A Child’s Perspective on Business

“There is only one boss.  The customer.   And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” – Sam Walton

I recently had the privilege to speak to a group of young African American boys about leadership and what it takes to be successful.  This particular program (put together and hosted by our own Rick Rodgers) was designed to help these young boys develop the skills necessary to become tomorrow’s leaders.  It included a number of presentations with respected business leaders in the community (CEOs, CFOs, etc), as well as a group project to develop a business plan for a potential endeavor.  In short, it was a multi-day course that will no doubt enrich the lives of these young boys. Continue reading

From Ideas Come Answers

“From perspective comes clarity.  From clarity comes clear thinking.  From clear thinking come ideas.  And from ideas come answers.”

[Andy Andrews]

By now you are beginning to see a theme emerge around innovation as an “institutionalized” process for organizational success.  I’ve been saving this leadership quote for a few months now because I believe it speaks to the concept of innovation, particularly the importance of perspective when driving innovation.  What I love about this quote is how it chains the importance of starting with perspective if you hope to end with answers.  So let’s speak to the concept of perspective.

What is perspective?  Webster’s dictionary had two definitions I thought relevant in this case:

  • The capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance
  • The interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed (point of view)

So what does perspective have to do with innovation, solving problems, or gaining answers?  The answer is: everything.  Relevance.  Relationship.  Priority.  Point of View.  Before you can even begin to develop ideas that lead to answers, you have to gain perspective and clarity on the issue.

Think of how Apple has revolutionized the MP3 player, cell phone, and tablet market.  To be fair, they didn’t invent any of these devices.  The iPod, iPhone and iPad are all variants of technology that existed far before Apple created them.  But what Apple focused on almost entirely was perspective.  The perspective of their user.  How their customers would consume information.  How their customers might use their products.  So they had to put themselves in the shoes of that customer.  They had to start with perspective.  And I think we’ll all agree, Apple products are cool because of “how” you use them. Because of how they interface with you.

This is why it was so important for an organization to institutionalize innovation across the company.  Each of you has a unique perspective.  Many of you work directly with and beside your customers.  And in doing so you gain perspective – the perspective of those customers.  That is so important.  For any business to successfully deliver on the promise of its offerings it must start with that perspective.

Be Part of the Solution

“Why is it that every time a smart person needs help to solve a problem, they look everywhere except their own mind?”

[Quote from a 1957 Manpower operating manual]

This is a particularly telling quote one of my colleagues at ManpowerGroup found and highlighted to me last week.  It’s a particularly telling quote, as it really highlights the responsibility we all have as team members and leaders to contribute to the solution, not the problem.  Note the timeless nature of the quote – from an operations manual back in 1957!

This reminds me of a funny story one of my former colleagues told me that is worth repeating.  He was telling me about a boss he once had [we’ll call her Suzy to protect the innocent] who drove home the message of leadership and responsibility, particularly around offering potential solutions to problems and not relying on others to solve those problems.  The story goes like this:

“I remember when I first started working for Suzy.  The first time I had an issue arise, I called Suzy and said, ‘Suzy, I have this problem, what should I do?’ Suzy then responded, ‘well, what options have you considered?’  ‘None’, I said, ‘that’s why I called you.’  To which Suzy offered two or three solutions.

The next time I brought a problem to Suzy I got the same thing.  ‘Well, what options have you considered?’, said Suzy.  ‘None’, I said again, ‘that’s why I called you.’  To which Suzy sighed and again offered a few solutions.

The third time I brought a problem to Suzy, she again asked, ‘Well, what options have you considered?’, to which I again replied, ‘none, that’s why I called you.’  The phone immediately went dead.  So I called Suzy back and said, ‘we must have been cut off.’  ‘No’, Suzy replied.  ‘I hung up on you’.  ‘Why?’, I asked.  ‘Well, if you aren’t going to bring some options to solve the issues you raise, I don’t need you as a leader.’”.

A bit of a harsh lesson, to be fair.  But the story does highlight an important point.  Leadership isn’t about always having the right answer, but it is about taking the time to explore potential answers and not just highlight problems.

Every day you will be faced with challenges.  Your job in supporting your customers inherently requires you to face such challenges and issues on almost a daily basis.  So ask yourself this simple question – Are you acting as a leader and part of the solution, or looking to everyone else for the answer?

Jobs’ Seven Rules of Success

For this week’s Leadership Thought, I thought we might pay tribute to one of the world’s greatest innovators, Steve Jobs.  With his recent passing, much has been said and written about the power of his leadership and his relentless focus on innovation.  The following article from Carmine Gallo provides a great summary of what he calls Steve Jobs‘ seven rules of success.  It’s worth a read:


Steve Jobs’ impact on your life cannot be overestimated. His innovations have likely touched nearly every aspect — computers, movies, music and mobile. As a communications coach, I learned from Jobs that a presentation can, indeed, inspire. For entrepreneurs, Jobs’ greatest legacy is the set of principles that drove his success.

Over the years, I’ve become a student of sorts of Jobs’ career and life. Here’s my take on the rules and values underpinning his success. Any of us can adopt them to unleash our “inner Steve Jobs.”

  1. Do what you love. Jobs once said, “People with passion can change the world for the better.” Asked about the advice he would offer would-be entrepreneurs, he said, “I’d get a job as a busboy or something until I figured out what I was really passionate about.” That’s how much it meant to him. Passion is everything.
  2. Put a dent in the universe. Jobs believed in the power of vision. He once asked then-Pepsi President, John Sculley, “Do you want to spend your life selling sugar water or do you want to change the world?” Don’t lose sight of the big vision.
  3. Make connections. Jobs once said creativity is connecting things. He meant that people with a broad set of life experiences can often see things that others miss. He took calligraphy classes that didn’t have any practical use in his life — until he built the Macintosh. Jobs traveled to India and Asia. He studied design and hospitality. Don’t live in a bubble. Connect ideas from different fields.
  4. Say no to 1,000 things. Jobs was as proud of what Apple chose not to do as he was of what Apple did. When he returned to Apple in 1997, he took a company with 350 products and reduced them to 10 products in a two-year period. Why? So he could put the “A-Team” on each product. What are you saying “no” to?  
  5. Create insanely different experiences. Jobs also sought innovation in the customer-service experience. When he first came up with the concept for the Apple Stores, he said they would be different because instead of just moving boxes, the stores would enrich lives. Everything about the experience you have when you walk into an Apple store is intended to enrich your life and to create an emotional connection between you and the Apple brand. What are you doing to enrich the lives of your customers?
  6. Master the message. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, it doesn’t matter. Jobs was the world’s greatest corporate storyteller. Instead of simply delivering a presentation like most people do, he informed, he educated, he inspired and he entertained, all in one presentation.
  7. Sell dreams, not products. Jobs captured our imagination because he really understood his customer. He knew that tablets would not capture our imaginations if they were too complicated. The result? One button on the front of an iPad. It’s so simple, a 2-year-old can use it. Your customers don’t care about your product. They care about themselves, their hopes, their ambitions. Jobs taught us that if you help your customers reach their dreams, you’ll win them over.

There’s one story that I think sums up Jobs’ career at Apple. An executive who had the job of reinventing the Disney Store once called up Jobs and asked for advice. His counsel? Dream bigger. I think that’s the best advice he could leave us with. See genius in your craziness, believe in yourself, believe in your vision, and be constantly prepared to defend those ideas.

Communication is Critical

“The less people know, the more they yell”    [Seth Godin]

On many occasions, I have referenced quotes on communication as part of my Leadership Thought.  The reason is that communication is so vital to success in business – to culture, to attitude, and to perception (including that of the customer).  This week’s quote helps drive that point home.

To highlight the importance of communication, and in particular this week’s quote, I’d like to share a brief story.  Last week I went to the doctor for a scheduled visit.  After sitting in the waiting room for over an hour, the office staff informed me I would have to reschedule the appointment for later in the week.  At my return visit, I also waited over an hour before seeing my doctor.  Note the difference in my reactions to the two separate appointments:

Despite the wait time on my first visit, I did not leave frustrated.  I was comfortable the office staff had done all they could do.  After the second visit, I left frustrated and disappointed.  I even snapped back at the doctor when he finally showed up.

What was the difference in the two appointments and my differing reactions?  During the first appointment, the receptionist made it a point to communicate to me every 10-15 minutes on the status and reasons for the delay.  During the second appointment, not a single one of the nurses or doctors bothered to explain the delay.  Two separate appointments to the same business, and two dramatically different outcomes.

See what I mean?