Friday, August 29, 2008

The Power of 'AND'

I have been fortunate to be helping two startups over the past few months. I think both of these startups have a great chance because they are combining two disparate things into a new service or product. One thing that I have noticed about successful companies (both startups and giants), is that those which tend to be successful employ the “Power of ‘AND’.” This means they take traditionally mutually exclusive characteristics and then combine them into a new and novel way.

Examples include Southwest Airlines (low cost fares with on-time, high quality service), Wal-Mart (low prices with large selection), and Apple (high technology with high styling) to name a few. That is not to say that companies that do not use the 'power of and' are not successful, it just seems like the odds for success tend to tilt towards people and companies who can pull this feat off.

Ronald Reagan was able to combine a forceful, “hawkish” leadership, with the everyman personal touch. So much so that he was framed as the “Great Communicator.”

George W. Bush’s team understood this when he came out with the “Compassionate Conservative.” He was saying that he was trying to open the tent to everyone. Now, saying one thing and doing another will get you an approval rating in the high 20’s, so be sure you walk the talk. But still, if you can pull it off, look at how you can combine things like:

Feature Rich and Simple to Use
Low Power and High Performance
Light Weight and Solid Build
High Performance and Great Fuel Efficiency
High Style and Value Pricing
Rugged and Stylish

You may ask is there any imperial evidence that the 'power of and' can help me or my company? Well, in Richard Tanner Pascale’s Managing on the Edge, a study was conducted involving 43 highlighted companies in the book In Search of Excellence five years after the original research was conducted. Pascale discovered that 14 companies retained their “Excellent” rating while 29 did not. His conclusion to the key factor that distinguished the 14 from the 29 was that they managed the 'power of and' better in what he called “managing contention.” In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras call it “The Genius of the ‘AND’.” Use of the 'power of and' existed in 18 “Silver” companies that outperformed the stock market from 1926 to 1990 by a factor of 2, and in 18 “Gold” companies that outperformed the stock market during that same period by a factor of 15! In Collins’ next book, Good to Great, elements common to all of the 11 selected companies are described in terms of the “AND” they manage either explicitly or intuitively.

So the Power of AND can not only help you create a better product or service but a more profitable future as well. The question can you harness that power for yourself and those you work with?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Consulting Lesson

Many business owners get stuck at times and feel the need to hire a consultant to supposedly turn the situation around. Here is a timeless lesson on how consultants can make a difference for an organization.

Last week, we took some friends out to a new restaurant, and noticed that the waiter who took our order carried a spoon in his shirt pocket. It seemed a little strange. When the busboy brought our water and utensils, I noticed he also had a spoon in his shirt pocket. Then I looked around saw that all the staff had spoons in their pockets. When the waiter came back to serve our soup I asked, "Why the spoon?"

"Well," he explained, "the restaurant's owners hired Andersen Consulting to revamp all our processes. After several months of analysis, they concluded that the spoon was the most frequently dropped utensil. It represents a drop frequency of approximately 3 spoons per table per hour. If our personnel are better prepared, we can reduce the number of trips back to the kitchen and save 15 man-hours per shift."

As luck would have it, I dropped my spoon and he was able to replace it with his spare. "I'll get another spoon next time I go to the kitchen instead of making an extra trip to get it right now." I was impressed. I also noticed that there was a string hanging out of the waiter's fly. Looking around, I noticed that all the waiters had the same string hanging from their flies.

So before he walked off, I asked the waiter, "Excuse me, but can you tell me why you have that string right there?" "Oh, certainly!" Then he lowered his voice. "Not everyone is so observant. That consulting firm I mentioned also found out that we can save time in the restroom. By tying this string to the tip of you know what, we can pull it out without touching it and eliminate the need to wash our hands, shortening the time spent in the restroom by 76.39 percent.

I asked "After you get it out, how do you put it back?" "Well," he whispered, "I don't know about the others, but I use the spoon."

Lesson #1: Watch out when hiring consultants
Lesson #2: Not all improvements are really improvements
Lesson #3: Humor is a great teaching tool

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Potent Quotables

List of quotations that are insightful, thoughtful, and timeless. This web site has a listing of quotations I have found inspiring, intriguing, intuitive, and thought provoking. Hopefully, you will find them the same.  Search for Author in search bar at the top of the page, or by categories below.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Where Will Your Next Idea Come From?

You know, the BIG NEW thing nowadays is creativity in the workplace. Companies of all sizes are asking how can we come up with new ideas, or get our employees to be more creative, or somehow come up with more ideas on how to solve problems...And that's the rub! The more you try to FORCE creativity, the less creative you are..but have you ever noticed how children have NO PROBLEM with being creative? In any case, I thought this little story about how a father sees his kids seeing the world might shed a little light on the subject.

Through Their Eyes - author unknown
When I look at a patch of dandelions, I see a bunch of weeds that are going to take over my yard. My kids see flowers for Mom and blowing white fluff, you can wish on.

When I look at an old drunk and he smiles at me, I see a smelly, dirty person who probably wants money and I look away. My kids see someone smiling at them and they smile back.

When I hear music I love, I know I can't carry a tune and don't have much rhythm so I sit self-consciously and listen. My kids feel the beat and move to it. They sing out the words. If they don't know them, they make up their own.

When I feel wind on my face, I brace myself against it. I feel it messing up my hair and pulling me back when I walk. My kids close their eyes, spread their arms and fly with it, until they fall to the ground laughing.

When I see a mud puddle, I step around it. I see muddy shoes and clothes and dirty carpets. My kids sit in it. They see dams to build, rivers to cross and worms to play with.

I wonder if we are given kids to teach or to learn from?

When Adversity Hits

You know in business as in life in general, adversity hits. We are all met with adversity from time to time, but how we handle it makes us or breaks us. As Ben Johnson once said, "He knows not his own strength that has not met adversity." So in saying, I thought this little story about how some friends' adversity changed them might shed some light on how you might handle the next hurdle you come across.
Four friends went fishing. They found a perfect campsite in a pine grove next to a river that shimmered with promise. As fast as they could, they set up their big tent, stowed belongings, and set off eagerly down the river with their rods and reels.

When they returned to their campsite a few hours later, tired but happy, they stood open-mouthed in disbelief. There was a big empty space where their tent had stood. It was gone!

A quick search showed that everything else was still there -- stove, tools, food, sleeping bags, etc. Their stunned confusion soon changed to anger and a storm of questions: Why did someone take the tent and nothing else? Was a tent all the thief needed? Did they interrupt him so he couldn't finish the job? Or would he soon return for more?

Fortunately, they still had their Coleman stove, frying pan, and eating utensils -- all the tools they needed to cook their fish and eat it. And they still had their sleeping bags against the chilly night air. Over dinner and late into the night, they sat around the campfire, debating the significance of the missing tent.

At peace at last, they climbed into their sleeping bags, gazing up at stars instead of canvas. Being city people, they rarely got to see stars up close and personal. That night they slept more deeply than they had since they were babies. They had realized that life is inexplicable.
All of us have sudden changes in our life that are the equivalent of having the tent stolen from over our heads. We invest ourselves heavily in a project that fails. We lose a job, become ill or go through a life crisis. But as long as we still have the basics such as courage, faith, friendship, the ability to care and laugh and hope, we still have the tools we need for life.

The thieves of life can't steal our enthusiasm and curiosity, our ability to care and love and be loved. We have to make a choice to give those up willingly.

The moral: Someone will steal your tent every single time! Expect it, and be grateful that you still have the basics. Look up and enjoy the stars like the fishermen did. You may find new joys and opportunities that you never noticed before. In business, you will sometimes have your tent moved. How you react will ultimately determine your success or failure.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Pipe Dreams?

Marketing is mostly about perception, and that perception, good or bad, is developed by the quality of a product, the company’s innovation, price and ability to serve its clientele. So when all things are considered equal quality, pricing, workmanship, etc. , a company’s image is enhanced essentially by how it treats its customers. Nordstrom’s is renowned for its customer service, often going far beyond expectations. A friend of mine reminded me recently about a scene in the movie Mr. Mom where Teri Garr proposed a give back from the tuna fish company. Yes, that was fictional Hollywood. Still, image a CEO of a large American oil company getting on TV and saying that 'we understand that America is hurting, and we have just recorded record profits, and to show our gratitude, we would like to rebate our loyal credit card customers who have been with us throughout the years with a 10% rebate?' Yes, this may cost a few hundred million dollars in cost, but as they say “the goodwill would be priceless.” In one fell swoop you would achieve numerous things. First, the public would no longer vilify your company. Second, you would get a Wow factor as being the first to really try and offset the huge cost increases in gas. You would also been seen as the most innovated company around, but coming up with a solution that government cannot do. And most importantly, your company would be perceived as really caring for the customer. Most big oil companies hope to move the market share needle a few percentage points, but image being able to more it 10% to 15% in one week? It might be perceived as a gimmick, but it would not be risky. Why? First off, the amount of free attention, publicity and ink would more than off the expected cost. The news cycles would keep your company front and center for weeks. You would be on the cover of over 25% of all business magazines. This 'event' would be talked about for years after as the “Great Rebate!” Secondly, you will get new customers. Gasoline is a commodity. All things being equal, a motorist will look at your company as really caring about them and when comparing apples to apples, will choose the company that they perceives help them. Lastly, in the herd, you are now the lead steer. Other companies will now have to follow you, and followers never get the same attention as leaders. As I often say, differentiate or die.” Here is a easy way to differentiate. Market is about dream and desire fulfillment. Just image the impossible dream?