Imagine if your boss walked into your office after a meeting about a particular initiative you were heading up and said, "You've been working on this project for a couple of weeks now and from the report you gave at the meeting, it's already behind schedule. What's going wrong?"
How does that feel?
Let's change your boss's comment, just slightly. "You've been working on this project for a couple of weeks now and from the report you gave at the meeting, it's already behind schedule. What's missing?"
Now how do you feel?
Approaching a problem from the vantage point of what's missing instead of what's wrong can bring a very different energy to the conversation. Rather than feeling blame, additional negative pressure or fear, we can more easily identify a way ahead because we are focusing on what we need to find, build or create that could help us progress.
If you're the boss, consider swapping 'wrong' for 'missing' and see how it feels, both to you and to the person you lead.
Post by David Mead
What makes us amazing as human beings is our ability to form communities and groups. Our survival and our progress has depended on working together. And yet, as it turns out, most people seem to miss the connection between success and progress in a business environment and the way we naturally form groups and communities.
Think of it this way - we gladly sacrifice time, energy, money and other resources to join groups, clubs, political parties and associations outside of work. It's natural. We seek out others who share common values, beliefs and interests and we choose to spend our free time with them. We find fulfillment in it. We enjoy it. This is how humans biologically operate.
And then, most of us wake up and go to work at a place that pays us to be there and we can't wait to leave! Something is missing there. It's based on an assumption that we, as a society at large, have adopted over time; the assumption that we go to work to make money. Think about it. When most people look for a new job, what are they most concerned about? Pay and benefits. The criteria that apply to join any other social group don't seem to apply. At least they're not high up on the list.
I'm not suggesting that we don't need money or that making money (even a lot of it) is a bad thing - far from it. However, it's the way we perceive the paycheck. It's a result of the work we do, not a reason to do it.
A community, a club, a party and an association are simply groups of people who share common values and beliefs. Is there any good reason a company shouldn't follow the same pattern? After all, companies are just groups of people too.
Post by David Mead
Recently, I was challenged on the idea of only hiring those who believe what we believe. The argument came from a place of genuine concern. The person who raised the concern was part of an environment where most of those who were hired were friends of those doing the hiring. They had gone to school together, enjoyed the same sports, rooted for the same teams. It was a classic 'Good ol' boy' hiring system.
It's not about hiring people who are just like us or who share our same personal interests. The goal is to hire those who are driven by the same selfless cause or purpose that drives our organizations forward - the Why.
There's nothing wrong with sharing similarities. However surrounding ourselves with those who believe what we believe transcends personal interests. It's about the world we imagine and the contribution we make to that world that can't be realized unless we're all working toward it together.
Post by David Mead
When we interview someone for a new job, we often find ourselves on the lookout for passion. We want to hire someone who is passionate. And that's usually where we stop. Well, everyone is passionate about something. Hiring a team of passionate people is not a guarantee that you'll accomplish anything great.
The point is not to hire someone with passion. The point is to hire someone who shares the passion your organization is working to bring to life. In other words, are we hiring people who believe what we believe? Are we hiring people who get out of bed everyday to work toward something that supports our vision of the world?
If not, we may just end up with a group of passionate people who are pulling equally hard in different directions rather than a team of people inspired to pull in the same direction toward the destination they all believe in.
Post by David Mead
There's a difference between management and leadership. Management is about doing stuff - the day to day operations needed for the tactical things to get done.
Leadership, on the other hand, is about people. It's less about what you're doing and more about who you're being. It's how you show up for your people. It's being available to handle the human side of things.
When we are constantly worried about the tactical - what deadlines to hit, what metrics to reach, what projects to ship - we have less time to take care of the people who make all those tactical things happen. As Simon shares, leaders aren't responsible for the results. Leaders are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results. And without the support of our people, it's us who feel like we have to take more responsibility for the tactical because we know it's our butts on the line.
What if we focused more of our energy on leading and building relationships with our people so that we could trust them and they'd trust us? Then we could empower them to take accountability for the tactical, which would open us up to do what we do best as leaders - look to and plan for the longer term future.
If you're in a position of leadership in your organization, consider this question, "What percentage of my time do I spend managing vs. leading?" If the leading percentage is smaller, imagine what would be possible if the numbers were reversed.
By David Mead
Like many of you, I subscribe to Groupon. If you're not familiar, Groupons are online coupons for about any product or service you can imagine. A few days ago, one of them hit my inbox and it made me chuckle a little bit. Initially I just trashed it because it wasn't an offer I was interested in. But just after that I realized how well it represented what so many companies are calling 'value'.
The deal of the day was from an auto center offering headlight restoration. You know, for when the headlights on your car get cloudy and don't allow the light to project as effectively as it should. However, the deal was only for one headlight. Every car I've owned has had two headlights. So what about the other one? Sure, getting one headlight cleaned for less will save me a little money, but it's less about the money than about the way the 'value' was presented to me.
What the company appeared to be saying was 'Come get a great deal on headlight restoration!' What I understood was 'Come let us take care of half of what you really need.'
How are we communicating to our employees and customers? Are we offering a deal or incentive just to manipulate one or more transactions? If so, yes we'll end up with a few transactions. We may even turn a profit.
Or are we serving them for the sake of making their lives a little better with the tools and resources we have? If our genuine interest is in serving them, they'll actually trust us more, offer their loyalty and endure a measure of personal sacrifice to be a part of what we're doing. Oh, and by the way, they'll likely be willing to pay a premium for that sense of trust and connection.
Value is in the eye of the beholder. It's something people feel, not something we tell people we offer.
By Peter Docker
Whenever I can, I enjoy mountain or ‘fell’ running, occasionally entering a mountain marathon. It’s great exercise and one can get a completely different perspective of the world from the summit of a mountain.
Many would think that running uphill is the difficult part, but that just takes a bit of fitness and determination. The skill is being able to run downhill effectively, and those who compete well do so, in part, for their ability to run downhill quickly.
The thing is, to run downhill quickly you must be prepared to let yourself go. You have to trust your body to do what it knows how to do naturally – to relax, to allow your feet to find your balance and the right place to land. If your muscles are tense, fighting against each step and with your mind fearful of falling, then your pace slows and you’re more likely to fall or injure yourself. Learning to run downhill quickly is about learning to get out of our own way.
This is true off the mountain too. I was coaching a young man the other day who was stuck in life and lacking in inspiration. Then I asked him, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Without hesitation, his face lit up and he replied, “I would become prime minister so as I could tackle some of the world’s biggest problems”. He meant it too.
Becoming prime minister is well within this young man’s grasp, should he choose. Indeed, as we explored the possibility, he began to realise that the only thing in his way was his self-doubt and fear of failure.
This applies equally in business. Often, senior teams in organisations will declare that it’s not possible to change or do something differently – such as creating a culture based on Why the company exists rather than just focusing on What. And yet, when they start to examine the assumptions they realise that that’s all they are – assumptions. More often than not, when those assumptions are challenged, they melt away and a new reality emerges.
If humankind had been held back by fear and assumption, we would never have broken the sound barrier, put a man on the moon or seen the end of apartheid. We must learn to get out of our own way and, inspired by a higher purpose, learn to run downhill quickly. After all, inspiration, like gravity, is on our side – if we allow it.
By David Mead
A few months ago, a new, fancy auto service center opened up near my house. Let’s call it Fantastic Flynn’s. This place is over the top – gas station, car wash, detail shop, lube service, frozen yogurt – you could spend an entire Saturday afternoon there. Sounds great, right?
Well, the only pock mark on Fantastic Flynn’s beautiful facade that I can see is that every employee has been…strongly encouraged…to use the word ‘fantastic’ as often as possible. If I ask the poor kid who’s drying off my car in 100 degree weather how he’s doing, he responds “I’m fantastic.” Notice I didn’t use an exclamation mark. Every time I leave, I’m wished a fantastic day. But something’s missing. Something doesn’t feel right. They’ve obviously put a lot of money and effort into creating a place that should be and could be pretty fantastic. Where they fell short was trying to mandate a culture based on a brand name rather than becoming a brand based on a culture.
The result is that it feels fake and contrived. I know for a fact that those young people don’t feel fantastic when they come to work or when they go home. One of them actually broke the rules and told me he was just ‘doing OK’ when I asked how he was. The look on his face told me that he knew that’s not the response he was supposed to give, but that was the real answer. And I loved it. We are hard wired to be able to tell when people are being authentic and when they’re not. We can feel it. And we’d rather hear the truth, even if it’s not as pleasant than be pleased with a lie.
I’m no expert in marketing and even so, I’ve learned one important thing. An authentic brand is not something you create. That’s a logo (and no, a logo is not the same thing as a brand). A brand is something that should emerge from the real, genuine interaction among people, something we call culture. Your culture is the result of shared experience, shared learning and, at its best, a commitment to a higher purpose – a cause you all feel is worth contributing to.
The wonderful thing is, when connected by a commitment to a higher purpose even college kids who are working part time at a car service place can feel and truly think their job, their customers and their peers are genuinely fantastic. And when that happens, it becomes infectious, drawing their customers back for more.
By Peter Docker
It seems that, sometimes, organisations are naturally attracted to making things complicated. We like to manage, to analyse, to strategise, to understand. And it can be very satisfying too, the ability to make sense of the complex and unknown. One might even say that it gives us a sense of power – the sort that comes from knowing stuff that others don't. Indeed, that's what seems to be expected of managers: to always know more than everyone else. It’s often how they've got to where they are – and really that’s no bad thing. We need people who know what they’re talking about at the head of any organisation; we just don’t want them to take refuge amidst complexity.
Great leaders on the other hand are all about simplicity. The simplicity that comes from a clearly articulated Why. The simplicity of remembering that who we are being is as important as what we are doing. The simplicity that comes from being as comfortable with not knowing all the answers as we are when we do. Leadership steps up when logic and analysis don't apply.
As with all things, it’s the balance that’s important. We need to manage and we need to lead. The rather attractive thing about leadership is that its essence comes from our authentic self, what we believe, not from the hard graft of business school or years of experience in the field. People can – and do – lead without formal training: it starts with being clear on our Why and that of the organisation to which we belong.
Often we can get so tied up in complexity – in managing – that we forget about the power of simplicity. It's the simple things people remember. The simple action, the simple word. It's the simple things that become absorbed in a culture. It's the simple, clearly spoken truth or belief that inspires – not the complex facts or data. And when people are inspired, new possibilities emerge.
Great leaders have an ability to make things simple. To bring clarity – even in chaos. To focus, and have others focus, on what really matters. Management can be complex. Leadership can be very simple indeed.
As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Keep it simple and hear the welcome cry from all those around you.
I discovered the concept of Why at a time in my life when I had lost my passion for what I was doing. This one simple concept not only restored my passion to levels I had never experienced before, it set me on an equally unexpected journey. I shared the concept with my friends and they asked me to share it with their friends...and more and more people invited me to share it with them.
Along the way I have met some remarkable people. Some have joined me in this movement to inspire people to do what inspires them - to help build a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single day inspired to go to work and return home at the end of the day fulfilled. Two of those people are David Mead and Peter Docker. In their own unique ways, and with their own perspectives, they are helping to advance this vision of the world. And so, I thought it would be nice to invite them both to contribute to this blog now and then to share what they are learning.
They will both write under their own names and will offer their thoughts and ideas on leadership, how to inspire people and whatever else they think is worth sharing.
I hope you enjoy their words.
According to scripture, Jesus Christ was forced to carry the very Roman cross upon which he would be crucified. There is an eerie correlation to this story and the life many of us lead today. We work hard to build the companies that then lay us off so they can make the numbers work that year.
I am not for a second comparing us to Jesus Christ (though I would imagine he would happily consider himself one of us), but I am comparing the practices of many a modern corporation to that of the practices of the Romans in biblical times.
Like the Romans who whipped Jesus as he carried their cross, the modern, corporate equivalent is the corporate culture; the whip replaced by stress. Too many companies have built cultures in which we do not feel safe or protected. There is no sense of security or feeling that the company is devoted to our care. In contrast, we feel disposable - that if the economy or other factors go down, the company would sooner drop us to save the numbers instead of dropping the numbers to save us. The general stress we endure is the corporate version of whipping us as we labor to build their companies, suffering as we do, only to be killed off when they no longer need us.
What great leaders like Jesus or Mohammad or Moses (who all descended from the great leader that was Abraham) understood so well, is that anyone in power or anyone who would ask others to help them build something, must commit themselves to the service of those people, to those who volunteer to do the carrying. They taught us that our power comes from our ability to work together and not exploit others. Too many modern corporate structures, in contrast, seem to have learned their management lessons from the Romans. And though the Romans accumulated great power and wealth and though they built huge cities and made many great contributions to society, they also lost sight of what got them there and now no longer exist.
Instagram announced a change to their privacy policies granting themselves ownership over all the pictures posted on the platform, including the right to sell pictures without permission or notification. They also grant themselves the right to make private pictures public, also without permission or notification. And, as if that wasn't enough, announced that they are not liable to any class action suit as a result of these new policies.
Not surprisingly, there has been a huge backlash against them and I am sure they will pull back their tyrannical policies. But the event, sadly not a new one for Facebook, which owns Instagram, raises three interesting points: A reminder, a question and a concern.
The US Constitution protects our privacy from the prying eyes of government. It does not, however, protect us from the prying eyes of companies and corporations. Facebook, Google, Apple, credit card companies, cell phone companies and the others all have access to and the ability to track us and our dealings in ways the government is not allowed without a warrant. They can use this information for their benefit and often sell it to others also for commerical gain.
By what code are companies operating these days? The law is not a high enough code. What is their moral standard? In what do they believe?
Multi-millionaires who pay half or less than half of the percentage of tax as the rest of us justify their actions by saying they pay what the law requires. Though true, the fact is they found ways within the law to beat the purpose of the law - which, in the case of taxes, is that we all pay our fair share. Facebook is doing the same thing. They are legally able to make the changes they are proposing but seem to be ignoring the morality of their decisions. How did we find ourselves in a world in which that is ok? A world in which codes of behavior or the impact on others comes second to numbers on spreadsheets.
I have no doubt that Facebook, like Bank of America before them, will, due to public outrage, reverse or soften their policy. My concern is that we live in an economy in which stabbing someone and waiting for them to complain before we remove the knife has become the normal way of doing business. When did we lose sight of the fact that it's not nice to stab people in the first place?
I go, go, go and trip. I stand up, brush off my knees, look back at what I tripped over so I know what to look out for in the future. Now I don't have to trip over those things again.
I run faster and faster and faster, then miss my turn and have to go back and try again. But now I know what signs to look for to keep me moving in right direction.
I go alone, alone, alone until I find someone on the same path and we decide to run together. I share all my falls, trips and missed turns so they can benefit from my effort. They tell me about all their falls, trips and missed opportunities so I can learn from their experiences.
Then together, we can run faster, straighter and more confidently to the place we want to go.
In 1975 a young director with no big films credits under his belt, set out to make a horror film. Steven Spielberg wanted his film filled with violent and gory shark attacks. He wanted us to watch as this massive animal, built to kill, would attack his unsuspecting prey. But there was a problem. The mechanical sharks that were supposed play a staring role in the film rarely worked as expected. As much as the young director wanted graphic shark attacks, he couldn't have them.
Frustrated, the team found another solution. They left most of the violence to our imaginations. Viewers would see a fin, then someone would disappear under the water, and then the water would turn red. That's it. In other scenes, we wouldn't even see a fin, we'd see a yellow barrel surfing across the water, knowing that it was a shark, deep below, towing the rope attached to the barrel towards the next victim. The effect was so scary and so powerful, it influenced our entire society.
Though people were of course aware of sharks prior, there was little thought given to them when they went to the beach. After Jaws, however, there was a significant increase in shark hysteria that remains to this day. The funny thing is that there are more people killed by dogs each year than have been killed by sharks since they started counting sharks attacks.
The brilliant way in which Spielberg told the story of Jaws did not happen in a brainstorming session and it was certainly not planned. It was the solution he found when what he wanted wasn't possible. The malfunctioning robots forced him to find another solution.
We have a false belief that innovation happens with lots of money and resources. In fact, the opposite is true. It is a lack of resources, it is a lack of money, it is after something goes wrong are we able to truly innovate - to truly re-imagine how something could work. This is why large companies rarely produce truly innovative products - because they have the money and resources to build anything they want. The problem is, the things they want aren't that innovative because they weren't hindered or forced to find new ways. Small businesses, in comparison, are where big ideas happen. Slim on money and resources, they figure out how to make something work with what they have. Then big businesses buy the small businesses for their big ideas.
To be clear, Spielberg was also a student of film. Without his mechanical shark, he was able to defer to his knowledge. He knew the techniques that Alfred Hitchcock used in his movies to build suspense - foreboding music, simple details and an view of the aftermath. The suspense, Spielberg knew, happened in our imaginations, not in our eyes. Though he knew this, he didn't need to tap that knowledge until he had to. And that's where having less produces more. There are plenty of smart people at large companies who don't tap their brilliance because they don't need to. They have all the resources they need. Smart entrepreneurs, in contrast, have no choice but to rely on their smarts and that's why they can run innovation circles around large companies every single day.
Innovation is not born from the dream; innovation is born from the struggle. Innovation, at its core, is not simply about building the future; innovation is about solving problems in the present. And the best innovations, just like the shark in Jaws, is often something we don't even know is there.
One definition of a prostitute is someone who sacrifices their good name in order to make a buck. But what do you do when someone else is driven by the sale but it is your reputation that suffers as a result?
This is the risk run by any company that relies on a third party to sell their product. Franchisees, car dealers, distributors and affiliates are independent businesses that trade off of someone else's reputation. If a regional airline, for example, offers bad service it is not their company or their brand that is damaged, it is Delta, American or other brand name that appears on the side of the plane.
This is the case with car dealers also. And I recently had an experience at Fiat of Manhattan that was nothing short of mind-blowingly bad.
I walked in, very excited to get a little Fiat 500. I told them that I was prepared to make this the easiest deal of their day. I even told them that I already looked up the price on the Fiat website and was willing to pay it. No haggling required. Four hours later - that's right, FOUR hours later of being put through the ringer, guess where we ended up - right at the beginning, at the original price I offered to pay.
In the process the branch manager insulted me, took me for a moron and would try to raise the price hoping I wouldn't notice. Lies, deception, fast talk and every other tactic usually reserved for a stereotypical used car dealer were employed. I'll save you all the gory details including the tale in which I was told, "I just talked to my boss and he said I can offer you the price you want," which sounds good except she never left her seat the whole time we were talking.
The result: I felt frustrated, angry and dejected. My excitment was gone. Even when I went to pick up the car - my excitement restored, they made me wait an hour and a half despite the fact I called in advance and they told me what time to come in. Instead of asking me if I was excited and pumping me up to take possession of my new Fiat 500 - they made sure to tell me that I "made them work hard" and they weren't making any money on me - a clear indication of their priorities.
It was clear that this dealership is motivated by one thing and one thing only: the sale. Worse, it's not their name that hangs on the door. Whoever owns that dealership suffers nothing except maybe I wouldn't recommend the dealership to anyone. The name that suffers is Fiat.
So why didn't I just buy the car somewhere else you ask? The dealership has a deal with parking garages in Manhattan, offering really cheap parking. If other dealers in the area offered something similar (I checked, they didn't), I would have bought the car somewhere else. But given the price of parking in NYC, this was a big deal. Such a big deal, in fact, that even getting a bad deal on the car still works out cheaper than paying full price for a garage.
The dealership is cleaning up. Manhattan residents who want a Fiat 500 have little choice but to buy the car from this one dealer even if they know they can get a better deal or get treated better somewhere else. The dealer even bragged about their sales numbers, claiming to be the top Fiat seller in the North East. Which is very good for them. Sadly, it is the Fiat brand and the customer that are suffering...not the dealer.
To be fair, I tweeted that this dealership was ruining the Fiat brand and someone from FiatUSA has already tried to contact me to find out what happened. I have not talked to them yet, but I will try to.
It is what happens next that really tests the theory of what is more important, the sale or the reputation. Fiat's initial forray into the American market with the 500 after a 30 year hiatus was disappointing and they are working to make up lost ground. The question is, given that indeed this one dealership may be moving more cars than any other in the region, is that more important to Fiat than the damage that this dealership may be doing to their brand and their reputation? Time will tell.
Whenever we use a third party to represent us, we must hold them to our standards, not theirs. They must earn the right and work hard to maintain the right to use our well earned reputations and good products to make their money. In return, they must promise and adhere to, protect and advance our good names. However, if the parent company fails to hold their dealers and affiliates accountable, regardless of the sales numbers, then they will end up looking like the pimp in this game. And that leaves the rest of us feeling cheap, dirty and used and likely never return to that street corner ever again.
Postscript, October 18th, 2012:
I responded, multiple times, to Fiat's request to talk to me. I let them know that I was happy to take the time to talk to them. They never followed through. I never talked to anyone.
Perhaps the reason this dealer is able to get away with what they did is because they, like the parent company (which is Chrysler), reacted to the negative press and not to the concerns of a customer. Seems to be a trend these days.
The economy is in a shambles. There is a total lack of leadership. Hope is at a minimum. The people feel out of control and, without a sense of optimism for the future, they lash out at anyone who is different from them. These are the conditions that existed in the 1930s that gave rise to Hitler and an extremely xenophobic Nazi Germany. The problem is, I'm not describing pre-war Germany, I'm describing modern day Greece.
Societies, like individuals, need to know where they are going. We all need to feel like the work we are doing is advancing some cause or purpose. To feel that the lives we lead and the jobs we toil have meaning and value beyond the daily act of breathing or monthly routine of paying the bills. Great societies, like great companies, have a bold sense of the future and they employ the population to help build it.
When that bold sense of the future is absent, however, we become obsessed not with building our future, but with attacking those who, we believe, would prevent us from doing so. Instead of taking responsibility for our own state, we blame others for the state we are in. Worse still, there are opportunists who would capitalize on the rallying crowds to consolidate their own power. They feed the frenzy, they stir the paranoia not because it's the right thing to do, but because it helps them get elected or gives them a leadership position they have not earned.
This is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany. This is what has happened countless times in many Arab dictatorships and this is what's happening in Greece. Worse, this is not a tail of foreign problems. These are also the conditions in America. Democrats blame Republicans for everything. Republicans blame Democrats for everything. Both sides seize opportunities to feed public furor and consolidate power. They talk about serving the people with terms like "winning" and "defeating." Last I checked, service had nothing to do with winning and defeating - those are words reserved for games and wars.
Greece needs a leader, from inside or outside politics, to paint a bold, optimistic view of what the country could be and challenge the population to help build that vision. Egypt needs to paint a bold, optimistic view of what the country could be and employ the population to help build that vision. America needs someone, anyone, to paint a bold, optimistic view of where we're going, not obsess about the state we're in. Then leave it to us. Give us something to work towards, something big, and we will build it. Without it, we'll just find someone to blame for how we feel. And it won't be nearly as pretty.
On this July 4th, it is important for us to remember what we are celebrating. Yes it is the birthday of our nation, a day for family, BBQs and fireworks. But the reason we have this birthday to celebrate is because of the undying belief of some remarkable people who lived before us. Our founding fathers and their supporters believed that there was a better way to live. An alternative to living under the absolute control of an oppressive regime.
"We believe that all men are created equal," is how they put it. That every man and woman has the right to choose their own path. We have the right to live free of fear, free of oppression and free to pursue what makes us happy. They believed this with such conviction that they were willing to lay down their lives to see it made real.
This is what we are celebrating today.
We are celebrating what those who came before us have given us. It is something extremely valuable; something to protect and nurture.
For generations after our country's founding, others have sacrificed and risked to imagine, invent and advance this great experiment. And, on some occasions, there are those who ran to the sound of the guns to defend it. Let us today, remember all the hard work, the blood, the sweat and the tears of the pioneers. Those who traveled across the nation from the East Coast to California. Lets us honor all the inventors who toiled in their laboratories, the creatives who imagined and the visionaries who guided the way: the Alexander Bells, the Benjamin Franklins, the Henry Fords, the Thomas Edisons, the Orville and Wilbur Wrights, the Abraham Lincolns, the John F. Kennedies, the Ralph Waldo Emersons, the Walt Disneys, the Walter Cronkites, the Thomas Jeffersons, and all the others whose names history did not record.
They all invested in this nation because they believed in it. It is our responsibility to not let their sacrifice and their hard work be in vain. We are an optimistic and pioneering people and we must do a better job of fixing our government, fixing our economy and mending our divides not for our children but for our ancestors. We can not let them down.
Enough pointing fingers and enough blaming others for our situation. It is not about government's responsibility or a corporation's responsibility or Republicans or Democrats. It is OUR responsibility - we the people.
Those who came before us, all those who made this nation great, took responsibility to do something. Now it's our turn.
Wishing everyone a very happy Independence Day.
“Our customers are our number one priority,” is the oft heard mantra of so many companies these days. “We put our clients first,” is uttered by so many CEOs one loses track.
But there’s a problem with putting customers first. It means that employees come at least second.
Customers should never be the priority…people should be the priority. Some of those people buy from us, some of those people work for us, it’s only a behavioral difference. They are all people and all business decisions should be made considering the impact on the people who are on the receiving end of our decisions.
Splitting the population into distinct sects – employees and customers – and having different standards and policies for each is nothing short of racism. To treat one group better than another simply because of who they are is something Martin Luther King Jr. rallied against decades ago.
I have a dream! I have a dream that one day, customers and employees will both be treated equally and treated well. Not because of what they do or how they are seen but because they are both people. Customers and employees both bleed red. Customers and employees both feel happy and hurt. Customers and employees both live to feel valued for the effort they exert and the expense they put forth.
This is the new civil rights movement. People are the priority.
P.S. For those who think numbers come before people, regardless if they are customers or employees, I hope you never have to check your child into a hospital run by someone who agrees with you.
Lt Col. Mike "Johnny Bravo" Drowley is an Airman in the United States Air Force. Lt. Col. Mike Drowley believes there are fates worse than death. It is his undying commitment to others that guides his actions and decisions. He has bravery like few others we meet in normal society. He has humility like few others we meet in normal society. His character is very typical of many of those who put on a uniform and volunteer to serve a cause bigger than themslves.
I am proud to share this video with you from the first ever TEDx event hosted by a DoD organization. The theme of service rang loud from beginning to end. Unlike other TEDx events I've been to at which many of the speakers are very concerned about getting their talks on the main TED.com site. The speakers at TEDx Scott AFB came for a different reason: to serve. To share their stories with the hope that the things they have learned will inspire more people to put others before themslves.
May his words inspire you.
p.s. As is the case of many of the speakers that day, Johnny Bravo left out some of the details that would make him seem like he was bragging. So I will share them. As a result of his actions in the first story he tells, 22 people went home alive with no casualities. And Johnny Bravo returned home that day with a bullet hole through his wing.
On this particular night, Michael ordered the soup. “Is it vegetable stock or chicken stock?” he asked the waitress. “Vegetable,” she replied. “Are you sure,” Michael continued, “I can’t have it if it’s chicken based.” “It’s vegetable,” replied the waitress again confidently.
My friend Michael is a strict vegetarian. He loves going out for dinner with his friends and never complains. He can always find something to eat, he says. When we went out for dinner recently, I witnessed a little trick he uses to ensure he stays a vegetarian when he’s not doing the cooking himself.
The soup arrived. It looked good and smelled even better. Again Michael asked the waitress, “you’re sure this is vegetable stock, right? Because I’m really allergic to chicken and if there’s any chicken in it I will have a seizure.” And with that the waitress’s eyes got a little bigger. “Lemme just check,” she said as she went off to ask someone else. Within less than a minute, she walked back and took the bowl of soup away from Michael. “It’s chicken stock,” she said.
Until the waitress was accountable for Michael’s health, she didn’t seem too interested in ensuring that her answer was indeed right. The time it took her to find out was seconds. Giving Michael what he preferred didn’t seem to motivate her until she thought she may be responsible for anything more than disappointing a customer.
But this is not a story of how we sometimes have to lie to get someone to care about us. It’s actually something more positive. As soon as Michael shifted the accountability to the waitress, she was much more willing to invest more time and attention to Michael’s needs. In other words, when we make others accountable for what could be even negative results, people rise to the occasion.
We could all do a bit better at giving others accountability for things at work. If we give someone responsibility but then double check their work a hundred times before sending it to the client, then they are no longer accountable…we are. If we demand that someone ask us permission before doing anything, then we are the ones giving permission as opposed to assigning responsibility.
People are funny animals. When given serious responsibility, we tend to take it seriously and almost always rise to the challenge. The best organizations know this well. They don’t assign tasks to their people, they assign responsibility. And with shared responsibility, people tend to seek help from each other more often, increasing the quality of teamwork. The reason is simple, when we work together, we’re more likely to succeed than if we work alone.
It’s the most poetic of paradoxes. The more individual accountability we give to someone, the more they are willing to accept the help of others to ensure everything goes right. Even the waitress knew that.
Download a PDF of this post
It’s hard enough that we have to talk about our strengths to others, but our weaknesses? That’s just the worst. Even more confounding, we’re only asked to talk about our weaknesses and our strengths in an interview, but after we get the job, we’re rarely ever asked to talk about what makes us so great again. Our weaknesses, however, seem to come up in every time we make a mistake or something goes wrong. So instead of learning to talk about what makes us great, it seems more valuable to learn how to talk about what holds us back if, for no other reason, it can help us move forward.
There are two very common mistakes we make when answering the question, “what’s your biggest weakness?” In an attempt to be clever or even be honest, we can end up doing ourselves more harm than good.
1. Replacing a weakness with a strength
This one is very common. “What’s your biggest weakness?” the interviewer asks. “My biggest weakness is I’m a perfectionist,” we respond thinking we’ve outwitted the interviewer or dodged a bullet. Ironically, by not answering the question, we are making it more difficult for the interviewer, if they hire us, to put us in a position of strength. In other words, in an attempt to sound strong we increase the likelihood of being weak.
2. A little too honest
Some people when asked, “what’s your biggest weakness,” get straight into the thick of it, “I’m really disorganized. It’s really the thing that holds me back sometimes.” Though I appreciate the honesty, the answer lacks context. We may as well look someone in the eye and say, “I’m not the person you’re looking for because you can’t rely on me.”
The best way to talk about our weaknesses is to be honest about them, for sure, but in the context of the balancing strength. Here’s what I mean:
“What’s your biggest weakness?”
“I do my best work in a team. There is nothing I love more than working with others, the back and forth of ideas. I love it. In contrast, you won’t get the best work out of me if I’m always on projects that require me to work alone.”
Here's another example:
“I’m the one who’s always looking into the future. Where others are working to figure out what we need to do tomorrow, I’m already looking for opportunities on the horizon – six months, a year, sometimes five years ahead. Organizations with a desire to innovate and go far for a long time love that about me. The flip side is I can be a little disorganized with what I need to do today or tomorrow.”
Everything in the world is balanced. For every weakness we have, we have a strength that explains or provides context for that weakness. Both these examples offer honest answers to the question but do so within the context of why that weakness exists. The result? We’re more likely to be seen as trustworthy because we’re willing to offer an honest answer to vulnerable questions and, more importantly, the person listening to us is more likely to put us in a job that highlights our strengths and mitigates our weaknesses…which is good for us and good for them.
Knowing how to talk about our weaknesses, it turns out, can be one of our greatest strengths.
Download a PDF of this post
Starting as a shoe salesman in the 1950's, Ben Prober went on to own a very successful chain of women's shoe stores. The prices at his stores weren't the cheapest. The selections weren't that much different from any other shoe store in town. And the stores themselves were pretty basic. They were nice enough, but nothing that our design-and-experience obsessed era would consider a competitive advantage.
When asked the secret to his great success, Ben would reply simply, "two, not three." You see, Ben understood something about human beings that modern business has long forgotten: more choice is bad.
When a lady came into one of his shops, the odds were good that she would want to try on more than one pair of shoes. If she already had two styles to choose from and asked for a third option Ben would reply, "Of course, madam, I'd be happy to fetch you the style of your choice. And, which one would you like me to take away?"
What Ben learned is that when his customers had two options, they could easily make a choice which style they preferred. However, when they had three or more to choose from, they had more trouble making a decision and, more often than not, left the store without any pair of shoes.
Even if customers think they want more choice, the facts are overwhelmingly against them. Not only are we more likely to make a purchase with fewer options, but the confidence we have in our choices and satisfaction we get from those choices is considerably higher than if we are forced to choose from a larger selection. In other words, the only result of competing with "more," is less.
It may pay for us to look back on the days when helping people make decisions was more about actually helping them make a decision. Despite all our advances in getting more products to market, it turns out how people decide hasn't changed at all.
I felt sick. I wanted to curl up in a ball and be alone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
I was ashamed.
To most people, what I did would seem a trifle, but to me it was much deeper. I gave a talk to an organization that violates the very core of my beliefs. In my mind, I felt like a sellout.
In my pre-engagement calls, I had a bad feeling about this group. They treated me like some vendor. I could barely get a question in they were talking so much. They also sent an email telling me what to wear – dress pants and a jacket. Had they done no research on me? I always wear jeans. But I talked myself out of it, “stop acting like a diva,” I told myself.
I sat backstage waiting for my time to speak, listening to the executives give their talks to the group. They presented themselves as a company that sells financial advice, but in my opinion, they weren’t doing it in an honorable way. It seemed to me to be more like a pyramid scheme; a multilevel marketing organization that makes money on recruiting new financial planners and having them use their “system” to win clients. All they did was talk about money and who were the high performers. Never once did they talk about helping their clients. – the people they are supposed to be serving.
I believe in helping people and doing right by others. This company preyed on people’s ambitions. They weren’t interested in helping people, they were interested in exploiting them and profiting off their risk. I felt sick. I didn’t want to be there and I didn’t want to be a part of it.
I made my choice. There was something I had that they didn’t: the microphone. They were going to put me on the stage, turn on a spotlight and let me speak, uninterrupted for 60 minutes. I would use that time to share my message. To preach. And preach I did. I spoke of the power of trust. I spoke of giving to others as the most selfish thing any person could do, because the more we look out for others, the more others will look out for us. I chastised systems that manipulate (and I stared right at the senior executives when I did).
I told stories I had heard from my time with the military, stories of heroism and sacrifice. “They give medals to people who are willing sacrifice themselves so that others may gain,” I said. “In business, we give bonuses to those who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain. We’ve got it backwards,” I implored.
They clapped at the end, but I didn’t stick around. I walked off the stage, grabbed my stuff and walked straight out the back door. I didn’t talk to anyone and I didn’t want anyone to talk to me. I felt sick and ashamed that I was a part of this.
I joined the daily huddle call our little company has where we share what we’re up to for the day and ask for help if we need it. I didn’t follow the normal procedure. Instead, I confessed. I told them how I felt.
My team was amazing. “Don’t sweat it,” they said trying to make me feel better, “we’re sure your message resonated and you converted a few.” One by one they took turns trying to help me see something good that may have come from this experience. But purpose cannot be rationalized.
I remember when I worked in the advertising industry and I asked one of the executives what societal good advertising does? “We help drive the economy,” was his response. So did the manufacturers of gas chambers during the holocaust. Finding elements of good does not equal a noble purpose. It’s just rationalizing.
Providing jobs, driving the economy, serving the shareholder are not purposes. They are rationalizations used when a greater cause or purpose is not clear or not there. Real purpose has a clear and definitive direction. It is a path that points towards a very specific vision of the future. Rationalizations have no destination, they are simply a calculation to demonstrate some benefit to justify the actions. Rationalizations are just that: rational. In contrast, purpose is deeply emotional. This is why we feel passion and intense drive when we are involved with something that has purpose. And it’s why we get that sick feeling when we do something in violation of that purpose. There is no sick feeling from violating a rationalized purpose…nor is there an invigorating passion to pursue it.
Because a true sense of purpose is deeply emotional, it serves as a compass to guide us to act in a way completely consistent with our values and beliefs. Purpose does not need to involve calculations or numbers. Purpose is about the quality of life. Purpose is human, not economic.
I thanked my team for their support, but insisted that we could not and should not try to rationalize making these kinds of errors. They are mistakes and we should learn from them to avoid finding ourselves in the same position again in the future. We should feel ashamed when they happen and we should also hold each other accountable and support each other to avoid decisions that would leave us in a position where we are forced to compromise what we stand for. We’ve already implemented new checks and balances to avoid the same situation happening again.
The company I spoke for already signed a contract for me to speak at another one of their events later this year. The problem for them is, I won’t be there. There is no contract on the planet that can force me to violate what I stand for. I will lose money and I will certainly ruffle some feathers…and that’s fine by me. They will all get over it in due course…I wouldn’t. They will rationalize why I was the wrong person for the job anyway. But I could never feel whole for showing up, no matter how much money they offered. Money is a calculation. My values are who I am.
P.S. After the event the client sent a complaint to the speakers bureau. They were upset that I wore jeans and no jacket. :-)
You need to talk to someone you can trust. There are two men standing there, one is wearing a long black robe with a cross around his neck. The other is wearing a t-shirt with a skull on the front and a pair of ripped jeans. The question is, whom do you choose?
Now, I should also tell you, one of them is wearing clothes he borrowed from someone else.
This exact scenario is how many companies build their brands - they ask someone else if they can borrow their clothes.
Some companies like to copy what has worked for a company they admire - like copying Apple's aesthtic when designing their products.
Worse, many companies go into the market to ask their customers what they want...what they believe. Some clever marketers will take all that wonderful data and mine it for insights which become the basis upon which they will build their brand - how they will show up in the market.
Is the company presenting who they really are or are they telling people what they really believe or stand for? Or is the company simply borrowing what they heard with the hope that people will trust them more if they say those things?
In the case of the clergyman and the ruffian, a quick conversation with both will immediately reveal the fraud - the one who is simply dressing the part verus being who we expected them to be. An authentic brand is the same. A few interactions with the company quickly reveals if their marketing and branding is simply saying what they think will appeal to us instead of telling us what they really think. The difference is authenticity.
In this day and age of soundbites and instant gratification, we often forget the value of spending time doing something of value.
We live in a world in which a YouTube video longer than 5 min is considered too long and the ideas that are supposed to change the world are only given a maximum time of 18 minutes on TED.com.
In our fast world, slow should not be a luxury reserved for time off on a beach or in a spa. Slow is a necessity. None of us learned to ride a bike in an afternoon. The process was slow. None of us formed deep, trusting and lasting relationships over one beer. The process was slow.
There is a reason a home cooked meal has greater value than fast food...and it’s not just because of the ingredients. It’s because a meal cooked at home is slow. It has to be. We can’t make something with love in a microwave. The process is slow.
Slow is what allows us to learn. Slow is what allows us to trust. Slow is what allows us to feel love for each other. The problem with slow is it requires time. And that’s exactly why it’s so powerful. It is the single greatest gift we can give someone - to give them our time. To offer hours, days, weeks, months or more knowing full well that any time we spend we will not get back, ever. Time is a non-refundable commodity. Once it’s spent, it’s gone. Time, more than money, has real, lasting value.
Anything slow, by definition, takes time...and that's exactly what makes it special.
I spend nearly every single day talking about what it means to live your Why - to live with a sense of purpose, cause or belief. But what happens when we wake up one day without a sense of purpose or cause? What happens when we used to have clarity and it slips away?
That is what happened to me. But it didn't happen over a career. The feelings were exaggerated so much that it felt like I lived an entire life in just one day.
This is what I learned.
I am sure you all saw the news when Steve Jobs died. The spontaneous, international show of mourning was nothing short of amazing.
My question is, do you think we will cry when you die?
The irony is that Jobs was more like you than like us. Jobs was a multi-billionaire who lived in a walled mansion and flew around on private jets when he traveled. Most of us never got to meet Jobs and we certainly couldn’t call him or schedule a meeting with him – just as most of us will never have a chance to meet you either.
The reality is, you are much more like him than we are. You are all visionaries and innovators in your own right. You all imagined a world, far off in the future, that didn’t exist yet and set out to build it. Each of you, your products and companies really did change the way we live our lives…in the case of a few of you, arguably even more than Jobs did. You took big risks, sometimes winning and sometimes losing, and in the process you lived the America dream and built huge, multinational corporations. You’re all pretty remarkable people by any standards and, there is no question, we respect you. Though I’m sure you’re all pretty decent guys, we won’t cry when your time comes because, well, we just don’t love you.
And that’s the one thing Jobs had that resulted in mass shows of emotion when we lost him. We loved him. We didn’t love him for what he built or accomplished. Those things are not, in comparison to all of you, exceptional. We loved him for something he gave us that exists on a level far greater than any product or technology - he gave us something to believe in. It is that one seemingly minor thing, something deeply seeded in our reptilian, limbic brains, that he mastered and most of you have lost. Steve Jobs stood for something.
If you have any fantasies of spontaneous public love when your time comes, then you need to go back to your own roots. You need to rediscover your own cause – the thing that inspired you when you had nothing but a dream and a bunch of friends willing to help you build it. You used to be able to inspire a room with your words, now you work hard to ensure the analysts like what you say.
Go back to the time when you were the idealist, when you stood for something, when your dreams were clearer than the reality that told you that you were crazy. Go back to that. Be that person again…the one we used to love.
Jobs was not unique for what he built. He was not unique for the gift he had. It wasn’t even unique that he had a bold vision for how the world should operate. What made him remarkable was that he never lost it…not until the day he died. And for that, we miss him dearly.
“We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks,” said David Darnell, co-COO of Bank of America, “and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee.”
This is a standard line when a plan to gouge customers backfires.
In the case of Bank of America, they didn’t propose, as Mr. Darnell attempted to explain, they implemented a plan in which customers were charged a $5 transaction fee to use their debit cards. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that customers may have a less than desirable reaction to such a preposterous idea.
This is a sad commentary on the direction business is heading these days. Companies like Bank of America no longer see their customers as people, they see them as cows to be milked. The problem is, instead of pacing and looking after the cow, they will keep milking to the point they get kicked in the face or the cow dies…whichever happens first. In this case of their new fees, they got kicked in the face.
Companies that really listen to their customers do so before they make decisions not after they need to pick up the pieces. Companies that listen do things that are actually intended for the customer. In contrast, companies that don’t listen only say they are listening when things don't go according to plan.
I would have more respect for Bank of America if Mr. Darnell was honest. “We were looking for ways to increase our profit and thought a transaction fee to debit card transactions was a good strategy. The negative reaction was much worse than we anticipated so we’ve decided to reverse course and look for other ways to maintain growth and profit.” A statement like that would at least be consistent with whom Bank of America really sees as their primary concern: their shareholders. And at least we can respect that the bank was telling us what we already knew or expected (it's called integrity).
I don’t care what companies choose to do to make money. I believe in a free market economy and believe customers can express themselves with their feet. If Bank of America wants to gouge us, more power to them. They wouldn’t be the first to try it or get away with it (think airlines charging us to bring luggage on our vacations). I just believe in transparency – which means giving us the REAL context for a decision (for more on this read The Battered-Wife Customer Service Model)
The only listening Bank of America did was to the sound of money trickling out as customers closed accounts in higher than expected numbers. And if you need more proof that they were just covering their ass with their new-found concern for customer opinion, why the heck is a Chief Operating Officer, a numbers and operations guy, making announcements about customer care.
Saddest of all, this is not an article bashing Bank of America. They are just the latest example of a modern company that has replaced a person with a number and erroneously called that number a customer.
There have been many occasions when I’ve been on a plane and we hit some bad turbulence that my heart started pounding. I am not a nervous flyer, per se, but sometimes I imagine elaborate scenarios of all the things that are going wrong in the cockpit and it freaks me out. I’ll hear strange noises sometimes, and think it’s the end. I’ll start sweating. My heart will start beating harder and faster.
It happened last night again. I was on a flight cruising across the country to San Diego when the lights on the plane went out. I was concerned... not overly…but I certainly started to imagine why the lights went out. Did something short out? Was there spark? Does old wiring catch fire? Then, about 30 minutes later, the lights went out again. This time, my heart pounded a little harder. Then, about 20 minutes later, they went out again. A movie was playing on my iPad, but I couldn’t focus on it. My eyes were peeled out the window instead, I was watching the wing and the engine to make sure everything was ok.
Staring out the window, I noticed that the stars were turning. We were turning. A huge turn. Aircrafts make course adjustments throughout a flight, I know that, but when you’re heading across the country, there is no need for a 90+ degree turn. My breathing became shallow. My imagination was racing. I needed to put my mind at ease.
I hit the flight attendant call button. “I’m probably just being a nervous flyer,” I told the flight attendant, “I noticed the plane making a huge turn and have no idea why we’re making a huge turn. Perhaps you could ask the captain to come on the PA to let us know what was happening,” I suggested, knowing that hearing the captain would stop my mind from inventing scenarios..
The flight attendant leaned in and said, “we’ve lost one of our generators, but we have another one.” My brow started to sweat profusely. “Is it dangerous?” I asked. “We have a second generator,” she replied with false confidence. She looked shaken.
Not a minute later, the captain came on the PA. “Ladies and gentleman,” he began politely, “we’ve lost our right engine generator and we’ve lost our APU,” he said matter-of-factly referring to the auxiliary power unit – the plane’s back-up power generator. “Procedure dictates that in a situation like this, we divert, so we’re going to be landing in Oklahoma City.”
It was at that point, I started to relax. I didn’t know why I was so relaxed, but I was. When I imagined something was going wrong, my heart was pounding. Now that something was wrong, I was cool as a cucumber.
The flight attendants came on the PA and asked us all to store our electronics, put our seats up our tray tables away and prepare for landing. “I’m not sure when we will be landing,” she said, “the pilots are busy, but we’ll be landing soon.”
About five minutes later we began to descend. There was a pretty thick cloud cover, so I couldn’t see the ground, though now and then I could see some hazy city lights through the clouds. I remarked to myself under my breath, “why are you so relaxed?” I was in disbelief. Getting wrapped up in my imagination I can bring myself to a near panic state. And now, when my heart should be pounding and I should be sweating…I wasn’t.
I paid attention to the landing procedures. Our airbrakes engaged to slow us down. That’s a good sign. The flaps extended - also a good sign. We were making a steady descent but I didn’t hear the wheels go down. Again, I spoke to myself out loud and under my breath, “no wheels.” And then actually continued to calmly declare, “well, if we have no wheels, I guess we’ll land on our belly.” The whole time, still remarking in disbelief how completely relaxed I was. I almost wanted my heart to speed up – it seemed more appropriate.
The wheels deployed shortly after and we landed safely in Oklahoma City with fire engines and ambulances lining the runway. We came to stop and were escorted by a whole fleet of emergency vehicles to the gate. I think the whole plane sighed a collective sigh of relief; it certainly was nice to be on the ground.
I made a few calls to let folks back home know what was going on. It was only then, telling the story, did I get a little emotional and feel my pulse rate increase. But we were ok and I found my composure pretty quickly.
I stayed the night at an airport hotel, still calm, waiting for an aftershock of panic. But it didn’t come. I wasn’t the least bit bothered by all the inconvenience of getting stuck and trying to get back home. We were safely on the ground and all that stuff was just plumbing.
Lying in bed that night, I replayed the events of the evening back in my head, still amazed at how relaxed I was. I also realized how our imaginations get the better of us. The number of times I’ve imagined scenarios where I was going to lose everything at work if I made the wrong decision. The number of times I thought my career was over because of something that happened outside my control. Or, armed with only the proof or scenarios I conjured up in my own imagination, I thought people I liked or worked with we planning to abandon me. Yet, in reality, I still make decisions. I still take risks and make mistakes. Things go wrong all the time and yet we deal with them…and life goes on.
When things are fine, we look for all the things going wrong. We imagine. We fester. We worry. When things really do go wrong…and things always go wrong….we deal with it. We look for all the things going right. Before the captain came on, I could only see the lights going out and imagine a fire behind the walls. Once we were making our unscheduled landing with only one working generator, I listened for the flaps and wheels to deploy – signs of things going right.
This sudden change of perspective in times of danger - perhaps it’s our survival instinct, a way we’ve developed to increase our chances of survival. Or perhaps, in times of stress and adversity, there really is hope and opportunity.
As an endnote, I would like to thank the flight crew of that Delta flight. I didn’t get to thank them in person. They were grace under pressure. And the ground staff that greeted us at an all but closed Oklahoma City airport, they were fantastic. I’ve never in my life experienced such remarkable service and generous spirit.
Martin was a scrawny kid when he was in high school. He wasn’t that tall and he wasn’t that strong. He didn’t excel at any athletic activities and was an average student. By normal high school rules, Martin would be considered a target. A target for bullies, a target for ribbing from other students or even teachers.
But no one laid a finger on Martin. Not ever. And the reason was simple. Everyone liked Martin because he was funny. If anything, people enjoyed having him in their class – students and teachers alike.
Something deep inside Martin’s brain knew he couldn’t compete on a physical level or academic level so, in order to survive high school, he developed a fantastic sense of humor. Now, as an adult, we refer to Martin’s sense of humor as his gift.
I grew up with ADD and thank goodness no one diagnosed it. If they had, I wouldn’t have been forced to learn the skills to survive. Unable to focus, I too had to learn how to get through high school. My still-forming mind and personality could have taken me in two different directions – I could have become a victim of my weaknesses or I could figure out a way around it.
At an early age I learned to help others. I had to…I needed their help in return. I learned to talk, develop a charm and a curiosity for what others were doing. It wasn’t an option. If I didn’t do the reading for my English class because I couldn’t focus long enough to get it done (no matter how much my parents yelled at me to concentrate) I’d still need to know what the reading was about for class the next day. So I’d ask someone…and we’d talk about it.
It was because I lacked a natural ability to focus that I learned to spend more time talking about subjects instead of reading about them. I had to. Without it, I’d fail. This survival skill carried me through college also. I rarely cut class in college. If I didn’t go to class, I’d have to read the books and that would be the end for me. I spent hours talking to colleagues and professors after class - learning. And thank goodness I did…because I don’t think I read a single book in college.
As an adult nobody looks at my skills as survival skills, they look at me and say “what a talent you have.” When we’re young, the things we learn in order to survive become our talents when we’re adults.
Richard Branson suffered from terrible dyslexia as a boy. As an adult, we hail his ability to rally people and solve problems. A “talent” he freely admits was born out of a need to survive as a kid.
The greatest thing any parent or teacher can give a child is the support to solve their own problems. The goal is not to force a kid who struggles to work harder at being like everyone else. The goal is help a kid who struggles to find a workaround for the specific thing that’s holding them back. The skills our children learn to overcome adversity when they are young will become their talents when they are older. And it is these talents that will invent and build the products and companies that will help and inspire the rest of us when they’re older.
In the early 1980s, Steve Jobs and a few Apple executives visited the Xerox Corporation to see a new technology they had developed. It was called the Graphic User Interface or GUI – it allowed people to interact with a computer through a series of pictures and icons instead of having to know .dos or some other computer language.
At the time of the visit, Apple was hard at work developing the Lisa – it was to be their next big idea after the Apple II. They had poured millions of dollars and an exorbitant amount of time and sweat into developing the Lisa. But this graphic user interface was a revolutionary idea…and the young Steve Jobs knew it.
Like Kodak, who invented the digital camera in the 1970s but suppressed the technology for fear that it would eat away at film sales, so too was Xerox suppressing their idea for fear it too would cannibalize their existing business.
Jobs pulled aside his executives and told them that he wanted to abandon the Lisa and develop the graphic user interface instead. Shocked, one of his executives exclaimed, “but Steve, if we do that, we’ll blow up our own business.” To which Jobs replied, “better we should blow it up than someone else.”
Apple abandoned the Lisa and, a few years later, in 1984, introduced the Macintosh; a move that would revolutionize the entire computer industry.
Steve Jobs was not unique in his ability to see great ideas. Kodak and Xerox both saw the power of their respective innovations. So much so, in fact, that they worked to keep them hidden knowing full well the impact their technologies would have. What made Jobs a remarkable leader was not his ability to simply see great ideas but to seize them, even if it meant abandoning work already done and money already spent. He would often quote Wayne Gretzky, who said, "a good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." And that's exactly what Jobs believed. What’s the point of continuing to pour money into an idea that will be dead on arrival? Cut your losses and blow up your own business before someone else does. Don't play where the market is, play where it's going to be.
The music industry refused to blow up their own business. They worked hard to sell albums in a digital world that wanted to buy songs, only to have Apple blow up their businesses with iTunes.
Publishing refuses to blow up their own business leaving them exposed to an online retailer, Amazon, to blow it up for them.
A great idea is a great idea and great ideas cannot be suppressed…at least not forever. The ones who get to profit from the great ideas, however, are not the one who develop them necessarily, but the ones willing to embrace those ideas before anyone else does.
Download a PDF of this post
Fact: every single company cares about their customers...the difference is how they care about them.
I live on a block in New York City that has a Food Emporium on it. It is a sad excuse for a supermarket. The produce is very poor quality, the layout of the store is disastrous and the staff would much rather be somewhere else…at least that’s how they make the customers feel.
But recently, a Fairway Market moved in less than a block away from the Food Emporium. Fairway is, in a word, amazing. The aisles are well stocked and brightly lit. The produce is incredible, fresh and ripe. The staff is friendly and helpful…in fact, there is staff there whose only job is to help customers find what we’re looking for. The quality is astounding and the prices are cheaper than most of the other supermarkets in the area. People travel from miles away to shop at the Fairway. I’ve even found myself going food shopping more often because it’s such a great place.
Once Fairway moved in, something strange started to happen. All of a sudden, Food Emporium started advertising around the neighborhood. They started talking about change…change for us, they said. In addition to the advertising, they now have people passing out coupons offering discounts on various products.
It’s clear the only time Food Emporium started thinking about their customers was when another company who really cares about their customers moved in.
It is true that every company cares about their customers. However, some companies, like Food Emporium, care about them because they see them as dollar signs. And some companies, like Fairway, care about them because they see them as people.
When a company sees their customers as dollar signs, they treat them as a metric. Something to balance efficiencies, increase margins and decrease expenses. When a company sees their customers as people, they treat them like human beings. Something to look after, worry about and give an amazing experience to.
If companies only care about their customers when they have to, it's probably too late. Even if Food Emporium changes everything…I still know they never really cared about me. But that’s ok…I never really cared about them.
Today we've lost a lighthouse. Steve Jobs, the man who stood for so much more than sleek design or innovation, the man who stood for people, is gone.
He was singularly devoted, not to technology, but how people interacted with technology. It wasn't for us to fit into a world of computers, it was for the computers to fit into a world of people. And that's what made Jobs different. That's what made Jobs special.
There are many great CEOs and there are great innovators, but we won't miss them the same way we'll miss Jobs. Jobs lived above his company and its products. This is what made Jobs one of the great leaders of our time. He didn't lead a company - he led us. He inspired us. He had a cause and we followed him in his pursuit.
For all those who think different, the rebels, the misfits, those who see the world differently, Jobs gave us language. He gave us a way to show people who we are, what we believe. He gave us symbols, like beacons, so that we can more easily find those who believe what we believe. And most of all, he made us feel like we belong. He reminded us that the ones who see things differently are the ones who change the world.
Rest in peace Steve, for you accomplished what you set out to do...you changed the world...and our lives are better for it.
You will be missed.
Jill is an entrepreneur. She is a big thinker with big ideas. She is also an idealist. She imagines a world in which companies make their impact on society their primary bottom line and the financial results that follow as their second bottom line. She is smart and articulate and her ideas are really good, but she's struggling to get anyone to take her seriously.
What's the problem?
According to the companies that close the door on her, it's because she's only 24.
There is something about youth that the more experienced often forget and don't take advantage of - their passion. Passion is a valuable currency. Some are rich with it and some poor. Some trade it in over the course of their careers only to be left at the end of their lives with a big house and a fast car but no more passion. The youth, low on experience, are often rich in passion. More importantly, it is their passion that provides the necessary capital required to make the kind of progress that the financially rich can only look upon and drool.
Steve Jobs was 21 when he founded Apple. Mark Zuckerberg was 20 when he started Facebook. Michael Dell was 20 when his company built its first computer, Bill Gates was 20 when Microsoft became Microsoft. Larry Page and Sergey Brin were 25 when they founded Google and Richard Branson was only 22 when he opened Virgin Records. Everyone on this list was low on experience and even lower on cash when they started. All they had was an intense passion to pursue their visions and an ability inspire others to join them in their pursuit.
Horatio Nelson, the British admiral made famous for defeating Napoleon's navy at the Battle of Trafalgar, had an unusual habit when at sea. He would go to the bottom deck and spend time with his most junior officers. In those days, this was just not done...an admiral socializing with the youngest ranks? It was unheard of. But Nelson didn't go down to tell them a thing or two. He didn't go below deck to whip them into shape. Quite the opposite. He spent time with them to get something from them. To get something they had lots of, more than any of his ranking officers: unbridled passion and blind optimism...and Nelson loved it!
As we progress in our careers our passion has a tendency to wane. We get mired in the weeds. We become more concerned about benefits and compensation packages. We make safer and safer decisions for fear we may lose what we've worked so hard to get. Worse, we often forget why we started down the path in the first place. The young remind us why we started. They remind us of ourselves when we were their age. They are like a jolt of electricity that can recharge even the most beleaguered of devices.
Nelson spent time below deck to soak up this passion. He understood that it was the responsibility of the experienced to pass down their lessons to the inexperienced, so that, one day, they would become the great admirals of the seas. But he also understood that the passionate had a vital role to play in the system. Nelson wanted to hear their ideas, their dreams, their optimism. It kept him going. His ability to "stay young" was one of the reasons he became on of the greatest leaders in history - commanding astonishing loyalty from the young and the experienced alike.
To all those people who told Jill you're not interested in her ideas because she has no experience, may I remind you, that's not her job...it's yours. Your job is to hear the ideas you don't have and figure out how to make them happen. That's the value of experience. And, in the process, you may just achieve something great...just like you dreamed of when you were young.
Download a PDF of this post
Careers are like a shark, to be successful we have to keep moving forwards.
In order to breathe, most sharks have to keep moving at all times. The forward motion allows the oxygen rich water to pass into their mouths over their gills and out through the gill slits. If they stop moving forwards, their gills won't work, they won't be able to breath and they will sink to the bottom and die. This system is called "obligate ram ventilation."
Ram - as in forward moving.
Ventilation - as in air.
We've all been at points in our careers when we feel like we have trouble getting air. We're suffocating doing whatever we're doing. What resuscitates is often something very simple: moving forwards. Sometimes that means getting a new job, sometimes that means taking the bull by the horns with the job we have. But it always means looking much further beyond where we are now and swimming in that direction.
It doesn't matter if we go in a straight line to get there, as long as we're moving. Stop moving, we die. Keep moving, we live. It's that simple.
To keep alive, we need to make decisions. We can't sit around and wait...or we die.
To keep healthy, we need to know where we're going, we need to have a purpose or a cause or a belief, a reason to get out of bed. Without something to swim for...we die.
To innovate, to have ideas, to contribute, we need do things outside our job specs: read books, watch movies, travel, meet new people, do new things. If we do the same thing everyday over and over with no forward momentum....we die.
To make progress, we need to execute, produce something, ship. If we spend all our time trying to make it perfect and never get it out the door...we die.
So the next time someone asks you the secret to a good career, tell them it's simple: obligate ram ventilation.
The young artist who was told by their high school math teacher that they were lazy.
The son who was told he’s going to screw up his life because he didn’t want to become an accountant like his dad.
The employee who was passed over for a raise or a promotion and was, instead, given a growth plan to help them overcome their weaknesses in order to make it to the next level.
Customer complaints vastly outnumber compliments in most companies. Most employees complain about what their company does wrong before they rave about what their company does right. Politicians point out what the other party can’t fix before offering their help to fix it.
It seems no matter where we turn, there is a whole crowd of people ready and willing to tell us what we’re bad at, what we can’t get right and where we’re weak. It’s a wonder anyone of us has any self-esteem left at the end of a day.
But there is huge advantage in disadvantage. The reason others see the failings in us is because they are looking in the wrong place.
Imagine if that the artist’s math teacher realized his student had no natural aptitude for math and, instead of berating her, recommended she take more art classes to develop her natural abilities.
Imagine if the well intentioned father, realizing his son didn’t want to follow in his footsteps, asked him what he did want to do and then did everything to support and nurture the things he wanted to do.
Imagine if a company devoted resources to helping us build on our strengths instead of pushing us to fix our weaknesses.
And imagine if psychologists identified the abnormal advantages we all have instead of labeling the abnormal disadvantages.
Take dyslexia, for example. A lot of really great entrepreneurs, like Richard Branson, are dyslexic. Instead of focusing on what he couldn’t do, he figured out ways around it. He became a brilliant problem solver. A lot of dyslexics are good like that. It’s a huge advantage they have.
Or the kid who is told at a young age that they have ADD – they are told they have a “deficit” and a “disorder.” Why aren’t they told that they have an amazing advantage - hyper-focus, a heightened ability to focus on something and devote an intense amount of energy to solving a problem or building something beyond what most people can do. They have an ability to get done in one day what takes others a week.
I have ADHD and it is one of the single greatest advantages I have. Sure it has it’s drawbacks. It’s harder for me to focus on things that don’t interest me. But all that means is I should focus on doing things that do interest me. I have an abnormal advantage and I feel sorry for all the people who aren’t able to apply intense focus on something like those with ADD or ADHD.
The best teachers are the ones who tell us we can. The best parents tell us we should. The best companies show us what we can do. And the best politicians remind us what’s possible if we work together instead of apart.
May we all discover what about us doesn’t fit the norm and, instead of trying to hide or bury it, work to make that our single greatest advantage.
We're told all our whole lives that money can't buy happiness. The fact is, that's simply not true. Money can buy happiness. What money can't buy is lasting happiness. What money can't buy is fulfullment. That takes something else.
Here is the second part of a videoed conversation I had about where fulfillment comes from and how we can find lasting happiness.
So you don't have to look it up, here is Part 1.
I returned from Afghanistan this week. I went as a guest of the Air Force to experience the remarkable work they do, first hand. "The grand ballet," the Commander of Air Mobility Command calls it. I flew on various types of aircraft on various kinds of missions. I watched an air drop, supplying soldiers on the ground with fuel, water and ammunition. I rode on an aeromedical evacuation as 37 wounded soldiers and marines were brought home, one in critical condition. There was one more mission I would join - one we didn't expect, one we didn't plan on joining. This was the flight that brought home a fallen soldier.
Just the three of us, me and the two Airmen with whom I traveled, were aboard the plane with the crew and the casket. One solitary, flag draped casket strapped to the middle of the cargo bay. The flight was nine and half hours long. We sat in the back staring at the casket for take off and landing. We slept in sleeping bags on the floor of the cargo bay, 10 feet away from the fallen soldier. It was a quiet trip. We didn't talk much. We all kept to ourselves. Now and then, I'd catch myself staring at the box. Now and then, I'd catch myself welling up...and if a tear fell, I'd let it. It was only right. It was an honor to bring him home.
I took a lot of pictures on this trip, but there are no pictures of the two missions that moved me most - the aeromedical evacuation and the HR mission, as it's officially called (HR stands for human remains). If you look at my pictures, you'd think my trip was fun. You'd think that going into a war zone is cool.
The work is hard. And the people are hard.
The pictures I wish I could bring home to share, so we can truly understand what war is like, don't exist. I have only my stories...and I will tell those stories whenever I can.
Someone I know at AMC forwarded an email that was sent to them today. It's from the pilot who flew 20 of the soldiers who were killed in the recent Chinook crash back home. I have been given permission to share his email on this blog. Every word is as he wrote it...only his name has been left out.
I don't know who he is but I'd like to thank him for sharing his story. His story doesn't replace the pictures we need to see...but it comes close.
I had an unforgettable day yesterday and wanted to share it with you. I
know we've all sat around and discussed in detail why we do what we do and
if we will be willing to continue to do what we do day in and day out
regardless of deployments, retirement decisions, job opportunities, missed
birthdays, missed holidays, etc. This is something I wanted to share and
you were the people that came to mind. It's another reason I continue to
serve.I guess because many others do and sacrifice a lot more, some even
My crew was alerted yesterday to find that our mission had changed. We
were now a backup to a high priority mission originating from Afghanistan.
When I asked where we would be going the answer was "back to the states".
Later I learned our destination was Dover.
I was the aircraft commander for one of two C-17s that transferred the
Chinook helicopter crash soldiers back home. The crew that started this
mission in Afghanistan would end up running out of crew duty day and need
another crew to continue the soldier's journey. We just happened to be
available. After being alerted and going through our normal sequence, I
found myself at the foot of the aircraft steps.
Before I took my first step upward I noticed a transfer case close to the
door. I had only seen one in pictures. The American Flag was tucked
smartly, folded and secured on top. I paused at the bottom of the stairs,
took a deep breath and continued up with my mind and eyes focusing on making it to the next ladder leading to the cockpit. However, as I entered, I
couldn't help but notice the remaining nineteen transfer cases in the cargo
compartment. The entire cargo compartment was filled with identical
transfer cases with American Flags. I made my way up to the cockpit and
received a briefing from the previous aircraft commander. After the
briefing we exchanged a handshake and the other pilot was on his way.
I felt a need to ensure the crew focused on their normal duties. I
instructed the other two pilots to began the preflight. I went back down
into the cargo compartment to see what needed to be done and find the
paperwork I needed to sign. The cargo compartment was now filled with
numerous people from the mortuary affairs squadron. They were busy
adjusting, resetting and overall preparing the cases for their continued
flight. Before they began I asked who was in charge because I knew there
was paperwork I needed to sign. I finally found a Staff Sergeant who was
working an issue with the paperwork. After it was complete, he brought it
up to the cockpit for me to review and sign.
There are moments in life I will never forget. For me, it's the days my son
and daughter were born. Another occurred five months ago when I had to
deliver the unthinkable news to a mother that her son was killed in
Afghanistan and although I didn't anticipate another day like that this
soon, yesterday was another. I looked at the paperwork I was signing and
realized the magnitude of the day. I glanced over the paperwork and signed.
In a way, I felt I had taken ownership of these fallen soldiers. It was now
my duty to ensure they make it home.
After confirming the preflight was complete and the aircraft was fueled, I
went outside to start my walk-around. As I walked down the steps, a bus had parked in front of the aircraft and unloaded eleven passengers. The
passengers were fellow SEAL team members who were escorting the fallen back to the states. I stood at the front of the aircraft and watched them board. Every one of them walked off the bus with focus in their eyes and
determination in their steps; just as I imagine they do when they go on a
mission. I made eye contact with the lead SEAL, nodded my head in respect
and he nodded back.
Finishing my walk-around, I stopped at the bottom of the stairs. I looked
up into the cargo compartment; two American Flags and one SEAL Team Six flag hung from the top of the cargo compartment. Three of twenty transfer cases visible; one with an American Flag and two with Afghan flags. I looked up at my aircraft and saw, "United States Air Force" painted on the side and I stood trying to take it all in. I wanted to make certain that I never
forget these images. That I never forget the faces of the SEALS, the smell
of the cargo compartment or the sun slowly rising over the landscape. It's
important that I don't forget. We need to honor the dead, honor the
sacrifice of the fallen.
I understand my role in getting these fallen soldiers home is insignificant
compared to the lives they lived and the things they did for our country.
Most of it we will never know. All I know is every American should see what
I've seen. Every American should see the bus loads of families as they exit
the freeway headed for Dover AFB to reunite with their fallen or witness the
amount of time, effort, people and equipment that go into ensuring our
fallen have a honorable return.
The very next day we took the same aircraft back overseas. We had leveled
the aircraft at our cruise altitude and I walked down to the cargo
compartment. No more American Flags hung from the ceiling. All the
transfer cases were gone.
Instead I watched a father lay with his son, cradled on his chest, on the
same spot that only yesterday held a fallen soldier. I watched a young
girl, clutching a teddy bear, sleeping quietly where the fallen had laid. I
realized so many Americans have no idea where the fallen lay.
I'm honored to be one that does.
A few days ago, a 9-year-old girl named Rachel Beckwith died in a pileup on I-90 in Washington state. Her spinal chord was severed and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her life.
June 12th was her last birthday and for her birthday Rachel told everyone that she didn't want any presents and she didn't want a party. Instead, she wanted her friends to donate $9 to Charity Water." Her big crazy goal," said her pastor, "was to raise $300 so that 15 kids in Africa would have safe, clean water." At the time of her death, she was $80 short of her goal.
Inspired by her generocity, Rachel's church publicized her goal on their website...and the donations started rolling in.
When last I logged on, Rachel had raised over $300,000. And her wish to help 15 people will now help over 15,000 people.
Rachel Beckwith may be the most inspring 9 year old I know and I'm proud to support her in her dream to give.
If you're interested in helping Rachel's cause, visit Charity Water.
If you'd like to donate to help her parents pay the medical bills, you can visit http://bobnw.org to donate.
May we all raise our children to think of others before themselves. May we all raise our children to by like Rachel Beckwith.
The discovery of Why taught me a valuable lesson: fulfillment, that sense of prolonged happiness in our lives, is not a luxury. In fact it is our right.
I am undertaking a little project to write a manifesto - a statement of belief - to help capture this movement that we are a part of. To put into words the world we imagine and a roadmap to get there.
I sat down with some of the folks on my team, people devoted to this cause, to tell them what I'm up to and what I'm thinking. We recorded the conversation and will share it with all those who want to listen.
Ah...the spa. A place of serenity, calm and oneness with the universe. A place where we can go to escape the hustle and bustle and be treated as human beings. A place where looking after your mind, body and spirit is of the utmost importance. Well...for paying customers, anyway.
It turns out that all that Zen idealism doesn't apply to all living things. There’s a high-end spa I know in a major metropolis that doesn’t treat its employees very well. I was talking to one of the massage therapists who is quitting because she can’t take the abuse any more. Apparently her boss manipulates and berates those tasked with pampering their guests.
She told me she became a masseuse because she wanted to give to people, to look after them. She says she can’t do her job properly when she’s constantly holding in her anger or feeling disrespected or disgusted. So she’s leaving to find another job at a spa that practices what it preaches...a place she can feel proud to work.
So many companies are obsessed with trying to be or act “authentically,” when it seems so many don't to know what “authentic” means. Authenticity means that the way we present ourselves to the outside is a perfectly accurate representation of who we really are. That means, the outside world should be able to guess what it would be like to work there based on their experience. In the case of the spa, how they present themselves is clearly not who they are.
For all those companies that preach customer before profit, I hope they are putting employee before profit, too. If a company wants to stand for innovation, to be seen as challenging their customers to think differently, then they need to be open to new ways of doing things inside their company also. If a company wants to be seen as a leader in their category, then they need to stop obsessing about their competition’s every move or wondering “how will they react if we make this decision.” Leaders lead; they don’t worry about what those behind are thinking. And, most importantly, what’s right for the customer must also be right for the employee.
This is not idealism, it's good business. The more the inside and the outside match, the more those on the inside will invest of their own blood, sweat and tears to see the company succeed. This makes it much easier to match the expectations a customer has with the experience they will actually get. And when that happens, when authenticity really exists, loyalty results.
As for the fancy spa in the fancy part of the city? All their best masseuses, those who are trying to be authentic in all they do, are leaving. Profit is down, equipment is broken and the business is coming apart at the seams. So I guess they are being authentic after all. They are starting to look like exactly who they really are.
It was a complete coincidence. My friend Jules Shell happened to be in Paris for a few days while I was there. She is a remarkable human being. She is the co-founder of Foundation Rwanda, an organization that funds the education of children born to the victims of rape during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and links their mothers to psychological & medical services (if you only give to one charity per month, please give to this one next month). Jules and I are always traveling and we never get to see each other, so it was a total treat that we were in the same city at the same time...and that it was Paris was a bonus.
I took Sunday off and spent the day with Jules. We had croissants for breakfast in the gardens of the Palais-Royal, ate the most scrumptious duck confit for lunch, shopped the Marais, licked Berthillon ice cream on Ile St. Louis, had the perfect cup of coffee in a small, secluded square somewhere-we’re-not-sure-where and finally had, what can only be described as, a hilarious dinner in a Japanese restaurant where we drank French wine with our ramen noodles. Twelve hours we spent together that day and it was great. Then last night we went for a late night glass of wine and a crepe in front of the Eiffel Tower. We laughed and laughed the whole time.
This morning I awoke to an email from Jules.
Totally loved our time together. Straight out of a woody Allen film- the most romantic trip ever among friends. Ah Paris... Everyone should go once with Simon Sinek.
I love Jules’s desire to want to share what we had with lots of people so that lots of people can have as much fun as we had. The problem is, if everyone got to go to Paris once with Simon Sinek or Jules Shell, it would no longer be special for the few that do.
There is something special about small. Small is intimate, spontaneous and intense. Small is...well...small is special. If lots of people experience something special, it is no longer small and, in turn, ceases to be special. Good, yes. Fantastic, even. But not special.
The Pacific ocean was special when few people ever got to see it. Now, it's not so special. Chocolate was special when only a few people ate it. Now, it’s not so special (though there is still some special chocolate out there – like Vosges bacon truffles – but very few people have tried them).
If you stumble upon something special, keep it small. Though you may want to share it with lots of people, which is a good thing, remember that in so doing, what originally made it special will quickly dissipate. But if you do choose to share something special with lots of people, then just make sure you always keep another thing available that only a few special people will get to experience. That way there will always be something special about what you do.
This is as true in relationships as it is in business. When we treat people as numbers, they will never feel special. When we treat them as individuals, they will. Sending a mass email to the company isn't special. Roaming the halls and saying hello to everyone is.
The reason humans like feeling special is because feeling special is human.
Most organizations (even society) publish a set of rules to guide how they want their people to act inside the organization. More often than not, most of these rules tell us what not to do. Don't lie. Don't steal. Don't use the copy machine after 8pm. Don't use company resources for personal use.
I think offering a set of rules is a good thing - they help maintain order inside an organziation. Understanding the value of such guidance, I recently issued a set of rules to my team.
But there's a catch. In our organization, there will be no rules to tell us what not to do. Rules that tell us what not to do hold people back. Instead the rules should help push people forward. In our group, the rules consist of a list of the things that are allowed.
It's called the Allowed List, and this is what it says.
You are allowed to:
1. Make the decision you think is the right decision to make
2. Start something that needs to be started to help advance the cause
3. Ask for help whenever you want it
4. Help others whenever you can (even if they don’t ask for it)
5. Take time off to do something that inspires, excites and energizes you
Everyone is expected to follow these rules and everyone is expected to hold the others accountable to them. Afterall, if we didn't follow the rules...there'd be chaos.
You don't know what you don't know; never was there a truer sentence ever spoken. The question is, knowing we don't know everything, what's the best way to learn more?
The answer is ironically obvious: look outside. I'm not talking about some existential vantage point, I mean literally, look outside. Step away from your desk and do something, see something, read something or listen to something that has nothing to do with your work. Do something that has nothing to do with what you know.
Most of us stay in our industry to help us be better at what we do. We read our own industry’s trades, we attend our own industry’s conferences, we talk to others from our industry and we take classes offered by "experts" from the inside. Though we may learn bits and pieces this way, we can never learn to innovate and solve problems or think in new ways like this. To truly think differently, we need to look way outside our own industries. If we see and learn how others solve problems, we can adapt and apply the same lessons to our own work. Read about the Cuban missile crisis and we may learn how to get ourselves out of a sticky situation. Watch a documentary about origami and we may learn to see things a little differently. This is where innovation comes from.
Innovation comes from solving ideas like no one else in our industry…but those ideas have to come from somewhere…somewhere outside.
“Our standards beat their extras,” read the headline on the brochure. The body copy below elaborated, “the most legroom in coach,” it said.
When I read the claim on the jetBlue in-flight brochure, I, like most people, thought when they said “the most legroom in coach” that they meant that they actually have the most legroom in coach. Until, that is, I read the fine print: “Based on the average fleet-wide seat pitch of U.S. airlines.” In other words, jetBlue does not, in fact, have the “most” legroom in coach and their standards do not beat others’ extras. More accurately, based on their own legal type, jetBlue beats everyone else’s average. The facts, it seems, render their claim of “most” a bit of an exaggeration. Though the claim may have been “legally” or “technically” true, they are misleading. Manipulative. And this is the problem with absolute claims; they are, at best, rubbish, and, at worst, manipulative.
Sadly, this is not exclusive to jetBlue. It is, in fact, more common than most companies would like to admit. It’s amazing how many businesses claim to be the “best,” offer the “most” or be the “strongest,” when they aren’t. For one, such absolute claims are nearly impossible to verify. The best or the most is a very high standard…the highest, in fact. It means that not a single other company offers a single measurable unit that would make them even the slightest bit better. And even if the claim is true…for most companies it’s unsustainable for very long because competition has a funny way of…well… competing. In other words, claiming you’re best isn’t best…claiming your better, however, is much better.
Firstly, a claim of “better” can in fact be true without any need to slice numbers or make legal disclaimers, which makes them more credible. More importantly, by being better, it suggests that the company is constantly working to improve. And that’s always better. For example, if I claimed I was the best doctor in the country, you wouldn’t believe me. For one, how can I prove it? In contrast, if I said I was a better doctor than most doctors in the country, not only is it more believable, but I can also say, “and I’m always working to get even better.” If I were the best, there would be no room for improvement. And who wants a doctor who thinks they are the best? Wouldn’t we rather have one who is striving to be better? So why would the companies we do business with be any different?
I know I’ve been beating up on jetBlue lately. I don’t have anything against them, per se. I guess I’m just disappointed how a company that used to be better became a company that is just average but is claiming to be the best. And to convince us they are the “best” they focused on finding numbers or comparisons that let them legally make their claim as opposed to focusing on working on actually being better again. Now that I think about it, that sounds like a description of most companies today.
Companies that claim to be the best rarely are. Companies that strive to be better, almost always are.
I am fascinated by airports. There are few, if any, other places you can visit where such a diverse cross section of society comes together in the same place. Young and old, yuppies, hippies, stoners, rednecks -- they all roam the airport in a sort of social Noah’s Ark where at least two of everything is represented.
It is from this diverse pool of the general public that our airline seatmates are plucked. When we're travelling alone, we don’t have a say in choosing our seatmate. It’s just a luck of the draw. At times, that friend-for-the-flight lottery can be quite unnerving. We’ve all sat on the plane watching the menagerie of personalities getting on board, hoping the one we like the look of will sit next to us. Crestfallen as they pass us for a seat two rows behind, we pray that the excessively obese, sweaty gentleman pushing his way down the aisle will not be our five-hour companion, if for no other reason than because we hope to use both armrests and be able to get up to go to the bathroom at least once during the flight.
Sometimes we may be the object of enticement or derision to the person who got to our row before we did. This was the case of my seatmate this week. A middle-aged woman with short salt-and-pepper hair and tortoiseshell glasses sat in the aisle seat next to mine reading her book pretending I didn’t exist as I stood next to her lifting my case into the overhead compartment. I think she was hoping I wouldn’t be sitting next to her because most people look up and politely ask “are you sitting here?” so they can move aside to let me in. She didn’t even look up, let alone speak to me. I actually had to say "excuse me" to her so she could let me in. She was visibly unimpressed.
I smiled knowing that this one person would have a significant influence over my flight experience. She didn’t smile back. Instead, acting like someone had just asked her to prepare for a root canal, she begrudgingly angled her legs to one side so I could squeeze past. I think people who act like this are kind of funny, so it rarely if ever bothers me when I interact with them in life. All that grimacing and sighing they do to make sure I know how I much I am inconveniencing them must be quite stressful (comedic for me, but stressful for them). With each snort and groan, it’s clear they never figured out it’s a lot less stressful to just be nice or accommodating for someone else every now and then.
Given the experience I just had getting to my seat, I knew what this flight was going to be like. I’d be putting on my headphones, and, for the duration of the trip, we’d ignore each other except when forced to interact. In any other circumstance, there would be no reason to talk about her, let alone write an entire column about her. But something happened early on in the flight that I didn’t expect. It wasn’t so much what she did but how I reacted to what she did that surprised me. This taught me a simple but valuable little lesson.
Once we were at cruising altitude, the flight attendant came down the aisle to ask us if we wanted an omelet or cereal for breakfast. I chose the cereal and so did my seatmate. A few minutes later, the flight attendant returned to say that there was only one cereal left and asked if one of us would mind having the omelet instead. I was about to turn to my seatmate and say, “You have the cereal, I don’t mind having the omelet,” when, before the words even left my mouth she piped up, “I’ll have the cereal.” I actually felt myself getting angry. General politeness dictates at least turning to the other person and offering or asking.
We all know the proverb “the more you give, the more you get.” And we all intellectually know that being a giver is a good thing. But in an instant, I understood what that idea means more clearly than ever before. It’s not the act of giving that matters; it's having a mindset of giving that matters. Is it nice to give to others? Of course. But what engenders rapport with other human animals is when they perceive us as having that giving mindset. This woman I was sitting next to was a taker. She totally lacked the giving mindset, and, as a result, I really dislike her. I was expecting to ignore her and enjoy my flight, but now I can’t help myself looking over at her and giving her looks of pity. I’m actually writing this piece with her sitting next to me, and I’ve made no attempt to angle the screen. I actually hope she’s reading over my shoulder.
If others perceive we have a giving mindset, they are more likely to get what they want in the first place. The net result to this lady was the same. She would have got the cereal had I offered it to her or if she had just taken it. The difference is, in an instant, I don’t like her, don’t trust her and don’t want to help her. All she had to do was to turn to me and say, “Would you mind if I had the cereal,” demonstrating a giving mindset simply by showing concern for my wants or needs, and I’d be lifting her case out of the overhead when we land without her even asking. Now, well, I may or may not. And if I do, it will be more for me, to reinforce that I’m still a giver or as a way to be snarky with her (nothing is worse than when someone we don’t like does something nice for us. I’d be that guy to her).
In either circumstance, even though the act of taking her case down would be one of giving, it wouldn’t be motivated by that giving mindset. The act would not be a true act of generosity or kindness. And the reason it wouldn’t be is not because of me or her but because of how we interacted.
At various times, we all forget that we’re forced to share more than a row on an airplane with a stranger. We’re forced to share highways, subway cars, sidewalks, offices, schools, neighborhoods, cities, and countries with them, too. We all forget that our own happiness is not solely based on how we live our lives; it’s very much influenced by how others live theirs also. How we’re treated impacts how we feel, daily. Even if for selfish reasons we want to go about our business, do our own thing and live our happy lives, then it matters that we do so with a giving mindset. Next time we walk through a door, lets all commit to holding open that extra three seconds longer so the person walking behind doesn’t have to catch the door we let go of. If we are the ones who happily step to the side as we walk toward someone on the sidewalk, instead of expecting them to move, we’ll all get to where we’re going a little faster. None of us will miss our flights or our meetings or whatever else we’re rushing off to if we let that one person trying to merge into our lane during rush hour just slip in. And the next time the airline runs out of cereal, just turn to the person you’re sitting next to and say, “You have it.” After all, we don’t know who that person is and if they can help us with something we want or need later. Who cares if we get exactly what we want if we can take some comfort in that we helped someone else get exactly what they wanted.
On February 11th, 2000, jetBlue Airways took their inaugural flight. There was much fanfare for the new airline. They were to be different. They flew new aircraft equipped with all leather seats with a TV that offered free, live broadcasts to every passenger. This, along with casual, modern uniforms, younger flight attendants and a desire to be different all contributed to their rise.
Differentiating based on features and benefits can be effective…just not for very long. In fact, it’s usually a one-trick pony. If it turns out that customers like the features and benefits that one company uses to distinguish itself, then it’s no big surprise that the competition will copy or try to offer a little more. And thus begins the features and benefits arms race. It’s a game that’s usually started by the new kid on the block who offers customers an alternative to the old. The differentiation that catapults the newbie when they first start offering their “new” features is near impossible to repeat a second or third time. Instead, the game becomes a tit-for-tat series of back and forth comparisons, a steady game of one-upmanship Ping-Pong. And, like all arms races, it quickly gets expensive for the players and tiresome and confusing for the customers. Worse, it does little or nothing to create any significant sense of differentiation.
Over a decade after they entered the market, jetBlue is still advertising their leather seats and free, live television thinking it’s still new. But it’s not. Delta has it. So does Continental. So do many other airlines. And the addition of WiFi onboard is no great differentiator either. Sadly, the more jetBlue talks about these things as new…the more they look…well…old.
Differentiation doesn’t happen at the features and benefits level. Differentiation is a perception, not a calculation, that starts with the reason those benefits were developed in the first place. jetBlue was founded as an airline that believed EVERY passenger deserves a little luxury, not just those at the front of the plane. They were to be to the airline industry what Target is to discount retailing – affordable trend and luxury.
jetBlue’s decision to offer TV and leather seating, casual, cool uniforms and modern branding wasn’t born out of market research and competitive analyses (the root of features and benefits arms races), it came as a way of bringing to life their vision of what the airline industry should be. Their features were born out of what they believed. This is the root of all real innovation. Innovation is the solutions or ways companies find to bring their vision to life. That it distinguishes them from their competition is a result of innovation, not the reason for it.
For those looking to stand out again, go back in time and understand why the original features and benefits you offered were developed in the first place. What was the original vision that those features and benefits were helping to advance? Ignore what your competition is doing now to one-up you. Stop looking for things that may outdo them and start looking for new ways to outdo yourself. The mere act of doing things to advance a vision of an industry or a world that does not yet exist will ensure that everything you say and do will stand out. Because everything you say and do will indeed be new.