July 29, 2009
A few years ago, I found Purple Cow by Seth Godin when I was browsing the local bookstore. Purple Cow started me on a journey of reading other Seth books and then becoming a daily reader of Seth’s blog, I was immediately addicted to Seth’s daily pithy, yet succinct observations, advice, insights, and admonitions. His blog posts start my day.
In July of 2008, Seth invited his blog readers (me) to buy Tribes (a terrific leadership book by Seth) and to join an online tribe called Triiibes. I joined! Today is the anniversary of Triiibes and we are celebrating it with an interconnected blog ring.
The community of similar-minded professionals that emerged in Triiibes, with whom I converse, learn, and occasionally teach, is amazing. What I love most is that Triiibes is interactive and asynchronous – I can participate day or night and spend as little or as much time as I have available. Simply perfect! I have made many enriching friendships.
Most importantly, over this past year as I participated in Triiibes, I achieved a new perspective, gained confidence, and realized that I was in a cul-de-sac. Although I had achieved significant professional success over many years, I finally realized that I had already achieved my personal goals where I was and that my efforts were no longer leading to important gains – it was time to do something different and/or set out on a new adventure. So…
I initiated a rebuild of my personal long view:
- I resigned from my full-time professional position and am now achieving proficiency (mastery?) in the non-technical art of nurture.
- I am nurturing myself, my family, and my community through care-taking, volunteering, and just helping where I can. By doing this, I have met many interesting and amazing people that I would not have had time for previously.
- I created this blog to share – here I coalesce my long view insights and publish them.
- I am defining my next adventure. I have steadfast confidence that an opportunity to nurture technical innovation will emerge from this investment in nurturing. ☺
Happy Anniversary Triiibes! Thanks for everything, I look forward to many more insightful years!
Next on the Anniversary Blog Ring: Being Tribal
July 27, 2009
Selecting climbing shoes is no different that selecting tools for technology applications. My long view advice on ensuring functional performance of equipment is as follows:
- Understand the function – borrow, rent or purchase an inexpensive model to learn. Identify the characteristics that are important. Sometimes, expert advice can define the key characteristics, but it is always important to come up the learning curve enough to understand what you value.
- Measure/Differentiate performance – there is no substitute for testing the product and measuring difference. Whether you are purchasing large liquid handling equipment or shoes, try different models/brands in the intended application!
As an aside, when I started rock climbing in the mid-70’s there was no such thing as rock climbing shoes, we wore hiking boots! Even though specialist shoes did not exist, gear was still key. The early-70’s introduction of a simple belay plate provided the necessary mechanical advantage for a 13-year-old girl weighing less than 100 lbs. to belay a full-grown adult male. It was this device that allowed me to participate with my Dad and his friends before I left for college.
Today, rock climbing has come a long way with the advent of indoor gyms and the plethora of specialist equipment. It can be daunting to select the most basic item: shoes!
Climbing shoes are notorious for being uncomfortable, yet I know that comfort is important to me. (I am just not tough enough or good enough to need the pain.) Since my current shoes are comfortable, what I really needed were shoes that have less slip (the better to smear with), more touch (improved grip on small holds), and a friction surface all the way across the footbed and heel (the better to stem with in tight spots).
I bought my first pair (Scarpa Marathon) online for $25: #1 purchase inexpensively to learn. This time I needed to assess slip and touch on a climbing wall: #2 measure performance. I tried on just about every pair that my climbing gym offered – three different brands, two different models, and a few sizes. Each time, I headed to the bouldering room to test their slip and touch. I admit that I did not buy the most aggressive technical shoe, rather I bought one that is still considered a beginner shoe (Scarpa Veloce) but proved to be more sticky (less slip), more tactile, and yet comfortable enough to wear for a few hours in the gym. Or perhaps I just liked them because they were Kermit-the-Frog green…
Maybe someday I will need a quiver of climbing shoes, but not yet!
When you purchase a new performance item, do you learn first and then test performance?
July 23, 2009
I love cheering on my friends who are participating in sports because it is a great way to stay connected, to provide meaningful positive reinforcement for the participant, and have fun by participating vicariously. Until now, vicarious participation has been limited by time and proximity or by TV coverage (Olympics, ballgames, etc.). So, unless I have been near enough (and had enough time) to go watch at the friend’s venue or my friend has been an elite athlete that makes TV coverage, I have been relegated to listening to tales and seeing photos later. All that is being changed by customized tracking…
This weekend, a college buddy of mine was crewing on a sailboat that was racing from Chicago to Mackinac (Michigan). During the race, all the boats carried a GPS chip that constantly transmitted data to the iBoat website which then showed the positions and identifying information of all the boats in the race. It was so much fun watching all of the boats race toward Mackinac over the three-day race. As I went about my own weekend, I kept pulling out my iPhone to check-in on the position of my buddy’s boat (the little green dot on the map). What a riot! I would show anyone who would look how my friend was doing in his race – real-time.
Also this weekend, my sister-in-law (SIL) and I ran in a local ½-marathon. Timing was done using RFID technology – a disposable RFID tag was attached to the shoe of every runner. As we crossed the start line, our start time was captured and as we crossed the finish line, our completion time was captured. Because it was a long race, my husband (also SIL’s brother) planned to be back at the finish line to cheer us on (and take our picture). Although we gave him a pretty good estimate (less than 2 hours) of our expected completion time, he tracked our progress via iPhone GPS technology since SIL and I carried phones with remote tracking enabled (my teenagers!). Even though the iPhone tracking worked, it was klugy and not universally available. Imagine what the experience could have been for many others if real-time text-messages (tweets or emails) were being sent via RFID timing portals at milestones along the trail?! I know that I would have paid extra to sign up a for race day texts (or emails or Tweets) as my “bib” number reached various milestones. What an opportunity to create connection and positive reinforcement!
Over the long view, enriching the experiences of others by creating connection and positive reinforcement always pays positive dividends. If you can think of a way to create connection, meaningful positive reinforcement, or camaraderie, as part of your service and/or product, do it because it will build loyalty, returns, and possibly additional revenue! Real-time tracking has added value to many businesses – package delivery, sailboat racing, … I’m hoping that the technology will trickle down to running, cycling, swimming, etc.
I can’t wait to participate vicariously with MORE of my friends through tracking – it will help me stay connected.
Can you create an opportunity to enrich, create connection, and reinforce positively in what you do?
July 19, 2009
My husband is a wonderful guy, constantly giving back to the community in so many ways. One example, he donates blood – he knows that the community counts on him especially in the summer because there is always a shortage. Drip, drip, drip…yesterday morning, he got up early to donate blood.
When he returned from donating, he expressed frustration about the service. As he recounted a tale about the person who handled his “in-take” – they wasted his time, denigrated his offer of assistance to find his recent travel destination on the map, and was rude. I realized once again how lucky the world is that he is so calm, unflappable, and honorable. Had I been in the same situation, frustrated would not be the word choice to describe how I would have felt…
Considering the importance of keeping eligible donors returning at regular intervals to donate blood to create blood supply (the only source of raw material), it is simply shocking that the blood center does not ensure that donors have an amazing experience.
As my husband recounted his blood center tale, I recalled the advice I gave previously in Proverbial Zebra about the importance of knowing the organizational constraint and understanding the pivotalness of staff roles. That key advice came from Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital (Bourdeau/Ramstad) and applies directly to a customer service organization like the blood center. In fact, the authors use two different customer service roles at Disneyland to describe pivotalness – Mickey Mouse and the street sweepers.
At Disneyland, there is not too much differentiation from a “guest” point-of-view between the worst Mickey and the best Mickey – not pivotal. However, there is significant differentiation between the worst street sweeper and the best – very pivotal. Sweepers who go out of their way to help a lost guest or find assistance make a big difference in the overall Disney experience of guests and, thereby, the success of Disneyland. Thus, Disney makes a great effort to hire the very best street sweepers – those with initiative and courtesy. Pivotalness is determined by the attributes that relieve an organizational constraint.
In the bloody supply business that is in chronic shortage and in need of donors, the organizational constraint is recruiting eligible donors. So, if the Blood Center were to review staff roles relative to the constraint, there is not too much differentiation from a “donor” point-of-view” between the worst lab technician and the best lab technician (assuming baseline competence) – not pivotal. However, there is a significant difference between the worst “in-take” technician and the best “in-take” technician – very pivotal. “In-take” technicians that are knowledgeable of world geography (where has the donor visited in the last six months that might exclude them), charming (able to make comforting small talk through the finger-prick and blood pressure testing), and efficient (every donor minute wasted reduces the chance of return) make a big difference in the overall blood center experience and will affect the willingness of donors to continue to donate.
My long view advice to any blood center is that they need to be proactive about deploying excellence in “in-take” technicians. It is not an entry-level position that can be delegated to the lowest common denominator in the organization or the blood supply will suffer over the long-term. As noted before, pivotalness is determined by the attributes that relieve an organizational constraint — access to blood NOW and in the FUTURE. Do not count on a donor’s sense of duty or Oreo cookies to sustain donor returns. Select staff for “in-take” positions that are knowledgeable, charming, and efficient and then compensate them for doing these things well because it matters!
Do you know what staff positions are pivotal in your organization?
July 15, 2009
Jamba Juice is a frozen fruit smoothie franchise that has consistent taste, predictable service (both timing and quality), hip marketing, and friendly staff. As a process engineer, I have always marveled at the “process line” that Jamba Juice employs. It is simple, efficient, and allows for excellence in quality in pace and accuracy (so long as the vast majority of products being sold are smoothies).
Jamba Juice uses a register station, a prep station, a blending station, a finishing station, and a washing station. The “line” works because each smoothie gets a paper ticket with the smoothie identity (product) and the purchaser identity. The paper ticket sticks to the blender carafe when moist, so information flows along the line with each carafe. As the tickets flow, carafes are prepped and pushed down the line, creating an excellent First-In-First-Out (FIFO) process line. The “line” is usually well staffed to ensure flow through the series of stations and the register station can be used regulate flow. If needed, they can reduce the flow momentarily by ceasing to take orders when they get too backed up. It is easy to see your order progress in the line-up, making the wait very predictable.
I also like Jamba Juice because they are “hip.” They use colorful advertising, clean humor, and they have a “secret smoothie menu” that appeals to teens (my kids like the “Pink Star”).
When I went for a smoothie today (it was hot outside), I found that Jamba Juice had added many new food products to their menu. I watched sadly as the once simple process gave way to complexity and FIFO flow was no longer working. The woman in front of me in line received only one of her two smoothies. Even though she muttered about the error (such that I knew), she was not assertive in requesting a correction from the staff. On the other hand, when I observed that one of my smoothies had NOT been prepared at the prep station, I spoke up immediately, because it was clear to me that the new way the paper tickets and carafes flowed led to errors and a loss of system capacity.
Indeed the squeaky wheel (me) got the grease (my order was fixed ASAP). I left advising the woman ahead of me to speak up, even though I knew that more expediting would continue to cost process capacity. They had became caught in an eternal expedite situation – as each person found an error in their order, “flow” work ceased and “expedite” work filled the capacity of the staff. The line backed up more and more because complexity unintentionally increased the rate of error and no mechanism was added to compensate.
I lament the loss of the niche excellence that Jamba Juice once commanded. I am saddened because they have lost their core to the unintended consequence of what probably seemed like an “improvement” (revenue?). Maybe only this location was duly affected with the addition of food to the menu and maybe they can create a corrective action, but I am not confident.
Jamba Juice failed to see the long view value of their core competence from a customer’s perspective: consistent fruit smoothie preparation (tasty!), FIFO process (predictable timing), and high order quality (order accuracy). It is the experience that has value. The unintended consequence of their change compromised this core value. As my friend Greg (a marketing guy) points out, “Ask your customers why they buy your product and why they buy your product from you and not one of your competitors. You will no doubt be amazed at the answer.” In summary, understand your core and the potential for unintended consequences from your customer’s perspective.
Do you know what your customers think your core competency is?
July 8, 2009
As I “analyzed” why this has been hard, I became increasing aware of a disconnect between our voiced opinion(s) upon the importance of timely completion of the document and our real action(s) in timely completion of our assignments.
Because the guidance document has long view value with near-term obstacles, my initial reaction was to judge the severity of the disconnect between “say” and “do” in my fellow document drafters. However, after further reflection, I realized that it is too easy to be judgmental about others’ choices of pace and priority. How can I be aware of their competing demands? Would I really expect draft completion when a fellow volunteer has been ill? No!
What I can do is address my own inconsistency on pace and priority. On that subject, I liked Scott’s Consistency Audit Review.
Have you recently conducted a consistency audit on yourself?
Back to editing that document…