Apple has always loved being the underdog and the comeback kid. It’s hard to see the real Apple, but “I’ve seen through a different lens”.
In 2010 I attend the Disney Institute program in Anaheim, to go backstage for a look at the process behind the magic. Disney focuses on only two metrics: repeat business and intent to refer. Will you come back and bring your friends? EVERYTHING is driven by performance against these two metrics. When you know this understanding Apple’s approach becomes really simple.
Apple and Disney have very similar “DNA”, or execution strategy because they come from the same place: Creativity. Creativity is the byproduct of a restless mind. It comes from asking the question “what if?” and answering “let’s see…” It doesn’t take a Steve Jobs to ask that question, it just takes relentless application of the question to a few things that matter, and then building repeatable and supported systems to ruthlessly execute on just those things.
Apple wants a multi-decade hegemony, built across generations by rabidly loyal customers. Apple is very smart, and insanely tuned to perform for the customer. Right now Apple is back where they love to be: a hungry underdog that must stage a comeback after foolishly ignoring a key customer experience trend.
A hungry and foolish underdog comeback. Perfect.
Invest twenty three minutes listening to Steve Jobs. You’ll thank yourself for taking the time. Trust me.
Posted onMarch 20, 2015|Comments Off on Want progress? Put up a thermometer
Want progress? Put up a thermometer.
Execution is about three things: priorities, metrics, and rhythm. I have talked about this before, but today I want you to start in the middle.
You have a performance problem, it is dragging you down, and you really need to move forward. For some reason, your team is not focused, not executing, and not moving forward. Where should you start?
Pull out a big piece of paper, draw a thermometer on it (be sure to put the little lines), and before you do anything else, step back and look. (Hint: you could do this on a white board, but the idea is to make something physical, touchable, semi-permanent.)
You are going to put this up in a public place and update it every day. The scale on the side is easy enough – it takes you from where you are now to where you are “done”. But your empty thermometer needs labels.
This is the tricky part. You need to answer some questions:
What is it we trying to do, exactly? Write a simple outcome statement at the top of the thermometer, something like “Product X is shipped”.
When will “done” happen? Write a date at the top of the thermometer.
What will “done” look like? When the whole thermometer is red, how will you know? You need to see this in detail, because your team is doing detailed work right now, and will be doing detailed work every day. Each detail gets you to the top.
What actions trigger and fill the thermometer? If you get stuck on this one, imagine somebody on your team walking up to you with an accomplishment – will that get you to pull out your red marker?
This thermometer exercise is a life hack for work, or what I call a performance hack. It focuses your attention on a single goal, the actions needed to make (and measure) progress, and the little time-bound steps needed to achieve your big time-bound goal.
Until you make your goals physical, visible, and public, you are still talking to yourself. And your execution thermometer probably looks like this:
Give this tip a try, and let me know how it goes in the comments.
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Guys, I get it. You want the feel of leather and metal against your skin. But I’m here to tell you, a fashion bracelet, no matter how well made, is not the answer. I’m really just trying to figure out which fashion “expert” decided that guys want a woven leather bracelet with a metal clasp “inspired by” a marine shackle or riding buckle? Especially when they offer it for $69, or ask us to splurge for the $129 version based on a “rugged Swedish design.” Seriously? When did a Swede ever wear a rugged leather $129 fashion bracelet? Fashion gurus: Swedes everywhere are laughing at your feeble efforts.
In the 1980s I grew up in New England and my outfitter of choice was (naturally) Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS). In the early 1990s I relocated to California and switched to Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) and their small outlet in San Francisco’s East Bay. Then back to New York and a regular drive to the Campmor outlet in Paramus. These outlets always emphasized everything I wanted in an outfitter: utility, quality, flexibility, and economy. And none of them ever – ever – offered a fashion bracelet for men.
So I went looking. Campmor sells a paracord bracelet for $5.99. It comes in five colors and is woven from two and a half meters of 160 kilogram test line. Yeah, a Swede would wear one of those. REI has a similar band for sale, plus a do-it-yourself version, and also acupressure bracelets. The EMS website stubbornly refused to return any results as I searched for a bracelet. I could almost hear the website laughing at my feeble efforts.
Still, even a basic web search turns up hundreds of options from Inox, J.Crew, Mooby, Jared, Royal Republiq and Alor. Maybe I’m out of touch. When did this become a trend? How did this become a trend? Swedes everywhere want to know.
“Until you walk a mile in another man’s moccasins, you don’t know him.”
Today I pulled a new dress shirt from the bag and wore it. Wrinkles and all.
Then I realized I’d become the living example of a cliche. I’d become the “clean but wrinkly shirt guy”. When you see that guy sitting across from you at a conference or in a coffee shop, you can divine characteristics about his recent activities just based on the wrinkles. He’s probably on a business trip and packed or purchased the new shirt for that specific trip. He woke up too late to pull the iron and board from the hotel closet, set everything up and attack the wrinkles. Too hard! Not enough time! Just put it on and hope nobody will notice!
I’m sure I’ve seen people wearing wrinkly new shirts before, but the fact did not register, because I was ignorant of the connection. I personally had never been in a situation where I was on a business trip with a newly packaged shirt, then woke up too late to engage the iron. There was no experience to tie the two bits of information together – that I was observing someone’s clean but wrinkly shirt, and it was clean and wrinkly in that specific way because their morning had been just like mine.
Experience provides these connections, if you’re paying attention. Sure, you can reconstruct the possible pasts of the people you meet through observation and (if you’re bold) by asking them directly. But experience lets you get to understanding without all that work. The mother with the screaming kids in the grocery store? If you’ve been that mother at some point yourself, her entire day is known to you in a glance. That elderly man who neglected to return his shopping cart to the stack? Perhaps when you’re his age you’ll understand, in a deep and visceral way, the effort required just to make it down to the store.
If you want to build broadband connections to the people around you, whether at work, around town or even with your family, you should do what they do, where and how they do it.
Now whenever I see another wrinkly shirt I’ll know a little more about the person wearing it. I’ll know what to look for, the specific pattern of wrinkles, and how that pattern came to be worn.
Maybe that person will look back at me and smile a knowing smile, because we are wrinkly shirt warriors together. Maybe that person will be you.
Looking at a map, traveling from San Francisco to Hawaii via ship seems pretty simple. It’s a straight shot right? Wrong. Actually, due to the curvature of the earth there are a few turns that need to occur and if you miss one turn, even by 1 degree you could end up hundreds of miles off course. I discovered that myself on my first trip across the Pacific.
In the journey to Hawaii, there are 3 major waypoints. If you miss one, you’ll miss the next one and trouble will compound itself without notice. Fortunately, I was under the mentorship of a very wise navigator who pulled me aside, pointed out my error and helped me get back on track. It was a simple course correction because we caught it early. Had he not noticed and left me to fail, we probably would’ve hit China before we caught the error.
Do you have someone checking your work? An extra set of eyes can help you see something that may cause problems later. Keep your chart open for your team to help you navigate. Take a second to talk with someone you trust and ask them, “How am I doing? How are WE doing? Are we on track? See anything potential traps up ahead?” Trust me, in 90 days, you’ll be thankful.
Along with the waypoints there are a few hidden elements that affect the ship’s course. Throughout the ocean there are strong under currents that you can’t see. As much as 5 knots of current can be working on the hull of the ship (Let’s put that in perspective one knot of current is equal to 30 knots of wind.) pushing it off course. If you don’t pay attention to it you will find yourself headed in the wrong direction and most likely having a very uncomfortable conversation with the Captain of the ship.
Also, when you’re transiting the open ocean it’s very easy to get lost and lulled into complacency; especially when it’s warm, sunny and calm. You still have to pay attention because small under currents can affect your position and push you off course a degree or two. How about your branch, sense any under currents that might push you off course in month or two? You might want to plot your position on the chart and see if you’re on course. Take some time today to look at where you’ve been and where you’re going.
As you look back at the end of the first quarter of 2013 how are you doing with your navigation to 2014? Are you on course? Ahead of schedule? Behind schedule? What’s working? What’s not working? What’s up ahead? Any particular areas of concern? Schools going to be out soon, what’s the plan there? Have you talked to your dealers about their summer?
At this point of the year, if you are still trying to figure out what happened and not sure what’s coming you might want to take some time to regroup and focus your compass North again. Take some time to consult with those that are on course, or who have gone down this road before and ask them to take a look at your plot and see if you’re missing anything. Remember, AVAD is a team sport and you’re only as good as your team. A wise person once told me, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” Look for the top performers on your team and learn from them. Don’t be afraid to have someone look at your chart and help you get on course.
Posted onApril 3, 2013|Comments Off on Answering: “Where have you been?”
Sorry folks, The Expeditionaire has been working on the next endeavor – sailing around the world. For the last month the team has been working on a funding campaign through Kickstarter to write a book about the journey.
Check out the daily blog this summer from the ship: http://www.westbysea.com/
We’ll still be writing performance insights, just with a more “international” flavor.
Posted onJanuary 14, 2013|Comments Off on The Commitment Threshold: It’s Up To You
“The Kamikaze pilot who was able to fly fifty missions was involved –
but never committed.”
~ Lou Holtz (football coach)
Recent events have people talking about the heroism of teachers who stepped up to defend their students. People pose and posture and say “if I had been there” and suggest they would have done something to stop the rampage. The real truth is that until you find yourself in such a situation and on the threshold of commitment, you really don’t know what you’ll do.
There’s a story in our family lore about the time dad stopped a convenience store robbery. At the time, he was building a new house for his family; working his regular job, and then framing walls until the sun went down. To finish a long day he would often drive (wearily) to a 7-Eleven for some fast food and coffee. It was on one of these nights, while stirring milk into a paper cup, that he made a snap decision to commit. Looking back his decision had potentially catastrophic results.
You’re probably familiar with the normal, bland atmosphere of a convenience store: flat fluorescent lighting, racks of packaged goods, a few customers waiting in line to buy bread and milk. That night the scene shifted in an instant as two guys began hassling the clerk. It was unclear why, but the intensity level shifted immediately as the two grabbed the clerk by the hair and began hauling him over the counter. It was then, as he glanced around at the few other customers still shocked and immobile, that dad completed a simple internal dialogue: I guess it’s up to me.
Simple. In the chaos of the moment, absolute clarity. Somehow, in a flash moment, he realized he could change the outcome in a positive way. After a brief scuffle, he and the clerk were able to wrestle the assailants out the doors, lock them, and call the cops. His description of that moment, the moment of decision, has become somewhat of a personal mantra: I guess it’s up to me.
In later years I found myself the first on the scene of a car crash, instructing an injured person to remain still and calm, having already called for first responders and told another passerby to direct traffic. Another time I found myself driving a co-worker to the hospital, his hand bandaged and the finger he had lost in my lunchbox cooler. The specifics leading up to my point of commitment are lost in the chaos, but my subsequent actions flowed from the decision to get personally involved: I guess it’s up to me.
It’s hard to say if such judgement is learned behavior or innate. Dad didn’t talk about it much, but his time in the Army probably gave him a bias for action those other customers didn’t have. With the incident over and the clerk bleeding from several cuts, those customers were still in line. One even asked “can we pay for these now?” Every time we drove by that place we called it “the fight 7-Eleven”. Even decades later and the place now a homemade candy shop, we still call it “the fight 7-Eleven”. The landmark is forever colored by the incident. We always ask ourselves why our father acted and the others just stood there.
We are all faced with situations every day where we must commit. Do I take this gap in traffic? Do I order the chicken or the beef? Do I ask this person to marry me? Do I say yes? Making decisions is part of life. Making good decisions is called judgement. People with naturally good judgement are said to have “common sense”. Good judgement and common sense are not reserved for the lucky few. Judgement can be developed and enhanced – preparation to face the commitment threshold. Preparation makes it easier to assume a leadership role, having already faced the commitment threshold. Properly prepared, you can cross it without a second conscious thought.
Consider these techniques to get past the commitment threshold:
Burn your ships. Legend has it Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés landed his 508 soldiers, 100 sailors and 16 horses in southern Mexico and then burned his ships. From that point the Spanish unable to retreat, faced between 5 and 6 million adversaries and were fighting every minute for their lives. In two years they had conquered the Aztecs. While many things contributed to their eventual victory, there was no question about commitment.
Make it public.When you commit to something in public, you instantly build an accountability committee. Somewhat less dramatic but still effective is to write down your commitment, shown by this study to influence a successful outcome.
Reward decisions. The act of deciding something is a behavior. You need to reward it. You must of course celebrate and reward the outcomes of your decisions, but you must absolutely reward the decision itself.
So seek out situations where you bring yourself closer to the commitment threshold. Burn your ships to force action. Discover what public commitment feels like. Reward the act of commitment itself. The time to decide whether you will help stop a convenience store robbery is not when you’re watching the robbery unfold. The time to decide is now. It’s up to you.
Here’s another perspective on commitment. Check out this fun three-minute video and learn some “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy” (YouTube link).
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