Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Selling Ice to Eskimos -- Memphis Style

I also saw Chef David Chang interviewed by Charlie Rose. Midway through the interview, Rose asked Chef Chang if he had aspirations to open a restaurant in Japan. Chang replied quickly, "No!" saying that he had too much respect. Then laughing, he added, "that would be like some guy that had a BBQ restaurant in Munich, Germany announcing he was opening up in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s not gonna happen," he chortled. Charlie Rose laughed profusely at the thought. I’m not sure, but I think he threw his hands up and said, "Duh!" Immediately, the observation seemed so obvious.

Chang’s statement hit home for me quite literary because I live in Memphis. Memphians are proud of their BBQ. Memphis likes it’s BBQ as much as Boston likes their Red Sox. I don’t think that the Yankees have much of a shot at being the team of choice in Beantown no matter how good Yankee-style baseball is. So, the chances of success for Chang’s Bavarian BBQ-meister are slim in Memphis, and everyone knows it. But, not so quick. I don’t think everyone sees the obvious. Sure, it is right there in front of us, and we all see it when it is pointed out. Yet, seeing the obvious is not a skill that everyone has developed fully.

I drive Jamie nuts with my cynical habits, among which is pointing out to her when someone tries to make a living by offering non-Memphis BBQ in Memphis. The list is not small. Here is my short list of those that have tried:

1. Chicago BBQ expert, Famous Dave's, opened and closed in Memphis with a famous Memphis partner, Isaac Hayes.
2. Famous Dave’s sauce was sold at the Market on Main.
3. St Louis-based grocer, Schnucks, advertises and sells St Louis-style ribs
4. BBQ chain restaurant, Smokey Bones, offers St Louis style ribs.
5. Numerous non-BBQ chains, including Jillian’s, have offered Saint Louis-style ribs on their menus.
6. I wonder how KC (Kansas City) Masterpiece BBQ sauce sells in Memphis?
7. Birmingham-based BBQ restaurant, Jim and Nick’s, is now open in Memphis.

Some of those on the list have been tremendous flops. The verdict is still out on others. And still, for others, BBQ is such an insignificant part of their business that the verdict may never be realized. I believe that even if selling St Louis-style ribs in Memphis doesn’t put you out of business, it couldn’t be a big seller. My point is this:
consciously observing the obvious can make you lots of money or save you lots of money. Not everyone, however, consciously makes these observations. You will have a competitive advantage if you cultivate the skill of just paying attention and seeing the obvious.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

David Chang on Charlie Rose

I take in information in a variety of ways, including watching Charlie Rose religiously. Last week Charlie had an exceptional interview with Chef David Chang that is worth watching, regardless of what business your are in, and regardless of your passion for food. Why? Because David Chang is a man living a vision. He is consciously working toward a big picture. He understands, accepts, and embraces the need to innovate all the time, to change in order to stay the same, which, as he says is his goal over and over again: to be the best. Midway through the interview when the conversation turns to his pricing strategy, Chang easily and comfortably states the guiding vision of his work: let's make delicious food of value. Chang had already repeated this vision many times over throughout the interview: we try to serve the best food we can; our goal is to make the best food in New York City; good food is not just for fine dining; we try to do something good and do it the right way. Without anxiety, Chang states that he is not sure where he and his restaurants will be in three years, but he knows the goal will be the same: to be the best. Chang exemplifies the importance of knowing the vision and the importance of not letting allegiance to specific strategies and tactics rule the vision. He strives to be dynamic, ever-changing in response to the environment, in order to remain relevant.

Chang is a refreshing mix of humility and ambition. He possesses a clear vision and an acceptance of the ambivalence of the specifics of the future. For a young man, he is full of sage and visionary advice:
Work hard. Stay humble. Try to do it right. Have integrity. Delight in what you do.


More about Chef David Chang
The I Chang by Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld
Chef on the Edge by Larissa MacFarquhar
The Year of the Pig by Alan Richman

Monday, July 28, 2008

Recommended Reads

I finished two books this weekend that were well worth the time spent. When first sitting down to write about them, I was thinking they were quite different books, but in this moment I see they are about the same thing, from different vantage points. Both books are about building community, which is one of my primary interests. I am interested in building community infrastructure/relationships, and then developing collective vision and skills within that community.

Personal Village: How to Have People in Your Life by Choice, Not Chance by Marvin Thomas was published in 2004, so it is not new. Nonetheless, I found it timely in its themes. I appreciated that this book is not heavy into or dependent on technology to build community. Thomas focuses on the old-fashioned putting yourself out there in a real and courageous way in strategic places to attract people who compliment and inspire you. Thomas suggests finding communal hangouts where people share your values and your interests. This might be a third place like a coffee shop or yoga studio or gym, or it might be a more formal group specifically formed around interests. Whatever the group, Thomas gives forgotten advice about being engaged and engaging in order to become attached and rooted. The best part of this book is the collection of resources after each chapter. I think studying successful community building strategies would go a long way to making the organizations we work in, the second places, more fulfilling and thereby more effective.

Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing The Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel is also about building community around a business's interests through technology, specifically blogging. This book is a survey of businesses that blog and the context in which they blog - some successful and effective, others, not so much. Scoble and Israel in effect have collected stories of how and why companies are building community around the common element of being a product-user. In fact, the Naked Conversations blog that they used to collect write about much of their research has been renamed Global Neightbourhoods.

I am fascinated, and was not let down in reading this book, by the movement toward cultures that are more open, more transparent, and more authentic. I find it amazing that CEOs of huge, multi-layered, well-insulated corporations blog. Here is an interesting wiki that is following this phenom. There are, however, corporations that blog which is more like their PR department getting tech savvy instead of real authentic blogging. Dave Winer, creator of RSS among many other things, sums that up nicely in the book with this quote, " The act of creativity -- only a person can do it, a company cannot."

I recommend reading Naked Conversations with your computer very near so that you can check out the blogs they are talking about as you read about them. Then, highlight the structural questions as they critique them Who should blog? What are the policies and parameters, What does open mean and are we comfortable with that? Are we going to try to monitor the blogging by employees are just trust? -- there are many considerations. But, their bottom line, and I agree, is that blogging is an incredible opportunity to build community, create trust, earn respect, and engage in passionate, reciprocal relationships. And, blogging done poorly or for the wrong reasons does more harm than good.

The logical book to read in conjunction with Naked Conversations is The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Read both and realize there is developing a very new usual in business. Only those who get it will be relevant.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial's Vision

While in Oklahoma City with ACDA in early July, I had an opportunity to visit the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial and hear designer Hans Butzer discuss its symbolism. His design team, Butzer Design Partnership, which includes his wife Torrey and associate Sven F. Berg, was chosen from over 600 entries to design the memorial based on their vision for the space.

Butzer started his talk by recalling the mission of the memorial site:

We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.

Butzer explained how from the beginning they were moved by this tremendous opportunity to leave a legacy, to make an impact that was the final statement on the incredulous, impersonal, violent act of others. They viewed their challenge as an incredible paradox: to create a place of serenity and peace from something that was created from evil and violence. They understood that part of the challenge was to create a sense of presence from absence, an enduring absence that caused random lives to be taken by an intentional act.

The site is incredibly moving. The two gates that stand sentinel over the bombing site gracefully and powerfully mark the intellectual threshold for the space. One gate is engraved "9:01" and the companion gate is engraved "9:03". The bombing took place at 9:02 a.m. Butzer's point is that things can only be understood in context. That placing this intentional act and its ramifications in context of the past, in the context of our culture, in the context of Oklahoma City, in context of the individual lives it touched, and in context of the future is the only way to make meaning. Similarly, choosing to make the street where the Murrah Building fronted as part of the memorial, commemorating it with a shallow black marble reflecting pool, changed the traffic flow of the downtown grid, forcing people trying to get from points downtown to encounter the reality of what happened perpetually. The reflecting pool is mystical. With every breeze, the waters distort their reflection of the memorial, inviting the viewer to understand that we work to understand, but that true understanding is not available to us because it has no ending point. Once we think we have a clear picture, a clear understanding of the motivations and ramifications, the wind blows, events in our life change and offer new awareness, and the picture changes.

Butzer team's vision was powerful and palpable as they designed this memorial. They created a sense of space, a sense of scale, a sense of story - individual stories, community stories, societal stories, a sense of history, a sense of absence and longing, and strangely a sense of presence and hope. The chairs that honor the 169 men, women and children who were killed are at once headstones and chairs at the table in the discussions of why?, and how not again?. All, from the power of a vision. This memorial is a great of example of vision as the details and the experience of the mission incarnate.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

More Fun

Everyone needs those things that free the mind and break it from deadlock. We all need a thing or two that successfully kills some time as the brain is switching gears.

For me, pretending to be Jackson Pollack fits the bill sometimes. I can put this program on the screen with a booming symphony or some loud rock-n-roll and get ready for the next thing, whether it is a long meeting that will be tense, a hour or two of concentrated writing, or carpool pick-up. It is energizing. It is also ephemeral because, compared to Jackson Pollock's, none of mine are worth keeping. Still, it is nice to pretend.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fun With Words

I love words - written, spoken, quoted. I love play with words like what e.e. cummings created, or Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), or Shel Silverstein. I love to see words in art, like the work of Alan Fletcher in The Art of Looking Sideways. I love biting words used in editorials like those of Maureen Dowd or Ben Stein or Thomas Friedman or David Brooks, all favorites. I wish I could do with words what they all do!

I have discovered an awesome word memelet: Wordle. It is a program written by IBM programmer Jonathan Feinberg. For a wordophile like me, it is addictively fun. The gallery has some great wordles. Here are just a few that I have made. Make one of your own.

and, with my tags:

Too much fun!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kashi's Vision Statement

I couldn't find a formal vision statement but I think Kashi's founding principle is visionary. It is simple, easy to remember and motivates all that they do.

Kashi's founding principle:

Wellness isn’t a race—it’s a journey.
And, every day is an opportunity to live life a little healthier than the day before.
We truly believe when we eat well, we feel well.

To organize your thoughts and actions, discussions and decisions around what you truly believe is a vision. I truly believe that understanding creates community. Understanding, in some form, would be part of the vision that guides me.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Clif Bar Lives Its Vision

I find Clif Bar to be an inspiring company that derives its business strategies from its vision. They call it "their soul". We need our corporations to have souls, and we need places to work that inspire and desire soulful people. Clif's aspirations are noble, people-oriented, visionary in their aim. Their videos don't come through here but you can see them on their website.

5 Aspirations:

Sustaining our Planet -- keep our impact on the environment small even as we grow.

Sustaining our Community -- be good neighbors. Give back to the community.

Sustaining our People -- create a workplace where people can live life to its fullest, even 9 to 5.

Sustaining our Business -- grow slower, grow better, stick around longer.

Sustaining our Brands -- make what people actually need. Never compromise quality.

Sustaining is a good visionary word.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Creating A Vision

Vision as a noun is the power of sensing with our eyes, our sight. To vision is the ability to imagine or conceptualize in vivid detail something to come. The vision, with its detail and specificity, becomes a motivating goal for the future. A vision creates a magnetic force or pull towards realizing the vision. A vision also creates an organizing energy, a sense of direction so that goals can be set and reached, which allows the vision to be created. I am a firm believer that we can only do, as individuals and as organizations, that which we can envision. The first step, then, in planning for the future is crafting the vision. Everything else flows from there.

A vision statement is not a mission statement. In his BusinessWeek article, The Napkin Test, Carmine Gallo tells us, "A vision is a vivid image of a brighter future that can be articulated in 10 words or less. It is repeatable and consistent. A vision can fit on the back of a napkin." So easy to say and yet so hard to develop. His advice, "Lose the mission statement. That's right. Throw it out and throw out all of the meetings and e-mails that go along with it." Can you do it?

I do not have a formal vision statement. I have a rather unclear vision sentiment that motivates me and guides my thinking. I am undertaking a research project for a client regarding vision crafting and have decided I need a vision statement, lest I preach what I am not practicing. I need to crystallize my vision sentiment into a series of carefully chosen, coded, guiding words. I think it will take me a while to develop one right for me, and I know not to decide the outcome before researching the possibilities.

Here is my first, great, inspiring possibility. I love the vision statement of Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacies headquartered in Boulder, Colorado:

seek knowledge
embrace change
practice wellness
celebrate life

I could adopt that whole! But, that would be too easy. I shall keep looking, and let you know what I discover.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Imagination Before Reason

“Reason can answer questions, but imagination has to ask them.”
-- Dr. Ralph Gerard

Dr. Ralph Gerard was devoted to scientific inquiry his whole life. Gerard had a mighty mind and terrific energy that he used to continually ask and answer questions of scientific inquiry. Gerard epitomized creativity. He used his imagination to envision new questions. And, new questions always lead to new answers.

I recently facilitated a visioning session for the American Choral Directors Association in Oklahoma City. Their leaders from all fifty states gathered to discuss the future. I led them through a day-long imaginative process not to find answers, but to discover new questions to ask. It takes courage and creativity to discover what the new questions that will guide your thinking should be. The leaders of ACDA showed tremendous imagination and courage and enthusiasm.

I always start this process by helping groups develop their external awareness, within their industry and within the culture at large. Organizations must be internally focused with budgets, projections, and personnel issues, but it is imperative that they are also externally aware. This process requires you to hold the vision and the strategic tactics and details in your minds and your decision-making all at the same time. It is a new demand upon our well-worn skill sets, but this synthesizing skill, or as I described it to the choral directors, the skill of symphony, is one that can be cultivated.

Once you have the right questions, the answers come. Using our well-practiced skills of logic and pragmatic reasoning, the answers come more easily than you think initially once the right questions are excavated.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Efficient and Strategic Work

We might reinvigorate our lives by learning to ask new questions. Asking large questions seeds the ground with new possibilities. While at first glance this may seem to be un-strategic work, I suggest that inviting senior leaders in any setting to reflect on the deeper questions that animate them, and that animate our organizations, is some of the most important work they can do. This is because it forces them to think about their choices, many of which are often made unconsciously, out of habit, and out of fear. Choices sown with these energies inevitably collapse. Think of inquiry of this sort as the ultimate act of efficiency: dealing with problems far upstream, before they surface and require expensive rework and change.

-- William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together

I recently picked Isaacs' book off my shelf to consult a diagram that I knew was in there. The book fell open to the passage above which was circled boldly by me a few years ago when I read it. Wow! How great for me to re-read this beautifully written passage that confirms the importance of holding the tension of resistance steady with every leader that tells me, "We just don't have time. This is a lovely idea but we just do not have time to indulge in those sorts of thinking activities."

No time is the first reaction of most leaders to whom I recommend deep, systematized organizational reflection. I am always amazed at how rushing to do more of the same feels better and more productive than thinking divergently, from whole to parts, questioning original assumptions in order to do better, more effective work. I think we as leaders get sidetracked from our purpose by feelings of comfort and efficiency. We lose our sense of intention in order to get items complete. The result is our work becomes rote and develops a diminishing relationship to the declared purpose.

How sad that we exchange comfort for the invigorating work of developing depth and meaning.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Innovation Mindset

A.G. Lafley has served as the CEO, President, and the Chairman of the Board of Procter & Gamble since June 2000. Previously, Lafley had been President of Global Beauty Care and North America for P&G. Lafley truly rose from within the ranks of P & G which he joined upon receiving his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 1977. With Ram Charan, A.G. Lafley has a new book out titled The Game Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation. A quick way to get the gist of Lafley and Charan's message is to listen to the A.G. Lafley interview at Harvard Business Ideacast.

Lafley attributes much of P & G's sustained growth and profitability to having developed a culture of innovation that is led by a leadership team that is truly engaged, chronically learning, and takes ultimate responsibility for the sustainability of the organization. These elements, he contends, are crucial to any organization in any industry that wishes to stay viable and competitive, or in my words, relevant. Lafley says, first and foremost, the leader has to be "in the game". His shorthand for this is "the CEO has to be the CIO (Chief Innovation Officer)". The leader has to bear the ultimate responsibility for realizing the vision. The leader has to manage the culture of his organization to realize the vision, thus he has to create a culture of innovation.

Lafley outlines the elements of a culture of innovation as being open to new ideas, open-minded as individuals, relational and connection-oriented such that they can take ideas and concepts and meld them to other ideas and concepts, making new breakthrough ideas and concepts. Members of an innovative culture must be able to work collaboratively and transparently for the benefit of the team's success, or the mission is doomed to fail. And, lastly, true innovators understand that the customer is always at the center of the what, why, and how of everything. An innovator seeks co-creative opportunities with his customer.

Lafley and Charan are re-defining our notion of innovation and its place in business. Their idea is that innovation is a mindset, an everyday habit. The old notion of innovation would be a technological product upgrade. Innovation for the 21st century encompasses the whole ball of wax -- the brand, the carefully designed business experience from the customer's perspective, the functional attributes of the product, the business model, the cost structure, the supply chain, the values of the culture and of the company. Innovation is the belief that status quo ways of yesteryear are not aligned with the needs of the customer or the business in the now.

What do we put at jeopardy when we are not innovative?
If we are not innovative, how do we become so?

These are big questions worth taking seriously, in my opinion, and Lafley and Charan are terrific thought leaders in this area.