Last summer I moved into my newly-built dream house, and it was (and is) wonderful on a lot of levels. One of the many things I loved was having a blank garden palate to work with. Because the house is in a wooded area, I decided to do very natural planting; perennials, shrubs and trees, vs. a lawn. So I started with the front yard, planting some things last fall.
Then came the long winter – lots of snow and cold. Everything looked dead.
But, as it always does at the end of April, everything started slowly coming back to life. Little green shoots here and there, then leaves, and then flowers…
And now it's beautiful: almost everything came back, and all the plants are already bigger than they were when I planted them last fall. Lush, green, healthy.
This afternoon, I was walking around appreciating all the renewal and rejuvenation, and it occurred to me that this is a great metaphor for the economy.
The economy is cyclical. Recessions come and recessions go. After every recession, the economy begins to grow again. I see subtle signs of economic renewal all around me (even though many things still look kind of dead).
Let's have faith that the economic Spring will come, and position ourselves to be able to take full advantage of it.
So, my apologies: the next few weeks are probably going to be focused largely on Being Strategic, since the publication date is fast approaching (it's the 26th), and things are starting to happen.
Got the first review of the book the other day, in BizEd, "the magazine for business education." It's the only magazine in the US that focuses exclusively on management education. So, what a great place to get a first, positive review. Here's how it starts out:
"Everybody always talks about strategy, but nobody ever does anything about it. Or, more precisely, people believe they need a strategy – to improve their business or personal lives – but they're not sure how to choose or implement one. In Being Strategic, Erika Andersen clearly sets forth the steps that have to be taken before any strategy can be formulated."
Then, last Tuesday, I spoke at 800CEOREAD's LeaveSmarter series in Milwuakee; here's a clip. It was especially fun, partly because I love doing things with the 8CR folks and partly because we were able to convince St Martins to have books available, even though it was before the official pub date. I loved being able to give people the book as a back-up to the presentation.
More to come…
A few months ago, I was invited to be part of the Post2Post Virtual Book Tour, created by Paul Williams of Idea Sandbox. I think it's a great idea – a wonderful use of this online community. And, it gave me the chance to read a really interesting, fun book - POW! Right Between the Eyes: Profiting from the Power of Surprise and to have a conversation with Andy Nulman, the author. Andy's premise is that Surprise (he always capitalizes it) is the most powerful tool for success in the business arsenal. Now, I have to say he hasn't convinced me of that! BUT he makes a darn good (and very funny) case for his point of view. And, perhaps more important, by the end of the book, I had a much broader and more nuanced understanding of Surprise as a business driver: it made me look at my own business differently. And that was surprising!
So here, without further ado, is my Q&A with Andy:
Erika: Hi, Andy! Let's start with a big-picture kind of question. What’s the biggest misconception you’ve found people have about Surprise?
Andy: That it’s frivolous, superficial, the stuff of kiddie parties or peek-a-boo games. While Surprise indeed democratizes by “kidifying” us (namely it lowers resistances and weakens defences by bringing out our “inner child”), it is a powerful, sales-inciting and relationship-building instrument that is woefully underutilized by business.
To that end, in an attempt to better understand the effect of Surprise, and better apply said effect in a more corporate environment, I have worked with neuroscientists at the Institute of Emotive Psychological Studies at the renowned Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden and commissioned a unique 12-question test that evaluates an individual’s Surprise Factor.
Erika: So, given that people have this misconception about Surprise – that it's frivolous and superficial – how can companies that have “reliability” or “trustworthiness” as part of their brand best incorporate the Power of Surprise?
Andy: I hate to answer a question with a question, but why does Surprise have to compromise either one of those attributes? I think people trust and rely on products and services from companies like Apple, Virgin, Target or even Oprah (and one must consider her conglomerate a “company”), and they have exploited the Power of Surprise as part of their DNA for years.
All Surprise is, at its core, is a way to cut through an increasing cloud of corporate boredom, connect with one’s customers, give them something to talk about and ultimately, solidify a company’s relationship with them. And because of that, I think that it’s an essential tool to establish not merely the two attributes you listed above, but a deeper and more profound bond between company and customer as well.
Erika: Please talk more about Surprise as “the lubricant to Yes.” Mostly because it sounds so sexy…
Andy: Oh Erika, I love the way you purr “please.” You’re such a kinky little blogmistress. But you want me to talk more, right here in public? Uh, perhaps you can meet me in the more private recesses of my own blog a little later on, with a lava lamp and a bottle of Sonoma red. Until then, here’s what I can reveal without getting arrested by the blog morality squad:
In business, there’s no term that matters more than “Yes.” It’s the sweetest sound of all, a three-letter symphony, the universal key that opens all locks.
And Surprise helps get one to “Yes” faster. It does this by delivering a special feeling that I call Euphoric Shock. It’s the moment that jumpstarts a modern marketing relationship by “upsetting” one’s system, putting it into a state of flux.
This internal stirring and accompanying euphoria reduces resistances, leaving a happy, excited customer that makes fewer demands, asks less questions, and is almost completed by consummating a transaction.
There. Now I’ve got to take a cold shower.
Erika: Whew! OK, here's another thing: I’m still not clear about how to create “the constant flow of Surprise” – Can you say more about that?
Andy: No I can’t.
Okay, I’m kidding. One Surprise is never enough. It sets the stage, but it demands an encore…again and again and again. It’s very demanding as a concept, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Ultimately, Surprise needs to work as a continuum; people should be left wondering “What WILL they think of next?”…and it’s up to us to deliver upon it. Surprises are like pearls; one is nice and impressive, but a long string of them is magnificent and admired.
Problem is that once someone succeeds with a Surprise, they think that a flow means “do the same one over again.” There’s nothing worse than that; it’s like trying to light a firecracker twice. You can’t re-package a bang.
Erika: You talk about putting on "Virgin Contact Lenses"; looking at your situation, your business, or your challenge as though you've never seen it before. Can we put on “extended-wear VCLs” – make ourselves more surprise-receptive overall? And would that be a good thing?
Andy: Just like ignorance is bliss, innocence is foundation. A major problem in business is that experience taints our views and our actions. If we all saw the world as a new place on a constant basis, there’d be so much more innovation, and way more solutions to our problems.
I truly believe that life would be so much better with the extended-wear version (I really dig that notion, by the way) of Virgin Contact Lenses. If we all had the memory spans of a goldfish, who knows how more advanced we would be?
Erika: What do you love most about Surprise as an art and practice?
Andy: That it works. And that it allows me to be flippant in interviews.
I just did a Google search on "changing business model," and got 62,700 results.
Over the past few months, I've noticed that our bravest and smartest clients are taking advantage of the recession by taking a hard look at how they do business and being bold and creative about making needed changes. I've talked about this before here, and provided some examples. Now I'm seeing a real pattern in terms of what seems to be working and what's not working.
Here's some stuff that people are doing that seems smart and useful:
- using their best minds to explore alternative revenue streams and approaches to distribution and marketing,
- focusing on serving customers better than ever (and in ways their competition isn't),
- communicating consistently and honestly with their employees about what's happening and what the company is doing about it,
- setting clearer performance standards and figuring out how to hold people accountable to them,
- letting go of marginal performers,
- hiring newly available 'rock stars' to fill key open positions,
- agreeing on those efforts most essential to growth and directing resources toward them,
- using any available resources to take advantage of market opportunities created by others' failures (as long as those market opportunities lie squarely in their core competencies).
And here's some stuff that people are doing that seems…well…not smart and not useful:
- focusing on survival at the expense of the customer experience,
- keeping quiet about the current situation, or scaring employees, or falsely reassuring them,
- letting go of key performers,
- doing across-the-board budget cuts,
- conducting business as usual, but more cheaply.
What are you seeing?
TPN :: The Cranky Middle Manager Show.
Once again today, I had the pleasure of a conversation with my friend Wayne, of Cranky Middle Manager Show and GreatWebMeetings fame.
We're talking about Being Strategic – a topic, as you know, that's near and dear to me. I apologize for my sound quality…the phone was not my friend today. But Wayne asked, as always, great questions. I especially liked his focus on middle managers (he's always looking out for them) and on defining the challenge.
I just got the first honest-to-god copy of the book in hand last Friday; a wonderful moment! So there will be more interviews, reviews and podcasts in coming weeks. In fact, I want to also thank my friend Kevin Eikenberry, for his lovely review of Being Strategic on his blog. Thank you!
I've been thinking a lot about apologies lately. We so often apologize badly, and then don't understand why the other person doesn't seem to accept it.
It seems to me there are two basic mistakes we make when apologizing, and both of them have to do with not really taking responsibility for having done something wrong.
The first mistake is when someone begins an apology by saying some version of "I'm sorry you feel that way." Though it SOUNDS like an apology (that word "sorry" is in there), it's really just a version of saying "too bad for you – not my problem." Genuine apologies begin (from my point of view) with "I'm sorry I…"
For instance, a customer service person could say, "I'm sorry you felt we didn't resolve your concern correctly." Or he could say, "I'm so sorry I didn't resolve your concern." I don't know about you, but the first one would irritate me, and the second would make me feel heard and – at least initially – satisfied.
The second problem occurs when the "apologizer" immediately starts explaining his actions. It may feel to that person as though he's just offering clarifying data…but to the person hearing it, it simply feels defensive. I've noticed that good apologies continue by offering to do something to make it right, or asking what can be done to make it right: again, taking responsibility for correcting the mistake.
Feel the difference between these two approaches:
"I'm sorry you felt we didn't resolve your concern correctly. I was just following our reservation procedures."
as opposed to:
"I'm so sorry I didn't resolve your concern. Let's look for another approach that would work for you."
The second person would have me as a loyal customer. The first one wouldn't. It's that simple.