Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Flattening can be fattening

I've been reading several books at the same time lately. I always read several books at a time because it helps me see the connections between ideas in often very different industries or subject areas.

At present I'm reading "The World is Flat", about globilization's impact on global competitiveness; "Primal Branding", about the 7 things needed to build a brand that sticks; "Blue Ocean Strategy", about how to make your competition irrelevant; "Book Yourself Solid", about how to get more clients than you can handle; and a biography of John Adams which delves into the personal and public lives of one of our most difficult to understand founding fathers.

What I've found so far is that John Adams went through a lot of the same things I've been going through lately: A constant struggle with confidence that vacillated between total self-derision to sometimes unrealistic optimism.

The more I've read "The World is Flat" I see that the United States often does the same thing. We do great things and then beat ourselves up for being a superpower but in the end we play to our strengths: flexibility and innovation. These strengths allow the U.S. to take good times too far and find ways to survive and thrive in the not so good times.

Then I look at "Primal Branding" and realize why John Adams was never as famous as George Washington or Benjamin Franklin. His story wasn't as exciting. "Primal Branding" points out that a truly great brand must have a strong "creation story".

"Blue Ocean Strategy" talks about creating your own unique market space so you don't have any real competitors or at least they don't matter anymore. Going back to the John Adams biography it became clear that the United States caught the imagination of the world because it was the first modern democracy/republic. None of the other powers of the day could (or wanted to) provide the amount of freedom/liberty that the U.S. could (or wanted to). Also, "Book Yourself Solid" emphasizes that success comes at the intersection of capability and desire.

Does this make sense? In relation to business it goes back to several key points.

1. A strong brand starts with a strong story.

2. A strong story needs to position you in your own unique market space.

3. Confidence is key to business success but it must be based in reality.

4. Confidence comes from working in areas of expertise and passion (the best place to get results).

5. People (clients/prospects) need to understand the value of what you do more than they need to understand what you do.

I'm sure there are many more connections to make. I'll share more as they come to me.

What are you reading?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Good Decisions

What are good decisions? Could bad decisions in the short term end up being the keys to your future success? Could what looks like a great decision that gives you success in one area actually be your undoing down the road? Or is a good decision obviously a good decision and a bad one a bad one?

The key to this complexity appears to me to be simplicity. But as I've said over and over in my consulting work, "Simple does not mean easy." From my experience, businesses that have a clear purpose, a clear brand and a clear strategy derived from that clear purpose and brand tend to find more confidence in their decision making.

The result? Unfortunately, good decisionmaking doesn't always show immediate positive results. Often, change requires going through some pain to get to the gain (sounds a little cheesy but it's true).

Another truth is that what may have been a good decision at one point in time may no longer be such a great decision later on. The late Roberto Goizueta, former CEO of Coca-Cola said, "There are two constants at Coca-Cola. A constant purpose and a constant dissatisfaction with how we are accomplishing that purpose."

Again, unfortunately, it seems to be human nature that once we have success a particular way we get comfortable and don't look for better ways to do things until it's often too late. Warren Buffet found a more poetic way to say this, "The chains of habit are light until they are too heavy to remove."

Clarity and timing. Patience and action. Taking into account the future while living in the present. Simple... but not easy.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Insights From My Allergist

Sneezing, congested, runny nose, itchy/watery eyes. Can't think. Can't breathe. Help!

My wife talked me into going to her allergist yesterday and WOW! what an experience.

Here's how it went:

- I sign in with a less than pleasant receptionist

- I start reading a rather out of date magazine (while grumbling to myself)

- A nurse calls my formal name and

- Amidst pleasant small talk, she escorts me to an examination room (this isn't so bad after all)

- I wait and read another out of date magazine (my grumbling resumes)

- There is a staccato knock at the door and an energetic, friendly bearded and bespectacled doctor bounds in the room

- Questions and answers fly (with quite a bit of laughter mixed in)

- Testing is explained and

- A nurse starts scratching my back with things to which I may be allergic (it's not so bad actually)

- The nurse leaves and I'm alone for 15 very itchy minutes without a shirt in a rather cool exam room (I pace back and forth telling myself not to scratch)

- The doctor and the nurse come back and say, "Whoa, looks like you're allergic to quite a few things" (I think to myself, "Brilliant deduction Sherlock.)

- The doctor explains the test results and

- We discuss his recommendations

- He writes prescriptions

- He smiles, we shake hands and he says goodbye (I'm rather excited about the possibility of breathing again)

- I wait in line to see the rather disinterested receptionist (How could such a great doctor have such a bad receptionist?)

- I pay my copay (no biggee)

- I leave to visit my friendly, neighborhood pharmacist. (Hope springs anew)

My reaction (no pun intended)? What a great allergist! but what a missed opportunity to surround himself with an environment and people who could create an equally great experience at each point in the process.

I've talked since with several friends who are patients of the same allergist and they all said that when they first walked in and came in contact with the allergist's receptionist they were very apprehensive about the entire practice. All of them also said that after meeting with the doctor himself they were very happy with his work. However, none of my friends have gone out of their way to recommend this particular allergist. I didn't even know they had gone to him until I asked if they had heard of him.

How much positive buzz could be created for this practice if they just took the time to think through the experience their patients have with them?

How about you? If you're a business owner or have a role in making decisions about how you do things at your company, have you taken a thorough look at your business through the eyes of your customers? If you have, pat yourself on the back because you're the exception. If you haven't, take the time to identify the areas that customers love, areas of disconnect, and areas that have no impact one way or the other. First fix the disconnects, then take a hard look at the ones that have no impact. Often this is where the real opportunities lie. Make sure though that you continue to look at how it all fits together. Remember, each piece affects the others.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Emotional Connections

Have you noticed how many restaurants have names like The Texas Roadhouse or the San Francisco Oven? Did you know that The Texas Roadhouse is based out of Indiana and the San Francisco Oven is based in Ohio? I guess the Cleveland Oven doesn't evoke the same emotional connection. How about the Indiana Roadhouse?

Isn't it interesting that communities, like people and organizations have brand images? I was reading Richard Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class and was fascinated with his observation that the type of community environment has a big influence on the type of people it attracts and the type of people influence the community. Sounds rather obvious but how many communities are intentionally creating the environment (not just buildings but the entire experience)for a certain population segment. Texas says "cowboy". Within Texas, Austin says creative people. San Francisco evokes a certain feeling of creativity and sophistication. Ohio... well I've been there and enjoyed myself, but in my mind they don't instantly create a strong emotional connection other than that of large manufacturing facilities with union disputes. And Indiana, other than the Colts, the movie "Hoosiers" and the Indianapolis 500 I'm at a lost to describe a particular emotional connection to Indiana.

So, how are you creating an emotional connection? It could be with a city, a color, a design, a smell, a taste, a location, a person, any of thousands of things that touch people's emotions, even if it's in a very subtle way.

How are you creating an emotional disconnect? It's usually not intentional. For example, I'm currently sitting in San Francisco Oven and I'm thrilled they have WiFi (emotional connection) but the noise level is almost unbearable because of the bare concrete floor (emotional disconnect). Which do you think I'll remember? Hint: I see a Panera's across the street.

Let me hear some of your favorite places, people, things that create either an emotional connection or disconnect. You've seen what's in my head... What's in YOUR head?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Knowledge Bridging

Last week I finally found a term for what I've been preaching for years... "Knowledge Bridging." What is "knowledge bridging?" It's taking expertise from one field and applying it to a completely different one. I was reading an article from the Wharton School and they were talking about how BOSE, the sound system folks, have developed the next generation of automobile suspensions. Huh? Yes you read that correctly, BOSE has found a way to transfer it's expertise in sound into (what seems like) a completely different field (automobile suspensions).

What knowledge bridging really is, is recognizing the similarities of need in different fields. As a consultant I've worked with attorneys as well as home improvement companies and often apply the same principles to both. It's about having an open perspective in identifying the real issues and not just settling for the usual answers. I've also facilitated sales training classes for a group of business owners in a variety of different businesses. Once again, knowledge bridging to the rescue. What was common for one industry was breakthrough thinking for another. Talk about Impact! Anyway, my suggestion is to stop looking for industry best practices (Benchmarking, etc.) and look to other, often unrelated industries for those transformational ideas that will set your organization apart.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Word of Mouth... VBS style

I started attending services at Fairmount Christian Church in 1991. Vacation Bible School had been taking place there for almost 100 years. Like most churches it was held in the morning with stay at home Moms teaching classes, helping with crafts and making snacks and the rest of the parents would drop their kids off on their way to work. We had about 350 people coming to church on Sunday but only about 50 or so kids would make it to VBS... and we thought that was great!

But let me tell you about Fairmount's VBS 2006 style. We have about 975 attend on Sundays but now we have over 500 people at VBS! Incredible! How did we do it, you ask? Well, a lot of prayer and a lot more thought on how to be more relevant. Back in the 1950's when VBS came into being most Moms were stay at home Moms. Fast forward to 2006 and that is definitely no longer the case. So having VBS in the morning didn't make a whole lot of sense. Also, one major influence has always been missing from VBS... Dads! The answer: we decided to move VBS to the evenings when Mom and Dad are both available. It worked.

We also wanted the parents that didn't teach or help with crafts or make snacks to still be able to participate in VBS. So we started an adult class in 1994. At first it was just a Sunday school class wannabe but then Larry, quite the creative guy, decided to shake things up. He started using old TV series as the foundation of his lessons. We've used the original Star Trek, the Andy Griffith show, blockbuster movies and some that never made it to the Big Screen.

Over the years the class has grown and grown to the point that many of the adults at VBS do not have children in the program. It's classic word of mouth. Most church-goers don't talk with their friends and co-workers about church. Why? Well this may be considered harsh but I believe it's because church often really doesn't have much relevance to the lives of those in attendance. But what has occurred with the adult VBS class and VBS as a whole at Fairmount is that it fits our schedules and speaks to our lives.

For example, watching Andy Griffith showed us how to approach conflict in a Godly way. Who of us doesn't have conflict in our lives at some point? Because it's relevant... and fun, it makes it much easier to say, "Hey Joe you've got to come with me to this great program at my church. It'll blow your mind!"

Word of mouth doesn't work without the right words coming out of the right mouths to the right people. What are you doing at your organization that gets your staff, your customers, your members, your vendors and the rest of the world talking... hopefully in a positive way? If it takes more than a couple of seconds to come up with something, set aside some time to think about how to make what you do more relevant to your target audience(s). If you came up with something right away I'd love to hear about it and I'm sure it will inspire others.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What a great game... RISK!

20 years ago I was introduced to a game of strategy (and world domination) called RISK. Several friends and I became obsessed with this game during our senior year in college. I guess it was our version of Dungeons and Dragons, The Gathering or Doom. We were obsessed with this game about military strategy. Though I'm known today as somewhat of a strategy expert, it took me quite a while to learn the nuances of RISK.

20 years later not much has changed. My wife, 10 year old son and I sat down to three 2 hour sessions attacking and defending in pursuit of territories, continents and ultimately the world. In the end my wife, Cheryl, was triumphant (as usual). My son Ben and I were dispatched in a cold and methodical fashion. Where we would joke and let our emotions take us where they would, my dear Cheryl would refuse to let emotion enter in at all. She was focused and determined. Her mind was never far from her next attack.

If you look at the game from the rulebook it's about world domination, but if you look at RISK from the human perspective Ben and I had more fun. So in a way, we both won.

My life story (both personally and in business)has been one of risk. But it's also been one of fear of success. I guess I've always wanted the world to think of me as a success but I've learned that I've got to believe it and have a strategy before there can be any real success. Risk with no strategy is foolishness. On occassion foolishness can be a good thing. But when risk is the strategy, in the end you will lose... and lose big.

So what's your strategy for risk?

Friday, June 23, 2006

When Brands Backfire

Have you ever heard a brand backfire? It makes a loud popping sound when it happens. It's when an organization spends a lot of money on building it's brand (thinking that any brand-building activity will = profits, or at least more sales revenues) and then "WHOP" the only things increased are the alienation of their current customers, the yawns or worse the anger from their prospects creating a negative word of mouth maelstrom.

Why does this happen? I have several thoughts on this but want to get your feedback and then I'll share. Not fair is it? Ok, I'll get you started... one thing that tends to happen is the brand building is totally disconnected from the reality of the company.

Now it's your turn.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Andy's Always Excited!

I've always been interested in the whole concept of creativity, thinking and doing things in new and different (and sometimes better) ways. I've met Creative Directors who were anything but creative and CFO's who were a little too creative (if you know what I mean -- does Enron ring a bell).

Andy Stefanovich is the founder and person in charge of what's next at PLAY, a innovation/creativity consulting company that works with some of the biggest and brightest companies in the world. I heard him speak this morning at the Hanover Business Council breakfast. This is a sub-group of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce (Richmond, Virginia). About 40 or so were in attendance. Every male in the room was dressed in a suit and tie. And Andy? He had on a pair of dirty jeans, a worn black t-shirt and a black baseball cap. Impressive, huh?!

But with Andy it just doesn't seem to matter. His creativity, energy, enthusiasm, insight and emotion drive you beyond the external (suits versus jeans) and encourages his audience to "look at more stuff" and "think about it harder" (even when he's constantly dropping the names from his impressive Fortune 100 client list).

My original point was going to be that Andy is sometimes a little too creative (he was definitely under-dressed for his audience and his talk went in several directions at once, seemingly coming stream of conscious from some random words on small blocks of paper.

But the more I reflect on it, Andy did his job. He was creative in his approach, he demonstrated his credibility (client list) and was enthusiastic and encouraging (he actually did focus on the audience - must have been when I wasn't looking). By not being like his audience Andy cut through the ordinariness of the meeting and embedded himself deeply in the minds of those in attendance. My guess is I'm not the only one spreading the word about "that interesting speaker at the Hanover Business Council meeting".

Good job Andy! You're a real original!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Over a year ago I made a rather interesting discovery (at least I think so). I was looking for information on creating free publicity and came across a lady who calls herself the "Publicity Hound." I perused her website for a while and then signed up for her free e-newsletter. I found the information somewhat useful but the true value I received was in the way she did business. I learned about a very powerful (and profitable) way to use the same content in many connected forms and in so doing create a seemingly never ending source of income. I'm sure that's as clear as mud so let me take a minute to explain further.

The Publicity Hound travels around the U.S. doing seminars and speeches. At each stop she mentions her website and various resources available (e-newsletter, pamphlets, cd's, dvd's, workbooks... and teleseminars). The teleseminar is usually an interview with an expert on a certain topic. The teleseminar is recorded and made into both a pamphlet and a cd. The topic is then written about in her e-newsletter and links to all the products available to help the subscriber learn more. Upcoming speeches, seminars and teleseminars are also listed. In effect, a never ending loop of revenue has been created.

I was so enthralled with my discovery that I contacted the Publicity Hound and asked her a rather personal question, "How much do you make each month from your product sales?" Her answer shocked and amazed me. Let's just say she makes 5 figures per month. This is not someone with great name recognition (have you heard of her before?) But she has good search engine recognition and good content. And once you get caught in her revenue loop it's very difficult to get out.

So are you connecting all your potential revenue generating activities?

Hello Blogosphere

Hello Blogosphere.

I've decided to join the conversation. I've been overthinking what to write about so I guess I'll just write about whatever comes to mind.

Hmmm... let's see. Do any of you ever feel best when you're just running from one task to another? The experts say that's a very unproductive way to work but I've found that it stirs connections that people don't usually make. For example, I went to McDonald's this morning for breakfast (my wife and kids are out of town) and brought a book about blogging and my journal. While I was reading (and eating) I couldn't help but overhear the conversation the gentleman at the next table, a rather blustery individual, was having using his bluetooth headset. It seems he thought that Richmond, VA sucks because it is so hot and humid.

I had just been reading about how blogging can help reinforce a message or influence people in a new direction by creating a "relationship" with them. The blogging book and the sweaty, blustery, blue tooth afficianado mixed together in my brain to produce, what I think is a rather interesting insight about my dear home city. How you perceive Richmond depends on who or what you have a relationship with. If my only source of information is someone who's experience with Richmond consists solely with the weather, I'll probably think, "Yeah, Richmond sucks." But if I have friends and acquaintances that talk of the history, the architecture, the food, the business environment and the great creative community... well you'd have a completely different reaction.

So, why am I blogging? I want a say in what you think and I want to find new perspectives that will open up new worlds to me.

So what's going on in your head?