The search for conformity


 
The question for employers is “Do you want conformity, or something else?”

For employees, it might be “How long before a 3D printer or some other automation technology replaces me?”

For consultants, this is one way billing by the hour can make you average, depending on the work.

No matter what you do, or what others do for you, it’s worth some thought.

Don’t Listen to these Creativity Killers

Green Elephants Garden Sculptures
Creative Commons License photo credit: epSos.de

I‘ve been reading John Maxwell’s “How Successful People Think” recently.

This list of creativity killing comments from John’s book reminded me of so many things going on in the world these days that I simply had to make it a guest post.

How many times have you heard these comments when you shared an idea?

  • Follow the rules.
  • Don’t ask questions.
  • Don’t be different.
  • Stay within the lines.
  • There is only one way.
  • Don’t be foolish.
  • Be practical.
  • Be serious.
  • Think of your image.
  • That’s not logical.
  • It’s not practical.
  • It’s never been done.
  • It can’t be done.
  • It didn’t work for them.
  • We tried that before.
  • It’s too much work.
  • We can’t afford to make a mistake.
  • It will be too hard to administer.
  • We don’t have the time.
  • We don’t have the money.
  • Yes, but …
  • Failure is final.

While some of them might be worth a discussion somewhere down the road, they’re guaranteed to kill creative thought during idea formation.

This is just a sliver of the riches in this compact, valuable read: Buy and READ John’s book.

Profitable creativity or touchy-feely crap?

Jobs.

Politicians talk about them.

Some own businesses that have created jobs.

The trouble is, it’s not just any-old-job that needs creating.

According to author Richard Florida, 45% of US jobs today are service-sector jobs. In other words, often low-paying jobs as retail sales clerks, customer service staff, food prep workers, personal health aides, and so on.

If you think back a few years, these are the same jobs that Americans supposedly “didn’t want to do”.

Rhetoric aside, the problem with these jobs is that the prevailing wage requires 2 or 3 of them to support a single household, sometimes more.

This isn’t a blog about humanities and social science, so we won’t pursue the impacts of that problem.

And those service jobs?

Florida comments on his blog about a portion of the working population that he calls the “Creative Class”. He refers to expanding creativity well beyond this so-called “class” in this comment about nationwide jobs strategy:

At bottom, a jobs strategy needs to start from a fundamental principle: That each and every human being is creative and that we can only grow, develop, and prosper by harnessing the full creativity of each of us. For the first time in history, future economic development requires further human development. This means develop a strategy to nurture creativity across the board â?? on the farm, in the factory, and in offices, shops, non-profits, and a full gamut of service class work, as well as within the creative class. Our future depends on it.

It might be easy to discard this as a bunch of touchy-feely crap that’s of no use to anyone.

Before you do that, look around in your own community.

Who’s rocking?

Which employers are rocking, despite the average condition of businesses in today’s economy? Why do you think their situation is so different from everyone else’s?

Have you ASKED?

It’s easy to say “well, they aren’t in the construction, building materials or real estate business”, but that’s the lazy answer.

First off, they might very well be in those industries. If they are, they’re doing something differently than those who are not doing well.

They observed. They reacted. They planned. They strategized. And after all that, maybe they got a little lucky.

Are they also innovative? Creative? What processes are used to create new products, nurture new ideas and change their market, much less their business?

How’d they get that way? I suspect part of it comes from observing others and from experience on prior projects.  There might be a key employee who drives the entire company’s creative process, or transformed how they look forward and how fast they take action.

Finally, they might exhibit…

Habits

Australian Innovation, an innovation-focused group of representatives from the private sector as well as Australian Federal and State agencies, identified 7 key habits of innovative/creative organizations:

  1. A deep understanding of the customer and market needs: Engage with customers; Understand industry trends and competitive environment; Big picture perspectives
  2. A â??Cultureâ? of innovation: Vision; leadership; Executive support; Openness to new ideas; supportive/encouraging of innovation; commercial imperative to innovate; Flexibility.
  3. An Open Innovation model: Open collaboration model and having global partnerships
  4. An appropriate funding model for innovation activities: Willingness to invest in R&D activities; Balanced investment in future versus current needs.
  5. Ability to execute: Commitment of resources dedicated to innovation; Continuous development/improvement processes; Benchmarking; Clear goals/deadlines/strategy; Best practice evolves over time (dynamic); Flexible and quick to move.
  6. Human intellect/creativity: Development of skills; Knowledge base; Talented Educated individuals; Willingness to learn/change.
  7. Management of Intellectual Property: Ability to manage/protect IP that is generated through the innovation process in a practical manner.

If you let yourself get past the touchy-feely, can you develop these habits?

What works for the rockers?

Make a list of the rockin’ businesses in your community. Ask to meet their CEOs. Ask all of them to get together as a group and speak to your Chamber of Commerce or even an adhoc group of business owners.

Ask them what they do differently. Ask open-ended questions. Yes/No questions don’t often contribute to breakthroughs.

You might also look nationally to see who the creative employers are – no matter what kind of workers they employ.

The obvious in-our-face answers are Apple and Facebook, but not all creative employers are in the tech sector. In fact, they’d better not be limited to that sector.

Want to start simple? Ask yourself at least one question per day that confronts and challenges the status quo in your market.

Playing Netflix Chess

I read publications, punditry and blogs focused on a number of different industries.

I hope you do as well. Reading only the trade publications from your industry is dangerous, dangerous, dangerous.

For example, there’s an awesome blog post by Ken Doctor based on comments made by Netflix founder Reed Hastings“. Go read it (< 1000 words) and slide back here. The link will open in a new window.

I don’t have a digital business

Some of these things might be perceived as applicable only to a “digital business”. As you read “Savor the economics of digital distribution” or “presentation revolution is still to come”, you might wonder how these could impact your blacksmithing business.

I think if you look hard enough – every business probably has a digital (ie: tech-related or internet-enabled) component.  If yours doesn’t, maybe it should…

I see you out there bouncing up and down in your chair. You disagree.

If you’re a guy whose office is a F-250 full of tools, think a little about estimates, appointment scheduling, material ordering / delivery, drawings, invoices, training and safety.

Enough of that…Let’s discuss Reed’s lessons.

Spend your time on tomorrow, not today

This is all about being strategic. Delegate today, as much as possible. If you get bogged down in the “crisis of the urgent”, you’ll have a very difficult time focusing on the long-term strategic needs. You can’t (shouldn’t, at least) manage your business “paycheck to paycheck”, even if your cash flow currently feels that way.

Savor the economics of digital distribution

In All the President’s Men, it was “follow the money“. In your business, it’s “follow the paper”. As you read about the $600 million Netflix currently spends on postage and the labor involved in DVD quality control, consider the costs and labor you incur by shoveling paper around.

Even if you are legally obligated to keep that paper, you can make changes that allow you to handle it ONCE and thereafter refer to digital copies until the paper copies are (possibly) needed. Leroy Schulz suggested I get a ScanSnap several years ago. I finally did. UNREAL. If you deal with a lot of paper, just get one. That’s just one example of a small, but substantial change you can make to unchain yourself from the paper.

Don’t sweat the timeline

The time to be visionary about what your clients need is NOW. It is NOT when they (finally?) realize they need that great idea you had years ago.

That said, you should expect to have to educate your customers and your industry about why that visionary thing is so important. It will take time. Take advantage of the visionary advance while you can and sell it as soon as you can show value for it.

No one asked for an iPhone, yet Apple has sold millions, transforming their financials and leveraging what they’ve learned throughout their product line. Visionary. Again.

Everyone reading this is capable of being that visionary in some aspect of your industry. You just gotta put yourself in the customer’s place.

Play chess, not monopoly

Strategy, strategy, strategy. Sure, you can fill a lobbyist’s wallet and invent a monopoly, but eventually that advantage will somehow end. It’s tough (though not impossible) to legislate innovation out of business. I’m pretty confident that entrepreneurial innovation is smarter than the collective intelligence of Helena or DC. It’s certainly easy to move faster than any legislature.

If you put the customer and their wants/needs at the center of your strategic thought, you *will* succeed. Good chess players think 2-3-4 moves ahead. Great chess players are thinking a dozen or more ahead. Think about your business that way.

The best way to create what appears to be a monopoly (in the eyes of inferior competitors) is to deliver amazing every single day and improve with every interaction, every hour, every shipment, etc. Chess is no different. The best can play and innovate in their head, during the game.

The presentation revolution is still to come

For many of you, this is about mobile, mobile, mobile. Yes, kinda like “Location, location, location.”  But it isn’t just about that, so don’t think solely in that way.

How many ways can what you do be delivered? If your business seems immune, think about the overhead of doing business with you. Are you causing more of it? Do you invoice on paper or PDF? Do you mail a check (requiring a trip to the bank) or do you pay some other way? Do you invoice (or pay) manually every month when it could be automated? (ditto for payment) What about ordering? Stock inquiries? Appointment scheduling?

Do easier, faster, smarter. Without cutting quality.

Culture counts

Working in a place with people you want to work with and people who value excellence. It’s easy to slough off as “touchy-feely”, but if you’ve worked in an environment that values quality and improvement, you’ll never again feel comfortable in anything else (well, unless you’re a slacker).

And finally, Walmart.

Ken’s comment about Hastings’ response to why Walmart didn’t kill Netflix – and why it shouldn’t kill your business – speaks volumes: “Itâ??s not the stuff, itâ??s what you do with the stuff to please customers. Netflix isnâ??t about simply getting you a movie. Itâ??s the recommendation engine and lists, the customer-pleasing, no-late-fees (remember when this was a huge issue?), its easy-to-use interface and its social/sharing emphasis, among other features that let it distinguish itself in consumersâ?? minds.

If that quote doesn’t spawn thought processes to revolutionize your industry, then you just aren’t thinking hard enough.

Grind it out to eliminate excuses

Sparky!
Creative Commons License photo credit: Elsie esq.

Starting at about 5:50 in this video through about 6:55, Guy Kawasaki takes away any excuses that might keep you from reaching success.

When a guy with the success level of Guy Kawasaki lays it on the line very simply.

The rest of the video is worth a listen, but if you have only one minute to spare – use it to watch that minute from Guy.

Are you selling compelling?

grulla
Creative Commons License photo credit: kekremsi

Ever created or started selling a product that was so compelling that people would line up to get it?

It’s a really great thing.

I remember a trade show about 10 years ago where the crowd around our booth was so big, they flowed into the booths across the aisle (yes, they were angry – rather than appreciating the traffic).

At this particular show, it got to the point where our existing customers were taking prospects out of our booth and showing them the product on their own laptop. They’d find a quiet(er) spot somewhere and demo the product for them, more or less making it clear to them that they were nuts to leave without buying.

They did this for two reasons:

  • We were totally, unbelievably swamped – despite having 5 people in the booth.
  • These folks believed in the product so strongly that they couldn’t wait to tell someone else about it.

There’s some important psychology in the second one. We all want others to acknowledge our decisions.

If we show someone else a product/service that we use and they like it, it makes us feel better. Oddly, we “need” this validation despite being sure of our decision.

In their case, they already knew what it did for them – and they still did this.

That’s nothing

That seems pretty cool until you look at something like the first 2 months of iPad sales.

Apple sold two million iPads in 59 days.

In case you’re having trouble getting your head wrapped around that, try this:

Apple sold an iPad every three seconds for 59 straight days.

To be sure, 50-60-75-100 million iPod Touches and iPhones already in peoples’ hands helped that cause immensely.

Not just because of the lockstep nature of overly loyal Apple customers (called “fanboys” – male or not), but because those people *know* they will be able to use this new product as soon as they take it out of the box.

They somehow know this even though they can’t exactly decide what they will use it for.

Some people use it to read more. Some use it to browse more. Some use it for video or writing or gaming.

No matter what they’ll end up using it for, they were confident enough about the product to line up all over the US just to buy one on the first day it’s available.

Takes a compelling product to get people to line up.

Compelling stirs

Compelling makes you want to buy that thing even if logic tells you not to. Not because of rampant consumerism, but because the product makes you think about it.

It stirs your mind.

Its design and potential is enough to make you think about it while driving to town.

What you might do with it. How it might change other things and make them better.

All without spending any time wondering how to turn it on, navigate around its interface, or hook it up.

Easy as pie

Think about how important that is – because few people do.

It’s incredibly easy to lose sight of what *real* ease of use is.

When you pick up a pencil, you know how to write with it.

When you grab a hammer, you know how to swing it.

And in the case of the iPod (etc), we’re talking about a device that’s substantially more complex. A tech device.

Seth Godin noted that he saw a 2 yr old in a stroller holding an iPod Touch.

Not just chewing on it and throwing it around, but actively using software on it.

Ever try to teach a 2 yr old how to use a computer? Sure, they can move a mouse around and peck randomly at the keyboard. Beyond that, most of them haven’t yet developed high quality language or motor skills to do much more.

And despite that, they know how to use an iPod touch/iPhone.

It’s about making it easy. Obvious.

“Easy enough for a caveman to do it”. Or a two year old.

How did they get by?

Are you thinking about your customers, their needs and challenges in a way that will enable you to create a product that compelling?

A service that makes your best, most insightful customers think “How did I get by before they invented this?”

PS: To learn more about the curious psychology that drives our buying (and that of your customers), I suggest starting with Cialdini’s Influence.

Taking yourself out of context

Google recently released a video demonstrating how speedy the new build of their Chrome browser runs.

You *still* get the idea that Chrome is fast, but you are far from bored to tears as they demonstrate that.

If they showed a spreadsheet or graph documenting the speed of Chrome as compared to Internet Explorer, Firefox or Opera, you’d surely click on and move to something else.

Instead, they got creative and made something that’s both marketing and interesting/fun to watch.

Now it’s your turn.

A conversation in the hall of your business day

Lots of small business owners struggle to get a blog going.

There are some technical challenges: geek stuff is huge for some and tiny for others.

But in almost every case, the tech stuff isn’t the hard part.

When it comes to business owners, almost every conversation about blogging tends to start with “What do I write about?”

It’s not a bad question, really.

The root of the problem is usually how owners perceive their blog.

If you view it as a formal trade publication (or a series of emotionless whitepapers written in corporate-speak), you’ll likely struggle to find meaningful topics to write about.

When you have to produce a formal article, suddenly that 2 minute conversation with your client doesn’t seem “worthy” of your blog.

I don’t see it that way at all.

Conversations

For me, the blog is an informal business conversation. It’s as if we met in the hall at your office or sat down somewhere for coffee.

If you approach it in that context, I’ll bet you can find lots of things to write about.

Fact is, that’s what shows people that you’re someone they’d actually want to do business with.

Think about the last 5-10-20 or 100 conversations you had with clients in your store, restaurant, on the phone, via email etc. Think about the questions you answered, the issues you discussed, the advice you gave, and the challenges you dissected.

Every single one of those could should be a blog post.

Finding your voice

Some days you might get a feel like I’m talking to you one-on-one.

Many times, I have picked out a client as my apparent conversation partner that day and I write as if I’m talking to them. Occasionally, I’m doing just that – sending them a public (yet private) signal that they need to do something.

Other times, it may sound as if I’m speaking to a small group of business owners, like at a “brown bag business lunch” or chamber seminar.

That’s completely intentional.

When we meet, I want our conversation to feel like the conversation we have here. I talk here (mostly) like we would in person. I do that so that there isn’t a shocking change in our relationship when we start working together.

Wouldn’t it drive you nuts to read my blog and then meet me in person only to find that you’re talking to a guy who spouts corporate-speak?

You need to make the same decision about how your blog “sounds”.

Stiff upper lips

One thing that is important when writing posts is not to talk in stiff, boring whitepaper-ese or corporate-speak – unless that’s really how you talk (ugh).

A blog is not a research paper or a doctoral thesis. It doesn’t have to pass muster with the United Guild of Boring Writers.

Its a conversation in the hallway of your business day. Not necessarily about American Idol, but in a friendly, collegial way.

Once you find your blogging voice, I think you’ll find it a lot easier to to find topics and have conversations.

I know it’s in there. Just be the person you are when you’re helping someone.

Baiting the hook with opera

Note the sign at the end of the video: “Ves como te gusta la opera?”, which translated roughly means “See how you like opera?”

Point being – how many of those shoppers had ever been to the opera? And how many *more* will consider it after that performance?

Brilliant, guerrilla marketing. Just flippin’ brilliant.

Before you think “I could never do that”…start planning how you could turn your business into performance art, some how, some way.

When the stream in your backyard doesn’t have any fish, fish where the fish are.

Where black people and white people buy furniture

We’ve talked about having fun with your marketing, not just for entertainment but because you’ll stand out from all the stodgy, boring stuff out there

These guys stepped out there and set quite an example. Do you think they generated conversation in their market?

Are you having fun yet? I’d like to hear how you bring fun into your marketing.