The Fastest Companies

Greetings. As a strategy and innovation consultant, I always look forward to Fast Company’s annual issue on “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.” It is a quick read and a great chance to be inspired by some of the most creative and disruptive businesses and organizations on the planet. And I would think that it should be required reading for all of us as we try to keep up in our super-fast changing economy.

Fast Company 2016

This year’s issue shows just how diverse and remarkable the practice of innovation has become as new technology companies like Buzzfeed, Airbnb, Uber, Spotify, Robinhood and others continue to re-imagine existing industries while more traditional companies like CVS Health, Universal Studios, GE, and even Taco Bell reinvent themselves in ways that bring greater value to their customers. In the case of 53-year-old CVS, a company that gained a lot of very positive publicity when it decided to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products, it is not-so-quietly morphing from a huge ($153 billion in annual revenues) drugstore chain into a one-stop retail healthcare business with its Minute Clinics, optical and hearing exams, a new focus on wellness offerings, and a new “predictive medicine” partnership with IBM.

Buzzfeed, this year’s top innovator is continuing to transform the media landscape of video, news and information, and advertising through its culture of constant learning and embracing change, a sharp focus on data-driven metrics, and a deep understanding of what made companies like Paramount Pictures and CNN connect with audiences in the past.

I often talk about the power of learning from strangers and getting outside our offices and our comfort zones to discover new insights and new business models. And while the physical and psychological act of getting up and out is a powerful part of what it takes to stretch our thinking, a quick or slow read of this issue is bound to inspire anyone with a commitment to being faster in a world that demands that we pick up the pace.

We win in business and in life when we pay attention to brilliance all around us, and when we recognize the need for speed.


The Genius of Nap Time

Greetings. When we were kids, nap time was an essential part of life and every school day. A chance to take a break, rest our minds and bodies, recharge our spirits, and keep the demons away. A time to journey far from the task at hand, if only for a matter of minutes, in order to possibly dream about new and even more amazing worlds.

And then one day we became adults and the notion of taking a nap became only a distant and comforting memory. After all, what company or organization in its right mind would want its employees to nod off when they could be slogging through all of the cool stuff in their in-boxes or struggling to stay alert in the day’s umpteenth meeting? Napping was viewed as the province of folks who were either total slackers, completely sleep deprived, or had a major iron deficiency.

Now the world, and particularly the business world, is changing, and none other than the Wall Street Journal is suggesting that taking a nap is possibly a good thing…and that “more naps, albeit short ones, might make for a more functional workforce.” And possibly even a more energized and innovative one. They report that there is actually an emerging art and a science to napping, and that new research in the field is more and more relevant to companies and organizations of all types.

It’s an interesting shift in our growing understanding of what makes people as productive and creative as possible… understanding that could provide remarkable benefits for workers and workplaces alike.

And that could change the parameters of what it means to be a great and supportive place to work.

Businessman sleeping at desk

We win in business and in life when we take the time to nap as a great way to recharge our batteries and our motivation to do the most important things in new ways.


The Lesson of Just Getting By

Greetings.   On a walk through downtown Chicago yesterday afternoon I happened upon a building that was originally built for the London Guarantee Accident Company in 1923.  It’s kind of an odd name if you take it literally…an insurance company that could guarantee that you would have an accident.  Not a particularly brilliant idea for you or for them.  Though I’m sure that wasn’t their intention, the name carved into the building in stone did bring a smile.  But under this sign and just outside the entrance to a local branch of the Corner Bakery which now occupies part of the retail space, the words “guarantee” and “accident” quickly took on new meaning when I met a stranger named Linda who, cup in hand, was trying to get $37 to pay for a room at a less than perfect hotel.

Let me backtrack to suggest that while there is no good place to be homeless, Chicago in the middle of winter presents additional challenges.  And there are a lot of homeless people in Chicago.  At least the sun was shining yesterday, but the temperature never got above 30 degrees and the place where Linda was standing seemed to be mostly in the shade.  But it was her “best place,” or so she believed, based on nearly two years of trial and error that comes from living on the streets.  A life that seemed, from her perspective, to be almost “guaranteed” by a number of setbacks, challenges, less than perfect choices, and even accidents that had occurred in her life…but for which there was no insurance policy.

And this spot, next to the door of a restaurant, was where she felt most hopeful that she would get enough money for a night indoors and a bit of food.  “Why don’t you go to a shelter?” I asked somewhat naively.  “Cause they’re all full of bedbugs and they ain’t so safe,” she quickly replied.  ‘Not as safe as being out on a Chicago street in the cold,’ I wondered to myself.  A scary thought for those of us who go to sleep each night in the comfort of our warm homes or nice hotels.

“Can I at least buy you a meal,” I asked after learning more of her story.  “That would be nice,” she replied and I took her inside to look at the menu and pick whatever she wanted. Then after she placed her order I encouraged her to sit down for a while and warm up.  “I can’t do that,” she told me.  “Why not?  You’re a paying customer,” I suggested.  “Not really,” she quickly responded, “but that’s not it.  I can’t spend any time inside if I want to make my $37 before it gets dark.”  “Then let me also get you a large hot drink to warm you and your hands up a bit until the food is ready.”

Two years on the street.  A sharp contrast to the frustrations that many of us face when we have to work long hours or come in on the weekend.  Or when things don’t go just as planned in our work or personal lives.

Two years on the street.  No doubt filled will more challenges than most of us will ever know.  And yet, through it all, Linda and too many others have somehow figured out how to endure.  How to be more resilient and resourceful that any of us give them credit for.  Skills that would be incredibly valuable in most of our companies or organizations if only the circumstances were slightly different.

As all of you who read this blog know, I’m a keen believer in the importance of strangers…and a keen believer in their power to teach us things we don’t know or provide the missing piece in a puzzle that matters in our work or personal lives.  But how many of us believe that any stranger could teach us something important?  And how many of us take the time to find out?  Especially from a homeless woman struggling to just get by.

Yet here I was understanding more clearly the challenge we face as a society and the challenges we face as companies in times when a slowly improving economy is testing our abilities to create greater value with fewer resources.  To be much more innovative, resilient, and resourceful than we have been before.  By understanding what it means to just get by.

Because if Linda can survive and hope for a better day, the rest of us have little or no excuse for not making the most of the opportunities in front of us.

london guarantee

We win in business and in life when we take the time to connect with strangers from all walks of life.  And when we find the time to not only learn from them but acknowledge that they matter.


The Wisdom of Salad

Greetings.  As one of this year's New Year's resolutions I vowed to eat more green leafy vegetables.  Lettuce, kale, collard greens, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, cabbage, Chinese broccoli, bok choy, chard, artichokes, escarole and even the often dreaded brussels sprouts.  And I'm starting to feel a lot healthier just writing about them.  But in reality, it was becoming increasing clear that both Mom and Grandma were right–eating my vegetables, and especially the mighty green leafy ones, was not only good for my current health but also my longevity.  And the shorter my likely longevity becomes, according to actuaries at least, the more focused I've become on it.  Besides, who says that a giant bowl of romaine lettuce isn't a perfect complement to chocolate, red wine and beer?  And, while I won't bore you with all of the awesome health benefits of these nutritional "powerhouses," let me simply say that they are loaded with weight-losing, energy-enhancing and disease preventing stuff whose names are too scientific to mention in this blog…but stuff that should instantly elevate them to the top of your personal food pyramid.

Which brings us to the real subject of this post, my recent discovery of a restaurant concept called Chop't which bills itself as "The Creative Salad Company."  A place that's all about serving fast and healthy food based on combining and chopping a wide array of fun ingredients into a tasty and engaging salad.  And it's focused keenly on the endless possibilities of salad.  

"What?" you exclaim, "there are endless possibilities in salad?"

A question that can now be answered with a resounding yes.  Because the folks at Chop't offer five types of greens, sixty different toppings, and over thirty different dressings which, according to our thirteen-year-old math-studying daughter Carly can be combined to produce several million unique salads.  How's that for endless possibilities?  Plus, your salad comes with a unique customer experience…because once you choose your favorite ingredients a Chop't team member chops, stirs and folds them into your very own fresh and personalized meal. 

And the idea must be catching on because I've always found a long line during my frequent visits to create a new salad and fulfill my green leafy destiny.  So if you're looking for a more innovative approach to lunch and salad, you might want to check out one of their 13 locations in New York City and Washington.  And while you're there, you might want to also think about the liberating power of focus and the potential to have fun with an idea as simple and important as salad.  


We win in business and in life when we choose to focus on something that matters.  And when we discover the almost limitless possibilities that come from setting limits.


P.S.  And great thanks to our daughter Sara whose passion for kale and regular readings from her new favorite book, Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr, has brought new energy and insight to our dinner table.