Culture of Disruption

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disruption

Disruption is the elegant hack in business. It’s how companies outdo the competition. It’s how start-ups overthrow long established brands. And cultures that foster disruption will consistently lead the pack.

Netflix is a great example. They saw the delta, the weakness to exploit. Blockbuster customers were irate about late fees, which were exacerbated by the pain in the butt to go back to the store to return DVD’s. Netflix found a way to eliminate late fees through subscriptions, and easy mailers allowed people to stay home and simply hand them back to the letter carriers.

That in itself would be an act of disruption. But they developed a culture. They disrupted the way most companies do HR by eliminating vacation policies and giving more freedom to employees (source: ). They disrupted their own business model by shifting the focus to streaming video.

So how did they create a culture of disruption?

1. They focused on values and actually valued the employees by them.
2. They focus on great work over hard work (it’s not about the number of hours)
3. They look for those who thrive on excellence rather than job security.
4. They focus on talent rather than processes to manage the increasing complexity.
5. They keep rules few and simple, creating a context for success, rather than trying to control it.

And let’s not overlook that rather than just sitting on all of this. They chose to share it to the world through their deck. Why do that? Well, it holds their company publicly to the standards they’re setting. No turning back. No slipping. Pure commitment.

Kill the word “buy-in.”

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One of my missions is to kill the word “buy-in.” I cringe whenever I hear it.

Culture lives in language (think about it, that’s how we all do business – email, phone calls, meetings, reports, pitches. It’s all just language). So when we use a word like “buy-in” we create a sales culture, and how much do you like sales people?

To “buy” means to part with your money, to lose your resources. And I’m going to sell you, in order to get it. If we’re trying to get buy-in we resent it because we feel that we should not have to sell anything. And on the other end we feel like someone is trying to manipulate us. It’s a lose-lose.

Even if you “get buy-in’ there’s the baggage that comes with it, including buyer’s remorse – That feeling of first getting caught up in excitement, then realizing it’s not what you really wanted. Getting buy-in is a short-term plan at best.

So what can replace it? To answer that we need to look deeper and ask – where are we in agreement about what’s valuable and important? If we can align on that, the conversation is not about selling, it’s about discussing – how do we best achieve it?

Let’s use an example.

Let’s say you’re trying to get “buy-in” from the CEO to let employees make their own decisions when it comes to giving customers their money back. First realize that your desire to do this is based on your own beliefs and values. You may value empowerment and believe that individual responsibility will lead to better decisions that will help both the customer and the company. This is simply your belief. Though it would be more accurate to say this is your hypothesis and you want to test it out.

The key is to connect it to an experiment (meaning a change with a limited scope and time window, seeking to validate or disprove your hypothesis), that is grounded in a shared value.  So let’s say you and the CEO are both committed to employee happiness and a strong customer NPS score.  This is what it would look like…

“Bob, you and I are both agreed that we want to increase employee happiness and raise our NPS score. I think we can do this without spending any money by letting people make their own decisions when it comes to refunds. To keep the risk low, let’s only use the product X division over 90 days. We’ll baseline the happiness metrics and our NPS score and see how it goes. If nothing changes, we can go back to the policy manual.”

This approach takes the loaded emotions out of the equation by presenting a rational argument based on shared values. The upside potential is there, with limited risk.  No more selling. Just logic and experimentation. Try it out and let me know how it goes.

Not important? Throw an off-site.

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Here’s how you can tell if your company does not really care about a corporate initiative – You throw an off-site. What? Yes.

I’m sure you have good intentions, but there’s nothing that conveys, “Man I wish we were just done with this and could move on” like a good old-fashioned all-day off-site that everyone forgets within a few months. Because here’s the thing…

Anything we really care about, we do often. We don’t schedule it for one day a year. We do it as much as we can. Every day if possible.

If you say you value culture, and you know it’s driving the company, how could it not be part of your everyday process, thoughts, and interactions?

You can tell what’s important to a person by how they spend their time and their money. The same is true of a company. Take a look at where the focus is, what’s constantly discussed and where resources are invested. That’s what people actually value.

Now, do you want to keep it that way, or do you want to shift to what’s most important to you and make it a part of your everyday?

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.