Friday, June 29, 2012

The Great Balancing Act...

"Life is like riding a bicycle... in order to mainain your balance... you must keep moving forward."
~ Albert Einstein

I was just about to leave the office Monday night when my phone rang.

"Hey Jim... this is Mark... I was wondering if I could meet with you for a cup of coffee sometime this week..."

Mark was an old fraternity brother from college.  He works for a large defense contractor in some sort of financial capacity. 
I asked Mark what prompted his call and he said that he had a new idea that he wanted to talk about.

I told Mark that I’d love to get together... so we set a date for later in the week.

Mark and I met at a small coffee shop near my office.  After some catching up, I asked Mark pointedly, "So what was this new idea that you wanted to talk to me about?"

Mark went on to explain that he had thought of a new revolutionary product idea about a year ago but he needed my help to bring it to market. I sat there as he described in broad terms, his new invention.

In general, I liked his idea.  It did potentially fill a need, which is the first step in bringing a new product to market.

After Mark had finished his product outline, I proceeded to ask him several questions...

"Is there anyone else who is offering this product already in the market (or something similar)?... who is your end customer?... what size is the market for your product?... have you produced a working prototype to validate the design and see if the idea actually works?... have you done a patent search?"

All of Mark’s answers to my questions were either "no", "I don’t know", or "not yet"...

Finally in desperation I asked Mark, "so what have you done so far?"

He quickly replied, "I called you and set up a meeting... I know that you’ve created several new products and I was hoping that you’d take my idea and bring it to market... I know that it can make us a lot of money if we can just get it into the hands of the people who need it".

Finally I told Mark, "Look you’re a friend of mine so I’m saying this with kindness... you don’t have anything but a seed of an idea... it sounds like it could be a good idea... but in reality... I really don’t know... your product idea serves a need in a market very far away from mine so I have no way to know if this is a good idea or not".

"Remember... R&D is made up of two components... research and development... you need to send a lot more time on the research part and less time on the development part at this point in time."

I could see from his face that I had taken the wind from Mark sail...

He was truly hoping that I would take his "fantastic idea"... develop it into a product ... sell it to millions of people... and allow him to comfortably retire on fat royalty checks.

Unfortunately that’s not quite the way it works...

After throwing the cold water of reality into Mark’s face, I went on to explain that he shouldn’t despair.  His idea was potentially a good one... however it needed a lot more work before he could even think about bringing it to market.

Ideas require action in order for them to have a chance to succeed...

Mark and I spent the remaining time together creating an action list that he needed to complete before our next meeting. 

It required a lot of time (and some money) on his part in order to do the proper research needed to go to the next phase of the project development.

I left the meeting thinking to myself that it was unlikely that Mark will complete the items on the action list and that his idea will most likely die a premature death.

In order for an idea to succeed, two essential elements are required - innovation and management.

In his groundbreaking best-selling book, Free the Idea Monkey, innovative branding expert, Mike Maddock explains that in a classic sense, there are three vital ingredients to innovation:

1.  Find a problem that needs a solution (insight).

2.  Find an idea that solves the problem... whether it’s a product, a service, or an improvement in an existing product.

3.  Find a way to communicate to the world (or at least to your potential customers) that you have found a solution.

Notice that the first step is not finding a solution... but rather finding a problem... the bigger the problem... the larger potential for success.

In order for innovation to truly work... all three of the above conditions need to be satisfied... not one of three... not two of three... but three of three!!!

Unless you are incredibly talented and skilled... it is highly unlikely that you have the ability to accomplish all three of the innovation conditions on your own...

The late Steve Jobs was brilliant at identifying problems (item 1) and communicating Apple’s innovation to the world (item 3).

...but he wasn’t so good at actually creating solutions - he did however assemble a team of incredibly talented engineers to find solutions to the problems that he helped to identify...

Still... he had mastered 2 out of 3... not too bad...

True innovation generally requires a team approach.  Each person on the team is responsible for bringing certain skills that will help the team to accomplish all three innovation fundamentals.

If innovation is the Yin... sound management is the Yang.

A launching of a new idea requires resources.  It takes time... it takes financial resources... it takes logistical expertise, and it take focus.   

Steve Jobs was a great idea man.  He was not necessarily a great business man.  Each time that he attempted to involve himself into the management of Apple, the company faltered. 

I don’t watch much television but I do have one or two favorite shows that I record on a regular basis and watch when I have some downtime.

One of the shows I do watch is Mad Men.  Mad Men is a period show set in the 1960’s that chronicles the world of Madison Ave. advertising. 

When I first began watching the show, I knew nothing of the business of advertising.  As the seasons continued, I learned that an advertising agency team has two distinct areas of expertise and responsibility:

·   Operations - the people who manage the business side of the agency

·   Creatives - the people who create ideas (ads, jingles, campaigns)

Both sides of the business are essential to the overall success of the business as a whole. If one department fails at doing its job, it jeopardizes the success of the entire company.

It’s also important to note that the experts in their respective departments are left alone to do their jobs.  Account managers don’t attempt to develop or pitch ad campaigns.  That’s not their expertise.  Conversely, the creatives are not expected to find new clients, manage existing client relationships, or developing pricing strategies.

Any business... large or small... needs to find a way to continue to innovate... developing new ideas that lead to new products and/or services that solve problems.  It also needs strong management and sound business practices to ensure that the company remains focused and profitable.

It’s a delicate yet important balance... giving us the ability to move forward...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we will continuously search for new ideas to solve your problems.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Questions and Answers...

A few weeks ago I was in attendance at one of my good friend’s daughter’s high school graduation party.

Rather than sitting around listening to parents gripe about college tuition, I decided to instead, join a conversation with several young adults in the other room.

We talked a bit about their plans for the upcoming summer... where they were headed to in the fall... and what they hoped to achieve in their near future.

I listened to them as they discussed their recent achievements, their excitement about leaving home and going off to college, and perhaps a bit of arrogance when discussing how their lives will undoubtedly improve when they no longer had their parents and teachers around telling them what to do.

At eighteen, most kids think that they have all the answers to life.  Although they are very intelligent, there is still a great deal of learning that comes from life experiences and practical knowledge.

One young man boasted that he scored a 760 on the math portion of his SAT test.  He was planning to study mathematics at UCLA.

So I asked him, "Are you really good at adding numbers in your head?"

He replied, "Of course... I’m a numbers guy."

So I asked him if he wanted to take a little test to determine if indeed he was good at quickly adding numbers up in his head...

He agreed to take my challenge.

So I started out... you’re a bus driver...

When you leave the bus depot, there are no riders on the bus...

At the first stop you pick up five riders... at the next stop you drop off one rider and pick up four riders... at the next stop you drop off two riders and pick up three riders... at the next stop you pick up 5 riders and no one gets off...

With each stop the pace of my on/off numbers increases speed... the next stop you add only one rider but three get off... at the next stop four riders get on and one gets off... at the next stop two riders get on and two riders get off... at the final stop four riders get off...

At that point I looked at the young man, "did you get all that?"...

He looked at me confidently and replied, "yep... I have the answer... it’s eleven"...

I then asked him, "What’s eleven?"

He replied, "That’s how many riders are still on the bus."

To which I countered, "that may be so... but that’s not the question... the question is... how many stops did the bus make?"

"um... seven", he looked at me guessing.

"No... the answer is eight", I corrected him.

"You tricked me" he retorted.

"Okay then... I have another question for you... what is the color of the bus driver’s hair and his eyes?"...

He said in a frustrated voice, "I don’t know... you never told me!".

"Oh yes I did but you didn’t listen", I replied, "the bus driver’s hair and eyes are both brown... remember... I said that you were the bus driver".

My experience with this young man reminds me of just how often I am confronted with sales people who immediately start to spout off product specs, prices, and/or delivery information before they even learn what I want or need.  They have all the right answers I suppose... but simply to the wrong questions.

I don’t want to be sold... rather I want someone to assist me to help make an informed buying decision.

If I am in the market to purchase an automobile and power and performance are my "hot buttons" and the salesperson who greets me on the lot starts to immediately tell me about the great mileage and resale value of the car that I’m interested in buying, then I’m  going to lose interest very quickly.

My friend, Jack Daly, the very best sales trainer that I have ever had the opportunity to hear, has the absolute best advice in order for a sales person to increase their effectiveness in front of a client or prospect... simply ask questions and listen!!

Yes... it’s sounds easy... but most salespeople rarely do this... they sit down in front of their customer or prospect and start rattling off about their company’s service, inventory levels, pricing, bells and whistles, features and benefits and why they should be doing business with you and your company ad nauseam...

It’s basically... "hi... how’s it going... good?... well enough about you... now let’s talk about me"...

Being a remarkable sales person isn’t about having all the right answers... it’s about asking a lot of questions... the right questions.  By doing so, you’ll uncover what it is that your customer really wants (in my example... a car that has power and performance).

Asking questions and listening isn’t only for salespeople... it’s equally good for improving any type of relationship, be it with a friend, a spouse, your children or parents, and/or colleagues and managers.

Asking a lot of quality questions and active listening helps to avoid communication gaps between people.

Many times I think I know the answer to a problem but later determine that I didn’t ask enough questions to accurately understand the full scope of the issue at hand.

I often find myself delivering partial solutions to problems because I didn’t ask enough clarify questions to begin with.

The young man thought he knew the answer I was looking for... but that wasn’t the case... I was looking for a completely different answer... he might have avoided failure by simply asking me the objective of the mental exercise... before we started...

In a very famous study... people were asked to watch a video and count how many times the basketball was passed between a group of people... here is a link to the video...

Did you accurately count the total times the basketball was passed?...

I didn’t... in fact... I lost track completely... for reasons plainly obvious to some people and perhaps not so obvious to others...

However I did completely miss the second part of the experiment... I was more focused at that point on something else (I don’t want to give away the answer in case you want to do the experiment yourself)...

If you watch the above video a second time... there is no way to miss the obvious...

The key to successful communication (and potentially increased sales) is having the awareness to ask good questions and listening intently to the answers you receive...

...only then will you have an idea of what the other person really wants.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse... where we hope to be aware of how to fulfill your needs...        

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Lasting Memory...

"People hear what they see"   ~Bobby Darin

Summer is a time to gather with friends to celebrate the extra hours of sunshine and warm weather. 

Every so often during the summer months, Susan and I find ourselves hosts of an intimate outdoor dinner party with friends to share good food and wine... to tell tall tales beside the warmth of an outdoor adobe fireplace... and to engage in laughter still felt in our midsection the following morning...

This particular evening, we served grilled dill crusted salmon, wasabi mashed potatoes, and vine ripened cherry tomatoes with a splash of balsamic vinegar.  It’s a dish that I’ve been preparing since college when I wanted so badly to impress my date with a phenomenal home-cooked meal.

Truth be told, for most of my life I have only been able to cook three memorable meals:  Grilled dill salmon, a red meat sauce spooned over a variety of pastas, and a layered lasagna.  With just three signature recipes, I now have a undeserved reputation among my friends that I can actually cook.

This is what I like to call "The Power of Three".

Many years ago while I was still in high school, I read a book (whose title / author have been long forgotten) whereas the author offered a hypothesis that a person needs to only be able to know or perform three things of a single subject... albeit extremely well... in order for others to perceive that you are an "expert" in that particular field.

At first I didn’t really believe such nonsense... people are much smarter than that, but after years of testing this theory, I have come to the conclusion that it is indeed true.

If you want someone to believe that you play the guitar or piano well... then you only need to know how to play three popular songs... very well though...

If you want someone to believe that you know a lot about astronomy, then you need to be able to correctly identify three different constellations (other than Orion, the big dipper and/or Cassiopeia).  To add to your body of knowledge, perhaps you can point out the major stars within those constellations... 

Become extremely knowable about three cities (where to eat... where to stay... where to go... what to do...).  Make sure they are big cities with lots of history and/or neighborhood charm such as New York, London, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Washington, DC or Rome.

If you offer up one or two examples... then people believe that you are possibly a "one-trick-pony"... go beyond three things... then you are perceived to be a bore or a "know-it-all" type... but three seems to be the magic number...

The "Power of Three" also plays an important role in business... specifically as it pertains to marketing and branding (branding is really nothing more than your reputation in the market).

On a macroscopic level, a company should be known for doing three things better than any of its competitors. 

If you’re a pizza company... then perhaps it’s fast delivery, great tasting pizza, and natural ingredients...

If you’re a bank... then maybe it’s longer teller hours, no-fees, and more accessible ATMs...

If you’re an airline then it might be no baggage fees, low fares, and fully refundable tickets...

Some companies have just one explicit brand promise... "when it positively has to be there over-night" (FedEx)... "better ingredients... better pizza" (Papa John’s)... "the ultimate driving machine" (BMW)... but behind their one big thing are typically two others...

They will tell you that a BMW is a fun car to drive ("ultimate driving machine")... but they will also implicitly tell you about the quality of "German engineering" (reliability) and their high resale prices (value)... three things...

By trying to be more than three things, you’ll just end up confusing your customer base and they won’t remember what it is that you have to offer.

Building your brand centers around doing just three things... but you need to do them incredibly well...

Doing them incredibly well is the key...

Mediocrity has no place in the "power of three" theory... make whatever you do memorable.  

If you can only make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, scrambled eggs, and hot dogs then you will never gain the reputation of a great cook... rather your reputation will be that of a horrible cook... but learn to cook only three gourmet meals... and you will forever be known as an extraordinary chef.

Be it right or wrong, people believe in your reputation rather than who you truly are.  Persona of what you project is what people see... and what they believe to be true about you... just ask any Hollywood celebrity.

If your customers perceive that you offer low prices, great service or high quality products, then that becomes their reality and they will buy from you... even if you truly don’t have the lowest prices, the best service, or the highest quality products every time...

Changing people’s perception is extremely difficult once it’s been established... that’s why making a good  first impression is so important... doing it right the first time...

Look for ways to create something remarkable... something significant... something exceptional... this should always be the goal...

...the goal to become a lasting memory...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hope to create great memories together.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Service Business...

It was a bright sunny day here last Saturday so I decided to ride my bike to the San Diego high school "world series" being held at San Diego State’s baseball stadium (apologies in advance for writing about my cycling exploits...yet again).

My good friend Jim C. has a son named Ian, who is a high school junior at a local high school.  Ian is a 17-years old left handed pitcher who can throw a baseball 95 miles per hour.  He has a full college scholarship waiting for him at the University of San Diego; unless of course he is drafted next June by a major league team and offered an obscene amount of money to delay his college education.
Ian was scheduled to be his school’s starting pitcher so I wanted to come and root him on.

Ian’s a great kid with a good head on his shoulders... not one of those pampered athletes... who walk around thinking that the world owes them something because God has given them talent.  He is the type of kid who will have a future ahead of him whether it’s in baseball or another career path.

I arrived at the campus a bit early so I decided to stop at McDonald’s to grab an Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee.  The normally bustling school of 45,000 students was eerily quiet as the semester had ended some three weeks prior.

As I rode into the parking lot, I thought that perhaps that the restaurant was closed as there were no cars in the lot.

I pulled at the door and it opened.  My bike and I walked into the restaurant and I almost made it to the counter when an agitated gentleman behind the counter yelled at me, "you can’t bring that bike in here!!".

I paused a moment to look around.  The restaurant was empty (except me and the man behind the counter).

I replied to the man that all I wanted was an Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee to go. 

Ignoring my plea for food and drink, he yelled at me again, "I said that you can’t bring that bike in here...that’s the rule...look, I don’t make the rules...I just enforce need to leave your bike outside!!"

I peered at the man behind the counter and noticed that he was wearing a light blue shirt and a tie...generally the uniform for a manager or owner.  I politely asked him to make an exception to serve me and I’ll leave at once.

He gruffly replied, "’s a rule...if I break the rule for you I’ll have to do it for everyone".

In an exaggerated motion I scanned the room looking for the "everyone" he was talking about...smiled at the absurdity of his statement and left the restaurant.

I rode over to the baseball stadium, stood in line, purchased a ticket and proceeded to go in.  As I was giving my ticket to the person at the gate, I was stopped by a security officer who told me that I wasn’t allowed to take my bike into the stadium as it would block an aisle which could become a fire hazard.

I assured him that I would make sure that I would sit to one side and not block any aisles.

He explained to me that it was a part of the fire code and that it was a rule that couldn’t be broken. 

I was about to leave to try and get a refund on my ticket when another security officer came up and ask me to follow her.  As we were walking, she told me that there was a picnic area near the bullpen in left field and if I wanted, I could sit there to watch the game.  This way my bike would be out of the way from any foot traffic.

I thought that this was a splendid idea.  There were tables, rest rooms and a concession stand nearby.  I had a great view of the game just beyond first base.

Within an hour, I had been denied access to two venues due to my bicycle. 

At one place I was summarily dismissed for no apparent reason (or at least I wasn’t ever given a valid reason other than to have the employee tell me that it was a rule).

At the second place I was given a very valid reason as to why I couldn’t be admitted, and then offered a compromise that allowed them to still uphold the important fire code rule while allowing me to watch the game.

I often see this same type of mentality at different places I go. 

Recently, I encountered a worker at the meat counter at my local grocery store who told me that they close at 9pm.  When I look at the time on my phone I pointed out to the worker that it’s only 8:55...he proceeds to tell me that my phone is wrong and that his clock says 9pm. 

It infuriates me when a person, supposedly in a customer service position, hides behind an arcane rule just to avoid helping a customer (it is doubly enraging when you point out their error - such as it not even being 9pm yet - and they still deny your appeal).

I’m sure that we can think of examples where someone has made the extra effort to make sure we had a positive experience when doing business with their company.

In contrast, I suspect that we could also vividly recall those times when a person had the power to make an exception but just didn’t care enough to make it happen.

It often makes me wonder if we might be doing the same thing at OptiFuse.  Do we adhere to some meaningless rule that denies a great service experience for one of our customers? 

Of course we need a certain set of basic standards to remain in business but is there room for exceptions when warranted?

I’ve attempted to give everyone in our company a great deal of latitude to make accommodations for special situations...but I’m constantly asking if we are doing enough to create a positive experience for our customers? 

It is the responsibility of every person in an organization to do everything in their power to provide memorable customer service.  Regardless of what position we hold at our respective companies, we are all in customer service.

No one in the organization is one is too insignificant...we all need to do our best to constantly "wow" our customers with the best service that we can provide.

No matter what business we’re it manufacturing, technology, or medicine...we all have customers and like it or not...we’re all in a service business...

Friday, June 1, 2012

One Person at a Time...

One of the great benefits of riding a bicycle around town is the time one gets to spend alone in thought. 

This past week while riding to work, I was reflecting on some recent social events that I had attended over the Memorial Day weekend.  My long weekend was filled with birthday parties, barbecues, and dinners on the town.

Our conversations at these events were typically engaging and interesting, causing me to consider different perspectives and observations of others.

Interesting enough, one of the recurring topics of discussion among my friends was that of individuals trying to enact a meaningful difference in the lives of other people, our community, and maybe the world as a whole. 

As I rode along, I mulled over the possible reasons why this particular topic keeps arising among my friends and those I associate with. 

That’s when a possible answer came to I approach middle-age, I am no longer associating myself with young moms and dads who are busy raising children and who are struggling with unbalanced time considerations of work, family, health, and personal pursuits. 

My friends are quickly becoming "empty-nesters" who have newly-found time afforded to them each week.  As they enter a new phase of their lives, they are now considering the end-game where they will soon be re-examining their very existence and weighing their personal contributions made to society.

During the course of our conversations, I often hear others lamenting that their individual contributions to the world will be meaningful enough.  They believe (rightfully so) that they have so much to offer if only they could find the right vehicle...the right cause...the right non-profit board to join.  They want to help but where do they start?

After listening for a while, I will typically ask a simple question. 

"What stops you from trying to make a difference in just one person’s life?"

The responses I receive to my question are all worded a bit differently but essentially say the same thing.

"I am not really interested in making a difference a single person’s life... I want to make a big difference to the entire world..." in order to feel good about my contribution...
I find the answer somewhat disheartening. 

Sure helping the world in a wholesale fashion is indeed noble...but most of us don’t simply have the wherewithal or the resources to actually achieve this high water instead of doing something small and meaningful we sit back and let time pass as we wait for a big idea to formulate...and we wait...and we wait...

Making a meaningful difference is typically done in a retail manner...not wholesale.  We begin by helping just one person at a a small way.

We don’t need to solve world hunger but rather we could make a difference by volunteering just one hour a week working in the kitchen of a local homeless shelter...

Preventing the overfishing of the oceans and deforestation of the rainforests are great ideals but so is affecting the life of a young man or woman by becoming a big brother / big sister...

Creating and developing a new drug or vaccine to prevent cancer, HIV, heart disease and/or autism is indeed noble but so is being a volunteer to visit terminal patients at a local hospice care center, handing out refreshments to participants on the 3-day breast cancer walk, and/or giving blood at the local blood bank.

Recognition for these types of activities is small or non-existent.  There will be no mentioning of your name in the local papers...the world will not instantly recognize your name as they do people like Jonas Salk, the Wright Brothers, or Bill Gates. 

Only you will know that you have made a small difference (and perhaps the people affected by your generosity). 

You will be an unsung hero...not a folk hero...but that’s okay if your true goal is to simply make the world a better place.

Your acts of kindness don’t need to be extremely meaningful or complex...they might involve letting someone go in front of you at the grocery might hold the door open for an elderly person or small child...maybe you’ll feed someone’s parking expired parking meter...possibly you’ll tidy up a public wash basin for the next person who might use it...or simply turn off the lights when leaving a room...

The idea behind giving is to stop thinking about what you’ll get...and begin thinking about what someone else will get...that’s what giving of yourself is all about...

One of the truly wonderful side-effects of giving of yourself is that it tends to be at someone and there is a good chance that they will smile doesn’t work all the time...but that’s didn’t smile at someone to get a smile in did it to be nice to someone...

Doing something for no expected return is a foreign idea and runs counter-intuitive to the way most of us are brought up to think.  We do things as a part of a transaction...a quid pro quo arrangement. 

It’s hard when the transaction becomes out-of-balance...but that’s the sheer beauty of giving of yourself...knowing that you did something good is all the reward that is necessary...

I remember playing card games with my children when they were small...I purposely lost to them on most occasions...I didn’t need to win in order to prove to myself that I could beat a 6-year old child...but winning made my kids feel good...they even bragged to their friends and family...I just smiled and played along with the charade...never once admitting to anyone that I had actually thrown the game in order to save my ego from being publically bruised...I knew...and that’s all that was important...

To me, making a difference in the world is a lot like purposely losing to my kids at makes others feel good...and that in itself makes me happy on the inside...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we try to make each of our customers feel as though they are our only customer.