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:


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.



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.


A Failure of Strategy

Greetings.  It was definitely a bad week for American business icons as two great brands filed for bankruptcy protection.  First, our dear friends at Hostess decided to bake a brand new plan for overcoming declining sales and a shortage of dough (or capital).  And now Kodak, the company synonymous with photography, has entered the dark room of reorganization in the hope of reemerging with a new and brighter image of its future.  In the case of Kodak, we can lay most of the blame on a failure of strategy and an unwillingness to leave the past in order to create the future.

Strategy is about making choices about offerings and customers.  Tough choices. And in the world of technology it often means giving up on our old, reliable and adored technologies as we place a bet on what will come next.  Which makes it even more troubling when we are the ones who have figured out what will come next and are unwilling to make it happen.  Because Kodak actually invented digital photography–way back in 1975–but never made the commitment or the investment to become the market leader.  Choosing instead to believe that there would always be a gigantic market for film and film-based cameras.  That they would dominate.  Just like the market for mainframe computers, vinyl records, Sony Walkmen and brick and mortar bookstores.

And adding to the sadness of Kodak's decline is the reality that the company's main competitor in the old world of photography, Fujifilm, is thriving today as a diversified company with strong and very successful offerings in digital cameras, specialty films, medical imaging, digital services and optical devices.  The result, one can only imagine, of a clear strategy aimed at exposing the limitations of its core business in order to reinvent a prosperous future.


We win in business and in life when we are willing to make dramatic changes required to survive and prosper.  And when we have the guts to give up those parts of the past that won't get us to the future.


Metrics That Matter

Greetings.  We all know that metrics matter when it comes to business success. In fact, metrics are essential to making strategy meaningful, and vital to operations, customer service, sales and innovation.  But we have to make sure to choose the right ones and then use them to monitor our progress and guide our actions in doing the things that matter most.  

We also know that some companies and organizations provide data and metrics to help us make more informed decisions about the products, services and solutions they offer.  Decisions that are in our best interests.  These businesses realize that making customers smarter is an valuable discriminator.

But there are also companies and organizations that play a bit fast and loose with their use of metrics.  Even some of the world's leading enterprises.  Which makes the following ad for Head & Shoulders shampoo, a product of Procter & Gamble, both amusing and a bit sad…

Head and shoulders

Which seems to suggest that there are other shampoos that make your hair no thicker-looking than hair that has not been washed in a week.  Sounds like a remarkable metric…and a scientific (and marketing) miracle!

We win in business and life when we use numbers to empower those we have the privilege to serve.  And when we make their hair as clean and healthy as possible.


Beginning With The End In Mind

Greetings.  Looking to do something important and remarkable?  If so, you'd be wise to start at the end rather than the beginning.  That's right.  Before you try to figure out how to create the best new product or service, or the best organizational design, or the best customer service experience, or the right strategy, or the best IT infrastructure, or the best program for driving innovation, or the best proposal, or the best advertising campaign, or the best training program, or the right job, take the time to figure out what you'd like to accomplish.  It's great advice that Stephen Covey shared years ago in his classic book The Seven Habits of Highly-Effective People and it rings true in every assignment I have the privilege to work on.

So ask your and your colleagues and co-conspirators: 

What would an absolutely brilliant result look like?

What would happen if your wildest dreams came true?

Then focus your best thinking on achieving that result.

The trouble with most companies and organizations is the reality that they decide to do something important without ever imagining the perfect result.  And, failing this, they limit their potential and their likely success right from the start.  It's like planning a trip with no destination in mind.  It might be great arriving someplace new and unexpected.  But we're likely to make the most of an opportunity when we know where we're going and what's remarkable about getting there.  Because that knowledge is actually far more liberating than constraining.

So commit to beginning each important initiative with the simple promise to start at the end…by being clear about achieving a result that really matters.


Covey quote


We win in business and in life when we work backwards…because being clear about where we are going is essential to finding the most remarkable way to get there.


Noah-isms: “The Most Important Dream”

Greetings.  On a recent dog walk around the neighborhood, our son Noah asked me what my "most important dream" was.  It was an interesting question and one that sparked my curiosity.  "I'm not really sure," I replied–quickly trying to unlock my memory.  "I have had a lot of very interesting dreams," I suggested, "but I'm not sure which one is the most important."  "You know," he continued, "the dream that changed your life the most.  The one that you did something about.  Like dreaming about meeting Mamma, or having children, or getting a dog, or starting your own business, or making the world a better place, or something like that."  "I guess that I did dream about every one of those things," I answered with a smile.  And all of a sudden I began to understand the even bigger idea that he was getting at.  That each of us has a special power to dream an important dream and then be so inspired that we make it come to life.  Rather than simply letting our dreams fade with the harsh sound of the alarm clock or the pressing demands of an urgent priority.

That we could be the superheroes of our dreams.  With the special powers to make them happen against all odds!

And even if you can't remember your most important dreams from when you have been asleep, you can definitely recall your dreams from when you've been awake. That is, if you have ever taken the time to dream.  To recall the dreams that once (or more than once) captured your imagination but somehow never came to be. The moments when you dared to envision a more perfect world, a more impactful enterprise, a more engaged and collaborative workplace, a more meaningful and complete life, or a more significant contribution to a problem worth solving.

So what is your most important dream for your company or organization?  And, how willing are you to use your genius and the brilliance of those you work with in order to make it come true?  To create a clear and inspiring vision, craft a clear and innovative strategy, and then act to bring the dream to life.  With a keen sense of focus…and a dog at your side.

Noah Studying

We win in business and in life when we are invited to recall our most important dreams.  And when we strive to make them come true.