The Truth About Self-Help

Greetings.  We live in a "self-help" world as companies and organizations try to get us to do more of their work.  And, for the most part, we seem to be pretty happy with this idea.  After all, who wants to spend countless minutes or hours in line or on hold when we can simply do things for ourselves.  And, who wants to take the chance that the service provider who eventually greets us or picks up our call will end up being clueless and unmotivated to help.  Besides, most of us have become conditioned to believe that we'll pay a lot less for products, services and solutions if we devote our own time and energy to their delivery.  Give me a simple app and I'll gladly handle most of my own banking until my deposit somehow disappears into the stratosphere.  Give me relatively simple instructions and an Allen wrench and I'll happily assemble my own Scandinavian furniture until one or more pieces just don't fit.  Give me a clear link to the right on-line tutorial and I'll willingly try to troubleshoot my troubling hardware or software problem until I somehow make things even more problematic.  Give me an aspirational and intuitive website filled with engaging customer reviews and I'll find exactly what I need until I end up with the wrong product.

Because sometimes I can be brilliantly self-sufficient.

And sometimes I get by with a little help from my friends…

Or a particularly knowledgeable stranger. 

And the smartest companies and organizations understand the difference.

We all know why most enterprises are driving us toward a life that is filled with more and more opportunities for self-help.  It's way cheaper to commoditize the most routine aspects of doing business with them.  And it also reduces the sheer volume of errors and frustrations that come with handling repetitive transactions. That way, we all assume, they can dedicate their real expertise to the tougher and more important challenges that customers face.  Challenges that are critical to our success and require an expert, coach or mentor.  Challenges that are critical to our success and require timely and committed resolution.  Challenges in which our own feeble efforts are unlikely to produce a compelling result.

And challenges which, when resolved, powerfully strengthen their relationships with customers.

Do-it-yourself 2

We win in business and in life when we balance self-help with great help.  And when we let customers decide which one they really need.


Appreciating Differences

Greetings.  Susan Cain's insightful new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts is an important reminder that people and innovation come in all shapes, sizes and personalities.  Just because we live in a somewhat "extroverted" society that seems to value extroversion much more than introversion doesn't mean that it is the only, or even the best path, to creating business breakthroughs.  In fact, there is a lot of new research suggesting that brainstorming and group work are vastly overrated and growing understanding that some people are far more brilliant–at least more brilliant initially–when trying to solve a problem or to innovate on their own.  In other words, there's probably the right time for introversion and the right time for extroversion as part of a process that leads to more compelling results.

So as you begin this week and the new month of May, try to carve out some alone time to explore and wrestle with the biggest challenges you face.  Then, after you have done your own best thinking, try to surround yourself with colleagues and strangers who have very different ideas and perspectives.  Ideas and perspectives that can help your thinking to reach its full potential.

Introverts and extroverts.

Both essential contributors to the success of our companies and organizations. But only if we are open to figuring out how to leverage the genius in each of them.


We win in business and in life when we understand how to collaborate with people with different personalities.  And when we understand the magic of alone time and even quiet.


A Winning Combination

Greetings.  Innovation often means putting things together that don't belong.  Or, more accurately, that didn't belong until someone decided that it made sense to put them together.  In fact, the most successful businesses and entrepreneurs are regularly putting things together that didn't belong in order to create greater value for the customers they serve.

It's a simple idea…and essential to the success of your company or organization. Take something that you know very well and then combine it with the wisdom or best practices of someone else–in your industry, or another industry or in a totally different walk of life or corner of the world.

And while I'm always thinking about things in this light, I was struck today by the simple genius of one of my favorite lunch treats–an eggplant parmesan sandwich. A marvel of casual dining that is also a cardiologist's best friend…which makes it a slightly perverse "Win/Win" proposition.  Lightly breaded eggplant smothered in a tangy marinera sauce and zesty parmesan cheese, then wrapped in a toasted submarine roll that itself has absolutely no nutritional value.  But that's okay given the amazing health properties of the other ingredients…because we all know that tomatoes are loaded with antioxidants, eggplant is close to being the very heart of the Italian food pyramid, and cheese is essential to life as we know it–or at least to the lives of twelve-year-old boys.  And packaged in a perfect styrofoam throne (just kidding).  It's a veritable landslide of deliciousness invented when someone decided to combine eggplant parmesan–a southern Italian specialty invented in the 1700's–with a sub sandwich–an American creation that traces it's origin to Maine, or Boston or New York City in year 1900, or 1910 or 1915. 

Mamma Mia!  Now that's a magnificent lunch!

But the real brilliance of the eggplant parmesan sub is it's ability to makes us think about our winning combinations and how we might choose to match our very best know-how with the brilliance of others.  

To create a winning combination by putting things together that didn't belong.

And a great way to start is by making a list of the companies and ideas you admire most then imagining how they might bring new energy and greater possibilities to your products, services and solutions.   

Eggplant parmesan

We win in business and in life when we put things together that didn't belong.  And when we view success as a fusion of possibilities.


The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Greetings.  Charles Caleb Colton, a somewhat obscure English writer and cleric from the early 1800's is credited with saying that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."  And it is a remarkably powerful idea for companies and organizations –unless, of course, they are compelled to sue a competitor for trademark or patent infringement.  But let's stick to a more basic and honest variation of this idea…  

The notion that we often win in business by taking an idea from a different type of company or a different walk of life and adapting it to our particular enterprise.  In fact, I spend a lot of time teaching our customers how to find great ideas in other industries that can create real excitement and greater value for those they have the privilege to serve.  And here's a fun example that comes to mind as we wrap up our celebration of Pi Day.

Wait, did I just say Pi Day?  Yes indeed!  March 14th.  The day "invented" to honor the adorable Greek letter ∏ that stands for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.  Which just so happens to equal 3.141592653589793238…  It's an unofficial holiday revered by mathematicians everywhere and celebrated by a wide range of activities including the eating of pies.


But how does this relate to business success and standing out from the crowd?

To understand this, you'll have to take a quick visit the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas, at 3:00 p.m. on any weekday afternoon.  And you'll probably have to wait in line for a table with a lot of the locals, truck drivers and tourists who come to enjoy a delightful and non-intoxicating form of flattery.  The copying of the idea of "Happy Hour" applied to pies.  Because while the Blue Bonnet Cafe didn't invent the "Happy Hour"–that innovation was created by a clever tavern owner–they did invent the idea of a "Pie Happy Hour."  A special and, to some, sacred time when customers can enjoy a slice of their favorite pie and a drink for only $3.50.  And at a time when the restaurant would typically be relatively empty.  

Blue bonnet

We win in business and in life when we refresh our offerings with the ideas and insights of others.  And when our imitation is not only legal but makes customers' lives as sweet as possible.


The Wonder of Burritos

Greetings.  There's always a line at Chipotle when I take our son Noah and his soccer buddies to any one of this fast food chain's locations.  No matter what time of the day.  No matter what location.  A line that often stretches out the door.  But no one seems to mind.  In part it's because the line moves rather quickly.  In part it's because there is a sense that the burritos are relatively healthy.  And in part it's because Chipotle's food is fresh, appealing, tasty and gives the customer a sense of engagement in its preparation.  But it's also because of the company's commitment to serving "food with integrity"–a commitment defined as "finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment and the farmers."

And this combination has enabled Chipotle to literally reinvent the notion of "fast food" in an industry that has been synonymous with unhealthy, highly-processed and not particularly engaging.

So if you're looking for a new formula for success in your tired, saturated, highly-commoditized and established industry, you might want to spend an hour having lunch at Chipotle–and figuring out through your eyes, ears, noses, hands and taste buds the secrets to their success.  Then try to imagine how you might inject new energy, engagement and a greater sense of integrity in the work that you do and the products, services and/or solutions that you offer.  

How you might help customers to make a stronger connection with your belief in the right way to do the things that matter most.

Chipotle 2  

We win in business and in life when we combine our creative offerings with the highest values.  And when we wrap our most compelling value proposition inside the comfort of a warm burrito.