If we’d known we were going to be the Beatles we would have tried harder

I am reading Eric Idle’s book “Always look on the bright side of life” – thanks Turnar! In his “Sortabiography,” Eric, of Monty Python fame, mentions the quote from George Harrison that is in the headline. In the book it is in the context of “how could we know we could become them?” as Eric talked about the formative years of Python.

The Beatles were brilliant and changed music for generations. The Python troupe changed sketch comedy for generations.

Now, I know not everyone is a Beatles or Python fan. That is not the point. When you consider disruption, these are two lasting, and famous, examples.

The George Harrison quote can be applied and considered by everyone. You don’t know what you are going to become in the future. And if you wait until your moment, it might be too late to capitalize on it because you actually didn’t put in the work earlier.

This is the main point and is reinforced by the teachings of John Wooden and shown in the apex of his Pyramid of Success, “Competitive Greatness: Perform at your best when your best is needed. Your best is needed every day.”

Martin Luther King also said:

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

We all have hopes and desires. Some of us dream of pro sports stardom; some dream of inventing something life changing for the world; some dream of raising a family; some dream of being an accountant? (with apologies and respect to my accounting buddies – watch the Python sketch about the boring life of an accountant) and so on. None of these aspirations is any better or worse than the other. We all make our choices and we move forward from there.

And yet, do we really prepare a bit extra each day to improve our standing or help us reach our goals faster? If this was so, then every company and organization would be operating at peak efficiency. In Canada, our productivity index is always slightly behind the US. I don’t want to get into all the details, you can go here for a deeper explanation, but such comparisons always make me wonder if organizations are aligned for improvement by helping their people get better.

Let’s start with a new employee “onboarding” approach. How many companies give out that 2″ orientation manual on day 1??? Be honest!

Doesn’t this move scream “bureaucracy” to everyone? I mean, this is Dilbert material for sure.

When do you share your culture and values? Oh, you mean you didn’t talk about this during the interview process? Well, it is a good thing you have that 60 day probation period in case “Tim” doesn’t work out because he is not aligned.

Come on. This is 100% your fault.

When John, Paul, George and Ringo got together they made sure they were aligned at the start. They made magic and then wanted to change and the group ended. Way too soon from an outsider’s perspective, but, they were the ones that had to work together.

The same holds true for John, Graham, Eric, Michael, Terry and Terry when they formed the Pythons. They knew each other or about each other and they found ways to collaborate to see if there was a fit. When the fit was confirmed the group moved forward with crafting their show.

The winning onboarding process of a company like Zappos can be studied, and the model adjusted for your company. I am NOT saying you need the Zappos culture. I am suggesting that their approach to finding and hiring and training people is based on wanting them to stay long-term. What a novel concept 🙂

And as individuals, it is up to each one of us to become as good as we can, to be the best employee we can be.

This is not corny, this is real.

I have to sign off now because I have some studying to do. Tonight is finishing reading “Uncommon Service” by Frances Frei. Fascinating read.  And tomorrow is the study of some exceptional sales training.

To your success!

Artificial Intelligence

The Oxford dictionary provides the following definition of artificial:

1. made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, especially as a copy of something natural.
“her skin glowed in the artificial light”
2. (of a person or their behavior) insincere or affected.
“an artificial smile”
And the following definition for intelligence:
1. the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.
“an eminent man of great intelligence”
It certainly seems like an odd definition when you combine the two words for a stream that is gaining so much notoriety these days.
We had a CMC event today, and our guest speaker was a very bright and engaging PhD candidate who gave us an overview on AI and Machine Learning. He covered several myths and corrected them, including:
  • Myth – AI is designed to reduce the number of people. Reality – While you hear this a lot in various news stories, we learned that AI is actually best designed to complement what employees are doing.
  • Myth – AI primary benefit is cost savings. Reality – I am sure CFOs want to see costs reduced; however, in the past three years the biggest benefits of AI are revenue generation
  • Myth – AI algorithms can magically make sense of messy data. Reality – AI is not “load and go.” Like any other system with data input, the old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” holds true with AI.  Think about it, AI is looking for new patterns in the data. If your data is full of duplicate and incomplete records you will not get anything of real value as an output.

One of the most interesting comments from Aditya was that the AI tools are not looking to replace the human component of decisions. Humans are still humans. Our normal patterns of behaviour can be randomly upset by one-off events or trauma in our lives.

If I have a normal schedule to get to work each day, and I get cut off by a bozo who doesn’t care, I might just be thrown off my congenial behaviour when I arrive at work. No one could have predicted I would be Mr. “Uncongeniality” – not pleasing. You know, when your colleagues might say something like “who peed in your corn flakes this morning?”

If a retailer’s algorithm had me pegged to make a purchase of a related item to a prior purchase the algorithm would be wrong that day. But the algorithm would not have all the data to complete the picture of me and my demeanor.

My point is that there is a lot of data that cannot be easily loaded for analysis, and smart people know that they have to understand where the data comes from and how complete the inputs are. How much do you trust the reliability and veracity of the data being analyzed?

People can be moving targets when trying to predict future purchase behaviour. And this makes it a challenge to predict. If you have ever purchased from Amazon, you often get recommendations about other products. The algorithm is taking a sample of your behaviour (past purchase) and applying it to be helpful (suggested future purchase). Revenue generation opportunities.

I have seen some interesting applications of AI trying to create ads. Here are a few samples:

I really believe that humans that seek to understand the client’s product or service and how it benefits their customers, or solves a problem/challenge, can always write better ads because they are seeing things real, just as they are. AI is still a bot. The empathy and emotion have not, yet, been captured in the data that feeds an algorithm.

In a terrific post by George Tannenbaum last November, after digesting his insights  scroll down and look for the bit from an ad legend, Dave Trott. https://adaged.blogspot.com/2019/11/truth-and-advertising.html

Dave talks about using facts to create emotion. And he uses the great VW ads as Exhibit A.

We could do well in any profession to think about how facts and truth can elicit an emotional response from our customers. Roy H. Williams says, “win the heart and the mind will follow.”

Thanks George, Dave and Roy.

There is nothing artificial in their intelligent statements.


Mel Blanc: More than a man of 1,000 voices

What’s up Doc?

One of the most iconic TV lines in the history of TV. From one of the most iconic characters – Bugs Bunny. I remember watching Bugs at 5 PM every Saturday evening – even when I was in University. When we traveled for football, as a player and later as a coach, Bugs was a staple. Sometimes, cartoon therapy was an important pregame ritual to settle the nerves.

But what of the man behind the voice of Bugs and so many other characters from Warner Bros. and other cartoon studios, including Disney?

Mel Blanc was an average kid growing up that became one of a kind. He started in high school by changing instruments to tuba and playing that in the school band. He would walk up and down his street practicing. While wandering the halls in school he would talk in different voices and check the pitch, echo, etc. to create unique sounds.

He was a person with focus from a very early age. Little did he know that all this practice would pay off to become one of the most talented and requested actors in Hollywood.

Yes, I said “actor.”

Mel didn’t just play himself as the character, he actually became the character. He worked very hard at perfecting the unique elements of each character he portrayed. I came across this video that describes Mel Blanc and his tremendous talent from his actual work to the people that worked with him.

It is not surprising to learn of the professional approach that Mel took to his work. How does one become so prolific and renowned? Hard work, practice and an incredible ability to think deeply about how to make his work better. If you watch the video you will learn how Mel got the storyboards from the animators, talked with the directors, and then did the voices. He needed to understand exactly how his characters would act in the cartoon. He needed to understand the entire story and expected outcome so he would know the timing, inflection, and emotions that the characters would be displaying.

This reminds me of the old school approach to creating advertising or marketing a product. The writers would dive right in and learn about how the client’s product is made or how it is being used by the customer. Gaining deep insights, with their own eyes,  would also help find areas of differentiation or strength that would allow the writers and creative people to develop their message.

Hmmm, back to basics…

While technology and data can be very useful, it is the understanding of the customer and your role, as a product or service in their life, that is where the difference can be made. If you just look at the data, chances are you will miss something. Check out Martin Lidstrom’s book “Small Data” for amazing insights on going past big data to find a difference.

I have seen some onboarding programs in organizations that do NOT show a newbie how they fit in with other departments. To be fair, I have seen a couple of better processes too. When people understand how they fit in with the entire operation their commitment will rise. Their willingness to go the extra mile or stay late, more than just doing their job, is where exceptional organizations begin to separate from their competitors.

Give it a shot. Encourage people to become great at what they do, whatever they do. Ensure they can be proud of their part in the process.

While it will take some time, you must be consistent if you are trying to make a change. Maybe watch some cartoons for inspiration.

Or be like Mel who invested a lot of his own time visiting children in hospitals. And be a nice person, too. Civility wins.

And in the inimitable words of Porky Pig


Do you have it in stock?

I read a fascinating story about Zappos, the online shoe company that is now owned by Amazon. When Zappos was making its mark, led by Tony Hsieh, their inventory was 95% accurate. That means that when a customer sales rep was checking the stock for a customer, or the customer was placing an online order, the system was accurate 95% of the time.

But that means if they sold 8.4 million shoes per year ($840 M in sales divided by $100 per shoe) they would still be wrong on 420,000 shoe orders. What a staggering number. What a lot of potentially unhappy customers.

So why isn’t Zappos hammered by this apparent giant miss?

Actually, Zappos leads the retail pack by a mile in this area. The average retailer’s inventory is 40% accurate.

So, if we applied the industry average to a similar-sized retailer, the result would be close to 1,000,000 (one million) incorrect orders.

Talk about a lot of unhappy customers!

This competitor could be running exceptional advertising that is drawing in customers to all their sales platforms.

Their in-store sales associates could be the most exceptionally trained and knowledgeable. And they find exactly what the customer is looking for so the customer is ready to buy!

And their inventory system lets them down more than half the time.

The CEO probably doesn’t know how many sales are walking out the door.

So, who do you blame for this loss of sales? If no one is able to blow the whistle on the inaccurate inventory system, the store manager or marketing likely gets the penalty.

Think of your own industry and look for possible problem areas like this.

Organizations with a winning game plan will be diligent about understanding all elements of their customer’s journey and they will ensure that each potential break point is under scrutiny with the appropriate measurements (KPIs), awareness and that their customer is always at the center of the discussions.

I know, I know. This always sounds so easy. If it was easy (remember what our father said) then everyone would be doing it.

I have not asked any senior leaders why this is the case and it is an important question to answer. Why is there a lack of accountability concerning all aspects of the customer journey? Is it because leaders are obsessed with the financial results and do not seek to understand the drivers that create the financial results? I am not saying the results are not important. The financial results are an extremely important measure of long-term health and sustainability of an organization. But they are lagging indicators – they tell us what was.

Organizations with a winning game plan also incorporate leading indicators that will help you understand the future potential of the company. And great game plans really understand they need to deeply understand their customers and the other options that customers have to spend their money somewhere else. Often, these alternative buying options are products in different categories and not direct competitors.

If your product can be substituted how are you defining value from your customer’s view to position yourself as the option to be purchased?

Winning game plans dig deep looking for an edge and they require vigilance because there are a lot of moving parts inside the customer’s head and heart and in the world they live in.

And if you want to live in the world closer to your customer’s heart, here is one final tip for your employees. If a customer is in your store and asks if you carry a certain product, please take them to the spot on the shelf, don’t say, “I think it is in aisle 6 or 14.”

Don’t just think…know!