To a New Year of Dreams and Dreamers

Greetings. After a bit of a sabbatical from blogging, I am delighted to be back with a new sense of energy and focus about writing and business. In addition to dealing with a couple of pressing family matters, I have spent the past nine months continuing to think about the importance–or should I say the “necessity”–of strangers, the real keys to unlocking the genius that exists in everyone in our companies and organizations, and the value of stretching our thinking in order to live lives of meaning and make a real difference in the world around us. I have also been thinking about the value of dreams and why daring ourselves and those around us to dream is a vital ingredient in innovation and success.

As I begin to write a new book about how we can all discover and leverage our greatest abilities in today’s fast-paced economy, I am inspired by people from all different backgrounds and walks of life who dared to dream about what could be possible. The brothers Wright from Dayton, Ohio, who turned their skill as bicycle mechanics into a compelling passion for empowering humans to fly. Martine Rothblatt, a renowned telecommunications entrepreneur in Silver Spring, Maryland, who changed fields in the middle of a remarkable career in order to find a cure for her daughter’s seemingly incurable respiratory disease. In the process, she created one of America’s most successful biotech companies. Shahid Khan, an immigrant from Pakistan who bought a small auto parts supplier named Flex-N-Gate from his employer and through hard work, vision, and innovation turned it into a global company with more than 24,000 employees based in Warren, Michigan. It is worth noting that he is also the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League.

The list of people who dreamed about a different and better life and world is one of my favorite lists, and a constant inspiration to continue our work with our customers and in the local community. Work that we hope inspires people discover their own potential and imagine what is possible. Because it turns out that there are powerful and important dreams in all of us. Yet sadly, too many people lack the opportunity to make their dreams come true. People struggling to simply get by. People stuck in cities and towns that have been hit hardest by economic and technological change. People fleeing countries devastated by natural, economic, or political disasters. People discouraged from believing in themselves and their ideas. People who lack the financial resources or legal status to continue their educations in search of a better life.

Dreamers of all different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Dreamers with the promise to innovate and contribute in so many different ways if simply given the chance.

Throughout our history America has, at its best, been a place to hope and dream. Which makes it especially troubling to see how quickly we have changed our view of people, opportunity, immigrants, equality, and what is right. Throughout our history America has, at its best, been a place where anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules had a chance to make a meaningful life or even make it big. Which makes it especially troubling to see how quickly we have changed the rules to limit so many of our greatest assets from dreaming because of fear, ignorance, politics, or racism. Let’s hope that this is simply a blip–and a call to action–on the road to being more caring, enlightened, and prosperous. And let’s all commit during the year ahead, beginning with this week when we pause to honor the legacy of Dr. King, to dream dreams of kindness, innovation, and growth, and to support everyone among us who dreams of making a difference in our workplaces and communities.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 15:  Dozens of immigration advocates and supporters attend a rally outside of  Trump Tower along Fifth Avenue on August 15, 2017 in New York City. The activists were rallying on the five-year anniversary of President Obama's executive order, DACA - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Security throughout the area is high with President Donald Trump in residency at the tower, his first visit back to his apartment since his inauguration. Numerous protests and extensive road closures are planned for the area.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

We succeed in business and in life when we dare to dream, and when we nurture the dreams in those around us.

Cheers!

Curiosity – Vital to Businesses of All Sizes

Greetings. Last Thursday I had the pleasure of giving a relatively short presentation on innovation, curiosity, and the importance of strangers for the Small Business Network here in Maryland. The audience was an interesting and quite diverse group of business owners and potential entrepreneurs who were engaged, enthusiastic, and eager to gain some new ideas about how to deliver greater value and jumpstart their own success.

Needless to say, I was excited to share and exchange ideas about why the most successful companies are the ones that inspire all of their people to consistently take a fresh look at the world around them. I was also excited to challenge everyone to think about how their companies and organizations could be different in ways that really matter, and how they could consistently bring the best new ideas, products, services, solutions, and business practices to their customers. Ideas, products, services, solutions, and practices that would make customers smarter, more capable, more effective, more efficient, more complete, more inspired, and more innovative themselves. Ideas, products, services, solutions, and practices that would make their customer’s world more “awesome” to quote my favorite song from the original Lego movie. Ideas, products, services, solutions, and practice that were most likely to be sparked by looking at the world around us with fresh eyes and by being curious about the wisdom and best practices of folks in other industries, other walks of life, other places, and even other cultures.

And as many of you have asked to see one of my talks, I thought you might find this one interesting and quick. It is just a bit more than 20 minutes…which is all the time they gave me. A constrain that forced me to be focused and probably talk a bit faster than I might normally.

In any event, I hope that you find it useful and (if you do) please feel free to share it with friends, colleagues, neighbors, and even strangers as I am continuing to spread the word, especially in these confusing times, about the essential value of outsiders in driving innovation and enhancing our ongoing success as individuals, organizations and nations…

Cheers!

To a New Year Filled With Success

Greetings. While it is hard to believe that 2017 is already here, the start of the New Year provides a great opportunity to reconnect and thank you for being part of the life of our company in 2016.

It also seems, in these less than certain times, like the perfect moment to start a new conversation about the importance, or rather the “necessity,” of being curious and open-minded in the year ahead—a year that will be filled with remarkable possibilities for innovation and growth if we are able to see the best in everyone around us.

In a world in which new ideas and business models are quickly changing our industries and organizations, we will all need to step outside our comfort zones in order to re-imagine how we can deliver greater value to the customers, employees, and shareholders we have the privilege to serve. And the best way to do this is by being more open to the world around us and more willing to connect with, and learn from, people with different ideas, insights, backgrounds, and points of view.

2017 image

So here’s hoping that you and your colleagues will take the time to explore and connect with new people and new ways of thinking in the year ahead. And if you could use a little help in sparking a new conversation in your company or organization, please do not hesitate to ask.

But most importantly, giant thanks again for everything you have taught me during the past twelve months and best wishes for your most open and successful year yet!

Cheers,

Alan

A Surprising Lesson From Apple

Greetings. Apple is in the news again with two new iPhones and the long-awaited Apple Watch. In today’s world, “long-awaited” seems to mean something that has been imagined about for a year or two. Talk about resetting our notion of time and the speed at which all of us need to bring new ideas to market. In any event, the early buzz for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and the Apple Watch seems pretty positive, though it is hard to sort out whether these new products…and the watch in particular…will be the next game changers for this remarkable company.

Apple Watch

But there is an important lesson to learn from innovative companies like Apple that flies in the face of conventional wisdom about how the most successful companies innovate. The notion that they are filled with exceedingly clever people who, in the confines of their exceedingly well-designed workplaces, figure everything out by themselves. In fact, Apple owes much of its success to the ideas and insights of total strangers.

Think about what makes the iPod media player, with its dominant market share, so ubiquitous and successful. Certainly cool design, ease of use, and simple and elegant functionality have a lot to do with it. But Apple didn’t invent the concept of personalized music…that was Sony way back in 1979 with its then-revolutionary Walkman. And Apple didn’t invent the technology platform the iPod relies on…that was audio engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg and a German company named Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft, which developed the MP3 standard and received a patent for it in 1989. Ten years later, the first portable MP3 players hit the market, two years before the first iPod. And Apple, with its wildly successful iTunes store, certainly didn’t invent the notion of creating the greatest single source of content in the world: that was the Egyptians, who roughly 2,300 years ago built the Great Library of Alexandria…a library that contained more than four hundred thousand documents long before there were printing presses. Though its music and video collections left a lot to be desired.

Sony Walkman

What Apple did was combine its own brilliance with these inputs from strangers, along with the skills of a number of equally clever outside partners, to create the most compelling offering and product ecosystem available.

And the story is the same with the latest iPhones and iWatch.

Which suggests that all of us, and all of our companies and organizations, would benefit greatly from creating stronger connections with a network of very creative strangers who might provide a powerful foundation for our newest and best ideas.

We win in business and in life when we come to appreciate the brilliance of those who have come before us and those around us today whose ideas provide an essential piece to the puzzle of our success.

Cheers!

The Power of Connection

Greetings. As you all now, I have a strong belief in the importance of strangers in our lives. I also believe that each day we pass by more than a hundred people who could change our lives, even if it was only for a moment. But in our haste to get to the next meeting, or run an errand, or simply get home from a long or short day at work we rarely take the time to connect. In fact, we rarely look up to catch their glance. So I was struck when I recently learned about the work of a New York City photographer named Richard Renaldi who also has a passion for connecting strangers and for unlocking the discomforts and possibilities that make us all human.

His work is fascinating. He identifies “random” people on the street and “asks them to pose in pictures together as if they were family members, friends or lovers.” And the results are quite surprising and inspiring. Results that were summed up quite simply and brilliantly by one of the women he photographed when she noted:

We are probably missing so much about the people all around us.”

Follow this link to learn more about his work and to see a short and thought-provoking video of the things that happen when total strangers come together. Then try to imagine how you and your colleagues might do a better job of connecting all of the strangers in your company or organization as the real key to greater collaboration, innovation, business success, and creating a more inspiring workplace. After all, you too are probably missing so much by failing to really connect with, learn from, and grow with the people around you.

richard renaldi

We win in business and in life when we take a chance and connect with strangers. And when we dare to believe in our own humanity and the humanity of others.

Cheers!