Thievery – The Secret to a Great Brand

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I look for themes when it comes to great cultures and brands. I also happen to be rather mischievous, so I can recognize that quality in both people and companies. So I find it rather interesting that some of the greatest brands are based on… theft.

Many people know that Zappos.com is based on a culture of service. It was a gamble at the time when every dot com company was staying away from phone service to focus on price cutting and efficiency. I asked one of the original team members what inspired them to focus on service. “Most of us came out of Nordstrom, so honestly, it was all we knew.” Service – stolen from a brick and mortar and taken online.

Take Starbucks – Howard Schultz lifted the high-end coffee cafes right out of Italy and figured out how to scale it.

Take Apple – Steve Jobs literally lifted the computers with the original graphic interface right out of Xerox PARC.

Take the United States of America. The nation/state system was taken directly from the Iroquois native Americans.

So perhaps the best innovation question to your team is not – “Who has a great idea?” But instead is “Who knows something we can steal?”

The Easy Way to Help the Homeless

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I was not going to post this as it's very personal to something I care about, but after I shared it with a good friend she was so convinced it's a great technique that she encouraged me to share it. 

So here goes…

The cause that always gets to me on an emotional level is hunger. The idea of anyone starving makes me tear up. So I donate a lot to charity water because they leverage my dollar to its highest value and help those most in need (as you know, we need water even more than we need food).  But when I walk or drive by someone with a sign that says "Hungry. Please help." I can't just walk by. 

I used to give them money until I realized I had no idea if they would really use it for food. And then I started asking them what kind of food they wanted, then I'd go out to buy it and go back to give it to them. But that would take a half hour! So I came to be resentful of the entire process. 

Then it hit me that I could get $5 gift cards for food, and keep them on me, as well as in my car. That way I didn't have to spend time buying food, but I could still know they would use it on food. Problem solved! McDonald's makes it really easy, because they're everywhere, and it lets the person decide what food they want, when they need it. And there's something about a gift card that makes it feel like a true gift. 

The thanks you get can make it very worthwhile, but keep this in mind… Have you ever been in a bad mood because you skipped a meal? Now imagine skipping several meals while sleeping on the street. You might not be in a stellar mood. So if you don't get a warm, friendly response, just smile to yourself knowing it will hit them later. 

How to Save the World (Part 2)

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In How to Save the World (Part 1) I described the underlying beliefs. Now I’ll get into the how.

 

First, consider the idea that saving the world is not about “stopping” anything (e.g. Stop Poverty, stop cancer, stop violence, etc). The intentions behind stopping something may be good, but it rarely works.

 

Take the case of 7-11 stores in the 80’s. Certain stores were plagued by gangs who would hang out in front at night. Each night the managers would tell them to go away, and call the police to get them out of there. But inevitably the gangs would return. This would happen constantly, until a store manager shifted his focus away from trying to stop their behavior.

 

That manager decided to play classical music outside his store at night… Boom. The gangs disappeared on their own volition because they couldn’t stand the music! So by committing to what he really wanted (peace) and by giving up trying to stop behaviors, he solved the problem.

 

But unfortunately, those who want to save the world see it through the lens of stopping things – End poverty, stop polluting, end war, fight hate, you name it.

 

Now here’s where it gets interesting…

 

You might think that solving each of these would require determining all of their individual opposites. But what if they could all be solved at once? What if there is a solution regardless of the problem? What if there is a metaphorical Vitamin C that can ward off sickness, regardless of what kind? What if there’s a way to strengthen the Earth’s immune system such that individual remedies no longer become necessary?

 

That solution exists…

 

Nature always seeks a balance. So if we understand what balance holds the world together at every level (physical, social, spiritual, chemical), then we will know what to focus on.  The source of the balance can be found in the rule of 3’s. For example, at the physical level we have proton, neutron and electron. At the basic species level we have mother, father, offspring. Stories have a beginning, middle and end. We understand time as past, present and future. We understand language as 1st person (I), second person (you) and third person (he/she). The list goes on and on. We understand the world as balanced units of three.

 

So what is the unit of three that supersedes them all?

 

To find this, we can look at one of the first religions in ancient history: Hindusim.

 

Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma are considered the Trimurti – the three aspects of the universal supreme God:

 

Brahma – Creator
Vishnu – Preserver
Shiva – Destroyer

 

It’s birth, then life, then death. Create, maintain, destroy.

 

Anyone who wants to save the world is usually concerned with the destroy part. They are fighting some sort of destructive force in the world. It’s very, very easy to demonize destroyers, because we do not identify with them. Other people are killers and murderers. Other people oppress. Cancer is the problem, not me.  But that’s the shadow because the destroyer is in all of us. All we have to do is unpack one of our favorite words to see it:

 

con·sume  (kn-sm)

v. con·sumedcon·sum·ingcon·sumes

 

1. To take in as food; eat or drink up.
2. a. To expend; use up:
2. b. To purchase (goods or services) for direct use or ownership.
3. To waste; squander.
4. To destroy totally; ravage.
5. To absorb; engross.

 

We are all constantly destroying through consumption. To consume is literally to destroy. When you take out your trash every week – those bags filled with tons of packaging and waste, and you see every single person in your city doing it constantly. It seems to disappear. It seems to go into the ether, but deep down we each know that every trash bag we take out is a punch to the earth.

 

But this is NOT an argument to stop consuming. It’s natural. And fighting it won’t fix it.

 

The way to save the world is to simply take the focus off the consumption and balance it out with the act of creation and preservation.

 

Creation and preservation will naturally reduce consumption and destruction.

 

And I mean this in the most simple of ways. I could be watching TV right now (consuming) but instead I’m creating by writing. Does it mean I should never watch TV? No, but look at how much time our population spends watching instead of creating.
How can I be so audacious to suggest that if everyone writes a blog then we’ll save the world? The reason is because the act of creating is a deeply spiritual endeavor that get us in touch with our power to create our own experiences. And when we know that power, that’s when we innovate. That’s when we get ideas. That’s when we come up with solutions, because they don’t come from anger, from hate, from destruction. They come from the sheer energy of feeling truly alive.

 

Next I’ll share the various ways to get creative, and I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts.

How to Save the World

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I was obsessed with saving the world.

 

In High School I would spend my spare time working at homeless shelters and soup kitchens. And I never would have said it at the time, but I hated every moment of it. But I felt I had to do it. I felt it was my mission.

 

I wouldn’t say I was very successful either. I didn’t feel I made a big difference at the organizations, and all the time I spent going door-to-door to find jobs for the homeless – I didn’t get a single one.

 

I felt a shift 10 years later when I volunteered at Miriam’s Kitchen for the early morning breakfast shifts. I learned how much chronic homelessness is connected to mental health. I had thought I could solve the problem at the level of food and work, when there was a much deeper story at play.

 

Catherine Crum, the Deputy Director, asked me to spend more time with a man named Carl. I sat down at his table, started talking, and the most interesting thing happened… Carl became my mentor. I would listen to his poetry, offer feedback and then he advised me on my life in a way that may have been psychic. I would barely say a word, but he would somehow know what what was going on and what I needed to hear.

 

I started to love volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen, even though it was at five in the morning! I liked the other volunteers, and the clients would tell me their conspiracy theories over coffee and a newspaper, as I would hand out vitamins, cold medicine and toiletries.

 

I didn’t realize what was really happening to me until I read the work of Osho

 

“How to save others? Save yourself! The problem is inside. It projects it on the outside world…Don’t try to change anybody. Just change yourself. And it happens. When you change, many come to share you in your light. Share — but don’t try to save. Many will be saved that way.” – From Come Follow to You.

 

I laughed when I realized if I want to save the world, I need to save the world from ME! By projecting a state of brokenness onto the world, I had kept myself in guilt and pain during those high school years. And no one ended up benefiting.

 

Focus on changing yourself, and the world will change with you. Does this sound too selfish to be true?

 

I used to think so. Until I read a story about Mother Theresa’s Orphanage from Lynne Twist’s The Soul of Money:

 

“As I walked up the steps I saw a large piece of crumpled newspaper on the doorstep and I stooped to pick it up. There inside the crumpled mass I discovered a tiny baby, still breathing, still alive. She was a girl, a just-born and very tiny fragile little girl. I was shocked, and gently lifted her from her newspaper swaddling clothes and wrapped her carefully inside my shawl.

 

“Opening the wooden door, I stepped into a room lit by two lightbulbs dangling on wires from the ceiling… There were 39 cribs, each with one or two small babies inside. There were additional padded mats on the floor with more little babies… I handed the tiny infant girl to the nun who greeted me.”

 

This is where I had an awakening…

 

I thought that the nun would be upset to see the problem growing larger – to know that the already crowded orphanage would be further tested. At best I thought she would sigh and accept the new baby. Instead, the opposite happened…

 

“[The nun] seemed delighted to have another little one to care for.” 

 

That’s when I realized the secret to saving the world. The secret is to fall in love with the problem. Not to hate it.

 

I know, it sounds crazy, but the business world keeps proving that the companies that fall in love with solutions are the ones that fail. They’re blinded by their silver bullet approach. They can’t see deeper and they can’t change it when they need to.

 

“Fall in love with the problem, not the product.”  (If you’re an entrepreneur, read this manifesto and watch the video at the end).

 

So if you’re thinking about what to do with your life and how you can make a difference, think about all your ideas and opportunities. Look at them and see the problem that you want to solve.

 

And now ask yourself, with steadfast truth… “Do I look at this problem and love it? Does it make me feel alive to engage with it and wrestle with it? Do I welcome every new instance I see of it, feeling more and more alive?

 

If so, then you’re following the path of greatness, the path of genius. It’s the joy that Mother Teresa felt for every homeless child. It’s that divine insanity that Edison experienced as he tried 10,000 fibers to make the light bulb, none of which he considered to be a failure.

 

You may be focused on your own myopic universe, but when you look up from that laser focused joy, you will see the world brightly illuminated around you, with nothing to save, and everything to give.

Is TED the new Toastmasters?

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Nathan Heller writes a brilliant piece on the TED talks in the New Yorker, asking the question, “Has a conference turned idea into an industry?”

 

I’m sure you’ve seen many TED talks, such as Jill Bolte’s real-time description of witnessing her own stroke. Or Simon Simek’s game changing exposé of what’s really driving leadership (and marketing). And then there’s the more risque, such as Nicole Daedone’s explanation (and how-to instruction) on women’s orgasms saving the world.

 

The TED conference undoubtedly revolutionized speaking and education: They limited speakers to 18 minutes, forcing them to focus, while inspiring them to create what’s called a “TED moment” – a standing ovation that goes on and on. And those moments are hardly random. The curators work tirelessly to find material that’s new and counterintuitive, so it has that shock value. And then there’s what’s become the formula. Heller describes it perfectly:

 

The Ted Talk Arc

 

1. Opening of direct address
2. Narrative of personal stake
3. A research summary
4. A précis of potential applications
5. A revelation to drive it home
6. And ending that says, “Go forth and help humanity.”

 

I loved all of this when there was simply the TED talk in southern California. But my energy and passion for it has waned as the brand extended through TEDx. Anyone can apply to host a local version of TED, and there are now five a day throughout the world. It’s certainly not “easy” to get approved, and it comes with a 136-page manual to execute it. But now the number of talks is overwhelming and the quality certainly suffers.

 

In a way, it’s a brilliant combination of open and closed systems.  What is open vs closed? Apple is the most famous example of a closed system – it’s totally regulated. Its code based is not shared, and anyone on the system (such as app creators) need to be approved. Open systems (Linux, Android) allow everyone to play in the name of innovation and free markets as the best drivers of progress. Closed systems focus on quality control to maintain a consistent experience, while open systems focus on crowdsourcing the new ideas.

 

Now I wonder if TED is embracing the worst of each world – the low quality of high proliferation, and then the formulaic process, akin to a Hollywood story format that gets used over and over again. Yes, when done right, it can be both entertaining and life changing. But now we have to sort through more and more content to find them. I think we now need a curator for all this curated content.

 

Richard Saul Wurman, the original creator of TED seems to be tired of the entertainment factor and wants to make it a completely engaging experience.  He sold TED to Business 2.0 magazine founder, Chris Anderson who is responsible for taking it from a conference to a brand empire. When asked why Wurman is not invited back, Anderson replied, “He started talking about this idea that the prepared talk was finished. I think his words were, ‘I now must destroy what I created.'”  Understandable that his invitation would get “lost in the mail.”

 

While Wurman did not have the chance to destroy TED, this month he created his new model to replace it. Called WWW.WWW, the conference is free form discussion, taped in black and white, and set to be released via an interactive app, rather than passive video. It certainly sounds more like the passion project of a rich eccentric of yesteryear, than a TED replacement… But I still think he’s onto something.

 

I’ll share that idea in my next post.

What do I focus on??? (the 3-point strategy)

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“If you have more than 3 priorities, then you have no priorities” – Jim Collins in Good to Great

 

I have a lot of ideas, and a lot of projects I want to start. And yet, I know that focus is the key. I used to think I could just try a lot of things. You know – throw them up against the wall and see what sticks. But then I realized that’s a way of rationalizing my doing a half-assed job at a lot of things and expecting luck to show up.

 

And yet, how can I just focus on one thing? That is so boring. I took a look at what I’m most excited about and what I need, and I came up with the The Three Point Focus Strategy…

 

Screen_shot_2012-07-09_at_1

 

 

1. The Bread and Butter (80% of time)
This is the focus that pays the bills. It’s the area where you have the skills to deliver value to a customer consistently (and that customer may be your employer). You also have the passion to do it, so that you don’t burn out. And lastly, there’s a market for it. This is your top priority because without it, everything will turn to shit, fast.   For me, this is my culture consulting business, and my first book, the Culture Blueprint. If you are having trouble with this as a business, check out Business Model Generation. If you are having trouble with this as an individual (employee or freelancer) then check out Business Model You. If you know what you want, but you’re just having trouble getting a job, check out The Two Hour Job Search.

 

Now, something to note about the bread and butter. Even with passion, it can often come with challenges. When they come up, I think of this quote:  Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.” –  Thomas Edison 

 

2. The Innovation (10% of time)
Your innovation project is the one that you want to work on, but it’s not fully developed yet, or there’s not a market for it. You also may still be developing your skills in this area.  If you’re like me you probably have a lot of these, but the idea here is to pick just one.  For me, that’s an idea called “The Corporate Start-up.” – It’s all about ways for businesses to turn their brand itself into a product, and to turn cost centers into profit centers. It’s not fully developed and I certainly can’t start charging for it, so it’s my innovation project.

 

3. The Fun (10% of time)
This is for the hare-brained ideas. The ones that make you laugh, the ones that are just ridiculous and yet they would be so much fun. You have absolutely no way of justifying your time on this except that it makes you smile and gives you energy. For me, this is a site called Dating is for Douchebags. It’s all about how the current model of dating is totally flawed, and my ideas to re-invent it. I’m just having fun with it, and inviting others to contribute if they feel the same way.

 

So there you have it. Select your three to focus on, and give the majority of your time to number 1.