Finding Insight in a Box of Matzah

Greetings. For most of us in business today, selling our products and services is one of the greatest challenges we face…even when we have pretty darn remarkable offerings. After all, most customers have lots of choices, plenty of information, and only so much money to spend. Yet, in our wildest dreams, we fantasize about our ability to create products and services that will literally sell themselves. Products and services that are so unique, so intrinsically valuable, so totally cool, so compelling, and so essential to life on the planet that our customers simply can’t live without them. Products and services that seem, up to a point, to defy the laws of cost, competition, and even nature.

Yes these products and services do exist, but they are few and far between. Still we marvel at the brilliance of companies like Apple, Tesla, Airbnb, Under Armour, and even Lululemon before we could see through their clothing. Companies that inspire us to think that we, too, might also reinvent our industries in ways that really matter.

So imagine the challenge of trying to sell a product that is not only very old but hasn’t really changed much since the time it was invented. And when I say old, I mean really old. Like 3,500 years old. And as for innovation, which most of us assume to be a vital ingredient of business success, the only major change has been its production methods which were initially quite crude and crafted more out of necessity rather than a carefully developed plan.

Then let’s add to the equation the simple market reality that most customers only buy this product for seven or eight days a year. And that the folks who buy it represent one of the smallest market segments on earth. Now add to the mix the fact that there are plenty of competitors fighting for this modest market and using the same exact ingredients to make products that few customers would ever suggest was awesome.

Okay, so I’m talking about matzah. A product that is somewhat popular during this spring holiday season. The “bread of affliction.” An edible tribute to the exodus from Egypt in roughly the year 1,500 B.C. (or B.C.E.). A staple of the Jewish holiday of Passover that only a limited number of people have been chosen to eat. Sure anyone could buy it, and you could certainly eat it the rest of year. But let’s be serious. In a world filled with freshly-baked bagels, pumpernickel, croissants, brioche, baguettes, and even English muffins or Martin’s potato rolls, who (in their right mind) would opt for matzah?

And yet, the folks at Yehuda Matzos have somehow managed to be voted Numero Uno in the world of whole wheat matzah. And one taste of their crisp, beautiful, and rather ancient-looking treat confirms that they have magically figured out how to turn whole wheat flour and water into a veritable taste sensation. In fact, their matzah is different and each year compels me to imagine what it must have been like wandering through the desert with Moses hoping only to find a bit of advice from God and an oasis where they sold premium quality peanut butter.

Which leads to one simple idea. No matter what you do, commit to being the best you can be! Because every company, product, service, or even individual has the potential to be remarkable in ways that really matter. Even if the heart of your “offerings” is all about authenticity or a certain biblical requirement. The most enduring businesses, offerings, and people are the ones that consistently figure this out.

Yehuda Matzos

We win in business and in life when we commit to being #1 in something worth doing. And when we understand what is truly possible for our products, services, and customers, more deeply than anyone else.

Cheers!

The Necessity of Strangers

Greetings. On a beautiful fall morning in 2006, a walk to the school bus with our daughter Carly, who was nine at the time, would challenge my thinking about life and the real keys to personal and business success. It was a walk that my wife and I made almost every school day, but on this particular morning, Carly and I would pass someone we’d never seen in our neighborhood before…a middle-aged gentleman who looked more than slightly disheveled, somewhat distraught, and, from my overly protective parental perspective, potentially dangerous. So once we were out of listening distance, I turned to Carly and said: “You know sweetheart, Mamma and Papa won’t always be able to walk you to the school bus. So we’d like you to promise us that when you are walking by yourself you won’t talk to strangers.” It seemed like an important and necessary thing to say, especially at that moment. And it was something my parents had told me when I was Carly’s age at a time when the world was a whole lot safer.

Yet I could never have imagined her response as she looked up at me and said: “But Papa, if I don’t talk to strangers, how will I ever make new friends? And how will I ever learn new things?”

Her simple words would quickly challenge me to recall all of the “strangers” who had changed my life in some meaningful way.

Kid's Photo

Sara, Carly (w/ the trombone), and Noah on a fall day.

And they would also spark the idea for my new book, “The Necessity of Strangers,” which should be available wherever thoughtful books are sold by the beginning of next week. The book begins by sharing the special magic of some of the most important strangers I have ever met and then asks readers to think about the most important strangers in their own lives and the powerful roles that strangers might play in our future success by:

  • Sparking new conversations and new ways of thinking
  • Inspiring new possibilities
  • Given us fresh and honest input
  • Opening new doors, and
  • Helping each of us to discover and unlock more of our unique potential.

 

In the weeks ahead I’d love to use the book to start a conversation with all of you about the necessity of strangers and I’d also love learn some of your stories about strangers who have made a difference in your lives. And I’ll plan to share lots of ideas and practical tools to help you and your companies and organizations to connect with and learn from the right strangers.

We win in business and in life when we get past our aversion to strangers. And when we come to realize that strangers are more vital to our personal and professional success than we ever imagined.

Cheers!

Taking an Hour to Innovate

Greetings.  It's the start of another week and another chance take a fresh look at your business and the opportunities to improve your performance and deliver even greater value to your customers.  If only you could find time given all the meetings, emails and "to-do's" that have mysteriously piled up over the weekend.  And even though you're keen on innovating, it will just have to wait until you plow through all of these urgent–though not necessarily important–priorities.  You just can't find the time.

But what if it only took an hour to be more innovative?  

Could you find the time then?

Well in a sense that's all it takes to get started.  An hour to clear your head, get out of the office and engage a world filled with ideas, inspiration and possibilities.  An hour to discover the missing pieces in your quest to be the best and the most valued company or organization in your industry.  And here's how you can do it…

By taking a walk around town.

With a sense of curiosity and openness.  Take 60 minutes to explore a part of your city with all of your senses wide open.  And in the process, try to identify anything along the way that strikes you as interesting or even remarkable.  It can be a cool building or museum, a company with a unique and successful business model or a unique product, service or special “offer,” a person or an animal that catches your attention, a statue or a public work of art, an unusual sound or smell or flavor…or anything else.  Or simply visit a place that is thought to be "world class" and try to figure out their secret or secret sauce.  Because somewhere in their formula might be a powerful key to your success or part of the answer to helping your company or organization stand out from the crowd.

All by taking a simple walk with a purpose and a sense of imagination. 

Chicago

We win in business and in life when we make innovation our priority. And when we are willing to take an hour to walk around the block.

Cheers and have a great week ahead!

Getting Beyond Stereotypes

Greetings.  Let me start this post with the following joke:

What did the Black guy, the Latino guy and the Asian guy all have in common? 

Believe it or not, they all liked cantaloupe.

Probably not what you expected.  Because all of us have been conditioned to think about people in terms of the stereotypes–both good and bad–that we hold.  And these stereotypes tend to come out at parties, picnics, bars, other social events and even at the office when we think it's okay to be funny at someone else's expense.    

Which is probably why I find this joke, or anti-joke, and others like it to be so very helpful in thinking about people, innovation, collaboration, leadership, learning, the customer experience and the real keys to business and personal success.  And I also find it to be more than slightly funny.

Too often we are quick to pass judgment about other people based on their cultural backgrounds, personality types, jobs or roles, training, politics and a host of other things that make them "different" from us and unlikely to be the perfect colleagues, collaborators, bosses, business partners and potential customers we hope for. And if they happen to be strangers we are likely to place even greater emphasis on these stereotypes as instant deal-breakers that keep us from engaging them and gaining their perspectives and insights.

Even though we are all very similar.  Similar enough to connect as humans if given the chance.  And different enough, if also given the chance, to add real value in stretching our thinking about the best ways to solve pressing problems or create new opportunities.  But not different because of our stereotypes.  Different because of the unique richness of who we are and how and what we think.

So just as we should cast a wider net in our search for ideas, we should also cast a wider net in our openness to connecting in meaningful ways with a broader circle of people–in our own workplaces and beyond.

Cantaloupe-vitamin-c-lg 

We win in business and in life when we get beyond stereotypes.  And when we allow our unremarkable similarities to open the door to our remarkable differences.

Cheers!  And if you'll excuse me, I think I'll have a slice of cantaloupe.

Giving Employees Freedom

Greetings.  For the past four years Chinese artist Yang Weidong has been asking many of China's leading thinkers the following question:

"What do you need?"

It is a question intended to gauge the real obstacles to achieving their full potential as artists, writers, economists, historians and other thought leaders.  And far and away the top answer was "freedom"–with 95% of those surveyed indicating that some form of freedom was their most essential need.  Freedom to think.  Freedom to speak and share ideas.  Freedom to express themselves in whatever ways they choose.

Yet before we decide to simply confirm our belief that there is very limited freedom of thought and expression in China and other places, we should also be willing to ask Yang Weidong's question in our own companies and organizations.  To ask all of our employees and associates:

"What do you need?"

To be more engaged, innovative and successful.  To be willing to stay and be way more vested than you are today.  To be willing to take risks in order to help us grow and deliver greater value to the customers we have the privilege to serve.  My guess is that many of us will receive just about the same answer that Yang Weidong has received in China–assuming our people feel free to say what's on their mind.  That they need more "freedom" to explore the new ideas and new approaches to solving problems and creating opportunities they are passionate about.  That they need the support and encouragement of leadership if they are to suggest new possibilities in a corporate culture that is not always open to any thinking that runs counter to the prevailing ways of doing things.  That they need the time to stretch, imagine, hang out with different types of people and learn new things in order to enhance their insight and push the bounds of what they already know.

Freedom–a vital ingredient in the long-term success of individuals, organizations and nations.

And something we often take for granted but find difficult to provide.

Are you willing to give your people the freedom they need?

Freedom-by-Tyler-Pope-qpps_394743409050726.LG

We win in business and in life when we give everyone the freedom they need to make a difference and be true to themselves.

Cheers!