Disappearing Act

Greetings.  The front page of today's Washington Post included a fascinating story about the disappearance of an island in the Chesapeake Bay and one man's struggle to save it from the forces of nature.  The place is Holland Island, once a three-mile-long piece of land that was in 1910 home to 360 people most of whom were farmers and waterman dredging oysters in the Bay.  But as a result of the last thunderstorm and continuing erosion from the rising ocean, the one remaining house on Holland Island has come crashing to the ground (or sea depending on the tide).  And with it the end of over 300 years of settlement in this remarkable corner of America.

To many the island's disappearing act comes with little fanfare.  After all, most of Holland's inhabitants left in the 1920's for the mainland of Maryland's Eastern Shore…taking their homes with them on ships, board by board.  But a picture of this place and its last Victorian-era house told a different story and gave reason to think about the world of companies and organizations and how things that once mattered disappear.

In the business world it's all about remaining relevant and continually delivering compelling value to those we serve.  This is an especially difficult task when change occurs very quickly as new technologies, new business models, and new offerings dramatically alter the landscape.  We see it all the time in cases like Blockbuster, a leading company that was overtaken by Netflix, a host of cable TV providers, and the internet.  Or when we read about Sony's decision to finally stop selling the Walkman–the world's first portable and personal music player. "They're still selling those?" you ask, struggling to imagine why anyone in their right mind would choose this now-primitive product from a shelf that contains iPods and other top MP3 players.  And the list goes on in industries as diverse as media, professional services, IT, healthcare, hospitality, automobiles, business services, and professional sports. 

But it's also a very difficult task to stay relevant when change occurs gradually.  When the world lulls us into a sense of complacency and we fail to notice and respond to the gradual erosion occurring on our shores.  When we fail to innovate consistently in the areas that matter most to customers.  Or fail to reinvent our customer experience in order to drive greater knowledge and value.  Or when we stick with a product, service, or solution for too long without ever acknowledging the need to make essential changes.  Until one day a big wind brings our business crashing down.

Much like the final house on Holland Island…

Holland Island 2
We win in business and in life when we adapt to the nature of change. And when we enter each storm with a commitment to be more valuable than before.


Surrounded by Possibilities

Greetings.  It's the end of another week and another chance to take a break from your work routine to discover some of the remarkable genius in the world around you.  If you happen to be in Washington, D.C., this weekend, you might enjoy the USA Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall and a number of other locations around town.  This event is designed to inspire young people to see the wonder of science, technology, engineering, and math with amazing exhibits, presentations, and demonstrations that bring these fields to life.  And the timing couldn't be more critical as the U.S. struggles to maintain its creative mojo.

In case you've missed the news, a shrinking number of young people are pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math and that fact does not bode well for our long-term competitiveness as a nation.  So efforts like this–aimed at making these disciplines hip, compelling, and even entertaining–are important for kids of all ages…and might even spark your own innate sense of curiosity and possibilities.

But if you're not playing to be in town this weekend, why not use this occasion to visit your nearest science museum?  And allow yourself to be excited by the power of discovery and its role in the success of your company or organization.  In fact, why not commit to finding one or two brilliant ideas that challenge you to think differently about the products, services, and solutions you offer.  Ideas that provide a window on how to be more valuable to those you have the privilege to serve.  And while you're at it, why not invite some of your colleagues to join you?  

And since your ongoing business success is all about adapting to and capitalizing on change, the following video–which I first saw about two years ago–might help to jog your thinking about the imperative of innovation… 


We win in business and in life when we open our eyes to a world of new ideas, innovation, and possibilities.  And when we seek to discover the information that matters most.

Cheers and have a fun weekend exploring!

Curiosity is the Essential First Step

Greetings.  Not long ago as I was wandering through the “Self-Help” section of a well-known local bookstore I noticed a young woman
who seemed more than a bit perplexed.  Catching my
glance, she smiled and said:  I
know that one of these books could change my life.  I just don’t know which one it is.

I wasn’t sure what to say.  So I smiled back, buying a bit of time
to think through her predicament. 
And then I said, with the half-baked logic of an amateur sage: “You
know, we’re all in that situation. 
Only you’re smart enough to realize it.”
  A response that was more
thoughtful in retrospect than it seemed at the time. 
“Thanks,” she
“I don’t feel quite so foolish now.”

I haven't seen her again and can
only hope that she found what she was searching for.  Maybe it was a book
on one of those shelves.  Or an
idea, or a person, or a story, or a quote, or a lesson from another culture, or
a spark of inspiration from an unknown source that gave her the right direction
to follow.  Or maybe she discovered
it somewhere other than the bookstore. 
On a journey halfway around the world or on a walk through a familiar
park.  During an episode of a
popular TV show or a day spent at an art museum.  In the words of a favorite song or the experience of a
concert held in a grand orchestra hall. 
In a lecture on a subject she knew very little about, or a familiar sign
posted along a busy neighborhood street. 
In the mysterious ritual of someone else’s religion, the best practice
of a renowned corporation, or the daily life of a creature from another species.  The fact that she was looking
curiously was the essential first step.  A step that too few of us ever take as
individuals, companies and organizations, or even communities and nations.  But a step that got me thinking about
how close we all are to unlocking our real potential.  If only we dared to be curious in order to find the
something that could make the difference. 
That could be a starting point for meaningful change and growth. 

Each day we all pass by literally
hundreds of things that could change our lives, but we never take the time to
notice them.  In our rush to get
from Point A to Point B, we walk past strangers who know things we’ve yet to
discover.  We walk past stores,
offices, galleries, libraries, and even billboards with powerful insight to
share.  We observe or ignore
holidays and events filled with meaning. 
We stroll through new or familiar places failing to look below the
surface to figure out what makes them remarkable.  We watch movies, listen to the radio, read a newspaper or a
blog, or search the web without seeing the real brilliance in an idea that
could matter to our life or the success of our workplace or the place we call
home.  All because we have
forgotten how to be curious and, lacking this skill, are unable to believe that
important ideas abound and that we can be more remarkable.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

So this week, as you go about all of the urgent things on your "To Do" list, take some time to be curious about the big and little things around you.  To discover new ideas and imagine new ways to do the things that matter most.


We win in business and in life when we take the first essential step.  A step on the journey to knowing ourselves and the world around us a bit better.


Reinventing the Book Experience

Greetings.  This week's American Bookseller's Association "Expo" in New York City showed an industry in the midst of a major transition.  Changes in the nature of books and bookstores, along with changes in technology and what constitutes an actual "book," are fundamentally altering the business our buddy Gutenberg created back in the 1400's when he invented movable type printing.  To say that these changes are profound would be a dramatic understatement as books morph into a variety of digital forms that can be read and listened to.  And as the places to buy books morph as well with independent booksellers struggling to survive in the face of competition from the big bookstore chains, Amazon.com and other on-line stores, book publishers' websites, and even big box retailers.

Then add to the mix changing consumer needs and desires.  Armed with so many choices about what to read and how to get it, they are also changing their habits–reading fewer books from start to finish and opting to get ideas, inspiration, and content from an ever-widening set of sources.  All calling into question the very nature of the book experience.

I must admit that I still have a real fondness for buying a physical book, throwing it in my suitcase or briefcase, then taking it out to read while on a train, plane, or upon arriving at my destination.  I like the look and feel of a real book, the sense of its substance, the chance to turn real pages, and the ability to easily go back and forth in search of particular pages, ideas, and sections.  But I'm also getting more comfortable with the reality of e-readers and their versatility in letting consumers take a lot of books and content with them in an easy to carry package.  And I also enjoy listening to e-books and sometimes reading no more than an article or blog post without having to make the commitment to buy and read an entire book.

For those of us who are authors and readers, this dramatic transition is filled with challenges and opportunities.  How will things shake out?  Will there continue to be a market for our writing and ideas in book form?  Or will we also have to morph in a new direction…that could eventually earn us many more readers (or in Twitter terms "followers")?  So this year's book show provides an intriguing test of the promise of change and innovation.  And it's an issue that all of us who create and consume content will be an important part of.  But it's also an issue that all of our companies and organizations will need to address as we reinvent the future of our own industries.  Industries that will be recast by those with a new understanding of customers, needs, and the power of technology.

BEA 2010 

We win in business and in life when we create and embrace dramatic change.  And when we consistently provide products, solutions, and content that really matter to those we serve.

Cheers and happy reading in whatever form it takes!

White People Swimming Slowly

Greetings.  In the mid-1800's the only people who really cared about competitive swimming were Northern Europeans.  Maybe it was because they simply loved the joy of swimming.  Or maybe it was because they were really into competition and the chance to test their skill.  Or maybe it was because the water in their corner of the world was so cold most of the year and they didn't want to waste a moment when it was warm enough to swim. Whatever the case, when the weather was nice enough they organized swim meets with a real passion to see who could swim the fastest.  Their only problem, it turned out, was the simple fact that they had only figured out how to swim the breaststroke–the slowest of the four swimming strokes now used in competition.

And this problem must have become painfully clear to them at a swim meet in London in 1844 when two Native Americans showed up and began–God bless them–to swim a variation of the freestyle.  A stroke which we now know to be the fastest yet devised.  Needless to say, the visitors won every race they entered.  And one might have expected that their stunned hosts would now quickly try to master this new and apparently faster way to swim.  But they didn't.  Instead they committed to figuring out how to swim the breaststroke faster, so that next time these "different" swimming guests arrived they could kick their bottoms.  And this determination continued until 1873 when a young man named John Trudgen became the coach at a leading London club.  He, unlike his predecessors, had an open mind and while he had never seen anyone swim the freestyle he had heard about the visitors who had come 29 years earlier.  Eager to give his young charges every known advantage, he headed off to South America in search of these amazing swimmers.  Then finding them along the Amazon he asked them to teach him how to swim the freestyle.  A stroke which he mastered and then returned to teach his club.

In a short time his team would win every meet…as the freestyle was far superior to the breaststroke.  And now that some of their own were swimming a new way, the Northern Europeans finally decided to change.  As did the world of competitive swimming.  A final note that makes this story even more interesting is the fact that people in every corner of the planet except Northern Europe had been swimming the freestyle for about 10,000 years.  So the only people who really cared about competitive swimming were the only people on earth who had no idea how to swim fast.


But why do I mention swimming in a blog about genius, innovation, and business success?  Maybe it's because all of us, and the companies and organizations we work for, spend most of our time swimming the breaststroke.  Regularly making modest enhancements to business as usual in a world that demands more.  A world that now requires all of us to figure out a better way to swim. 

We win in business and in life by changing with the times, and continually learning to swim in new and more valuable ways.  Do you and your colleagues have the best stroke to compete in your world?  If not, it might be time for a few swim lessons!

Cheers and I'll see you at the pool!