July 5, 2008
It has been nearly 24 hours without my BlackBerry. It’s funny. When dieting, all you can think about is food. When your BlackBerry is stolen, all you can think about is your Blackberry.
How much time do we waste as individuals – and organizations – thinking about, and playing with our toys?
I just read David Zinczenko’s “From the Editor” column in this month’s “Men’s Health” magazine. While in South Africa, he did not have data service, so his BlackBerry did not work. Here’s what he wrote:
“For the first 24 hours, I was a mess. I was begging the concierge to open the business center at 3 a.m., so I could keep tabs on what was happening 17 in-flight hours away in New York. I was driving the hotel staff, and myself, a little bit nuts.
“Then something happened on day 4 of my stay. I was shaking out my beach towel – the sun was starting to edge down, my hunger was beginning to rise up, a lobster bake was going on somewhere – and as the grains of sand flew out onto the beach, I realized I had forgotten something. I had forgotten to check my e-mail. Indeed, I had forgotten about e-mail entirely for nearly the whole day. And here’s the funny thing: It was on this vacation that my life changed, in many wonderful ways. Not the least of which is this: I learned that taking a break from the stress of daily life gives you the resources to better handle it when you return.”
Here’s my 30 day challenge to you:
- Lock your BlackBerry away. Or, if it also serves as your phone, turn off the “data services” so that you can no longer receive email.
- Turn off “automatic send/receive” in Outlook. This way you won’t be notified every time you have email.
- Check your email only 3 times a day. Choose a schedule that works for you. I do first thing in the morning, lunch time, and end of work day. If people have been trained to expect instantaneous responses, use an auto-responder to let them know that you are checking email infrequently and that they should call you if it is urgent.
- Use the phone to communicate rather than email. Make personal contact.
This should improve your productivity, increase your ability to stay focused, enhance your relationships, and reduce your stress.
Well, maybe it will reduce your stress on day 4, when you stop thinking about email.
July 5, 2008
While here Malaysia, my BlackBerry was stolen. It reminded me of something I wrote in my book Goal-Free Living:
Every day we are presented with numerous opportunities, but they often pass us by without our even noticing. In order to find these hidden opportunities, you must be sensitive to the environment around you. Sometimes this means disconnecting to stay connected.
Technology can be a wonderful boon to humankind, but sometimes we abuse it in ways that prevent us from really participating in life. For example, I have a BlackBerry phone. My original thinking was that this would free me from my computer and allow me to stay connected. Yes, it does allow me to stay connected electronically, but it also makes me disconnected from what I should really be doing—being present.
I once was having lunch with a colleague. Although my BlackBerry was sitting on the table with the ringer off, based on the color of a flashing LED I could tell if I had any new e-mails. I was waiting for an important message, so I was constantly glancing at the flashing light to see if it turned red. I received an e-mail every few minutes from someone—either a real person or spam. I did not receive the e-mail I was so eager to get until hours later. In the meantime I was completely detached from the person I was having lunch with, missing an opportunity to really be connected. This is how staying connected can interfere with being connected.
I wrote that in 2005. Unfortunately, my CrackBerry addiction has actually worsened since then.
Now I am being put to the ultimate test. My BlackBerry is missing and there no cost effective way for me to replace it until I return to the states in 3 weeks. I was able to buy an inexpensive “regular” phone with a local Malaysian number. But my US mobile number will remain in suspended animation until I return. No one will be able to send me text messages or leave me voicemails. I will only be able to check email from my computer. No more checking email every 30 seconds like I did with the BlackBerry.
I feel my withdrawal symptoms kicking in already. It takes 30 days to break a habit. Maybe this is my chance to break my CrackBerry addiction. Maybe this is a chance for me to “stay connected by disconnecting.”
June 18, 2008
Regular readers of this blog know that I set New Year’s themes, not resolutions. At the beginning of the year, after the incredible regular season performance by the New England Patriots (American football), I decided my theme would be “Play Like the Patriots.” But, as many of you know, my beloved team lost the Superbowl back in February. I was forced to write a clarifying blog entry explaining that my theme was “play like the Patriots,” not “win like the Patriots.”
Last night, another Boston team won the championship – the Boston Celtics (basketball). Until 1986, the Celtics were a dynasty. But they fell on hard times and last year were one of the worst teams. But this year, they won the NBA championship in a decisive 131 to 92 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Maybe my theme should be “play like the Celtics.” Or maybe even “win like the Celtics.”
In some respects, basketball is a better analogy for business success than American football. The game is, for the most part, continuous. All five players on the court must play both defence and offence. They are a true team. They play to the strengths of one another, yet are versatile enough to change roles when necessary.
Doc Rivers, the coach of the Boston Celtics, used the African word “ubuntu” as the unifying team motto. As I understand it, this roughly means “I am, because we are.” Beautiful.
Do you play like a member of the Celtics? Is your organization playing as a team as powerfully as it can?
I suspect few of us – individuals or organizations – truly play (and win) like the Celtics.
June 11, 2008
We often make decisions based on emotion rather than logic. Especially in times of crisis (like our current financial situation), we choose options that address our “pains.”
Most people are feeling a pain at the pump with gas prices topping $4 a gallon in the United States; higher in other countries. If you own a gas guzzling car, you are really feeling the pain.
Newspapers have reported the following:
- SUV owners are selling their trucks and buying more fuel efficient cars to save some money.
- Chrysler is offering a $2.99 a gallon for 3 years deal with a new car (up to 12,000 miles a year).
- The Toyota Prius is selling at record levels and can not be kept in stock.
Given high gas prices, these all seem like good ideas.
But (from a financial perspective) are they really?
May 15, 2008
The other day I attended an event at Harvard about “Leadership and the Next President.” There were some big names in the audience and on stage. Today I am going to blog about one of the panel discussions which focused specifically on leadership skills necessary to be President. Not surprisingly, these are the same skills that make a good organizational leader…and enabler of innovation.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author and Harvard Professor, felt three attributes were necessary for the President:
- Accountability – Avoid “spin” and oversimplification. She felt that the President needs to lay the facts on the table as they are without sugar coating. And that s/he must take full responsibility for any results, rather than blaming others.
- Collaboration – Don’t just turn to your superstars. This is about inclusiveness. She said that “bifurcated thinking is the enemy of change.” Recognize that not everyone will support you. In fact, she felt in most situations, 1/3 will be for, 1/3 will be against, and 1/3 will be on the fence. It’s that last third that makes the most difference.
- Initiative – They key is to not feel helpless. Instead, empower at a grass roots level. She felt that innovation was the answer, and that there are already solutions out there to most of our problems. We just need to find them.
Patrick Lencioni, author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” felt that team building was most important. Instead of committees, he felt that teams are needed. His four tips were:
- Humanity/Vulnerability – Admit when you don’t know or when you made a mistake. Ask for help. This builds trust.
- Avoid Fear of Conflict – You need trust to gain productive conflict. Avoid yes men.
- Help Team Members be Accountable – Yes, you want people to be accountable for results. But often, accountability for behaviors is more important.
- Check Your Ego at the Door – He suggested that an obsession for results is quite often driven by ego.
Max Bazerman, author and Harvard Professor, talked about the relationship between sacrifice and gains. He felt that in general, the President should strive for small sacrifices for large gains. He then asked the following question (paraphrased), “Would you like a 90% chance of getting a heart transplant if needed, in exchange for donating yours when you die?” He said that most people strongly say yes. But in the US, only 45% of people are organ donors. He said in other countries the percentage is as high as 90%. The reason? In most countries you have to opt-OUT of being an organ donor. He suggested that if we create defaults that create the best outcome (e.g., organ donor as default) – but still give everyone a large number of options (e.g., the ability to easily opt-out), we might get better results with little effort.
There was much more said, and maybe I’ll blog about it in the future. Admittedly, much of what was said were generic sound bites. The issues facing the next President are much more complicated than any of those suggested above. Then again, the challenges facing any leader – in business or politics – are always more difficult in reality than in theory.
March 18, 2008
HP recently announced that they are consolidating their innovation efforts and will focus on fewer projects.
According to an Associate Press article, HP is “reassigning its worldwide research team of about 600 employees to focus on a total of 20 to 30 major projects, down from roughly 150 different ventures the labs typically have in the works.”
The idea is to place fewer and bigger bets. HP’s chief strategy and technology officer, Shane Robison said, “We are not interested in killing our research, we are interested in killing projects that won’t succeed.”
I assume their argument for doing this is that fewer projects will reduce the dilution of their innovation effort. This may be true. However, the premise is that HP can “predict” which bets have a higher probability of succeeding. Unless they have a special crystal ball, this typically is not the case.
It is nearly impossible to determine which concepts will ultimately be successful. Most companies have discovered that you can only learn this by doing a series of small experiments that scale over time. I call this the “Built It, Try It, Fix It” model. Instead of placing fewer big bets, you try a large number of small experiments that adapt and evolve as you gain more information. Most of the experiments fail and are killed. But the remaining ideas are usually real winners – and they often look quite different than the original concept. This allows your organization to be more agile and adaptive.
I find HP’s recent announcement somewhat ironic. A few years ago, they heavily promoted their “adaptive enterprise/agile” services. From my perspective, this R&D consolidation is the antithesis of agile. It seems more about control and maybe cost containment. The article noted that HP spent $3.6 billion on research and development in each of the last two years. This represented 3.5% of the company’s revenue, down from 6% in 2002.
Time will tell if HP’s strategy will pay off. I can’t predict the future. And I suspect that HP can’t either.
February 26, 2008
Last week I attended a presentation at the Four Seasons hotel in Boston given by Barbara Talbott, the EVP of Marketing for the Four Seasons. She discussed “The Power of Personal Service.”
Here are my notes from that speech. Admittedly, not much was radically new, but it was a good reminder of how personal service can be a powerful competitive advantage.
People First: At the Four Seasons, they talk about the “3 Ps” – people, product, and profit. Their philosophy is that people come first. If their employees focus on service, then they will have a good product which will bring profit.
Attitude not Aptitude: When they hire, they hire based on attitude rather than skills. They believe that they can train anyone on basic tasks, but they cannot instill passion. That must already be there. The service attitude mindset is pervasive and not limited to customer facing roles. Their accountants must have the same passion for excellence and service.
Customers = Employees: In many companies, customers are treated like kings (well, that’s what they want to believe) while employees are treated like second class citizens (if they are lucky). The Four Seasons claims to treat their employees like they treat their customers.
Service as Differentiator: In an earlier blog entry on innovation targeting, I discussed the need to find your one differentiator. For the Four Seasons, it is clearly “customer service.” Everything they do is driven by the customer and for the customer. In fact, they strive to go beyond expectations – and beyond what training can deliver. Some stories we were told include:
- A guest left their luggage in a taxi and did not realize it until the taxi had taken off. Although the customer did not know which taxi company, let alone which cab, the bellman tracked down the luggage and had it delivered to the customer…without the guest ever asking for this to be done.
- While checking out of the Four Seasons Paris, a couple was asked by the front desk clerk if everything was okay (supposedly she could tell something was wrong). The guests told her that their stay was perfect. However their daughter was staying in Paris for a few months and they were a little concerned about leaving her behind. The clerk pulled out a business card and wrote her personal cell phone on the back saying, “Call me from the states if you ever need anything.”
Treat All Customers Exceptionally: Because they realized that teens have different needs, they introduced a “Teen Concierge.” This concierge is closer in age to teenagers and is there to serve the needs of these younger guests.
Stick to Your Knitting: Someone in the audience asked, “Why don’t you lend your brand/expertise to helping other industries (e.g., airlines) deliver exceptional customer service?” Barbara responded that protecting the brand was more important than expanding the brand.
The Innovation Advantage: Someone in the audience asked why other hotel chains do not deliver Four Seasons style service. The assumption was that cost wasn’t the issue. Barbara responded that it is hard to replicate. The service mindset permeates the entire company. Competitors cannot just decide to deliver exceptional customer service. It must be part of the DNA.
Direct Line Members: The Four Seasons designates certain employees as “direct line members.” These line employees get direct access to the general manager on a regular basis and can discuss anything, except for pay. These employees are responsible for getting input from other front line employees and serve as the eyes and ears of the business.
At the event, I spoke with several Four Seasons employees. All of them clearly drank the Kool-Aid; they were professional without being pretentious. During my travels, I stayed in Four Seasons hotels quite a few times. Their service has always been outstanding and consistent, yet subtle (not in your face). It’s unfortunate that most companies do not appreciate the value of customer service.
How can your company benefit from the service mentality of the Four Seasons?
Here’s an interesting piece of trivial: Isadore Sharp, founder and CEO of the Four Seasons Hotels opened his first hotel in east downtown Toronto. He originally wanted to call it “The Thunderbird Motel.” Good thing that name was already taken!
February 18, 2008
“The more you are like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.” — Walt Disney
This is great advice for any organization that wants to be more innovative.
I play golf — not well, but I play golf. My handicap is in double digits. For me to shoot par would be a dream. But for Tiger Woods, par would be a nightmare.
I am reminded of this comparison when I see companies that are satisfied to focus on their understanding of “par,” otherwise known as best practice. It was once an admirable aim, but is not sufficient today. Your competitors are more like Tiger Woods than they are like me. Par won’t keep you alive in the current environment.
Instead of copying what worked for someone else, find what makes you distinctive and target your innovation efforts there.