Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Moldy Middle

While taking statistics during my quest to get an MBA and while earning my engineering degree, the professors always emphasized the importance of finding the statistical mean of any population by using the Central Mean Theorem (a.k.a the highest point of the Bell Curve).

As an engineer, this was essential in order to maximize throughput, minimize cost and waste, and ultimately make a better, faster, cheaper widget. A funny thing happened on the way to the dark side of marketing. I discovered that the only thing in the middle of the road was quite literally dead road kill.

I do not know if you remember stores like Bradlees, Ames and Service Merchandise (just to name a few), but they all folded because the environment changed and they were caught trying to service the mythological “average customer.”

Part of that change came when Wal-Mart began its juggernaut with the discount department store. Wal-Mart did two things right: 1) Focused on “mobile” consumers, and 2) Focused on offering goods to cost (not value) conscious customers. In order to get cost down to bare minimums, Wal-Mart made sure for most of its products, it achieved the lowest price possible for its goods. Wal-Mart is not known for high quality, but it is known for low (and often the lowest) prices.

Still, you cannot buy everything at Wal-Mart (like rechargeable batteries, and Pepperidge Farms). So, there is a window of opportunity for competition (Target), that will be in another blog called Differentiate or Die.

In order to be recognized in the business world you have to stand out. Essentially, if you try to service the average customer, you will essentially look like everyone else. You must Differentiate or Die. Everything else is white noise.

Unfortunately, when most companies try to position themselves to service the average customer (the largest area under the bell curve), find that they actually get the fewest customers and the fiercest competition. Actually, when you position your product or service, you first have to carve out a niche in one of a very few extremes.

These extremes include:
Price (high versus low)
Quality (high versus good or average)
Service (personal versus automated or outsourced)
Features (high versus few; or simple versus complex)
Status / Value (High versus mundane)

Notice volume and profit are NOT on this list, since they are dependent on what extremes you choose.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but look at some of the successes:

Starbucks: They offer a high value / high status; high price coffee (and ultimately reached high volume & profit). Had they been another “average” coffee shop they would have not reached the status they had.

Dell: The offered a low(er) cost computer, with lower customer services (automation) but with a high feature set (custom made).

Proctor & Gamble: They segment their product offerings to cover a variety of extremes within a specific segment (toothpaste, shampoos) etc. To date, they are the most successful consumer goods company in the world.

Toyota: They offer extremely good quality, with a rich feature set (high gas mileage, extras, warranty), for a high value customer at a reasonable price.

Of course there are many others. What these companies need to be weary of is the temptation to try to get more market share at the expense of abandoning what made them desirable to begin with. The law of scarcity sometimes is a good thing.

So, if you are starting a new company, or releasing a new product, or looking at how to improve the perception of you existing product, look at what you are tying to do, and see if you are targeting the moldy middle. If you are, make some real effort to move away from that segment as quickly as possible.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

10 Rules for a Good Life

We all want a “good life” but that good life is different for everybody. Some believe it is success at work, or acknowledgement of achievement, or having wealth, or a multitude of friends and being able to travel. Whatever your definition of a good life, there are a few rules that will allow you to enjoy it when your get there. Each one of these can be a book in itself, but only the highlights are given below.

1. Be Nice

Being nice triumphs all. Although no one can be nice all the time, and sometimes you have to push back, still if you have the option, be nice, people appreciate it. The ability to be nice means you give pleasure or joy, have an attractive or superior quality, and are kind, polite and friendly. Sounds pretty uplifting, does it not? So, when was the last time you heard someone complain about a little courtesy. Of course, sometimes being too nice has its downfalls, but practicing being nice also has a multitude of feel-good benefits for you. When we help others, and do kind acts, it causes our brain to release endorphins, the chemicals that give us feelings of ecstasy and high spirits -- similar to a ‘runner’s high.’ Doing something nice for someone also gives the brain a serotonin boost, the chemical that gives us that feeling of satisfaction and well-being. Plus, studies show that being “nice” means feeling more joyful and better about ourselves in the long run.

2. Be Authentic

Be yourself. As Herman Melville warns, “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” We are all individuals and want to be recognized as such, that is what attracts others to us, our uniqueness. Sadly, we tend to value ourselves and our abilities not from our power of strength, but from someone else’s perspective. Do not try to imitate someone else, focus on your strengths and heighten them. Of course, you need to be OK with whom you are, but you also have to realize that you can always improve. You can always better your best, you can always learn to love more, to give better, to expand yourself and your world. Accept your limitations, but do not let those limitations limit your achievements or self-worth. “Master yourself, your thoughts and feelings, and you master the whole universe.”

3. Do Great Art

You cannot please everybody. It is a phony concept that flames out. The famed comedian Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to please everyone.” Be thankful you have your group, your friends, your family, and your fans. There are those who would appreciate you whom you have never met, focus on meeting them, not those who do not care about what you do or create. Create great art for those who can appreciate your art. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone, to expand themselves and to make them feel something unique and beautify. The art you create is a gift you give. Of course, you can sell the souvenir, the painting, the book, the recording, but the idea itself is free. It is the creative property of art that is divine. Most art has nothing to do with oil, paint, or marble; or software code or writing, or in a performance. Art is what you are doing when you do our best work. Or as Seth Godin once put it, “Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.”

4. Be In School Every Day

Education is not everything, learning is, and it does not have to happen in school. Still, we can understand why reading, writing and arithmetic are so important. Yes, in the internet era, reading and writing are everything (typing too!). And as for math, you cannot do a deal or really function in the modern world without knowing the numbers. And everybody wants to do a deal. If you really want to have a good life, make learning a lifelong ordeal. In doing so, you will keep gaining insight until you die. Life is a puzzle, one in which you are constantly delivered new pieces, and without new information and know-how, you will not be able to figure out some difficulties and that will just leave you frustrated. Coupled with experience, age and learning are a potent force, and with that comes wisdom. Yes, the young may have their youth, but the old have all the happiness.

5. Be Not Possessed by Possessions

Yes, it is nice to own beautiful and priceless things, and most of us collect “objects” because it gives us a feeling of safety, security or superiority. But be careful that you do not let your possessions actually possess you. Sometimes we put more importance on what we own than what we are. Plus, when you own stuff, you start to put a lot of time in protecting those things rather that developing your better self. Once you have something valuable you usually have to insure it, provide upkeep for it, and otherwise make sure your investment is honored. There is a line that you cross when the possessions are taking more of your time and energy than the joy of possessing them is providing. Yes, it is a slippery slope, and it can be hard to know when we cross that line. Sometimes we lose sight of what really gives us joy. As I like to say, “He is richest who wants least,” and luckily for us possessions mean less as you age. With modern technology, we have more ways to evolve into a no possessions era; one in which you can rent a ride and you do not even have to own a car, or a house, or really anything. Let loose of the possessions but hold onto the experiences, as experiences are everything.

6. Learn to Love Yourself First

Well, essentially having self-love means you have the capacity to love others and be more aware of how you effect other people and the world. Essentially, “you cannot give to others what you do not give to yourself first.” If you are not honest with yourself, you cannot be honest with others; if you are fearful, you will make others fearful; on the contrary, if you are courageous, others will gain courage through you; and so it is with love. If you do not love yourself, you can never love another. And we do NOT intrinsically know how to love. It is a learned art, something too few of us have ever mastered. Still, it is the single best coping skill you will ever possess, and most successful people have taken great pains, either deliberately or through trial and error, to develop a deep self-love. Of course, there are no perfect partners, but if you develop you own self-love, you will at least be able to withstand the slings and arrows of life and love.

7. Have a High Sense of Integrity

Do the right thing. Not only will it make a difference, you will feel better about yourself. Self-awareness is the first step to true success, but incredibly, being self-aware is incredibly rare. Developing a sense of integrity begins by being brutally honest with ourselves and that takes a unique talent. Our attempts to maintain positive self-views undermine our ability, or willingness, to accept negative feedback from others or even ourselves. We tend to insulate ourselves from having to do any work to truly improve from within, and instead tend to blame everyone and everything else for our setbacks and failures. From school kids who blame their poor grades on their teachers to employees who blame their poor performance on their bosses, there is no shortage of real-life examples highlighting the default human tendency to distort reality in their favor if it helps them feel good about themselves. This is just delusional and also due to cognitive dissonance. Although the truth often hurts, it is the key to achieving a high sense of integrity. Self-improvement and self-love stem from having integrity, so commit to truly evaluating yourself and seeking constructive, although possibly negative, feedback from people you respect. Ask them and yourself, “What could I do better?” “What am I missing compared to the people I consider the best?” and “What are the worst things about myself?” and view the answers seriously and commit to taking steps to change them. If you want to have real integrity, you first must be honest with yourself.

8. Seek Not Revenge

As Andy Rooney said, “When you plan to get even with someone, you are only letting that person continue to hurt you.” Do not worry what anybody else is doing and only focus on what you can change and control, and that is you. Yes, Karma exists; and it is a bitch. You may not see it in the instant you wish like in the John Lennon song, but it does happen. It will come to the person who has done that vile act and will come without any notice. I will not be easily seen, and may not be visible to anybody, including you, the one who was hurt, but it is real. If you are seeking revenge, you will not let the Universe do what it does best: meet out justice in the end. Plus, you will just make yourself smaller in the process.

9. Value Time

“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you won’t do anything with it,” as well put by M. Scott Peck. The one thing I have come to realize in life is how well or poorly you spend your time, reflects how happy you are. It is also amazing to me how little people value the one thing they cannot control, or create, or get more of: TIME. Time starts accelerating sometime in your late thirties or forties. If you are not paying attention to how you use your time, chances are you are not going to get where you want to go and definitely not be as happy as you want to be getting there.

10. Go to the Unknown

There is a quotation that I use with the many entrepreneurs I am fortunate to meet and mentor, “Go to where you do not know what you do not know. That is where you will find all your opportunities.” The hardest thing you will ever do is to take that step into the unknown, but to really make any type of impact, that is exactly where you have to go. I cannot imagine what would have happened (or failed to happen), if the founders of this country (Adams, Washington, Madison, Franklin, Jefferson, Payne, Lafayette, etc.), had NOT taken that first fateful step. They ventured into the space of “what they did not know what they did not know.” Inspiration comes from displacement. Get out of your comfort zone, the rewards are legion.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Forever Cursed

Fill your head with anger and hatred;
Fill your heart bitterness and rage;
Your soul is consumed with vile feelings.
The love you wanted was in your arms
but escaped because you could not come half-way.
And now, it is gone forever
Never to return into your life.
You are lazy and selfish and stupid.
You deserve neither affection nor comfort
For your actions are neither noble nor honorable.
You are destined to live a life of worry and doubt;
Unfulfilled and wanting; desperate and lacking;
Because you cannot ever love or be loved
You bring this curse upon yourself for you
Stay huddled in the valley of a dreamless day to day existence
whose only purpose is the preservation of an illusionary sense of security and safety.
You fear the adventure of finding true, deep, passionate Love.
You fear going into the unknown and the unexplored.
You have given up the dream of what may lie ahead on the heights of tomorrow
For a perpetual nightmare of endless days and nights 
Fearing the loss of a tenuous and unattainable feeling of refuge
Because you have chosen not to grow, nor learn how to truly love,
You are forever cursed.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The 7 Cardinal Rules of Life

While I did not formulate these 7 cardinal rule of life, I have to agree with the essence of their wisdom. This is a good first step to self-love and finding true happiness, and I hope offers some guidance to those looking for a better life. My only hope is that you find them helpful in your quest to a better, more fulfilling, and accomplished life.

1. Make peace with your past, so it doesn’t spoil your present. Your past does not define your future – your actions and beliefs do.
2. What others think of you is none of your business. It’s how much you value yourself and how important you think you are.
3. Time heals almost everything, give time, time. Pain will be less hurting. Scars make us who we are; they explain our life and why we are the way we are. They challenge us and force us to be stronger.
4. No one is the reason for your own happiness, except you yourself. Waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside.
5. Don’t compare your life with others’, you have no idea what their journey is all about. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we would grab ours back as fast as we could.
6. Stop thinking too much, it’s alright not to know all the answers. Sometime there is no answer, not going to be any answer, never has been an answer. That’s the answer! Just accept it, move on, NEXT!
7. Smile, you don’t own all the problems in the world. A smile can brighten the darkest day and make life more beautiful. It is a potential curve to turn a life around and set everything straight.