The Personal Brewery

Every once in a while a new product or business is announced and I’m immediately pissed about not thinking of it first.

This is the latest (courtesy of the SpringWise Newsletter):

Click image to view video in new window -- would not embed.

It’s the WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery. According to the website, it allows the home brewer to produce “professional quality beer in seven days, just like a modern brewery.”

Of course, I don’t personally have the technical chops to bring this product to life anyway (and I’m not talking about code prowess — I mean mechanical engineering and knowledge of the beer brewing process), let alone the resources to fund multiple prototypes and bring this baby to market.

However, if you do, I suggest introducing a U.S. based competitor. The WilliamsWarn is currently only available in New Zealand, for purchase with New Zealand currency.

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7-Eleven’s Secret Weapon

Grant McCracken says there’s a revolution coming.

In his recent post on the HBR blog, he describes how he was recently transformed from “Major Grumpy-Pants” to a satisfied customer at his local Whole Foods. It wasn’t a happenstance encounter with one gregarious grocer; it was three, consistently upbeat interactions with genuinely engaging people that “charmed and disarmed.”

McCracken’s point is that retailers (and I would argue, businesses of every kind) must hire and support people like this in order to win in the 21st century.

In a recent episode of the popular CBS series Undercover Boss, the CEO of global convenience store behemoth 7-Eleven, Joe DePinto, recently learned the same lesson. He went undercover to see why his highest-performing location sells more coffee than any other in the world. What did he find?

Dolores.

McCracken describes Dolores well:

Dolores is no mere greeter. She’s there to make the coffee flow. And after 18 years here, she knows a lot of people by name. And if she doesn’t know your name, she is prepared to go with an endearment. (And who doesn’t want to be called “hon”?) Most astonishingly, she punches people. And she’s not asking for permission either. “I gotta hit ya,” we hear her say, “You know I gotta hit ya.”

Hitting customers. Now there’s a big idea.

I believe Dolores shows us that our conventional instincts are wrong. We offer the customer a glassy, scripted welcome. We craft our greetings as if the staff person were a butler, all frosty detachment and sangfroid. “Good afternoon, sir, may I help you find something?” There are options here. In some cases, it’s actually okay to hit the customer.

Dolores was a happy accident for 7-Eleven. She contributes to outstanding sales performance against five continents of store locations. Imagine what could happen if just 10% of employees at the customer level of your organization were recruited specifically to be Dolores. 20%? 90%? Furthermore, imagine if you compensated the Dolores’ of your organization for the real value they represent.

After all, it would be a shame if she decided to work for the convenience store across the street…

Posted in Business, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Video | 8 Comments

Big Thinking

It’s been a while since I’ve passed along thoughts from Roy H. Williams, Wizard of Ads. In last week’s Monday Morning Memo he curated three quotes from big thinkers on topics we most often avoid.

We avoid such thoughts because we can’t define their parameters or fully contain their implications in our minds. Their overwhelming nature feels defeating, like a fruitless effort, so we throw in the towel and busy ourselves with the easier stuff.

Roy’s point is that this habitual avoidance of those thoughts which are decidedly too big for us, is the root of many avoidable disasters in our lives, businesses and society. It’s a failure of imagination.

You’ll want to read Roy’s entire post, but just to get your gears turning, here are those three quotes:

“We often talk about Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 in terms of failures: failures of intelligence, failures of planning, failures of communication. But these catastrophes were first and foremost failures of imagination. Did we know that a major hurricane could destroy New Orleans? Yes: it was even part of the tour guides’ spiel. Did we know terrorists wanted to bring down the World Trade Center? Yes: they made a credible attempt in 1993. And what did we do with what we knew? Nothing. Some disasters, I think, are so big and so awful they are literally beyond our power to conceive. So, we dismiss them out of hand, retreat to the ‘knowledge’ that a thing can’t happen because, well, it just can’t.”
–Leonard Pitts, July 6, 2006

“Sometimes I think we’re alone (in the universe.) Sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the thought is staggering.”
–Buckminster Fuller

“All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.”
–A. W. Tozer

Have you spent enough time pondering the unanswerable?

Posted in Business, Life, Quotes | 8 Comments

Culture Trumps Strategy, Every Time

Nolifer Merchant is a corporate advisor, CEO of Rubicon Consulting and speaker on innovation methods. She is also the author of a book entitled The New How.

In a recent post on the HBR Blog, Nolifer discusses how culture — that invisible, undefinable, unmeasurable glue that holds your organization together — has more influence over your success or failure than any strategic initiative you might undertake. You should read the whole post.

Meanwhile, here’s the punch line:

“After working on strategy for 20 years, I can say this: culture will trump strategy, every time. The best strategic idea means nothing in isolation. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions it will fail. Conversely, a culturally robust team can turn a so-so strategy into a winner.”

Are you prepared to craft your culture with purpose and intention?

Your success, perhaps even your survival, hangs in the balance.

Posted in Business, Entrepreneurship, Quotes | 2 Comments

Passive Honesty vs. Active Honesty

Passive honesty acknowledges only that which has already come to light.

Passive honesty has been, for a long time, the highest standard of honesty to which businesses were held. Passive honesty is also the lowest threshold to still qualify as honesty. Below passive honesty is dishonesty: failing to acknowledge that which has been revealed, downplaying it or even actively concealing it for purposes of self preservation. Sure, public companies are required by law to report some very detailed information, but as we’ve seen all to often, numbers can lie. On the other hand, private companies hold the right to conceal or reveal as much information about themselves as they like to whomever they like — just like private individuals — and still get points for passive honesty.

Passive honesty lives in a brick house. Passive honesty has plenty of rugs in each room under which the dust can be swept. It keeps closets and corners where cobwebs collect. It has a few windows just to keep up appearances, but passive honesty carefully selects the prettiest information to volunteer to the outside world and keeps the rest hidden away.

Active honesty seeks out what is hidden for the purpose of making it known.

Active honesty lives in a glass house. Active honesty owns no rugs under which the ugly stuff can be swept. Active honesty holds itself accountable by maintaining no place to hide.

But, why in the world would a company choose to reveal more information than absolutely necessary? Even more, why would a company dedicate valuable resources of time and effort to seek out that information for its stakeholders?

Businesses are people. They’re comprised of people to serve people and employ people. They succeed or fail based on the needs and perceptions of people. As a result, desirable businesses behave like desirable people. They possess the characteristics of desirable people and govern themselves according to desirable values.

If you’re blessed to have a marriage or friendship in which active honesty is practiced, you understand just how deeply valuable a relationship can be. Trust is not built on the illusion of perfection but on honesty about imperfection; revealing strengths and weaknesses side by side for the purpose of full disclosure. The illusion of perfection is very fragile and taxing to maintain. Passive honesty defends the illusion at any cost, propagating thin, cheap, flimsy value. It benefits only the non-disclosing party and only until the illusion is broken.

Active honesty bears thick, enduring, long-term value, planted on a firm foundation of reality instead of illusion.

It can be done.

A young, privately held email marketing company recently hosted its user conference. At that conference, the company’s owners divulged its financial performance for the previous year to a roomful of clients and partners — including the portion of profits that were taken as return for the owners and the amounts that were reinvested in the business.

When’s the last time you saw that from a private company? When’s the last time your stakeholders had such a good reason to trust you?

In a world of instant digital connectivity, transparency is no longer optional. I contend that companies who practice active honesty (along with individuals, governments and organizations of every kind) will win the trust required to survive in the 21st century.

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Isaac Asimov on the Right-Brain Revolution

Isaac Asimov was a chemist by training, a scientist in general, and a novelist and science fiction writer. He coined the term ‘robotics’ in 1941. In 1988 he was interviewed by Bill Moyers, by which time he had written 391 books including 1950’s I, Robot (later adapted for the film starring Will Smith) and the Hugo Award winning works The Gods Themselves and The Bicentennial Man.

Here’s an excerpt of the 1988 interview, followed by quotes of his incredible insight.

Though atheist, this man was a prophet:

Moyers: “Can we have a revolution in learning?”

Asimov: “Yes, I think, not only we can but I think we’re going to have to.

“As computers take over more and more of the work that human beings shouldn’t be doing in the first place — because it doesn’t utilize their brain, it stultifies and bores them to death — there’s going to be nothing left for human beings to do but the more creative types of endeavor. And the only way we can indulge in the more creative types of endeavor is to have brains that aim at that from the start.

“You can’t take a human being and put him to work at a job that under-uses the brain and keep him working at it for decades and decades and then say, “Well, that job isn’t there [anymore], go do something more creative.” You have beaten the creativity out of him. But if from the start, children are educated into appreciating their own creativity, then probably we can, almost all of us, be creative.

“Just as in the old days very few people could read and write — literacy was a very novel sort of thing and we felt that most people just didn’t have it in them. But when we indulged in mass education it turned out that most people could be taught to read and write.

“In the same way, instead of having mass education as we now have — must have, with a curriculum — once we have outlets, computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference material, in something you’re interested in knowing, from an early age — however silly it might seem to someone else… and you can do it in your own home at your own speed in your own direction on your own time, then everyone will enjoy learning.

“Nowadays what people call learning is forced on you and everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed, in class, and everyone is different. For some it goes too fast, and some too slow, and for some in the wrong direction.”

As Asimov aptly predicted, the internet has democratized information in a similar manner as the printed word hundreds of years ago. His vision of individualized education is already coming to light.

The infrastructure has arrived. Our education system has some evolving to do.

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My Boycott on Strategy (Part 2)

‘Strategy’ has become a buzz word. As I concluded in my last post…

There are two primary abuses of the word ‘strategy’ in marketing which have eroded its value and promoted it to buzz word status:

1. Referring to tactics as though they’re strategies
2. Ignoring the foundational philosophy on which a strategy must be built

First, let’s address problem #1.

1. Referring to tactics as though they’re strategies
Strategies and tactics have an interesting relationship. They behave a little bit like Russian nesting dolls.

Marketing strategy, for example, starts at the highest level by defining a target market and a revenue model. “Who needs what I’m selling, and what will they pay for it?” Crack open that doll and you’ll find a layer of tactics one might use to define and reach the target market, like prospecting for members of the market, communicating value to them and delivering that value.

The problem is that each of these tactics contain their own Russian doll of sub-tactics to implement. For example, communicating value to target prospects isn’t just a tactic of the overall go-to-market strategy, it’s a strategy all its own, with its own tactics to carry out.

One tactic of a communication strategy is social media, but it too is a strategy in itself. Will you deliver 3rd party content via your twitter account? Will you automate a zombie account or use your own time? Will you reject an investment in Twitter altogether and focus on Facebook instead? Is there an industry specific forum that will yield a higher return? What tone of voice will you employ?

And the rabbit hole continues.

Each tactic is actually an umbrella strategy for the tactics beneath it. Each strategy is really just a tactic of the strategy above it.

This means there’s only one meaningful difference between strategies and tactics: context.

Marketers — hell, business people of every kind — treat ‘strategy’ like the holy grail of professional achievement. Just sit through a few job interviews and you’ll hear, “I’m a strategic thinker.” “I consider myself more strategic than tactical.” “I’m looking for a more strategic role.”

Because context is required to give the word meaning, ‘strategy’ is most often used in a meaningless way.

Buzz.

2. Ignoring the foundational philosophy on which a strategy must be built
Strategy is treated like a holy grail because marketers — and again, business people in general — fail to recognize that there is an even greater factor influencing business success:

Philosophy.

Philosophy is the foundation upon which every strategy is built. Whether you know it or not, you have a foundational philosophy. Your philosophy defines the goals toward which you strive, and everything you do is directed by it. Your philosophy is your reason for being. Your philosophy is your basic belief system about yourself, your organization, your employees, your customers, your community, and your relationship to all of them.

If you’ve never identified, defined and stated your philosophy, you may have no idea why your organization is so dysfunctional.

If you have defined and stated your philosophy but it doesn’t inform the decisions you make every day, its a lie. Take a long hard look at the way you and your organization behave. You cannot afford a fluff philosophy. You need a foundational philosophy.

Here’s why:

Philosophy + Strategy + Tactics = spinning wheels

Philosophy + Strategy + Tactics = inefficient progress

Philosophy + Strategy + Tactics = talk

Philosophy + Strategy + Tactics = organized progress

When philosophy is removed from your business equation, so are purpose and progress. When the word ‘strategy’ is used like a surrogate for philosophy, everyone’s time and efforts are wasted.

Buzz.

It’s leadership’s job to develop, communicate and live by the organization’s philosophy. More on that to come…

Posted in Business, Entrepreneurship, Marketing | 41 Comments