Leave ‘Em Be, plus What I Learned from the Honey Badger

Today I learned:

1. Leave ’em be: 

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Today was my first day back in the office after a week at home recovering from surgery. As I sat down with different people on the team through the day one thing became abundantly clear: Everything was under control.  This didn’t come as a surprise mind you, but it is good to learn that your expectations have been met, or exceeded. It reminded me of a great quote on hiring and team building:

“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them alone to get on with it.”

David Ogilvy

2. What I learned from the Honey Badger: With 39+ million hits on You Tube, most people have seen the hilarious Honey Badger video (linked below). I’ve been exposed to it a number of times, but always from the perspective of humour.  When the link crossed my path again today I saw an opportunity to view it in a different light.

Can we learn anything about business from the Honey Badger? It turns out we can.

For me, there are three key lessons:

1. Be fierce:

“The most fearless animal in the animal kingdom. It really doesn’t give a sh*t. “

The Honey Badger knows what he wants, and he goes after it. In his case the prize is a treasured Cobra and maybe a taste of larvae. For you it may be additional responsibilities, a new contract or just a chance to bend the bosses ear. Whether your goals are personal or career driven, it pays to clearly identify what you are after and then be fierce in your pursuit.

2. Be relentless:

“It’s getting stung like a thousand times. It doesn’t care.”

The Honey Badger takes its problems in stride. Stung by a swarm of bees? Bit by a cobra?  Day to day, hopefully at least, you are not likely to be taken down by a cobra, but other pitfalls and speed bumps are all around us. Downsizing? Negotiations falling apart? Crappy boss? We have problems every day. And we choose our own response. Take your licks, get back up and continue driving forward with both eyes squarely on your prize.

3. Accept pursuit:

“The Honey Badger does all the work, while these other animals just pick up the scraps.”

You wouldn’t surround yourself with Jackals by choice, but they are a sign you are doing something right. In business the jackals will multiply in the good times. Don’t be concerned when they are hanging around. Be concerned when they aren’t.

I should note, I chose a business angle to this post, partly because I googled the subject and it turns out I am not the only person with a slightly odd sense of humour who thinks we can learn something from the Honey Badger. I actually found a couple other blog posts referencing personal learnings and life lessons from the Honey Badger. These are the two best I found:

As well, for those of you who would prefer to see the Honey Badger video in the light context that I am sure it was originally intended, I apologize. Here is a link to another hilarious video that I promise not to analyze and ruin for you. There is certainly nothing to learn from it, other than the fact is it an obvious reminder for self-censorship.

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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.


Twitter: Strategy vs. Spam

Today I learned:

1. Twitter Strategy: Following yesterday’s post on the failings of my initial twitter strategy for this blog, I spent some time reflecting on the experience and researching alternative approaches today.

My take away?

At the outset I described this blog as an “opportunity for introspection.” It strikes me that my personality is naturally pushing me to shift this goal towards an “opportunity for ego-stroking.”  There is a part of my brain that would love to know thousands of people are reading my work, but that strays decidedly from the point.  My intention with the blog was two-fold:

  • to shift my mindset to ensure I am constantly open to learning and experiencing new things
  • to dedicate a piece of my life to reflecting on the lessons learned in hopes it will help me grow

The result however is that about 5 weeks in I am already concerned with what other people are learning from me.

In the end this suggests to me that while I understand that developing a meaningful set of followers on Twitter will require a new strategy, this is not the task at hand.  That may one day become a goal for this blog. Today though, is not that day.

Instead for now I will stick to what I call “organic growth” – a small amount of self promotion via my own personal website, WordPress tags and the odd tweet. I don’t intend to employ “fertilizer” (e.g.tweet bots, meaningless direct messages) to draw in followers at this point.  One day, some day, not today.

And, speaking of tweet bots...

2. Twitter Spam:  I recently started following Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki) on Twitter after a friend recommended his book, Enchantment.  I actually already bought a copy of the book too, but I haven’t got to reading it yet. I was looking forward to it though as it seems right up my alley – it adresses “The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions” according to the cover.

I assumed, as one reasonably might, that his online content would follow a similar theme. Or any theme. Instead it seems that Mr. Kawsaki’s twitter strategy is all about spam.

Within minutes of following him my timeline was clogged with garbage. Post after post about things like predicting the future with asparagus.

The worst part?

He appears to use an automated mechanism that posts tweet after tweet to fill your timeline, and then after a few hours it deletes those tweets from his history and re-posts exactly the same thing. Good content or not, constant re-posts always keep him on top of my timeline.

The evidence?

Apparently Red Aurora (tweets pictured below) set the night on fire, and seemingly the day too. First at 11:16pm last night I find Red Aurora noted in my timeline from 10 min earlier:

Then this morning at 9:27am, posted 2 hours earlier, the exact same thing, although with a unique short-link (and the initial tweet deleted):

There are numerous other examples too, but I don’t want to risk being called a hypocrite for trying to get the same point across 7 or 8 times.

If exposure is the goal, regardless of the content, then this strategy works well. @GuyKawasaki hit the top of my timeline before bed, and he was also the first thing I saw when I checked Twitter in the morning. To me though, it comes across as an inauthentic approach that is beneath someone who has generated meaningful content. He has written several popular books and yet on Twitter he focusses on mindless spamming. Basically, it looks like he just keeps throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks. Especially interesting for a guy with a link on his blog to a post called “How to not be annoying on Twitter.”

So, today I learned that regardless of whether or not I have a successful Twitter strategy, I have now discovered at least one approach that turns off the consumer in me.  The 491K other people that follow @GuyKawasaki probably don’t agree with me, but for now my plan is simple. #Unfollow.