Thursday, September 6, 2007


When was the last time you had one of those "light bulb" moments? You know, like a cartoon character that suddenly gets a brilliant idea and a light bulb appears over his head. Or like the famous legend about the ancient Greek Archimedes.

He'd been asked by the king to find out whether his crown was pure gold without destroying it. Getting ready to step into his bath, as Archimedes put his foot in the water, he noticed how the water rose as his foot went in. That's when insight struck. He saw that all he had to do was submerge the crown in water to determine its density.

He got so excited that he shouted "Eureka!" – which means "I have found it!" --and ran out into the street, forgetting he wasn't wearing his toga. Well, ever since then, people have noticed these special moments when insight suddenly strikes. The challenge lies in knowing why these moments happen and what can be done to encourage them.

From scientific research on the brain, it seems that our usual logical thinking approach is handled by the left side of the brain. But those sudden insights appear to come from the right side of the brain. And when those aha moments come, your brain does literally "light up" – there is a burst of high-frequency brain waves. It seems that the right temporal lobe of the brain is used for drawing together distantly related information, so when it all comes together, it's like all the pieces of a puzzle suddenly falling into place, and you've got your "light bulb" moment.

So how can you encourage these sparks of insight? The most important thing seems to be not to think about it! Using the left-brain logic sometimes just doesn't help us solve problems. You can literally "think" too much. Instead, try doing something else, put your attention elsewhere. Take a walk, talk to a friend, do a chore. Maybe even take a bath, like Archimedes. Just be sure to put on your "toga" when insight strikes!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What’s the Purpose of this Call?

How many calls does it take for your reps to close a sale? Most reps will tell you “it depends” – on the market, the individual customer, the competition, and any other number of variables. But that’s the wrong answer. If your reps don’t know exactly how many calls it should take them to close a sale, and what the objective of each of those calls is, they’re just fumbling their way through the sale.

“The critical understanding that underlies all your selling efforts is that selling is not hanging around being nice to people in some random fashion. If you don’t establish a sales strategy and CAO (Customer Action Objective) for each of your sales calls, you will be wasting your time,” warns Ferdinand Fournies, business consultant to companies such as Merck, HP, and 3M, and author of Why Customers Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do … And What To Do About It (McGraw-Hill, 2007).

Consider this example. Fournies was recently speaking at a national meeting to salespeople whose product was a $25,000 chemical analysis machine sold to hospitals. He asked his audience how many calls it took to sell their product to a hospital and most people responded, “11 or 12 months.” Okay, replied Fournies, but how many calls? As a group, the reps argued that “it depends” because all hospitals are different. That’s when the company’s highest performing rep raised his hand and said, “Mr. Fournies, if I don’t sell the product by the third call, I don’t go back.” The room fell silent as this rep explained his strategy.

On his first call, he said he qualifies the customer. He finds out whether the customer needs the product and can afford it and who would make the buying decision. If the answers are positive, the rep schedules a second appointment. During that second meeting, he demonstrates the equipment to the buyer and all the users and gets them to make the buying decision. On the third call, he picks up the purchase order.

The key to this rep’s success, explains Fournies, is that he has specific, measurable customer action objectives for each sales call: On call number one, “the customer will describe to me the company’s diagnostic needs, identify the decision maker for equipment purchases, indicate the current budget status, and give me an appointment to demonstrate my equipment.” He outlines similar, customer-oriented objectives for calls number two and three. When Fournies asked other reps about their objectives for their first call, the answers were vague, varied, and focused on what actions they, the reps, would be taking – not the actions they wanted customers to take. Their goals included things like: establish a relationship, show them the product, get a foot in the door, sell one unit, and so on.

To create a multiple-call selling strategy, work backward from the objective of your last call, asking yourself, “Why can’t we go over there and do that now?” You’ll find out specifically what actions the customer must take on each sales call to advance the sale. And you’ll be able to determine the minimum number of sales calls you need to close the sale.

Once you do this exercise, challenge your reps to close sales in the minimum number of calls.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Feeling Down? Volunteer!

I'm sure you're familiar with the old saying that "it is better to give than to receive." This sounds good, but it actually turns out to be true. By giving – of your time, help, or money – you can improve your own happiness level and even your health. As a matter of fact, giving can be even better for the giver than the receiver.

I found this out reading an article about Dr. Stephen Post, who heads the Institute of Research on Unlimited Love at Case Western Reserve University. There he sponsors scientific studies on how doing good for others can help people lead healthier, happier, and even longer lives. But his interest in the subject started when he was a young boy growing up in Long Island, New York.

Whenever he would get restless or feel down in the dumps, his mother would say, "Well, Stevie, why don't you go out and help somebody?" So he would look around for something to do for someone, like helping a neighbor with a yard chore. And he discovered that helping others really did make him feel better and was rewarding. And that childhood lesson led him to his adult vocation.

Since then, many studies have shown the physical and emotional benefits of giving. There's even a kind of "helper's high" that shows up on MRI brain scans when people donate their time or help to others. In one case, when former heart patients were asked to visit current patients, just to listen and be supportive, those former patients had better health afterwards.

Another study found that seniors who gave their time to various causes tended to live longer. And a study done with high school students who were in a "service learning" program, where they were required to volunteer, showed their grades and moods actually improved.

So, why not give a little – and you'll get a lot!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Using Positive Questions to Make Positive Connections

While I was traveling last week, I picked up a book that I have had on my buy list for a few years. It is called Encyclopedia of Positive Questions - Volume One by experts in Appreciative Inquiry, Cooperrider, Whitney, Trosten-Bloom and Kaplin.

At the beginning of the book they offer these 11 ways to use positive questions.

  • Get staff meetings off to a good start
  • Coach for high performance
  • Transform "problem talk" into "possibility talk"
  • Create dialogue to foster shared meaning
  • Demonstrate positive intent and trust with customers
  • Create a learning organization
  • Build high performance teams
  • Conduct project reviews that make a difference
  • Build self-esteem
  • Plan a course of action for the future
  • Create your own interview guide

Positive questions can do all that?

Asking great questions can make a big difference to how your teams feel and perform. Here are just a few of the questions from the book. I think every manager ought to have a copy of this book.

  • Tell me about a time when compelling communication allowed you and another person to really connect and to work together exceptionally well. What was the situation? What was it about you, the other person, and the communication that made this possible?
  • Dream into the future...your organization and your community have a wonderful mutual partnership. What does this look like? What three things might have been done in order to create this partnership?
  • Tell me about a time when you were part of an exceptional cooperation with a customer or customer group. How did this happen? What made it so special? What did you learn from the experience?
  • When you reflect on your time with this organization, what is the greatest contribution it has made to you and your life?
  • Where in the organization is participatory decision-making at its best? What contributes to it? How does it work?
  • Tell me about a time that was particularly fun at work. What was the high point of this time? What made it fun?
  • When people are in leadership positions, what two or three things can they do that will help you be the best you can be?
  • If positive energy were the flame of the organization, how would you spark it? How would you fuel it to keep it burning bright?
  • What trends and changes are you seeing in the world that excite you and give you a sense of the confidence in the possibilities for the organization's future?

Cool questions and just a sampling. I like questions like these, they help expand the mind and prevent us from going to that cold, dark, cynical small place we all have in our brains (some more than others!).

If you were building the project from the ground up and resources were not a barrier, what would you do?

What's the wildest idea that just might work?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lead with Positive Energy!

Are you getting your daily requirements? Just like those recommended vitamin quotas for physical health, you could say that there are also "requirements" for our emotional health every day. With recent studies showing that negative emotions can actually affect our health and even our life span, it just seems to me to emphasize how important it is to become aware of our interactions with others on a daily basis, and keep them as positive as possible.

As a matter of fact, experts in the field of positive psychology have found that the frequency of small, positive acts is critical to our overall happiness. Maybe you might think that you don't really deal with that many people each day. But if you start to think about it, you could be surprised.

Whenever you travel anywhere, you're dealing with others. Whenever you buy something or a service, when you need information, when you need to make a complaint, when you need technical assistance, when you have financial transactions – there are so many times a day that we actually have contact with others, whether in person or on the phone. And this is not counting interacting with loved ones or co-workers.

Turning these encounters into positive ones can be very simple. Sometimes just a smile is all that is needed, or simply acknowledging someone's presence, according them the respect you yourself would expect. A "thank you" can work wonders. And, perhaps not surprisingly, when you approach others from a positive point of view, you become more open and more positive as well. Any negative emotions won't have a chance!

Set the example and lead with positive energy!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Situational Leadership

I've recently been searching for a new position with more and different managerial responsibility. During one of my interviews I was peppered with some really tough questions.

One of the final questions was, "If you were in a meeting and had a major disagreement with what someone was saying, how would you respond?" I said something about having to read the person and make a guess about which of several approaches would be better. Some people are fine if you just directly oppose them. Other people don't deal well with that, and you need to ask questions that get them to realize on their own why they are wrong. A lot of my answers were this way, and towards the end of the interview someone in the room asked if I had received "situational leadership" training, because that is the approach I seemed to take.

I went through 'Situational Leadership' training nearly twenty years ago and sent my managers through the same program just a couple years ago - and I try to be a situational leader. The 'One Minute Manager' gives a brief overview, if you've ever read it. New management fads come out every year. I always read up on them, but disagree with much of what they say. Many of these books always make management and leadership seem so simple, and imply that if you just focus on one thing (the fad) then you will be a great manager. I don't think that is true.

Management and leadership are complex because people are complex. Rather than stick to one style or form, leaders should be able to analyze a situation and determine what type of response is best given the parties involved. Sometimes you have to be more directive, sometimes a hands off approach and a pat on the back will get you further. Other times just being more of a trainer and mentor works best. No one will be as effective in each approach, but should at least have it in their repertoire.

I bring this up because I often get tired of seeing these fad books every year, and sometimes I think I should just quit reading all that hype. But now I see it in a little bit different light. Each fad, each style, each book, has some truths in it, and I try to go through it with an open mind and take away what is important. It's important to stay on that lifelong learning path.

I am making a mad dash to re-read my Situational Leadership books. It was one of the most insightful models of doing the right things, at the right time and being flexible enough to be effective with people at every level of their own personal development.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Do You Have the Luck of the Irish?

Are you "lucky"? Well, that may just depend on your state of mind – at least according to a British psychologist, Professor Richard Wiseman. I was reading about a study he had done of 400 people from all walks of life, half of whom considered themselves "lucky" and the other half classified themselves as "unlucky." It seems that those people who considered themselves lucky had certain differences in how they thought and acted from the "unlucky" group.

The lucky people were relaxed, open to new things and new people, and were quick to spot opportunities. Unlucky people tended to be more tense, stuck in routines and afraid of anything new, and unwilling to take a risk. Lucky people trusted their gut instincts and had a positive attitude – they expected good fortune or a good outcome. And, as you can guess, the unlucky ones always expected the worst.

When something unfortunate happened to the lucky ones, they were able to deal with it in a positive way. They did this by imagining that things could have been worse, and didn't dwell on their misfortune, but took control of the situation. The unlucky ones of course brooded on their misfortune, and it only confirmed to them how "unlucky" they were.

"There are only two types of person who cannot become lucky," Wiseman suggests. "There's the person who is happy to be unlucky, for whom misfortune is a central part of their identity. And there's the person who's not prepared to put the work in; there's a lot of effort involved in applying the principles."

So that old saying about "you make your own luck" could turn out to be true. Here are a few tips you might want to try, to increase your own "luck."

  • Write down six new things to try out (anything from a new food, or a visit to a new place, or a new hobby) that you can accomplish in a month.
  • Be more open to talking to people you don't know.
  • Start your own "network." The more people you know, the more ideas and opportunities you have access to.
  • When you get up in the morning, assume that the day will be a good one and everything you do will turn out for the best.
  • Keep a "luck" journal. At the end of each day, take a few moments to write down only the positive and lucky things that happened.

After a month, you can't help but recognize all the good things that are happening.

Good luck!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Up, Up with Virtual People

"The old model, where you used to chase people to invest in real estate might not be the most effective way to be successful. There's a recognition that if I can retain the intellectual capital of people doing work for companies in other locations, it brings value to our region." That's what Greg Northrup, president of the Western Michigan Alliance told Business Week in a new story on the changing face of economic development. The region is working to "woo virtual workers, or professionals who can work from their homes or other non-office settings, regardless of the employer's location," according to the story. The full story is here. Another article about telecommuting is here.

Is this an approach that will be successful? Has the time come for a new approach to attracting residents instead of and in addition to new business? Keep an eye on Grand Rapids, MI to see what happens next!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

C.R. plans to cut 70 jobs and $7 million in City Budget

While Davenport's City Council, Mayor, staff and citizens consider the next budget, Cedar Rapids is experiencing some real problems. It seems their tax base is stagnant, services are duplicitous and not as efficient as they should be. They're raising property taxes as well as cutting services. I don't envy the CR council when it comes time for citizen input!

About the job cuts, Mayor Kay Halloran declared, ``It's not fun.''``But as we reorganize and become more efficient, it may not be necessary to have as many positions,'' the mayor continued. ``We're trying to keep the margins as tight as we can.''

While Davenport is adding to their services, as they should be in the Police dept. especially, other cities are being forced to make tough changes. Our city has done a good job in balancing the budget, adding services and avoiding additional fees and taxes.

Although there is always room for improvement we should be thankful our city budget is in pretty good shape. It does good to look around when we start to examine the way the city funds are being spent.

Your thoughts?
Addendum: Davenport is proposing a slight hike in the sewer rate fee which amount to about $1.65 per household per month. This rate hasn't been increased in 15 years and shouldn't be too hotly contested. At least I wouldn't think so.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

CNBC Announces Executive Leadership Awards

The third annual Executive Leadership Awards were announced last night on CNBC. The show itself was an hour long and not that exciting, as you might imagine.

The stories behind each of the winners are fascinating though. CEO's that have had the vision, confidence and hard work necessary to lead extraordinary companies and set the example for corporate America. Take Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines. They've been around 35 years now, have always run a profit and have a lot of fun doing it. In the AIRLINE INDUSTRY, no less! These folks represent the best of the best.

Here are the winners:

The stories we see of corporate executives on the front page too often are steeped in Enron-like ethics. There are a lot more leaders like the ones above who are in it to make a difference for their customers, their employees and common shareholders. These are role models, grooming the next generation of leaders to carry on the tradition of American excellence.


Monday, February 5, 2007

Define and Deliver Your Elevator Speech!

As you know, an elevator pitch is a super-short explanation of an idea, a business, or a person which is designed to create further interest. Over at the Idea Sandbox blog, Paul Williams shares how the intros to television shows have mastered the elevator pitch.

Paul cites numerous examples from Star Trek to My Name is Earl to Bosom Buddies which all support his TV Intro as Elevator Pitch idea. Paul also highlights how the intro to every A-Team episode is a well-crafted elevator pitch. Notice how this intro quickly explains the premise of the show and compels us to watch further to see what happens.

A-Team intro:"In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem. If no one else can help. And if you can find them. Maybe you can hire... The A-Team."

Work on your elevator pitch before your next networking event, sales call or interview and you'll be halfway home to closing the deal!

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Bears Win!

The Bears are about to turn the Las Vegas odds makers into more humble human beings.

The Bears will win in a surprisingly high scoring game, coming back in the second half 32-29. The Bears' defense will harass Peyton Manning all day long, causing three interceptions. The defense will score two TD's and Devin Hester will return a punt for a TD as well. Rex Grossman will have an uninspiring, but turnover free, game throwing for just 150 yards.

Bonus Prediction: You'll have to wake me up for the start of the third quarter, having nodded off to the Prince halftime show.

Go Bears!
Addendum: I guess the professional prognosticators were better than me! I did get 1, almost 2, predictions right. I nodded off at halftime and Devin Hester did run back a kick for a score.
Hats off to the Colts this time around. They were definitely the better team this day!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Innovative Leadership: Progress at Warp Speed

If you’re going to get your organization to make radical changes that will slingshot it warp speed ahead of your competitors, it’ll be due to dedicated, passionate, and visionary leaders who think and act boldly. That’s the essence of innovative leadership!

Latest estimates tell us there are over 500 different definitions of “leadership.” Perhaps the only common denominator of those is that a leader has followers. Although an executive or manager can be a “leader,” leadership is more a role and state of being than a position or title. Leadership is not about systems or procedures. It’s about people—about motivating, inspiring, directing, and developing them for peak (goal-oriented) performance.

I define leadership as the ability to get followers deeply committed to fulfilling a vision, objective, or course of action that they believe is achievable and worthwhile. An innovative leader, though, is an exceptional and rare one; a person who promotes and focuses maximum effective creativity from followers to achieve remarkable breakthroughs in the organization. These “galvanizers” get people to attack things they’ve only longed for and dreamt of previously. Look at the successful leaders in any industry today and you’ll see 11 common characteristics.

Characteristics of Innovative Leaders

Fast and action oriented. Speed, responsiveness, and agility are everything to innovative leaders who analyze situations, make decisions and act on opportunities. They find shortcuts to slash red tape. They’d rather make a wrong decision than blow a potential opportunity by cautiously sitting still and playing it safe until all the data are in.

Immersed in progressive change. Innovative leaders build organizations and foster a culture of on-going, never-ending change. They ensure that their organizations continually learn, adapt, evolve, and improve. Their first objective is to deal with turbulent change around them, then become master of that change.

Future-obsessed. The beckoning horizon ahead excites them. These leaders visualize their organization’s future and plot its course. They’re always asking, “What next?” “Where else?” They create the future by visualizing it now.

Masters of motivation and inspiration. Vanguard leaders first get people excited, then committed, and finally moving swiftly. They tap into secret chambers of the minds, hearts, and souls of people and know which “buttons to push” to activate their staff’s pride, faith, hope, drive, and perseverance. Innovative leaders make their followers feel special as if they were an elite exclusive team fulfilling some noble destiny. They help their employees fulfill a deep longing for creativity and innovation. They impart a sense of invincibility, power and control over their situations. These leaders accomplish two overwhelmingly important things: they make people feel good about themselves and they make them feel good about what they’re accomplishing.

Passionate. Innovative leaders are incredibly driven. And that rubs off on their followers. They express emotions freely and showcase their excitement about new ideas and change.

Super-salespeople and evangelists. The secret of innovative leadership is not authority, but influence and loyalty. President Dwight Eisenhower noted, “You do not lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.” Innovative leaders persuasively communicate an optimistic, bright, enticing picture of the future for their followers. They elicit support along the way. They’re “dream merchants.” They keep the dream alive by referring to the grand vision or goal at every opportunity. They convince people to get on board and stay on board.

Rule breakers. The only rule they have is, “There are no rules.” Bureaucratic thinking, even in small organizations, focuses on strictly (oftentimes “blindly”) following rules, regulations, methods, procedures, formulas, policies, and playing it safe. It’s about “running a tight ship.” Unfortunately, it stays in the harbor a lot and that’s not what ships are built for. Innovative leaders get followers to discard their policy and procedures' manuals and, instead, create common sense, flexible, and ethical guidelines to creatively operate. Set sail!

Mountain climbers. What do Alexander the Great and Steve Jobs have in common? Both got their “troops” conquering more territory by repeatedly giving them challenging battles to fight and mountains to climb. But before the arrogance of complacency of victory set in, they announced yet another new and exciting goal—a new peak—to reach. “Are you ready for a bigger game?” they ask their followers. By creating on-going inspiring short-term visions and galvanizing followers to rush toward them, will innovative leaders keep interest and motivation peaked at all times.

Opportunists. Innovative leaders aggressively seek out and grab ideas and opportunities before others are even aware of their existence. They study trends, technological developments, and are well-rounded readers. They’re always asking themselves questions like, “How does ‘this’ apply to my organization?” How can I use it or get ideas from it?”

Builders. You can’t build good products in poor factories. The factory of creativity is the organization’s culture and operating climate. A major role of the leader is to create an environment where imagination, smart risk-taking, aggressive initiatives, and bold tactics are encouraged and rewarded. As builders, they design their organization’s infrastructure to support every aspect of innovation by helping to create or modify the organization’s collective values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

High-gain risk-takers. You won’t find innovative leaders thinking small. Their plans are grandiose; their actions big and daring. They seek large gains and aren’t afraid to take smart calculated risks. These are people who create industries and fortunes, not by cautiously holding back, but by boldly leaping far ahead of the average crowd.

Innovative leadership is the highest form of leadership because of the huge contributions made in the lives of employees, customers, and community. Innovative leaders take their companies to far away, exciting destinations. Let the journey begin!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Davenport All Ward Meeting

I attended the All Ward meeting last night at the Fairmount Library and figured I would post the information since not many attended.

There were about ten citizens there and several city employees. Aldermen Frink and Meyer, Chief Bladel and three others from the DPD.

The first subject, of course, was the cameras and current litigation. There were at least a couple supporters of the program and more vocal opposition. It was clear that Cheif Bladel wanted to move on quickly as this will be in litigation at the courts for the next 12-18 months. It's still pretty clear to me that this will be a subject of much discussion even while it goes to the Iowa Supreme court.

The next hour or so focused on crime, NETS, juvenile offenders and how the city plans to take a proactive position in improving our city. The city is proposing adding 1 sergeant and 1 social worker to the Juvenile division and 3 more personnel to the NETS program. Chief Bladel reported that some 28% of total arrests last year were juveniles, and a lot of them were repeat offenders. There needs to be more cooperation from the courts and follow up from the juvenile system to make sure these individuals get back in line or are incarcerated.

The Davenport City budget was discussed next. A lot of information in just the 30 minutes or so that were left in the meeting. I'll give a couple highlights, but you should go to
the city web site to get more detailed and accurate information. They need to ratify the budget by March 15th so, if you want to weigh in, pay close attention to the meeting dates that will be announced soon.

The total budget for FY 2007 will be about $130 million. Most changes that were discussed were pretty straight forward and mostly focused on the changes in the DPD and NETS to combat crime. There is a proposal to possibly raise the rates for water consumption to save for the sewer expansion in West Davenport around 2009. The proposed rates haven't been raised for the last 15 years and the estimates given were an increase of about $1.33 per homeowner and $11 per business with high end water users much higher than that.

There was no discussion of The Freight House or other economic development. The meeting, at an hour and a half, was too short to cover more than what was already outlined.

In all Alderman Frink did a good job facilitating the meeting, Alderman Meyer pitched in some good information and Chief Bladel was full of information and statistics that show our priorities are in the right place, fighting crime. The debate on this might be centered around the strategy or the execution. Time will tell.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Use Language to Mainain a More Positive Attitude!

As a citizen of planet earth, it's sometimes hard to maintain a positive attitude. Did you know that, in all languages, there are more words to describe negative emotions than there are to describe positive emotions? The ratio is about 5:3 - meaning that for every 3 positive words you might hear, you'll hear 5 negative words. No wonder it seems like its an uphill battle for all but the most pragmatic optimists. You can read more here and here.

I've noticed that sometimes two people describe the same experience—positive or negative—in two completely different ways Maybe you talked about a “pretty” sunset while your spouse called the natural wonder “breathtaking.” Or perhaps one of your co-workers “needed clarity” after a meeting that left another “very frustrated.”
Imagine how your life would change if you were able to take all the negative emotions you ever felt and lower their intensity so they didn’t impact you as powerfully! Similarly, imagine what your life would be like if you could take your most positive emotions and multiply them tenfold.

Start by writing down three words that you use on an ongoing basis to intensify your negative feelings or emotions. Then, come up with alternative words or phrases that have a lower intensity.

Old word: depressed
New words: a little down, frustrated

Old word: overwhelmed
New words: in demand, full of opportunities

Now, write down three words you use to describe your experiences in a positive way, and come up with three alternative words that amplify those positive feelings. Get a friend to ensure you follow through by having her pay attention and tell you, if necessary, something like, “Are you okay, or are you fantastic?”

Old word: fine
New words: incredible, outrageous, outstanding

Old word: cute
New words: delicious, gorgeous, unbelievable

Here's a game you can play at work to get more of your team aware of avoiding negative language. Play 'Negative Language Bingo' and see how fast your employees start avoiding negative statements. Make up your own 'Positive Language Bingo' game to see how fast you can get those around you focused on the positive possibilities rather than just exclamations of how bad the problem is. Solution oriented not problem obsessed.

Commit to using a more positive vocabulary in 2007!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Netfilx or Blockbuster? He who innovates faster and better wins!

Netflix will begin offering some of its customers the ability to watch movies through their PC's via streaming video. This is not revolutionary but it does send a signal to others that there will be a steep entry price into the movie rental business and that those who choose to enter must be ready to change, innovate and move at the speed of the internet! More on the details here.

Netflix has been able to outpace some stiff competition. It was 2002 when Wal-Mart announced it would enter the online DVD rental business. They dropped that initiative in 2005 and now refer customers to Netflix. Last year Apple and Amazon announced they wanted to play in that same sandbox. Blockbuster made changes to their rental policy when they began giving its online subscribers the option of bypassing the mail and returning DVDs to a store so they can obtain another movie more quickly.

I'm sure the amount of customers willing to sit for hours and watch movies on their PC is currently a fairly small number. Considering the increasing convergence of media, PC, HDTV and high speed internet, those numbers will rise exponentially over the next few years. It wouldn't take much for those with a computer with TV out capability, broadband access, and an HDTV to take advantage of this innovation and be loyal to Netflix for some time to come.

Although their earnings went from $6.5 million in 2003 to an unofficial $44 million in 2006, the stock is down 40% in the last three years. Analysts say the competition in DVD and movie rentals is too strong for Netfilx to keep their 12% of the market. I say this is one step ahead for a market leader. They'll have to be planning their next innovation now so the competition keeps busy with this one.

The competition in this market will be good for consumers and will be a good show to watch in its own right. Grab the popcorn and smile!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Innovate this! Change is Good!

Sometimes we have to challenge ourselves and the way we look at things.

Many companies, organizations, as well as individuals, are still tweaking their '2007 Strategy' well into January. They do it either because the strategy was flawed and maybe incomplete, or they're not confident enough in the course of action they want to take.

This has been my experience over the years and I sometimes wonder why it takes so dog-gone long to get moving! I'm a 'get it done' type person and, yes, sometimes impatient. Reading anything from Tom Peters just exacerbates that mood! I love it!

Tom is an irreverent, rebellious maverick and encourages everyone to get out of their rut. Tom has a new book out, "Re-Imagine!", and it drove me to look for more of his short quips that may get you out from behind your desk and just DO SOMETHING! Execution and results are the things that matter! Execute, fail, innovate, start over! The harder you work, the luckier you get!

Here are some things to try if you need to look through a different lens, to see things differently or to get started on your innovation destination! (Hat tip: Tom Peters)

Want to get lucky? Try following these 50 (!) strategies:
1. At-bats. More times at the plate, more hits.
2. Try it. Cut the baloney and get on with something.
3. Ready. Fire. Aim. (Instead of Ready. Aim. Aim. Aim. ...)
4. “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”—G.K. Chesterton. You’ve gotta start somewhere.
5. Read odd stuff. Look anywhere for ideas.
6. Visit odd places. Want to “see” speed? Visit CNN.
7. Make odd friends.
8. Hire odd people. Boring folks, boring ideas.
9. Cultivate odd hobbies. Raise orchids. Race yaks.
10. Work with odd partners.
11. Ask dumb questions. “How come computer commands all come from keyboards? ”Somebody asked that one first; hence, the mouse.
12. Empower. The more folks feel they’re running their own show, the more at-bats, etc.
13. Train without limits. Pick up the tab for training unrelated to work—keep everyone engaged, period.
14. Don’t back away from passion. “Dispassionate innovator” is an oxymoron.
15. Pursue failure. Failure is success’s only launching pad. (The bigger the goof, the better!)
16. Take anti-NIH pills. Don’t let “not invented here” keep you from ripping off nifty ideas.
17. Constantly reorganize. Mix, match, try different combinations to shake things up.
18. Listen to everyone. Ideas come from anywhere.
19. Don’t listen to anyone. Trust your inner ear.
20. Get fired. If you’re not pushing hard enough to get fired, you’re not pushing hard enough. (More than once is okay.)
21. Nurture intuition. If you can find an interesting market idea that came from a rational plan, I’ll eat all my hats. (I have quite a collection.)
22. Don’t hang out with “all the rest.” Forget the same tired trade association meetings, talking with the same tired people about the same tired things.
23. Decentralize. At-bats are proportional to the amount of decentralization.
24. Decentralize again.
25. Smash all functional barriers. Unfettered contact among people from different disciplines is magic.
26. Destroy hierarchies.
27. Open the books. Make everyone a “businessperson,” with access to all the financials.
28. Start an information deluge. The more real-time, unedited information people close to the action have, the more that “neat stuff” happens.
29. Take sabbaticals.
30. “Repot” yourself every 10 years. (This was the advice of former Stanford Business School dean Arjay Miller—meaning change careers each decade.)
31. Spend 50 percent of your time with “outsiders.” Distributors and vendors will give you more ideas in five minutes than another five-hour committee meeting.
32. Spend 50 percent of your “outsider” time with wacko outsiders.
33. Pursue alternative rhythms. Spend a year on a farm, six months working in a factory or burger shop.
34. Spread confusion in your wake. Keep people off balance, don’t let the ruts get deeper than they already are.
35. Disorganize. Bureaucracy takes care of itself. The boss should be “chief dis-organizer,” Quad/Graphics CEO Harry Quadracci told us.
36. “Dis-equilibrate ... Create instability, even chaos.” Good advice to “real leaders” from Professor Warren Bennis.
37. Stir curiosity. Igniting youthful, dormant curiosity in followers is the lead dog’s top task, according to Sony chairman Akio Morita.
38. Start a Corporate Traitors’ Hall of Fame. “Renegades” are not enough. You need people who despise what you stand for.
39. Give out “Culture Scud Awards.” Your best friend is the person who attacks your corporate culture head-on. Wish her well.
40. Vary your pattern. Eat a different breakfast cereal. Take a different route to work.
41. Take off your coat.
42. Take off your tie.
43. Roll up your sleeves.
44. Take off your shoes.
45. Get out of your office. Tell me, honestly, the last time something inspiring or clever happened at that big table in your office?!
46. Get rid of your office.
47. Spend a workday each week at home.
48. Nurture peripheral vision. The interesting “stuff” usually is going on beyond the margins of the professional’s ever-narrowing line of sight.
49. Don’t “help.” Let the people who work for you slip, trip, fall—and grow and learn on their own.
50. Avoid moderation in all things. “Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess,” according to Edwin Land, Polaroid’s founder.

Now write down the opposite of each of the 50. Which set comes closer to your profile?*
In short, loosen up!

Monday, January 8, 2007

Tough Choices!

Did you happen to watch the first episode of this season's Apprentice? How would you like to make the choice of firing either the loud-mouthed, abrasive project manager or the inept, philosophising lawyer? Tough choice.

If you're in business or a part of one, you should watch the show just to learn a few things about human nature. I'm sure some of the personalities on the show are chosen just to make good drama for TV. On the other hand, if you read some of the bios of the candidates, these are no run-of-the-mill college students looking for their first jobs.

The margin between the successful team and the losers was small. The winning team was only about 5% better than their counterparts. There was a huge difference in the rewards the teams recieved. Live in the mansion or the tent. Dinner at a world renown restaurant or grill burgers in the dark.

The clear difference between the project managers in last night's episode was Heidi's ability to gain trust from her team by focusing on the relationship with them. She asked questions, let people take creative control of their assignments, offered suggestions and let people know what thier priorities were. Frank's tactic was to bark orders, micromanage and be inattentive to the idiosyncrasies of what was going on with his team. Frank won't be a finalist on this show, mark my words. But I'm sure they'll keep him around for a while just to add some elecrticity and controversy!

How long would you work for Frank? I'd hire Heidi right now if I needed a leader who could build team spirit, get the best from her team and produce the best long term results. I'll be watching next week to see who shines and who doesn't.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Wal-Mart: Turning the lights off or on?

I was reading an article the other day about Wal-Marts efforts to increase sales of compact fluorescent light bulbs. I may have had too much time on my hands.

Wal-Mart wants to increase sales from about 3.5 million to 100 million bulbs. It was stated that the CEO wants to decrease energy use across the country. A laudable goal. Good for the environment and it will help the U.S. decrease it's dependency on fossil fuels.

That would send shock waves — some intended, others not — across the lighting industry. Because compact fluorescent bulbs last up to eight years, giant manufacturers, like General Electric and Osram Sylvania, would sell far fewer lights. Because the bulbs are made in Asia, some American manufacturing jobs could be lost. And because the bulbs contain mercury, there is a risk of pollution when millions of consumers throw them away.

Will GE or Sylvania look at this as an opportunity to innovate? Will their R&D departments figure out how to make better looking, cheaper compact fluorescent lights that fit in our lamps? Will the lamp makers make the fixtures bigger to accommodate newer, more efficient light bulbs? Can we make them without mercury? Are the leaders at these companies foreseeing the possible ramifications?

Interesting. Should we make a mass migration to more efficient lighting to save energy and reduce dependence on foreign oil or risk losing manufacturing jobs in order to stay with incandescent lighting that's been the norm for over 100 years?

I think I'm going to buy some for the garage and maybe the basement. One step at a time, I guess!

Monday, January 1, 2007

Resolute Performance

Why do so many people make New Year’s resolutions only to be disappointed in their performance only months or weeks into the New Year?

It’s time to rethink our end of year rituals and do some strategic planning in our personal lives!

Many of us make New Year's resolutions, few of us keep them.
*25% of New Year's resolutions will be abandon in the first 15 weeks
*The average number of time's a New Years resolution is made is 10
*Those who manage to make a resolution that lasts for 6 months or more have often tried 5 or 6 times before finally succeeding

Tip on how to achieve the results you want:

Planning is your ally: Few plans succeed unless the ‘how to’ is built in. If one of your resolutions is to get in shape, put a detailed, specific plan in place to achieve that goal. Will you start with two workouts per week for the first month, building to three workouts per week in February? What exercises will you start with? What stretches will you do afterwards to minimize muscle soreness? Detailed plans will keep you on track in setting new habits for the New Year.

Write it Down: Put your resolutions in writing as well as your plans to achieve them. Keep these plans in a prominent place where you can see them every day. Your bathroom mirror, sun visor in your car or taped onto the side of your computer monitor are excellent starting points. Find one that fits your style and schedule. If we are constantly being reminded of our goals we subconsciously find ways to make progress.

Winners Keep Score: How will you measure your progress? Quantitative measures of progress are important. Find a way to put some hard and fast numbers to your resolution. If you want to be a ‘better parent’, how many hours did you spend with your children reading? How many evenings did you turn off the TV and play a board game or just a have good discussion about what your kids want to talk about? How many times in the last month have all your family been present at the dinner table? Any resolution can be measured if you put your mind to it. Aim to achieve your goals incrementally according to the numerical goals you’ve set.

Have a Plan B: Don’t expect perfection in the first few days or weeks. If your plan to quit smoking went up in flames Monday morning after that cup of coffee, don’t be discouraged. Review your plan and get back to it! Any good plan also has a plan to cope when the going gets tough. How will you get through that first, second and third urge to light up? Did you stock up on nicotine lozenges? Just like a toddler learning to walk, we need time to get good at what we know we can accomplish. Encourage yourself to do better next time and get back to your plan!

Praise Progress: On the first of the month take the opportunity to pat yourself on the back and brag a bit on the progress you’ve made! Those good feelings will keep momentum on your side and make the next stages of achieving your goal that much easier. Keep the focus, you can do it!

Make this year the year you attain your goals! Be resolute in your determination, disciplined in your execution, forgiving of setbacks and have some fun along the way!