Friday, October 30, 2009

Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face, by Jack Prelutsky

Post 358 - Since this is Halloween weekend, with it's focus on entertaining children (of all ages), I thought it fitting to post a children's poem this week. Before the more famous Shel Silverstein started writing children’s poetry, he was a close friend of Jack Prelutsky when they were both studying folk music and living in Greenwich Village in the 50’s to early 60’s.

Prelutsky was born in 1940 in Brooklyn, and attended Hunter College in NYC. He worked at various times as a busboy, furniture mover, folk singer, and cab driver. He says he hated poetry in grade school because of the way it was taught - his elementary school teacher gave him the impression that “poetry was the literary equivalent of chopped liver!” Fortunately for us, he rediscovered poetry in his 20s, and has devoted the years since to writing fresh, humorous verse aimed specifically at kids. He's the author of more than 30 poetry collections including Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep and A Pizza the Size of the Sun.

In 2006, Prelutsky was named the first Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. He currently lives in Washington state, and spends much of his time presenting poems to children in schools and libraries throughout the United States.

Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face by Jack Prelutsky

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you'd be forced to smell your feet.

Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.

Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.

Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place--
be glad your nose is on your face!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What it takes to reach your heart's desire.

Post 357 - In The Wizard of Oz, when the Good Witch asked Dorothy what she learned while she was in Oz, Dorothy replied, "If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it anyway."

It’s easy to forget that the real wizard lives inside us. We have to give ourselves the power to take control of our thoughts, to overcome our fears and follow our yellow brick road if we're to accomplish our dreams and goals. No one else can do it for us.

Barbara Hailey says it takes three things to reach your heart's desire:

1. The knowledge and skills to accomplish the things you want in life.

2. The courage to carry on through all of life's challenges and to never give up on your dreams.

3. The ability to love and to be loved.

The third is probably the most difficult to master. You have to learn how to really love before you can learn how to live. I'm not referring to Hollywood's version of romantic love here. The poet, David Ignatow, explained the kind of love I'm thinking about and why it's so crucial to self-realization as follows:

“The most important thing (in life) is peace of mind . . . growing out of an assurance about one’s relationships with others. Relationships that you can count on that won’t backfire . . . on which you can turn your back and not fear some sort of a reprisal or betrayal. It’s a dependence thing. You have a relationship that becomes a metaphor for your relationship with the rest of the world. And if it’s a secure and loving relationship on which you can count for your physical, mental, and emotional needs to be filled, then you have what most people lack. You have going for yourself a balanced energizing situation. Then you can turn around and put your energy into a lot of different things because you can take this other thing for granted. A person loves you. You know that this love will not fail you under virtually any circumstances. This love is for you and you alone. Something for you that’s for no one else. That’s important. When you have that, I think you have a treasure.”

Longshoreman turned philosopher Eric Hoffer once wrote, "The remarkable thing is that we really love our neighbor as ourselves: we do unto others as we do unto ourselves: and we hate others when we hate ourselves."

To live life fully, we need to learn how to love people and use things, instead of using people and loving things. Joy’s twin emotion is love and no one can love alone. Remember the lyric from the Sound of Music:

a song isn't a song until you sing it
a bell isn't a bell until you ring it
love in your heart isn't put there to stay
love isn't love until you give it away.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A wish for more happiness and joy.

Post 356 – I woke up today thinking about happiness and joy and wondering why there’s so little of either in the evening news or the morning paper. And why we've learned to accept that! It’s not that we don’t need more of each - I’m told the number one class at Harvard University is a class called “Happier.”

Dr. Robert Holden writes about three kinds of happiness in his book, Be Happy. He mentions pleasure, satisfaction and unreasonable happiness or joy. For him joy is the soul of happiness and the only true kind of happiness. He compares it to "bliss" and "ecstasy." It’s much more than an emotion or a state of mind; it’s bigger than the ego and comes before the "I." It’s what Marcie Shimoff calls "being happy for no reason" in her book of the same name.

Holden gives five reasons why developing an awareness of joy is the true path to happiness.

1. It’s constant and ever present - you don’t have to chase joy or satisfy your ego to be joyful.

2. It unleashes creativity - joy is a source of inspiration.

3. It’s unreasonable - joy is based on nothing and doesn’t need a reason to exist.

4. It doesn’t have an opposite, unlike pleasure and satisfaction - joy's twin is love and nothing can diminish it.

5. It is enough, unlike pleasure and satisfaction which constantly require more and more. Joy has an abiding sense of "enoughness."

According to Holden, unless you cultivate an awareness of joy, no amount of pleasure or satisfaction can make you happy.

Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us that we often confuse happiness and joy. Happiness is frequently triggered by external events we usually have no control over – you got the promotion, he loves you back, they approved your mortgage application. Happiness camouflages a lot of fears.

She writes that, “Joy is the absence of fear. Joy is your soul’s knowledge that if you don’t get the promotion, keep the relationship, or buy the house, it’s because you weren’t meant to. You’re meant to have something better, something richer, something deeper. Something more. Joy is where your life began, with your first cry. Joy is your birthright. She believes that joy comes easier to those who embrace a Simple Abundance philosophy: "All you have is all you need at any moment if you're grateful for it." So, one of the keys to happiness is inner contentment. Inner contentment doesn’t come from having all you want but rather from wanting and appreciating all you have.

I probably shouldn't have goals for my readers, but I do. I wish for all of you to be joyful. Joy comes when we allow our quiet heart to lead us, when we recognize that the progress of the world depends on our progress as individuals. Joy is number one on my list of characteristics for successful people. So, if it's not on yours, please add it!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Don't worry, be happy.

Post 355 - Living in uncertain times can often cause anxiety and unhappiness. That's a good time to remember legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s strategy for finding happiness. He says the key is to make and keep the following nine promises:

1. Promise yourself that you'll talk health, happiness and prosperity as often as possible.

2. Promise yourself to make sure all your friends know there's something about them that's special and that you value.

3. Promise to think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best from yourself and others.

4. Promise to be just as enthusiastic about the successes of others as you are about your own.

5. Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

6. Promise to forget the mistakes of the past and to press on to greater achievements in the future.

7. Promise to wear a cheerful appearance at all times and to give everyone you meet a smile.

8. Promise to give so much time to improving yourself that you'll have no time to criticize others.

9. Promise to be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit trouble to press on you.

As cited by Coach Wooden, these nine promises focus on four themes;
- be positive in whatever you do,
- always do your best,
- be a good friend to others, and finally,
- develop an inner strength that will keep you from losing your focus on your goals.

Words to Forget:
- I can't
- I'll try
- I have to
- I should have
- If only
- Problem
- Difficult
- Stressed
- I, me, my
- Yes, but...
- Hate

I challenge you to join me in working to remove these words from both your mental and verbal vocabulary.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How to Survive in a Changing World.

Post 354 - It's almost November so I'm thinking about next year already. It seems likely that 2010 will be another challenging year. We still don't have a clear idea if the US economy will rebound in the new year or if there's another dip just around the corner. Either way, some businesses will prosper, others will shrink, and still others will disappear. But all will have to adapt. In the words of Charles Darwin: “It's not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

People can't avoid change any more than businesses can expect to remain viable if they can't anticipate and adjust to new conditions. So how do you respond to change? Do you have a plan in place that will help you adapt and prosper in 2010? Here are some ideas that may help:

• Change can help you reach your goals,
There’s an old saying that, "Every change brings an opportunity." Learn to see change as a means of achieving your goals, not as a barrier preventing you from reaching them. Examine changes in your external circumstances to find how they provide you with opportunities for personal growth. Experience suggests that the greater the change, the more and the faster you can grow. If you think about change in this way, you’ll find it energizing and exciting rather than depressing and debilitating.

• You’re more adaptable that you think.
Our forefathers lived through such great upheavals, it's almost impossible to appreciate the fortitude and resilience they needed to survive. The next time you feel resistant, think about what they faced - and what they created. They uprooted themselves from their homes and families, blended old and new worlds together, learned new languages, created different cuisines and adopted new customs, all the time working to create a better future. History shows that human beings are remarkably flexible and can adapt to a wide variety of situations and environments. This should encourage you to embrace and shape change rather than resisting and avoiding it.

• Set realistic expectations.
Keep an optimistic perspective, and aim for what‘s realistically attainable in the short term. There will undoubtedly be some bumps along the road. You may not be able to anticipate all of the problems ahead, but try to map out in general terms where you want to end up and how you’ll deal with adversity along the way.

• People change at different rates.
Changing your perspective about change will take time. In fact, it usually follows the same steps as the grieving process. These steps, which are experienced sequentially and in this order, are:
- shock and denial that old routines must be left behind,
- then anger that change appears inevitable,
- then despair and a longing for a return to the old ways,
- and finally acceptance of a brighter view of the future.
Everyone goes through this process; for some, the transition is fast, for others it’s slow. So, try to be patient with yourself and others.

• Develop your own personal change tactics.
Those negative thoughts usually creep in when you're tired, hungry, stressed, or lonely. To prevent negative or self-defeating thoughts, get plenty of rest, eat properly and get enough exercise. It's amazing what a 20-minute walk or a 15-minute "power nap" can do to clear your head and improve your outlook. Even if you take all the right steps and follow the best advice, change creates stress in your life, and stress takes energy. You can compensate for this by taking special care of your body.

• Invest time and energy in learning new skills.
Sharpen your skills so you can meet new challenges with confidence. If the training you need isn’t available at work, get it somewhere else. Check out the community colleges or adult education programs in your area, or sign-up for appropriate online programs.

• Get help when you need it.
If you’re confused or overwhelmed with the changes taking place around you, ask for help. Your supervisor, manager, or coworkers may be able to assist you. Your doctor may also be able to refer you to counseling services or make other resources available.

• Keep a positive attitude.
Having a positive attitude won’t take away all life's challenges and it probably won’t change the economic outlook. What it will do, however, is to make you better prepared to work through the challenges that confront you, help you feel in control of yourself and your thoughts, and keep you moving toward finding workable solutions. The minute you alter your perception of yourself and your future, both you and your future begin to change as well.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Blessing, a poem by James Wright.

Post 353 - I have so much poetry in my collection, it's always difficult to choose Friday's poem to publish here. So today, here's a very fine American poet I suspect most of you don't know. James Arlington Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, in 1927. He attended Kenyon College on the G.I. Bill, and graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1952. He then went to Austria on a Fulbright Fellowship and studied at the University of Vienna. He returned to the U.S. and earned master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Washington. He went on to teach at The University of Minnesota, which did not believe he had the qualifications to become a tenured professor there so he moved to nearby Macalester College, and later to New York City's Hunter College. He was elected a fellow of The Academy of American Poets in 1971, and the following year his Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He died in New York City in 1980 after a chronic sore throat was diagnosed as cancer of the tongue. Each year, hundreds of writers gather to pay tribute at the James Wright Poetry Festival in Martin's Ferry.

A Blessing by James Wright.

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

From Above the River: The Complete Poems, which features a moving and insightful introduction by Donald Hall, Wright's longtime friend and colleague.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How social networking can influence your customers.

Post 352 – Have you tried to deal with the airlines, the phone company or any other large, traditional business lately? Instead of delivering an exceptional customer experience, on- or off-line, they tend to stumble with what seems to be a lack of accountability, caring, competence, or the understanding that in any business, the net new customer acquisition cost is substantially higher than the existing satisfied customer retention cost. Furthermore, satisfied and dissatisfied customers now share their experiences with each other and the general public online in real-time. This can make marketing’s job that much easier or more difficult in reinforcing brand value or in trying to repair it. Customer service in these companies usually means following standard operating procedures and providing scripted answers delivered to angry customers with artificial calmness. To an upset customer, these generic responses often seem highly inappropriate. According to Dr. Oz, the opposite of anger is empathy, not calmness. Empathy training would help service employees calm angry customers, thus increasing their long-term loyalty, and even changing them into referring evangelists.

When was the last time you conducted an informal survey with your customers? Not just about what frustrates them the most in doing business with you, what makes them excited about using your product or service, or what specific problems or challenges they’re trying to solve (all of these are viable questions) but instead asking which social networking sites they use most often, i.e. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Slideshare, etc; and if they’d read any customer reviews of your products or services online, or if they’ve learned something insightful about your current or prospective product offerings in a blog?

Social networking is bringing corporate transparency to a whole new level. Using Twitter, you can now send a message that will reach many of your customers in a matter of minutes. As David Nour, a coauthor of a forthcoming new book, ConnectAbility, says, “Many of the traditional communication methods are endangered species. The velocity and veracity of news traveling on social networking sites mandates that you get more hands-on and consistent in your interactions with your distribution channel and end customers … start investing more time, effort and resources on the overarching customer experience. Delegating your customer interactions to “the mailroom” while you comfortably command and control from “mahogany row” is a receipt for crisis in the making. Social networking and Web 2.0 will fundamentally and forever shift your business to a more customer-centric model. Bring the power and promise of this platform for mass collaboration into your business, and you’ll accelerate profitable growth, top talent acquisition, and strategy execution.”

For smart companies today, marketing means focusing much more proactively on one-to-one relationships with customers, whether on the corporate website or blog, or through a multitude of social networks. Customers no longer want to be sold to. They want to be engaged, to be given options, and they want to minimize the risk of their decision to buy by being reinforced by others who’ve had previous positive experiences.

Nour says the challenge now is to engage and influence what your customers are thinking, reading, and doing. This involves learning what they find of interest and how you can identify, build and nurture a consistent, value-based relationship with them. It’s no longer enough to have a passing relationship with the mass audience that you want to buy your offerings. In addition, you need to connect with them as individual consumers with unique requirements that are impacted whenever they use your products and services.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Creating customer evangelists.

Post 351 - Greg Selkoe, founder of clothing retailer Karmaloop, and a handful of his employees gather in his office every week to review new designs. The group votes on which, if any, of the T-shirts, jackets, and other clothing should be added to the line Karmaloop sells in its store and online. That may sound a lot like what goes on at most retailers, but what's worth noting is that at Karmaloop, many of the designs are submitted by its customers.

Selling clothing designed by customers is just one aspect of a business model that brings customers so far into Karmaloop's business that they've become extensions of the company's sales, marketing, and product development teams. Karmaloop has more than 8,000 customers who proselytize the brand and get discounts or cash when they, or someone they've referred, make a purchase. Members of this "street team" are called reps. Each rep can create their own unique rep code. They're encourages to give that code to everyone they can; people then enter it at check-out the first time they shop on Karmaloop and get 20% off - plus the rep earns points towards cash or free gear. Customers continue to receive a 10% discount for every subsequent purchase. Every time that person buys again and uses the rep code, the rep earns more points and the customer receives their 10%. There's also a unique link that reps can use for their own site and a blog that tracks their sales for them.

Reps can also upload images, photos, or artwork to Karmaloop's site to make company stickers or banners other reps can download. "The reps are evangelists for our site," says Selkoe. "And they're doing a neat job: Fewer than 1% of Karmaloop's customers are reps, but their purchases and those they inspire account for 15% of sales."

Passionate customers can transform your company if you make them your secret weapon. When customers are truly thrilled about their experience with your product or service, they're willing to become outspoken advocates for your company. These believers then turn into a potent marketing force to grow your overall universe of customers.

Authors Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, in their book Creating Customer Evangelists, explain how to convert already loyal customers into influential and enthusiastic evangelists. The year-long research project that led to the book outlines the framework for developing evangelism marketing strategies and programs. From their research into the best practices of some of the most forward-thinking companies with legions of evangelists (Southwest Airlines, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, The Dallas Mavericks, IBM, Apple, Costco, Starbucks) McConnell and Huba outline and explain the basic tenets of this strategy:

1. Continuously gather customer feedback.

2. Make it a point to share knowledge freely.

3. Expertly build word-of-mouth networks.

4. Encourage communities of customers to meet and share together.

5. Focus on making the world, or your industry, better.

6. Establish an emotional connection with your customer evangelists.

Their research shows organizations that focus on building word of mouth into full-fledged evanagelism grow faster, are more profitable and have big-picture ideas that can end up changing their industry.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Employees treat customers the same way they're treated.

Post 350 - I have lifetime Platinum status on American Airlines having flown over 3,000,000 miles with the company. In the past five years, it appears that many of the flight attendants I come across are frustrated and don't have a prideful sense of themselves or their company. “The flight attendants have sacrificed a 33% cut in pay, benefits and work rules since 2003 after labor saved this company from bankruptcy," according to Laura Glading, the recently elected president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. "Flight attendants are often forced to bear the costly brunt of management's mistakes.” It’s reported that after these changes were accepted and approved by the employees, American filed a delayed SEC document disclosing that the company funded a supplemental pension trust for its top 45 executives. The Wall Street Journal reported that it also protected a portion of their retirement income in the event of a bankruptcy filing. The filing also said senior executives were earlier offered very sizable retention bonuses. Not surprisingly, the flight attendants still remember this.

The union today complains that the airline's crew members are the only work group in the company at risk of losing pay as a result of new aircraft grounding rules promulgated by the FAA. Earlier this year, ALPA was in a bitter dispute with management regarding requirements that flight attendants use vacation days to recoup lost pay when AA's MD80 fleet was grounded. On October 1st, American cut 921 flight attendant jobs as part of a strategy to deal with an ongoing downturn in traffic resulting in lower revenue. Of these, 244 employees were placed on "involuntary overage leave" which means they won't work in October and November, when air traffic is expected to be very weak, but will return to work in December. While off the job for two months, those employees have to pay for their own health insurance although they can get it at American's lower group rate, according to the airline.

Passengers complain that the flight crews need a friendly reminder that the customers are the only reason that they have their jobs! But if you treat your people badly and they aren't happy as a result, why would they bother about making the customers happy?

Meanwhile at American, a Customer Experience Leadership Team (CELT) meets weekly to talk about AA's on-going efforts to improve the customer experience. CELT includes AA leaders from all major work groups who champion and support employee-led customer experience efforts and ideas across the company.

Experience shows that internally focused companies are always the first to fail. So it’s interesting to note that there are no AA customers included on the CELT team. I’ve got to believe that including them and their feedback would help AA become a more customer responsive airline. I hope this group stops focusing on the small "delighters" and gets focused on eliminating the "dissatisfiers" instead. Their customers, especially frequent fliers like myself, could certainly tell them what many of these are as well as suggesting ways to remedy them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Is your purpose bigger than your product?

Post 349 - Answering the following questions will help clarify the value you aim to deliver to your customers. Some businesses call this their value proposition. I've also heard it referred to as a brand promise or a unique selling proposition. Whatever you call it, start by answering these four questions:

• Why is your company here - what's its purpose? ...........

• What product or service is your company selling? ...........

• Who is your target customer for this product or service? ..........

• What makes your offering unique and different? ...........

Southwest Airlines is about giving people the freedom to fly. Nike is another company that understands its purpose clearly. It's always had the idea that it's more than a sneaker company. Nike is about getting in the game, being more than a spectator in life, and embracing activity. As their advertising says, "Just do it." If you go to their headquarters in Oregon, it's like being in a gym: it breathes active lifestyle. Because that's what they're about and they've consistently executed around this idea. So, start by getting everyone clear that your purpose is bigger than your product.

Then ask a group of your employees to explain your company's purpose and value proposition. How many different answers do you think you'll get? Probably as many as there's people in the group, in addition to, "What do you mean by purpose and value proposition?" If this is true, it's a good thing to know. Half of the battle is understanding that you've got a problem. As investor Anthony Tjan reminds us, "Customers simply don't trust institutions as much today. Particularly large businesses. The main reason is that we now live in an 'information everywhere' and more transparent world. Every customer has a camera in their cell phone, a Facebook in their pocket and Twitter at their fingertips. This means we constantly hear and see evidence of businesses not walking their talk. Their products don't match their promise. In order to regain or retain this trust, you must simply make sure that all your products, your merchandising, your advertising, your people and the totality of your touch points with consumers sing from the same hymn book."

So the goal here isn't to have employees mindlessly parrot the answers to the these questions. Instead, they need to feel that the customer proposition is true and intuitively believe in the company's purpose. Ideally, you want them to understand that together, you're creating a business that's trying to do something significantly better than other companies in your industry. With a clear purpose as the starting point, clarify your message first to employees, then to customers, align your company's goals with it, and improve your employees' ability to articulate it. From an execution perspective, you have to think big, start small, and scale fast. You need to start with a miniature versions of your grand idea so you can validate its parts, and then iterate and tweak it constantly. Whenever the message about customer value is edited or changed, apply the change across all communication channels. Understand which materials customers see most frequently and periodically check for consistency across all these materials. In addition:

• Make sure that a clear, consistent, and frequent focus on the customer message is delivered and reinforced from the very top of the company on down.

• Create forums for all employees to articulate the value proposition. This could include exercises where employees listen to elevator pitches from their fellow employees which are video-taped and then discussed for further learning.

• Arrange for employees from different parts of the business (functions, levels, departments, divisions) to go through the exercise of answering the questions described above. Share the biggest disconnects with the group, explore their impact, and develop suggestions to resolve them.

• And remember that your purpose isn't just what you "tell" customers, but especially what you do. The best way to disappoint everyone is to over-promise and under-deliver. Therefore you must be humble and committed at the same time. In fact, customers are more forgiving when you make mistakes if those mistakes are honest efforts in trying to improve towards a known and worthwhile direction.

Friday, October 16, 2009

For My Daughter, two poems by David Ignatow.

Post 348 - David Ignatow (1914 – 1997) was born in Brooklyn and spent most of his life in the New York City area. He tried for years to be a businessman, a career for which he was not suited. He wrote poems during this time, and much that he observed with a photographer’s eye of everyday life in the business world is incorporated in his writing. He was president of the Poetry Society of America from 1980 to 1984 and poet-in-residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association in 1987. Mr. Ignatow's many honors include a Bollingen Prize, two Guggenheim fellowships, the John Steinbeck Award, and a National Institute of Arts and Letters award "for a lifetime of creative effort." He received the Shelley Memorial Award (1966), the Frost Medal (1992), and the William Carlos Williams Award (1997) of the Poetry Society of America.
Here are two lovely poems he wrote for his daughter.

For My Daughter by David Ignatow.

When I die choose a star
and name it after me
that you may know
I have not abandoned
or forgotten you.
You were such a star to me,
following you through birth
and childhood, my hand
in your hand.

When I die
choose a star and name it
after me so that I may shine
down on you, until you join
me in darkness and silence

For My Daughter in Reply to a Question by David Ignatow.

We're not going to die.
We'll find a way.
We'll breathe deeply
and eat carefully.
We'll think always on life.
There'll be no fading for you or for me.
We'll be the first
and we'll not laugh at ourselves ever
and your children will be my grandchildren.
Nothing will have changed
except by addition.
There'll never be another as you
and never another as I.
No one ever will confuse you
nor confuse me with another.
We will not be forgotten and passed over
and buried under the births and deaths to come.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How the Disney magic continues.

Post 347 - Businesses can be placed along the following continuum depending on how they treat their customers:

• Passive = Satisfaction-based

• Active = Performance-based

• Interactive = Commitment-based

Many companies I deal with on a day-to-day basis treat their customers passively. They do their work and get paid, and never take the customer relationship beyond fulfilling a particular need. It’s estimated that 75% of businesses have passive relationships with their customers.

Operating in the active phase means regularly asking for feedback from customers about what they want and need. As the recent financial meltdown and the current health care debate illustrate, professional firms especially tend to put too much focus on what they do rather than on the customer who’s supposed to benefit from what they do. It’s estimated that 15 - 20% of firms operate in the active phase.

That leaves about 5% of businesses in the interactive phase. These firms (Starbucks, Lands' End, Ritz Carlton) have developed a partnership with their customers that’s so deep, it can anticipate the customer’s needs and desires. Here, the onus is on the service provider to exceed the customer’s expectations. Disney has over the years achieved the interactive level with its guests, so much so it says it views them as “paying consultants.”

Disney faces competition, government regulation, labor shortages, union problems and all of the other hassles that businesses have to cope with in a recession. Walt Disney World has over three dozen unions to contend with (I’ll bet you didn’t know that Mickey Mouse is a Teamster!) Some of its unions have been quite vocal and public of late as the company has outsourced considerable technical work (over 1,000 IT jobs in 2008 to IBM for example, plus the manufacturing of all Audio-Animatronics figures) to reduce costs and to keep pace with the latest technology.

In addition, 2100 full-time cast members at three Disney hotels have been asked to pay 25% of their premiums if they seek company healthcare. Currently, they pay nothing and this new charge, which would be phased in over five years, pits the image-conscious Disney against Unite Here, an aggressive union known for its street-theater militancy. (President Barack Obama has been such a strong backer of Unite Here that in 2007 he walked its Congress Hotel picket line in Chicago and vowed to return after winning the presidency).

In their latest contract offer Disney also proposed to create a new "casual regular" status for employees who average less than 30-hours a week. Casual regular workers would be ineligible for health insurance benefits. Last month, Unite Here Local 11 members in Anaheim, California overwhelmingly rejected Disney's latest contract offer, with healthcare the major sticking point. And the two sides currently seem far from an agreement. This dispute is indicative of how fast-rising healthcare costs have pushed the issue to the forefront of labor-management relations, just as it’s center stage on Capitol Hill. Many other firms across the country are struggling with these same issues as they try to contain runaway healthcare costs.

Walt Disney believed, “You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world but it requires people to make the dream a reality.” Over the past 50+ years, through careful, thoughtful management of its people, settings, and processes, Disney has created a seamless and deeply impressive service experience that’s a legend to its many customers all over the world. It’s shown that the secret to the practical magic of superior customer service is a full-time business of shared values, enforced standards, focused tasks, flexible assignments, self-discipline, and attention to detail that’s virtually transparent to guests.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Building customer loyalty the Disney way.

Post 346 - The average company in America today loses between 10 and 30% of its customers annually. Research by Bain & Company shows that a 5% improvement in the rate of retention can increase profits anywhere from 25 to 100%. Service firms rely on existing customers for 85 - 95% of their revenue. The AICPA reports that it costs eleven times as much to bring in a new customer as it does to keep an old one. Imagine being able to increase your marketing and advertising effectiveness by a factor of eleven! With all of this empirical evidence, why do so many businesses still focus on customer acquisition rather than on customer loyalty and retention?

As world-class service providers know, customer satisfaction is no longer enough to ensure customer loyalty and retention. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, 65 to 85% of customers who chose a new company said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their former supplier. In today’s marketplace, a company has to exceed customer expectations and achieve customer delight. With more than 70% repeat business, Disney serves as an ideal example of a company that’s maintained customer loyalty over half a century, creating a repeat customer base that spans generations.

In 1955, after the opening of Disneyland, Walt Disney established the Disney University to train Disneyland’s 600 Cast Members (employees in Disney-speak) to be aware that they were there mainly to help the Guests. They were told, “You’re either serving the guest or you’re serving someone who is.” This training continues today and all new Cast Members still attend a one-and-a-half day Traditions course. The wording is very precise. They’re not orienting their Cast Members, but rather passing down traditions. Every Disney CEO attends as well.

When the first Christmas parade was being planned for Disneyland at a cost of $350,000, the Park Operating Committee spoke against it, arguing that the holiday crowds would come with or without the parade. Walt listened and then told them, “We can’t be satisfied, even though we’ll get the crowds at Christmastime. We’ve always got to give ‘em a little more. It’ll be worth the investment. If they ever stop coming, it’ll cost 10-times that much to get ‘em back.”

Walt gave my parents a personal tour of Disneyland in 1962. He told them he was always on the lookout for “plussing” opportunities - ways to provide more pleasure for the Guests. At Walt Disney World today, there's a “Take 5” program where each Cast Member is encouraged to take five minutes out of their day and make something special happen for a Guest. This could be as simple as offering to take a picture for a family (so everyone gets in the shot), to giving away a stuffed animal to a sick child in her hotel room.

Disney refers to these encounters as Moments of Magic and attributes its phenomenal retention rates to creating as many of these moments as it can. And by emphasizing Moments of Truth - any encounters a customer has with the firm that develops an impression of its service – it’s changed its internal focus from the activity being performed to the outcome of the encounter with the customer. Most businesses need to entirely re-engineer their processes and procedures if they’re to turn these moments of truth into opportunities to wow their customers. Today, tens of thousands of professionals from more than 35 countries and over 40 industries have attended business programs at Disney Institute and learned how to adapt the Disney approach for their own organizations.

More on Disney “magic” tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Focusing employees on serving the customer.

Post 345 - Clients frequently tell me that in today’s economy, the customer is king! They know that competition is tougher. Consolidations have created fewer, larger players. The internet allows customers to find better pricing and faster delivery. Ideas move to market quicker than ever before and are readily copied and modified. All this has resulted in a more dynamic, competitive and uncertain business environment which has also changed the requirements for creating and keeping loyal customers.

So, it’s more important than ever to build a culture that keeps the customer at the center of everything the company does. This means actively encouraging employees to examine how they contribute to creating loyal, satisfied customers. But first, you have to raise the importance of customers in the employees’ minds. Often, people who don’t deal with them on a daily basis feel they have no role in establishing, providing or maintaining customer loyalty. Building a customer focused business means constantly emphasizing that contributing to a dialogue about customer service is part of everyone’s job. Here, it helps to differentiate between the value of customers and the value provided to customers. Showing employees the personal importance of customers in their own world (no customers, no raises, no promotions, no jobs) will help to encourage them to focus on and provide value for customers. Employee buy-in is critical. People need to see the personal value for them in order to commit to a change in attitude, behavior and performance.

Customer-focused businesses find ways to continually surprise their customers with exceptional responses. To do this, they actively involve everyone in the firm in brainstorming and idea generation. They include a component of customer satisfaction and retention in every employee’s job description, quarterly goals, and pay and incentive plans. Managers openly and regularly discuss complaints and feedback from customers and the company’s response. This becomes part of the firm’s daily ongoing conversation. Only by continually focusing on these issues can you build a culture of customer focus.

As Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that they’ll want to see it again and bring their friends.” So, how focused is your company on your customers? Is customer loyalty at the center of your business universe? Do you boldly go with customers where no one else has dared to go? When you create quarterly employee objectives, do they include factors that focus on the customer, regardless of whether the employee deals directly with external customers or not? Do you have open conversations about providing customer value? Do you involve employees in suggesting ways to make your business more distinct in the minds of your customers?

Involving all employees in regular conversations about these topics keeps the customers at the center of your business universe. Employees know a lot about customer service and customer loyalty. Even if they don't deal with them directly in your business, they're customers themselves in their life outside the business. When your customers see that they’re always at the center of your universe, you’ll stand out over others in your industry. Your business will look different from / better than your competition and will be remembered as a result.

If you revolve your world around your customers, more customers will revolve around you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How to deal with an upset customer.

Post 344 - Dealing with an upset customer is one of the most challenging parts of doing business. Angry customers can be frustrating, demanding and often hard to satisfy. Dave Kahle, an expert in this field whose ideas I've summarized below, says it's important to start with a perspective of respecting the customer. Unlike the customer, you're not angry, you're in control, and your only problem at the moment is helping him with his problem. If you start reacting to the customer in an emotional way, you'll lose this control, you’ll lose your power, and the situation will likely escalate into a lose-lose for everyone.

• Listen.
Start by putting yourself in the customer's shoes, and trying to see the situation from his perspective. Don't cut him off or urge him to calm down. Your job is to let the customer vent and to listen attentively so you can understand the source of his frustration. That way, you send a powerful unspoken message that you care about him and his situation. As you listen, you can begin to piece together the customer's story. Let's suppose the customer ordered something from you three weeks ago. You quoted him a price of $XX and promised delivery by last Friday for a project that's starting this week. Not only is the equipment not here, he's also received an invoice with a different price than that which was originally quoted. When he’s finished, let him know you understand and empathize with what he’s feeling. Say something like: "I can tell you're upset and angry...and I'm very sorry this has happened. If I were you, I'd be frustrated, too. I'm sorry you're experiencing this problem." This usually calms the customer down so you can now proceed to deal with the problem.

• Identify the problem.
Sometimes while the customer is venting, you'll be able to see the problem right away. Something is broken. Or late. Or he thinks a promise has been broken. At this stage ask the customer to give you some details. "What day did you order it, when exactly was it promised, what’s your situation at the moment?" These kind of questions force the customer to think about facts instead of his feelings about those facts which lets you introduce a more rational kind of conversation. You can now apologize for the customer's inconvenience without pointing fingers. Just say, "I'm sorry this has happened and I understand that it must be very frustrating. Let's just see what we can do fix it, OK?"

• Avoid blame.
Avoiding blame is different from acknowledging responsibility. So don't blame your company or your suppliers. Never say, "I’m not surprised your invoice was wrong. It's been happening a lot lately." Or, "Yes, our back-orders are way behind." If you know, for a fact, that a mistake has been made, you can acknowledge it. You can say, "Clearly there's a problem here with our performance. I can't change that, but let me see what I can do to help you now because I understand how important your project is."

• Resolve the problem.
You can't always fix the problem right away. But it's critical to leave the customer with the understanding that your goal is to resolve the situation. You can say, "I'm going to make some phone calls." If you do, give the customer an idea of when you’ll get back to him: "Later this afternoon." Or "First thing in the morning." Then make the phone calls. Find out what you can do for the customer and do it. Follow up with the customer when you said you would. Even if you don't have all the information you need, call and let him know what you've done, what you're working on, and what your next step will be. Make sure the customer knows that he and his business are very important to you, that you understand his frustration, and that you're working hard to get things fixed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

O Tell Me The Truth About Love, a poem by W H Auden.

Post 343 - Wystan Hugh Auden, who signed his works W. H. Auden, was born in York, England, in 1907 and graduated with a degree in English literature from Christ Church, Oxford in 1928. A prolific writer, Auden was a noted poet, playwright, librettist, editor, and essayist. Generally considered the greatest English poet of the twentieth century, his work was a major influence on succeeding generations of poets on both sides of the Atlantic. As a young man, he visited Germany, Iceland, and China, served in the Spanish Civil war, and in 1939 moved to the United States where he became an American citizen. He divided most of the second half of his life between residences in New York City and Austria. He died in 1973 at age of 66 in Vienna.

Auden was a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1954 to 1973. He was honored with the Pulitzer prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen, Alexander Droutsky, and Guinness prizes. He joined ASCAP in 1958, and collaborated musically with Igor Stravinsky. His musical works include On This Island (poems set to music), and the opera The Rakes Progress.

He once observed, "Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh."

O Tell Me The Truth About Love by W H Auden

Some say love's a little boy,
And some say it's a bird,
Some say it makes the world go around,
Some say that's absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn't do.

Does it look like a pair of pyjamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does its odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

Our history books refer to it
In cryptic little notes,
It's quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats;
I've found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides,
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway guides.

Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian,
Or boom like a military band?
Could one give a first-rate imitation
On a saw or a Steinway Grand?
Is its singing at parties a riot?
Does it only like Classical stuff?
Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?
O tell me the truth about love.

I looked inside the summer-house;
It wasn't over there;
I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,
And Brighton's bracing air.
I don't know what the blackbird sang,
Or what the tulip said;
But it wasn't in the chicken-run,
Or underneath the bed.

Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all its time at the races,
or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of its own about money?
Does it think Patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I'm picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How much is your product or service really worth?

Post 342 - I read that there's a taxi driver in Essex, Vermont who'll take fares anywhere they want to go in and around Essex - for whatever they want to pay! Since his payment policy is so flexible, Hagen (that's the taxi driver's name) has taken some strange trades: one customer gave him a $10 grocery card, and a local musician gave him his group’s CD. But since he started doing this, Hagen says he hasn’t been short-changed once. “I believed from the start that this would work,” he said. “I believed that people are going to be generous enough to make it worth my while, and I’m going to be generous enough to let them decide.” So it seems that when you match pay-what-you-will with a face-to-face, conscience-inducing contact, it’s not a very risky proposition. How would this work in larger settings?

Well, there's a law firm in Chicago called Valorem Law Group that uses “Value Line Adjustments” in its pricing. The company says:
On each bill, you have the right to make any adjustment to our proposed fee that you feel is needed. We provide value or you adjust the bill, it’s that simple. We do this to give you the ultimate check on our unwavering commitment to client service, and to eliminate the concern that our level of service will wane once the work we’ve performed exceeds a given flat rate or capped fee allotment. Some have said that the Value Adjustment Line is extremely risky. We agree. If we aren’t willing to risk our own fees on our service, do you really want us advocating for you?

Valorem's alternative fee arrangements, with flat rates, hold-back buckets, contingency or even premiums on achieving certain milestones, give the firm an economic interest in achieving the results that clients desire, so its lawyers have every incentive to collaborate on every matter.

Patrick Lamb, one of the firm's founders, believes there are two over-arching truths about customer service that are worth thinking about every day you're in business:

1. You need to know what your client thinks about you. In detail. Not asking, assuming you know, drawing inferences - those approaches are for losers. Ask. Ask aggressively, that means framing your questions in ways that are designed to elicit criticism. Never lose sight of the truth that no one is perfect. Because that's so, every client should have criticisms which you should view as suggestions on how you can improve performance or the delivery of value.

2. The second truth is that if you hear the word "fine" (as in, "everything is fine"), understand that you've just been sentenced to death. If you doubt this, remember it the next time you're out at a restaurant having a mediocre or worse meal, and your waiter asks how everything is, and you answer with "everything is fine." You need clients who are more than satisfied, more than pleased. You need clients who are advocates, who think you're so great that they want to have legal problems just so they can deal with you.

What would your customers pay for your product or service if you asked them to pay only what they thought it was worth? I know AT&T would get very little money from me until they come through with the $50 refund they promised me when I signed up for their internet service back in March. It seems their every effort since then has been to make it as difficult as possible to contact them and to otherwise styme my efforts to get a satisfactory resolution of this issue.

Also ask yourself how loyal are your customers? How much do you know about what they really think about you? Ron Baker of the Verasage Institute notes that loyalty isn't dead in the business world. What's dead is a reason to be loyal. He notes that to earn customer loyalty, you have to invest in the relationship with your customers, not just satisfy their existing needs. You must move your firm from the Passive (satisfaction-based) to the Interactive (commitment-based) side of the Customer Relationship Scale and develop a long-term partnership with your customers. That's how Disney creates "Moments of Magic" and superior financial results.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to develop exceptional customer service.

Post 341 - Joel Spolsky and Michael Pryor are co-founders of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable! Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. The company also makes FogBugz, a project management system designed to help great teams develop brilliant software, and Fog Creek Copilot, which makes remote desktop access easy. As a startup software company in 2000, Fog Creek couldn’t afford to hire customer service people for the first couple of years, so the founders did it themselves. The time they spent helping customers took away from improving their software, but they learned a lot and now have a much better customer service operation as a result. They believe that when customers have a problem and you fix it, they’re actually going to be even more satisfied than if they never had a problem in the first place.

Spolsky says, "It has to do with expectations. Most people’s experience with tech support and customer service comes from airlines, telephone companies, cable companies, and ISPs, all of whom provide generally awful customer service. It’s so bad you don’t even bother calling any more, do you? So when someone calls Fog Creek, and immediately gets through to a human, with no voice mail or phone menus, and that person turns out to be nice and friendly and actually solves their problem, they’re apt to think even more highly of us than someone who never had the opportunity to interact with us and just assumes that we’re average ... So whenever someone calls to complain about a problem, we look on that as a great opportunity to create a fanatically devoted customer, one who will prattle on and on about what a great job we did."

He goes on to say, "The no-questions-asked 90-day money back guarantee was one of the best decisions we ever made at Fog Creek. For example, use Fog Creek Copilot (a job listing service) for a full 24 hours, call up three months later and say, 'hey guys, I need $5 for a cup of coffee. Give me back my money from that Copilot day pass,' and we’ll give it back to you. Try calling on the 91st or 92nd or 203rd day. You’ll still get it back. We really don’t want your money if you’re not satisfied. I’m pretty sure we’re running the only job listing service around that will refund your money just because your ad didn’t work. This is unheard of, but it means we get a lot more ad listings, because there’s nothing to lose ... Customers know that they have the power in the relationship so they don’t get abusive. Over the last six years or so, letting people return software has cost us just 2%."

Many qualified people get bored with front line customer service. So to compensate for this, Fog Creek doesn’t hire technical people into those positions without first making it part of an explicit career path. As a result, customer support is just the first year of a three-year management training program that includes a master’s degree in technology management from Columbia University. This allows Fog Creek to hire smart, ambitious people who then start out on a terrific career path by talking with customers and solving their problems. The company ends up paying quite a bit more than average for these positions (which includes $25,000 a year in tuition), but it gets far more value out of them too.

So the moral is - listen to customer-facing employees - they're your ear to the pavement. Value them, ask them what they're hearing from customers, and train them how to listen for the right information. As I've noted here before, Customer focus, Collaboration, Coordination and Communication are the four Cs for organizing your business successfully in the 21st century.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How to build customer loyalty.

Post 340 - "Customer" is derived from the Latin word custom, meaning a relationship built on faith over a long period of time. One of the things that Saturn did really well was to develop and retain customer loyalty. The company knew how to serve its customers the way they wanted to be served — simply. Policies and practices were based on a belief that trust, honesty, and respect were the ingredients for success in any relationship, including a relationship with its customers.

To truly understand its customers’ motivations and ultimately why they would or wouldn't buy its products, Saturn asked potential customers about their purchase experiences. With the purchase as the "end goal," they studied the steps the customers took to achieve that goal. They asked about their thought process as they took each step and the obstacles that got in their way. Understanding these answers helped to create products and services that real customers — not their demographic category — truly wanted. As a result, it inaugurated a no-dickering price negotiations policy.

People that bought Saturns made “pilgrimages” to its Smyrna factory, enjoying picnics and rallies with other owners. Saturn was creating brand-loyalty where “the experience” was more important to its buyers than getting a great deal off the sticker price of a car (in fact the marketing-of-loyalty was cheaper for Saturn than discounts and rebates). In an industry where the average customer loyalty rate hovered around 40% in the mid 90s, Saturn excelled at more than 60%.

I've found the payoff for customer focus holds true in every industry. For example, once, when Elvis Presley was a guest at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, he wanted a pool table in his room. He and his buddies wanted to be able to play any time they felt like it. The problem was it was Sunday evening and all the stores were closed. Jim Connelly was tired and ready to go home after a long weekend at work. But Elvis was a faithful client of the hotel and Connelly wanted to make sure he continued to be. At that time, as the hotel's general manager, he'd developed many friends and contacts in Beverly Hills. Through some connections he got the private telephone number of a pool table store-owner and told him he needed to rent a pool table for a week. He agreed and had the table delivered that night.

Elvis’ room was on the 10th floor and that was a big problem. Connolly gathered all the strong guys who were just leaving to go home, and lucky for him, they were very flexible that night as well. Through amazing feats of strength, slick maneuvers and much blood, sweat and tears, they delivered the pool table through a cramped service elevator to Presley's room that night. Elvis was very grateful and actually humbled by their efforts. Connolly could easily have told him that pool tables weren’t allowed in guest rooms or that all the stores were closed and he'd have to wait until tomorrow. But he knew that through this one big moment of being “flexible,” there would be great dividends to follow. The result was that not only did Elvis keep returning to the hotel, he referred countless others there as well.

Check what your Customer Promises and Commitments are (all stated in terms of outcomes):
* We’ll be friendly.
* We’ll be professional.
* W’ill be helpful.
* We’ll be proactive.
• Etc etc

Where are these written down? Are they visible? Does everyone know them? Can they repeat them if asked? Do you track how well they’re being followed? Are people held accountable for following them?

As Jim Rohn once observed: "If you make a sale, you can make a living. If you make an investment of time and good service in a customer, you can make a fortune

Monday, October 5, 2009

A sad farewell to Saturn.

Post 339 - I was quite depressed last week to learn that GM will finally close down the Saturn brand. Another great idea that ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. I worked with the original design team that started up Saturn in the early 1980s and was proud of the new organizational model they developed. The stated plan at the time according to GM Chairman, Roger B. Smith, was to create a new company using a new model that could inform the changes that GM management knew it had to make. However, this was a fatally flawed strategy for generating change and innovation as GM's corporate culture that has kept it from making the changes it’s been needing to make for the past 30-years. I see Saturn’s demise as another symptom of a fatally flawed corporate culture that has yet to change.

GM's stated hope was to learn, via Saturn, how to create a different, more profitable kind of car company. The Saturn factory was located in Spring Hill, Tenn., a small town 45 miles south of Nashville and hundreds of miles from the hidebound headquarters of GM and the UAW in Detroit. In a Memorandum of Understanding between GM and the UAW, Saturn stated: "We believe that all people want to be involved in decisions that affect them, care about their jobs . . . and want to share in the success of their efforts." The union contract eliminated most of the work rules that strictly limit the tasks UAW members could perform. Workers were called "technicians" and got 80% of standard UAW wages but could share in Saturn's profits, allowing them to earn more if Saturn succeeded. Most Saturn executives and managers were assigned a UAW counterpart, with the two sharing in key decisions.

Saturn's chief apostle at the UAW was Don Ephlin, at the time the visionary head of the union's GM department. Ephlin strongly believed that Detroit's auto makers and its unions had to change from confrontation to collaboration. However, Saturn was eventually killed off by its creators. The company starved Saturn for new products, and the UAW waged war against Saturn's labor reforms to keep them from spreading to other GM factories. The late Steve Yokich, who replaced Ephlin in charge of the UAW´s GM unit when he retired in 1989, was an implacable enemy of the new ideas being introduced at Saturn. Yokich subsequently became president of the union in 1995. The replacement of Michael Bennett as the local union leader at Spring Hill in 1999, signaled the end of an important experiment in cooperative performance based on union-management collaboration.

One of the things that Saturn also aimed to do was to redefine the customer experience - with no haggle pricing and other innovative ideas. In 1994, when the Saturn spirit was in full bloom, 44,000 owners and families attended a ‘homecoming’ at the plant. GM was clearly onto something with this brand in that regard. Unfortunately those methods were born into the wrong system. The segments of the idea which drove brand appeal were systematically killed off over the years by internal forces.

In 2003 the Spring Hill technicians voted to scrap Saturn's special agreement and return to the UAW's standard contract with GM. Spring Hill became a regular GM factory after the last Saturn was built there two years ago. If Saturn had been treated as a long-term investment, been allowed to broaden the product line keeping the original tenets intact, and allowed to continue to exist beyond the traditional stifling GM culture, the rest of GM might have been able to learn something before the US taxpayers had to bail it out. As it is, we can only look back on what might have been. Meanwhile, the Saturn workers' sense of loss is expressed poignantly by Mike Bennett, their former union leader, who says, "I wake up at night sick, thinking about all the things that might have been."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Hay for the Horses, a poem by Gary Snyder.

Post 338 - Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco in 1930 and has worked as a poet, essayist, travel writer, translator, and educator since then. He received his BA in anthropology at Reed College, Portland, and subsequently studied oriental languages at UC Berkley, and Linguistics at Indiana University. He's been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1968, the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1974; the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1997; the John Hay Award for Nature Writing in 1997; and most recently the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2008. He lived in Japan for 12-years and on his return, served for many years as a faculty member at the University of California, Davis, where he's now Professor Emeritus of English. A prominent environmental activist, Snyder's philosophy of life is, "Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there."

Hay for the Horses by Gary Snyder.

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Learning from the past.

Post 337 – I’ve been watching the 1974 BBC series, Fall of Eagles, the past few weeks (highly recommended) which dramatizes the events leading up to the first World War. Since the same nations went to war again 25-years later, it seems they didn’t learn a lot from their previous experiences. This inability to learn from the mistakes of past seems to be part of the human condition - and hence this post.

You can never successfully plan the future by the past, believing that the past is like the present, only in fancy dress. “History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days,” to quote the ever-eloquent Winston Churchill.

Proust says of our past, “It's a labor in vain to try to recapture it; all the efforts of our intellect are useless. The past is hidden somewhere outside its own domain in some material object which we never suspected. And it depends on chance whether or not we come upon it before we die.”

In James Joyce’s Ulysses, Stephen Daedalus sits in the National Library in Dublin on June 16, 1904 and says, “In the future, the sister of the past, I may see myself as I sit here now, but by reflection from that which I shall be.” The whole thrust of Ulysses is its recognition that seemingly “inevitable” events are “lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted.”

We should question the notion of a singular grand narrative, of a verifiable and recoverable past. There’s no single history, only a collection of self-interested histories, usually written by the winners, each composed at the mercy of its own moment of creation and of the way it was captured.

All this is not to say that we shouldn’t confront our own past but rather we should do so in ways that are buoyant, open and focused on the future. A study of history shows the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by defeat. Their philosophy was one of hope, even when their track record was previously one of despair. They made the most progress when they incorporated a perspective that audaciously reimagined their problems and opportunities.

As an exercise over the coming weekend, I suggest you make a list of your every accomplishment and so document your history of success. List the awards you’ve won, all the training you’ve completed, and include examples where you’ve gone above and beyond what would normally have been expected in every area of your life. Reviewing this list will boost your self-confidence, thus allowing you to use your past to reimagine your future in a more confident and positive way.