The Magic of Stepping Back in Time

Greetings. Ideas and inspiration often come from unusual sources. Like a warehouse filled with old furniture and memories. And this was exactly the case not long ago when our daughter Sara went searching for a few items to furnish her new apartment. In her search she came upon an old stamp album, published in 1928, and belonging to a gentleman from Westfield, Massachusetts, named Edward Pomeroy.

Stamp Album Cover

Now I should probably backtrack as some readers might not know that I am an avid and enthusiastic stamp collector, or “philatelist,” and have always viewed stamps as wonderful little journeys into the lives, cultures, histories, and geographies of other places and people. In fact, a few years ago I wrote a blog post suggesting that the world might actually be a better and more understanding place if its leaders collected stamps and in the process gained greater insight about other countries. So finding an old album filled with lots of intriguing stamps from around the world was a source of real delight.

But back to Edward Pomeroy who it seems was the secretary of a local stamp club and, as such, left in his album a wide variety of handwritten notes, news clippings, and meeting minutes describing the workings of the club, stamps and topics that were of particular interest, presentations made by various members about their interests and expertise, and an explanation of the club’s 10 cent monthly dues.

And while I found all of this fascinating, one note was especially remarkable. It explained how Edward was able to send himself a letter that flew on the Graf Zeppelin’s maiden flight to the United States. The note read:

For the Graf Zeppelin I had to send (my letter) to the Postmaster of New York City asking him to put it on a boat in time to reach Fredrichshafen by April 18, 1930. After reaching Germany it was put on the ‘Graf’ which went from Germany to Brazil then to United States which was delivered to me day after.”

And in his letter, adorned with a $2.60 Graf Zeppelin stamp, he enclosed the postcard pictured below that read:

He who never made a mistake never made a discovery.”

Words that strike at the heart of what it means to be human. Words that underscore the central challenge in all of our efforts to create organizations and cultures that consistently learn, grow, and innovate. Words that, in 1930, literally flew across the Atlantic as part of a history making voyage when the world of commercial aviation was in its early, daring, and formative years. And words that might have been lost in the dust of an old building had Sara not discovered Mr. Pomeroy’s stamp album and a small part of his life.

One more powerful reminder of the power of curiosity and the potential to find ideas and inspiration in the most unexpected places.


We win in business and in life when we wander through old warehouses and age old lessons about innovation, progress, and community.


Get Lost. Become Famous.

Greetings. We should all be as lucky as Christopher Columbus. First, Spain’s king and queen gave him three super awesome ships, a trained crew, a bunch of stuff that could be traded, and what he thought was a totally accurate map of how to get to India. Second, he got lost, landed in a far off land that he was given credit for discovering even though it had been inhabited for over 15,000 years. Third, he is so famous that he had a holiday, the capital of Ohio, and the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization named after him.


Nailed it!!!

And while it might take a bit of skill and more than a bit of luck to replicate his accomplishments, there are a few basic lessons that we can all learn from Chris and his exploits…

A.  It is important to have a compelling story.

B.  It is essential to not be crushed by initial rejections.

C.  It helps to eventually find really rich investors.

D.  It is wise to view maps and GPS directions with some skepticism.

E.  We often make our greatest discoveries when we get lost.

F.  All of the above.


Columbus Map

(His actual map. Seems pretty straightforward to me.)

In fact, most great discoveries occur when we decide to take the road less traveled. Or when we simply get lost and have the wisdom and courage to pay attention to what we find.

And that is why Columbus Day is way more important than most of us imagine. Sure it’s a day off for some of us that recalls an interesting chapter in the history of the western hemisphere. But it is also a day to pause and think about our own potential to set out in search of what we already know and end up in a place we never envisioned filled with new ideas, insights, people, perspectives, and opportunities.

We win in business and in life when we set sail with an imperfect map and a very open mind.


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.


Asking Customers for Ideas

Greetings.  Comedian Paula Poundstone once offered the following insight:

"Adults are always asking children what they want to be when they grow up–it's because they are looking for ideas."

It's an amusing notion that might even have a bit of truth to it in these challenging economic times when many people will have the "opportunity" to consider second and even third careers.  And it's also an interesting notion in terms of innovation and business success.  The idea that we might ask others, including strangers, for their thoughts on the right products, services and solutions for us to offer, or the best practices and experiences that might accompany them.  And I'm guessing that many of you are doing this already.  Asking colleagues, vendors, customers, friends, neighbors, former classmates and others for their suggestions on ways to improve your businesses.

In this light, Walmart's recent "Get on the Shelf" initiative was a clever test of the value of asking customers for product ideas and the power of crowdsourcing to determine their likely popularity.  It was also a great way to generate a lot of social media attention.  And in the end, after receiving more than 4,000 ideas from its customers–ideas ranging from the crazy to the purposeful–the company chose three winners with real crowd appeal.  But before we get to the winners, you might enjoy a note about some entries that did not quite seize the day.  Entries like "Pelo Nuevo"–a vinegar-based salad dressing designed to cure baldness.  Or "Showels" –shorts made from beach towels that might have become this summer's pool and beach sensation (accept for the fact that they left the judges a bit dry).  Or "Scrats" –scarves that remarkably turn into hats.

Okay, so you're not overwhelmed by a desire to buy.  Well maybe the winners will inspire you.

The Grand Prize clearly touched the collective conscience of Walmart's customers. It's called Humankind Water, a new brand of spring water that contributes 100% of its profits toward providing wells and filtration systems for places in the world where children are dying due to a lack of clean drinking water.  One of the other winners is also linked to a challenging societal issue.  The "SnapIt Eyeglass Repair Kit" provides a simple screw that can be used to fix most eyeglasses in only 30 seconds and donates all of its proceeds to Jaylen's Challenge–an anti-bullying program started by an 11-year-old.  And the other winner is "PlateTopper" a handy invention that turns plates into airtight food storage containers.

Time will tell how popular these three new offerings are, but Walmart's idea might just spark your thinking about how to best leverage the ideas of customers in your company or organization.


We win in business and in life when we ask others for their ideas.  And when we commit to giving everyone a chance to own a bit of shelf space.


What’s in Your Museum?

Greetings. It seems as though every place in Italy has its own museum.  Big cities have dozens of museums of all shapes and sizes.  And practically every small town clinging to a mountain top in Tuscany and Umbria has it own unique collection of stuff that someone thinks really matters.  And why not?   There's quite a lot of art, history and culture to display here dating back to our friends the Etruscans.  And, there are also a lot of important old and new ideas to share.

So let's imagine that you and some of the other geniuses you work with were given the not so simple task of assembling a museum for your company or organization. What would you put in it?   What would you share about the art of what you do, the history of what has made you great (or at least meaningful to those you serve), and the culture that drives your work and everything you do?  

And, what ideas would you offer visitors about your hopes and dreams for the future?

It's a fun, challenging and helpful exercise that gets to the heart of what in takes for any business or organization to succeed.  And to be more than simply a set of artifacts collecting dust!

Venice museum

We win in business and in life when we put our best on display.  And when we leverage it to deliver the most compelling value for those we have the privilege to serve.