD, customer service, product development, finance, or operations.  All important stuff to know in order to do your job effectively and "keep up with the Jones" (i.e., the other clever folks in your industry).  You might also read the latest business or general news and follow a few appropriate blogs.  After all, it's good to be semi-well rounded.  But let's face it.  We don't have a lot of free time to read.  And most us haven't made reading a top priority.

But we should.  Because reading a wide variety of things, and casting a much wider net for ideas and inspiration, is about the most powerful competitive tool that individuals and companies can have in this or any economy.  It's your way to get a leg up on the genius from other industries and other walks of life that could make a real difference to your success. And it's actually fun to do.  In fact, it's as simple as making a stop at the local bookstore to see what's new, interesting, and thoughtful.  Or subscribing to a magazine from a totally different discipline–particularly if that discipline is based on innovation. Or reading a leading travel magazine like National Geographic Traveler or Travel and Leisure that will spark your thinking about unfamiliar places and people and what makes them remarkable.  Or magazines like Discover and Science that make the world of scientific knowledge and discovery come to life. And once you get started, you might even create a traveling library (i.e., basket) of fun and thought-provoking reading to share with colleagues across your company or organization.  And then create a reading club to discuss what you've read and its implications for your success.

Magazine 3 

You are what you read.  And if you and your organization want to aspire to be more than you are today, you will have to read more than you do today.  Reading new and different things ignites our innate sense of curiosity and imagination. And gives us the ability the look at our own company, organization, and world in new and different ways.

We win in business and in life by combining what we know best with what others know so well.  What will you, and the geniuses you work with, be reading in the days and weeks ahead?

Cheers and have a great weekend!

“Sustainable Competitive Advantage”

Greetings.  While we're on the topic of what it takes to stand out from the pack, find time to read and think about Seth Godin's blog and his post yesterday on how companies can create sustainable competitive advantage:

If you're not familiar with Seth, his blog, or his many books, I think you will really enjoy them.  He is a very insightful marketer with a real gift for understanding and explaining how to connect with customers and how to build a powerful and valued brand.  If I could put even five percent of his ideas into practice, I would be viewed as a real genius.


Selling the Perfect College Experience

Greetings.  Yesterday I wrote about the challenge of competing and thriving in a "sea of sameness" where companies and organizations must figure out how to be different in ways that really matter to the customers they choose to serve.  Then, last night, I had the opportunity to experience this challenge in full bloom when I attended a big college fair with our daughter Sara–a senior in high school trying to decide on her final list of schools to apply to.  And she's being very reasonable about the whole thing, applying to seven or eight colleges and universities that fit a clear and exciting profile she's constructed.  If only I'd been that thoughtful and that organized when I was her age.  But times were different then, back in the last millenium. 

The fair itself was filled with lots of energy and insight as school representatives, especially from the lesser-known private schools, tried to get on the radar screens of the teenagers and parents in attendance.  At that's no small assignment given the roughly $50,000 price tag for one year at a private college or university.  Think about it, that's a brand new Mercedes every year for four years.  Or more luxury cruises to exotic places than any reasonable person would every dream of.  Or a contribution to a worthwhile nonprofit that could make you the "donor of the year" (for four straight years).  Or the chance to actually retire someday.  All so your child can study, party, and reflect on their impending future in some idyllic place where, according to most college brochures, the Spring flowers and Fall leaves are always in season.  And given that there seem to be a shrinking number of people willing to pay so much for college, the schools have to figure out a unique angle designed to attract just the right kids.  Unless, of course, they are Harvard, Cal Tech, Princeton, or a limited number of other elite schools that offer history, reputation, connections, and a great education.

NU in Fall

So it was great fun to walk around in this most competitive of marketplaces and to ask representatives what makes their school unique.  Though I must admit, after a while most of the pitches seemed pretty much the same.  "Great teachers."  "Really smart and interesting students" from everywhere on the planet.  "A great faculty to student ratio."  "A focus on the whole person."  "Individually-tailored learning." "Residential learning communities" tied to your interests.  "A campus that is alive with opportunities."  "Amazing internship possibilities."  "Learning beyond the classroom."  A "plethora" (now that's a word I learned in college–along with the ever ubiqitous word "ubiqitous") of extracurricular activities designed to meet every student's interests.  "Innovative study and travel abroad options."  And it was also great fun to hear how giant public universities were repositioning themselves to look and feel just like their smaller liberal arts counterparts while retaining all the advantages of size and price.  But are sixteen and seventeen-year-olds smart enough to do the math even after taking AP calculus?

At the end of the evening I'm left with one clear impression.  Most good colleges are roughly the same and each and every student is the innovation that they really deliver.  Each and every student who challenges themselves to make the most of their experience in an environment that is rich with the potential for genius and possibilities.  An environment that exists in a lot of different places.

In education and business being different matters.  But creating an environment in which students (and customers)  can thrive matters quite a bit more.  In our quest to be different, we should never forget the importance of letting those we serve make the most out of their experience with us.


P.S.  By way of full disclosure, I attended a medium-size private university as an undergrad and one of the largest public universities in the U.S. for grad school–and loved them both!