Working For Only Tips

Greetings.  Ever imagine that a "free" service could be way more valuable than one you pay for?  If so, you'll love Sandemans New Europe tours–guided walking tours of fourteen of Europe's most remarkable cities that are causing a stir and building quite a following on the international travel circuit.  Because, this unique company charges nothing for its individual tours and lets its customers decide what they are worth in the form of a tip.  That's right.  Tour guides lead customers on three and a half hour tours designed to inform, inspire and entertain.  Then, at the end, the customers decide how satisfied they are with the guide and the tour or how rich and generous they feel.  And the resulting tips are the only compensation for a growing number of leading and independent (as in "independent contractor) "professional" tour guides who are working with Sandemans.  Or should we say professional tour guides, storytellers, amateur historians and entertainers who are determined to connect with their audiences in a compelling way as they bring the magic of their city to life.  And who definitely can't afford to be boring or the least bit disinterested in the things that interest their customers. 

Now that's an interesting business model.  Which might cause you and the geniuses you work with to imagine how your business would operate if you had to work for only tips.  Or for the constant approval of your customers. Approval that must be earned by providing real value from start to finish…focused on the things that matter most to customers.

This company was brought to my attention by our older daughter Sara who has recently returned from three and a half months of backpacking in Europe.  While visiting Prague she took a Sandemans tour with Filip, a journalism student at Charles University, and was immediately hooked on the city and this innovation in walking tours.  And here's a picture of Filip and Prague below…

Sandeman Guide

We win in business and in life when we let the customer decide how valuable our services are.  And when we commit to being as awesome and enlightening as possible.


Bordering on Extinction

Greetings.  Like most people I know who spent time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the 1970’s, I have a very close connection with Borders—the company that once reinvented the world of bookstores.  Started as a used book shop in 1971 by a pair of brothers, the original store would quickly become one of the most successful and cherished independent bookstores in America operating out of a convenient two-story building on State Street.  Filled with the latest titles, the coolest posters, abundant sale tables, and lots of quite corners and comfortable chairs to get lost in, it was one of my very favorite hang outs during my years as a graduate student. This was a place that made the joy of books and reading come alive.

Several years later this original store would move to a larger vacated department store a block away and, from my perspective at least, begin to lose the very heart and soul that had made Borders such a special place.  But this new formula would become the start of the current company and its chain of several hundred big-box stores filled with books and a lot of other stuff.  And even though they lacked the special feel I'd come to love, these new stores would become an important part of the cultural landscape of the cities, towns, and strip malls where they sprouted up.

Just as a powerful transformation was taking place…

So the announcement that Borders was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection came as no real surprise to me.  I’d seen the signs, read the tea leaves, noticed the obvious change in the world of book buying—both as an author and as a regular customer.  The rapid growth of on-line book selling–which the company failed to embrace, the emergence of electronic books–which Borders never made a serious investment in, and the presence of new competitors like Walmart offering the most popular books at even steeper discounts had all conspired to change the game that this remarkable business had invented.  And it now lacked a brilliant response or sufficient resources to reinvent itself again.  And it's unclear whether Chapter 11, in the absence of a more compelling strategy, will enable the company to survive. In fact, it's unclear whether a better positioned Barnes & Noble has a long-term future in the bricks and mortar book business.

It’s always possible that Borders will find its way.  In some new and smaller form with a clearer and more meaningful value proposition.  Because there’s still room for real bookstores that capture our hearts and imaginations in ways that no on-line retailer ever will.  The power of the written word and the tangibility of a real book are just too important.  But bookstores of the future will likely require a new business model.


We win in business and in life when we pay greater attention to the world around us and figure out how to remain relevant in a time of great change.  And when we embrace the full potential of written and unwritten words.  


Greetings from Finland

Greetings.  Do you ever wonder if you have the best business model to win in your industry?  If so, you're not alone because technology–in particular the internet–as well as changing demographics, and a host of other economic, political, cultural, and social factors, are forcing many companies and organizations to rethink the way they operate.  And some of the smartest ones are actually looking outside their comfort zones for new and more effective approaches to deliver compelling value. But what about public schools which often seem trapped in the race to leave "no child left behind."  A race, driven by "high-stakes testing" that seems to be leaving a lot of kids behind.  And, certainly hasn't put the American education system at the top of the heap or created a brand new generation of inspired and passionate learners.  Could it be that this effort, and the "business model" that supports it, don't really make sense in today's world given the results we need to achieve?    

Which leads us to a country whose kids are consistently rated the best educated in the world, and which has a system that is very different than ours.  Finland.  The land sandwiched between Scandinavia and Russia where the literacy rate is just about 100% and kids actually seem to enjoy going to school, reading books, and learning.  The home of Nokia, Marimekko, and the great composer Sibelius.  The land of great architects and architecture, including the brilliant Eero Saarinen. The birthplace of the LINUX operating system.  And, possibly most important, the people who invented the sauna.

But what accounts for their remarkable educational achievement?  In Finland:

  • Kids start school later (at age 7).
  • There are no standardized tests.
  • There are no gifted and talented programs–everyone learns together.
  • The kids who really understand a subject help the kids who don't.
  • Teachers create individualized lessons plans for each student.
  • There are no honor societies or school valedictorians.
  • There is little or no competition among peers.
  • No one is reprimanded for being late.
  • Teachers are highly-trained and given a lot of freedom to be teaching "entrepreneurs."
  • There is very little technology used in the classroom.
  • A love of reading is encouraged almost at birth.
  • And, no one seems to worry about getting into, or paying for, college.  

Clearly a different business model than our highly-competitive, high-stakes, high-stress approach to teaching kids–our most valuable resource.  Granted, Finland is much less diverse than the U.S.  But it's approach to education should still warrant our curiosity and interest. 

Finland Classroom

We win in education and in business by producing results that matter for those we have the privilege to serve.  Could your business model use some fresh ideas and genius from outside your comfort zone?  Or a bit more time in the sauna?