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.