Friday, June 24, 2011

As the Sun Sets...

It was an unseasonably hot balmy day on that particular late afternoon a few weeks ago.  I found myself outdoors, facing the setting sun in the concrete bleachers at Patrick Henry High School.  I had come there to witness the 2011 graduation ceremonies along with thousands of others proud parents, friends and relatives. 

There were some 500 graduating seniors on the field below, each in a surreal moment generally reserved for weddings, graduations, and award ceremonies.  Where time seems to stands still and people and events surrounding you are just a blur.

Today was their day.  It was a culmination of 12 years of preparation.  They had completed the requirements set up by the governing bodies and now have earned the right to be called a high school graduate.

One after one, speakers came to the dais.  As I listened to each speaker address the new graduates, I thought to myself what advice I would offer to our sons and daughters as they ventured off into adulthood.  Many of the themes may be similar to the speakers before us, but my advice would be a bit more practical, based on my own experiences rather than the ideals of academia.

However, giving advice to anyone supposes that I know more about life than the next person.  This simply isn't true.

It has been 32 years since I received my high school diploma.  In those following years since, my experiences have brought me understandings and practical knowledge. 

Here are 7 ideas (not advice) that I would offer share to any of these young men and women:

  • Never stop learning.  Many graduates will go to college to study for a degree that is needed to earn more money.  Going to college shouldn't be about future earning potential, it should be about gaining knowledge and practical experiences.  The goal isn't the piece of paper...the goal is learning.  If you can learn to learn, then your education will never end.

  • Build your network.  No one can live a fulfilling life all alone.  Gathering and maintaining resources is so important throughout life.  A network that is built upon a cast of meaningless names is futile and a waste of time.  It is extremely important to make friends and help connect those friends to others.  A good network is less about what others can do for you and more about what you can do for others.  Ask for help when you need it and be prepared to offer your help when you are able.

  • Travel to see how the rest of the world lives.  Find ways to travel beyond the borders of your city, state or country.  Go to places where food and clean water is a luxury.  Don't just go to visit the sites...go to meet with the people. There are many ways to go to places even if you don't have resources, including the Armed Forces, the Peace Corps, volunteer organizations, church missions, and exchange programs.  Don't let the lack resources be your limiting factor.

  • It is never all about the money.  Yes, money can help you to obtain certain things.  It also will give you certain choices.  However in the end, the old adage is true, money will never buy you happiness.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffet found happiness in making money...but they also find happiness in giving it all away to others.  True happiness is found by doing things you love and by helping others...not by buying (or renting) more stuff.

  • Don't waste your time.  You don't need to be busy all of the time.  Rest and relaxation are essential to living a balanced life.  Today you may believe that time is endless, but in reality, time is the one thing in your life that is truly finite. Actuaries will very precisely tell us how many people will die in any given year...but just not who those people will day it will be you.  Be that person who can wake up each morning, look into the mirror and have no regrets about how you've lived your life thus far...regardless if you're 20 or 80 years old.

  • Balance and moderation are essential to a healthy life.  Even if pizza is your favorite food, you would get sick and tired of it if you ate it all the time.  We need variations to keep our interest.  All work and no play is not mentally or physically healthy, all play and no work will leave your life unfulfilled.  The real key to understand is that the balance point will indeed shift from time to time based on the situation at hand.  It's hard to balance sleep, work and a newborn baby.  It's okay to be unbalanced from time to time but learn to moderate and find yourself back to the center.

  • Don't be afraid to be wrong.  You don't have all the answers, but then again, neither do I, your parents, your friends, and/or your teachers.  We need to try new things and if we get it wrong...learn from those mistakes and try something else.  Going "all-in" is great for a poker tournament, but not with your life.  Make lots of small bets and limit your risks.  By taking this approach, you can absorb the losses of being wrong and still have plenty of reserves to take calculated risks in the future.

Even though the above ideas are practical sage advice, I don't expect these young graduates to actually use any of it.  They are teenagers after all. 

However, are teenagers really any different than anyone else?  We need to learn the lessons of life for ourselves...not someone else. 

Every once in a while I go to my favorite local beach to watch the sun set. Watching the daily event helps me to remember that the world revolves around the sun...not me.

As my son received his diploma, I couldn't help but notice the sun setting against the horizon...

...another reminder

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we give thanks to those who educate us and our children.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

It's Summer...Relax a Bit...

There is an old riddle that asks the question:

What can you sleep on, sit on and talk on?

The answer is of course...

 ...a bed, a chair and a phone

The above riddle illustrates a simple point...why do we feel the need to overcomplicate things looking for answers? Sometimes the best answer is also the simplest.

With the overflowing amounts of information and endless choices available to us, our world has become truly too complicated for most of us to readily function. We are easily distracted by the "noise" that surrounds us each day coming from every direction.

Today, there are more ways to communicate than actual newsworthy events to communicate about.

We currently have available to us: cell phones, Bluetooth, land lines, Skype, Twitter, texting, webinars, conference calling, voice mail, e-mail, spam, web mail, broadcast radio, HD radio, satellite radio, streaming audio, music on demand, podcasts, newspapers, books, magazines, e-zines, e-vites, e-cards, snail mail, newsletters, blogs, social media (Facebook, Linkedin, Myspace etc), chat rooms, instant messaging, broadcast TV, cable TV, satellite TV, DVDs, Blue-Ray, streaming video, video on demand...oh yeah...and a conversation between two people in the same room...

There was recently a headline on MSNBC online that read "Conservative radio host voices concern over Sarah Palin's comments on the President's Palestinian speech to Israel's parliament"...

So let me get this straight...some conservative radio host has an opinion about the comments of an ex-governor of an extremely small state about the president's opinion regarding another sovereign country's policy toward their own indigenous minority IS news!!

...and this was MSNBC's lead headline!!

At what point do we say, "We don't care...please give us our lives back". Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is rampant. We need to find a way to turn it all off.

There is so much non-vital information out there that it all becomes what physicists call "white noise" or simply static. Static occurs when electromagnetic waves (radio waves) are diluted to a point where useful information cannot be decoded from them. The resulting effect is basically static. At this point, the only way to extract any useful information from the communication wave is to apply amplifiers and sophisticated filters.

Perhaps this is the next big thing on the horizon...we don't need any new ways to communicate...we need methods to filter out all the noise that's trying to reach us each and every moment of our waking day. No one is satisfied with their 15-minutes of fame any more...we all want to be heard and we want to be heard often.

So what is the solution?...the communication genie is out of the bottle and there is no way putting back.

The answer lies in incrementally freeing yourself from the idea that you need to know everything that is happening (even when there is nothing happening). Ignorance is bliss when it comes to all of the information that abound.

Here are a few ideas that I came up with to limit the intrusions into our daily lives:

- Reset your internet browser's home page (the page that opens when you first log onto the internet) to a site that won't distract you with news headlines. Instead log onto something like Google, your own company's website or simply a blank page. If you want to go to a news site...then simply type it in manually.

- Try to read e-mail at specific times during the day. To help this, turn off the automated e-mail delivery in Outlook and only have e-mail delivered when you decide to manually download your e-mail.

- Unsubscribe to newsletters/blog feeds that you don't read, want, need. Any legitimate newsletter / blog feed has an "unsubscribe" button at the bottom (including this one).

- Stop answering your phone and let everything go to voice mail. If it wasn't important enough for the caller to leave voice mail, then it probably wasn't important enough for you to take the call in the first place.

- Turn off your cell phone for periods of time when you want to relax.

- Budget your time in front of the television. You don't need to eliminate entertainment. Watch shows that interest you but turn it off once you start "channel surfing".

- Try driving without listening to the radio (or talking on the phone). Let your drive time be your "quiet time" to sort out your thoughts and develop new ideas and fresh perspectives.

I'm certain that there are hundreds of really good ideas to reduce the inflow of constant media oozing into our lives.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to raft down the Colorado River though the Grand Canyon. For 10 days I had no cell phone, no radio, no TV, no internet, and no email.

At the onset of the trip, I was concerned that something could possibly happen to my loved ones or my business during my absence. A significant world event could occur such as the events on 9/11 or a tremendous earthquake / tsunami. After a day or two, these worries subsided. I was surrounded by friends and spectacular scenery. The lack of communications was no longer a threat but a welcome reality.

In the same way we take responsibility for the food we ingest into our body, we alone are solely responsible for the content we ingest into our minds.

It is our lives...we have the control.

It's summertime...unplug...unwind...relax a bit...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we value your time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Who Wants Ice Cream?

Last Sunday I went for a bike ride with a good friend of mine.   Over the course of the long ride, we had a chance to talk about the events of the past week.  

I related a story about a recent meeting I had with a large customer of OptiFuse.

A while back, our company was approached by a very good customer to help raise money for a well-known non-profit organization.  After some lengthy discussions, I agreed to make a donation to their cause based on the customer's annual purchases from OptiFuse.  The greater the amount of purchases the customer made the previous year, the greater the donation in both percentage and total dollars OptiFuse would make to the charity.

As it so happens, I was also aware that the president of company was a collector of Starbuck's coffee mugs representing various cities from around the world.  Knowing this, I bought a $15 coffee mug for him from the Starbuck's in Antwerp while on vacation a few weeks ago (knowing that the odds were slim that he already possessed an "Antwerp" mug in his collection).

On Tuesday of last week, I presented both the sizable check (thousands of dollars) and the coffee mug to the company's president.

He opened the envelope and looked at the check.  He thanked me, shook my hand telling me how much he and the charity appreciated our support, and placed the envelope in a drawer.

I then gave him the coffee mug. 

By the look in his eyes, you would have thought he was a 6-year old boy getting his first bicycle for Christmas.  He quickly took the mug out of the box and ran around the office showing everyone what I brought him.  He then picked up the phone and called his wife at home to tell her about the new addition to his collection.  He must have thanked me 10 times over the course of the next 15 minutes.

On my drive back to my office I replayed the events of the past morning in my head...

Here I had given the man several thousands of dollars for his charity of choice with relatively very little reaction but when I gave him an insignificant coffee mug...he was ecstatic. 

How often do we bombard clients with seemingly valuable materials and/or information that they actually care very little about?...

How often do our engineers create product features that customers really don't want (or want to pay for)?...

We build an elaborate website that offer very little value to the people who use it.  

The real problem is that we try to sell the same thing to everybody even though we all have different needs, likes, dislikes, wants, desires, fears, hopes, dreams, ethics, favorite colors, and/or value systems.

There are over 6 billion people on this planet, each of us with our own unique perspective...each with our own individual needs.

Long time readers of the OptiFuse blog know that I enjoy reading Seth Godin's daily blog (click here to go to Seth's website).  He is a marketer extraordinaire and although I don't agree with everything he writes, I find his take on marketing to be worth my investment of time each and every day.

Recently, he wrote an article stating the obvious about the goals of marketing (well at least it seemed obvious AFTER reading his article).  His contends that customers pay attention to those things that matter most to THEM...based on what they value...not necessarily what we offer.

Some people believe that top end Mercedes-Benz cars with a price tag over $100K are a bargain, whereas others believe that a car is a place to safely move us from point A to point B   and believe that spending that much on a car is a waste of money...  It's all a matter of perspective.

Mercedes-Benz is wasting its time and efforts trying to sell a luxury performance automobile to those people who couldn't care less about luxury and performance. 

In Seth Godin's words, we should be concentrating on selling nuts to squirrels not to dolphins...

Mercedes-Benz understands that it manufacturers ultra-safe high performance luxury automobiles.  They market their vehicles to those individuals who understand and value these features.  People looking to purchase the Toyota Prius are not interested in the elements that define Mercedes-Benz.  Their interests may lie in fuel economy, low carbon footprints, and/or hatchbacks.  Those aren't bad things...just different.

It is mission critical that you recognize who your customer is and what it is that they really want.

The real problem (opportunity) is that most customers really don't know what it is that they want.  

I vividly recall an actual experience I had on a sales call many years ago.  I was talking with a customer who explained to me that price was their only concern.  As they explained it to me, their top three concerns were price, price and price.

At that point (knowing that my product was not the low-price leader), I explained to the customer that my price would be half that of the competition's lowest price.  He was amazed and was ready to give me the order...then I told him the bad news...I wouldn't be able to actually deliver his parts for at least 5 years into the future and when I did deliver the parts...they would not have any UL approvals.

At that point the customer understood that his request for low price only was not the only factor in this particular and quality were also factors that he did not take into consideration...I didn't get the order (in fact he threw me out of his office for being a smart-ass) but in actuality, he was never really a customer for my product anyway.  He did however realize that price was NOT his only consideration.

Yes, Southwest Airlines generally offers a low-price for a plane ticket, but they also have an incredible safety record, no bag fees, have a great attitude, and have been the leader in on-time performance for years.  I don't fly with them because of the low price...but rather because they offer me items that I do value.

Conversely, I rarely shop at Wal-Mart.  Yes, they typically have the lowest price in town, but they also have long lines, offer very little product knowledge and sell cheaply made goods (both inexpensive AND cheap).  Not worth the potential savings to me.  

Yes, Baskin-Robbins does sell 31 different flavors of ice cream because not everyone wants vanilla...

...but then again...not everyone wants ice cream...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hopefully offer you the products and service that you value.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Happily Ever After

Last Saturday morning I found myself in the audience of a wedding.  It was a small backyard affair with about 35 attendees.  This event was in essence a "do-over", in that they had actually been married in a civil ceremony almost a year ago back in the Midwest.  The day was really a celebration with loved ones.

I sat there thinking to myself as I listened to the bride and groom recite their simple vows in front of the assembled family and friends:

"I Charles, take you Stephanie to be my wedded wife.  To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part."

To which the bride responded with her vows back to her husband...

Here was a young man/women devoting the rest of their lives to someone that they may have known for only a relative short time but today they are in love and the rest of their lives lay before them.

The odds are against them making it together until death.  More than fifty percent of those who recite those same vows never make it to the "until death do us part" chapter.  Today they seem so happy.

As I sat there thinking about love and marriage, I wondered what great wisdom I would bestow upon this couple if given the chance. 

After nearly 50 years on this planet, I would share the following ideas that I try to follow based strictly on my own experiences:

  • Ask lots of questions and really listen to the answers -  People want to be heard.  In doing so, you are looking for opportunities to solve issues before they become problems and hopefully making them happy in the process.  Every couple should take time each day to talk...both reporting (talking about external events and people) and sharing (talking about what going on between the ears). Reporting is important...but so is sharing.
  • Try to think about the consequences of your actions before you do something - As hard as it might sound, emotional control is something that needs to be developed to sustain long-lasting relationships.  Walk away before saying or doing something that you could regret later.
  • Don't judge - Everyone has their own set of hopes, dreams, and fears.  By judging you're saying that your perspective and opinions are better than someone else.  It's okay to disagree from time to get a different opinion...a different paradigm.  Who knows...maybe you might learn something from the other person.
  • Forgive others - Allow people to make mistakes...everyone makes mistakes, errors in judgment, and/or mental lapse.  No one is perfect.  Try to have a short memory.  Time does heal wounds. 
  • Remember to take care of yourself - Everyone needs a "mental break" every so often.  Allow quiet time for yourself so you can think and reflect.  Keep yourself in good physical only have one body...take care of it by eating well and having some daily physical activity as a part of your life.  Moderate the bad things entering your body. 
  • Keep learning - Try to learn something new each and every day.  Learn something from a book or other media.  Have conversations with others to gather new ideas.  Learn something new about your significant other.  Each night go to bed with more knowledge than when you woke up that same day. 
  • Keep the trust - Trust your significant other to do well by you.  Once trust is broken it's hard to regain.  Don't do anything that might jeopardize the trust others have place in you.  More important that anything...marriage is about giving your heart to someone else with the trust that they won't break it.  Don't be afraid to give someone your trust...don't be careless with the trust once you have it.

These ideas were developed from my own experiences and I do not offer them up as advice to anyone else.  I'm sure that everyone has their own opinion as to what constitutes a successful marriage.  These are just a few things I've learned while sharing this planet with six billion other people over the last half-century. 

Also, the ideas I listed are in no way complete. I'm absolutely quite certain that I missed scores of other thoughts and ideas...perhaps thousands!  Everyone has their own ideas how to live their lives and that's a good thing.   

Congratulations to Stephanie and Charles.  I truly hope you lead a blessed life and find yourself in love "until death do you part".

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hope you and yours have a storybook life living "happily forever after".

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Satisfying Experience

Consider this:
  • It costs six times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an old one
  • A typical dissatisfied customer will tell 8 people about their problem
  • Seventy-three percent of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favor
  • If you resolve a customer compliant immediately, ninety-six percent will do business with you again.
  • Of the customers who stopped doing business with you, sixty-eight percent do so because of an attitude of indifference by the company or a specific individual
This past week, I attended the Electronic Distributor Show (EDS) in Las Vegas.  The show is an opportunity for manufacturers of electronic components and electronic distributors to meet, talk about business and socialize together.  Meetings are typically by appointment only and are generally held in suites in the upper levels of the Paris Hotel.
OptiFuse used to participate in the show in an official capacity but recently stopped  after the return on investment (ROI) became a negative number.  Now I attend the event in an "unofficial" capacity opting instead to have select breakfast / lunch / dinner and coffee meetings with industry friends, distributors and media people.
Las Vegas is a relatively easy place to get to with many different airlines offering several flights each day.  Hotel rooms are aplenty and dining options abound.  In terms of logistics, it makes perfect sense for a trade show, like EDS, to choose Las Vegas as a host city.  There's only one problem...I hate Las Vegas!
After nearly 100 visits to Las Vegas over the course of the last 50 years, I now believe that there must be some kind of microchip implanted in my body that alerts service providers to my arrival.  How else can I explain the incredibly poor customer service, outrageous prices, and outright scams perpetrated upon me (and presumedly others)once we land at the Las Vegas airport.
My personal experiences on this particular visit included a taxi driver who purposely added 3-4 miles to the fare from the airport to the MGM Grand hotel, a hotel who tacked on a $25 resort fee to a prepaid hotel room, falsely calling it a "city tax" that all hotels must charge its guests (yes...I checked and found this to be false), a $17 "happy hour" martini and $4 plain club soda (no not bottled sparkling water such as Perrier) + tip in the lobby of the Paris hotel, another taxi ride with additional "scenic detours" on my way back to the airport and $4.00 vending machine water at the Las Vegas airport (no drinking faucets in the terminal were operational that particular day).
I'm sure the practices of gouging customers are common place for many big cities catering to business and tourist travelers but the service providers in the travel and hospitality industry of Las Vegas seems to raise the bar just a bit higher than most.  Perhaps the reason it bothers me so much is the total lack of empathy, when I verbalize my disatisfaction, by these seemingly misnamed "hospitality providers".  It appears to me that these service providers have an outwardly and overt distain for their customers and want nothing else but to separate their "marks" from their money.  
Upon my arrival back in San Diego, I began to wonder about the service industry in my own city.  
I have, over the years, acquired a vast network of trusted service providers, both personally and professionally.  These providers include accountants, doctors, dentists, auto-mechanics, landscapers, maintenance people, attorneys, insurance agents and computer professionals.  I trust these companies and individuals and would recommend them to friends, associates and loved ones. 
Some of these providers charge top dollar for their services while others are relative bargains.  Regardless of the prices charged, all of the service providers offer top value to their customers and their businesses have grown largely due to word of mouth by satisfied customers.  Moreover, they show respect and gratitude toward their customers understanding that the the best way to stay in business is to keep their customers happy.
These service providers have built their successful businesses based on their reputations as being highly qualified and providing outstanding value.  They depend on referrals from others and go out of their way to resolve disputes and make their customers feel as though they received the maximum value.  By doing so, their businesses have prospered even in these challenging economic times.
The key to providing outstanding service is creating trust between themselves and their customers...especially if their service is one that requires specialized knowledge such as IT or automotive repair. 
If your mechanic tells you that you need a new water pump to fix your car's problem and you trust them, then you will allow them perform the necessary repairs without going off to seek a second opinion.  However if a new water pump is installed and the problem still exists, then the mechanic will soon lose your trust and you will soon go off in search of a new mechanic.
Trust is built by providing by satisfying customer needs and handling problems in a timely manner...immediately if possible.  Once trust is established between the service provider and the customer then it is highly likely that the customer will provide repeat business and/or recommend you to another person.  If the trust is broken, then the dissatisfied customer will tell everyone they know about the problem and dissuade others from doing business with that service provider.  
Here's the interesting thing:   No matter what business we're in, we are all in the customer service business.  We all need customers to continue and grow our businesses regardless of whether we have a product or a service.
It much easier to keep a current customer satisfied than try to attract a new customer but we often forget this...until our customers are all gone...
Based on the way that they treat visitors, I'm quite certain that Las Vegas has forgotten this fact...but perhaps they don't need any more customers...but one day all of the hotel rooms will be vacant...but by'll be too late...
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we try our best keep all of our custommers satisfied...