Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Always Keep Things Simple

If there is one rule for success, I believe it's "keep things simple." 

I know that, ironically, this advice sounds, well, simple. But, don't underestimate how hard it is to follow.

Human nature is such that we have an urge to complicate things. We think it shows off our abilities, sophistication, and intelligence. We hide behind complexity to mask our insecurities. We think that if we only do the simple stuff, we are "naked" - there is nothing special to distinguish us and we are replaceable.

The truth is we are replaceable no matter what we do. Employees, businesses, suppliers, vendors, etc. - they can all get replaced by their competition. But, if you keep things simple, and succeed, and give a delightful experience to your customer (everyone has a customer), you have a better chance to stick around.

Simplicity, success, and customer delight go together because, when you keep things simple, they tend to be robust - less goes wrong, and there is less to maintain and less to breakdown. Simplicity leads to accuracy, reliability, and lots of "up time".

Monday, April 27, 2015

Don't Be Upset About Being Upset

I don't think that a lot of our stress, worry, and mental anguish comes from our reactions to external events.

Instead, I think it is our reaction to how we reacted, compared to the way we think we should have reacted.

For example, when I was younger, I used to get nervous and dread going to the doctor or dentist because I might (or would) get a shot.  What I realized was that a lot of the suffering was because, almost unconsciously, I was beating myself up over being nervous - that I was being a wimp and should be calm and cool.

When I stopped beating myself up, and said "OK, you're nervous, it's just a reaction, it's temporary, and you'll be fine after the appointment.  Just let yourself be nervous", I ended up much better off.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Walt Disney: "Plus It!"

I read that Walt Disney always liked his "imagineers" to keep pushing the envelope - increasing the value they generate.

Whenever they would do or create something, he would always exhort them to "Plus it!"

One story is that, after Disneyland opened,  Disney wanted to spend $350,000 to create a Christmas parade on Mainstreet.  His accountant objected, saying that customers will already be in the park and won't be expecting it.

Disney replied that that was the reason they should do it (it wasn't expected).

Especially in this age of global competition and attention scarcity, how are you pushing beyond the expected to shower your customers and prospects with value?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Creeping Complexity

Complexity can easily creep in through even seemingly insignificant decisions.

For example, naming the computer servers in your organization.

I've been in one company where they named one set of servers after U.S. presidents, and another set after animals.  On the other hand, another company named them things like chidirsdap05 and chihdirdap05.

In the case of this second company, many hours were lost over time with people trying to communicate server names in meetings and conference calls.  Risk and errors increased because people typed in the wrong names and worked on the wrong servers.

In the first company, there was never any misunderstanding if you were told to log into "Reagan" or "giraffe."

I've also seen this in other examples.

For example, in an organization, one software payments application assigned sequential numbers to transactions.  So, for example, "10,301" followed by "10,302", etc.

Another application assigned Oracle auto-generated IDs such as "B65AZX456RD45WRFT" and the next one would be "B65AZX457LD45WRFT" - the difference is a couple of positions in the middle of the string.

When it came to help desk support and tracking payments for customers, which one do you think created extra complications and headaches?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Alan Weiss: Small Deeds of A Meaningful Life

Alan Weiss, the great speaker and consultant, publishes a weekly "Monday Morning Memo" newsletter.  I really like this morning's memo:

Someone allows me to turn left into Dunkin' Donuts in heavy traffic. A passerby tells me I've dropped something. A store clerk finds something out of stock in another store and gets it for me the next day. The lawn guys clear up some debris that has nothing to do with their work. A bill is $10.03 and the cashier says not to worry about the change which I don't have. Someone offers tickets to a performance which they can't use. These are the small deeds of a meaningful life. We don't need to be thanked, we don't need to "demand" that people reciprocate or prove they're "passing it forward." We simply treat each other in a manner consistent with civility and in a way we'd like to be treated. The more we brag in public that we've performed such deeds, the less meaningful they become, because they're done by us for us. But when we do them without self-regard just because they are the right thing to do we're contributing in a powerful way.

© Alan Weiss 2015. All rights reserved

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Focus on Outputs, Not Inputs

If you want to simplify and streamline your business processes, then you need to focus on outputs.

Take each function or task and consider it a black box.  A black box abstracts a task by representing it by a box that has inputs and outputs.  Somehow the contents of the box transforms the inputs into the outputs.

The black box concept is valuable because it puts the emphasis where it belongs: on creating the outcomes.  The steps / processes inside the box are a "necessary evil", and need to be reduced as much as possible, while still accomplishing your goals.

So, things like meetings, reports, processes, and procedures are all "inside the box" elements that have no importance in themselves.

For example, an output might be to name a new product.  If you can decide the name through a couple of emails back and forth between a few key individuals, then great!  You're done.  You don't need to gather everyone into a series of hour long meetings and create a 30 page report.

This is the opposite of the way bureaucracies think.

In a bureaucracy, the workers feel more comfortable with the meetings and long report.  It makes them look busy and provides cover, since they fear to make actual decisions.
Bureaucracies focus on the inside of the box.  The processes become more important than the outputs.

You Are In The "Edutainment" Business

It doesn't matter what your product or service is.

If you want to attract people in this Age of Attention Scarcity, then you should consider yourself in the "edutainment" business.

What is "edutainment"?

Simple - it means a mix of education and entertainment.  Think Food Network, Discovery Channel, or HGTV.

Maybe you don't have your own cable channel, but you can still have online and offline points of contact and influence.  For example, You Tube videos, blogs, twitter, and live events.

Let's say that you are a restaurant.  Then, don't consider yourself in the restaurant business.  Think of yourself as your own Food Network.  

Your job is giving value to people through entertainment and education.  The actual food and dining experience is simply one part of it.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Theme nights at the restaurant.  An example is kid's game night, where kids can also win "food bucks" to be used in the future.

2. Live cooking classes.

3. You Tube video cooking classes.

4. Special nights - for example,  a performance by the award winning local high school orchestra or a wine and cheese party at a local luxury car dealership to see the latest cars, mingle, and hear live music.

5. Secret menus and special limited-time dishes only listed online.

The idea is to advertise the events in the restaurant, capture people's email addresses and drive people  online.  Then complete the loop and use online to drive people to the live offline events.

Give Enough Value That They Can't Ignore You

The art of marketing can be boiled down to one sentence:

Give Enough Value That They Can't Ignore You

Today we are no longer in the "Information Age."  We have a glut of information.  There are tons of books, blogs, websites, etc. out there, and more added every day.  Information is no longer a valuable commodity in short supply.

Instead, we are in the "Attention Age."    Attention is the new scarce resource.  With our limited time and capacity, how can we choose and organize information to meet our needs?

If you are trying to market and sell something, it is very easy to be lost in the noise.  People have to filter tremendous amounts of data, quickly.  Unless you have something valuable to offer them, they won't give you any attention.

People don't want to hear your sales message, or even an "informercial" that is 30% info and 70% pitch.  Instead, you need to give them valuable content they can put to use - no strings attached.  Then, you build credibility and can hopefully build a relationship with people so they think of you when they need your product or service.