Friday, March 30, 2007

A pizza story with a lesson in business agility

Johanna Rothman recently blogged about a restaurant experience - reminding me of a pizza story that teaches a lesson in small business agility.

In the early '90s I was working at a consulting company in North Kingstown, RI. We were small enough that the whole company took a working lunch once a week at a local pizza place to catch up on what was going on. The pizza was good, but ordinary. Pepperoni, mushrooms, and green peppers were the usual toppings. Black olives were about as exotic as we got. One time I was selected for jury duty and had to spend a few days at the court house in Providence. For lunch, I walked to Wickenden Street on the East Side which has an eclectic reputation, and this is was how I learned about some amazing Pizza toppings. Sliced fresh tomatoes instead of puree, pesto and feta cheese blended with mozzarella or spinach with garlic and feta. When I got back to work, and our pizza lunch the next week, I said we should try something different. Our usual place served Greek salads and spinach pies, so they had all the ingredients. When we asked for pizzas with toppings that weren't on the menu, the proprietor protested, "That won't come out right - you won't like it and you’ll blame me!" "It's OK," I insisted, "try making one, and don't worry about how it comes out." I assured him, " You are a talented cook, you can do it. Remember, we are engineers, you know we'll eat anything.."

When the pies were served, the “specials” disappeared quickly, and the usual pizzas were only touched after the new choices were gone.

The next week all of our pizzas were “special.” Other customers saw the new toppings and started asking for them. The owner started experimenting and soon introduced other “gourmet” toppings like sun dried tomatoes and imported Greek sausage. Within a short time these new toppings appeared on the menu and became some of his most popular selections selling for a premium (read - higher profit margin) over the conventional pizzas and drawing in a different clientele (read - expanding to a new market segment).

The owner had the culinary skill to pull this off successfully, but it took some convincing to overcome his initial resistance. Trying something new was an opportunity to differentiate what was essentially a commodity product from the competition. The agile owner-operated business quickly took advantage of this opportunity while the nearby national pizza franchises, being constrained by their parent companies, took much longer to adopt gourmet toppings.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

George Santayana - Welcome the Future, Repsect the Past

We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past remembering that once it was all that was humanly possible.
George Santayana - in Apologia Pro Mente Sua 1940
This quote caught my attention when it was mentioned by Don Tapscott in his keynote address on Wikinomics at IDC Directions 2007 in Boston. I scribbled down part of the quote so I could look it up later.

When I looked up the quote online, I found it attributed to George Santanaya (1863-1952), who was a very prolific writer and philosopher. My recent experience researching another popular quote led me to want to confirm what I found online, so I stopped in the libary to look for further confirmation. Through an interlibrary loan, I was able to obtain a 1940 first Edition of the "Philosophy of George Santayana" edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp and published by Northwestern University. This volume contains a bibliography of Santayana's writings to 1940 that fills 57 pages. This volume is a unique collection of the writings of Santayana critically scrutinized by his philosophical contemporaries - with responses from Santayana himself.

The quote appears on page 560 in Santayana's reply to his contemporaries, "Apologia Pro Mente Sua." Several page images, including the title page are provided here for reference.

I'm here to serve,

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Naomi Karten on Customer Satisfaction at Boston-SPIN / ASQ Boston

Naomi Karten delivered a delightful presentation titled "Tales of Whoa and the Psychology of Customer Satisfaction" at the joint meeting of the Boston-SPIN and ASQ in Waltham on March 20. Before the presentation, I asked Naomi if the title was intended as a play on the words "woe" and "whoa".

From the Miriam-Webster online dictionary;
Main Entry: whoa Pronunciation: \, , hwô\
Function: verb imperative - Etymology: Middle English whoo, who Date: 15th century
1 — a command (as to a draft animal) to stand still 2
: cease or slow a course of action or a line of thought : pause to consider or reconsider — often used to express a strong reaction (as alarm or astonishment)

Main Entry: woe Pronunciation: \\
Function: interjection - Etymology: Middle English wa, wo, from Old English ; akin to Old Norse vei, interjection, woe, Latin vae Date: before 12th century — used to express grief, regret, or distress

Naomi intentionally substituted "whoa" for "woe" in the common expression. "Tales of woe" -- which is the wording that most people have heard before. Woe refers to the challenges people face in working with customers both in and outside of the software world. The definition of "whoa" -- pause to consider or reconsider -- is what we often need to do to identify ways to work with customers more effectively.

Her presentation provided a few simple and inexpensive steps to improve customer Satisfaction. Naomi admits that most of her advice is a simple statement of what should be obvious. Unfortunately many people ignore the basic principles of human interaction creating unnecessary friction in working relationships. Naomi's "Likability Lesson" focused on three ways to become more likable. 1. Listen - All people (including customers) really want to be listened to. 2. Be friendly - Smiling and taking time to build relationships smooths the road to success. 3. Lightheartedness - Nothing builds relationships like humor.

Naomi emphasized three key customer grievances that create perceptions of poor service.

1. Not being kept informed on matters of importance. No one likes to be kept waiting for answers.
2. Being made to endure excessive unexplained waiting.
3. Dishonesty: Having important information deliberately distorted or withheld. No-one likes doing business with someone they feel isn't being honest with them.

Naomi's advice on the delivery of bad news to customers is: "Don't delay." Naomi observed that most customers will understand when things didn't go exactly as planned; however, we need to acknowledge our responsibility to inform customers of issues or problems in a timely way, so they will have time to react and account for the bad news.

On the psychology of customer satisfaction and economics, Naomi provided the following insight:

While breaking a promise is bad, exceeding a promise is often not worth the effort. Nicolas Epley

This relates to setting and managing expectations. No one likes the disappointment of a missed promise, but in business, it often doesn't pay to go beyond expectations. Customers tend to adapt their expectations so the unexpected higher level of performance becomes the new standard expectation which can increase costs.

Naomi recommends making the following assumptions to avoid customer dissatisfaction :

1. People will interpret what you say differently than you intended.
2. People mean something different than you think they mean.

One of the things I liked best about Naomi's presentation was after each major point, she came back to the question, "What does this mean for you?" At which point, she passed along stories and anecdotes illustrating how to apply the concept in real world situations. For the assumptions listed above, "What this means for you," is that you should take time to confirm that customers understand what you said, and that you understand what you thought you heard.

Naomi recommended a couple of references for further reading:

A Mind of its Own by Cordelia Fine
The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander

At the end of the evening, one of the regular SPIN attendees commented to me that this was the best SPIN presentation so far this season. I have to agree.

I'm here to serve,

"Whoa Nellie" Photo above by jahdakine via flickr under a Creative Commons License

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Four Themes of Wikinomics - Don Tapscott at IDC Directions07

I'm really fired up after attending IDC Directions07 in Boston yesterday. Key themes of the conference were: innovation, hyper-disruption, and opportunity.

Don Tapscott, Chief Executive of New Paradigm and author of "The Naked Corporation" and more recently co-author of "Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything" gave the closing keynote address, which summarized the four themes of Wikinomics.

1. Peering
2. Being Open
3. Sharing
4. Act Globally

1. Peering - Economist Ronald Coase was awarded the 1991 Nobel Prize in Economics for his earlier work on Transaction Cost Theory to explain why corporations exist. As Henry Ford built his automobile company, he integrated steel, rubber and glass processing operations. The vertical company included stamping, forging, and machining and assembly operations. Ford also encompassed a trucking operation to move material and components and numerous other disciplines that are frequently outsourced in today's environment. The reason vertical integration made sense at the time was because it was less expensive to do those operations within the confines of the corporation than it was to purchase each item or service separately. Today the web enables collaboration reducing transaction costs to the point where open entities and individuals are collaborating to produce on scale that was previously the sole domain of corporations. Examples include Open Source Software, Boeing's development of the 7E7 Dreamliner and decentralized motorcycle manufacturing in China. This doesn't mean that collaborating individuals will replace corporations anytime soon, but it means that innovative upstart competitors are able to disrupt markets in ways never before possible.

2. Being Open - There is a huge potential to harness global expertise by sharing data and encouraging non-traditional collaboration. GoldCorp, an under performing mining company in Ontario turned itself around through the GoldCorp Challenge, an online contest where geologic data that was previously considered highly proprietary was published on the web for analysis by global scientists with over half a million dollars in prizes made available to entries that were able to identify where the gold was.

Synopsis of a May 2002 "FastCompany" article about the
GoldCorp Challenge:

Rob McEwen, chairman and CEO of Goldcorp Inc., based in Toronto, triggered a gold rush by issuing an extraordinary challenge to the world's geologists: He showed the world all of the geological data on GoldCorp's Red Lake mine online offering outsiders a prize to outsiders tell GoldCorp where they were likely to find 6 million ounces of gold.

The mining community was flabbergasted. Nick Archibald, managing director of Fractal Graphics, the winning organization from West Perth, Australia said, "The mining community was flabbergasted. "We've seen very large data sets from government surveys online, but for a company to post that information and say, 'Here I am, warts and all,' is quite unusual indeed."

For McEwen, the contest was a gold mine. "We have drilled four of the winners' top five targets and have hit on all four," he says. "But what's really important is that from a remote site, the winners were able to analyze a database and generate targets without ever visiting the property. It's clear that this is part of the future." McEwen knew that the contest was risky. But the risks of continuing to do things the old way were even greater.

3. Sharing - Give up on conventional wisdom about intellectual property. The new philosophy is "Give and ye shall receive." Companies need a portfolio of intellectual property, some of which they own and protect, and some of which they give away to build communities around their IP. IBM's investment in Linux is a prime example. In 2000, IBM announced a one-billion dollar investment in Linux. By January 2002, IBM had nearly re-couped the investment. By 2003, IBM was doing two-billion dollars per year in Linux related services (see The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler chapt. 2, p. 47.) A key concept of sharing is turning consumers into producers.
4. Act Globally In the US, Europe & Japan, corporations behave as multinationals. Multinationals think globally, but act locally. In China, India and other emerging economies, rising companies are adopting truly global business models. They think globally and act globally.

Don punctuated the talk with a few humorous quips such as: God may have created the world in 6 days, but he didn't have an installed base." He wrapped up with a bit of philosophy. We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will become the past, and we must respect the past, remembering that once it was all that was humanly possible. I thought Don attributed this quote to French aviator Antoine de St.-Exupery, author of the Little Prince, but my research indicates that this quote should be attributed to George Santayana.

I enjoyed Don's presentation so much, I stopped at Barnes and Nobel on the way home to buy the book. I couldn't wait to start reading it.

I'm here to serve,

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ten easy changes to increase personal satisfaction

I strongly recommend this hour long exploration of satisfaction and happiness from The Infinite Mind radio show. On this episode, titled "Satisfaction," Fred Goodwin asks three authorities in the field of psychology for a few pointers to increase personal satisfaction. The list is simple, makes sense, and all of them are free. Remember, money can’t buy happiness!

[Click here to listen now Real Audio format.]

Barry Schwartz: professor of social theory and social action at Swarthmore College and author of “The Paradox of Choice, Why More is Less
10. Develop realistic expectations about how good the results of your decisions will be.
9. Choose when to choose. Be willing to give up choice in certain areas of life. You don’t always need to assert your choice, give others the option to exercise their preference. You don’t always need to present yourself options then go to the effort of evaluating each possibility.
8. Make non-reversible decisions rather than always wanting to keep your options open. When you make reversible decisions you tend to second guess yourself, which leads to dissatisfaction.
7. Regret decisions less.

David Meyers: professor of psychology at Hope College in Michigan
6. Aerobic exercise is a powerful antidote to mild depression and anxiety.
7. Place greater priority on close relationships, investing time and energy in relationships that matter. Nurture relationships just as we nurture our career and bank accounts.
8. Recognize that our disposition is to an extent controlled by our genetic constitution.

Michael McCullough: associate professor of psychology and religion at University of Miami
9. Gratitude provides an important coping strategy in dealing with life’s challenges.
10. Grateful people are generally happier with life and more prone to spiritual satisfaction.Helping others cultivates feelings of happiness and satisfaction.

I'm here to serve,

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

How to syndicate a feed using Feedburner & Blogger

Feedburner provides free and easy to use tools that integrate with Blogger to create RSS feeds [Really Simple Syndication] that allow subscribers to view your blog in an aggregator or feed reader. If you need it, this article from TechCrunch will help beginners understand the popular options for online feed readers.

This tutorial explains how to burn your feed and embed it in a page element on Blogger.

The images below shows what the feed for this blog looks like when subscribed through:

My Yahoo:


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Workplace Leadership Sermon

Workplace leadership is about knowing people, recognizing their contributions and building relationships.

Could you show up at work tomorrow energized by recognizing that work is about the creation of value, recognizing that workers, when they are well led, become better people in the process.

Guy Kawasaki recommended this 20 minute video sermon about the wonder and the gift of work by Nancy Ortberg, a dynamic church leadership consultant and speaker. The sermon is also available from Melno Park Presbyterian Church in other formats.

Spirituality in the work place does not need to be associated with bible studies at lunch or evangelizing co-workers, it is about recognizing people for their contributions, thanking them by name and valuing their service. When you serve, you most accurately reflect the nature of God.

Twenty years ago, the job satisfaction rate in America was around 61%. Today, according to a recent MSN survey, less than 39% say they are satisfied with their work and call their work meaningful and significant. It is incumbent on leaders to create work environments and cultures that remind workers of the nobility of service.

We tend to operate out of a false economy that weighs people according to their job titles in a way that compares and dismisses certain people as less important because we frequently loose sight of the nobility of service. We would be wise to remember that the person in the mail room, or the person who serves a meal are all performing meaningful work because they reflect what it means to serve. Workers need to understand the context and the vision of their work so they can recognize what the organization is trying to accomplish. Great leadership reminds people that they don't just fill a slot, they serve a greater purpose.

Encouraging relationships at work is a key to leadership by creating meaning and significance for ourselves and other workers. Anonymity and lack of recognition of the dignity of people are signs of a miserable job.

Anonymity: Nobody knows your name or your story. We can provide a place where people can be known. Workers need to hear the words, "I know who you are," and I've heard good things about what you are doing.

All people created in the image of God have a great dignity and people are motivated by recognition of their dignity.

We should remind ourselves and others that there is deep significance in work, and be grateful for opportunities to serve in meaningful ways.


updated video link June 21 2009

Saturday, March 3, 2007

That's a good question!

Often asking the right question opens the door to insight and makes achieving our objectives easier. Failing to ask the right questions frequently leaves valuable information undiscovered, making it more difficult to reach our goals. Sometimes when I hear a good question, I say to myself, "I wish I thought of that."

Here are two good questions that you can use or adapt to your own situation.

The first question is designed to qualify prospects in a sales situation, where the prospect inquires about your products or services, but may just be fishing for information. This question helps separate real prospects from tire kickers, but it also provides valuable insight that can help close the real prospects.

1. What is your ideal outcome for this discussion?

This came from Harry Joiner an executive recruiter. This question may also be useful when trying to clarify the objectives of a new assignment. This question can also be turned around and used as to start a meeting effectively. The ideal outcome for this discussion is...

2. Do you have any reservations about hiring me?

Penelope Trunk in her Brazen Careerist blog suggests using this question at the end of a job interview to identify and address any kind of miscommunication and to get real feedback from the interviewer. This question can also be used in performance review discussions. Do you have any reservations about promoting me? Don't wait for the performance review, this needs to be asked well in advance. This question can also be adapted to elicit feedback on any kind of proposal. Do you have any reservations about this proposal? Whenever possible, I seek feedback on important proposals before submitting them. I can almost always improve my proposals by addressing reservations expressed by independent reviewers.