Scary Possibilities

Greetings. It’s Halloween…a day and night of costumes, scary decorations, candy, completely over-the-top parties (for some people), and lots of possibilities. A day when kids of all ages can become anyone or anything they choose to imagine simply by buying or creating a new persona. And a day filled with important implications for all of us, and all of our companies and organizations, if we dare to think about it with an open mind.

In an important sense, all of us could use a modestly extreme makeover at least once a year. Because all of us, and all of the places where we work each day, could always be better and more innovative at the things that matter most. But in the press of our daily responsibilities, our cluttered in-boxes, and our urgent challenges we struggle to simply get the job done, to try harder without necessarily doing better.

But what if we could pause for a day and imagine a much better way to do the most important things? What if we could create a brand new persona, complete with a cool new costume, that represents a much better way to envision, produce, and support the products, services, and solutions we offer? What if we could figure out how to step into a new character that is much more compelling and valuable for our customers?

Halloween, or any day for that matter, is a perfect day for stretching our thinking about what is truly possible! And a perfect excuse for trying.

I’m often reminded of the following Chinese proverb:

When is the best time to plant a tree?

Twenty years ago.

When is the second best time to plant a tree?

Now.

Why not use this fun and spooky celebration to plant your next tree…even if it is filled with ghosts and other scary creatures that will have to be fine tuned along the way?

Halloween Costumes

We win in business and in life when we dare to be more remarkable, and when we step into character in ways that deliver greater value to the customers we have the privilege to serve.

Cheers!

The Importance of Experiments

Greetings. Most of us are familiar with the world of school science fairs. We participated in them as children, and look forward to attending them when our kids are old enough to test the laws or the boundaries of nature. At their best, and even their worse, science fairs provide the opportunity for inspired and curious young minds to put learning into action by following a logical process of discovery around a subject of interest. If this sounds like something that might make sense in your company or organization, don’t lose this thought because we will come back to it in just a moment.

Recently I had the great joy of attending the science fair at our son Noah’s middle school and spending an evening wandering through hallways and classrooms where the scientific method and America’s future seemed alive and well. Young people enthusiastically explaining their ideas, why they chose to work on them, the hypotheses they pursued, and the results of their well-planned or even last-minute investigations of biology, chemistry, physics, and a host of everyday challenges that might lend themselves to new and innovative perspectives. Noah, in keeping with his love of sports and animals, decided to test whether humans or dogs worked harder when they ran. To do this, he had five friends run a set of sprints and measured the change in their heart rates as a result of vigorous exercise. He then had our new dog Vincent and a friend’s dog run their own set of sprints, throwing a ball just the right distance to copy the humans and then measured the change in their heart rates. It helped that the dogs where inclined to retrieve. And he concluded that humans work harder than dogs when running the same distances.

One of my favorite projects was an awesome invention by a seventh grader named Gregory who decided to explore behavior modification in dogs. As many of you know I adore dogs, but I realize that they are not without flaws. One particular issue is the reality that their pee can destroy a lawn. And Gregory was seeking to solve this challenge with a creation he calls the “Furinal.” Quite simply, his invention is an elaborate garden urinal designed to get dogs to relieve themselves in a designated place by offering the inducement of a treat. When a dog goes to the bathroom in this device it sets off an electrical and mechanical chain of events that results in a treat or food being dropped into a small bowl for the obedient hound’s enjoyment. While the details might require a bit of tinkering, the invention was clever and practical…though I’m not sure if it will also require a dog psychologist at the outset.

Furinal

All of which suggests the importance and power of experimentation tied to our innate ability to be experimenters. Yet how many companies and organizations consistently ask all of their people to experiment or test new ideas? And how many also create regular events to shine a spotlight on everyone’s ideas and everyone’s attempts to learn more and make a compelling difference?

Not many at all. Instead most of us believe that innovation is the domain of a limited number of people who, by virtue of their roles or their training, are best suited to creating breakthroughs. Rather than inspiring everyone to give it a go.

We win in business and in life when we create a culture of experimenting. And when we take the simple idea of a science fair out of the classroom and into the rest of our lives.

Cheers!

Stay-cation

Greetings.   In response to our current economic uncertainty and the high cost of gas, many people are opting for a new type of vacation this summer that is known affectionately as a "stay-cation."   It's an interesting twist on the idea of not going anywhere–i.e., not taking a vacation–but with powerful implications for all of our companies and organizations.  Because a "stay-cation" gives us the opportunity to get to know our own surroundings even better and with greater appreciation.  To scratch beneath the surface.  To discover hidden treasures.  To wander beyond our regular stomping grounds.  To find new and more remarkable corners of the place we often take for granted.

So while I spend a lot time thinking about the value of getting off our bottoms and exploring the world around us, I would be remiss if I didn't suggest that we also take the time to get off our bottoms and explore our own businesses.  Looking for the hidden treasures, talents, assets, and possibilities that we often miss in the press of our day-to-day responsibilities.  Seeking to understand our organizations and customers with greater depth and appreciation so we can better achieve our potential and theirs.

By staying close to home.

Not always, but enough of the time to become smarter in ways that matter.

Staycation_header_

We win in business and in life when we take a closer look at our world and, in the process, discover some new keys to unlocking greater value. Maybe it's time you decided to go nowhere.

Cheers!

Starting Somewhere

Greetings.  If you have ever had the pleasure of attending an elementary school orchestra or band concert, you probably had two clear thoughts about the music teacher.  First, that this person has the patience of a saint..assuming that saints really do have a lot of patience.  Because the typical elementary school student is, at best, a "casual" musician–playing in school for less than an hour a week then struggling (or should we say battling) to find the time or motivation to practice at home between classes.  While their adoring parents cough up hundreds of dollars to rent junior an instrument of his choosing and suggest its role in his becoming a well-rounded and successful member of society at some distant date in the future. There are of course exceptions.  But the number of music prodigies at your average or even above average elementary school is relatively small (i.e., a number that is likely to be approaching zero).  

Second, that this person would probably have much greater job satisfaction if they taught older and more advanced students who actually appreciate the fact that the best elementary school music teachers can seemingly play every single instrument ever invented.

But there they are, on a stage in a cafeteria, coaxing the best out of each and every one of their young students against all odds and applauding every promising note, precise pizzicato, and moment of harmony no matter how fleeting.  All with an eye toward the remarkable progress made by relatively modest effort and the potential of some of these students to make music and performance a more significant part of their lives moving forward.

These concerts are also about the simple and important notion that each of us has to start somewhere in order to find our true passion and become remarkable at something.  And that music is a perfect starting place, because it really is an innate human talent that all of us can enjoy for our entire lives.  An essential part of every culture that has ever graced the planet.  A single language with the power to break down barriers that divide even the fiercest of adversaries.

A starting point but not an end point.

And so it is with the newest and youngest employees in all of our companies and organizations.  People filled with great energy and possibilities who sometimes strike the wrong notes at the beginning.  But who, in time, could make remarkable contributions if we chose to see them as starting points with unlimited potential to reinvent the songs we play rather than end points with only a casual interest in an old familiar tune.

Start-here
We win in business and in life when we appreciate the importance of starting anywhere as an essential step in getting somewhere far more remarkable.

Cheers!

Coming Home

Greetings.  I'm back in the office after four weeks on the road and, as our buddy Dorothy noted in The Wizard of Oz, "there's no place like home."  Because "home" is the place where we are most comfortable and confident.  A place where we are anchored, grounded, and able to be at our best as long as we are open to believing that even our best can always be better.  So even after a long and exciting journey filled with new discoveries, fascinating ideas, remarkable learning, and limitless possibilities, it's always fun to return to the office and look at our businesses with a fresh and optimistic eye.  An eye that appreciates all the things we do really well, but also imagines–based on new insights–how we might raise the bar.  

The real challenge for each of our companies and organizations is to skillfully combine these new insights with an even clearer understanding of the things we already know.  And, in the process, to figure out how to deliver even greater value to the customers we have the privilege to serve.  To create a culture of travel and openness that enhances the passion we already have for the important work we do.  Not that we need to be traveling far away to gain essential knowledge.  But we do need to create corporate cultures that ask us, with some regularity, to get off of our collective butts and engage the world around with a willingness to stretch, grow, and be more remarkable at the things that matter most.

So as you return to your workplace after a summer that hopefully included some time off and a bit of travel, try to take the time to figure out what you learned while you were away.  What genius you noticed when you turned a new corner.  What insight finally became clearer.  And then commit to use this new learning in your efforts at innovation.

Coming Home 3 

We win in business and in life when we delight in stepping out and in coming home.  Recharged, refreshed, and full of energy and promise.

Cheers and have a great week ahead!