Asking the Right Questions

Greetings.  Today is the day for my annual physical exam.  And because I have a good health insurance policy, I'll be able to go to the doctor of my choice, have the tests she thinks I need and get a thorough review of the current state of my health and guidance for the year ahead.  I'm reasonably upbeat about the appointment. During the past year I've tried to watch my weight, tried to eat a relatively healthy and balanced diet, tried to exercise with greater consistency and focus and made an effort to control stress at home and at work.  So as I approach the exam I feel, knock on wood (or at least particle board), pretty healthy.

Which leads us to the topic of healthcare, or more specifically to the importance of asking the right questions.  Because if we ask the wrong questions we limit our ability to succeed in life, business or at the doctor's office. As the "debate" about healthcare rages in Congress, the media and a host of other forums, it seems that the most important question is rarely asked.  You see, I'm not particularly interested in having "healthcare."  Sure its a good thing to have, and even essential, when you really need it.  But what I want is to have "health."  To be as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  To just "check in" with my favorite medical professionals at the appropriate times–based on the state of knowledge–to make sure that my balanced health scorecard remains in balance.  And if my objective from a policy standpoint is to create the healthiest community or nation on the planet, as opposed to the one with the most healthcare, I'd develop a very different plan.  One that focused on wellness, education, preventative diagnostics, early detection, preemptive treatment, diet and food safety, exercise and activity, environmental security and life balance.  And I'd commit to providing access to health over access to healthcare.  So while we need to improve the healthcare system before it bankrupts all of us, we would be far better off as a nation if we improved our individual and collective health and made us less dependent on the need for healthcare.  

Apple Picture

This very same logic applies to every single business or organization.  Because most customers aren't very interested in getting high levels of care.  What they really want is products, services and solutions that enable them to achieve their objectives without interruption.  Things that work and, in the quiet of the night, repair or upgrade themselves.  In fact, they only need technical support, return policies, extended protection plans and features that don't matter when we haven't kept them healthy.  They want the promise of the Energizer Bunny.  To keep going and going and going.  And that's what they deserve.

Too often in companies and organizations we ask the wrong questions and then try to solve them in ways that really don't matter.  What's the big question that you should be asking?  And, what's the most powerful and compelling answer that you can give to those you choose to serve? 



Greetings.  Even in our challenging economy, companies and organizations are bringing on new staff and hoping they'll be able to make a difference as quickly as possible.  But all too often they begin these new and important relationships with an old and tired idea–orientation.  The practice of bringing new employees into the fold and making them fine, upstanding and highly-productive members of our tribe in as little time as possible.  After all, time is money and we would have never filled this position unless we were desperate to get a pile of work done.  And so our ancestors invented "orientation" as the fastest way to get the new folks up to speed on what our organization believes in, what we actually do and exactly how we do it.  Let's show them our way–which is obviously far better than the way they did things at the old company or, for that matter, at any time in their life before they lucked out and got a job here.  Otherwise, why in the world would they ever have joined us.  

But what if its not far better?  In fact, what if we are down-right mediocre at some things that really matter?  Then wouldn't it be far better to have them orient us?

New employees are an amazing gift!  They show up with new enthusiasm, energy and a burning desire to contribute and add value.  They also arrive with new ideas and fresh perspectives based on a new and different set of life and work experiences.  Ideas, perspectives and experiences that could actually make us more successful.  But instead of quickly celebrating and tapping their differences, all too often we race to make them just like us.  And orientation becomes the first step in sucking the genius right out of them. 

Doesn't it make more sense to find out what they know and how we look through their eyes?  If so, its relatively easy to do.  Because after they complete their forms and get their ID badges, we can send them off to explore our business without any preconceived notions.  Talk to anyone they'd like, including the CEO.  Attend a few meetings of their choosing.  Visit departments they will need to collaborate with. Ask a bunch of thoughtful questions.  Wander around to see us in action.  Then come back and tell us their thoughts on what we seem to know and do very well, and the areas in which we seem partially or totally clueless. And in the process, we will have begun to demonstrate our interest in their ideas and commitment to their success.

We win in business by combining our best thinking with the genius of new people and new ideas.  New hires are one of the most powerful ways to keep us fresh and young in mind and heart–even when they arrive with decades of experience.  

Think about the way that your company or organization orients new people.  Is it the best way to unlock genius, innovation, customer value and business success?  Or is there a way that is simply better?  


Invisible Fences

Greetings.  Ever wonder about invisible fences?  Those marvels of science and technology that magically keep the family dog from racing into the street to chase a car or a cat, or simply to mark his or her territory.  It turns out they're all around us, protecting more than one million pets from their innate desire to do something stupid and potentially life threatening.  And yet we rarely notice them.  Unless, of course, we see one of those oddly amusing signs in the neighborhood that says: "Invisible Fence."  I guess that no one has figured out how to create an invisible sign yet.  Sounds like a pretty cool assignment for a summer intern.  

But why would I write about "invisible fences" in a blog on unlocking genius and delivering compelling value?  Is it because I've found–in more than twenty years of consulting–that they are such an integral part of so many leading companies and organizations, protecting us from our innate desire to do something brilliant?  Is it because they're all around us in…
  • The history of how we've always done things.  
  • The way we frame and evaluate problems and opportunities.  
  • The way we think about our customers and their needs.  
  • The way we find and share information.  
  • The way we develop plans and budgets. 
  • The way we set goals and attempt to meet them. 
  • The way we handle new and different ideas. 
  • The way we provide incentives for performance. 
  • The way we hire and orient new people who are, all too often, just like us. 
  • The way we lead and are led. 
It turns out that these invisible fences are our biggest obstacles to real genius and greater success.  And, our biggest obstacles to delivering more compelling value to those we have the privilege to serve.  Yet just like the family dog, far too many of us have been conditioned to avoid them out of fear that we might get ZAPPED.  

Invisible Fence

Maybe its time to put a sign in your workplace that says: "Beware of the Presence of Invisible Fences."  Its time to run out in the street in search of new ideas and possibilities.


The Ideal Customer Experience

Greetings.  It's the start of a new work week–unless you've been working all weekend–and a great time to think about what it really takes to be a genius. Maybe not in the sense of Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, George Washington Carver, Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, Akio Morita or Leonardi da Vinci.  After all, these were exceedingly clever people and it might not be fair to go head-to-head with them without an extra bit of stretching, conditioning, coaching and practice. Just like you probably wouldn't want to race against Usain Bolt without eating a high energy breakfast.  But let's be serious, what would these people actually know about your business and what it takes to deliver compelling value?  Very little.

In fact, you and your colleagues are in the absolute best position to make a real difference in the lives of the customers, citizens, members and associates you serve.  But in order to do this you will need to take a fresh look at their world and what really matters to them.  Then you'll need to commit to taking a fresh look at how you and your organization could meet their needs in more remarkable ways. Not by making some tiny piddling little insignificantly incremental change (now that's being super-redundant for effect).  After all, who needs that?  But by doing something big, bold, noticeable and possibly dramatic (also super-redundant for effect) that really matters!  

And one of the best ways to get started is by challenging yourself and the geniuses you work with to think about a straightforward and powerful idea.  What if you could create the "ideal customer experience?"  In other words, what if you could deliver compelling value at each meaningful step in the process of being a customer?  By making things easier.  By providing true peace of mind.  By making customers smarter and more capable.  By being faster when it really mattered, or available at a moment's notice.  By making the customer smile whenever they used your product, service or solution.  By anticipating their needs and helping them to create new opportunities or avoid danger.  

So grab a blank sheet of paper and an open mind, and begin to paint a new and awesome picture of the life of your customer from start to finish.  And if you don't know how to get started, you can always wander around–wearing, of course, your most comfortable shoes (see the post below)–in search of other companies and organizations that have figured it out for those they serve.  There are plenty that I'll write about in the weeks ahead, but if you'd like a couple now try Zappos and Whole Foods

We win in business by providing the most ideal customer experience. What are you waiting for?  


Comfortable Shoes

Greetings.  I'm regularly asked how to unlock genius and innovation, and I quickly answer that the real key is a pair of comfortable shoes.  Yes, they are as close to a "silver bullet" or "magic pill" as I have ever found.  An absolutely fool proof way to transform all of our companies and organizations into veritable engines of brilliance!  And the reason is very simple.  Innovation is really all about combining our best thinking with the best ideas and insights of others–other people, other industries, other walks of life and even other points in time.  And we'll never find them by sitting on our collective bottoms.  Instead, we need to engage the world head-on with a sense of curiosity and openness to the possibilities that are all around us.  In the practices of leading businesses and organizations, the energy of bustling city streets and lively neighborhoods, the stories told and painted in great museums and local galleries, the traditions of other cultures, the creativity and power of remarkable performances or the wonder of nature in a favorite park.  Anyplace that is remarkable deserves our attention.


So next time you are trying to figure out how to deliver even greater value to your customers, or you find yourself wrestling with another important challenge or opportunity, begin by taking a walk in search of inspiration.  You'll be amazed by what you discover.

Curiosity is a gift you were born with.  Combined with a comfortable pair of shoes, it might just be your real key to business success.

Have a fun and curious weekend…