Friday, August 14, 2009

Will you please love me?

There. Do you love me now? No?

Well of course not.

You can't love a person on command. Love, respect, admiration... all of these must be earned. They are organic involuntary responses to stimulus. (Not that your attitude going-in doesn't make it more or less easy.) If I want you to love me, I can't just ask you to because you can't just agree to. Instead, I have to inspire you to love me. I have to engage in the behaviors that will make you love me (if the underlying conditions are favorable).

So if this is true for love, why do you think that asking me to be your fan on Facebook is going to work? I may like you. I may love you. But I cannot be your fan unless...well, I'm your fan. So don't put the onus on me by asking. Put the onus on yourself to inspire me to identify as your fan, by engaging in the sorts of inspirational behaviors that will automatically produce fan-ness in me.

Asking me to be your fan is like a lawyer simply admitting that he doesn't have a case and just falling on the mercy of the court. It's like telling me that there is no good reason I should be your fan but asking me to please ignore that and do it anyway.

Is that how you think you can succeed?

C'mon. You can do better. Show me your greatness. Share your excellence with me. Inspire me. If you don't have any greatness, excellence or inspiration then you do not deserve fans. If you do, you will not need to ask for them.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How to kill shareholder value

In my last post, I wrote about the search for precious things as requiring somewhat of a hands off approach. I wrote that the search for beauty cannot be successful because beauty is inside of you and until you stop searching you can never find it.

I think this idea applies to business as well. I think that the path to profit and shareholder value has to come from a focus within rather than on a search for shareholder value.

In fact, I think just saying "shareholder value" - as impressive as it might sound to the Harvard Business Review crowd - destroys value.

The search for shareholder value makes you look for operational efficiencies. It turns your attention to maximizing your IP - brands, technologies, etc. It calls on you to look out there for acquisitions that can round out your portfolio... All well and good.

But I think it is the wrong frame.

And so I'd like to propose an alternate frame. I'll call it "Employee Value" for the HBR crowd. I could call it "love" for you hippies. Call it whatever you like. But the idea is that if you want to make lots of money, focus on your people. Now, of course, every company dribbles out the corporate pablum about "our people are our best assets." I'd love to see a study on the companies that say things like this. I suspect you'd find them to be the least pleasant places to work. The least inspiring.

I'm not talking about your slogan. I'm talking about whether you really understand what you have in those people. Whether you really understand that in the hearts, minds and souls lies the jackpot you want to hand over to those shareholders.

People naturally seek excellence, beauty, greatness. Their natural propensity to search for it knows very few bounds. It does not respect your brand strategy. Your customer segmentation. Your portfolio. It just wants to create greatness. Your people will have great ideas. Let them run with these ideas. I'm not saying go execute every idea. I'm saying take off the P&L / shareholder value lenses and put on the "employee value" lenses. Give your people every opportunity to pursue their passions. Help them. Respect them. Encourage them. Yes, make sure they adhere to societal standards and your business values. But if you truly encourage them to find their greatness and then you provide the tools to commercialize that greatness (with as little editing as possible), you will succeed wildly.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Of socks and the sublime

If you need your glasses or that missing sock, your best bet is to look for them.

But many of the most precious things in the world cannot be found by looking for them. In fact, looking for them almost guarantees that you will never find them.

You cannot write a beautiful poem by sitting down and searching for beautiful words and sentiments. You do not create beautiful music by looking for beautiful combinations of sounds. You cannot produce a beautiful photograph by looking for beautiful scenery. You do not experience transcendent moments of love, wisdom or the divine by carving out time and setting your mind to it.

These precious things flee from your efforts as fast as you try to catch them. While you are trying to hunt them down out there, they lodge themselves ever deeper in your soul - where they resided all along.

The poem, the music, the photo... they are not out there. You will expend your life in the search for this beauty if you look outside. They are inside of you. If you wish to find them you have to stop trying. You have to let go of your goals and objectives. You have to abandon your plans. You have to stop feeling so proud or confident in your skills. You have to take off the lenses that have helped you see so clearly the specks of dust that are on your eyes at the expense of the majesty of the world that lies just one inch in front of your face and stretches out forever within your grasp.

Yes, you have to prepare yourself for this beauty. To write a beautiful poem you must have a vocabulary. To produce a beautiful photo you must have a camera and know how to use it. But you do not find the scene that will become your beautiful photo. It finds you. It finds you if you are not looking. It finds you when your heart is open to it and your mind is clear.

When you quiet the voices inside your head that tell you this and that path to success, that encourage you to make your mark, that point out to you all of those people and circumstances that have robbed you of what should have been yours... Only then in the peace of not wanting or needing, of not looking for greatness and beauty, will beauty and greatness reveal themselves to you. It will come from within. You will know it right away. And whether you choose to share it with others in the form of a poem, a symphony or a photograph, it will be your beauty that they see.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A guide to change Part I

Change. It's been a favorite topic of discussion for some time now. The election of our first black President. Massive shifts in the economy. The impact on society of the internet. Heck, it's even a favorite topic of the folks who hang out on street corners.

So I thought I'd write a bit about change.

It seems to me there are two kinds of change: evolutionary change and revolutionary change. This post will focus on evolutionary change. I'll take up revolutionary change in my next blog post. Partly because I want to create a bit of suspense for both of my readers. And partly because I'm most of the way through a Westmalle Tripel and I want to enjoy the buzz by lounging around and watching some TV.

OK. Evolutionary change. Here goes.

1) What is it?
This is the slow progress that is the most common form of change. This is the form of change that takes you from a rough draft to a solid and functional first draft, a first draft to a finished work and a finished work to version 2, 3, etc. Evolutionary change ceases to have utility when the object it changes already offers as much value to its users as they need.

2) What is it used for?
Evolutionary change is designed to increase the functional performance of an institution be it a business, a state, a social group, etc. It makes things work better. And we need things to work better. Garbage bags still rip too damn often. That's got to stop.

3) What does it contribute?
Well, better garbage bags didn't you read what I just wrote?! Evolutionary change improves our quality of life, expands our ability to influence our environment and gives jobs to politicians who generally are unsuited for honest jobs. It also gave us opposable thumbs.

4) What are its flaws?
The principle flaw is that it hypnotizes people so they don't know when to quit. Evolutionary change is so absorbing that it makes its practitioners want to keep going and making whatever they focus on better and better. But, you see, at some point, my garbage bag is going to be really good. It won't rip ever. It will have a nice fragrance and absolutely prevent any bad odor from getting out. It will have a cushiony handle and be easy to carry... Then I'll be happy.

But the practitioners of evolutionary change won't quit. They will keep looking for additional ways to improve my garbage bags even though I'm done with the whole garbage bag evolution thing. Why? Because they will have told themselves a story about how goddamn important garbage bags are and how they, alone, are the experts in garbage bags. And how there are "unmet needs." They will forget that, although they spend all day thinking about garbage bags, the people for whom they make the garbage bags don't.

Evolutionary change lulls us into a trance because it is continuous. You can always be just a little bit better. And we all want to be better. So we walk down that path. Bit by bit. We like the accolades we get. It feels good. If we take one more step we know we'll get another Scooby snack. We won't realize that the nutritional value we derive from those Scooby snacks decreases with each additional one we ingest. We won't realize that seven minute abs is about as good as we need it to be.

5) How do you create evolutionary change?
You find annoyances in your life. Like leaky garbage bags. You ask lots of "how" questions. You observe the minutiae of life. How things work. You dive really deep into a given area. You experiment. A lot.

6) What kind of people are good at evolutionary change?
People who have a very high attention to detail. People who are patient. After all, my ultimate garbage bag is not going to be built in a day. [BTW, I did not start writing this post with the intention of mentioning garbage bags at all. I certainly didn't intend to use them as a running example. But this is how it goes. For whatever reason, I'm fixated on garbage bags now. It's weird. Really.] People who like to see fast results. Yes, I also said that they are patient. What I mean is that they are patient to get it right. But they like to see steady improvement.

Alright. That's pretty much all I have to say about evolutionary change. I'll just sum up by pointing out how critically important evolutionary change is. This is what makes stuff work well in society. Whether that stuff is a government program, a car, our televisions or, yes, you guessed it: the goddamn garbage bag.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Motor oil ain't indulgent!

There's a new Starbucks near my house on Rt. 4 just west of the George Washington Bridge. They've got a sign out front advertising the fact that they are open 24 hours / day and that they have drive-thru service.

Great. I'm sure that's convenient for lots of folks.

But Starbucks isn't about convenience. Not that they are about inconvenience, but they are not a convenience store.

Starbucks is an indulgence. It's an experience that goes beyond the coffee. Or at least that is what propelled its growth for so long. Before they lost their way and found out what happens to brands that lose their way.

Starbucks has always been about re-creating that Italian coffee experience in a way that American consumers could enjoy. It's the third place away from home and office where you can enjoy seeing your coffee made and even sit down to enjoy the beverage with some measure of tranquility.

What about 24 hour drive-thru tells you this will be an indulgent experience? 24 hour drive-thru is for fuel. Actual fuel or oil for your car. Or just crappy junk food like Twinkies that you pick up at the little store at the rest stop to fuel your road trip.

24 hour drive-thru does not at all fit the Starbucks brand. If this is how they choose to compete, they will have their ass handed to them by McDonald's.

Instead, they need to stick to their mission. And if they need to grow and have an opportunity to acquire valuable real estate on key highways, go ahead and start a new brand that's all about convenience with high quality. You cannot be all things to all people.