Monday, May 8, 2017

4 Thoughts on Simplicity

1. Results are inverse to team size. Remember the "2 Pizza Rule": you should be able to feed your whole team with only 2 pizzas.

2. Smaller scoped projects are more successful, so "bite off less than you can chew".

3. Some bureaucratic processes are necessary, but they must be in the background.

4. Be paranoid about creeping complexity.  Weed regularly.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Focused on Falafel: How Naf Naf Grill Simplified Before Expanding

For Small Business Week, the 5/1/17 issue of Crain's Chicago Business had an article on lessons learned from some of the most successful businesses in Chicago.

One of them was Naf Naf Grill, a Chicago-based chain of Middle Eastern fast-casual dining.

Their lesson was on the importance of simplicity and focus, especially before expansion. They got rid of 80% of their menu before scaling from 2 restaurants, up to the current 29 locations.

The Crain's article quoted co-founder David Sloan, "You think it's simple, but you need to work to make it even more so. Because if you're going to grow quickly, the more absolutely simple you make your operations, the better off you'll be."

LESSON: Once you reach the level where your business is adequately servicing your existing client base, and you are ready to scale up (eg. through franchising, expansion, partnerships, major ad campaign, etc.), it is vital to first simplify your business.

There are four areas of strategic simplicity that need attention: market simplicity (what exactly do we sell?), decision simplicity (how easy is it for potential customers to know us and trust us?), user simplicity (how easy and streamlined is the customer experience?), and operating simplicity (have we cleaned up and streamlined our internal processes?).

I work with my clients in all four of these strategic simplicity areas.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Fidget Spinners - The Next Pet Rock?

As a parent of a kindergardener and a jr. high school student, combined with my consulting skills of observation, I'm getting a view into the latest thinking of the next generations.

One of the interesting things I'm seeing is the explosion in popularity of fidget spinners. I think they are going to be a fad like Cabbage Patch Kids, Furby, or Pet Rocks.  Build big and then fade.

1. First, my older son and his friends were making them out of Legos.  

2. Then they wanted to buy them from Amazon and pay expedited shipping.  They even wanted to buy extras to sell to their classmates for profit.

3. Suddenly, they learned that 7-11 started keeping them behind the counter.  They sold out fast.

4. The Jr. high principal sent an email saying that fidget spinners were being banned from school because the kids were distracted, trading them, etc.

5. Now, I'm seeing newspaper columns about them.

6. Finally, I looked up fidget spinners on Google Trends.  Searches for them exploded, starting in April:

Considering that fidget spinners were originally created to calm ADHD kids, what does that indicate for future attention spans?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

United Airlines Dragging Incident: Rules vs. Guidelines

We've all seen the video of the doctor, who didn't want to be bumped from a UA flight, being dragged and bloodied by security.

It was a public relations disaster for United Airlines, and drew a strong reaction from the public.

It didn't help that, before the incident, United didn't have much goodwill banked with flyers, because of their reputation for poor customer service.

There were several points during the chain of events where this incident could have been prevented:

1. United knew that the crew to be transported to Louisville was in route to the airport before they boarded.  They could have gotten volunteers to give up their seats before boarding.  Instead, they let passengers board and didn't try to bump anyone off until the crew actually reached the gate.

2. Why didn't they offer more money until someone gave up their seat.

3. When they randomly picked the doctor, he was ready to go until he found out there were no more flights that day.  He then said he didn't want to give up his seat because he had patients to see the next day.  At that point, why did they not pick someone else randomly.  Doctors deal with life and death cases–they should have just assumed he had a good reason.

I think it comes down to a training issue: Rules vs. Guidelines

Airlines are very much into rules, which spell out exactly what to do.  No interpretation or judgement.  Now, this is very important for airline safety.  For example, it is good that even experienced pilots use a checklist, so they do not miss any steps.

But, for customer service, well-thought out guidelines should supersede blind obedience to rules.
The difference between a rule and a guideline is that rules apply to one situation, while a guideline can be applied as a template to many situations.

Thus, to run a business only using rules, management needs to anticipate all occurrences in advance.  But, with a guideline, they can trust that employees can apply the guideline to any unforeseen incidents.

In this case, a good guideline for United employees: Pretend you were one of the passengers.  From a passenger's point of view, how would you have wanted the bumping process to have unfolded?

Marketing and Branding–When Less Is More: Harvard Business Journal Study Shows Importance of "Decision Simplicity"

Two issues (one belief, one fact) with marketing today:

Belief:  Customers are less brand loyal.

Fact:  With the internet, mobile, and social media, there are many more ways for brands to interact with consumers.

What if exploiting the fact is creating a vicious cycle that is making the belief more true?  That just might be what's happening today.

According to a 2012 Harvard Business Journal study entitled "To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple",  the increase in marketing messages "isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage."

The authors analyzed surveys and interview with thousands of consumers and hundreds of marketing experts to figure out what makes consumers "sticky"–i.e. "likely to follow through on an intended purchase, buy the product repeatedly, and recommend it to others."

The authors looked at over 40 variables, including pricing, brand perceptions, etc. and concluded that the biggest driver of stickiness was "decision simplicity".

Decision simplicity has three parts:

1. Ease of gathering information.  Ideally web navigation will figure out where the consumer is in the buying decision, and only show him info relevant to the stage he or she is at.

2. Easy to determine trust.  The best way is by giving access to user-generated reviews.  Consumers put a lot of weight over peer reviews, versus expert, celebrity, or technical  information.

3. Ease of comparison.  It should be easy to see side-by-side comparisons and trade-offs between different products and options.

Decision simplicity is one of the four types of strategic simplicity that I assist clients with.