Lowering Friction

Last Friday morning, I arrived at Heathrow airport outside London after traveling on two flights after more than 13 hours of travel. Although I had slept for about 3 hours on the trans-Atlantic flight, I was tired! The shower and breakfast at the Arrivals Lounge helped me wake up a bit, then, I headed to my hotel. Or, more accurately, I tried to head to my hotel.

In most cities, hotels near the airport have shuttle bus service. In some cities, like San Francisco, multiple hotels team up and share the same shuttle service. At Heathrow, though, that's not the case, although it may seem to be. There are two bus lines that serve the hotels: London transit and the Hotel Hoppa by National Express. While the hotel web sites say the London transit buses are free, I was unable to find them in the area for the hotel busses. Rumor has it there's a bus station somewhere in the airport, but I gave up trying to find it. I just wanted to get to my room.

The Hotel Hoppa, on the other hand, is relatively easy to find, but you have to find the right one for your hotel. That can be a challenge. Signs are limited, and the bus marques don't show all the hotels. I did eventually find the right one, though, and got on and put down my bags. The driver asked if I had a ticket.

Um... No.

How would I get one? I have no idea. He said he could also take cash. However, he couldn't take a credit card, or the London Oyster card, or anything else I had. So, off the bus I got after collecting my bags and headed for the cabs.

Since the hotel trip was such a short distance, they would only take cash, too!

Frustration!

So, I schlepped my stuff back into the terminal, found an ATM, got some cash, went back out and got in a cab and went to my hotel. Still frustrated, and now tired, again.

Think about how hard that was for a customer of the hotel! Heathrow caters to many travelers from all around the world who, like me, who come off an international flight and want to find respite at a Heathrow hotel. Why not make it easier?

Think about this in your business: it is easy for your customers to do business with you? How many hurdles do they have to cross before you serve them? Do you give your customers opportunity to be frustrated or do you deliberately work to eliminate challenges before it causes you to lose business?

Take the time to figure out the answer, and then reduce that friction to be as low as possible. How many customers give up before they get to the end?

What is "The Economy"?

More than a decade ago I sat in a data center staring at a screen containing backup logs for a major agency of a state government. The logs made it clear that backups had been failing for months. My job was to find out what happened. I'm just built to get to the bottom of things, and part of my skill is to take apart the complex, interconnected pieces and find the simple parts. It makes it easier to figure out what happened.

Recently, I've done this with "The Economy."

People, especially experts and those who want to sound knowledgeable, talk about "The Economy" like it's an entity unto itself. Like it has a mind of its own, and it will head in various directions based on select, complex ideas like GDP, trade, and unemployment rates.

But, it's not. "The Economy" is nothing but a set of metrics (values of measurements) that communicate various historical truths (since most measures are 3-12 months ago). Economists, politicians, and pundits all use the numbers to beat up their opponents and to bolster their own theories, with all sides claiming proof for their viewpoints. And it's all mostly a great big show.

"The Economy" is nothing more or less than the collected decisions of human beings, including those responsible for making decision for corporations and governments. People decide to buy, save, or invest. As a result, funds become available as revenue, for loans, or in exchange for equity. The cumulative impact of these decisions results in the measures that become the economic metrics.

Underneath it all, however, are these decisions. They are made in an effort to keep a job, to profit, to look good, or to benefit one's own financial position. Sometimes, the decisions are speculative in the hopes of creating a large, fast gain. Other times, they are extremely conservative in an effort to avoid any risk or any possible loss.

But all of these are the decisions made by individuals and (sometimes) multiple individuals as part of a collective.

That's all "The Economy" is, though. It's the consequences of financial decisions of collections of people: cities, counties, states, countries, and the world.

When people stop spending and/or investing, we have a recession or depression. When business managers stop hiring, joblessness goes up. And so on.

We are a society that attempts to avoid the consequences of our actions. We want to believe that our intentions drive the consequences. They don't. The only thing that drives consequences is the natural laws that apply and the decisions that others make.

You can't escape consequences forever.

Getting It

To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that. Steve Jobs

When I read that quote on Quoth Steve today, I thought about this series on Apple's recent announcements and the ongoing discovery that many in the industry are communicating as the Apple WWDC continues this week. It underscores a key differentiator between Apple and most of the rest of the technology industry. In doing so, it also illustrates why so many in the technology press are fundamentally confused about both why Apple does what it does and why people buy Apple products.

Back when Japanese cars first began to gain a real foothold in the US, there was a similar dichotomy: Japanese cars had virtually no "options," while US cars were effectively custom built for each customer from an extensive list of options. Since I grew up in Michigan, the capital of the car industry in the US, I remember the derisive laughter about the limited options, the lack of this or that feature, and the expectation that the Japanese manufacturers would have to abandon the US or offer a better Chinese menu.

In retrospect, all of those observations and expectations were completely wrong. It turns out that the consumers appreciated the simplicity of getting a car without having to decide what to get on it -- and without having to wait for it to be built to their specifications. In fact, I lost out on a Pontiac Trans Am when my order turned out to have a very limited edition engine and the dealer decided he could get more for it from someone else, even though I had ordered it and waited for months.

1986 Trans Am

Today in technology, we have a similar situation: Apple is working on design in a way that Jobs thought about it. Most companies don't. Most put in a faster processor, more memory, more pixels, and expect those changes to compel purchases. Even customization is touted as a primary desire for consumers when that's not the case for many who just want to purchase a system that is ready to go, isn't bloated with a lot of distracting extras, and is designed in a way that allows it to disappear with use.

How do you want the products you purchase to be designed?

Invisible Technology

As is often the case, immediately after I posted my thoughts about Apple's announcements yesterday (The Next Technology Shift), a number of my friends reached out (especially on Facebook) to point out that other companies and technologies had similar features (like Android, Microsoft Surface 3, and so on). Because they did, I fear that I wasn't as clear about the major shift as I could be, but I also became aware that it is a paradigm shift, and as such will require explanation and expansion. One aspect of my perspective that isn't universal and is often misunderstood is that I am primarily a futurist. I am looking at where we are headed as a society and how technology can help us to become more human and to experience greater joy in life. Although I have spent most of my working years as a technologist, I have not done so from my love of technology. I have done so from my love of people and my desire to see them benefit personally and corporately from what it can do for them.

It is from that paradigm that I approach the recent Apple announcements.

Before I say any more, let me be clear: nothing Apple announced is entirely new. Most has parallels elsewhere on the technology landscape. However, that fact is entirely meaningless from the perspective of what these announcements mean for individuals, for corporations, and for the software development community. The importance of the announcement boils down to the facts that Apple is doing it and combining the technologies and devices together into a single, unified, simple offering. It is those facts which will change the world.

Over the next few days I will unpack the elements of the announcement from this perspective.

The Next Technology Shift

Apple's WWDC announcement usher in a new era of integrated mobile and desktop computing poised to change the way people interact with their technology. Again.

On Monday, Apple announced the new versions of their two operating systems: OS X 10.10 Yosemite for Macs and iOS 8 for iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch). There were a number of interesting components to the upgrades, and I have installed Yosemite on one of my Macs to begin testing and exploring a bit, but the real shift is in the integration of the two worlds. While this is only a first step, consider two aspects of the new awareness:

  • Your Mac will know when your iOS device is near, and will allow you to transparently continue on one something you started on the other. Start an email on your iPhone, finish it on your Mac. Start writing a document on your Mac, finish while on the go on your iPad.
  • Your Mac becomes an extension of your iPhone, allowing you to make and receive phone calls and text messages (SMS) directly on your Mac via your iPhone, even if it's charging elsewhere in the house (I'll leave mine up in my bedroom where it gets decent cellular signal!).

Now, add to that updates to iOS like:

  • Family sharing, allowing up to 6 family members to share purchases, location, and iCloud data like reminders and calendars simply and transparently,
  • Health, to integrate all of the great health monitoring and management that is now available,
  • HomeKit, allowing developers to create integrated apps and hardware for keeping your house safe and automated to do what you want it to do.

When I look at this set of new capabilities, I see an incredible opportunity for Apple as a company, and those who align squarely with these new initiative and build hardware and software that aligns to it, and even for individuals to navigate a new career.

Apple introduced an entirely new programming languages called Swift that is designed with mobility, touch, and common development of iOS and Mac apps as core architectural points.

If technology is your business or career, pay attention and strongly consider a shift in how you're doing what you're doing.

If you are a user of technology, be prepared to shift away from thinking about your various devices as individual points of interaction to a world where they are each simply windows into your information that have different characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses.

Apple Just Changed Publishing

It is very rare indeed when I disagree with Seth Godin. He is a brilliant man, a best-selling author, and an insightful coach for the emerging economy, but he's missed it on the latest announcement from Apple. I don't blame him. It's easy to do with all the changes that are bouncing around like a Heisenberg Uncertainty experiment. Today, in a useful post on his Domino Project blog, he says that Apple did not just make publishing easier with their announcement of the iBooks Author application. He rightfully notes that the iBooks Author application is about authoring books, not publishing them, and there's a difference between printing and publishing. All true.

However, the iBookstore itself is a new way to publish. In much the same way that iTunes changed publishing first for music and then for movies and TV. And the iOS App Store and then the Mac App Store changed the economics and dynamics of software publishing, so will the iBookstore change the dynamics of book publishing. The iBook Author app is the disintermediation of book creation and the iBookstore is the creation of a publishing platform designed for social discovery and long-tail economics.

Unfortunately, I think that Seth falls into a bit of myopia here due to his experience with and success in both using publishers and creating a brilliant new publisher in his Domino Project. He sounds like some of the doomsayers in the early days of iOS apps.

Publishing will never be the same. Neither will making and selling music or making and selling other creative works. Seth knows this. Perhaps the world changed publishing and Apple is simply building tools for the ride. Regardless, anyone can now create and publish a book. Selling it requires building a tribe, just like it always did, but now you get to do it on your own.

So Many Miss the Point

With the passing of Steve Jobs this week juxtaposed against the announcement and release of the new iPhone 4S, the technology media have been atwitter with their views of Apple's success or failure to continue their recent successes. In reading a wide range of such writing, it strikes me that most miss the point entirely. The reason is ironically the same reason that Apple is so successful: it's really difficult to understand people and what they want. Over the past few years I have spent substantial time studying direct response marketing (such as the marketing done by companies who take out those one-page ads for subglasses or the Internet marketing that offers you a free report for handing over your email address). One of the primary tenants of direct response marketing is this: it doesn't matter what you want or what you think about those who make up your market. All the matters is what they actually want. Figure that out and you'll be successful. In fact, your success will be in direct proportion to the accuracy of your understanding. Most technology writers and those who live their lives consumed with technology miss entirely the preferences of the vast majority of people. That's why Apple is successful. It's also why I have migrated exclusively to Apple products.

The bottom line: most people just want stuff that works. They don't want to customize it more than putting their own wallpaper on the screen. They don't want to hack into it or understand how it works. They want to use it, get their activities done, and keep living their lives.

Apple products do this really well. In fact, Siri---the new Apple iPhone 4S's mechanism for voice interaction---is the opposite of what most geeks say is needed: it will create less interaction with the screen rather than more.

Today, John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote an article specifically about the iPhone 4S and everything the pundits are saying Apple got wrong. I agree 100% with what he says. I expect the iPhone 4S to be the most popular iPhone ever much to the shock of those who think the screen needs to be bigger or that it needs to have a replaceable battery or LTE networking.

It doesn't. It's a great upgrade. I'll have mine in a week and will be sure to let you know what I think after I've had some time with it.

What do you think?

All Clouds are Not Created Equal

After I read about another Google customer losing all of his Google data when Google decided to delete (or at least suspend) his account, I got to thinking about all of the times that Google has made a mistake and deleted user accounts or deleted email for Gmail users, I thought about how the different approaches of the key players in the emerging world require you to make some choices, some of which may be untenable. So, I thought I'd lay them out in clearer form than you will get from the hard-core technical blogs or the companies themselves. At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this year (WWDC 2011), Steve Jobs and the Apple executive team introduced iOS 5 and iCloud. During his iCloud introduction, Jobs said this: "We are going to demote the PC to just be a device. We are going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud." This is Apple's philosophy: the iCloud is the sync-master for  your digital life. It provides the axle to your devices that are the spokes. However (and this is a vital distinction!), your digital content lives on your devices when you are using it. The iCloud, then, is the master copy, but Apple expects you to have copies on one or more of your devices.

This is in sharp contrast to Google. In Google's world, the cloud is the only place where your data resides. You'll use your browsers (on your PC, your tablet, or your phone) to access, manipulate, create, and use your content. You may even cache some of it locally for performance reasons (for example, caching the first part of a video so you can watch it without "stutters"). However, the content is in the cloud and your devices are simply windows into it from Google's perspective.

...and then there's Microsoft. They want to get in on "this cloud thing," too, but they really aren't sure how to do it. Their business is Windows and Office, so how can they use the cloud and keep those lines humming? What they are doing now is having the cloud be a glorified backup service with some of the capabilities of their apps. The best experience, however, is to use their native apps on a PC and hook them into the cloud for backup and collaboration. This means that Microsoft Office 365 is a different perspective than iCloud (which is personal) and Google (which is all about the data being in the cloud only). It's effectively a hybrid of the two.

Regardless, you will want to make a choice based on these distinctions, because to the cloud you will go, one way or the other.

Do You Feel Valued?

Three weeks ago, I took a drive to the mountains. I love the mountains and always enjoy any opportunity to get up to the thinner and cleaner air. This time, though, I exited I-70 earlier than usual and pulled into downtown Idaho Springs. Idaho Springs is an old gold mining town nestled in a valley along I-70. You can see the old gold mine from the highway, and stopping for a tour is a common summer activity. The town also sits at the foot of Mount Evans, one of Colorado's glorious 14ers (mountains with summits over 14,000' in elevation), and is a starting point for hiking and mountain biking.

This day, though, I was there to visit with a new client; a small business with a broad reach worldwide. I love their offices! You turn into one of the storefront doors along Miner Street (effectively Main Street) and a broad, beautiful stairway opens before you. Upstairs, their offices have high ceilings and the feel of 100 years ago. The energy is productive and there is a lot of work getting done. The office dogs and owners greeted me as I ascended. We smiled at one another and caught up. Then, we got to work.

Whenever I work with them, speak with them, give them my best counsel for their business, or simply exchange a few emails, I feel valued. I know that they care about me and appreciate the expertise and value I am bringing to them and their business. And you know what? As a result, their business is going to improve. We're going to find ways to grow their customer base, to improve their office efficiency, and to increase their profits.

I'm sure that you can tell me similar stories about businesses you have visited as a customer, placed you have worked, and other companies you have contacted.

I'd be willing to bet that you also have stories about companies where you didn't feel valued. Companies who, although you are paying for their products or services, seemed intent upon making it clear that they couldn't be bothered helping you and, in fact, you were simply interrupting their day by being there.

Do you feel valued?

It's a good question, and one that's worth more than a conversation. It's worth finding out which organizations value people--and which organizations don't.

This idea came to friends at Newmeasures, an organization dedicated to improving organizational culture. A couple of weeks ago, they launched ifeelvalued.com to find out which companies value people. It's a great idea. Let's find out which organizations do a great job of valuing people... and which don't. Go visit ifeelvalued.com and put in your thoughts on companies you appreciate... and those you think need to be known as places to avoid.

And let me know what you think in the comments...

How to Succeed, Part 2

In the first installment in this series, I mentioned the first law of success in Zig Ziglar's terms: "You can get anything you want out of life if you just help enough other people get what they want." As you dissect that concept, you will begin to see how powerful it is. The value you generate to others will determine what you receive in life. There is a value that you generate for one person which is multiplied by the number of people you find who want it. As you grow the per-person value, your reward grows. As you expand the number of people, it also grows. While outlining this law in his famous record "The Strangest Secret," Earl Nightingale articulated it in this way:

Your success will always be measured by the quality and quantity of service you render. Most people will tell you that they want to make money, without understanding this law. The only people who make money work in a mint. The rest of us must earn money. This is what causes those who keep looking for something for nothing, or a free ride, to fail in life. Success is not the result of making money; earning money is the result of success — and success is in direct proportion to our service.

Most people have this law backwards. It's like the man who stands in front of the stove and says to it: "Give me heat and then I'll add the wood." How many men and women do you know, or do you suppose there are today, who take the same attitude toward life? There are millions.

We've got to put the fuel in before we can expect heat. Likewise, we've got to be of service first before we can expect money. Don't concern yourself with the money. Be of service ... build ... work ... dream ... create! Do this and you'll find there is no limit to the prosperity and abundance that will come to you.

Apply this rule today and you will begin to see a change for the better.

Rule 2 will become present in your life very quickly, then. In fact, it has been often on my mind this week and has come up in multiple conversations. Here's the story of one of them:

I met with a good friend for lunch this Wednesday. He's an Elder in our church, and I have served with him on the board of directors for a local non-profit. He is a wise and successful man. We met to talk business, challenges for some of the people we know, and the influence of spiritual truths on our lives. During our conversation, we shared our thoughts on helping two of the men we know. These men have been challenged in the job market that has emerged during this time of economic uncertainty, but they have given up. Their wives are working, but they are not. The stress on their marriages have them both on the rocks. Unless something changes, it's likely that we will see both of their marriages rendered asunder, kids damaged, and souls devastated.

All because they have been broken against the rocks of the second law.

Ironically, during the conversations with my wise friend, we talked about his response to the economic conditions. His story was much like my other wise friends, and went something like this: "When the economy changed, on of my primary sources of income stopped. Suddenly. Overnight, services that had been providing 30-50% of our income dried up. I had to find ways to replace it. I went back to school. Renewed my license to broker loans, and added that to my services."

Do you see the difference?

During the second world war, Viktor Frankl was taken prisoner first to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and later to Auschwitz. During his time in the camps, he came to a profound understanding of the strength of human consciousness in the face of difficulty and suffering. It was he who said, "Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."

And it was he who first pointed out, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

"...our power to choose our response." This concept is pregnant with potency. So many avoid this truth and hide from their responsibility by pretending that their lives are not their own; that somehow the faceless "others" dictate the direction of their lives. They seem themselves as powerless to make their own choices. Yet these thoughts are all lies... and they lead only to pain, suffering, and failure.

It is you who chooses. They are your choices. No one controls you, although many will work to influence you using a broad range of tools from their words to their threats and from there to the exercise of authority. Ultimately, though, as Frankl so thoroughly proves in his seminal work, "Man's Search for Meaning," it is up to you what you do and no one else is responsible, accountable, or capable of living your life or making your choices.

Recently, my friend and mentor Matt Furey has expressed this truth in this way: "You are not to blame for everything in your life—but you are responsible for how you think and feel about everything in your life."

This is the second law of success.

Why am I at Starbucks, Again?

It's another Saturday morning and I'm sitting in Starbucks working away while my two daughters dance at their studio nearby. As I often do, I find myself considering what has motivated me to visit Starbucks... again. Of course, Starbucks isn't the only coffee shop near here. There is WiFi at their studio that I could use, and it's not only the noise at the studio that has me choosing Starbucks, instead.

I was here last week, too. I sat at the bar, working on my Mac. The line was out the door, and I waited for an opening to order my usual venti Chai. The baristas whirled around behind the bar, filling order after order, mostly avoiding the seemingly inevitable collisions as they rushed in a coordinated effort to keep the coffee coming as quickly as they could.

They smiled and laughed, chatted with one another and their customers, and even in the face of an overwhelming crowd, maintained both their focus and their good humor.

I had sat at the bar there for a while, looking up occasionally to see if there was an opening. I had work to do and didn't want to spend the 10 or so minutes necessary to get my order into the process.

While pumping, pouring, mixing, and blending, one of the baristas made a comment to me about the zaniness of the morning. "You all are doing a great job! I keep waiting for the line to shrink, but the customers just keep coming and you keep everything moving," I said.

My comment was a compliment for their hard work. What she said in response underlines a very important success and business concept: "Oh! I can get something started for you. What would you like?"

Wow!

If you're not careful, you will overlook the remarkable value of the Starbucks culture: her first thought was how she could serve me. There was no resignation in it, no resentment, no sense that I was interrupting or disturbing them. Just a willingness to serve.

That sense continued after she delivered my Chai. No urgency to be paid. In fact, even in the midst of the rush, there was no sense of overwhelm or pressure.

As a result, I'm back today.

When I walked to the counter today and ordered my Chai, one of the baristas that was here last week looked up, "You missed it," she said, "it's quiet now, but you should have seen it just a few minutes ago." Then, turning to her colleague, "He was here last week when it was so busy for so long." They started to chat and laugh about the logistics of working around one another when there is so much to do. They included me in their conversation and as a result, drew me even more into their circle of influence.

I'll be back.

How to Succeed, Part 1

I read it again today. While sitting in my kitchen reading my daily dose of news, I once again read about how evil the wealthy are, how they don't deserve what they have, and how they "aren't paying their fair share." All untrue.

We certainly do need leaders, but since our current crop of political parasites do not have the fortitude to lead, it will fall to us to lead ourselves.

First, it's absolutely critical to understand the truth about money and wealth. It's the starting point. Without that understanding and mindset, nothing else will matter.

To explain, let me take you back a few weeks to a hotel conference room in Clearwater Beach, Florida. It was a Sunday afternoon. We were nearing the conclusion of a solid three days of coaching and instruction when my friend Everte Farnell stepped to the front of the room. He held us spellbound with his wealth secrets from the ancient wisdom he has been studying (more on that in the future on these pages), with one package of insights so clean and important that I will share some of it with you now.

First, it's useful to know that during these sessions I had experienced some intense one-on-one coaching in front of the room. So, during his talk, Everte looked directly at me and challenged my thinking. Then, he said something very important to the entire room: "We live in a cultural lie. Our culture is egalitarian. The lie is that everyone is the same, so if someone is more successful than someone else, it must be because they have lied, cheated, and stolen. It's not true! Everyone is not the same. Some are smarter, more skilled, and more valuable as a result. Believing otherwise will keep you in bondage for the rest of your life."

Can you see how easy it is to buy into the lie that everyone is the same? Of course, we are all human beings and we have inherent value as people, but that does not mean that what we have to offer others is the same as anyone else.

For example, is Steve Jobs more valuable to Apple than Gil Amelio? Of course! Amelio nearly killed Apple, while Jobs has brought it back and into a dominant role in the marketplace. Amelio is a very talented individual, but wasn't the answer for Apple. Jobs is much more valuable in that role.

The same is true of you. You offer unique and valuable skills and abilities. What are they? How can you tell?

This is the first secret. It's difficult for some people to accept. Regardless, it's true. Here it is:

Your financial value is exactly what another is willing to pay you for what you offer times the number of people you can find to pay.

There is no other measure of financial value.

The first secret of success is this (as put by Zig Ziglar so many times): "You can get anything you want out of life if you just help enough other people get what they want."

What can you help other people get that they want? The more valuable it is to them and the more people you find who want it, the more you will earn.

You really can get anything you want out of life if you just help enough other people get what they want.

Will you?

The Void of Leadership

I've been saying and writing about it for a while, and the rising din of those frantic to avoid the loss of power that seems to be building is making it clear there is an anger simmering. Why?

There are no leaders. There are controllers and authoritarians, kings and rulers, but no leaders.

In her exellent article "The Liberals are Losing It," Liz Peek describes the current state of panic within political circles because there is no leader. I disagree with her in one area: I don't think it's a "liberal" issue. It's an issue for all of the "career politicians." (A phrase which should be an oxymoron!) Those who seek to earn their livelihood from making laws, discussing policy, and "governing" are all waking up to the fact that they are not only distrusted, but disliked, denounced, and denigrated. We don't need politicians to tell us what to think and do. We need leaders to rally us around a common vision for the benefit of all.

It remains amazing to me that so many are being so easily misled. Many apparently believe that wealth is not earned. Apparently, they think, the way that one becomes wealthy is to steal from others.

At the same time, those people want to themselves gain wealth. They play the lottery, try get-rich-quick schemes, and maybe even try to "bend the rules" a bit to get more.

I guess because they don't succeed they think that those who do are cheating, lying, and stealing. Hollywood doesn't help, of course, and ironically, given the earnings of so many who work there!

Politicians today are fanning these flames. Jealousy and enmity serve the unproductive governing class. They keep those who could succeed from realizing their personal power and the path to success. By doing so, they keep the politicians and policy-makers in the money while appearing to "care" for those "who are less fortunate."

If they really cared, they show them the path out.

Starting with my next post on this topic, I'm going to do just that.

Business Growth in a Mobile World

The world is changing--again--and the good news is that the pendulum has swung back in favor of local, high-value businesses. This is exciting! It was the mid-1990s in Boulder, Colorado. I was a young, idealistic business owner with a passion for growing businesses. At the time, there was a lot I didn't know about helping businesses understand the reasons for doing what they needed to do, but I didn't lack in energy or conviction!

One time, I remember trying to convince the manager of an executive suite that one of the best things he could do to build his business would be adding Internet access in the offices. I gave him a reasonable proposal, and showed him that the prices would be reasonable and the benefits significant.

...but he didn't get it. "No one cares about Internet access," he told me. "They just want office space and a phone."

They went out of business.

A few months later, I had another conversation with a business owner explaining the value of using the Internet for communicating with customers and prospects. I talked about building a web site and how she could use it to build her business. Again, she didn't see the value and allowed others to take her business over the next few years. At the time, only visionaries could see the value in the Internet and the web. Today, we take it for granted.

We are at another juncture. It's like the early days of the web all over again. Sometimes, I get those same reactions, but the visionaries get it.

What am I talking about?

The shift in how people find you and your business. How they look for products and services. And what that means about how you find your prospects and show them your value. The world is now mobile. Virtually everyone always has their phone with them. Many of those phones have access to the Internet and mapping applications. And millions of them have the ability to install applications.

All of these are opportunities for you. You can differentiate your business, build relationships, engage with your customers, and win against the faceless giants in the marketplace.

It's a great time to be in business.

The strategy is straight-forward and the elements are extensions of what you already know to do: use your website to communicate, have a blog, use web video, podcast if it makes sense, be "mobile friendly," be social, and use apps strategically.

I'll go through each of these in upcoming posts. I also have made space in my schedule for a few free consultations for business leaders who are eager to grow their business at this tipping point in time. For a free half-hour consultation with me about your business and accomplishing the growth you're seeking, go to my business growth page right now and sign up before the slots are gone.

A Prayer for the Fourmile Fire

On Monday, the Fourmile fire raged. This photo was taken Monday afternoon near Gold Hill very close to the source of the conflagration:

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the fire overshadowed much of life in and around Boulder. Thousands of people were evacuated. 166 home burned. We had friends in the path of the fire. We knew many who were evacuated and waited to hear of their homes. Our friends Bob and Betty spoke with us on Wednesday morning. They are among the resilient who take the good with the bad in living in the mountains. Betty laughed as she said, "Well, we called the house this morning. The machine picked up, so we know it's not a puddle of plastic... yet..."

For them, the fire missed their home.

As the fire started and raged, a close friend of my daughters was evacuated. Both of my daughters dance with Sarah, and she texted them on Monday of her fear as the fire was very close when they evacuated. My daughter Rachel remembered a story that she had been told by her youth group leader Jamie. In the story, a pastor's home was threatened by a raging wildfire. His church members gathered around him in prayer as the fire raged.

When they returned to pick through the remains of the pastor's home, an amazing picture met their eyes. The black desolation stretched across the land from horizon to horizon. But there, in the middle, was an island of green surrounding the pastor's home, still standing.

With that picture of faith in her mind, Rachel prayed for Sarah and her family as the fires burned completely out of control across the hills. She asked God to do it again. She held that picture in her mind and prayed for the red-roofed home of her friend.

You see that home in this near-infrared image in the middle right surrounded by burned homes? Here's a closer view of that home, with it on the right hand edge of the photo:

The fire went around their home.

Asking, "Why?" is dangerous when there is nothing to be learned from the answer. In this case, the faithful prayers of a loving friend had an impact on the unpredictable path of a violent wildfire.

More about the idea of learning from the "Why?" shortly. For now, celebrate that sometimes amazing things happen.

Burning Above Boulder... The Fourmile Fire

Monday morning during our Labor Day weekend, I was sitting in my family room working on a new series for coaching business leaders when the light changed. I knew right away. The light which had only moments before been Colorado bright and streaming through the trees had turned an eerie orange. Fire.

But where?

I stood and walked out onto the back porch. White grey smoke was covering the sky to the south and moving east. I looked towards the mountains and the thicker smoke that direction. I walked to the front of the house to get a clearer view of the source of the smoke and that's when it was clear that the mountains were ablaze. What is now officially the Fourmile fire had ignited around 10am, burst through stands of trees dried by death from the bark beetle infestation of the past few years plus the typically dry summer weather of Colorado's Front Range. First reports were of a fire that was moving fast, pushed by the mountain winds, devouring trees and brush, buildings and propane tanks.

By midafternoon, the sky was full of smoke, and a glow of fire colored the cloud. That afternoon, I went to the nearby grocery store for food and took this photo:

The fire dominated the sky, the air, and our thoughts. We have friends who live up there.

By late in the day, the fire had grown to over 3,000 acres. The smoke created an eerie view of the bright Colorado sun as we headed for nightfall:

The evacuation notices were coming quickly. Friends were texting and tweeting their whereabouts. Boulder exhausted its firefighting resources within the first few hours and state and national resources were called in. Reports of exploding propane tanks, homes destroyed, the historic town of Gold Hill threatened, and livestock needing shelter were all filling the airwaves and the Internet.

We did what we could to help, but at the time it was mostly to stay out of the way and offer assistance to those that we could.

By nightfall, the orange fire was clearly visible along the ridgelines, although this digitally-zoomed photo from my iPhone doesn't do it justice:

We wondered what Wednesday would bring.

More in the next post...

How You Can Change the World

It's been beautiful here in Boulder for the past week. Cool in the evenings, sunny during the day, with the occasional thunderstorm to brighten up the afternoon. During this week, I've had a great exchange with Stephanie George, my brilliant friend who helps businesses to see their current business situation through objective eyes, offering business development and strategic consulting. One of her emails to me yesterday was so perceptive that I'll share it with you in its entirety in this post. Her insights are right on. The rest of this post (with minor edits for the change of medium) is from her:

I think that we also need leadership. The two quotes were right on and - they came from leaders. Leaders do not have to be the President alone, Leaders emerge at all levels. I think it would be refreshing for a bold, non-partisan heavy hitter to enroll some outstanding legislative leaders, the President, and the media to stop cramming fear and uncertainty down the public's throat.

Bad news sells better than good news, so the media may be challenging to enroll on a wholesale basis. Also, I don't think a pollyanna outlook would sell well.

It's not just a policy or a budget patch that we need to crank the engine and that's all that I've heard proposed from our legislative and executive branches so far (red or blue). There is no Unity. Remember "Together we stand, divided we fall"? That's what's missing. There is too much interest and money to be made in dividing up the sentiment and no one working to unify it.

A mortgage broker actually told me once that he didn't care if the market went up or down, as long as there was some sort of change, he would make money. His interest was not in seeing an overall rising of the tide or in others successes, but in keeping things off balance, because it kept creating opportunities for him to make money.

I think that Bush actually tried to connect everyone on the war - it worked immediately following 9/11 and in WWII, but when there is dishonesty as the foundation (WMDs anyone? then one after another different reason for making war was brought forth, none of them more substantial than 4th grade retribution), the rest of the construct falls apart. And when our leadership cannot be trusted, people lose confidence. As long as our bodies of leadership snipe at one another endlessly, it firstly, seems utterly arrogant and self-righteous, and secondly, does not engender faith in their ability as a corporate body to get on the same page.

I know that I have simplified foreign, economic and political policy in there. It's not a simple problem. However, on confidence:

I don't stand on there being THE ONE omniscient leader; all of our elected officials have the freedom be the leader that we need. However, they would need to give up personal hubris.

So, that's top-down confidence.

How about bottom-up confidence? Enroll and empower everyone to develop their own confidence. Probably creates a bigger tide than waiting for the top-down to get it done.

Educating everyone we meet that who they are is bigger than their circumstances; they are not defined as a possibility in the world by their checkbook balance or net worth or job or their diploma. Joy, confidence and happiness are not a function of any material detritus they manage to assemble in their lifetimes. Acknowledging one's own true personal power is at the source of confidence. It is not someone or some thing outside of us, it is in each of us. (Cue Marianne Williamson quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”)

Maybe we should bring back that old Skin Bracer commercial with Jack Palance telling us all that Confidence is sexy. That's it! We need a new marketing campaign for Confidence! Confidence is Sexy. (Editor: As I mentioned to Stephanie in a follow-up email, Palance had it right in City Slickers, too.)

I went through the Harn Museum of Art a week ago and they have on display a series of public propaganda posters from around 1924 - 1936. How about some National Confidence propaganda - lots of it - that is not one diva or guru's pocket lining? That's not tied to some partisan agenda? That doesn't come out of Obama's mouth or John Boehner's mouth?

What Should the Government Do?

This morning, one of my good friends--a brilliant and insightful business analyst you should know--asked me what I thought about the latest McKinsey Quarterly newsletter article entitled, "Where are the jobs." Given the questions that I have had on this, I'll share my thoughts that came from my response to her: he key job growth will come from small businesses, including innovations in retail (did you see this article about 4Food?). And the only way to get businesses in those sectors to grow is to free up money that is not being used to pay them right now: consumer's money and larger businesses' money that is used to buy products and services from these smaller businesses.

What is going to free those funds? Confidence.

Yeah, I know it's not the whiz-bang idea that everyone thinks we need, but it really is what we need. Confidence. It was the key difference between two speeches from a generation ago:

"The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

"As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning." (that was Jimmy Carter's infamous speech, that entirety of which is here... how familiar does that sound and how true (again) today?)

Compare it to this:

"If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.

"It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope."

That, of course, was Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address, and it's no less true today.

After that speech, the country went on a tear that lasted a couple of decades.

The facts are that creativity fuels innovation and innovation fuels the economy. Without confidence, there is no creativity.

What can the government do? Stop the spending, drop the taxes, create a predictable environment for innovation to be free to develop. Otherwise, the innovation gets spent trying to get around governmental interference.

What do you think?

The Value of Decisiveness

Earlier this past week I was in my home office working on a new iPhone app for a client when my phone rang. On the other end of the line was a northeastern accent that I recognized right away. Last winter, this friend and I had spent the better part of a day skiing around Copper Mountain. He and his family were visiting from New Hampshire, and I had the joy of showing he and his two boys some of my favorite secret stashes on a day that still had some powder to be found. As I answered the phone, he asked me how I was doing, and I mentioned to him the wonderful Colorado weather. "Yes," he said with a wistful longing in his voice, "the boys still talk about that day with you at Copper. That was a great day!"

Yes, it was. But, that's not why he called. You see, he's a Vice President of Marketing at a major corporation and he was calling to find out if I'd have time to take on a small project for him. We chatted for a few minutes so I could get a basic understanding of what he needed. "Yes," I said, "that's something that is a good fit for me, and I'd really like to work on it with you."

...and like that, it was a done deal.

We had our kick-off call the next day, and I'll be working with him over the next few weeks to build content for marketing one of their product lines as they launch a new set of communications.

Decisiveness.

It can really make a difference for you and your business. It's going to help him with their process, we'll get a lot done, and their customers will get some great insights into their products.

Your decisions are best in this order:

  1. The "right" decision
  2. The "wrong" decision
  3. No decision

Today more than ever the adage applies: You can't steer a ship that isn't moving. Make a choice. Get moving. And adjust as you go along.

Of Course It's a "Jobless Recovery"

As I sat in my family room here in Boulder, Colorado a few days ago thinking about the utter ignorance of the people who are making laws in this country, I began writing this post. Then, this morning, I read this excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal: "Why I'm Not Hiring" by Michael P. Fleisher outlines the reality of the situation that the ignorant, poll-driven politicians have created. Subtitled, "When you add it all up, it costs $74,000 to put $44,000 in Sally's pocket and to give her $12,000 in benefits." the piece demonstrates why the "recovery" is "jobless:" The government is doing almost everything in its power to make it painful to hire, and is simultaneously making it clear that it will very likely get more difficult to hold on to existing employees by increasing fees, taxes, and other mandatory payments for having an employee.

In short, the politicians have killed any hope of new jobs.

And why wouldn't they? They don't understand business. They don't see how many flows in business, or understand forecasting, revenue, cash flow, or managing to a budget. After all, when they want more money, they simply pass a law to get it.

Of course, those laws never actually work they way that they had planned, since money naturally moves away from areas that are taxed. That's why no one is hiring.

So, in short, the very structures that the government is putting in place has killed the employment marketplace. It will not improve until there is some assurance that the idiots in Washington, D.C. won't make yet more changes on a whim and a prayer. And that's not going to happen until there is a change of thinking in those circles.

You cannot vilify business and those wealthy enough to run businesses without also decimating the job market. Yet, that's exactly what they are doing in D.C.

Update: So what can be done?

It's actually quite simple: lower the burden on those who do the employing, and make the costs of hiring and maintaining employees predictable.

How is that done?

That's also simple: reduce taxes and fees on employers and employees and create laws and policies that make those reductions predictable, giving 12 months' notice for any increases. When increases can happen at any time, business owners and leaders must maintain additional reserves to cover unexpected costs dictated by the whims of government.

For some real research into what happens when these kinds of approaches are followed, look at The Historical Lessons of Lower Tax Rates, the Joint Economic Committee report on the Reagan tax cuts, and Wikipedia's explanation of the Laffer Curve for some insights into how complex the interconnections are. Regardless of this theoretic conversation, predictability is the key to business management, and the lack of predictability is a primary issue impacting the "Jobless Recovery" that we're now seeing.

Second update: I am clearly not alone in my thinking on this. For another, there is Michael Schrage's perspective on his Harvard Business Review blog article "The Hireless Recovery" (my thanks to my good friend Stephanie George for pointing me to this article!).