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.


Prematurity Awareness Day

Greetings.  Last Saturday was the first "World Prematurity Awareness Day"–a day intended to focus public attention on the global problem of premature births. While I typically believe that we have too many special days commemorating too many not-so-special things, this one is important for a couple of reasons.

First, we need to do a better job of giving mothers and babies a chance to live full and healthy lives.  Each year more than 13 million babies–or roughly 10% of all births–around the world are born prematurely.  Of these, over a million will die, and several million more will have significant life challenges as a result of their early birth.  And many mothers of premature babies will, by virtue of having little or no prenatal care, face physical and psychological challenges as well.

And, while we tend to think of premature births as being primarily a health issue in developing countries, it is also a significant challenge here in the U.S. where an even higher percentage of babies–about 13%–are born too early.  It is a challenge that will require greater education, improved access to quality prenatal care, and a concerted effort to provide real support to mothers–especially very young expectant mothers.

Second, there is a very powerful business connection or at least an important idea triggered by the notion of prematurity.  All too often many of the best ideas in our companies and organizations never get their chance to come to fruition.  Instead, they fail to receive the resources and support in their earliest stages of growth and development that would enable their initiators to achieve their full potential.  And, when they are launched by some of our newest and youngest employees, this lack of nurturing and success often limits the likelihood that they will continue to work on innovative opportunities that could support ongoing business success.

All because we don't always make innovation and innovators a clear priority.  And because we don't appreciate the pre-birth needs of ideas filled with promise.


We win in business and in life when we give people and their creations the support they need to grow, flourish, and make a lasting difference.


Perfect Form

Greetings.  Even if you happen to be a relatively healthy person, you'll probably have the opportunity each year to visit some new doctors.  Medical professionals in specialties you can barely pronounce with the unique ability to help you sort out some of the simple and complex maladies that come with age.  There are helpful gastroenterologists (profiled in an earlier post on the value of colonoscopies) who focus on the efficient performance of your digestive system, dermatologists who determine if that colorful birthmark is morphing into a sign of possible skin cancer, cardiologists who will passionately search for the truth behind changes in your cholesterol and lipids, neurologists who might help you decide if your recent addiction to sudoku puzzles is slowing the pace of memory loss, orthopedic specialists who will explain in positive terms the sad details behind your gradual shrinking in height, and oral and maxillofacial surgeons who will describe and then extract a small but peculiar growth on your jaw.  

And each of these experts will no doubt ask you to complete their version of a set of very similar forms.  Forms that, sadly, are unable to communicate with each other. Forms that ask who and what you are, where you live and work, and how you can be located when you're not at their office.  Forms that pose very personal questions about your health, history, and the behaviors you have that might influence their care and the longevity of your body.  Forms that assure the doctor that they will be paid by your insurance or by you personally in the odd event that your insurance company decides that you are seeking unnecessary, uncovered, or overly expensive treatment.  Forms that give them permission to share your information with other health professionals on your healthcare "team" who might also possess a keen interest in your well-being.  Forms that enable them to send stuff they take from your body to an appropriate lab for analysis.  Forms that demand consent to act on your behalf if, like Columbus, they discover some unforeseen or uncharted land while examining you.  Forms that require you to attest to your general competence to read and sign forms.  Forms with essentially the same information that you will have the privilege of filling out–in person or on-line–for every different doctor you visit.  You lucky duck!

So it was when I had the privilege recently of filling out the latest set of forms for the latest specialist that I started thinking again about the awesomely inefficient system we have for collecting essential information needed to protect the health of each of us and all of the geniuses that surround us.  A system that has no ability to share information, ask the right questions only once, and speed better health or healthcare to us in the most organized matter.  A system that has no real clue who we are and yet continues to ask us to pay ever higher premiums for the chance to not even be a number–but rather a set of disparate numbers attached to disparate medical records all bearing a similar piece of the same puzzle.  A system for which there actually is a simple and innovative solution if we would all stand up from our clipboards long enough to demand it.

So I faithfully completed this latest set of forms but with a sense of curiosity and humor.  After all, I'd done this before and wanted to stand out from the pack.  To somehow differentiate my answers from everyone else who had gone before me, especially given the fact that I was answering on-line with no chance to have anyone see my beautiful handwriting.  And given that all of you must regularly complete the same forms, I thought it might be a good idea–in keeping with the spirit of the holidays–to share some of my answers which you can feel free to use as needed.

Question #1:  "Pick one of the following — Mr., Miss, Mrs., Ms."

Answer:  "Mr."

Question #2:  "Pick one of the following — Male or Female"

Answer:  "Is this question really necessary after I completed the first question?"  

Question #10:  "Who is responsible for paying your bill?"

Answer:  "I might be making an unreasonable assumption here, but I thought that my insurance company would be willing to in exchange for the gigantic premiums I've been paying since Grover Cleveland was President."

Question #11:  "And who is responsible for paying the portion that they don't?"

Answer:  "That would be the healthcare payment elf or the tooth fairy, unless you guys are willing to cover it as a professional courtesy.  Or possibly me as a last resort."

Question #57:  "How is your sex life?

Answer:  "Now that's a bit personal, though I can say that I would have a lot more time for this if I didn't have to complete so many forms."

Question #93:  "Are you in good health?"

Answer:  "I think so, and I'm delighted that you finally asked this question.  In fact, other than the need to visit a medical specialist for an unexplained ailment, I feel absolutely remarkable."

Question #119:  "Do you snore?"

Answer:  "No.  I'm actually the only person in the world who doesn't snore and don't let my wife and kids convince you otherwise."

Question #144:  "Do you have any contagious diseases?"

Answer:  "Not according to my surviving family and friends."

Question #147:  "Do you have any known allergies?"

Answer:  "As a child I was allergic to 94% of the plants, animals, and pollens native to Northern California.  But since I no longer live there it is unclear if I still have these allergies.  Though I am definitely allergic to woodchucks and rabbits with dandruff."

Question #305:  "Do you wish to speak to the doctor privately about anything?"

Answer:  "I think so.  But if all twenty-five of your staff members and the other patients in the waiting room would like to hear the most intimate details of my condition please ask them to pull up a chair." 

Question #372:  "Is there anything else you would like us to know?"

Answer:  "I really love filling out forms over and over again!"


We win in healthcare and in life when we make it easy for those we serve to share the information that matters most.  And when we pay attention the first time.

Cheers and stay healthy!

Word of Mouth

Greetings.  There are three types of people in the world.  Those who absolutely adore breakfast and think it's the most important meal of the day, those who don't like breakfast, and those who aren't sure if they like breakfast or not.  I'm probably somewhere in the middle.  Sure I'd like a perfect bowl of oatmeal and some fresh fruit to start the day, but some days seem to have a mind of their own and the only recourse is a bar of some sort–grabbed and eaten on the run.  The challenge is to find a bar that's actually healthy and tastes great because some of the offerings found at our favorite stores are loaded with junk or taste like sawdust.  

So in my never-ending quest to scan the globe in search of new ideas, inspiration, genius, and now 190 nutritious and portable calories, I happened to stumble upon Carman's "Classic Fruit Muesli Bar."  It's a product made in Australia by a young entrepreneur named Carolyn Creswell who's turned her passion for muesli into a growing international business.  And I have to tell you that these bars–along with their equally delicious "Apricot and Almond" siblings–are fantastic!  In fact, I've already told over a dozen friends, relatives, colleagues, customers, and partial (as opposed to total) strangers about them.  Now I don't typically promote products on this blog, but I decided to do this to make an even bigger point about the power of word of mouth.  The power of creating something so unique, healthful, and "delicious" that it stands out from the crowd and inspires people to tell everyone they know (and don't know) about it.  Which begs the vital question:  "Do your products, services, and solutions inspire customers to spread the word?"  And, if not, "Why not?"  

Because the value of word of mouth is key to the success of any business.

As a side note, many of you are probably asking:  "What in the world is 'muesli' anyway and how did it ever find its way onto anyone's breakfast table?"  The short answer is that muesli is an uncooked breakfast cereal that combines rolled oats or another whole grain, fruit, nuts, seeds, and spices.  It is exceedingly popular in Europe, parts of the U.S., I'm assuming Australia, and with everyone who works at your local health food store.  It was invented around 1900 by a Swiss physician named Maximilian Bircher-Benner who used muesli as part of the treatment for his hospitalized patients.  And it's not that hard to make your own special blend by following one of the many recipes found on the web or in healthy living and eating magazines.  Though making a fantastic muesli bar is another story.   

Carmen's Muesli

We win in business and in life when we create a meaningful buzz about the things we have to offer.  And when we incite those around us to sing our praises.  Maybe it's time to take a different look at the potential of your products, services, and experiences.


What Claims Do You Make?

Greetings.  By now, most of us know about the health benefits of chocolate.  And some of us have even convinced ourselves that a diet filled with chocolate and red wine is a sure fire way to live past 100.  Though new research at Boston University suggests that genetics might have a bit more to do with it.  But before our friends at General Mills get a bit too excited (in marketing terms) about one of their newest products it might be helpful to do a reality check because some foods and offerings aren't quite as remarkable as they appear to be.

First, let me admit that I'm a big fan of this Minneapolis-based international food company and many of its brands.  I eat the original Cheerios, Wheaties, and Total many mornings, and often keep a supply of Nature Valley granola bars at my desk in case I need a quick snack.  I also enjoy many Progresso soups, Cascadian Farm organic vegetables, Yoplait yogurts, and an occasional pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream–especially dark chocolate, chocolate chocolate chip, and chocolate peanut butter.  Seems like a pattern there.  And I don't eat Lucky Charms because I have a strict policy against eating any food that's a color not found in nature.

But Chocolate Cheerios as a healthy breakfast choice might be stretching it just a bit.  Though I was more than slightly curious this morning when my wife Lisa, in her desire to enhance my well-being and support my chocolate addiction, placed a box of "New!" and "Whole Grain Guaranteed" Chocolate Cheerios on our breakfast counter.  As you can see below, the box is attractive and encouraging to those of us who have placed chocolate at the top of our personal food pyramids.  It indicates that Chocolate Cheerios are "The Perfect Balance" and "May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease*."  With a nice little asterisk suggesting that "Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.  Chocolate Cheerios cereal is low in fat (1g), saturated fat free and naturally cholesterol free."  Which kind of means that it won't hurt you to eat them, but will they really make you healthier?

Which got me thinking about all of the claims that companies and organizations make to those they serve, employ, and collaborate with.  World-class companies like General Mills.  And how many of them sound a bit better than they really are. And, how powerful it is when we make a claim that matters and deliver on it. 

We win in business when we offer something that is too good to be true and is true at the same time.  What bold claims will you make today? And will they be wrapped in a tasty package covered with value or fine print?

Cheers and have a tasty and healthy weekend ahead!