The truth is you can't be anything you want to be and you can't do anything you want to do.
History proves that sometimes circumstance or destiny will force us down a path that is not of our choosing .
And common sense will tell you that if you are fixated on one goal, you are likely to miss every opportunity that comes your way
Preparing for your future and achieving the things you would like to achieve must be balanced with a certain joie d'vie and living in the moment. That, dear friend is the ART of living: finding balance between the things you have to do and the things you want to do and the balance between common sense and adventure.
This is ultimately the balance between being alive and living.
This inspiring talk by Andrew Solomon is well worth 15 minutes of your time as you contemplate why you are here.
Long-time readers will know that I have never been a great fan of that whole 'set a goal - believe and achieve' glibness that permeates self-help books and new age literature. Daniel Pink wrote a book called The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need to help young (and old) people understand the world of work. The 160-page graphic novel about a hapless office clerk, a tart-tongued sprite, and some magic chopsticks takes a whopping half-hour to read. The book’s 6 key career lessons:
1. There is no plan.
Make decisions for fundamental, not instrumental, reasons.
2. Think strengths, not weaknesses.
Do the things you do well — that give you energy rather than drain it.
3. It’s not about you.
The most successful people improve their own lives by improving others’ lives.
4. Persistence trumps talent.
There are massive returns to doggedness.
5. Make excellent mistakes.
Commit errors from which the benefits of what you’ve learned exceed the costs of what you’ve screwed up.
6. Leave an imprint.
Recognize that your life isn’t infinite and that you should use your limited time here to do something that matters.
The topic of this post may at first seem strange, but there is much to take from the underlying approach to life.
Read those six steps again and apply that to your business – and think about how your business would be different if you followed this approach to life and business instead.
PS: This post is adapted from a previous post in my fortnightly newsletter which you can get here. (And a free eBook on Visual Merchandising emailed to all who subscribe.)
OR: How TRUTH is an obstacle to leadership, success and achievement
The ‘truth’ is important – in theory and maybe it is even the most important thing – but in the way the world works practically, the truth is really quite irrelevant. Consider this:
In the world of business, brand is the story you want to tell to the world, not necessarily what you are. When you sell, you emphasise the positives and omit the negatives; not necessarily lying but not really telling the truth. When you go for a job interview, you flavour your experience to match the role and you don’t reveal your real weaknesses, just the ones that others can live with. When you work in a team you don’t call out the prick or confront the weak boss. We say we want to serve the customers, but we really want to make more money; and that is the truth.
In our personal interactions you ask someone how they are you are interacting in a societally-endorsed fashion often rather than because you complete, utterly care about the person. People say ‘thank you’ without being truly thankful. People say ‘sorry’ without sincere regret. It is quite ironic that the notion of ‘personal branding’ is such a hot topic – and NOT what Tom Peters intended when he introduced the idea in 1997.
The real truth is unhelpful in our everyday lives.
The last bastion of the truth is somewhere in our legal system, but even there it is being increasingly compromised with judgements coloured by politics, socio-cultural influence and personal bias.
We seek the truth when confronted with life and death or in pursuit of ‘justice’. In fact, we only seek the truth when it suits us. And at all other times we are happy to live with ‘the fudge’.
'That’s just the way the world works', I hear you say. And you are right. In the real, everyday world there is no place for the prophets and messengers of truth.
The truth does not matter. What does matter is being accepted; and your influence and success depends on the extent to which you can create an ‘appearance of things’ that are acceptable – irrespective of whether it is true or right.
The question we all face is whether we (a) accept the way the world works and work in it to achieve what we want or (b) whether we fight against the natural state of being in pursuit of the truth and pay the price for that?
You can view those who choose option (a) as realists or liars and you can view those who choose option (b) as self-righteous or as principled. In camp (a) are the achievers and the managers and the politicians. In camp (b) we have the artists, the mavericks and the crazy ones.
We all choose where we want to camp and reap the consequences.
Many reading this will say or think they belong in Camp B – because they are enamoured by the romantic delusion of the outsider. Just take a look around you and be truthful about the choice you have made.
The TRUTH is that few are willing to bear the burden of truth: unpopularity, victimisation, being denied opportunities, isolation and so forth. The TRUTH is that being a prophet of truth is not romantic and admirable.
The TRUTH is no one wants to hear they are fat, can’t sing, are a poor leader, have questionable hygiene and a worse sense of humour or are just plain dumb. Society demands that we pretend that we can be anything we like, that we all deserve a shot and that things can change. Society tells you there is no such thing is a stupid question and that all that matters is how hard you try. The TRUTH is that all of that is a lie.
If you are truly in Camp B, you are highly unlikely to be successful in terms of status, finances or reputation and you will boast few friends. If you think I am exaggerating, watch a clip of Jim Carey in Liar, Liar again and remind yourself how awkward the truth is.
Most of us have banished truth to the periphery of our lives and opted for a life of relative comfort instead; because that is just the way the world works.
In doing so of course we embed a fundamental weakness in our society. When everything becomes morally and socially and personally ‘relative’ – as it does in the absence of an absolute principle of truth – then we are figuratively building our house on a foundation of sand.
All those things that demand an absolute truth at its foundation, like justice, like love; all become relative and eventually unattainable.
I can’t imagine living in a world where the only thing that matters is what matters to any individual, but that is the world we inherit when we say ‘that is just the way the world works’ or when we believe there are times when ‘there is nothing to be gained from telling the truth’.
N Taleb is proud of the fact that he has 'fuck you money' which gives him the option to say whatever he thinks, and reckons you can't trust anyone who is beholden to anyone or anything. When we choose to live in Camp A we are beholden to a fundamental falsehood of public opinion (as opposed to an objective truth). We choose to follow 'gurus' and those who claim to have found a 'secret to success recipe'; i.e. someone who has figured out a short-cut in the real world.
We choose acceptance over truth.
But who is prepared to be that crazy person in ash cloth and rags who will walk down the street and curse the morally bankrupt, the selfish, and the unjust?
No one yet.
For we all realise that we must be prepared to shine the spotlight of truth on ourselves first. Reveal the racism. Admit a bit of homophobia, or that you think you might be one. Announce your religion. Acknowledge midnight visits to the fridge, your secret addiction to porn, or that you are an executive who likes reading New Idea. Admit your fears and your resentment of another’s success. So many things, so many things.
It’s better to pretend and join the Crowd in Camp A. There might be no future in it, but at least we're not lonely.
PS: This little rant started out as a short intro paragraph to our bi-weekly newsletter, and turned into a post as I got angrier with myself. Anyway, you can get the newsletter on my website.
Sometimes the things we don’t do can make as much of a difference than the things we do.
Three counter-intuitive things to stop doing:
- Stop selling features. Customers don’t care about the biggest or fastest. They care about how bigger of faster might benefit them.
- Stop selling on price – people buy value. Do you drive the cheapest car you could find? Are all your clothes the cheapest you could find? 99% of people find the product that meets their needs and THEN don’t want to pay more than it’s worth.
- Stop configuring your store to prevent theft. Make it easy to shop. Most customers are not thieves and we should not punish (inconvenience) the good ones because of a few bad apples. MOST of your shrinkage can be attributed to your staff and admin errors. And the loss of sales far outweighs the benefit of not losing a few items when your focus on shrinkage instead of service.
Don’t run away – but I am going to talk philosophy and how that will help you make money. Specifically I want to describe to you the dialectic process or cycle and how you might use that to your advantage.
The dictionary defines the dialectic’ (process) in many ways, including as:
The Hegelian process of change in which a concept or its realization passes over into and is preserved and fulfilled by its opposite.
The dialectic process is pattern of thinking that can work to your advantage or disadvantage.
Consider for instance this observation:
The Hegelian dialectic is the framework for guiding our thoughts and actions into conflicts that lead us to a predetermined solution. If we do not understand how the Hegelian dialectic shapes our perceptions of the world, then we do not know how we are helping to implement the vision. When we remain locked into dialectical thinking, we cannot see out of the box.
The other way of looking at it is to use the fact that things are happening ‘in the box’ to your advantage - by predicting how things will play out.
In general terms
The dialectic process is characterised by the presence of three phases:
- The status quo is the stage labelled the THESIS. (It is ‘THE’ ‘IS’ – that what ‘is’.)
- Gradually, the opposite of the thesis – the ANTITHESIS develops. The anti-thesis is the opposite of thesis and emerges because it presents the natural opportunity – the GAP in the market so to speak.
- The thesis and the antithesis SYNTHESISE into a new reality – which is the new status quo or the new THESIS.
In retail business terms
The textbooks (the best one is Levy & Weitz available on Amazon) typically use this graphic to explain it. I think they all copy each other because none of them ever come up with a different example, but I will do that for you.
A few weeks ago, Brian Walker wrote about the rise of fusion retailing. This has been happening for awhile; for example Deus ex Machina on Parramatta Road in Sydney created a Harley Davidson ‘lifestyle’ store probably a decade ago and added a café subsequently; but it is true that there is an increase in the number of concepts. (Some great, some desperate.)
But this trend is entirely predictable if you follow the ‘dialectical process’.
The dialectic process explains the evolution of retail concepts. (It is not the only explanation, but if you read Levy & Weitz or google the bold words, you will see a few more.)
If you have a mechanism that helps you anticipate the next big thing in retail, then you can plan to be part of that future – or even better get one step ahead of the future. You can participate in the natural evolution or you can be creating the next stage of the evolution knowing that you are on the right track.
In the examples mentioned above, you can choose to go ‘fusion’ or you can start figuring out what is the opposite of fusion. More interestingly, you can either go multi-channel or figuring out what it the opposite of multi-channel – and there are already some really interesting concept emerging.
I call this ‘artisanal’ retail.
As sure as I am alive, the opposite of today’s buzzword will become the new ‘thesis’ one day. As with all things strategy and future – the challenge is rarely the ‘what’, but when it will happen. It is a fine line between being on the cutting edge and being on the bleeding edge.
A recent article espoused the rules Tim Ferris came up with as the perfect ‘STOP DOING’ list to improve productivity.
I can say without much equivocation that I am an extremely productive person. It is a big claim and hard to prove to the casual reader. But here is a snapshot of my email inbox.
There are exactly 5 emails – and all of them require me to take an action that I must do. When I go to bed – there may be one or two – usually none. Even my junk email folder gets emptied several times a day.
I break EVERY ‘rule’ the productivity experts come up with:
Do Not Answer Calls from Unrecognized Numbers
I don’t think I am that special. I don’t want to limit all future human interaction with only people that I know. If someone went to the trouble of finding me or my (unlisted) number I am happy to talk. It may be short but only after I have listened.
Do Not Email First Thing in the Morning or Last Thing at Night AND Do Not Check Email Constantly
I check email all the time – including first thing and last thing. But I deal with 95% of them only once: delete, file, action or refer. It takes a few seconds per email on average and it doesn’t matter WHEN you spend the time – logically – just that you do it efficiently.
(I have a short attention span, and every few minutes I sue the break in my attention to quickly nail a few emails, then return to what I was doing. It may not work fro everyone, but in my case I am constantly engaged with one thing at a time, and I optimise my productivity that way.)
Do Not Agree to Meetings or Calls With No Clear Agenda or End Time
This may only apply if I am the most senior person in the meeting. If my boss asks me to attend a meeting I would go and suggest you do to.
Do Not Let People Ramble
What a rude suggestion. We are not all the same. It may take a few minutes extra to get to the point but if you rush someone or cut them off, the point they want to make will probably be not the same and besides, the most important thing in a relationship is the initial ‘likability’ which is dialled to zero if you cut someone off.
Do Not Overcommunicate With Low-Profit, High-Maintenance Customers
If they are a customer, they are a customer and are treated as such. If you don’t want them as a customer, then ‘fire’ them and then you don’t have to communicate at all.
These are just the top 5. In the interest of my own productivity I will stop there because the point is made:
Be careful who you accept advice from because just because it works for one (or even a thousand) does not mean it is right for you.
The part of Africa I grew up in was a tough place to be a boy, and surviving the schoolyard daily required cunning and courage and the willingness to fight. Much like retail nowadays. One of my more memorable schoolyard fights lasted both breaks (i.e. the whole day) with neither of us being able to land the knock-out blow. My claim to fame is I went to school the next day (one-eyed, but I went) my opponent didn’t.
Street fight rule #1
Never grab hold of the person/ their clothing etc. When you do that you only have one hand left to fight.
Lesson for business: In business the natural tendency is reach out and grab a-hold of your competitor. In business parlance we talk about ‘competitor analysis’ – and it is the biggest waste of time. I realise that vast majority of readers will dismiss this observation as a crackpot statement and dismiss it as the ravings of someone who has lost touch with reality.
‘Competitor Analysis’ is part of consulting methodologies that sounds good, looks good and produces nice little pie charts.
The only thing that matters is what YOU do. You can’t control what they do, and if you try, you are fighting with one hand only. When you are implementing strategies ‘relative’ to what your competitor is doing, you are NOT focussed on the customer and your capabilities.
Like any good football coach, focus your game plan on your play – not their play. Unlike the football analogy you are NOT playing against your competitors – you are playing FOR your customers.
If you focus on the competition, you ultimately end up copying each other. The only strategic and competitive difference between Coles and Woolworths is the colour schemes and some legacy feelings. Instead, follow the lead of say Apple who did not try to out-Microsoft, Microsoft.
Street fight rule #2
If there is a crowd, get your back to the wall. That way they can’t surround you and you can fight what is in front of you.
Lesson for business: It sounds counter-intuitive because ‘back to the wall’ is a phrase the self-help gurus employ to indicate that you have no options left. The other way to look at that is that back to the wall means your options are clear and in front of you.
Having a ‘wall’ means there is one part of your business that you don’t have to worry about - that aspect of your business that you can trust is and will remain a core capability that is attractive to your customers.
If you don’t have a ‘wall’ at your back, build one.
Street fight rule #3
Never go down – under any circumstances. You will get kicked in the head and you will never be able to get up again.
Lesson for business: This is one of the toughest decisions a business person/ entrepreneur must make? When, if ever, is it better to throw in the proverbial towel? Seth Godin tried to answer this with his book – The Dip – and this is his response in summary during an interview:
Question: Other than hindsight, how does someone know when it’s time to quit?
Answer: It’s time to quit when you secretly realize you’ve been settling for mediocrity all along. It’s time to quit when the things you’re measuring aren’t improving, and you can’t find anything better to measure.
Seth is one of the smartest current thinkers about entrepreneurship and marketing, but in this case I still don’t get his response. And I don’t have the answer, so my response to a challenge is different.
In essence, my response is to show up every day and to put in. You may not succeed, but you haven’t failed until you have quit – so I just keep going. If a better opportunity comes along, I am happy to ‘pivot’ (a principle of in LEAN start-up culture) and jump to something else. But failing a better idea or a new opportunity – I don’t quit.
I learned that on the school ground.
One bonus dirty trick
In addition to the rules, here is my number #1 trick that my oldest brother taught me as I learned to fight on the playground:
Grab a small rock (size of a golf ball) and clench that in your fist. It turns a soft, squishy hand into a weapon that hurt a lot more than a normal fist.
Lesson for business: Harden up. Innovate. Turn a weakness into a weapon. Getting hooked on subsidies, government protection and the like is the easy and is comfortable option – but in the long run it makes you weak.
People crave certainty like they crave food and water – and will go to almost any lengths to create certainty where none exists.
Harvard Business Review writes as follows:
“Of all the headwinds we face as decision-makers, the power of one overshadows all others: our need for certainty. It is typically more important for us to feel right, than to be right — a difference that didn’t matter much in the lives of our ancestors, but now matters a lot.”
And it explains it as follows:
“The lockdown of our minds serves an important purpose: Generations of our ancestors wouldn’t have survived had they constantly second-guessed their conclusions. In a harsh environment characterized by straightforward challenges that demanded quick responses, an indecisive caveman was a dead one.”
And then comes to this conclusion:
“Complex decision-making requires we defer the feeling of being right, by tolerating the tension of not knowing.”
I am not alone in thinking that people who claim to know the answer (and few are more certain than scientists) really don’t know anything:
- NN Taleb points out that turkey will have growing confidence in his master’s desire to care well for it; until the master comes visiting with a big knife on until Christmas Eve. The point being that risk is not a linear process. (Just because spreadsheets make it easy to extend rows of numbers don’t mean they have any value.)
- Shane Parrish wrote an interesting few observations about The Dangers of Certainty.
- Andy Grove (ex-Intel Chairman) published his take on corporate management and strategy, putting constant paranoia on the pedestal, and that means he weaves uncertainty into the fabric of the organisational culture because ‘fear’ is nothing but uncertainty.
If you are perfectly confident in your answer, you won’t listen and you won’t hear the warning signs that you are wrong.
The HBR academics don’t address HOW we can go about fighting this basic physiological response, but this is a little mental checklist that I have learned to apply in decision making:
- Is (what I think) true fact or disguised opinion?
- What is the opposite of what I think and why is that not true?
- If this is so self-evident, why isn’t everyone doing it?
- I am simply extrapolating like a turkey?
Naturally no one will actually have mental checklist; but these types of responses in any decision situation becomes a ‘mindset’ and ‘a way of looking’ at things. Initially it may be acquired by being more conscious about the process until we become adept at distinguishing between what we know for certain and what we want to know.
I am not advocating analysis-paralysis; on the contrary, I am promoting that executives become prone to action by recognising the fuzzy comfort of perceived certainty for what it is. That is exactly why ‘movements’ like ‘lean thinking’ and ‘agile development’ came to prominence.
It is really all about fine-tuning your bullsh*t detector, and being honest enough to know that it must be aimed at our own conceptions and perceptions as much as other people’s.
You will be a better decision-maker if you do this: reject the pursuit of certainty as a noxious weed growing in your garden of innovation.
And few organisations can afford to be lead by leaders who lead as if they are completely certain about everything, because certainty is a lens through which we view a world that does not exist.
PS: This LinkedIn post elaborates a bit more chaos theory.
Far too many retailers confuse Visual Merchandising with Interior Decorating.
The primary objective of visual merchandising is to generate more sales. This can only be achieved by attaining the following (secondary) objectives. (The 5 A’s.) That is; if you want to judge a GOOD display that will move product, judge it by these criteria:
A display that discourages the customer from shopping from it has very little value. Obstacles must be cleared and the products must be reachable.
Accessibility also relates to the ‘shoppability’ of a display/ store, especially within the context of people with a variety of disabilities.
Displays must get and hold the customer's attention long enough for him/her to make a decision about the product.
Having a plan and a purpose for which merchandise should go together, goes a long way towards increasing sales.
The golden rule is to present your merchandise the way a customer would use/buy it. Appropriate adjacency is the silent salesman’s way of cross-selling merchandise.
This aspect concerns itself with the physical dimensions of the customer's body. Whether it is child or adult, male or female plays a role when attempting to determine eye-level. Similarly it would be hard to buy (and lift) a 5kg bag of sugar from the top shelf.
Arrangement refers to things being put in order. This aspect emphasizes that there is a certain element of logic in any display. Products are normally sized from small to large, and tops/shirts are always hung above the trousers.
Ganador: We work with suppliers, franchisors, landlords and supply chain partners to create win-win retail results for all. (Ganador means ‘winner’ in Spanish.)
(You can win by subscribing to #thinkdifferent, because you get the premium edition of Visual Merchandising eBook for free.)
I wondered about what the title of this post should be
- Do you know what is under the hood?
- The Ant and the System?
I cannot sing. It has been thirty years since I have sung one line even in a church where the singing isn’t even often judged and the standards mediocre. But when I open my mouth, people turn their heads for the wrong reasons.
But there is something else I can do that I value infinitely more.
Visitors to our website may be a little flummoxed when confronted by images of fractals. (The dandelions in our website header and others.)
This images reflect some of the unifying theories that constitute our worldview. These theories are amongst other things Chaos Theory – and recently one of the authors I follow (Roy Williams) publishes a weekly newsletter that I rarely fail to read. Recently, he wrote this:
Does your business have unifying principles?
Viewed in high speed at the macro level, ant behavior seems to be guided by chaos theory as their movements create a pattern too vast for the unaided mind to comprehend. But when mapped on a computer, what at first appeared to be randomness becomes a beautiful fractal image built upon the unifying principles of self-similarity.
Fractal images are maps of highly organized chaotic systems and their patterns seem to mirror the behavior of the stock exchange and population fluctuations and chemical reactions. Using chaotic math, computers today are producing images that look exactly like the beauty found in nature... ferns and clouds and snowflakes and bacteria. These maps can also resemble mountains and the human brain and the frost that forms on a windowpane.
Ant behavior goes from intoxicatingly impossible to seductively predictable when the principles that bring an ant colony into unity are reverse-engineered. Here are the ingredients of ant-magic:
1. If you find food, take some home and leave a scented trail.
2. If you find a trail, follow it and add to the scent. If that trail leads you back to the hive, turn around and follow it the other direction.
3. If you don't know where food is and you don't know where a trail is, wander.
That's what the miracle of the ant-line looks like when you reduce it down to its unifying principles.
Roy states it better than I can, and I can merely add: “What he said…”
The reason I raise this is because it lifts the hood of the Ganador engine, and you can take a peak underneath. The reason why we can make a difference through (for instance) business coaching, is because we are adept at finding those patterns: the ones that work for you as much as the ones that work against you.
And in the spirit of honesty; I must admit that I am not so great at seeing myself in the same way. I suppose the perspective and the motivation is different.
Yes we have frameworks supplemented by experience, but if truth be told; it is a bit like creativity. People have the knack or they don’t. Some skills and some experience can make ‘the knack’ more useful, but if you don’t have it, you simply don’t have it.
I cannot sing, we have established that.
But I have the knack for picking up patterns where others see chaos. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Sometimes the wise all heads respond to the crisis of the day by referencing to the ‘last time this happened; or ‘been there done that’. That frustrates the generation because it is point of reference they don’t understand and argue that is not or cannot be ‘the same’ as before.
As usual, both generations are right.
But there is no denying that many events follow patterns and we’d be silly not to learn from those unless we are determined to let ego get in the way. An event that will be in the experience framework of the majority of managers over 30 will be that of the Y2K bug.
Just in case you don’t know or remember: traditional programming practice in early computer programming languages was to code dates with as few digits as possible, which led the practice of expressing your year as last two digits, so 1985 would be simply 85 – with a one line of code turning all date references into the proper date.
In 1999 most businesses of any substance devoted a large amount of time and resources to ensuring they survive the year 2000 calamity. (Personally I had to forfeit New Year’s Eve celebrations with my family to see Bankstown Square (as it was then) into the new millennium because we feared all the systems might shut down.
For example we worried that boom gates wouldn’t open and allow customers to enter the centre the following day because the Building Management System was somewhat archaic. I had visions of bank safes popping open and ATMs spitting money into the mall and was going to be accountable for finding and returning it all.
As you know now, nothing of any consequence happened. The airplanes did not fall from the sky.
Most anticipated crises never happen and the things we worry about most are often things that no amount of worrying would fix anyway.
There are many current calamitous claims about retail. Ironically, many of these claims are made by retailers.
The ‘INTERNET’ is the current bogeyman – the new Y2K Bug.
As we learned from the Y2K bug offer some relevant insights:
1. Sure, we should prepare and plan.
2. Certainly, we should change what we can.
3. Of course we must monitor what is happening.
But the internet will change the way we do business in ways we don’t really foresee. A very short time ago it was the ‘mobile revolution’; right now it is ‘wearables’ and the ‘internet of things’.
Tomorrow – something else.
Change will happen – that we can bet on. But exactly how it will pan out, NOBODY knows. And those who claim to be the surest about it will be the most surprised by what eventually transpires.
Fridays have traditionally been devoted to Friday Funnies. For a change of pace, I though we might revert to arty Fridays and share some poetry. (Or an attempt at least...)
Be that somebody
Imagine a young mum dealing with a child’s temper tantrum in the supermarket line.
You could be the person who frowns and seeks another line to queue.
You could be that somebody whose smile says that you understand.
Imagine a street kid skulking through the supermarket building the courage to steal dinner.
You could alert security or even dish up a frown that says ‘I am watching you’.
You could be that somebody who offers them $5 to pay for the dinner,
Or maybe even take him to Maccas for a meal and a chat.
Imagine the hungry and homeless man sitting on his knees seeking alms on a street corner
You could be the person who ignores it as one too many, or maybe toss a coin in the box
You could make eye-contact and acknowledge the human inside the suffering
And maybe even chuck a tenner in the box because you know the grog will buy a bit of pain relief
Imagine the up-and-coming executive in a fancy suit standing at the lift, who jumps the queue
You could be the person who says ‘excuse me mate, I was here first’
You could say, ‘go ahead, you obviously have somewhere important to be’
You could be the person running down the stairs to escape the fire
Or the person running up to save another.
You could be the person who does not look away when a smelly drunk stands to close on the train
You could be the person who slows down to let another cut the line.
You could choose to be the person who honks the horn when someone steals a second of your time, or you could be somebody else.
You could choose to stay quiet even if you are right.
Who we are is so much more than being first and having the most.
Who we are is a choice.
We could be somebody.
That somebody that makes a difference and makes the world better for you being in it.
How do you choose?
I write elsewhere about Y2K problem referring to traditional programming practice in early computer programming languages to code dates with as few digits as possible, which led the practice of expressing your year as last two digits, so 1985 would be simply 85 – with a one line of code turning all date references into the proper date. It is nerdish, I admit, but the code back then was so elegant – when computer disk space was at a premium – that it has become a lost art.
There is no accurate statistic on this but it is estimated that we use only 10% of the features of software, say MS Word. Because it has become easier to code programs – particularly since the introduction of Object-Orientated Programming and now with code repositories where functions can be accessed freely and literally be copied and pasted, software design has deteriorated to the extent that there it has its own Wikipedia entry.
From simple things like our houses to complex things like social structures, road networks and software – the tendency seems to be towards greater complexity.
I am fascinated by complexity.
For instance I wrote about this to share some personal experiences in a particular knack that I have. I am not sure if it is innate or whether I acquired the skill by accident; but there are always underlying patterns and I seem to see them when others don’t.
Fractal Geometry illustrates visually how a very simple mathematical equation produces very complex shapes. (Chaos Theory is really about explaining the underlying order of things and is not really about chaos and there is nothing random about it.)
We want to add features. Whether it is software (compare Windows 8 to Basic) or whether it is cars (remember when Hyundai Excel was bottom of the range, death-trap?) we keep on drifting towards the complex.
We do things that have never been done; like climb a mountain.
We do this because we can – it is part of makes us human. So we keep adding and keep making things more complex.
If ever there was an argument against evolution, then this is it because evolutionary forces would seem to demand that lean and mean and simply effective is the more desired condition. Instead we design and develop to make us lazier and more ineffective.
But with that freedom to choose between simple and complex, that ability to innovate and that desire to go on a quest for constant improvement we ignore the corollary effect – and we end up complicating things.
- · In the process of making our food preserve better – we end up poisoning ourselves.
- · In the process of writing computer programs, we end up with bloatware.
- · In the process of building better homes, we end up with McMansions where everyone is in their own room.
The list is endless; and the obvious observation is that there is a fine line between progress and poison. Our tendency to seek comfort and make things easy has the unintended consequences of making things complex and counter-productive.
Doing simple is really hard and requires smarts.
This is illustrated no better than this quotation:
I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lack the time to make it short (Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue parceque je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte)~Blaise Pascal.
The Biggest Loser and your Customer Service
The world is changing – it always has and it always will:
- Two millennia ago the Greeks ruled the world and now they are the laughing stock of the world
- A century ago England had conquered half the world and now they are a bit player in Europe with one dominant city
- A mere decade ago (2000) 40% of the companies that were in the Fortune 500 were no longer there in 2010.
The only way to survive is to change.
This means YOU must change.
The core sustainable competitive advantages for retailers are – and always has been - deep customer relationships and outstanding experiences (in any channel).
Therefore the single most important thing any business owner or executive can focus on is creating an effective, strong and cohesive customer service culture. Note that you ALREADY HAVE a culture – it happens anyway. The question is whether it is a culture that has any strategic value.
(I define culture very simply as “the way we do things around here.”)
CHANGE IS HARD
It is hard for two reasons:
#1: Behaviour is complex
What you are trying to change is human behaviour; which is an outcome of many, complex triggers and influences. Understanding human behaviour and effectively changing it cannot be achieved because you have 20 years’ experience in retail, but because you understand psychology, you have tools and frameworks that pragmatically guide you through structured process to drive change in disciplined approach.
In the organisational context, ALL change is about changing the culture. Even when you think you are simply introducing a new computer system, you are (indirectly) changing the culture.
#2: The change maker does not understand change
The people who are doing the changing don’t really understand what they are trying to change or how to do it effectively.
People think they know that the world is changing and how it is changing, but I asked my audience of managers and entrepreneurs of businesses in retail, hospitality and the like; NOT ONE of them knew anything about ‘the Internet of things’ or ‘the collaborative economy’. No-one had heard of Über, and one had heard about Airbnb – when these companies were actually ground-breaking three of four years ago.
(They all have a Facebook page and think that is a sign that they ‘get’ change.)
IF YOU WANT TO MAKE A CHANGE
For the sake of example, let’s consider how one might go about changing your customer service culture. (This is effectively a mass behaviour change initiative.)
Firstly, what it is NOT:
If it is treated as a ‘project’ or an ‘initiative’ it will NOT work.
You change behaviour by changing the DNA of the business. This graphic seems simple, but it is deeply rooted in management theory and best practice that I won’t elaborate upon here.
The following diagram graphically illustrates the six contributing factors or elements that contribute to the shared values (or culture) of your organisation.
Space constraints prohibit detailed explanation here, but watching the presentation it was part of will provide more context and explanation.
The key take-outs to consider are:
- Each of these elements influences every other element reciprocally, so it is important ensure the changes made are part of a cohesive whole that achieves cultural alignment.
- All the elements must be addressed.
- Implementing a change program only works if it is envisioned from the top but created from the bottom up.
- You need clarity about the 3-6 core cultural values that will guide the implementation. (There is actually different types of values that play different roles, but that is a topic for another day.)
- Once you have clarity about he culture and machining the organisation changes to reflect that, you can NEVER change or go back or stop doing it. The message to employees is then that is just another phase and eventually will fade away – which dooms it to failure.
Get some context:
Here is a presentation by Reed Hastings (Netflix) on the importance of culture
My presentation on how to create a customer service culture was published YESTERDAY on the blog
In the slide deck you will see some examples of specific, seemingly insignificant behaviours and changes that were instituted for each of those six elements. This was a small project with a specific client and does not necessarily apply to your business.
The success and failure of a culture change initiative (any change initiative in fact) hinges on one foundational principle. We can learn what this principle is by studying organisations that specialise in achieving change in people; like AA or Weight Watchers. Without fail, they all ask people who sign up for the program to firstly admit their problem. And they have to do so publically, and personally. (Think of the weigh-in that happens on the Biggest Loser.)
Are you ready to admit that your service sucks? Or do you still hang on to the belief that you are ok; that you are on the right track or that it is not bad as that other guy down the road?
Your enemy is complacency: If you think you are on the right track, you are not. A Bain & Co survey found that whilst 80% of Executives think they are doing a good job with customer service, only 8% of customers agree.
Everybody can’t be in the 8% - the maths just don’t work.
Are you ready to step onto the scale?
PS: Here is some brainfood for you – and you may even learn something about me if you dig around.
A week ago I delivered this presentation. It looks like a simple presentation, but observant readers will be able to spot the underpinnings which draw upon General System Theory and of course the McKinsey Framework developed by Peters and Waterman.
Fridays have traditionally been devoted to Friday Funnies. For a change of pace, I though we might revert to arty Fridays and share some poetry. (Or an attempt at least...)
Daddy is Santa
You started out believing the lie about Santa. Eventually, logic and the slow realisation that it would be embarrassing to believe something none of your friends did won out and you pushed back enough to force an admission from our parents.
So you face up to the brutal truth.
This is a story that plays out around December of every year in an endless cycle.
Some people say – one could even say there is universal consensus – that it is healthy for the child to indulge in the fantasy. Let the kids be kids; even if we have to lie to them. We convince ourselves that it is innocent or that it is a tradition. These Christmas experiences become part of the stories that enrich our lives.
The problem though, is that we carry this indulgence into our adulthood. We continue to live in a fantasy world filled by beliefs about our abilities and beliefs about how the world works that are completely unrealistic. We think we fit into the world by being near the centre, where most if not all revolves around us.
This misguided belief is not caused by the initial belief in Santa, but it is symptomatic about what seems to be an innate human trait. It starts by us believing someone magical will fulfil our wishes and then morphs into believing we deserve good things. And worse, that we are actually pretty good.
There are exceptions to the rule, but a good start is for us not to think we are the exception. Chances are:
- · You are not that attractive. (You may still be loved by someone and someone may countenance your visage – but being loved is not the same as being pretty.)
- · You are not that smart. (Hello bell-curve.)
- · You can’t sing. (Australian Idol thrives on that.)
- · Your customer service sucks. (Research shows and customers will tell you so.)
- · Your start-up idea sucks. (That is why you can’t get funding.)
- · Your friends are just not that in to you. (That is why they never call.)
- · Your blog posts aren’t that interesting. (Google’s got nothing against you; they don’t care enough.)
You don’t deserve to be healthy or happy. The universe owes you nothing. There is no Santa.
Is that reason to despair?
Of course not:
You are not built like Usain Bolt and you will never run as fast. But you can train harder, run faster and run further.
You don’t cook like Nigella, but you can enjoy the meal.
You don’t sing like a Nightingale but nothing needs to stop you.
Being pretty, smart or perfect in anyway is not a prerequisite to living life.
Accepting your limitations and giving life a fair old crack despite those limitations is the true hallmark of a life well lived.
Being deluded about how great you are, either means you have been watching too many movies or read too many self-help books. Or you have never lost faith that a Santa still exists and his sole purpose is to delight and surprise you.
Well, he doesn’t. Santa is your dad. Get over it. Christmas is just as much fun giving gifts and knowing who gave you a gift – even if you have to go the shop to buy it.
The use of colour is an important and powerful aspect of display. Colours are interpreted differently by most people. Findings often vary from project to project and one can’t read too much into it other than treating it as a general guideline.
Most retailers use a little hand-held card (which contains most colours) to determine colour progression. The card is often shaped like a wheel. A common colour progression for a fashion store would be:
White à Beige à Light Green à Dark Green à Blue àPurple àBlack.
That is, generally colours run from light to dark; and when merchandising, say a sleeve-out section of blouses of various colours, then the colour progression as adopted by that particular store will be followed. (First the white blouses, then the beige ones, and so forth).
*Original reference lost – happy to acknowledge if advised.
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