Noah-isms: “At Least Two Right Answers”

Greetings.  We all know that innovation is about finding new and better ways to solve problems, capture opportunities and deliver greater value to customers.  But is this also a sound premise for taking a test in middle school?  

On a recent quiz in his sixth grade science class, our son Noah and his classmates were asked a series of questions about the environment and the keys to protecting it now and in the future.  It was a fill-in-the-blanks assessment that required quick thinking or at least quick recall in order to race through the questions successfully. The kind of "beat-the-clock" quizzes we all dreaded as kids before they became the unique value proposition for most TV game shows.  And while these tests do not always produce the most complete learning, they often yield some interesting insight.

Such was the case with a question about the biggest threat to urban environments around the globe…a question that Noah answered by creating a brand new word:

"Popullution."

A word that really gets at the heart of the challenge that many cities face as they grow too fast.  Too many people and too much pollution.  And forced to fit a one word answer into a relatively small space, it must have seemed–under the keen pressure of the moment or the lack of time to check his responses–almost perfect or at least slightly clever.  A moment of semi-partial brilliance in a sea of canned replies.  And a moment that would lead to a great conversation at home the next evening.

"Aren't there at least two right answers to almost every question?" Noah pondered as he snarfed through bites of pasta and salad.  "Especially for questions that aren't very simple."  Like big questions they ask in school or the big questions that most of us deal with every day in our companies and organizations…

Questions about science, history, politics, and culture.  Questions about strategy, the things we offer, how we work together, the need for innovation, the customer experiences we provide, and so on.  Questions that really matter.

"Yes," I replied even though I knew that math and science teachers, as well as the crazed folks who invented the SAT exams, where generally looking for one specific answer.  "The questions that matter most deserve at least two answers because our first answer is rarely the best that we can do," I continued.  "And they deserve our very best thinking too!"

"And sometimes they involve putting two of our very best ideas together to create something even more valuable."

"Kind of like popullution," Noah wondered.

Precisely.

Beijing-China-Polution

We win in business and life we realize that there is always more than one answer to a problem or opportunity.  And when we acknowledge that we can always be better at the things that matter most.

Cheers!

Noah-isms: “Change and Unchange is Good”

Greetings.  During lunch at Panera this past weekend our son Noah asked if his mother and I would ever get divorced.  It was an honest question from an eleven-year-old who sees that the parents of several of his friends are no longer together. "No, Mamma and I will be together for as long as people eat chocolate," I replied. A comparison intended to allay his fears that divorce was a likely event for people with children.  "But why do people get divorced anyway?" he wondered, "and, why will you and Mamma stay together forever?"  "I don't really know the answer for other people," I responded, "because being married is a lot of work and sometimes people feel that they've tried their hardest and they need a change.  But I can say why I think that Mamma and I will always stay together (or at least until the world runs out of chocolate) and I guess it's all about what we've decided is most important in life for us."  

"And what's that?" he continued.  

"Being close and caring about each other no matter what," I suggested.  "Putting family first and always being in each other's corner.  Being together as a couple. And sharing a set of core values as a guide to getting through life's little (and big) challenges and frustrations.  And making a commitment to learn, change, and grow together."  

"So I guess you'd think that change is good but unchange is good too," Noah suggested in his very clear and insightful way.  "You change and you don't change together."

Which started me thinking about just how important this idea is to the success of companies and organizations of all types.  The notion that some things need to change in order for us to be successful for the long haul.  These include the things we have to offer, the value we deliver to customers, the way we find and inspire our people, the way we leverage new technologies, the way we expand to unlock new market opportunities, and the way we learn and share knowledge and possibilities.  And the equally important notion that some things should never change in order for us to be successful for the long haul.  These are the "core values" on which we build our business and base our most fundamental decisions.  Values like honesty and integrity, a commitment to the highest quality, a determination to support and bring out the genius in all of our people, a passion for innovation, an unwavering focus on the needs of our customers, a passion for the importance of learning–and any other core beliefs that are essential to who we are and what we hold dear.

Change is essential.

And so is "unchange."

Noah Boat
We win in business and in life when we embrace the necessity of change and unchange.  They might in fact be the two most important things we ever learn from the experience of living or from the words of a young man growing up too fast.

Cheers and wishes for a week ahead filled with change, unchange, and plenty of chocolate!

Noah-isms: “The Best Things Don’t Expire”

Greetings.  This weekend marked a wonderful event in the life of our family as our daughter Carly had her Bat Mitzvah.  After a year of studying Carly read and chanted from the Torah (Old Testament), bringing her wonderful smile, warmth, creativity, and voice to a tradition that started very differently in Biblical times and today is carried on by Jews on nearly every corner of the earth.  It is an experience that's all about "coming of age" and becoming an "adult"–surrounded by family, friends, and the community.  And a remarkable moment that is filled with many hopes, dreams, and expectations…but not likely to include the regular cleaning of one's room.

As part of the service, Carly gave a short speech about her part of the Torah which happened to be the story of Joseph as a young man.  Many of us know him as the fellow who: (a) had the most stylish (and multi-colored) coat in the Bible, and (b) was the star of a very popular and long-running Broadway musical.  But it turns out that Joseph wasn't the nicest young man in the Holy Land, regularly boasting to his eleven brothers that he was the best and the brightest.  So Carly spoke about the importance of being kind, considerate, and making a difference in the world without calling attention to yourself.  And she shared her honest, caring, and humorous thoughts about sibling rivalry and the value of family.  It's really a great case of the eventual power of "servant leadership" and teamwork in bringing about change.  But in his early days Joseph so enraged his brothers that they first thought to do away with him and then settled for selling him into slavery in Egypt.  He would eventually rise to a position of great power and become a nice guy, but that's a story for another day.

And as part of the modern custom Carly received many wonderful and thoughtful gifts from family and friends to mark the occasion and her passage to adulthood. But the one present that really caught my attention was a book of coupons from her brother Noah who will have his Bar Mitzvah in two years.  It said on the cover: "COUPONS THAT DO NOT EXPIRE" and it included the following:

  • A coupon for breakfast in bed
  • Two coupons for back massages
  • A coupon to play with his PSP (game system) for an hour
  • Another to play with his PSP for an hour and a half

And a final coupon that would allow her to take any one thing from his room for an entire day.  All to be used whenever she chose to.

Torah_scroll 

We win in business and in life when we honor and give new meaning to important rites of passage.  And when we realize that the best things in life don't expire.  Things like family, friends, community, an ancient book, a commitment to make the world a better place, and coupons for a back massage or to use our best stuff.

Cheers!

Noah-isms: “Every Cloud is a Picture”

Greetings.  On a recent walk through our favorite park, Noah and I took a break to admire the clouds.  It was a chilly day but the beautiful mix of a bright blue sky and dramatic stratus (a.k.a., low clouds) made it a real joy to be outside.  And as we watched the clouds move by, Noah remarked in his curious way that:

"Every cloud is a picture."  

"I'd have to agree," I replied, quickly trying to figure out all the pictures that could be seen overhead.  "They can be just about anything," Noah continued, "but you have to use your imagination!"  And for the next few minutes both of us used our imaginations to survey a sky filled with possibilities: 

  • "An owl."
  • "A cheetah."
  • "A lady drinking tea."
  • "A map of Australia, and one of Madagascar."
  • "A smiling swordfish."
  • "A dog eating frozen yogurt."
  • "A Lamborghini."

And a lot of other things that appeared with the slightest change in the wind.  The Lamborghini was, no doubt, the most incredible.  But it was definitely there.  And all it required was a bit of imagination and a ten-year-old's great fascination with this amazing Italian sportscar.  

And then it dawned on me that if the sky was a canvas for our imaginations, why couldn't we create a similar canvas for our companies and organizations?  Why couldn't we begin each year with a bright blue backdrop filled with clouds, and continue by adjusting our eyes just enough to begin transforming our view.  A view that was only limited by our commitment to provide the most compelling value.  Or maybe we could start by taking a walk on a cloudy day and making a list of all the amazing pictures we discovered.  Then take that list and use it as a starting point for re-imagining the products, services, and solutions that would really matter to the customers we choose to serve.

A quiet walk, a sky filled with clouds, and a new call to unlock our genius.

Noah Cloud 2
We reach our full potential in life and business when we take the time to notice everything around us, and in doing so to let our imaginations take hold.  Maybe it's time for you to rediscover your genius by finding pictures in the clouds and possibilities in your everyday world.

Cheers!

Noah-isms: “Nothing’s Perfect”

Greetings.  Drives to Saturday morning soccer games are often a source of great inspiration.  Powered by a keen sense of wonder and possibilities, not to mention a chocolate-glazed donut overwhelmed by sprinkles, there is no limit to the insight that a nine-year-old can provide.  And so it was last weekend when, during a brief pause from inhaling his high carb breakfast, our son Noah said quite confidently: 

"You know Papa, nothing's perfect."
"Really?  You believe that?"  I replied.
"Yup!" 
"Not even your dog Ella?"  I asked.
"Nope!"
"Or an amazing goal to win a soccer match!"  I continued.
"Definitely not!"
"Or a day without school?"
"Not even that."  
Though I can only assume that I was getting pretty darn close.
"Everything has something about it that's not perfect," he added.  "It's just not possible to be perfect.  Not even the sun or the moon or even a dog is perfect."
"Doesn't that make you sad?"  I wondered.
"Nope.  It's okay with me."

And then I started thinking about all the times as adults that we try to be "perfect." Unwilling to offer an idea or to sing a song in public unless we get it exactly right. Unwilling to take a risk or to offer a helping hand out of fear that we might mess up.  Unwilling to launch a new product, service or solution because its still a work in progress.  Unwilling to make needed changes in our company or organization because we haven't figured out the perfect way to do things.  

IMG_0663

Maybe nothing is perfect.  And maybe that's the real magic of anything worth doing.  When we unlock ourselves from the burden of having to make things perfect, we rediscover our innate ability to ask important questions, try new things and imagine new possibilities.

Cheers and have an enjoyable and imperfect weekend!