Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Fantasy imagines success; striving asks: What do I do next?

Fantasy imagines success; striving asks: What do I do next?

The line utilized to headline this posting has been borrowed from a recent op-ed piece by William Raspberry a Washington Post syndicated columnist. It appeared in the December 27th edition of The Seattle Times and stopped me in my tracks with its own headline, “The what-next question”.

For as long as I remember, I’ve felt “driven” ever onward. In a blink, Raspberry re-framed that feeling for me by suggesting it’s a matter of striving more than being driven. Striving seems much more internally centric as opposed to being driven by an outside force as the source of one’s motivation. For that reason, striving as a means of moving forward seems inherently more positive than being driven forward. Taskmasters drive their teams forward. Leaders create within their teams the need to strive ever forward for mutual benefit. And while the crowds at any sports arena may feel they can drive or spur their team forward with their cheers, it usually comes down to the individual athlete’s desire to strive forward inch by inch toward the goal fueled by a source of personal energy that enables the progress.

With such a simple turn of phrase; striving as opposed to being driven, I read Raspberry’s piece with a new energy. He quickly sets up the view that being willing to constantly ask the “what-next question” is a source of fuel for striving ever onward. He also suggests that working to embed the question during the early education of our youth is the key to enabling whole generations to ask the question and thus continue to strive onward. Raspberry founded an organization called Baby Steps and it is in part the answer to his personal what-next question.

As Raspberry writes, “It comes down to priorities that are intensely personal: What's worth doing, and what is within my reach? …

What's worth doing? One answer is helping to save an endangered generation of children. I still believe in the magic of education, a belief instilled in me by my teacher-parents. It scares me that the parents of so many young children today don't believe in the magic. It's almost as if they are afraid to believe in it, afraid to dream of success because they've become convinced that only failure is real. They may fantasize, but they don't strive.

What's the difference? Fantasy imagines success; striving asks: What do I do next?I've taken it as my next-step project to help restore the faith that education can work wonders and to help another generation of young people learn to ask: What's next?”


As an aside and as a now fully engaged reader, I quickly e-mailed Raspberry for more details as to his Baby Steps project.

How can we spread the “what-next question” in our own lives? As a father of two teenage sons, I often wonder how and if I’m instilling in them the ability to drive (from now on I’ll substitute the word strive) toward what they want/need in life; for what will better themselves and those around them. Am I doing this job adequately? Will they have the gumption to ask “what do I do next” and then the fortitude to follow through? Time will tell of course. Until then, I appreciate Raspberry’s thought and the new lens he has given me for considering what’s next in my own life.

###

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Patron Saint of TV

Who says the Church doesn’t cover all its bases? Did you know there is a patron saint of TV? A good friend bought a little statue of St. Clare, Patron Saint of Television for me not long after I assumed responsibility for the TV business at Sony Electronics. We placed the statue on the office credenza and the market share results have been improving ever since!

Here’s the story of St. Clare as reported at www.accoutrements.com:

Clare was born on July 11, 1194 in Assisi, Italy to the Count Faverone Offreduccio. After hearing Saint Francis of Assisi preach in the streets, she confided to him here desire to live for God. On Palm Sunday 1212 she ran away from her parents’ palace during the night, and took the veil of religious profession from St. Francis.

In 1215 Clare move to the church of St. Damiano, was made Superior by Francis and led the convent for forty years. It was here she took a vow of poverty and founded the Order of Poor Ladies (Poor Clares). Everywhere the Franciscans established themselves the Poor Clares would follow with their convents.

She was credited with many miracles. In 1241 her prayers saved Assisi from the besieging soldiers of Emperor Frederick II. Toward the end of her life, when she was too ill to attend Mass, an image of the service appeared on the wall of her room, and she could hear the singing in the church, just as if she had been present. Pope Pius XII proclaimed Clare the patron saint of television in 1958 because of this vision.

And now you know how there came to be an official saint of TV.

###

Thursday, November 03, 2005

An RFID Experience of a Different Kind

Imagine getting an e-mail notice from your company recapping the number of bathroom trips you’ve made and the exact number of minutes you spent on each such trip. How about an e-mail notice that you are spending more time than you should “visiting” in the accounting, or engineering, or any other department for that matter. Sound spooky and overly big brotherish? Read on and discover how this reality may be coming to an employer near you sooner than you might think.

One of the “up and coming” technologies likely to be widely deployed soon is Radio Frequency Identification or RFID tags. As defined at Wikipedia, “Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) is an automatic identification method, relying on storing and remotely retrieving data using devices called RFID tags or transponders. An RFID tag is a small object that can be attached to or incorporated into a product, animal, or person. RFID tags contain antennas to enable them to receive and respond to radio-frequency queries from an RFID transceiver. Passive tags require no internal power source, whereas active tags require a power source.”

I first became aware of this technology while working for Sony via a Wal-Mart requirement that all inventories from major product suppliers be RFID tagged to facilitate better supply chain management ability. With an RIFD tag on pallets and pieces of inventory, Wal-Mart’s computer system can always know the physical location of the inventory at any point in time. Knowing the physical location of inventory in a distribution warehouse, the back of a storeroom, or staged for set-up in a store, can be a pretty handy feature to have when you are minimizing cost via strict inventory control to assure Wal-Mart’s famous low price positioning.

RFID tagging has lots of other uses too. For instance, it can be used as an automatic way to collect tolls as you zip through the turnstile on Jersey’s Garden State Parkway in your automobile. It can be used as an implant on pets to make sure that their owner’s contact information is readily available should the pet get lost.

RFID technology is also being studied by the US Government as a means of speeding folks through the Passport Control process. Tiny RFID chips embedded into your passport would transmit critical identifying tidbits of information about you enabling one to simply walk through a passport control checkpoint with automated ease. This idea has met with some resistance however as it would also make it possible for unfriendly folks to electronically snoop on a crowd and identify the Americans amongst foreigners via their RFID signatures; so even if you’re not acting the part of the “ugly American” your US Government issued passport could sell you out without any required action on your part.

However, with the exception of the passport issue, none of the above ever gave me pause to think about the possible drawbacks of this wonderful little technology. Being a generally well organized person, the idea of knowing where all that stuff, inventory, pets, or toll tokens resided at all times seemed pretty handy.

The other day though, I had a first hand experience with RFID that made me stop and rethink the power behind this little technology. I was a guest in a building where all visitors and employees carried RFID tags as part of their security-name badges. For the first time I looked at that little security badge as not just a tool designed to enable me access to the building’s rooms and hallways but also as a tool for all my movements to be tracked in real-time. A monitoring service in the building could call up my unique RFID tag and know exactly where I was at a moment’s notice anywhere in the building. What’s more, it could constantly check my whereabouts against a prescribed list of locations I should and shouldn’t be in and against preset time limits for visits to the bathroom, water cooler, etc.

Of course, the practical side of me knows that there has not been any real sense of personal privacy for some time now in this wired world we live in. Most of the time though the convenience it enables is well worth the trade-off in privacy. I also recognize that every company has the right to expect that employees will not loiter where they shouldn’t or enter departments where their business function doesn’t require their presence. To date, the system for enforcing this concept has relied on honest and well intentioned agreements of implied trust (along with physical feedback) between the employer and the employee. With RFID however, the power to track and be tracked is unlike anything yet seen.

The idea of wearing an RFID badge that constantly broadcasts my whereabouts is an entirely different thought to get comfortable with. I asked, “You mean, everywhere I move, I’m tracked like a blip on a radar screen?” “Yep,” replied my host “that’s the “power” of RFID in this application”.

After a while, I found myself taking the badge off and putting it on the table in front of me. Of course, I recognize that as long as I was near the badge, I was still that blip on the radar and I certainly couldn’t go far without needing the badge to open a door or allow me past a security gate, however always thinking about my movements as that radar blip was a bit unsettling.

I suppose as with most technologies, in time, one forgets their worries and goes about their day and maybe even comes to realize the power of the technology when you’re trying to locate someone for yourself for instance. At the moment though it feels too much like the ankle bracelets used to keep track of prisoners while they are on probation or house arrest. Now that doesn’t conjure up the warm and fuzzy type of employer – employee relationship one might dream of does it?

###

Monday, August 08, 2005

The PC Challenge

OK, so the headline made you think this would be about personal computers and all the challenges they can represent in our modern day world. Sorry about that because if it did, you would have thought wrongly. Rather this note is about challenging the political correctness (PC) that drives so much of what we do in the modern business world and acknowledging how at least one company is taking up the challenge in a very real manner.

Ever notice how businesses typically send out “Greetings of the Season” cards instead of Christmas, Hanukah, etc. holiday specific greetings? It’s done because no company wants to potentially offend any specific group and risk the wrath of the PC media police.

Alaska Airlines however, marches to a different drum. Not only will you generally find better than average and friendlier customer service with Alaska (based on personal observation across more than 2 million miles of flying with airlines of the world) you’ll also find one little difference that challenges this PC issue in a very powerful manner.

When Alaska Airlines serves a meal on one of their flights, there on the tray, you’ll find a simple little slip of paper that quotes scripture, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving.” Short and sweet with no fanfare and yet a wonderful challenge to the PC reality most businesses fret over everyday in planning their customer communications. Does it upset some customers? I don’t know. Does it speak to the values of the company? Absolutely. In all the airlines I’ve flown, only Emirates Air (the Middle Eastern success story) does anything similar in that Emirates Air offers passengers prayer beads once they’ve boarded the flight. If you do not want the prayer beads, just pass. If you do not want to think about Alaska’s prayer slip, just turn it over. Both airlines however deserve much credit for openly challenging the PC mentality that so many others struggle with.

On a related note, recently I spent a few days in the Rocky Mountains outside of Estes Park, Colorado visiting with family and friends and taking simple excursions into the park (photos at http://gudorf.net/rockies2005.htm). On our last day there, I rose early to slip into the park for some sunrise-lit photo opportunities. With the park still and nearly absent of other vehicles and people, I must confess I felt as if I were in a place of worship. For me it was like being in an amazing Cathedral; quiet and expansive. I can’t help but think others, regardless of their individual faiths, must feel a similar degree of awe and wonder in the presence of such a great slice of our physical world.

In full view of the rugged, snow capped peaks, a meandering creek, a gurgling waterfall and plentiful grazing elk, I did not think of the realities of our PC world. Rather, I thought of Alaska Air and found myself whispering “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving.” Psalm 69:30.

God bless us all.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Of Interviews & Truths

If you’ve ever interviewed for a job more than once during your career, perhaps you can appreciate that the questions are often times simple variations on the same themes over and over again.

In my case, as a sales, marketing, and business development professional, the common questions generally revolve around; How did you learn your sales skills? Where did you learn about finances and budgeting? And the always popular tell us about the most meaningful experience from your educational background request.

Now as all good interviewees know, proper etiquette suggests you carefully structure your response to best align with information the interviewer is looking for and if you can successfully structure your answer to bridge your past business experience with the needs of the interviewer’s company, you get to proceed to the next step. Of course, you don’t lie (that’s simply unacceptable) but you do want to present the best possible answer that proves you are the man or woman for the job. Thus smart interviewers think and plan carefully how best to answer the common questions they are likely to hear again and again.

All is well with the above approach. However, wouldn’t it be nice to simply tell the “raw truth” the next time? So, without another thought, here are the truest of answers to the sales skills, budgeting skills, and educational experience questions for consideration the next time an interviewing opportunity heads down the home stretch into those same old themes.

Sales Skills

While I’ve spent more than half of my career in official “sales” jobs, the lesson that set me so well equipped onto my sales journey occurred when I was only about nine years old. I remember the excitement of the day when as a member of Cub Scout pack 737, I rushed home with a box full of candy bars as part of my first ever fund raising participation opportunity. The box was full of sleeves of name brand candy bars priced at $2.00 for five bars. According to my Scout leader, all I needed to do was knock on the neighbor’s doors and they would buy the bars lickety-split; he promised it would be easy!

My traveling salesman of a father however had a different idea. In spite of my excitement and my repeating the scout leader’s simple instructions, my father insisted that I wait until he got home at the end of the week so he could properly train me on the required sales techniques. And so, I waited. And yes, I probably became the youngest person ever to actually participate in a sales role play training program just to sell Scout candy.

My father’s instruction however, clearly taught me how to establish an introduction that included stating why I was interrupting the neighborly prospect, properly presenting the “finest available candy bars”, underscoring it was for the benefit of Scout pack 737, overcoming the $2.00 price tag objection, and asking for the order. His role playing process had me knocking at our own front door which he in turn answered and then I had to “sell” him on my wares. Of course, the Cub Scout uniform I had to wearing while on these sales calls also had to pass an army-like inspection before I headed out the door. In all the years since and through all the training that I’ve participated in, those first words of wisdom for achieving success in sales still ring true.

Without a doubt, my early success as a Cub Scout candy seller based upon my father’s training, generated the excitement that later sent me so well equipped out into the world upon my journey in sales. And while this answer doesn’t eloquently provide the interviewer a view into all the technical and relationship driven elements of professional sales the question is meant to uncover, it is simply the truth.

Budget & Finance Skills

Rather than the MBA driven response that clearly links my past work performance to business success as an interviewer might anticipate, the truthful answer as to my budgeting and finance skills were learned at 11 years of age from my Mother.

You see by the time I was eleven years of age, I held a local newspaper route delivering nearly 100 papers each morning before school and collecting the fees once a week. Once I had the earnings from this route burning a hole in my pocket, I entered the domain of the consuming public and fell in lust with a brand new, bright blue bicycle. Not just any bicycle mind you but a 26”, 5-speed, Schwinn bicycle! The only trouble was that the price tag was $80 (yes, that was many years ago) and I didn’t yet have such a princely sum of cash.

Like any red-blooded 11 year old, I started down the path of badgering my parents into making the purchase for me to no avail. As the oldest of eight children, I can now look back and see the wisdom of their response! However, my mother’s own wisdom cooked up the following lesson; If I would commit to and live by a budget system that divided my earnings amongst three envelopes; one for long term savings, one for short term savings, and one for charity, she’d match me dollar for dollar on the short term envelope to help me buy that shiny new Schwinn.

And so it was that by the end of that summer, my envelopes were showing their progress and my short term envelope accumulated the necessary amount to enable my first ever “major” purchase and I became the proud if not possessive owner of a 26”, 5-speed Schwinn bicycle.

More importantly, I had learned a budgeting system that has served me well for many years including during those first few years of my marriage when we actually used a similar envelope system to accumulate our rent payments, car payments, and pizza money – all in separate envelopes of course!

Imagine telling an interviewer from a big, real-world company that in spite of the MBA, my best budget and finance lessons were learned from my mother’s envelope system in a quest for a Schwinn bicycle! There probably wouldn’t be enough envelopes to hold all the accounts necessary for a modern day business.

Education Experience

Finally, when that tired, catch all question surrounding the most valuable lesson from your educational years comes about, the proper plan of attack is to describe one’s schooling success and relate it as closely as possible to how it provided unique insights into the workaday world. Such an approach, done well, is sure to impress the interviewer.

In my case, however the truthful answer is simply that out of all my educational experiences, the FFA or Future Farmers of America taught me the most directly applicable lessons for business success. So much for wowing them with impressive scholastic degrees!

You see as a teenager, the family moved from the suburbs of Virginia to the family homestead in rural Ohio. Now don’t misunderstand, we didn’t move onto the farm, we were townies in a town of 2,000 (counting the cows). However, for some reason, perhaps an early teenage rebellious phase, I chose to join the local high school’s FFA program. It was within the FFA program that I learned how to; judge cows (miserably as they all looked the same to me), determine whether a pound of light soil or a pound of dark soil weighed more (I incorrectly guessed “dark” (they are of course equal) on my final exam’s extra credit question for this tidbit), and how to operate a meeting by Robert’s Rules of Order, how to properly construct and participate in a debate team, and how to prepare and present a speech in public. Quit a range of topics I’m sure you would agree.

As it was, the FFA’s programs for meetings, debating, and speaking, gave me all the foundational skills necessary to attack the business world with vigor. Even today, I am constantly going back to the lessons learned in those FFA programs. Imagine telling the interviewer that the FFA provided all the key elements necessary for survival in the big business world of today!

Summary

So, there you have it. The three basic questioning themes I have heard all my career; sales, budgets, and education countered by the three absolutely truthful answers; my Dad’s candy lesson, my Mom’s three envelope budget lesson, and the meeting, debate, and public speaking lessons of the FFA. None of these truths I have yet to deliver to an interviewer – at least not yet!

Best wishes for success in all you do!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Giuliani on Leadership

The other day, I had the pleasure of hearing former New York City Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani speak on the Principles of Leadership. He defined them as belief, optimism, courage, relentless preparation, teamwork, expectation setting, and communication. These seven keywords comprise the principles Giuliani now believes served him well on the leadership front for so many years (they are also the basis of a book he recently released). Giuliani sprinkled his talk with references to his days as a US attorney and mayor, his first hand September 11th, 2001 response role, and his brush with prostrate cancer.

BELIEF

The first principle; belief, is perhaps the most critical. Giuliani very simply stated that if you don’t know what you believe in and you don’t know why you believe in it, you will find it very difficult to stay the course of successful leadership when the rapid-fire of day to day issues pelt you from every angle. His example leader in this regard is former president, Ronald Reagan, who held two very strong beliefs which enabled him to accomplish more during his tenure that any other modern day president.

The first such belief Reagan held was that communism was simply a bad ideology and that it must be eradicated for the good of society at large. The steadiness of this belief eventually led to the crumbling of the Iron Curtain and a new era for those on both sides of the divide. Reagan’s second key belief was that the federal government had grown so large that it was actually holding back the people it was meant to serve. By breaking down and simplifying “big government” Reagan believed he could free the spirit of the American people such that they would serve themselves much more robustly than any government mandated program.

Contrast such firmness of belief with many of today’s political leaders who seemingly adjust their “beliefs” based on what the latest consumer poll tells them people are thinking; as if leadership was simply a matter of mirroring those you want to lead. The reality, of course is that poll-based-leadership is not leadership at all, as the “leader” is merely following the momentary will of the masses. As a popular country music song from a few years ago says, “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for everything”. The power of core and unwavering beliefs is certainly a key attribute of successful leaders.

OPTIMISM

The second principle Giuliani expounded upon was the leader’s need to be optimistic. The extreme example he made was for his audience to imagine he appeared in front of his team while spouting off as to how impossible a situation might be and how it was useless to even try and resolve the situation followed by then asking his people to follow him forward. Of course, few if any folks would follow such a leader. Note that this is not the type of optimism that breeds a false success of potential or future accomplishment. Rather, it is an optimism that enables one to see a situation clearly and then formulate potentially positive paths toward the desired outcome.

Author and speaker Zig Ziglar often asks his audience to imagine that their pessimistic surgeon came into pre-op mumbling and muttering about how their chances were slim to none given the simply impossible situation they were in. The Ziglar’s optimistic surgeon on the other hand, would enter the picture clearly explaining exactly what the reality was for your consideration and then assuring you of his positive track record and his expectations that things would end well for you as well. Which surgeon would you want to be holding the knife over you? An optimistic one or a pessimist? Optimism is certainly a key principle needing to be embraced by those hoping to lead.

COURAGE

Courage was the third principle in Giuliani’s view. And while courage can take many forms, from the extraordinary life saving type to the everyday mundane courage behind carrying forward all the little steps in life, the key courage I heard in Giuliani’s words was the courage to keep moving forward toward the goal regardless of the situation. Giuliani spoke of firefighters having the courage to run into burning buildings when everyone else was running out and he spoke of the courage exhibited by former president Reagan in acting upon his beliefs in spite of the contrarian views which opposed him. In both cases courage was the key driver resulting in action.

Action driven courage though is different than ceremonial courage. An ancient tribe in New Zealand was known for marking their “courageous” young men with a unique facial tattoo. However, the courage was bestowed upon them as a part of the tattooing process itself, given the extreme pain caused by the work of an ancient facial tattoo, and not by some prior show of courageous action. No, the courage referenced by Giuliani is not the type of courage one can bestow upon another. Rather it is an internal form of courage, grounded in strong beliefs and fueled by optimism which leads to action and then progress. It is the courage behind the saying, “go as far as you can see and then you’ll see further”.

It seems that at times, courage is an attribute only thought of on some grand scale; lifesaving actions and such. However, it simply and most definitely takes courage to fuel the large number of steps necessary for day to day living. Courage is the key that enables action. So, courageously embrace the words of songwriter Jimmy Buffett, “leap and the net will appear.” That’s true courage.

PREPARATION

If courage is a key principle of leadership, then preparation is the foundation upon which it is built. Firefighters can courageously run into burning buildings because they have prepared over and over again to enable them to meet such dangers head-on and manage the ramifications. Giuliani refers to this type of required preparation as “relentless preparation.”

Renowned personal improvement author Stephen Covey describes relentless preparation as the sharpening of a saw and he reminds us that even skills we exhibit and exercise regularly require renewal. In fact, if we spent more time sharpening the saw of the skills we are truly good at versus grinding away on the saws we see as weakness, the relentless preparation part would benefit us in ways magnified by leveraging the unique values we each bring to the world. Like sharpening a saw, preparation is simply a continuing requirement for success.

Abraham Lincoln was once quoted as saying that if he had eight hours to cut down a tree, he’d spend six hours sharpening his axe. That is relentless preparation and a good example of the leadership principle of preparation in action.

TEAMWORK

Teamwork as a principle of leadership was next on Giuliani’s list. He was quick to point out the power of teams and the necessity for leaders to foster great teams. To set the stage, he shared a story from one of his mentors who used to give every new manager of people a set of Russian nesting dolls. When a nesting doll is opened, another doll is found inside, which in turn, when it is opened, yet another doll is found inside. This continues until the tiniest of dolls remains. The mentor Giuliani referred to always put a simple note into the smallest of the nesting dolls. The note read, “If you only hire people who are smaller than yourself, then you’ll never grow larger than you are now.”

Many speakers on business and success speak of the need for teamwork, yet few spend as much time as Giuliani in expounding the necessity of carefully and deliberately building that team. The world of sports knows this maxim well as managers are always attempting to assure that they have the right players on the team from both a skill set and a personality perspective. Business managers who inherit a team need to think just as carefully as to whether or not that team is constructed in such a manner as to generate success.

General Electric’s former CEO, Jack Welch knew something about making sure that teams we’re being continually strengthened. He meticulously reviewed his teams and sought to replace the lowest performing 10% or so of the team with new members every year as a mechanism for facilitating constant growth and assuring the team’s ability to thrive.

Giuliani stressed the importance of carefully studying your own personal weaknesses. Not so that you could work to improve them directly but rather so that you could make sure the teams you construct would counter those weaknesses with aplomb. Careful, selective team building early and often can do far more to breed success than attempting to change abilities and realities of existing team members who may have already surpassed their propensity for change.

EXPECTATION

The setting of expectations was the next on Giuliani’s list of leadership principles. Stated simply, Giuliani emphasized the need to “under promise and over deliver” in all action plans. Enough said.

COMMUNICATION

Lastly, regardless of the strength of all the other principles singing in full harmony, one must communicate within and outside of the team to round out the full role of leadership. The leader has the clear responsibility for seeding the lynchpin of communication success. This means clearly communicating at the individual level, the internal team level, and the external world level. A good team with all the proper working dynamics can still meet with failure if their good deeds, failures, and accomplishments are not shared with others so that the world can appreciate the team as a success.

FINAL WORD

And so, Giuliani’s words touched quite nicely on the great principles of leadership and he delivered his message with the grace and posture we saw in spades in this hours, days and weeks following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Without a doubt, if leaders and those who wish to become leaders develop and adhere to these principles, then success is assured.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Trading Up: Why Consumers Want New Luxury Goods... And How Companies Create Them.

Yesterday, I heard Michael Silverstein, author of Trading Up: Why Consumers Want New Luxury Goods... And How Companies Create Them address a group of luxury good marketers in a conference at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. The audience ranged from high-end jewelry and watch makers, to high end travel and hotel players, to top shelf auto and electronics manufacturers and everything in between. Michael shared chart after chart showing how both the upper end and the lower end of most consumer markets are growing nicely while the middle of the market is shrinking by double digit percentages.

It seems that consumers are buying $500 jeans at the high end shops but their underwear and socks are coming from Wal-Mart and Target style stores. This phenomenon, in part, is addressed in detail in Michael’s book. How as business owners, marketers, and salespeople can we make sure that our day to day offerings are in tune with this trend? Further ask yourself how we make sure that our offerings don’t get caught in the veritable squeeze of the middle market?

Michael also took the opportunity of his speech to warn the purveyors of luxury goods that the growth they are enjoying now, at the top end of the market, will very swiftly and very definitely be attacked by Korean and Chinese manufacturers who are ever so rapidly coming up the innovation and quality curves at the same time their brethren attack in the more traditional low priced entry level arenas.

So, if you’re enjoying the luxury business today, you need to be ready for an attack by entrants who may not even be on your radar as of yet while also watching out for those middle of the pack players who will attempt to move upscale to avoid the squeeze of the middle.

Likewise, if you are middle market player, not only is the trend working against you right now, you need to also worry about 1) today’s luxury players expanding downward, 2) the new entrants who shoot for the top of the market landing in the upper middle to compete with you instead, and of course 3) the potential for the low end suppliers to creep into the lower middle of the market where they’ll fight for your share as well. Oh the woes of the middle!

What a market battle we have brewing. Surprisingly, Michael didn’t get any questions from this group of luxury marketers who sat in semi-disbelief as to the potential turmoil just ahead versus the positive, go-go messages of their 2004 successes. That’s a real shame as Michael has posed some great questions for discussion amongst businesses of all types. See and enjoy Trading Up: Why Consumers Want New Luxury Goods... And How Companies Create Them.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Malcolm Gladwell - BLINK: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Last evening, I had the pleasure of hearing Malcolm Gladwell speak during a conference at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. Malcolm is the author of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. I had read Tipping Point a few years back and looked forward to hearing him speak. In fact, his appearance at this conference was a big reason for my attendance.

True to form, Malcolm’s message rang out with all the directness of his written word. Malcolm shared the story (also shared in Blink) of how a museum was fooled, even after much time intensive (read expensive) study as to the authenticity of a piece of “ancient” artwork. However, once fooled, yet still unbelieving, they found it unfathomable that one art expert after another, upon seeing the piece for the first time, instantly commented that it was a fake.

Thus began Malcolm’s advice that one should put far more trust into our individual instinct when it comes to key decisions then in the “established” process of decision making often lauded as the only respectable way to reach a conclusion.

Inherently, I think we all understand this to be true. However, the analyst in us seeks to back up our decisions with logical explanations. In the world of selling, this happens all the time. People will tell you that they make their purchasing decisions based on logic when in reality, they buy based on emotion; a sort of gut instinct as to what's best if you will.

For instance, I recently purchased a new, used-car. Now, I could tell you I bought it because it was a great deal, priced below market value, had four doors with adequate interior room, was still covered under warranty for another 20k miles, and it was in excellent shape. All good logical reasons to make such a purchase I’m sure you’d agree. However, the real reason I bought it was because it had a 400HP V8, a 6-speed manual transmission, was black on black leather, and it simply made me grin from ear to ear when I test drove it! See? Emotion made me do it!

In the world of marketing, we endeavor long and hard to question customers in depth so we might understand why they buy what they buy. Imagine though if we developed our marketing campaigns purely around the logical reasons for making a purchase? If we did, we’d miss the entire point for the customer (all of them) whom “decides” based on emotion!

Malcolm’s advice to trust our intuition and not attempt too heavily to explain our reasoning with logic is a great reminder to all of us in the marketing and sales world to seek out those things that trigger such intuition driven decision processes as much as we possibly can. Of course, always have a handy list of logical reasons at the ready so the customer can justify their purchase to others!

Check out Malcolm’s books at Amazon: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

As Fast Company wrote in January, 2005, Malcolm “is ‘just a thinker. But what a thinker. His provocative ideas are taking the business world by storm.”