Flying Detroit-Memphis last Tuesday, my seat neighbor engaged me in a thoughtful conversation about WHY. If you want to compel people to act, start with why. He followed up on our chat with a link to this short 18 minute video, which is now required viewing the next time you have 18 uninterrupted minutes. Its basic premise: most people and organizations know WHAT they do, many can explain HOW they do it (and how that benefits you) - but few know why they do it. Even fewer know to communicate why you should believe or even care (hint: start with why, not what).
The speaker utilizes Apple and Martin Luther King as examples of the power of starting with why to connect millions of people to an idea. Because I believe it is essential to also align head and heart, I especially enjoyed the author's reference to MLK's success because "...by the way he gave the "I have a dream" speech, not the "I have a plan" speech".
When I started (re)ALIGN in 2009 we focused on WHAT (to offer solutions that would build and grow your consumer business) and HOW (our services would be superior to our competitors' by aligning both worlds - building your engine for profitable growth, while inspiring and fueling a passion for success).
But why would people be compelled to work with us?
Good answers to what and how (and working with great clients) delivered awesome successes over the years, but the quest for why will now sharpen our focus. We are BUILDERS - we build more profitable revenue streams for you, faster, and we build businesses that "fit" inside your existing business, so they create more value. We build your business with the same purpose and passion we build ours - to safeguard our partners' livelihoods and to delight in the quest to work smarter not harder.
Will why change your business?
If you had a very crisp metaphor to explain your business' superiority, you and your sales team would be using it consistently to convince your target market and annihilate your competition, right? This simple idea from a Fast Company article on breakthrough ideas continues to challenge my description of my own business.
Crisp metaphors are very powerful. They help us and our business partners make sense of things that long explanations and power points can’t. Metaphors help us understand, remember, and jump to action.
I tell my friends that IKEA stores are like "Disney World for furniture", and they get it. So do millions in 20+ countries who buy over $30 billion of home furnishings there every year.
I told a client the business he wanted built was not what he described, but something closer to a metaphor I developed which he and I got instantly--this led us to products, factories, a business model and value proposition that resulted in incredible 8-digit success.
I developed (re)ALIGN to be about "building your business"--not about services filled with buzz words and power points but business building that helps clients build profitable revenue. Business building is a powerful metaphor and people understand its intrinsic value.
What metaphor describes your business?
While you think about that consider these breakthrough ideas:
1. If you reversed the question you have been asking for the past few weeks, what question would you end up with?
2. What metaphor is your competitor using and what alternative metaphor could you battle them with?
3. What can you reuse from your current (or past) business to create something new?
4. What quick and dirty test can you perform to test the viability of the idea you created through steps 1-3?
If humankind can imagine and mass produce a $9 bicycle (that could provide to millions in poverty access, literally, to economic participation), what else can we achieve--and what are the main ingredients for such achievement and innovation?
The story behind this cardboard bike is fascinating and I encourage you to read it by clicking here or to watch a short video here.
On the surface it's about an idea engineers pronounced impossible from the beginning to three years' of development culminating in the finished product at left. Two were spent just figuring out the cardboard complications--leading to several patents--and the last was spent converting a cardboard box on wheels to a relatively normal looking bike.
But the real story is about passion--powered by persistence (or is it persistence powered by passion?)--that led to disruptive innovation and a potential paradigm shift in the transportation industry.
Of course disruptive innovation requires the presence of five behaviors and skills (1. associating or linking ideas that aren’t obviously related, 2. questioning, 3. observing, 4. networking, and 5. experimenting) but after I watched this video, clearly passion and persistence are essential to catalyze and hold together these behaviors and skills.
There are plenty other $9 cardboard bike stories out there: Steve Jobs' concept of building "bicycles for the mind" comes to mind, resulting at first in criticism before decades later being admired as one of the planet's most valuable organizations called Apple. A few decimal points to the left of that, our launch of (re)ALIGN three years ago in the midst of the Great Recession, purposed to offer a service purely focused on building businesses was first questioned by some, and it took time to prove the concept. Today, several significant new businesses exist, and significant 8-digit company value was created because together with our clients we invested passion and persistence to prove that building a business can be faster and more effective than purely organic growth, while cheaper, less risky and more profitable than acquisition.
There are at least 200 working days a year. If you commit to doing a simple marketing item just once each day, at the end of the year you've built a mountain. Here are some things you might try (don't do them all, just one of these once a day would change things for you):
Enough molehills is all you need to have a mountain.
The Leader's Climb eloquently engages us to rethink our black box for problem solving, decision making and being an open leader.
The simple story of Adam, a CEO living through a climbing fall and a high stakes board room drama, provokes key questions:
Do we create better options through better sensing?
Does accepting obstacles open us up to better decisions?
The story is engagingly told. If you ever searched for "what do you want", you'll find profound insight here. I found this book a powerful reminder to "manage complexity by mastering simplicity".
I inhaled this book on a recent trip to China - despite the built-in exhaustion of international travel, I happily obliged my friend Paul Heagen's suggestion to read and review it. Because it is a gem. I say buy it, read it, enjoy it.
A different perspective often yields new and better results. "Design thinking" opens additional avenues for observing facts and associating seemingly unrelated ideas to arrive at powerful new business solutions.
Three years ago I re-examined pursuits and results of both my retail ivy league education at IKEA and Pottery Barn, and my equally treasured private equity boot camp. Tough introspection yielded key insights to both, failures inside awesome successes and treasures inside the inevitable failure or two. I embrace the perspective gained and use it to bend up the curve of my trajectory as merchant and marketer for global brands (and wholesalers selling to them). It helped me position (re)ALIGN for something more holistic that adds more value than merchandising and marketing alone: I learned to be a business builder, and have built my clients' businesses ever since. Building requires aligning both worlds—the analytical with the creative, the engine with the fuel—so customers and producers connect, so building and fulfilling the promise align profitably. I knew this in my head long ago, but now I understand it in my heart.
Concepts I use to build new 8-figure businesses quickly—creating significant enterprise value for clients in the USA and China—are described in this WSJ article about "design thinking".
Here are highlights of the concept and a thought-provoking chart:
Stanford University's d.school—the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design—has gained recognition in recent years for introducing the trendy, but murky, problem-solving concept known as "design thinking" to executives, educators, scientists, doctors and lawyers. The d.school was launched in 2005—one of the first of its kind—with help from a $35 million donation by SAP AG co-founder Hasso Plattner, who has said he was inspired to spread the practice after reading a magazine article about global consultancy IDEO, a leader in design thinking. Now other schools are coming up with their own programs.
Design thinking uses close, almost anthropological observation of people to gain insight into problems that may not be articulated yet. For example, researchers may study the habits of shoppers waiting to pay for groceries in order to create a more efficient checkout system that maximizes last-minute purchases while keeping customers moving quickly.
Traditionally, companies have relied on focus groups to get feedback on products that were already in development. With design thinking, potential solutions—products, processes or services—are modeled, often using simple materials like markers and pipe-cleaners, then tested and quickly adjusted based on user feedback.
Still not everyone is an advocate. Some say slapping the design-thinking tagline on new initiatives is "good marketing" because it is vague enough to apply quite broadly, but has little real meaning. "Design is an act of making, so the idea of design thinking is paradoxical."(I wonder if this person thinks the act of making or building a business happens without thinking?)
Executives at Fidelity became converts of design thinking after working on a project with a d.school class in 2006 that focused on getting people, especially younger people, to contribute more to their savings accounts. In that project, students learned that baby boomers fondly remembered their first savings accounts and bankbooks, but younger savers didn't have such a tangible connection to banking. In response, Fidelity created an online feature that mimicked old-fashioned bankbooks. Fidelity said the online feature helped users track their savings and provided positive reinforcement and motivation for savers.
I have witnessed and created similar, bigger successes of design thinking with my professional heroes at IKEA, Pottery Barn, Apple, Starbucks, and (re)ALIGN clients that connect products and services with paying customers. What opportunities are challenging your business that design thinking (d.school concepts at right half of the chart) can help define and scale?
Simplicity is a worthy challenge: by pushing myself to communicate more succinctly (see 4.16.11 blog "In Search of Brevity"), my thought and actions sharpened these last few years; recently, we developed and rolled out a consumer product called "Simplicity". Rigorous research and clear selection criteria helped propel it towards significant retail success. Bigger than my famous beaded lamp project for Pottery Barn and in scope more like IKEA's Benno Series, named in honor of yours truly, for lovingly and persistently negotiating IKEA USA's simple commercial priorities with the Swedish style police in Almhult. So listen up! (For Fast Company Aaron Levie's complete blog click here).
The only companies or products that will succeed now are the ones offering the lowest possible level of complexity for the maximum amount of value.
A fascinating trend is consuming Silicon Valley and beginning to eat away at rest of the world: the radical simplification of everything.
Want to spot the next great technology or business opportunity? Just look for any market that lacks a minimally complex solution to a sufficiently large problem.
The irony of simplicity is that it invariably lets you do more. Simplicity isn’t about giving up any value--it’s a movement around designing technology or products thoughtfully to make them substantially more useful and attainable. Some of the simplest solutions on the market are equally the most advanced--Square beats out any other form of retail payment service; Nest offers the most compelling and powerful thermostat ever invented.
Here are just a few ways to get started in achieving minimum complexity:
Companies that will win in the long term are those that can continue to simplify experience while simultaneously tackling harder and harder problems. Sure, it’s novel and powerful that Square can accept payments for a 10-person retail store, but when they start to do it for Gap, the game is radically changed. Amazon succeeds by continuing to charge into all areas of infrastructure delivery--consistently launching new tools and platforms that would otherwise cost developers an arm and a server closet, all with the same focus on abstraction and simplification.
When technology was unavoidably complex, it was forgivable that solutions weren't elegant and simple. It was understandable that finding and visiting a new doctor could take weeks, or searching for enterprise information wasn’t successful. But with a myriad of elegant and simple solutions entering the market, users expect far more from their products.
Simplicity has become a virus that will either destroy you or catapult you to the front of the market.
This Is Generation Flux: Meet The Pioneers Of The New (And Chaotic) Frontier Of Business. The future of business is pure chaos. Here's how you can survive--and perhaps thrive
Above is the title of a thought provoking article. Instead of opining, I'll share snapshots, below. If they interest you, read the entire article at fastcompany.com.
I reinvented my own business trajectory - from merchant/marketer at IKEA, Pottery Barn and fixer of PE-owned wholesale businesses in various stages of transition, to consumer business builder. Now I build multi-million dollar profitable revenue platforms for PE-owned businesses in the USA and China - in 2011 I added 17% EBITDA (as % of sales) to a business within 10 months, and built another that quickly and cheaply launched significant volume of a new product into 10 major retail chains and 3700 doors - so I 'get' change, and I understand how to create order out of chaos and deliver innovation and profitable new revenue streams by aligning both worlds.
Fast Company will have you considering new perspectives for your business. If it sounds a bit chaotic, that's because it is. Deal with it.
"You're going to have businesses rise and fall faster than ever."
You Don't Know What You Don't Know.
Within GE, she says, "traditional teams are too slow. We're not innovating fast enough. We need to systematize change." - "There's a need to be less hierarchical and to rely more on teams”
Organizations have structures and processes built for an industrial age, where efficiency is paramount but adaptability is terribly difficult. We are finely tuned at taking a successful idea or product and replicating it on a large scale. But inside these legacy institutions, changing direction is rough. From classrooms arranged in rows of seats to tenured professors, from the assembly line to the way we promote executives, we have been trained to expect an orderly life.
Yet the expectation that these systems provide safety and stability is a trap.
…a revolution…(at) America's leadership factory. "We talk about how to get and apply external knowledge, how to lead in ambiguous situations, how to listen actively, and the whole idea of collaboration."
"work on a mission: use mass platforms to change the world. It's a mission, not a job title, not a career."
"If we don't change our structure, we'll get less relevant," Greenberg tells me. "We won't be able to grow." This time, he's integrating 12 new capabilities, "People talk about change and adaptation, but they don't see how fast the competition is coming. We have to move. We have no choice."
"Command-and-control hierarchical structures are being disintegrated. There's a difference between the old broadcast world and the networked world."
"The Agile Manifesto" stated a preference for "individuals and interactions over processes and tools; working software over comprehensive documentation; [and] responding to change over following a plan."
The key is to be clear about your business mission. In a world of flux, this becomes more important than ever.
To flourish requires a new kind of openness. More than 150 years ago, Charles Darwin foreshadowed this era in his description of natural selection: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives; nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change." As we traverse this treacherous, exciting bridge to tomorrow, there is no clearer message than that.
Creative types are a myth, writes The Wall Street Journal. Jonah Lehrer connects several of the dots that can bring about moments of insight - "mental restructurings" of diverse experiences that allow us to combine old ideas in new ways.
For Johannes Gutenberg, his famous invention of the printing press "transformed his knowledge of wine presses into a printing machine capable of mass-producing words." For those of us developing disruptive innovation that build new businesses, the idea of attacking problems as a beginner, to "let go of all preconceptions and fear of failure" has the familiar ring of an old battle cry: there is nothing more gratifying than facing challenges to discover big opportunities and then deliver them.
A strategy+business review of The Innovator’s DNA:
Before I share the book review of The Innovator's DNA, a joke heard this morning offers succinct insight on the subject: "A scientist and a philosopher were being chased by a hungry lion. The scientist made some quick calculations, he said “it's no good trying to outrun it, it's catching up”. The philosopher kept a little ahead and replied “I am not trying to outrun the lion, I am trying to outrun you!”
Now for the more academic explanation... the five skills of successful innovators, all of which have to be present together, are
The first is a thinking skill and the others are behavioral skills. The authors stress the behavioral aspects of innovative entrepreneurship, saying that usually, innovators act differently in order to think differently.
The ability to innovate usually has its origin in the entrepreneur’s profound dissatisfaction with the status quo, which is likely the result of early life experiences. Innovative ability thus cannot be easily acquired (but certainly can be hired on a project basis). Further, the five skills concern the discovery of value as opposed to its delivery, which is usually taught in business schools and rewarded by many organizations. This, the authors say, is the primary reason so many large companies fail at disruptive innovation: People with discovery skills have been driven away.
At the team level, the authors cite the benefits of having members with complementary skills and note the important role that trust plays in innovation that drives bottom line performance. As business builder who discovers opportunities for innovation and then delivers new revenue streams, EBITDA and increased enterprise value to (re)ALIGN clients, I tend to agree.
In today's highly competitive environments, companies that know how to actively identify new business opportunities—and structure a process that maximizes their bottom-line contribution—will have an advantage.
A recent HBR article (click here) provides insight how you can begin to transform your company, by bridging external needs with internal capabilities and getting ideas from the market before taking them to market.
Some firms will invest to integrate the strategy into the "way we do things" so they are prepared to find and develop innovations in unfamiliar environments.
Others will choose to hire an expert business builder to build a new business for them—one that fits, that profitably integrates into the main business, one that will dramatically increase the overall enterprise value.
The Gift and Home Trade Association (GHTA) asked us to write this article for Gifts and Decorative Accessories' December issue - we enjoyed writing it, and if it prompts an idea for your business, then our work is done...unless you call us to help with a business building project, in which case we'd be thrilled to hear from you...
For PDF, click here.
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." (Antoine de Saint Exupery, author of The Little Prince)
I love this eloquent reminder to search for purpose and articulate to others the big idea of where we're going. In a narrower sense, this quote is also about motivation and leadership. A couple months back I blogged about Dan Pink's book "A Whole New Mind"; now I came across a video in which he talks about the surprising science of motivation. David Belden writes about Dan’s latest book "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" (2010) that the "more significant revelations in Drive are:
What this means in practical terms, of course, is a major shift from management to leadership. Dan writes “Perhaps it’s time to toss the very word ‘management’ into the linguistic ash heap alongside ‘icebox’ and ‘horseless carriage.’ This era doesn’t call for better management. It calls for a renaissance of self-direction.” Listen below to Daniel Pink speak on the surprising science of motivation, focusing on three areas:
Management is a 20th century concept that works great for compliance, but leadership that attempts to establish self direction works better if you want engagement and innovation. A well-known example is Google's "20 Percent Time", which provides employees a day a week to work on whatever they want. What innovation results from such autonomy? Half of Google's new products originate from employees' use of "20 Percent Time". Maybe lesser-known than Google but equally significant to (re)ALIGN clients is the success they enjoy when they hire us to build a new business. We develop the game plan that fits their needs and then execute it - autonomously and collaboratively - to add to clients' enterprise value both in the USA and in China. We conceive a better mousetrap that creates and harvests more demand more profitably. Sometimes we rebuild businesses (in a recent case turning a double-digit EBITDA loss (% of sales) towards profit within 8 months), or we build new profitable businesses in record time (in another case we defined, refined, and scaled a new business from nothing to an eight figure revenue stream within about 18 months). Our clients give us autonomy, we give them innovation and new business. Give autonomy. Get innovation.
You may enjoy the occasional book about business, leading inspiringly, communicating effectively, and just plain living winningly. I found "Jump Start Your Business Brain" to be one of those books that challenged me to more effectively communicate the benefits of my business (despite them being "obvious" - according to my 11-year-old daughter). If you sell a product or a service, the books' key points will help in your business.
If its brilliant author were to tone down his obsession with statistically proving the obvious, and replace it with more examples illustrating the effectiveness of his clear idea, he might share an example like the "girl meets boy" video I found below. In fairness, Mr. Hall set out to jump start our brain, and you'll find he accomplishes that mission.
If you ever worked with me and allowed me to help conceive, build and grow new profitable revenue streams for you, chances are you heard me describe effective marketing as analogous to happy dating. Both require self awareness and ability to articulate your DNA (what are my values - or in business what's my unique value proposition), they require authenticity (don't ever deliver a fake "pick-up line" - or in business don't just imitate your competitor), and they require target marketing and the confidence to be different (in dating as in business, a bit of uniqueness and standing out go a long ways to being well remembered and respected).
This short "girl meets boy" video illustrates both - the book's three key points about how to attract customers and its similarity to happy dating.
Ana Chia from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.
At the end of the day, in business as in life... know who you are and what you love to do, become better at that than anybody, be yourself and enjoy life (and never stop dating - your spouse, or if single that person you have been curious about). In business never stop refining your unique value proposition and never stop attracting new potential customers.
I'm inspired when David takes on Goliath. When David is a small business eating a big competitor's lunch, I cheer on the entrepreneur and her clever marketing tactics. I love those stories.
But they're nothing compared to the story I witnessed over the past two years, culminating in victory last Saturday.
My 11-year-old daughter was bullied in 2009, unprotected by her (now former) teachers. My then 9-year-old reacted admirably, better than some business people I know: she toughened her mind and body, readied herself with Martial Arts skills almost daily, and faced her bully - in a Tae Kwon Do sparring tournament that rewards fierce and measured strikes that require crucial body part protection.
She (red helmet, left) did not win the contest against the 3" taller bully. That doesn't matter. She faced her fear, survived, and moved on to win against her nemesis in other categories. She was liberated. Exhilarated. Absolutely on top of the world, for she faced her fear, and she overcame. She spoke of a broken cage when I tucked her in that evening.
When was the last time you faced your enemy, your big competitor or most debilitating weakness - preparing, practicing, strategizing, and squarely facing him or it, ready to be counted and measured?
We learn most when we face our weakness, look in the mirror and say:
"Of all the people that have given me trouble over the years, I had the most trouble with myself."
Whenever I have done just that, I learned and grew and became stronger. Built a bigger relationship, developed a better business.
Facing Goliath is tough - whether a fierce competitor or personal weakness. Facing adversity and overcoming fear makes life worthwhile. And it makes your business more valuable.
You'll feel on top of the world. As my daughter (sitting, right) did last Saturday, an hour after the sparring match with her former bully.
My friend and the most thoughtful creative director (ever!) Mark Haas suggested I read this book - I found it eye opening.
The book's introduction makes a bold statement about the future: Leaders with traditional business school skills and traits are now a dime a dozen. There is a new sheriff in town and he/she is in high demand. The author says that the future belongs to those with a rightside mindset—creators, artists, empathizers, pattern recognizers and “meaning makers” (I take that statement a step further and say the future belongs to those with a blended rightside and leftside mindset, those who can build an engine and fuel people's passions for success). We are moving from the logical, linear, computerbased Information Age to a “Conceptual Age” in our economy and society, one where creativity, innovation, empathy and big picture thinking will be rewarded and recognized.
He offers two reasons for this major shift in business thinking:
1) Jobs the MBA used to do are now being done overseas through outsourcing and
2) Business leaders have recognized that the biggest competitive differentiator they can have for their products is to be “physically beautiful and emotionally compelling”.
The author does a quick analysis of leftbrain (L directed) versus rightbrain (R directed) thinking. He believes we need to maintain our L directed skills, but master six essential R directed aptitudes, or “Six Senses”:
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It has tapped into a trend that is still simmering beneath the surface. It may start as simply as valuing creative types, but it will end as a seismic shift.
In ancient times, we valued the artisan and craftsman as evidenced by the legacy of incredible works of art and architecture. The industrial and information ages later stimulated us to explore the left sides of our brains to such an extent that we developed computers to take our logical thinking to unimaginable heights. It’s only fitting that the pendulum would swing back to the right side of the brain when we once again realize the value of creativity and innovation.
Our true breakthrough will come when we combine R directed and L directed thinking in equal parts - when we build an engine and fuel a passion for success.
To the ones too often dismissed as misfits, rebels, and troublemakers. Here's to unconventional thinking, doing what you love, and becoming the best at that.
People who think differently often inspire. I don't have to become Gandhi or Einstein or Jobs or Branson, but I must do what I believe in, for businesses I believe in and people that matter. I challenge myself and my clients to create and harvest more demand more profitably, with a unique formula of best practices assembled from the experience working with some of the most successful consumer brands in the U.S.
This never-before-aired 1997 commercial for Apple's Think different. campaign inspires. We succeed when we think differently and when we care to define our purpose. Check out the video below or click here.
I have to make a confession. I have not yet launched a start-up that reached $700 million in its first 4 years.
Yes I contributed to Pottery Barn—moving it from $70 million to $175 million in 4 years (and now over 10x bigger). Yes I contributed to putting stars and stripes on IKEA's blue and yellow, and yes I recently launched a new business inside an established PE-owned top supplier that will reach another impressive milestone in its 2nd year... the volume is confidential, but I can say it's far above budget and we're adding man and woman power to fuel its growth. (re)ALIGN creates everyday multi-million dollar successes—but none are yet $700 million big. So until then, here's a brief article about a simple start-up that impressed me and I bet the entrepreneur in you will learn a thing or be inspired.
His business tips:
No. 1: Keep your product simple. Know what you do and do it better than anybody.
No. 2: Invest in your core. For him it was capacity, taking a yogurt plant from a capacity of 50,000 cases to 1.4 million. Invest in the backbone of what you do and treat it that way.
No. 3: When you go to market, know that you can fool almost nobody anymore. There is too much information available to anybody who wants it. Be real. People can tell—or easily find out—when you’re not.
No. 4: Focus on profit. I run my business like a mom and pop store. Cash is everything. Without it you can’t increase production and it’s hard to be innovative.
No. 5: Lead by example. If you make yogurt, go to the plant. Work with your people; if you want people to work on Sunday, be there next to them.
In our world of sound-bite politics, slogan marketing and keyword search, we risk oversimplifying (or better stated, not correctly simplifying) just to get suckered into binary yes/no choices between two wrong questions.
Washington, D.C. may well be the poster child of misleading sound bites that attract wrong questions and dysfunctional chaos - but a closer look at our own lives, our own company or employer will likely uncover helpful examples how rash (or no) analysis, and the ensuing rush toward quick yes/no, for/against decisions can move us down the wrong track.
Earlier thoughts about "Creativity vs. Innovation" (6/18/11 blog below), and "Winning Hearts and Minds" (building an engine AND fueling a passion for success - 4/23/11 blog below), addressed seemingly binary choices, which suggested either a wrong question in the former, or one better answered with "yes and" instead of "either or" in the latter.
I don't know Dr. Miron, but found his perspective worth sharing. He got me thinking about the importance of having your answers questioned, and asking unconventional "what if"questions.
Miron answers these questions by exposing what he calls three common myths of capitalism.
You think strategically, then dive in tactically. You create your vision, and adjust to realities. So too, successful innovation is invariably about balancing the tried and true, and mixing it with new. Balancing tradition with innovation, synchronizing engine and fuel are all part of the toolkit we use to align the organization around what matters.
Our work is about igniting the imagination and executing processes our markets reward. Connecting people and ideas with integrity. Some would call that innovation ("the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods"), or simply being open-minded, balancing the tried and true with the relentless pursuit of new and demonstrably magic combinations.
As a consumer business innovator and lifelong student of innovation we all learn from legendary consumer business success stories. Some I have watched from the outside, like Apple, Starbucks, Zappos, or Procter & Gamble (check out A.G. Laffley's article on P&G's Innovation Culture, with insights how to apply A.G.'s phenomenal innovation lessons to mid-sized businesses).
Others, like IKEA or Pottery Barn or The Home Decor Companies I know intimately through being part of the team and contributing for many years, providing a firm foundation and first-hand innovation know-how that helps me combine what works - the tried and true - with the new. I build new businesses, ignite and sharpen existing ones to better compete. It's a matter of open minds (in equal parts mine and my clients') and balancing what might with what does work for my clients in the USA and Asia.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles... The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who at his worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." --- U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt (as cleverly quoted by my one time boss and all time mentor Gary Friedman in "Every Movement has a Lunatic Fringe")
Just as TR eloquently advocated bringing your convictions to life, so Steve Jobs turned his quest to innovate and his determination to "build bicycles for the mind" into one of the globe's most valuable companies... and along the way, I grasped a simple truth: some excel at the mechanics, others understand how people behave and feel - but if you want to succeed in consumer business, you have to master both.
If tales from the messy front lines written with wit and provocation get you going, thinking, reinventing, and doing, then load up your kindle or log onto amazon.com and read Mark Stevens' book.
It's a quick and recommended read about declaring war on yourself, committing yourself to replace rudderless leadership, to avoid the lust-to-lax syndrome, to face incompetence, and to embrace unconventional thinking. Declare war on anything that results in a less than "thrilling" experience for your customer. You'll find his visual image for "thrilling" customers clever and memorable.
Mark makes sharp and insightful observations with illustrative real world examples about ways to Capture customers, to Amplify your relationship with them, and to Maintain them for life (a foundational concept he formularized into C+A+M=PG, as in perpetual growth, before concluding that a formula is not quite as memorable as a phrase like 'your company sucks').
I saw much of my own business philosophy reflected in his pages. Maybe more provocative than I ever was, and less politically correct than I strive to be. Call it potAEtoes, potAAtoes, C+A+M is akin to my commitment to create and harvest more demand more profitably, a commitment I'm happy to report is being etched into a growing list of clients' P&L's and Balance Sheets. Together with strategic partners (re)ALIGN continues to build new businesses and sharpen existing ones to better compete in the U.S. and Asia.
"When you wish to achieve results that have not been achieved before, it is an unwise fancy to think they can be achieved using methods that have been used before." --- Sir Francis Bacon
I'm a big fan of IKEA, because I learned in five years as marketing manager there the power of questioning conventional wisdom, of breakthrough innovation and of differentiating your business. Democratic/affordable design, unconventional/innovative management, disciplined branding (based on a 9-word commitment: "To Provide a Better Everyday Life for the Many") made IKEA the world's largest furniture retailer.
Innovation drove the making and selling of millions of side tables for $7.99, with profit (and the help of lots of up-sell products totaling over $30 billion in sales). The below TED talk encourages similar thinking. "Ghandian Engineering: Get more, for less, for more... "
Innovation is not limited to technology, iPads or GPS and such. Like IKEA furniture, there are countless examples of highly innovative products, services, and consumer business models, some of them my best clients. Take cars, not as revolutionary in innovation as computers in the last few decades, still: innovation cut costs by almost 90% since Ford's (by 1909 standards extremely innovative) Model T retailed for $19,000 (in today's dollars). The 1951 VW Bug was $11,000 (in today's dollars), and today's Nano (a new car Made in India) is $2,000. Get more, for less, for more people.
You can indeed achieve what has never been achieved, by using methods that have never been used before (or using proven methods in never used combinations).
How many organizations do you know that do GREAT stuff, but people don't know? Maybe they don't articulate "it" (their promise, that great stuff, whatever) succinctly, so a less-than-well-articulated vision isn't compelling and slows acceptance from the people that matter: customers and employees.
The amazing golf courses and pro shops of Hamilton County Parks (around Cincinnati, OH) deliver "it" alright. But I felt the public (and certainly local golfers) would benefit if they articulated the vision more succinctly so they could deliver it more effectively. We devoted just a few hours into articulating it together.
Now the team is laser focused on "Offering Neighborhood Golf Enthusiasts a Memorable Experience", launching training programs, energizing with competitions, and building excitement with promotions that celebrate the essence of the parks and its neighborhood pro shops. Financial metrics offer the proverbial proof in the pudding on the well articulated vision.
Last week Channel 5 aired a short segment about the Park. A heart warming story, around the very idea that exemplifies the vision, the idea we articulated so the team can deliver it even better. Click here for a quick TV video and then you tell me the Park doesn't "Offer Neighborhood Golf Enthusiasts a Memorable Experience"!
Articulate it and deliver it: programs around the "Golf Enthusiast" theme increased the pro shops' market share despite a rainy spring. Conversations around the idea that (re)ALIGN builds new businesses and sharpens existing ones to better compete, opened many new opportunities: my clients and I are having a great year. No coincidence, I'm sure.
Yogi Berra said "if you don't know where you're going, you might wind up someplace else." I'm no Yogi, and I say articulate it and deliver it.
We drove to Michigan last Sunday, made a quick stop in formerly grand Detroit. GM headquarters is to the right, a once proud icon of US Business Know-How, now an almost eerie hull in the middle of a half-deserted downtown.
Motor City. Birthplace of the Model T, the assembly line that made products cheap and workers middle class. If 19th century industrialization boasted textile mills as icons, the 20th century story of American manufacturing supremacy could point to "best-in-class" companies like GM. Or at least right up to the moment that taxpayers stepped in and saved their sorry butts in 2009.
What happened? Maybe arrogance killed curiosity, maybe bloated bureaucracy displaced entrepreneurial hunger. Maybe decision makers were internally focused and blind to external trends, ignoring their customers' and workers' needs and wants around the world.
Or maybe the story of the U.S. auto industry is simply one of companies (unions included) that didn't align their organizations around what matters. They didn't align both worlds - analysis and creativity, manufacturing might and marketing genius through good old leadership. Crisis might open eyes to make this happen again. Not just in the auto industry, but across America, entrepreneurs and corporate managers might align both worlds again.
In consumer businesses, you have to align the head and the heart. You have to build an engine for profitable growth, and inspire and fuel a passion for success.
Is your business ready to go social? All of us are at different stages of readiness to live and work online. I like the straightforward approach Pam Danziger took to the topic below. See, I feel very comfortable building new businesses and sharpening existing ones to better compete in retail stores, overseas factories, buyers' offices and boardrooms... but when it comes to interactive online marketing, I find it challenging to learn and execute fast enough (and I try every Saturday morning with this blog)... without distracting from my professional mission to build new businesses, to create and harvest more demand more profitably.
Here's some helpful content on building an online community and going social...
1) What is your business' current level of participation on the internet?
For example, do you have an internet website that includes not just directory or brochure-type information, but that also has e-tailing capabilities so that customers can buy products or services online (maybe not all products, but a carefully edited selection of items)?
If not, your first task before venturing into social media is to raise the bar on your existing web presence. You need to set up shop in cyber-space, creating a virtual store front where internet-empowered shoppers can visit, select items and make purchases.
Brochure-only informational websites won't cut it in a social media world, so you should talk to your ecommerce provider about expanding the purchase capabilities on your site.
2) Do you have an email list of contacts and customers that you regularly update and use to mail out notices, newsletters, or press releases?
If you answer "No" then this is another critical need you must address before launching a social media initiative. Social media is all about making personal connections, i.e. making friends online. That means you need to start with a bunch of friends that already live in cyber-space and that you can meet in the online world.
You will need to start building and expanding your online list, by asking people who visit your shop to share their email address. You will also need to activate those on your list by inviting them via email and regular communication to share their time and attention with you.
3) Do you have something important to say to people in cyber-space?
Answering in the affirmative to this final question is ultimately the essential thing you need to launch your efforts in social media. The previous two show only that you have command of the tools, but this requires content: information that people will be interested in and will want to share with other like-minded people.
While in cable television it appears that the person who shouts loudest and longest gets the attention, that same dynamic doesn't operate online. People have to tune into your special message, they have to search you out and want to share your news and views with others. So it is content that will grab their attention, not slick packaging, fancy programming or colorful graphics.
Social media requires that you provide meaningful and important content that other people are interested in. You need to commit to developing such content and sharing it regularly and frequently in order to build a connection with friends online.
Written by Pamela N. Danziger http://unitymarketingonline.com/wordpress
Working successfully and living well is an art, of balancing between needs and wants, of responding to challenges with perspective. I became curious about perspectives on balance - think about physical, spiritual, and professional opportunities for balance - after I started taking Martial Arts classes last summer, and the journey continues.
The goal is likely not perfect balance. Rather, the goal is to become aware when we're off balance, and to strive for balance.
In my work I build new businesses, and sharpen existing ones to better compete. Here, I constantly work to balance analysis with creativity, arts with science, top line with bottom line, long term with short term, perfecting the mechanics with due consideration for how people behave in order to help my clients create and harvest greater demand and profitability.
In my private life I enjoy time with my wife and daughters, a reward for work well done. Here, we balance body and soul, comfort and safety, relaxation and striving ambitiously.
These two photos from my wife's BlackBerry the other day inspired thoughts on balance: at left, my daughter daydreaming in the morning (maybe preparing for her test, after countless hours of tough physical and mental practice), and at right, being awarded the green belt at Tae Kwan Do that same afternoon.
A day well balanced. Now if my six-year-old daughter can do it...
In our culture we see people with "Creativity" as a mixed blessing, and supporters of the "Status Quo" as more effective leaders.
A recent s+b article (click here) shared insightful research and concluded that supporters of the status quo, not the creative types, are seen as more effective leaders. Mention creative types, and our mind wanders to people maybe brilliant or arrogant and often not quite predictable. Mention leaders, and a very different image appears: pictures of square jawed demigods and business visionaries come to mind. The s+b article concludes that "because of conflicting stereotypes about creativity and leadership, stakeholders prefer the prototype of a leader they see as fostering a stable and secure environment. However, creative people who are also charismatic stand a better chance of advancing." I smiled at the last sentence... suggesting as it did that creative types can redeem themselves through charisma...
... or success, I say. Boy, catch one of those creative types with a million dollar idea, or a billion dollar company, and miraculously they're no longer called creative types. Now they're innovators. In fairness, the upgrade to innovator usually requires both creative talent and operational discipline, the ability to build an engine for profitable growth and fuel a passion for success (and compensate for potential weakness in one or the other)... but certainly creative types need more than charisma to become effective leaders.
So largely the difference between a creative type and innovator, and ultimately an effective leader, is economic success. I wonder how many creative types we discourage with our cultural (okay, human) bias towards the status quo and against change and innovation.
Steve Jobs was a creative type techie in the 1970's. He persevered to reinvent entire industries with his creative, innovative genius and ability to get thousands of employees and millions of customers to follow him, and now we call him an innovator.
By nurturing creative types and developing their leadership toolbox, could we foster innovation and profitable sales growth in our businesses and the economy as a whole?
This clothing boutique in Cincinnati is one of my first and favorite clients, and these days they got it going on.
After fixing the back of the house, the chief merchant/GM got out to look at other great stores and came back... energized, creative, jazzed... and then... she hung Chinese lanterns... crafted color paper flowers... arranged them in simple clay pots... planned events and...
... most of all, she is spreading her spirit and sharing fun and customers walk by the windows and walk into the store... and listen to the music... and find those new pants.... or that cool hat... and they just 'gotta have this summer outfit'.
Strategically speaking, she is building the engine for profitable growth AND fueling a passion for her customers and her products. Looking at these pictures and knowing how she's making it happen, she is creative and passionate and she's got energy. Of course you need a strategy - but you gotta have energy in this business.
For some, branding is more than ads and logos. For me, it is the pursuit of a "Compelling Promise, Delivered" (...still by far my favorite definition of brand). When people and organizations care to define a promise, and they ensure it is compelling, and I get to experience it being delivered to me - I remember. Like I remember my two daughters' grade school experience, evidenced by two alert and curious girls, and the amazingly touching summer vacation send-off ceremony the other day - examples of their school's brand experience, delivering on a compelling promise of inspiration and education.
I am passionate about creating the brand experience, so I often think about Great Brands. Commercial ones, for sure - brands I learned to understand intimately and helped build, like IKEA and Pottery Barn; brands I experience as a consumer, like Starbucks and Apple; brands I toil to create and deliver, like (re)ALIGN; and then there is a brand from which I graduated...
...25 years later and I feel as strongly about Cornell today as ever. I would venture to guess 99% of graduates feel this loyalty. I remember this brand, I remember my audacity to apply (living alone as a 19-year-old sales rep in a new country), my gratitude to those who helped me pursue it, and I am thankful for having been exposed to big thinkers on campus, and learning they put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us.
Here, a recent graduate made this 4 minute video about "This is....Cornell." Any of us - entrepreneurs, customer service gurus, merchants and marketers, CEO's, sales people, and company owners would be proud to have a customer (or a student in this case) document their experience with our brand this way. Enjoy!
After viewing this video, we ask ourselves: what story would our clients tell to describe the experience with our brand? What would that video look like?
This Is from Alex Silver on Vimeo.
There is “more” today than ever – so choosing the vital “few” becomes crucial to thrive.
We have more opportunity, transparency, more products and channels, also more messages, distraction and competition than ever.
Following last week’s blog about differentiating the needle in a haystack, I asked a Chinese exhibitor yesterday if she considered the tradeshow a success. She reported “fewer write orders at the show than in the past. Buyers check competitors online before emailing to place an order.” Because there are more options, we have to fight more noise. My challenge will be to build a marketing and distribution strategy for the U.S. market for this vendor, based on rational competitive advantages and emotional connectors that can effectively reach and connect with the right buyers to profitably double her revenue.
Because there is “more” of everything today (in a commercial sense) than ever, it is crucial to focus on the "vital few” and make them count – "vital few" words to describe our unique value proposition, "vital few" objectives to execute profitable sales growth, vital and vivid, inspiring and thought provoking, engaging and connecting interactions with customers and business partners.
You have limited resources (time, money, actions, words, objectives), so choose the "vital few" wisely.
I walked the Canton Fair this week in Guangzhou, China. If you haven't been, think of the biggest mall in America, on some freakish commercial growth steroids. It is absolutely enormous. Canton is a moment of truth for over 23,000 sellers/factories, displaying their wares on 10 million square feet to entice and connect with 200,000 retail buyers from just about every country on earth. It’s a semi-annual spectacle of differentiation – often attempted and sometimes achieved.
The concentrated mass is a powerful reminder: if you can’t differentiate yourself from your competitor, your customer is as likely to find you as she is a needle in a haystack.
I sat down in a corner of one of many huge exhibition halls, and talked for an hour with one of the sellers. We talked about their product, retail markets, how to connect with its most desirable slice, and the fact there are no silver bullets, no pre-packaged answers, except the hard work of studying the market, innovating product, analyzing sales and customers, and fine-tuning value proposition and execution.
That hard work of driving profitable growth requires many tools, the kind of tools needed to create demand, align for profit, and harvest demand. I found three basic questions to be a good starting point and useful guideposts in this quest:
Henry Ford famously said the secret to a successful business is to simply “find a need, and fill it” (last and first bullet point); I would add that without passion and guiding principles, we risk addressing a need we're capable of filling, but lack the conviction to fill better than anyone. Without passionate execution we and our employees risk becoming flags in the wind instead of market leaders.
In competitive markets, it’s essential to differentiate yourself so customers find you and come running to you. These three questions help me define and build (re)ALIGN, guide me to build and sharpen my clients' businesses (and my repeat business), and helped you find me in a haystack.
You are reading this blog, aren't you? Now how can you attract more of the right customers?
Focus on “just the facts” and you just might miss the point. Especially in a consumer business that competes with often unpatented commodity products or services, focusing equally on rational and emotional factors is key.
It takes both rational and emotional connectors to move us ('us' the human species) from talking to doing. As a supplier to your client, or boss to your team, you can't be fully effective unless you consider both. When working with retailers and suppliers, I build engines for profitable growth, and fuel a passion for success – I align and win “hearts and minds”. Think about winning hearts as sincerely as you do checking facts and winning minds, lest you appeal to emotions insincerely and allow a lie to destroy your reputation and your business.
A year ago I conducted extensive retail research across the U.S. and factory research up and down the east coast of China. I delivered a presentation of the “riddle solved” – a rational business model with all six sides of the rubix cube (product function/style, price/margin, consumer needs/wants, retailer demands, factory capabilities, and logistics parameters) magically aligned. The client was impressed. A significant business was born. Action points were clearly and logically expressed. Then action stalled.
Until we focused on fueling a passion for success. Just when we aligned internal cultural needs with the business model, and overcame fears and made people feel confident about next steps, the new business became reality at warp speed. Now, the rational business model found its way into the human nature and hearts of team members, and buy-in ignited the business for take-off. Now, a staggering amount of containers are flowing through retail stores into consumers’ homes.
Next time you focus on “just the facts”, remember that business is all about aligning both worlds (the head and heart, the analytical and creative). Some excel at the mechanics, others understand how people behave and feel – to succeed in consumer business surround yourself with people who master both.
Not just in advertising or sound bites. Brevity in conversations, emails, and in strategic documents is a worthy challenge, with potentially powerful business results. Brevity forces being succinct. Succinct statements can be helpful in many situations, even repeatedly.
A close colleague of mine has little patience, and shorter conversations, with more people and with more success than most. He's a freakin' machine, good natured, smart, and a machine. I now know to jot down points to discuss before reaching out to him, then we connect, decide, and move on. We do this repeatedly and make lots of good decisions, with phenomenal results. The fact we work in different states seems to help our communication be that much more efficient and effective.
Recently we needed to agree on direction for the next six months, in interdependent areas like marketing, sourcing, sales, operations, etc. Not topics that lend themselves to simple yes/no answers. More like topics that managers conduct two-day offsite meetings to resolve. Focused on the need for brevity, I wrote a one (1) page document (truly a “brief”), and sent it to him a day before I asked to talk to him. It contained four (4) topics:
• Successes – top 3
• Challenges – top 3
• Last 6 months – issues we addressed
• Next 6 months – issues to be addressed
The outcome was powerful – right away we agreed even on contentious and touchy issues, and our discussion focused on how we could best address them and succeed. 28 minutes later, we were ready to move on. Ready for the business of marketing, sourcing, developing, buying and selling more in the exhilerating climb to build a new business.
Keep it short and to the point.
If organic growth is too slow and acquisition too risky and expensive – consider a third and more profitable growth vehicle: hire a start-up entrepreneur with the appropriate skill set to quickly and profitably build a new business for you.
Your business is at risk, unless you’re growing. If you don’t, your competitors will. The right profitable growth rate depends on many factors, but less than double digit growth could create risk. Many say you should grow 20 to 30% per year. That’s often tough to come by with organic growth alone. So Build a New Business.
Recently, a highly successful distributor asked me to build a new business. They are # 1 due to sourcing, product, and distribution excellence, and still growing organically. They are open to acquisitions. Yet, building a new business in new channels and categories offered more diversification than organic growth alone; guaranteed a better strategic fit than acquisition; and allowed scaling the investment (mostly inventory, market research, sourcing, and development costs) during the start-up in a way you can’t scale most acquisition investments.
In addition to sharpening and growing your existing business, building a new business in related channels and categories raises enterprise value.
Today, this highly successful distributor is even more successful. A start-up entrepreneur focused on building new profitable revenue streams; leveraged infrastructure of the core business (without distracting it); allowed management to focus on profitable growth of its core business; planned, adapted and executed the new business with a sure hand, small resources, and no preconceived notions.
As the start-up entrepreneur for this successful distributor, I am able to develop the power of this third option to organic growth and acquisition – building a new business with (re)ALIGN offers low risk and high ROI for prime retailers and top suppliers.
“Caught between greed and fear” is a clever saying, but a bad place for decision making. There is a better, calmer place. By helping my clients to articulate (and then execute) purpose and unique value proposition, I enable better, therefore more confident decision making. The very process of clarifying creates a deeper understanding within the team – invaluable for building a new business, or sharpening an existing one to create and harvest more demand, more profitably.
Last Wednesday in Ho Chi Minh City, we visited a large manufacturing conglomerate. A 26-year-old, low-key “Assistant Marketing Manager” greeted us. He seemed friendly and engaging, if a bit measured. He exuded confidence above his age, very comfortable making decisions. He calmly stated his products’ strengths, as well as a couple weaknesses. He understood the business foundation. Toward the end of the meeting, I learned he was the owner’s son, who proabably learned the business over countless dinner table conversations.
This young man was not “caught between greed and fear”. He knew there are safe decisions that are dangerous, and aggressive moves that can save the day. He understood his business’ purpose and value proposition, and therefore could execute accordingly. I'm willing to bet good money that his decisions will grow a large business even bigger and more profitable.
The road to hell is famously paved with good intentions. If building a new business is essential for your profitable growth, then efforts must be intentional, and focused on the finish line. I use this short launch sequence to deliver ROI when building or sharpening a client's business: vet it, communicate it, test it, then profitably execute it.
You (and your competitor) are likely considering ideas for building new business. I'm partial to those that strengthen your core and leverage your infrastructure (like adding a new channel, product line, or new geographical market). You can usually build it at a fraction of the cost of outright acquisition, and with much less risk. If you launched it 6 to 12 months ago, you are probably seeing returns now. If you haven't launched it yet, what's holding you back?
Maybe your management team is stretched too thin (even for your core business), to aggressively grow and build a new business. Maybe there is no internal champion to launch the start-up project. Instead of adding or diverting fixed cost, consider a capable, trusted outside (and variable cost) resource, a champion like (re)ALIGN to make it happen. It's my business to build new businesses and sharpen existing ones – I translate your intentions and ideas into additional, and higher ROI than organic growth – at lower risk, and at a lower cost than acquisition.
Regardless of who champions your new start-up business (a team member or trusted outside resource), I recommend a short and simple launch sequence – that I found works:
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’ --- Bob Dylan (first played at Carnegie Hall a week before JFK's murder)
I’m working in Indonesia next week, first time again. I’m curious how it changed since 1998. I know we are 13 years older. I worked as merchant for Pottery Barn back in those days, now I build new businesses and sharpen existing ones to better compete. We all changed. I expect to find a new country, same Nasi Goreng, but people with new expectations, on both sides.
So do you merely accept change, or do you actively expect it and embrace it? We know change is part of business and the world we live in, yet only wet babies seem to unanimously expect it. I say embrace it, adapt your strategy, differentiate your company better, improve your production (might be 9,800 miles away, outside China) – because your customers will embrace you if you embrace them. Then, new opportunities will abound. Don't let change surprise you. Surprise it. Embrace it.
Personally, I'm not satisfied unless I keep learning, building and sharpening. I expect change and I manage it well. The name (re)ALIGN reflects my belief that you have to align and corral often divergent forces to succeed. If misalignment and change surprise you, briefly, make direct eye contact, and become friends with change (or call me, I'll listen and we'll come up with an innovative way to manage your change).
Is the order rapidly fadin'? Yes, to be replaced by a new order of business we are responsible to create. Your customer needs help confronting change. Success depends on it. The strength of your business depends on it, depends on your ability to expect and embrace change. Deal with it.
What are you (or your company) best at right now, today?
You can only win, if you envision and develop your talent. You can only win the market battles if you make public your talent (... quiet but passionate execution will get the word out, too).
Think about your internal work place and external market place: what makes you unique and better? There is a temptation to express our talent in general terms, even “buzz words”, that often miss the target. We were raised to fit in, but here we must find that which makes us stand out - as a company from the competition, or as people towards the greater good. Go ahead and pick on yourself. What makes you so damn great? And I mean GREAT!
I asked friends last week “What’s America’s biggest talent?” I was thrilled no one mentioned military might, #1 economy, or other #1 cliches. They did mention things that will make or keep us #1: Innovation. Creativity. Perseverance. Entrepreneurialism. Our shared ability to suspend all ordinary judgment and push ahead to succeed against ridiculous odds. Thoughtful and inspiring insights. I believe that envisioning, developing, and having a public conversation about those talents will be vital for the U.S.A, just as it will be vital for us as individual contributors and companies.
You or your company are the best at something. Find and envision it. Develop and passionately execute it. Publicize it. And make it great. Much greater. Pick on your talent and run with it, protect your most prized asset from destroying itself, and keep growing it.
I thrive at my professional best by innovating consumer businesses. I work with retailers and top suppliers around the country. I build new businesses, and sharpen existing businesses to better compete. Now how do I make that greater, much greater?
Execution without passion – is like an engine without fuel, or marriage without love. Sure, you can work dispassionately (without fascination, interest, or drive), but won’t you soar higher doing so passionately?
We tend to like people who are passionate, without being emotional about it. We need employees who can execute, without being rigid, inflexible, and overbearing about it.
We all worked with her or him – the person we’d like to emulate for their infectious passion, for their heat-seeking missile-like ability to reach the finish line. Are you picturing him/her? Is it possible to foster that infectious passion and multiply that effective execution?
Yes, absolutely. “Passionate execution” must be nurtured, every day. Passion is not emotional or perfectionist – instead, passionate people are interested, curious, and driven – so foster their drive and curiosity. Challenge curiosity. Acknowledge drive. Similarly, execution is not merely checking things off the list – instead, people who execute want to achieve, perform, and deliver – so reward them for achieving. Describe your expectation. Be brutally honest about the invariable failure. Celebrate success.
Passion without execution is like dreaming without achieving – not recommended in business. Execution without passion is like working without enjoying – not recommended in life. So align around both worlds – align the head and the heart of your business.
You’ve been there. You were in the store, on a website or in a service establishment, and the product, how they present it, the attitude, the colors, how employees talked to you, the music, signage – all of it, rational and emotional – were spot on.
The Apple store is busy every time I walk by. J.Crew employees are perkier than my Preppy Handbook instructed them to be. Starbucks got their (CEO’s) groove back, and 2010 sales were up 10% (that's almost one billion bucks) over last year. Zappos Shoes? On fire. I’m not just talking about big players. My local car mechanic has more business than he knows what to do with, because he loves cars, knows how to fix them, and at a fair price. My local Martial Arts school (with a Master who's is incredibly passionate about teaching), is adding more members and more classes.
Why are these businesses on fire? Passionate execution. I believe in strategic planning – but in addition to – never instead of passionate execution. Without Apple's apostles at the Genius Bar, would the iPad have ended up in the junkpile of failed products? Without the baristas, would we pay $3.25 for a $0.25 cup of coffee? Passionate execution can set your business on fire. Share your passion with us (and your employees), so we can believe in your business. If you believe in your ideas, set them on fire.
Do what you love, do it with conviction, passion, and become better at it than anyone else, and your business will be on fire. Find the value and "lil' extra" you and only you can offer your customers and get them excited. Imagine your business on fire, and make it so.
P.S.: In the Lehman bankruptcy fall of 2008, I guided a PE-owned company through Ch. 11 and sold it far above the owners' expectation. The country appeared to be in the midst of financial Armageddon. Starting a company like (re)ALIGN was not an obvious strategy, but I knew I could create value for every client. I have renewed coaching and interim management agreements with my retailers and suppliers – that build and sharpen my clients’ business – ever since, multiple times.
Strategy. Passionate execution. Combustion.
What kind of a person (or company) would ever bite off less than they can chew? Have you ever heard of a wildly successful business – innovative and profitable – in which each team member takes on just a tad less than they can actually handle? Have you ever heard of a healthy and growing business in which team members say “let me under promise and over deliver” – not to a customer, which makes abundant sense – but to a trusted colleague?
Biting off less than you can chew may be good table manners, but it makes for uninspiring leadership, even plain bad management. I have been part of, and led hugely successful teams, in which everyone bites off more than they can chew. I learned that a plate that’s a bit too full forces creative thinking, organization, and tough choices in prioritization – for you as leader and for your team. It forces leadership that attacks issues, but never attacks people. Expecting your team to think big allows everyone to rise to the occasion, and learn how high is high.
So surround yourself with people as hungry as you, or better yet more so than you. Create an expectation to learn, bite, chew, do, and support each other more, so you can succeed more.
Last week one of my retail clients committed to finish three week’s worth of work in 4½ days. She committed to herself and her team to "just do it", keep her nose to the grindstone, and lo and behold, they got it done. Yesterday morning they sold DOUBLE – before even opening the store – than they do during most full days. She bit off more than she could accomplish with certainty, and she is now pumped and primed to accomplish more than ever.
What big bite are you going to take next? What big projects beckon, that will build and sharpen your business to better compete?
The phrase “creatively maladjusted” struck me, as powerful encouragement for entrepreneurs, innovators, and business pioneers, all who are driven to make the present state better, to adjust what is, into what can be.
MLK talked about it from a preacher’s human perspective – “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted”. I would also argue that your and my business success (and by extension the continued economic super power status of the U.S.) lies in our hands, lies in our ability to swim hard upstream. Pioneering and building new businesses, sharpening an existing one to better compete, requires dissatisfaction with the status quo, the creativity and courage to change.
Business lore abounds with stories about creatively maladjusted change agents. Steve Jobs? Got fired from his own company, before returning with “iEverything” products. Ingvar Kamprad (the I and K in IKEA, a kind of Swedish Sam Walton)? Ridiculed before becoming the world’s only internationally successful specialty retailer (some $30 billion in sales from stores in 26 countries). My neighbor with that marvelously expensive Mercedes Convertible? He upgraded his hot dog stand into a chain of brats and beer bars at a time when food wasn't fast.
Are you “creatively maladjusted”? What in your business (or career) are you dissatisfied about, and what are you open to change? Do you have (or know people who can help you with) creativity to consider new perspectives, courage and willpower to implement them? What will explode your business? We’re taught to fit in, but we will only succeed if willing to stand out.
I love helping retailers and top suppliers to build new businesses and sharpen existing ones to better compete. When you do what you love you become very good at it. I have learned my craft and found my vocation learning with other "creatively maladjusted" mentors, entrepreneurs and visionaries who, as Churchill said, believe that “kites rise highest against the wind – not with it.”
As kids we were often told to fit in, but business requires us to stand out. I'm not just talking about clever marketing ("branding in the marketplace"), but also about delivering the same compelling promise to your employees ("branding in the workplace") and through them, to your customers. Building your business and keeping it sharp require you to be you - you can't fake this stuff. As owner or leader, your customers and your employees look up to you. So you better be yourself, authentic, different, and unique. Why else would they come to you or follow you? Fierce competition and technology-aided transparency mean anybody can go anywhere to buy or to work. So better deliver not just what the market needs, but deliver it better than anyone else - and that's only possible if you deliver what your DNA is all about. Southwest Airlines is a great example of a company that brands itself the same in the marketplace as the workplace, and succeeds being memorable, authentic, and profitable (yes, imagine that, a profitable airline!)
If building and sharpening your business are to be based on your DNA - then you and your outside advisors need to bring to life your (not their) business' own unique, authentic, and differentiated point of view. Put differently, listen only to advisors who make it their mission to help you define, and execute, yours.
Recently, I helped a client create and execute a marketing plan (delivering a 2010 sales increase over LY). Last month, he discovered a serious mistake in a different part of his business. I could have easily dispensed managerial accounting advice with a bit of "here's what ya oughta do". Instead, I put myself in my client's shoes, asked questions and made suggestions with my client's unique DNA in mind. Later the owner sent me a note: "Thank you for helping me create transformational change, quickly." He is excited to sharpen his business again. (re)ALIGN brought to life this client's own unique DNA and his differentiated point of view.
(re)ALIGN builds and sharpens your business to better compete.
Most of us like to spend the holidays with family, friends, and other tribes... I wrote this blog on the way to Mexico and auto-released it for Saturday, so we're now relaxing, probably having a taco at the little hole in the wall around the corner, and I feel good knowing the blog is giving my work tribe an idea or two about building business.
Seth Godin is an entrepreneur and blogger who thinks about the marketing of ideas in the digital age. His newest interest: the tribes we lead. This talk is from early 2009 - if you haven't heard it yet, or it's been a while, invest the 17 minutes. Here, Seth argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people and companies the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so.
Seth sees tribes as the latest evolution of competitive advantages:
Efficiency (think Model T assembly line) became a major U.S. competitive advantage in the 1st half of the 20th century.
Mass marketing (think the hit series Mad Men, pushing Chevys and Colgate) created a consumer business engine in the 2nd half of the 20th century, which now fuels some 70% of the U.S. economy.
Tribes (think facebook or the local coffee shop) of friends, customers or your employees wield cultural influence, economic and political power. Facebook is now the world's 3rd largest community (after China and India) with 700 million members and growing. I used to think aesthetics were becoming the major competitive advantage (think one-look companies like Pottery Barn, Apple, IKEA, Starbucks), until I realized aesthetics are but a key component of building community and connecting people into tribes.
As you listen to Seth speak about connecting people into tribes (and asking yourself who are you challenging/upsetting - connecting - and leading?), think about your business (how are you building an engine for growth and how are you fueling a passion for success?)
To listen to Seth Godin "Tribes are what matter", click here
I picked up a copy of Booz &Co's strategy+business. Great magazine, and with the holidays around the corner, Best Business Books 2010 provided more than just gift ideas. These intelligently written reviews of books on Leadership, Innovation, Human Capital, the Economy, China, and Biography & History managed to parlay succinct pearls of wisdom into 40 pages, covering 33 books.
For example, writing about "The Power of Pull" (a book describing a new paradigm enabled by an unprecedented acceleration in technology that can be highly profitable if harnessed correctly) :
"Social interaction is a critical factor in the generation of ideas, but innovation is more than creativity. Innovation is the process of transforming new ideas into tangible societal impact.... An idea is not an innovation unless it is adopted and scaled, and the innovator's ability to harness society in this quest can either make or break the idea." --- or stated in a consumer business context, it's not enough to be creative and create demand with your customer, you have to be innovative to align your team and harvest that demand.
Best Business Books 2010
Two years after the financial collapse, the idea of hunkering down and waiting for a return to business as usual — as people did in previous recessions — seems a less and less viable strategy. But what should you do instead? Here you will find a reading list that offers intriguing and compelling answers to this question. Click here
The Power of the Post-recession Consumer
A new analysis of attitudes and spending reveals a return to more traditional values, driven by consumers searching for quality, affordability, and connection. Click here
The M-commerce challenge
17% of Americans use smartphones today, and this number is projected to grow to 74% in 2014. In just three years, 50% will use smartphones for shopping. Give customers an enjoyable, rewarding, and inventive channel in which to purchase your products and increase their loyalty. If that goal remains firmly in sight, your mobile application will become as ingrained in your customers as a 50-year-old catalog or a 10-year-old website. Click here
It's Thanksgiving Weekend, and as a country we have a wonderful tradition of saying thank you. I thank the “company I keep” (family, friends, mentors), and I reflect on principles that are a big deal in my business – so they may inspire new ideas in yours.
My three girls… all of them are a logic-defying numero uno, hard working, and beautiful. Does our 6-year-old Julia’s fashion sense not say "Lady Gaga who?" My family in Germany – for preparing me to live a life we love in America. My family in Mexico – thanks for lovingly teaching me the finer points of connecting and living together, and for the endless supply of warm sun, amazing food, and walks in Cocoyoc.
My mentors… some inspire us, others tell us what we don't want to hear... my mentors do both. Three I have known since the 1990's deserve special mention: Gary Friedman at Pottery Barn (now CEO at Restoration Hardware), Kathi Lentzsch, and Don Harmon, thanks for teaching me! A special salute to everyone I worked with at my retail alma mater IKEA. To all my friends and colleagues… THANK YOU.
So what of guiding principles and inspiring new ideas? What are your non-negotiable principles for a successful business? Answering it helps me help others everyday. Try it.
Integrity and Work Ethic are non-negotiable. But what sets you apart from other honest, hardworking people, what are your guiding principles? Here are three I find foundational to (re)ALIGN and how I help clients. This quote (part market clarity, part grass roots leadership, and a dash of alignment) sums it up nicely:
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." --- Antoine de Saint Exupery
How do you describe you (company or self)? I am a merchant, a marketer and innovator, (re)ALIGN provides business solutions... that's serviceable for filling out a form, but no one will remember. My foundation in retail, wholesale, building, fixing, billion dollar public and PE-owned companies, can be simply stated: “I am a consumer business innovator - I build and sharpen businesses to compete more effectively.” Explaining the essence in few words is hard, but powerful. Do what you love, become the best at that, and know how to describe it. It's one way I help clients create and harvest greater demand and profitability from their consumer business.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!
Dig, create, market, or count – excel in one of these specialties and you’re a great technician. Orchestrate them and you can build a great business. Even a global billion dollar luxury brand business like DeBeers.
Orchestrating our business is akin to building a consumer business engine, fueling and driving it. 135 years ago, one of my ancestors Anton Dunkelsbuhler orchestrated and built a global diamond business that became the foundation for the venerable DeBeers Diamond Company, a luxury brand today owned by LVMH (as in Louis Vuitton, Moet Hennessy, Dom Perignon, you get the idea).
I'm told my great-great grand uncle Anton was a gregarious and respected cigar chomping Bavarian Jew. As a young man in 1860 he journeyed to New York with his brother (my great-great grandfather Sigmund). Together they made their fortune in America. Both returned to Europe with apparent success. Sigmund had earned the right to proudly stamp his books "Vice-Consul of the U.S. of America".
Anton settled in London to broker diamonds, then set up shop in the diamond fields of South Africa to 'buy direct'. In his sixties, he hired his young nephew Ernest Oppenheimer from Germany. Ernst was a clever apprentice, evolving as employee of Dunkelsbuhler & Co to run and own what then became DeBeers (sadly, I appear to have no legal claim to the DeBeers fortune - then again, would I be working half as hard and learning half as much if I did?). I’m fascinated by the simplicity of the beginning of the story, as told in this newspaper ad (left). Would there be DeBeers Diamonds today, had Anton not coordinated all efforts, from designers to distributors “To Diggers!”?
Which challenges are you orchestrating, and what is your business call to action? If (re)ALIGN took out a newspaper ad in 1876, it might say:
“To RETAILERS AND SUPPLIERS!
Mr. Benno Duenkelsbuehler
Intending to visit family for the Christmas Holiday, is prepared to help previous to his departure and upon his return,
TO BUILD AND SHARPEN YOUR BUSINESS: Develop a new business, sharpen your exisiting business, serve as advisor or interim executive to add significantly to your EBITDA” Contact Benno by telegraph, or click here.
Companies need a plan (and people itching to execute it), like trains need railroad tracks, or engines need fuel, oxygen, and spark plugs. A concise, short business plan can move your company into a better future, as the railroads propelled America 150 years ago: they can (and should) inspire people and keep them on track toward their destination, whether that is the San Francisco Gold Rush or an essential everyday business goal like profitable growth.
I recently came across two great examples of strategic planning that can move organizations (and a country) forward:
Rethinking its goals and objectives, our economic competitor China utilized disciplined strategic planning to metamorphose from an economic basket case just 20 years ago, into the planet’s # 2 economy in 2010. New factories, roads, airports, train stations - an extra $600 billion being spent just on infrastructure right now since China’s stimulus spending bill was enacted last year - and a willingness to rethink and dismantle old ideas and structures (photo on left is but one example of structural renewal now happening in China), will help China become the planet's # 1 economy before long.
Here in the USA, the CEO of a mid-sized company recently asked for help to convert an additional $0.15 of every $1.00 in sales into pre-tax profit through better internal coordination, by developing and executing a simple strategic plan that maximizes a key strength and reverses one key weakness – we drafted the beginnings of a strategic plan that can add $3 million in profit for a $20 million company (by reducing excessive freight and cancellation costs, wasted overhead, and increasing sales at higher margins)! By investing in a bit of outside help from (re)ALIGN, this American CEO can improve strategic planning, build a stronger infrastructure, and secure profitable growth and shareholder value.
If one desired outcome of strategic planning is to shorten the distance between your team and your customer, consider this: one evening last week, I traveled through the mountains south of Shanghai, China, at 155 mph on the world’s fastest railroad track, capable of 260 mph in less hilly regions. A trip that used to take a day is now accomplished after meetings and before dinner. China's strategic planning allowed me to see more vendors and buy more products during a shorter stay there.
Both – the American CEO and China – are on their way to stay or become #1. Which one gets there first or stays there longest is largely a function of their ability to develop and execute a strategic plan that shortens the distance: between China and its global customers, it is effective factories and roads connected to airports and seaports. Between you and your customer, it is a strategic plan that connects your customer to your team more effectively and gets your team itching to execute.
Is your plan ready for prime time? Is your plan embraced by your team, is it short, concise, and most importantly will it help you execute profitable growth? Let's talk and explore. What are you waiting for?
(re)ALIGN sharpens your perspective to compete more effectively.
You will achieve the difficult easily, only if you dare at times to fail at the impossible...
Of course we won't achieve the extraordinary in one fell swoop, just by daring to look beyond the ordinary. By daring to achieve the impossible we will fail some – but succeed more, succeed at the merely difficult. True in life, true in marketing and true in strategic planning.
Last weekend, our daughters competed in a Tae Kwan Do Tournament. I watched my girls and other martial artists perform unbelievably challenging physical forms and potentially neck breaking movements. One competitor jumped over 7 people before breaking wood in a mid-air foot punch. Equally or even more impressive, my six-year-old sparred with an older and taller girl. All set their sights high and practiced with dogged discipline, and all achieved the difficult. Some failed at the impossible before achieving the difficult.
After a day of competition, we took the girls to our favorite BBQ joint to celebrate both actual trophies, and the heroic attempts to win them. The day’s events and the sign (left) inspired me: “Dare to win. Get back on the horse. Don’t worry about what life throws at you but focus instead on how you’re going to react.” In my mentor Gary Friedman's words (CEO of Restoration Hardware): "CARPE DIEM"
Successful people and profitable companies reach for the extraordinary (and do the ordinary extraordinarily well), and dare to take their lumps. Often it is after facing the impossible that you see clearly, and you learn to clear the way - or (re)ALIGN the path - between your customer and your team.
Too much talk kills sales. Too much me and not enough you is bad business. My buddy and fellow GHTA member Denny King told me years ago: understand before being understood. You can’t maximize sales until your customer feels you understand. Once that happens, you incidentally will also be understood by your customer, and sales will simply follow.
Some time ago, I was forced to scrap and completely retool, on the spot, an extensive and important sales pitch (a surely fascinating presentation I had labored over for days prior). My customer (the kind that could have doubled my sales overnight) showed up exceedingly late (never mind I had flown into her city for this presentation). She stormed in and announced: “Sorry I’m late. You have 25 minutes, use them wisely”. I’m not making this up. I quickly responded “OK, I’ll cut my presentation down to 12½ minutes if you promise to tell me for the remaining 12½ minutes about your company and how I can help you.” I speed talked for 8 minutes and turned the meeting over to her. I simply stopped talking (well not so simply... if you know me...). She talked about her needs, her expectations of companies like mine, and her immediate challenges. For an hour.
I walked out with a big project. I had invested in understanding my customer, she felt understood, and she was quickly ready to understand the value I offer.
Oftentimes we so badly want to convince others of the value our product or service offers (to be understood by our customer) – we forget to invest time to listen to and understand his or her challenges. By asking my future customer how I might better understand her, she came to understand the value I can offer. I would have been thrilled if all I had received in that meeting was a second appointment – instead by talking less, I left this initial meeting with a generous six-figure project.
If one of the highest ranking Martial Artists in the country, or the CEO of Nike, talk about Balance, we ought to be intrigued...
Tae Kwon Do Grand Master Smith convinced me to learn martial arts last summer. I knew GM Smith as a retired black Electrical Engineer fluent in four languages (long before that became hip), and heard he had worked with Bruce Lee, so I figured I can learn from this man and his school. In our first lesson the 70-year-old Grand Master looked at me intensely, from less than cocktail party distance, and told me to repeat: “Balance. Power. Coordination. Speed. Focus.” – “BALANCE. SPEED. FOCUS. COORDINATION. POWER. Benno, think about these words and their meaning. Learn them, and live them. In Martial Arts, in your business, and in your life.”
A week later Nike’s CEO Mark Parker was on the cover of Fast Company. Thoughts underlying the amazing global success story of Nike followed. A sketch from the CEO’s notebook (see left) described the thoughts on BALANCE from “The World’s Most Creative CEO”. The juxtaposition of these words with each other made me think and consider our need and constant pursuit for balance:
Short - Long Term... Global - Local... Conservative - Risk... Art - Science... Left Brain - Right Brain... Evolution - Revolution... Direct - Delegate... Premium - Value... Growth + Sustainability... Inspire + Innovate
Short - Long Term... Global - Local... Conservative - Risk... Art - Science... Left Brain - Right Brain... Evolution - Revolution... Direct - Delegate... Premium - Value... Growth + Sustainability... Inspire + Innovate
I am thrilled to see the (re)ALIGN perspective on consumer business innovation – the notion you have to align both worlds, to build the engine for profitable growth AND inspire and fuel a passion for success – reflected in Mark’s thoughts.
Oh, and I am testing for my first tip on my first Tae Kwan Do belt this Friday. BALANCE. SPEED. FOCUS. COORDINATION. POWER.
Marketing, Branding, Strategic Planning – some of my sharp business friends (and you?) file these ideas in the circular bin for overused buzz words of overpaid MBA’s. The fact is, too many companies regardless of size have no concept of “who is my customer, and what makes my product or service truly unique?” – Together with mid-sized consumer business clients we developed a One-Page 12-month Marketing Calendar that addresses the “what/how/when” of communicating to reach a bigger market for any size company: what do I want to say to my customers, how do I use internal and external media for different parts of my unique message, and when do I do it – every week, just seasonally, all the time? This one-page Marketing Calendar is a real planning workhorse. It allows us and will help you to dive deeper into developing both message and events that create more demand and profitability.
“Your Store’s Moment of Truth” – You remember great stores, and great brands, for what their product is (and isn’t), how displays and other sensory connectors make you feel, and how sales people and sales tools speak to you. This workshop helps you describe and review your store’s Brand Pyramid so your team can strengthen the most important connection – with your customer. The simple concept of Brand Pyramid turns every entrepreneur’s “back-of-the-napkin plan” into a power tool to effectively execute and communicate during the “Moment of Truth”.
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Consumer Business Solutions