Happily Oblivious or Just Plain Ignorant and a Desire to Dance

Today I learned:

1. Happily Oblivious or Just Plain Ignorant? It is a toss-up: I was either avoiding the issue or ignorant to it. I was skipping through life (figuratively at least), waiting for my ACL Reconstruction assuming it would just create a minor blip in the road. That ended today when I finally allowed myself to more clearly understand just how long I will be laid up.

I received a call to advise when to come in to the hospital for surgery on Monday and this led to a long discussion on follow-up visits, therapy and driving restrictions. Essentially I was told to “get ready to tackle that book you have always wanted to write” because you won’t be doing anything else for the next few weeks. I knew exactly what the long-term recovery picture looks like, but I hadn’t spent much time thinking or planning for the short-term.

With the sudden realization, and forced acceptance, that surgery is going to upset my routine for longer than I had hoped I spent this morning in a panic trying to prepare for the inevitable. The bottom-line: Frantic preparation or not, I am not ready to spend 2-3 weeks sitting on my butt.

2. Desire to Dance: When you know you will be laid up for awhile your desire to spontaneously dance with your daughters skyrockets.

To be clear, my desire to dance generally sits at about a 0.1 on a scale of 1-10, but knowing I will be off my feet for a couple weeks, and certainly not dancing for months, I found myself dancing around the kitchen this morning with the girls. Notably, this was pre-caffeine dancing, so no artificial stimulants were involved.

It makes me think of the song lyric, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” and seems to be part of an innate desire to fit in all the things I need/want before I can’t do them for awhile. It is an odd emotion, and I better go feed it while I can…

The most gratifying purchase you can make and You can’t fool a 2 year-old

Today I learned:

1. The most gratifying purchase you can make…is a new belt one size smaller than your previous one.

2. You can’t fool at 2 year-old: About a month ago our daughter lost her prized stuffed bear at Costco. For 2 1/2 years it had been at her side for about 23 hours a day so this development was relatively problematic.

We immediately went into problem solving mode and within about 2 hours we were out $60, spent on 3 potential replacements. None exact, and each with some flaw that we were well aware of, but it was the best we could do. By bedtime she was somewhat satisfied.

I just didn’t feel right about it all though.

I understand the attachment kids have to these sorts of things. I actually still have the stuffed dog I had as a baby. I can’t even stand dogs now so it is about the only one dog I ever loved. And no, it is not immediately at my disposal. I don’t sleep with it, or keep it on my desk at work. It is in a box at my parents house. But, I know it is there, and there is something oddly comforting about that.

To solve the problem I looked to eBay.  The 21st century version of the “replacement hamster from the Pet Store.”  An exact replica was on it way, and another $30 was out the door. We even told her the people at Costco would mail the original bear to us if they found it, to buy some time.

Fast forward two weeks, and we found the original bear in the camera bag.

It was never lost.

When “eBay bear” showed up we noticed it looked a bit too new. Despite this, we tried to rotate it in to see if we could pass it off.

She was having none of “clean bear” and wouldn’t even let it in her bed.  She banished it to the toy box. It distressed her so much that we had to secretly switch in the original when she wasn’t looking.

Not wanting to let the issue die, my wife has spent the last 2 weeks staining “clean bear” with Ketchup, rubbing it with dirt from the garden and distressing the fabric. She even left it in the mud for almost a week. It looks like crap. We thought it was a pretty good match.

Last night we tried to switch it into the rotation again, sneaking it into bed with her in the middle of the night. At 2am this morning we awoke to a screaming 2 year-old sitting up in the the pitch dark yelling “it’s not right.”

You can’t fool a 2 year-old.

Pain: Past, Present and Future

Today I learned:

1. Pain – Past and Present:  When it comes to my stance on crime, I don’t consider myself an eye for an eye type of guy. I talk tough at times, but in reality my views are relatively liberal. Knowing this, I was surprised at my own reaction today when I read about the first sentence handed down to a 2011 Stanley Cup rioter. 17 months for the offender.

My immediate emotions?

I was happy he received a lengthy punishment, and admittedly a bit disappointed he didn’t get more time. I immediately put myself in the judge’s shoes and concluded I would have been pleased to have a chance to throw the book at him.

This made me reflect back on my thoughts during the riot.  It was utterly painful to watch. After watching my favorite team suffer a tough loss, the sight of smoke over downtown made me feel even worse for my city. I was angry and embarrassed. I was hurt. While watching the events of the evening I tweeted this message:

The pain didn’t wear off for days. To a certain extent I am definitely still pissed off about it.

Reflecting on my emotions, past and present, and how they could impact my own decision-making actually helped teach me a valuable lesson. I may see myself one way, but emotions have a habit of clouding decision-making. Today’s announcement and a moment of placing myself in the judge’s shoes altered my own position to a place that is quite different than when a cooler head prevails.

All this is a perfect reminder for times when an important decision is required: Take a step back and recognize the emotion. Then set it aside. The correct decision must be based on what you believe is right and wrong, not how it makes you feel.

2. Pain – Future: With ACL reconstruction a few days away, today I picked up some crutches as I will be relying on them to get around for a few weeks. At that moment it hit me: A lot of pain is in my future.

It was indeed quite a disconcerting little lunch hour adventure. A pain-free walk (absent all jumping, running and pivoting mind you) to pick up crutches, knowing I will soon put myself through weeks of pain and months of rehab so I can enjoy those simple pleasures again.

Why I won’t hire you and Girls’ toys suck

Today I learned:

1. Why I won’t hire you:  I read a great blog post on hiring today that echos many of my opinions on the subject.  While I agree with quite a few of the points in the post, it made me reflect on other things I look for in a candidate. For me, there are a few additional things:

  • You treat me differently than the receptionist: When you leave the first thing I do is ask her how you acted on your arrival, before I showed up. If you showed me more respect than you showed her it me gives a good sense of how you really treat people.
  • Your resume sucks: You can’t spell. You can summarize accomplishments. You can succinctly tell me what your skills are. If you can’t create a professional document given no time limit, I assume this will carry over when time limits are applied.
  • You know nothing about where I work: If you haven’t done your leg work to know who is interviewing you and what our company is like, I assume you will take short cuts in your work too.
  • You don’t ask me questions: This means meaningful questions that help me understand what is important to you in the selection process and not basic things like “what are the hours?” I want to know you have put some thought into this and you aren’t just flying by the seat of your pants.

2. Girls’ toys suck: While replaying the day at the dinner table the other night, my daughter expressed an interest in Lego. This led me to do some research into what kinds of products Lego is making these days. I was familiar already with some pretty cool stuff, like Super Hero and Star Wars products that my nephews are addicted to. I was excited to see what I could find for my daughter.

It turns out girls’ toys suck. Or at least, in my humble opinion lego for girls sucks.

With hundreds of creative products for boys, all they seem to have managed for girls are things like a beauty shop, doll house, and bakery.  At least give me a pink doctors office or something that I can work with her on to aspire towards, rather than a weak knock off of Barbie’s convertible.

Disney Day 5: The (Un)happiest Place on Earth, plus Service Recovery

The final post in a series of Disneyland-based learnings. A.k.a. Day 45 @ The two things blog.

Today I learned:

1. (Un)happiest Place on Earth: Apparently, if you treat a 2 year old to 4 days at Disneyland, somewhere on day 5 she will return the favour by rewarding you with a 65 minute meltdown in Tomorrowland. The location was, at least, a fitting backdrop for the tantrum – about 1/2 way through it felt like tomorrow would never come.

I tried moving to Fantasyland to see if it was really happening, but unfortunately it was not a dream. At least when we made it to the Tea Cups and Dumbo the sight of a 2 year old screaming at the top of her lungs was not even a notable spectacle. The behaviour was more prevalent than Mickey Mouse ears.

2. Service Recovery: I have been searching for an example of service recovery to see how Disney responds to problems. As we are appraoching the end of this adventure I was starting to conjure up a plan to buy something, just so I could return it and see how I was treated. “Fortunately” there was no need to fake it – I had the opportunity to test the system this morning.
We bought the girls some small toys (basically the Disney version of Polly Pockets which they know and love). Unfortunately Disney’s manufacturer doesn’t quite meet the exacting standards the Polly Pocket brand and within 15 minutes both girls broken the arms off their dolls.
High ho, high ho, back to the store we go.
To make matters worse, unfortunately in their brief play period one of the toy shoes went missing so we weren’t even returning the entire package. Broken and incomplete. A better test!
At the counter we apologized and stated we felt bad we broke the toys. We were immediately told, “Please don’t feel bad. You shouldn’t feel bad. I feel bad. This must be tough for your little ones to deal with. Let me make this right.” She had no concern for the missing piece and immediately refunded the purchase price to my Visa.
The return experience? 100% positive.  
The result? 2 happy parents. 2 happy kids. 4 happy customers. We returned $32 worth of toys and promptyl purchased $43 more. Despite the broken toys I suspect Disney still managed to eke out a profit from us on the purchases.
This service recovery example made me reflect on my experience with the return policies of other major retailers. There are those that do things exceptionally well, like Costco which “guarantees your satisfaction with the merchandise you purchase,” and in return they keep me coming back again and again. And there are those like Future Shop. Believe it or not I still hold a grudge over a failed attempt to return a defective answering machine in 1994. Eighteen years later and I still make a point of shopping elsewhere based on one single negative experience. When things go bad you can lose the customer forever.
A simple lesson to businesses. Treat the customer right in the good times and the bad times. How you respond when things go wrong, as much as when things go right, defines whether of not the customer comes back. It also doesn’t hurt you if they plan to blog about their experience with your brand either later that day, or even 18 years later.

Disney Day 4: Market Research – Test, Iterate and Re-test, plus the Service Scape

The fourth in a series of Disney-themed posts as I continue a quest to ingrain within myself the habit of learning two things a day. Our vacation continues…

Today I learned:

1. Market Research – Test, Iterate and Re-test: I get the sense Disneyland is a living lab, with constant testing of new ideas to see which generate the highest customer satisfaction and revenue. Subtle and not-so-subtle examples of experimentation are everywhere.

On the not-so subtle side, I have seen numerous appearances of a small army of pleasant, approachable, middle-aged researchers, with touchscreen devices attempting to collect data from customers immediately after different service contact points. The team has appeared after a street performance and a parade, while exiting a restaurant and after using a couple of the rides. They were even at the main entry point after getting our passes scanned this morning.

We completed one quick survey and it was focussed on basic satisfaction questions, rating our experience and whether or not we would recommend it to others. Nothing new, just ever present. The interesting thing is that I have never seen anyone turn down a request, which is well over 15 for 15 at this point. I am guessing that level of success rate would be unheard of in the outside world.

On the subtle side we have seen a few examples of unadvertised test-performances. One such street show related to the Princess and the Frog did not appear on any of the main schedules and seemed to be a trial run to see how the crowd enjoyed it, in comparison to the typical entertainment in that area of the park.

I suppose it is easy to keep your brand focussed on research when you control the environment as every day is groundhog day – you get a chance to start over and try again 24 hours later. This experimentation keeps the park fresh for recurrent visitors and ensures the show is constantly improving.

Test, iterate and re-test – it is all a part of what helps a great company stay great for 50+ years.  I can think of a few examples of companies that could use that kind of insight. There is a deal on right now for RIM stock. Anyone? Anyone?

2. The Service Scape: One of my favourite MBA classes was Strategic Marketing of Services, taught by Kenton Low, a former Vice President at The Walt Disney Company.  Within class he was able to convey a number of insights into the strategies employed in Disney’s theme parks to improve the customer experience, and extract a bit more of every visitor’s tourist dollar.

One of the more amusing anecdotes was about the research that went into every aspect of Mainstreet, USA, all the way down to the aroma in the shops. Apparently a replica of Main Street was built in a warehouse for test purposes and researchers subsequently learned that piping in the smell of cotton candy proved to sell the most sweets.

Along with the distinct odour of cotton candy, with what I believe was a mild undertone of waffle cone, today I was equally impressed by these aspects of the Service Scape:

  • Flow/Geography: The hub and spoke set-up of the park helps you always feel like you are constantly entering somewhere new. Each “Land” is unique and in look and feel helping to break up the visit and periodically revive interest as you move through the park. It also mean you can get from anywhere to anywhere in about 5-10 minutes (assuming you can walk at a healthy pace), meaning you can change activities with the whim of your mood. And, it all filters into a central spot that makes it easy for families to meet and re-group then head about their separate ways if they choose.
  • Mood: The pastel colours of Mickey’s Toon Town give a good balance to the wild energy of the toddlers climbing Donald Duck’s boat and running around Goofy’s Playhouse. More whimsical than other areas of the park it seems to draw my kids like no other, even though there are fewer rides. It just seems to make them feel happier and more energetic as soon as they arrive. Admittedly though, that might just be the smell of hotdogs. Now, if we could just get them to build Minnie’s Spa Town right next door.
  • Atmosphere: New Orleans Square is a long way from Bourbon Street but the energy found in the crowded, narrow thoroughfares and ample restaurant options makes it perfect for an evening stroll. A few more strollers than the real thing, but still a great vibe to generate energy after a long day at the park.

I could go on, but better to stop there and head back to the park for a post-nap evening with the kids!

Disney Day 3: Down-sizing and Upselling

The third in a short series of posts that touch on Disneyland as I continue to blog my way through the process of learning two things a day for 66 straight days…

Today I learned:

1. Down-sizing: It took us 2 days, but we have now learned to down-size any food orders in the Park. We had forgotten we were ordering based on U. S. sizing.

How did we learn this lesson? While seated for a late morning kids snack we looked at the two tables next to us and simply observed what was going on.

Table 1: A family of 4 from Ohio (which I hold as a solid assumption based on the plethora of Ohio State garb), each gnawing on their own “Giant Turkey Leg,” which cost about $13 each, along with a Diet(!) Coke AND a cheese stuffed pretzel.

Table 2: A family of 4 people from Japan (which I hold as a solid assumption based on the fact they were speaking Japanese), each sharing pieces from single “Giant Turkey Leg,” and part of a large bottle of water.  They all had some Apple slices too.

From that moment on I realized the portion sizes were more likely to give me a heart attack than the Space Mountain Roller Coaster. Needless to say we all split a couple things for lunch.

2. Upselling: If there is one thing the fine people at Disney have figured out it’s upselling. As a patron of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver I can recall attending several events, mostly in the early days when organizing and queuing methods were suspect , where it was not possible to spend my money. Either horrendous lines or empty shelves empty actually prevented me from getting what I wanted. None of that is true at Disneyland

They seem to understand – better than any other example I can come up with – that the easiest sales to convert are to those people you can already count as customers. With that understanding they make sure to never miss an opportunity.  Once you are in the door they try to draw a little more cash from your pocket around every corner.

A few of the best examples I found today:

  • Food: There seems to be something new in every different “Land” and (at least in February) there is never more than a 3-5 minute wait to get what you need. Healthy? Got it. Horrendously unhealthy? See the Massive Turkey leg referenced above. Kids sizes? Yup, and toddler too. $12 R2-D2 shaped plastic souvenir container? They have for both popcorn and soft drinks.
  • Memorabilia: We all know Disney is famous for their animated franchises and characters, but the tie in to products and ability to find the perfect place for it is equally impressive. At the exit of every Character-themed ride you can buy related product. Perfect placement. Every product you can imagine, plus thousands you wouldn’t have dreamed of tying back to all the Disney and Pixar movies. They know as well as I do that kids will want the Snow White doll, even if the ride just scared the hell out of them.
  • Cross-Promotion: If there is a free moment where you might have otherwise noticed a bit of peace and quiet, they have filled it.  Audio ads on the Monorail. Posters for upcoming movies. If Disney has a stake in any other product, you will find it on display somewhere here.
  • Two-part pricing: Examples of this are everywhere. Admission to every ride is included with the ticket, but on each of the major attractions (typically at the exit), Disney has added secondary products targeted at enhancing the customer experience. Customized driver’s license at Autopia. Photos and t-shirts with your freaked-out face from Space Mountain.  They have consistently found ways to extract (or to convince your kids to try to extract) more cash to add-on to the experience throughout the day.

Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I expected it all and I am not bothered by the constant bombardment. I love marketing and I find it impressive when a company can get me to take my wallet out of my pocket when I wasn’t planning to. It’s like we are in a friendly 1 on 1 battle for my cash all day here.

Disney Day 2: It is all about me and Get the Right People on the Tea Cups

This is the second of what I expect will be several consecutive Disney-themed posts as my family and I fit in a brief winter trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Today I learned:

1.  It’s all about me: At ages 4 and 2 it is debatable if our kids will remember their first trip to disneyland.

The two year-old? No way.

The 4 year-old? Maybe.

Regardless of the kids memories, I will never forget the look in their eyes as we embarked on our first ride,  The Finding Nemo Submarine. The unbridled laughter as they raced along the Autopia. The absolute terror as our 4 year old exited the Space Mountain Roller Coaster.  The enthusiasm as they sang along on It’s a Small World.

Will they remember it?  Who cares. 

The build up and anticipation. The look in their eyes. The laughter. The fun. Today I learned that it doesn’t matter what they remember of this when they grow up, because it’s all about me of course.

2. Get the right people on the Tea Cups: Even before you get through the gates at Disneyland one thing becomes abundantly clear.  They know culture, and they protect it voraciously by ensuring that they have the right people in every role, and that those people are empowered to do whatever they need to do to build lasting memories for the visitor.

It reminds me of a quote from Jim Collins in Good to Great, where he reflects on examples of truly great companies and their understanding of the importance of fit, and ensuring everyone is pulling in the same direction:

“We found…they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And then they figured out where to drive it.”

Disney definitely has the right people on the bus, or in this case on the Tea Cups, Mark Twain’s Riverboat and Splash Mountain.

To a certain extent I expected that though. What surprised me is this appears to extend to other the businesses operating within the park and surrounding areas. The people in the hotel are beyond pleasant. Restaurant staff ooze enthusiasm. The shops in Downtown Disney are staffed with young kids that are the dream of any retailer.

As an example, think about the interaction you had with staff during your last visit to a fast food outlet.

Now picture this: A young teenager at Jamba Juice made me laugh twice, asked open ended questions about our day, and at the same time managed to up sell me in my selection. She made the occasion of buying a smoothy into an occasion. This is so unlike any other fast food experience I have ever had it is unreal.

It is clear Disney knows a lot about hiring and they are passing along what they know to those in and around the park. They have figured out that it is not enough to control the customer experience solely at your own touch points, but you need to manage the same thing at every point that the customer comes in contact with your brand.

Unbelievably, rather than coming across as an act, the people all seem genuinely happy to work here.  I get the sense Disney, like other corporate culture leaders such as Zappos, is as much a lifestyle as a job for these people.  It’s infectious. It’s impressive.

Disney Day 1: Leapfrogging Technology and It’s (Not) a Small World After All

My quest to learn two things a day, and to blog about it for the first 66 straight days, has moved on the road for a short period. Expect a few travel and/or Disney related posts over the coming days. I apologize upfront as the already scattered theme to this blog could get even less obvious in the coming days.

Today I learned:

1. Leapfrogging technology:  We headed south this morning to visit with Mickey & friends in Anaheim.  On the flight I was immediately pleased to see personal seat-back TV’s on what I assumed was a bare-bones carrier.  The novelty wore off quickly though when I realized it didn’t matter for my family. With a laptop, iPad and smartphone (along with a few old school colouring books, newspapers and magazines) we brought enough entertainment for the whole family. And we were not alone.

I took a walk up and down the aisle halfway through the flight and noticed two things:

  • Everyone was awake
  • No one was watching the TV. Not one person in the 15 rows (with 5-6 people in each row) all the way to the back.

From this you should take-away two things:

  • There were only 15 rows to the back. I clearly fly coach.
  • The seat-back TV, a relative youngster, has already been rendered virtually useless.

In my quick little survey of about 80 people I counted 12 tablets, 17 laptops and 2 smartphones being used, and keep in mind many of those devices were being shared. Several were being watched by 3 children at once. The rest of the people were reading, eating or sitting quietly. No one was plugged in to the seat-back entertainment system.

What should this tell us?

At least for short-haul flights – ours was 2 hours 40 minutes – it would be smarter for airlines to focus on services that supplement the devices people want to use. Wifi, for example, would probably have had takers. It would have added value to me. A Netflix-like service that allowed a pay-per-view option on my device might even get a bit of uptake.

My take way is clear. Adding more seat-back TV’s is like stringing telephone wire in China. There is no point. Airlines need to find a way to monetize the technology we already bring in our carry-ons, rather than trying to provide their own hardware. Without any real analysis I have to assume this approach would be cheaper and offer better margins. If they aren’t installed already I would leapfrog the seat-back TV and move on to the next wave.

2. It’s (not) a small world after all:  Every time I travel to America I need to fight the holier than though attitude that seems to kick in. Obviously I keep travelling here because there are so many cool things to see and do. Now, disclaimer aside…

Just about every Canadian will tell you that as soon as you cross the border the world just seems bigger in every dimension. Particulalry in waistline. I came across one tidbit today that seems timely and hits the point home.  One of Disneyland’s most famous attractions, It’s a Small World, was renovated in 2009. According to “The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, 2012 Edition” p. 240, one of the reasons for this is the waterway needed to be dug deeper to “accomodate today’s heavier guests.”

There is something oddly appropriate about people today being too big for It’s a Small World. How far we’ve come in 50 years.

Anticipation – Mickey’s Victory, plus Trust Your Team

Today I learned:

1. Anticipation – Mickey’s Victory: Little girls have a hard time falling asleep the night before they fly off to Disneyland.  What is interesting to me is this phenomenon, while expected, far exceeds the same problem on Christmas Eve. Despite having a thorough understanding of the concept of Santa and only a cursory knowledge of Mickey et al., Disney takes the cake as a cause of sleep deprivation.

Hopefully this does not foreshadow additional sleep issues in the coming days.

2. Trust your team: While preparing for a brief absence from work today I was bolting around the office like a chicken with my head cut-off through most of the morning. It took someone else to wake me up to it.

One of my reports said, “Well…somebody is trying to clear his desk for vacation.”

Unfortunately it took someone else to snap me out of it, but fortunately she was successful.

In that moment I realized the world doesn’t stop when you leave the office. If you have a good group around you, and they are competent and engaged, it really doesn’t matter what you fly around trying to accomplish in a few hours. Everything is covered. Any fires that come up will be put out. Everybody already knows exactly what they need to do, and they will do it.

Today I learned, thankfully, that I needed to get over myself.