To a New Year of Curiosity and Growth

Greetings. While it is hard to believe that 2016 is already here, the start of the New Year provides a great opportunity to reconnect with all of our friends, colleagues, customers, business partners, and blog readers, and to thank you for being part of the life of our company in 2015.

It also seems like the perfect time to start a new conversation about the importance, or rather the “necessity,” of curiosity in the year ahead—a year that will be filled with remarkable possibilities if we are willing to stretch our thinking about the best ways to innovate and grow our businesses and organizations. Always remember that curiosity is a gift you were born with and it is your most useful tool in making great things happen! And while it might take a bit of practice to retrain your curious self, it is a lot easier than you think.


In a world in which new ideas and business models are quickly changing almost all of our industries, we will all need to step out of our comfort zones in order to re-imagine how we can deliver even greater value to the customers, employees, and shareholders we have the privilege to serve. And the best ways to do this are by being humble about what we know and don’t know, paying closer attention to the world around us, asking our share of thoughtful questions, and being more open to connecting with and learning from people with very different ideas, insights, and points of view.

So here’s hoping that you and your colleagues will take the time to explore and connect with even more new people, new ideas, and new opportunities in 2016. And if you could use a little help, or simply a few words of encouragement, please don’t hesitate to give me a call or send me a quick note. In the meantime, I will try to be even more diligent about sharing ideas and insights from around the corner and across the globe that you can use to spark your best thinking yet.

But, most importantly, great thanks again to all of you who have shared your genius and taught me so much during the past twelve months.

Keep those cards, letters, calls, and emails coming, and best wishes for your most curious and successful year yet!


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.


Changing the Equation

Greetings.  A fascinating article by Chico Harlan in Sunday’s Washington Post reports on a startling discovery…that school children in Japan actually love school lunches and their parents routinely ask schools to share their recipes.  But what makes the story even more amazing is the fact that school lunches in Japan are extremely healthy, nutritious, and made from scratch each day in every school…using mostly fresh and locally grown ingredients.  It’s a far cry from the frozen pizzas, french fries, chicken nuggets, fried burgers, and other “savory” treats that fill many American school cafeteria lunch lines.  As a result, Japan not only has one of the lowest childhood obesity rates in the world but also the longest life expectancy of any nation except Monaco.

So it stands to reason that the U.S. might want to take a page from the Japanese school lunch “cookbook” in our not-so-successful efforts to improve the health and well-being of our young people.  Yet, for some odd reason, neither our schools nor the large food and food service companies that play a big role in school meals seem particularly interested in changing the equation.  Maybe because it would force them to rethink their business models and their commitment to health.  And it suggests that our kids are being held hostage by a lack of innovation and openness to the wisdom of strangers in other parts of the world.  Wisdom that could improve not only health, but also school performance.

And it begs the question of how open you and your company or organization are to new ideas that are half a world away.  Ideas that could challenge you to make your business and its offerings way more healthy and valuable to the customers you serve no matter what industry you operate in.  And that might help you to stand out from the crowd in ways that really matter.

We win in business and in life when we choose to embrace the simple genius of others. And when we make the health of those we serve our absolute highest priority.


Rethinking Your Business Model

Greetings.  The world of business and business models is changing very rapidly as innovations in the way we receive and share information challenge "old" ways of doing things.  This is especially true in industries like books, music, news, and movies where the digital delivery of content is providing compelling alternatives. Now it's also hovering over the world of video gaming…a world dominated until now by the makers of four incredibly popular boxes–Microsoft's Xbox, Sony's Playstation, and Nintendo's Wii and DS.  Their new and seemingly formidable competitor is a company called OnLive which has just launched a "cloud"-based gaming service that could shake up this $15 billion industry. 

For those of you who haven't spent much time thinking about clouds lately, the idea is pretty straightforward and clever.  Instead of purchasing a gaming system, customers can access and play games through a centralized server or "cloud" using their own broadband connection and any desktop, laptop, mobile device, or even TV.  This means saving the upfront investment to configure your own system, and having the opportunity to play basically any game instantly.  And the implications for equipment manufacturers, software developers, and all of the people who sell video games are dramatic.

At the heart of all of this is the big idea that we can substitute services for many products.  In this case, that we can buy a gaming service with instant access to all of the world's gaming content rather than buying a box and the physical version of the games.  It sounds logical enough, though no one would have imagined it just a few short years ago.  Which begs the question of how this change might influence your business or organization, and how you might use the very same idea to drive greater choice and value to the customers you serve.

Video Games
We win in business when we use technology to change our relationship with customers.  And when we use our genius and imagination to find wisdom in the clouds.  Are your customers looking for better products or better solutions?  It's a good question to ask on a regular basis.