Apple and doing what matters

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.

Want progress? Put up a thermometer

thermometerWant 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.

Walking through your mind with dirty feet


Just Wander


Trade your Cow for some Magic Beans

Will you trade *your* cow? #travel #rtw #worldcruise #yolo #carpediem #bucketlist #seetheworld #braincancer

Trade your cow for a handful of magic beans

Trade your cow for a handful of magic beans

Maybe get a watch?

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.

Rugged Swedish Fashion Bracelet

I Hate the Taj Mahal

Welcome to the Taj Mahal - I Hate My Job

Welcome to the Taj Mahal

It was shaping up to be another blistering hot day at the Taj Mahal. I arrived as they opened and approached the east entrance. For me it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most of the other visitors felt the same, and the excitement was tangible. We crowded toward the security checkpoint and split into lines for men and women. And then I overheard this:

“Sometimes I wish Shah Jahan had never built this place.” ~ Security guard at the Taj Mahal. [tweet this]

How about that for a dose of reality? The temperature had already pushed above 35ºC on an early June day in Agra, and it was only 10am. For the guards and indeed all the other workers at this World Heritage Site, it was the start of another long day at the office. The tourists were not visitors. The tourists were problems. And the tourists would not be here if the most elaborately constructed tourist trap in the world had never been built.

Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding and Marco Polo Didn’t Go There cautions his writing students to look for stories beyond the tourist matrix. He says “if your best stories come from your cab driver or bar tender, you are not working hard enough.” At the same time (as my mother reminds me) tourist destinations exist because they are usually really interesting.

So while the best travel stories are found off the beaten track, some of the best travel experiences can only come from inside the tourist matrix.  When I visited Istanbul, a Monday tour of Hagia Sophia was only possible because I went with a tour group – because the Hagia Sophia is otherwise closed on Mondays. So don’t let the “tourist trap” label turn you away from the experience of a lifetime. You are the best judge of what is interesting to you.

Like the disaffected worker at the Fatehabadi Darwaza gate, your job might hold days of tedium, especially if you face the public every day at a popular destination. Just keep in mind that today could be a lifetime event for that guest, an experience for which they have traveled many miles, and have dreamed about for years. Your office may not be a World Heritage Site, but you still owe each guest an amazing experience. Don’t hate your Taj Mahal!

– Ed

(And if you enjoyed this short story, others will too – please share. Thank you!)

Ed at the Taj Mahal - What is that behind you?

Hey, what is that behind you?

Dream Big, Act Big, and Don’t Look Back

Dream Big, Act Big, and Don't Look Back

Scotland in Summer

Ed & Michelle in Scotland at the Falkirk Wheel

Visiting the Falkirk Wheel

Today’s referendum on Scottish independence made me think of last summer and a short stop I made with Michelle to visit the Highlands.

We traversed the scenic Scottish landscape en route one of Scotland’s oldest towns, Sterling. Set amongst rocky crags and the winding river Forth, this charming town, which is the gateway to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, is known as Scotland’s crossroads between the Highlands and Lowlands. To visit is to step back in time. We wandered through many quaint shops and had a sandwich lunch at a local bistro. It was great to discover one of my favourite outfitters, Mountain Warehouse with a shop in town. We stocked up on cold weather gear for the next leg of our journey to Denmark, Norway, and the Faroe Islands.

Also in Sterling is the historic and majestic Stirling Castle, one of Scotland’s largest and most important castles, both historically and architecturally. Constructed between 1490 and 1600, the castle sits atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag which is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. Stirling was besieged sixteen times during its long and bloody history, and several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned there, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1543.

Later in the day we toured one of the engineering marvels of the 21st century – The Falkirk Wheel. Inaugurated in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth II, this massive wheel, which resembles a giant screw, is the world’s only rotating boat lift, lifting or lowering canal boats between two waterways. A century ago, eleven locks connected Glasgow’s Clyde Canal with Edinburgh’s Union Canal. The locks spanned the 79-foot difference in elevation between the canals. Today, this impressive wheel accomplishes the job simply, in one slow turn. We boarded a canal boat, sailed across the aqueduct, and entered the lock to be lifted into space from one waterway and gently deposited in another.

While wandering about in Scotland, we were warned to pay attention to our money. When paying with GBP, the vendors often return local Scottish currency, backed by a local bank. Merchants close to a certain bank will generally honor the local currency one for one. But woe betide thee who tries to use Scottish Pounds anywhere else! You’ll discover the notes are nothing but fancy souvenirs. Sure enough, we had already collected quite a few of these foreignly suspect notes, but were able to deftly convert them into equipment needed back aboard ship.

Regardless of how today’s vote turns out, we look forward to a return trip. Perhaps we’ll be able to use Euros, or the local currency will have been elevated to a respectable status once again.

You are Unique…

You are Unique, Just Like Everyone Else

You are Unique, Just Like Everyone Else

You are Unique, Just Like Everyone Else