Simon Sinek: The Celery Test

“Simon Sinek?” Yeah, he’s a TED talks guy. Ring a bell? I hope so. He’s also the author of “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” as well as “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.”

Confession time. I didn’t catch “Start With Why” when it was first published circa 2009. But eventually, a few weeks ago, I found it. That’s all that matters now.

Below is an excerpt from “Start With Why” that begged to be shared. I hope it’s clear: I’m not trying to rip-off Sinek and take food from his mouth. My goal is quite the opposite. It’s a brilliant collection of words so I hope this inspires you to buy the book, and perhaps “Leaders Eat Last” as well.

Simon Sinek: The Celery Test

Also, I’m sure plenty of others have regurgitated (i.e., chewed and spit out) this passage in “their own words” without giving a nod to Sinek. That’s not my style. And if for some reason this article feels like I’m just being lazy, please think again. Thanks.

It’s a simple metaphor called the Celery Test.

Imagine you go to a dinner party and someone comes up to you and says, “You know what you need in your organization? M&M’s. If you’re not using M&M’s in your business, you’re leaving money on the table.”

Somebody else comes up to you and says, “You know what you need? Rice milk. The data shows that all the people are buying rice milk these days. You should be selling rice milk in this economy.”

While you’re standing over the punch bowl, yet another person offers some sage advice. “Oreo cookies,” he says. “We made millions from implementing Oreo cookies in our organization. You’ve got to do it.”

Still somebody else comes up to you and says, “Celery. You’ve got to get into celery.”

You get all this great advice from all these highly accomplished people. Some of them are in the same industry. Some of them are more successful than you. Some of them have offered similar advice to others with great success. Now, what do you do?

You go to the supermarket and you buy celery, rice milk, Oreos and M&M’s. You spend a lot of time at the supermarket walking the aisles. You spend a lot of money because you buy everything. But you may or may not get any value from some or all of these products; there are no guarantees. Worse, if you’re budget-constrained, you had to whittle down your choices again. And then which do you choose?

But one thing’s for sure: when you’re standing in line at the supermarket with all these items in your arms, your celery, rice milk, Oreos and M&Ms, nobody can see what you believe. What you do is supposed to serve as tangible proof of what you believe, and you bought everything.

But what if you knew your WHY before you went to the supermarket? What if your WHY is to do only things that are healthy? To always do the things that are good for your body? You’ll get all the same good advice from all the same people, the only difference is, the next time you go to the supermarket, you’ll buy only rice milk and celery. Those are the only products that make sense. It’s not that the other advice isn’t good advice; it’s just not good for you. The advice doesn’t fit.

Filtering your decisions through your WHY, you spend less time at the supermarket and you spend less money, so there’s an efficiency advantage also. You’re guaranteed to get value out of all the products you bought. And, most importantly, when you’re standing in line with your products in your arms, everybody can see what you believe. With only celery and rice milk it’s obvious to people walking by what you believe. “I can see that you believe in looking after your health,” they may say to you. “I feel the same way. I have a question for you.” Congratulations. You just attracted a customer, an employee, a partner or a referral simply by making the right decisions. Simply ensuring that WHAT you do proves what you believe makes it easy for those who believe what you believe to find you. You have successfully communicated your WHY based on WHAT you do.

This is an idealistic concept and in the real world that level of discipline is not always possible. I understand that sometimes we have to make short-term decision to pay bills or get some short-term advantage. That’s fine. The Celery Test still applies. If you want a piece of chocolate cake, go right ahead. The difference is, when you start with WHY, you know full well that the chocolate cake is a short-term decision that doesn’t fit with your beliefs. You’re under no illusions. You know you are only doing it for the short-term sugar rush and you’ll have to work a little harder to get it out of your system. It’s astounding the number of business I see that view an opportunity as the one that’s going to set them on a path to glory, only to have it blow up or slowly deflate over time. They see the chocolate cake and can’t resist. Starting with WHY not only helps you know which is the right advice for you to follow, but also to know which decisions will put you out of balance. You can certainly make those decisions if you need to, but don’t make too many of them, otherwise over time, no one will know what you believe.

But here’s the best part. As soon as I told you WHY, you knew that we were going to buy only celery and rice milk even before you read it. As soon as I gave you the filter, as soon as I said the WHY, you knew exactly what decisions to make before I said so.

That’s called scale.

With a WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder. A WHY provides the clear filter for decision-making. Any decisions—hiring, partnerships, strategies and tactics—should all pass the Celery Test.

The bottom line…If you haven’t read Sinek’s “Start With Why,” now is the time to add it to your 2015 TODO.

Lessons Learned from The World Cup 2014

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s big. Bigger than the Super Bowl big. The it is The World Cup. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

I believe that football / futbol / soccer is much like life itself. You’re not always moving forward to reach the goal. Sometimes you’re on the defensive. Sometime things are slow, sometimes fast. Sometimes what looks like bad news suddenly turns good. It challenges both the body and the mind. In short, football is fluid. It’s like a chess match. A thinking man’s / woman’s sport. A creative man’s / woman’s sport.

As you probably already know, this year’s winner was Germany. And while it’s too early to declare a dynasty there are some well known “tricks” that went into Germany’s process for achieving this massively difficult milestone.

  1. You need a plan. Accidents rarely result in victory—on or off the pitch.
  2. You need a team. Be mindful of the fact that a collection of individual players does not necessarily mean you have a team. As Jim Collins said in the classic Good To Great: “Get the right people on the bus.”
  3. Don’t be star struck. Germany has some serious footballers but none draw the same level of media attention as some of the sport’s (individual) superstars. It’s worth mentioning that Spain—the winner of the 2010 World Cup—had a very similar approach in terms of team development.
  4. Good things come to those who wait. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. In order to be successful you have to be willing to grind it out. Germany’s 1-0 win over Argentina for The World Cup 2014 was 14 years in the making. Yes, 14 years!
  5. Be humble. From the three articles listed below if nothing else please be sure to read: “Mesut Özil donates World Cup winnings to 23 children’s surgeries in Brazil.” You’ll be touched, impressed, and ideally also inspired.

Lessons Learned from The World Cup 2014

The Real Secret to Success

Success in being effective and being efficient is (IMHO) very similar to regular success. That is, it’s not about grand slams and home runs. It’s not even about doubles and singles.

The real magic happens at the plate. It’s about knowing which pitch to swing at, and which to let go. In short, you can’t hit a single—let alone a grand slam—if you’re constantly swinging at the wrong pitch.

For example, many people get all jazzed up about Facebook. “Look at that grand slam!” And those same people get all star-struck about on how far the ball went / is going.

Nope!

The brilliance is that Facebook swung at the right pitch at the right time. Obviously, the swing (i.e., execution) also plays a significant role. But they also didn’t swing at some crap pitch in the dirt.

The bottom line…Mitigate your risk—i.e., increase your chances for success—by staying focused and letting the wrong pitches pass by. Losing focus and swinging at pitches not worth swinging at is not a strategy of the successful.

This article was inspired by:

Scott Hanselman
“Scott Hanselman’s Complete List of Productivity Tips”

The Truth About Great Designing

Plenty has been said about great design (i.e., the output). Unfortunately, without a thorough and holistic process the output is doomed to (an ever increasing risk of) failure. The foundation to a proper and effective process is understanding. The willingness to ask why. Five whys if possible. You’ve heard of The Five Whys, yes?

In any case, I bumped into this pearl last night:

“You must understand the problem. Deeply and completely. Who is this for? Why do they need it? How are they doing this today? What can’t they live without? This is where the most amount of energy and time should be spent, yet this is where assumptions and dogma tend to trump exploration and deconstruction.”

Read the rest of Delighted App’s “Understand the problem”.

Empowerment to the People

From time to time you come across something deep and provocative that begs, “Share me! Share me please!” This eulogy (of sorts) of Ms. Red Burns, co-founder of the groundbreaking Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU, is one of those times.

I don’t want to babble on unnecessarily and distract you. But before I cut you loose I would like to make note of two things that make this speech unique:

1) Ms. Burns doesn’t use the word innovate / innovation.

2) Ms. Burns doesn’t use the word disrupt.

Now you’re even more intrigued, yes?

Read the full article on Wired.com here:

Let’s Stop Focusing on Shiny Gadgets and Start Using Tech to Empower People
By Margaret Stewart

From Red Burns’ Opening Remarks to New Students at NYU:

“What I want you to know:

That there is a difference between the mundane and the inspired.

That the biggest danger is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.

That any human organization must inevitably juggle internal contradictions — the imperatives of efficiency and the countervailing human trade-offs.

That the inherent preferences in organizations are efficiency, clarity, certainty, and perfection.

That human beings are ambiguous, uncertain, and imperfect.

That how you balance and integrate these contradictory characteristics is difficult.

That imagination, not calculation, is the ‘difference’ that makes the difference.

That there is constant juggling between the inherent contradictions of a management imperative of efficiency and the human reality of ambiguity and uncertainty.

That you are a new kind of professional — comfortable with analytical and creative modes of learning.

That there is a knowledge shift from static knowledge to a dynamic searching paradigm.

That creativity is not the game preserve of artists, but an intrinsic feature of all human activity.

That in any creative endeavor you will be discomfited and that is part of learning.

That there is a difference between long term success and short term flash.

That there is a complex connection between social and technological trends. It is virtually impossible to unravel except by hindsight.

That you ask yourself what you want and then you work backwards.

In order to problem solve and observe, you ought to know how to: analyze, probe, question, hypothesize, synthesize, select, measure, communicate, imagine, initiate, reason, create.

That organizations are really systems of cooperative activities and their coordination requires something intangible and personal that is largely a matter of relationships.

What I hope for you:

That you combine that edgy mixture of self-confidence and doubt.

That you have enough self-confidence to try new things.

That you have enough self doubt to question.

That you think of technology as a verb, not a noun; it is subtle but important difference.

That you remember the issues are usually not technical.

That you create opportunities to improvise.

That you provoke it. That you expect it.

That you make visible what, without you, might never have been seen.

That you communicate emotion.

That you create images that might take a writer ten pages to write.

That you observe, imagine and create.

That you look for the question, not the solution.

That you are not seduced by speed and power.

That you don’t see the world as a market, but rather a place that people live in — you are designing for people, not machines.

That you have a stake in magic and mystery and art.

That sometimes we fall back on Rousseau and separate mind from body.

That you understand the value of pictures, words, and critical thinking.

That poetry drives you, not hardware.

That you are willing to risk, make mistakes, and learn from failure.

That you develop a practice founded in critical reflection.

That you build a bridge between theory and practice.

That you embrace the unexpected.

That you value serendipity.

That you reinvent and re-imagine.

That you listen. That you ask questions. That you speculate and experiment.

That you play. That you are spontaneous. That you collaborate.

That you welcome students from other parts of the world and understand we don’t live in a monolithic world.

That each day is magic for you.

That you turn your thinking upside down.

That you make whole pieces out of disparate parts.

That you find what makes the difference.

That your curiosity knows no bounds.

That you understand what looks easy is hard.

That you imagine and re-imagine.

That you develop a moral compass.

That you welcome loners, cellists, and poets.

That you are flexible. That you are open.

That you can laugh at yourself. That you are kind.

That you consider why natural phenomena seduce us.

That you engage and have a wonderful time.

That this will be two years for you to expand — take advantage of it.”

 

“In the end, it takes you.”

How about some quick post three day weekend inspiration to get you motivated today? This savory bit was pulled from the new (and free) mini-ebook “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey” by Mr. Brian Solis (http://www.BrianSolis.com).

“Innovation begins here. Innovation begins with you.
You are the change agent. You will help influence an uprising that overturns the prevailing
culture of management into that of leadership and innovation.
It’s not easy, but it’s within your ability and reach.
It takes courage to do what others will not.
It takes vision to see what others can’t.
It takes empathy to feel what others experience.
It takes persistence to overcome resistance.
It takes patience to allow the time necessary for your work to bloom.
In the end, it takes you.
Where you are and where you need to be is separated only by your vision and also
your actions and words.
Savor this moment. And then do something about it.”

Solis is also the author of “WTF [of Business]”, “The End of Business as Usual”, as well as “Engage!”. For more info and links to your favorite book provider: http://www.BrianSolis.com/books

Free Download: “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey”

Stanford and Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders: Tim O’Reilly

Every now and then you come across something that begs to be shared. This podcast is one of those moments:

Standford’s Entrepreneurship Corner Thought Leaders Series presents Tim O’Reilly

Yes, that’s Mr. Web 2.0 of O’Reilly Publishing fame. While I trust you’ll take the time to listen to Tim, these are the ideas that intrigued me. (Note: Some are quotes, some simply paraphrased, and some are O’Reilly quoting others.)

 

  • Edwin Schlossberg: “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”
  • Implicit context
  • Embrace hardware as well as software
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • A system in the space between devices…not just a single application
  • The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits
  • Software is a commodity. Data is the new currency of value.
  • Rethink workflows and the experience
  • Think differently about human / machine symbiosis
  • We don’t have better algorithms. We just have more data.
  • It’s a fairly hard AI problem to pick a traffic light out of a video stream. It’s a trivial AI problem to figure out if it’s red or green if you already know that it’s there.
  • Reputation systems
  • Close the loop
  • What loops can you change? How can you make things smarter? And close the loop?
  • Enable an economy
  • Create more value than you capture
  • Make other people successful
  • Work on stuff that matters
  • Idealism is good for your business
  • Work on things that are hard. Find hard problems.
  • Look a little sideways
  • Code For America (http://CodeForAmerica.org)
  • O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (http://OATV.com)
  • It’s an ongoing process
  • Find interesting problems that are relevant locally
  • It’s about narrating your work in public
  • Sometimes it takes a long time, keep at it
  • Who do you want your customers to be
  • Subscription is an important business model
  • Sensors (hardware) are talking to software
  • The Maker Movement
  • Square enabled coffee shop

Share this! And listen to it again and gain. You’ll hear a little more each time.

Design + Science = Design Science

Time flies when…well…um…time flies. I blink and “next week” somehow morphs into couple weeks behind me. Is it just me? It’s not just me, right? In short, too much work, too much to do, and not quite enough time to share quality content here with you. Sorry. I acknowledge my faults and promise you I’ve got processes running in the background to remedy this. Thanks for your understanding. Let’s move on.

About a month ago I picked up the book “Trillions” by Peter Lucas, Joe Ballay and Mickey McManus. I was inspired to read “Trillions” after attending a presentation followed by a book signing at Princeton University by Mr. McManus. You can read more about that event here: http://www.alchemyunited.com/2012/10/26/a-million-millions-is-trillions.

If you’re interested you can follow my “Trillions” chapter by chapter efforts here:
http://chiefalchemist.com/source/trillions-maya-design-lucas-ballay-mcmanus

Typically, as I’m consuming a book, I do a chapter by chapter “key takeaway” blurb (read: brief) on my Chief Alchemist “workstream” site / blog. That said, Chapter 6 (Design Science on Trillions Mountain) of “Trillions” has a number of insightful gems that demand to be shared.

  • Beyond Design Thinking To Design Science: [Buckminster] Fuller called his approach Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science.
  • Design Science rejects a purely relativist view of traditional design thinking. In Design Science we avoid notions such as “liking” a design for personal or superficially stylistic reasons. There will always be a variety of good designs—some better than others; bounded rationality and the sheer diversity of problem situations suffice to ensure that. But there are also wrong designs…But it is to say that, give a proper statement of goals and a sufficiently broad and careful consideration of the entire situation—technical, human, and market—it is possible to establish principled, professional, systematic techniques that rationally select some design over others.
  • The goal was to understand the whole ecology of people, places, documents, and information, and to model it early, before degrees of freedom had been used up in designing individual pieces of the system…Making—through, iterative, frequent, parallel prototyping—is a design method that turns indistinct dreams into tangible goals in record time.
  • Make The Right Thing: The Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 exposed the human weakness for celebrating what can be done with technology, with little thought about what should be done. We need to remind ourselves that even though we may have some prowess in making things right, we need to put equal emphasis on making the right things. What goals, processes, and guidelines will lead us to the right things—made right?
  • Action at the Interstices (by Pete): I like to visualize all human knowledge as a giant jigsaw puzzle, where each academic discipline is a puzzle piece. In some sense, there is only one picture, and the cuts that we made to the puzzle pieces are artificial and arbitrary…So, the interstices between disciplines are always where the action is. It is where the best practitioners go to invent the future.
  • If we are going to design for Trillions in a way that is human-literate, rather than forcing people to become ever more computer-literate, we need to keep the human at the center of the process. We need a vision of how we will come to understand not just people and their needs and desires, but also how they will be affected by the myriad devices that will become intimate parts of their everyday lives.
  • Studying one product in isolation, unconnected from its “social life,” will no longer suffice…To add to the challenge, the range of potential products that have become technically feasible is becoming nearly boundless…Sizing up the market to decide where to invest one’s efforts and capital has always been a core challenge of business, even when the range of possibilities was severely bounded. Now that so many of the bounds have been lifted, the challenge is that much greater. Remember the stuff in the Crystal Palace.
  • If “ship early, ship often” is interpreted as the willingness to expose not-quite-feature-complete but well-tested products to the healthy pressures of real users, everybody wins. But if it is used as an excuse for shipping half-baked, flaky products; using your customers as unpaid quality-assurance staff—and counting on ever-lowering expectations of quality in a slipshod marketplace numbed by crashing TVs and bug-filed software—it is another matter entirely.
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery suggested this way:”A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
  • What’s happened is that the complexity didn’t disappear. It shifted.
  • All of science is based on cycles of Hypothesis >> Model >> Test >> New Hypothesis, and Design Science is no exception.
  • Progress in science is paced not just by advances in theory, but also by advances in methodology. Design Science is no exception.
  • Our collective goal must be convergence toward a unified user experience. A common interaction physics is the golden path to this goal. Consistency builds confidence, and confidence provides feelings of control, security, and comfort…Our ability to build civilization itself would be called into question if everything were as plastic as most software products.
  • Informatin-Centric Interaction Design: It is possible to identify four distinct states in the evolution of human-computer interaction. Command-centric. Application-centric. Document-centric. Information-centric.
  • We are on the verge of building system unprecedented both in their scale and in their very nature. It is one thing to design a usable computer program. Is is quite another to design a usable environment when that environment compromises innumerable semiautonomous devices mediating an unbounded swirl of constantly flowing information. Usability, or the lack thereof, will be an emergent property of such a milieu.

You might also be interested in this on TheAtlantic.com:

MAYA Tames Complexity in the Age of Trillions

By Kathryn Hawkins

Yes! I agree, you should go buy the book already. Chapter 6 at double the price would still be a bargain.

“Figuring it out is the fulcrum,” said the man with the billion dollar smile

Luck favors the prepared, as well as those who keep their eyes and ears open for “opportunities”. (Colleagues who do the same is a big help too.) The truth be told I consider myself quite fortunate to have made time for Steve Papa’s appearance at Princeton University late yesterday afternoon. Aside from being a graduate of Princeton (1994), Papa was also one of the founders of Endeca Technologies. Less than a year ago Endeca was acquired by Oracle for around $1.1 billion.

Here are some of the highlights from my notes:

  • Rule #1 – Ignore the experts. When you’re doing something new there are people who just won’t get it.
  • Learn to succeed despite the odds. Have faith, it’s part of the process.
  • When financial times are tight, sell a painkiller (i.e., a product that increases revenue).
  • Recession, reinvention & re-organization.
  • Main lesson: Ideas <–> Figuring it out <–> Execution. There’s more to it than just ideas and execution. The fulcrum (that few talk about) is figuring it out.
  • “Survivorship bias”—Don’t let early customers over-influence your product / direction. The customer is always right, but not every customer is the right customer at the right time for your company.
  • Being entrepreneurial is the relentless pursuit of credibility.
  • Fact: Entrepreneurs don’t create risk, they mitigate it.
  • Be aware of macroeconomics
  • “It’s always a good time to innovate but there’s not always time for every innovation.”
  • You will hire people who will not do what is good and best for your company. This is particularly true of sales people.
  • With regards to hiring:
    – Repeaters vs creators
    – Doers vs leaders
    – Intellectually curious vs focused
    – Experience vs potential
    – Credibility vs talent, or both?
  • Where the company / product is in the development cycle will drive the specifics of your hiring needs.
  • Key to sales: Timing, territory & talent in that order. [Note: He made it a point to highlight that timing and territory come before talent.]

The two best gems came towards the end of the presentation:

  • Luck plays a bigger role than most will admit. But luck favors the prepared.
  • “I figured out the right approach by process of elimination.”

Needless to say, Steve knows his was around the playing field. Yet much like Jack Dorsey, there was a quiet confidence in Papa’s persona. No chest thumpin’ or other Thump-isms, just simple honest ideas, opinions and facts. Strictly business—humble, human and with a smile.

Some thoughts from Jack Dorsey (The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, Sept 2012)

Yes, the Mr. Jack Dorsey—inventor of Twitter and founder of Square (the payment platform)—was on the Princeton University campus yesterday for a presentation + Q&A session sponsored by The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. In front of a full-house in McCosh 10, a casual but poised and polished Dorsey put his mega-success on pause to share some business wisdom with what was primarily tech-aware university students. Fortunately for my colleagues and I, many of the The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club events are open to the public. Apparently, the club doesn’t subscribe to the infamous stealth-mode philosophy.

Here are most of the highlights from my notes:

  • William Gibson: “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
  • Constantly! Reset. Rethink. Reorganize.
  • Try to structure your company in such a way that it allows for multiple founding moments.
  • Square’s motto: An idea that can change the course of the company can comes from anywhere.
  • New energy + new people = new ideas
  • Disruption is an undesirable approach. The ultimate objective is revolution.
  • “We need more confidence.”
  • “Square enables people to do what they love.”
  • A beautiful company will lead to a beautiful product (but not necessarily the other way around).
  • Recommended book: “The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership” by Bill Walsh.
  • In speaking about the Golden Gate Bridge, “Small groups of people can do epic things.”
  • Also about the GGB, Dorsey said it was an example of a brilliant combination of engineering, design and utility. He discussed the fact that most people who use the bridge probably don’t consider how magnificent it really is. He added that great things can (and sometimes should) be forgettable.
  • The DNA of the company is essential.
  • Come to meetings prepared.
  • Square has sit-down and stand-up tables. Dorsey drew laughs by adding that the meetings that use the stand-up tables tend to be shorter.
  • Naming the company is important. It sets the tone for everything. Square was finite and fitting, yet at the same time extendable.

Jack Dorsey was refreshing, humble and ego-less. It was often hard to believe that one of the 21st century’s business/technology heavy-weights could be so understated. There was no you’re so lucky I’m here. No, I have all the answers kids so listen to me. It was simply one very successful (young) man’s view of the world, and a sincere willingness to share it.

One of the key takeaways for me was what he didn’t say. He rarely used the word innovation (and dismissed the use of the start-up anthem of disruption). Aside from that, his next most important message was the emphasis on people. Finding the right people to work for his company so those people can develop beautiful products for people in the market who will be excited about its availability. The key was not technology but people. Surprise! Very old school, yes? None the less, Dorsey’s ideas shimmered with pure brilliance. Everything old could be new once again.

What is your IAR (Ideas to Actions Ratio)?

I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done.

We come up with (what has the potential to be) a great idea and then we pat ourselves on the back because we think we’ve done something amazing. As if one idea in the massive and endless universe of all ideas is somehow instantly special. Really? Think about it, what are the odds? It can’t be that simple, can it? Actually, it’s not.

Over the last couple weeks I have apparently been serendipitously blessed with the inspiration and content for this article.  Two fortune cookies and a tweet from Mark Cuban. Yeah, I feel the same way, who knew?

There are no shortcuts to a place worth going.
“There are no shortcuts to a place worth going.”

Sloth makes all things difficult, industry all easy.
“Sloth makes all things difficult, industry all easy.”

Mark Cuban: Ideas are easy. The hard part is making a business.
Mark Cuban: “Ideas are easy I’ve never met a single person who didn’t think they had a world class idea. The hard part is making it a business.”

 

The bottom line…ideas are overrated. Without actions, without follow up, without persistence, without growth, without the glimmer of a plan,  ideas are about as valuables as dandelion seeds aimlessly floating in the wind. Or, as it’s rightfully said, “A penny for your thoughts.”

You’ve got a great idea? Super, you and a gazillion other people. The real question is, what are you ready, willing and able to do about it? What is your Ideas to Actions Ratio?

Lesson in marketing from pop singer Taylor Swift

Earlier this year, after watching the Grammys I wrote a posted titled: “Lessons in business from the soul singer Adele”. So after catching Taylor Swift on 60 Minutes this past Sunday I decided it was time for a similar follow up. Who knows, perhaps I’ll position these pop music inspirations as another series in the AU blogging lexicon. Time will tell.

Watch the video:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7411988n

Read the transcript:
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57451731/taylor-swift-a-young-singers-meteoric-rise

Note: Some of these thoughts might be slight repeats from the Adele article. To me this confirms that great minds think alike.

—It’s never too early to start. Ms. Swift has sold millions of downloads, tickets and CDs and she’s barely into her twenties. The 60 minutes piece goes back to her pre-teens. In short, she’s been working towards this for quite some time. How prepared are you and your brand for the long run?

—Be fearless and relentless. Ms. Swift had such a strong vision and belief in herself that she was willing to tell her record company to take a hike. It was they who needed her, not the other way around. Go Taylor! No one loves a wishy-washy brand with no character. On top of that, as a teen she played bars and other venues that were probably less receptive to her and he type of music. None the less, she played though and built strength and confidence. Lesson: The beaten path is for the beaten. A true champion isn’t afraid to build character, learn from that and then press on.

—Be true to yourself and authentic to the world. Rather than sing songs someone else wrote, Ms. Swift insisted she sing her own. How could she be herself if she was merely puppeting someone else? Perhaps this is a lesson Mitt Romney could stand to learn?

—Be engaged with your fans and followers. There are few pop-stars who are successful enough to hide behind the curtain of super-stardom. Clearly, Ms. Swift is one of them. But does she hide? Nope. Before, during and after shows she’s directly engaged with her fans. Are there times she would prefer not to? Of course. But successful brand building isn’t about doing what you want to do, it’s about doing what you need to do to get the job done. Shaking hands might suck but having no hands to shake sucks even more, eh?

—Be engaged with your own brand. Perhaps 60 Minutes was kind to her and edited out shades of control-freak, micro-manager, etc. I don’t think that was the case. Ms. Swift, despite her youth, embraces the fact that no one understands and defines her brand better than she does. She could certainly afford to outsource such things yet she takes the extra time and in turn reaps the benefits. I can think of quite a few adults I know who aren’t this wise on this matter.

—Quality still matters. If tired manufactured controversy sells best and mindless pop fodder is what the people want to hear, then someone please explain Ms. Swift (and Adele). Be wary of those who champion short cuts for they are probably doing so because they lack the wherewithal to stand alone at the top. Simply put, there are no short cuts to being the best. Gimmicks are like cigarettes, one by one they will shorten the life of your brand.

—Be humble. This one I know is a Adele repeat. Great as these two artists are you would never know it. They let their talent, accomplishments and their fans do the talking. There’s not need for excessive bravado and the usual PR cliches. While I don’t want to come across as sexist, I have to wonder if this is a natural advantage women have that testosterone types do not.

Innovation as an Ends is Highly Overrated

A couple weeks ago I attended TigerLaunch Startup Challenge 2012 at Princeton University, as hosted by The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. The keynote speaker was Bill Taylor (Princeton ’81) the co-founder of the iconic Fast Company Magazine. Bill was also one of the judges in the competition. Thought the magic of YouTube, The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club has shared Bill’s keynote.

Bill Taylor keynote at TigerLaunch 2012 (Princeton University) Fast Company

Bill Taylor Keynote: TigerLaunch 2012 (Part 2/3)
Bill Taylor Keynote: TigerLaunch 2012 (Part 3/3)

Based on my now cryptic notes here are the highlights I gleaned from Bill Taylor’s keynote address at TigerLaunch 2012.

  • Be passionate. When someone say no just drive harder.
  • Luck and timing helps.
  • Business plans are written to reflect singles and doubles. The reality is there are strikeouts and home runs.
  • The business plan is a good exercise but it never goes as planned.
  • Be naive, be an outsider, it’s an advantage. Fresh eyes can be as important as experience and expertise.
  • Hire for attitude. Train for skill.
  • Customers!
  • Entrepreneurs must learn to manage emotions and emotional connections.
  • Be memorable.
  • Being smart isn’t enough.
  • Eat your own dog food.
  • “The only thing worse than failing is success.”
  • “Architecture of participation”
  • When crowdsourcing be exact about what you want. Ask for participation everywhere you go.

Good stuff, yes? But wait there’s more…

In total there were eight presentations—Bill Taylor plus seven start-ups. The start-ups were: Collections, Waiter d’, QualTraxx, nat|Aural, DUMA, Pasand and BeneTag. Obviously, there was a lot of creative entrepreneurial energy in the room. However, there was one thing that was (pleasantly) absent. That was the use of the word innovation. There was plenty of talk about customers, business models, technology, growth, etc. but no one seemed to be over-focused on innovation for innovation’s sake. Realistic and refreshing.

Conclusion? Innovation as an ends is highly overrated—as it should be.

Lessons in business from the soul singer Adele

While it was highly uncharacteristic of me, I somehow managed to watch a good portion of the Grammys last night. To say that the young English soul singer Adele (full name: Adele Adkins) stole the show would be an understatement. Her six wins tied her with Beyoncé for the most wins by a woman in a single Grammy evening. Without out a doubt Adele’s album is outstanding. A one or even two hit wonder she is not.

However, the reality is it’s also highly unlikely that anyone familiar with American pop music would have predicted last night’s landslide months ago when the album “21” was first released. Yet now it all makes perfect sense. Here’s what I think we can all learn from Adele:

—Content is still King or in this case Queen. She didn’t sell hype, endorse soda, manipulate Google SERPs, spew excessively on Twitter, wearing clothing made out of meat or stage a fly-by-night marriage. No, actually Adele did it the old fashion way. She and her team created something of true value. Mind you, I am sure she benefited from social networking. But it was quality work that fanned those organic flames. It wasn’t spin, hot air and spammy tactics.

—Quality is important, very important. The efforts of her team was put into creating something beautiful, crafted, exquisite and memorable. It was not a case of let’s half-ass it and then pull out every trick in the contemporary marketing playbook to try to pass off a stale doughnut as French pastry. In short, it’s more cost effective and smarter to get it right from the start than to try to fix a train wreck with smoke and mirrors.

—Be mindful of spot on execution. What they did they did damn well. Some would say, myself included, to the point of perfection. Would anyone call Adele an innovator? I don’t think so. Her style is timeless classic soul. And when she performs she is 100% committed. Adele sings purely from the heart. But then again, perhaps in the context of today such conviction and a willingness to go against the grain is innovative? The question is, how much are you faking it? And maybe paying greater attention to execution would fall under being innovative as well?

—Show some class. Show some restraint. Respect who you are. While the majority of the other performances were over the top, Adele nailed “Rolling in the Deep” with minimal excess. Mind you, I understand it’s pop music. There’s always a certain amount of frivolity. But perhaps your brand shouldn’t part-take in sugar-coated contests and such just to get people to Like your Facebook page? Perhaps there’s actually more value in being yourself (i.e., something of value) over the long term than trying to be something else in the short? Quality over quantity, right?

—Even in 2012 there is no I in team. Award after award Adele mentioned her producer and thanked her fans. She consistently tried to shift the spotlight way from herself and pull her producer/co-songwriter into the mix. In spite of being sold as a one-woman show, Adele was transparent and shared her moment with her team. Which leads me to my last point.

—Be humble. I don’t watch such award shows often but I’ve seen enough to know that Adele was humble and authentic. She didn’t come off cocky, like she deserved it. Instead she was restrained, natural and nearly embarrassed at all the attention. In other words, she acted like a true professional. That said, you got a sense that deep down she wasn’t surprised. Obviously, their goal was to do a high-quality work of art. They achieved that goal. I am certain she knew this. If she was surprised, it was that so many others had noticed. So, is your brand acting like a giddy one-hit wonder or when you stand in the end-zone do you look like you’ve been there before? That that’s where you belong?

Kudos to you and your team Adele. You’re a beacon of hope for those of us who still believe in quality.

How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success

We’ve all heard the stories. The twenty-first century equivalents of Daniel Boone, Paul Bunyon and Paul Revere. Amazing and larger than life.

First, there’s YouTube. Three former Pay Pal employees sketch out an idea on the back of a bar napkin (so to speak). They proceed to pursue the idea. Why? Because they can and they’re the types to do so. They launch quickly, continue to tweak, etc. and the site goes viral before the word was in the mainstream lexicon. As the story goes, less than two years later they sold to Google for well over a 1.5 billion dollars. Billion,

And then there’s Facebook, as “documented” in the film “The Social Network.” Mark Zuckerburg & Co whip together an idea, or stole it depending on who you ask. From there they rocket from stuffy East Coast Harvard to West Coast “swimming pools and movie stars” and onto billionaires and millionaires in less than two hours of running film time. With a little help from naiveté and Sean Parker, of course.

Both stories are impressive and inspiring. In that context, it doesn’t get much better.

Unfortunately, they are also both an exception to the rule. And not just small exceptions but are probably at the extreme edge of the exception scale. Winning the Power Ball lottery or dating a super-model is probably going to happen to you sooner than your idea becomes the next (me-to?) YouTube or Facebook. Yes, these thing can and do happen. I’m not here to squash dreams. But is looking to score the equivalent of back to back to back hat tricks in the World Cup a wise and realistic use of your energy?

Presuming you’re going to put some life-saving on the line, add stress to your life and your family (where before there was none), etc. perhaps there’s a better way? Perhaps, a business plan, or at least the draft of one?

Please note: I’m not a big fan of a business plan, as a plan per se. On the other had, the process of: collecting ideas; writing them down; organizing them so they make sense; flipping them upside down to look for holes; fully vetting your ideas; a draft a mission statement; assessing the size of the market and how you’re going to motivate and communicate with that market; defining goals and success and how those will be measured; sketching wireframes (if it involves a website) or the offline equivalent; formally and thoroughly analyzing the competition; reasonable and objective estimates of the resources required (i.e., time, talent and money); best case(s) and worst case(s); showing this collection of organized ideas to colleagues; and then stepping back yourself to see if the reward warrants the risk…

Well, there’s something to be said for a business plan forcing you to accomplish that.

The point of this exercise it’s only to prove yourself right, it’s to prove yourself wrong. You’re probably going to go forward anyway&mdash;as most entrepreneurs do&mdash;just make sure you know what you’re up against. The fact is, plenty of top flight squads have swaggered onto the pitch presuming victory over a less  worthy opponent and gone home humbled and without the victory. Yes, over-thinking it can be dangerous. However, I’m willing to bet that the non-victorious under-think more than they over-think it. Do you believe there’s no scrapheap of failed YouTube, Facebook, etc. wannabes? Just because that heap isn’t good Hollywood material doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit I have a soft-spot for spontaneity. I appreciate being quick to market. I embrace the agile mindset. When it’s time to run, I’m ready to go. Foolish! Hungry!! On the other hand, when it’s asked, “Nice. Which direction is this next YouTube/Facebook headed?” and “How are you going to get there?” the answer should be more than a couple pages of bullet points, most of which are the usual pages (e.g. About Us, Contact Us, etc.). Frankly, that type of swagger raises a red flag. Your opponent, the devil & his details, are probably smiling. The W is all but theirs.

The bottom line…Odds are you’re going to need to put the uber long-shot myths aside if you want Justin Timberlake in your “based on a true story” dream come true movie.

Finally, I’d like to end this with this thread from Quora.com:

http://www.quora.com/Startup-Advice-Strategy/As-first-time-entrepreneurs-what-part-of-the-process-are-people-often-completely-blind-to

Some serious food for thought in that one, yes?

A Simple New Year’s Resolution for a More Successful 2012

We’ve all done it. We aim high and mean well but end up not reaching our own expectations. Sometimes it’s frustrating being human. Yet there’s got to be a better way. And there is!

As the story goes, a couple weeks back I came across an (audio) interview with Heidi Grant Halvorson (author of “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently”) via Harvard Business Review’s HBR IdeaCast. From there I drilled down and around a bit and found an HBR article that I presume to be more or less a synopsis of her book. Then within that article were links out to other supporting articles.

When all was said and done I found the whole bundle insightful, relevant and (given the time of the year) highly share worthy.

The simple New Year’s resolution is this: resolve to consume these six articles. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did. Don’t panic, they’re all bite sized.

“What Successful People Do Differently”—An interview with Heidi Grant Halvorson

“Nine Things Successful People Do Differently” by Heidi Grant Halvorson

“Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything” by Tony Schwartz

“Get Your Goals Back on Track” by Heidi Grant Halvorson

“A Better Way to Manage Your To-Do List” by Peter Bregman

“How to Teach Yourself Restraint” by Peter Bregman

Dig in. I hope you find this collection as valuable as I do. Leave a comment, let me know what you think.

Betting the Farm on Natural and Organic Foods

“Zen Management Makes Millions” by Lee Lusardi Connor (NYReport.com, 1 February 2011). Truth be told, I still do quite a bit of reading offline. I imagine my brain has been trained to consume more comfortably and completely when I’m not always nose to screen. Admittedly,  I struggle with my lack of green-ness in this area. It’s Friday, so let’s not get too distracted.

I mention this because I wish you could see how much of this article I’ve circled, starred, drawn arrows to, etc. So rather than reiterate such a high percent of this interview I’ll just saay that if you and your organization are looking for a road map for the future that is both socially and environmentally conscious, and not just about dollar and cents, then invest some time in this article. I promise you won’t regret it.

Side note: While Applegate Farms’ Stephen McDonnell probably knows better than I do, I disagree with his presumption that the sales of natural and organic food is going to level off around 2018. To me that’s like saying that the need for all of us to eat and live healthy is going to level off. That doesn’t seem likely, does it?

Conquering Business Superstition

Quite often business life is not much different than personal life—although it should be.  When off the clock,  cause & effect applied incorrectly is called superstition, myth, etc. Yet the same misdirected correlations between 9.00a and 5.00p is called a project, or worse still insight. Same use of illusion but a different belief in its legitimacy.

Let’s discuss an example. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been in two and a half conversations centered around e-commerce. Each conversation naturally touched upon shopping cart abandonment. Before I continue I want to state that I agree that shopping cart abandonment is an area online retail outfits should study and certainly be aware of. That said, some seem to pursue it like the holy grail. Unfortunately, in many cases obsessing on the myth means something else is probably not being addressed.

  • Specifically, the checkout process is not rocket science. If the overall process is that complex then keep rehashing it until it’s concise. Good enough isn’t good enough. Yet somehow we all continue to wade through crummy checkouts.
  • The truth is, regardless of venue/medium, people don’t buy everything they pick up. I believe they call it window shopping.  Online it’s probably even worse. There’s no getting dressed and driving across town. It’s just a matter of clicks.
  • The truth is, people will have to leave a site sooner later. Sure, if there’s a problem on a particular page it should be fixed. But staying indefinitely is not going to happen.
  • Focusing on abandonment is only half the picture. What about all those who didn’t add anything at all? Granted, I’m more casual about my commitment to e-comm but in all my reading and meeting no one seems to discuss such a measurement.
  • What if marketing is driving in leads with the wrong expectations? For example, “free shipping” is not free if there’s a handling charge. While the difference might be correct on a technical level, to most guests it probably qualifies as sticker shock or bait & switch. Yet there are sites that advertise “free” shipping. It’s certainly possible the targeting and/or message is wrong.
  • What if the site just kinda sucks? (Yes, I purposely used kinda.) That is, once the visitor stays a while reality sets in. They don’t like the look. The don’t like the feel. The might not even like the product. Doubt (aka the sales killer) arises and the sale is lost. Let’s face it, abandonment is a function of commitment and some sites just aren’t worth committing to.

The truth (as opposed to the superstition) is that in the 2.5 cases mentioned The Guest Experience of each site is “loose”. The sites do not qualify as awful but they are not tight in a 2010 sense either. If a guest was determined or already comfortable with the brand/site then each are sufficient. One the other hand, it terms of an experience that might inspire someone to part with their money, all three fall under the average column.

Guests want an experience. They want a story. For many, buying online is still a special event. By that I mean when someone asks, “Where did you get that?”, they want to respond proudly and with something meaningful.  Simply throwing some goods online might have worked 5 or 10 years ago. It’s not where expectations are today.

Believe what you want to believe. That is your right.  However, if that belief does not bring about the necessary change (read: results) then it’s probably time to admit you’ve been on the short end of a superstition and/or a myth. Not to worry, the solution is to stop and look at the details of the challenge objectively. Don’t get sucked into the accepted and standard convention just because it’s convenient to do so. There are plenty of people and websites willing to sell superstition and myth (because it was what was sold to them).

A Must Read Courtesy of Sir Richard Branson

“15 Small Business Lessons from Richard Branson” as reported by Ann Handley (American Express’ OpenForum.com, 23 September 2010). In a word, brilliant. So much so that nothing needs to be added.

A Spin-free Culture Will Save You Money

“Patagonia, from the ground up” by Jennifer Wang (Entrepreneur, June 2010). It’s worth mentioning that the sub-headline is: While the rest of retail was tanking, Yvon Chouinard’s outdoor clothing and gear company was having its best two years ever. Here’s why.

Regardless of economic conditions the question everyone is constantly asking is, “Where are we headed?”. Today’s answer for both the means and then ends is Patagonia. As you read you’ll quickly realize that Yvon and Patagonia live in a spin-free zone. They not only talk the talk and walk the walk, they live the life as well.   Patagonia is not successful for what it  sells or how it markets. It’s much deeper and basic than that. Patagonia is successful because of what and who it is. And in doing so, it creates its own destiny.

I can guarantee it’s not staffed by zombies who are only showing for the pay and the benefits. Might that imply that the size of great companies will be limited going forward? Yes, it certainly seems that it does. It’s often said that smaller companies are more agile. Yes, but that still doesn’t quite explain it. The true difference is the level of passion and commitment. It’s not the size that matters per se. It’s how the size makes it easier to instill the culture consistently throughout the organization.

Let’s close with a good pull quote to engage you:

EM: Why do you compare yourself–and entrepreneurs in general–to juvenile delinquents?

YC: Yeah, I think entrepreneurs are like juvenile delinquents who say, “This sucks. I’ll do it my own way.” I’m an innovator because I see things and think I can make it better. So I try it. That’s what entrepreneurs do.

So, how much budget do you think Patagonia saves not having to force their marketing to spin an image that really isn’t there?