Leading with Lollipops, plus Sibling Bonds

In a TED-themed post, today I focus on learnings from a morning spent enthralled in the growing online library of Ideas Worth Spreading.

Today I learned: 

1. Leading with Lollipops:

“Maybe the biggest impact I’ve ever had on anyone’s life…was a moment I don’t even remember.”

– Drew Dudley

This quote comes from a powerful video (linked below) in which Mr. Dudley describes a time when a young woman recalled an interaction with him that had changed her life, and he couldn’t even remember it.

Mr. Dudley speaks about the idea of everyday leadership. He proposes we re-frame the concept away from money and power, to a more tangible concept we can all own. He suggests leadership is “the moments we create, acknowledge, pay forward and say thank you for.”

This idea is somewhat similar to the theme of Robin Sharma’s book, The Leader Who Had No Title (and I have already made it clear I am a fan of this concept). I consider myself a believer in this approach to leadership, and over the past several months I have been trying to emphasize it in interactions with everyone I meet. It gives me tangible ideas I can use to make me a better parent, manager, and friend.  It formed part of the motivation for this blog, and it has certainly impacted how I approach my relationships with others.

The video also led me to consider a “lollipop moment” in my own life – one I have never said thank-you for.  Here it is:

In 2007 I was looking at options for what to do next and I was considering a number of different academic pursuits, in the hopes I could open some additional doors in my professional life. I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what, until I met professor Darren Dahl.

I decided to attend an information session on the part-time MBA program at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, and as it turns out Mr. Dahl was the presenter. The experienced floored me.

Instead of providing basic information on the program, he energetically launched into a pseudo-marketing class, conducting a discussion on the BMW film series. I said nothing. I was totally caught off-guard. I also knew I was home. I left the session and immediately got to work arranging my life  so I could attend the program.  Fast forward a few years and I graduated in 2011.

Would I have done it anyway? Maybe. Only one thing is for sure: In that moment, he handed me a lollipop that changed my life, and he probably didn’t even realize it. He certainly never asked for anything in return.  That’s leadership.

Link to Drew Dudley @ TedxToronto: (Trust me, it is worth your 6 min 22s seconds.)

2. Sibling Bonds:

“They are with us for the entire ride.”

– Jeffrey Kluger

I have known for years that my brother just gets me.  My humour is littered with 80’s sitcom jokes that only he seems to be able to pick-up. Often, I make a joke and we are the only two laughing. Most people are looking at me curiously, wondering what I could possibly find funny about Kale in a salad.

Understanding the impact of our relationship, makes me keenly examine the relationship between my own children – two young girls that are 20 months apart. The girls are the best of friends but admittedly emotions shift quickly. At times they fight with reckless abandon. Within Mr. Kluger’s Ted video (linked below), he suggests children in the 2-4 age group engage in one fight every 6.3 minutes. Frankly I think either he is low-balling the number, or my kids help bring down the average.

The most thought provoking piece to me is Mr. Kluger’s conclusion: “Life is short, finite and it plays for keeps. Siblings may be among the richest harvests of the time we have here.”

This raised one question for me – how can I ensure my daughters value their sibling relationship in the way I do mine?

At their age, I can say it, but it won’t hit home. I can try to control the fights, but it won’t change much. There will always be another doll to yell about.

Instead it hit me the best way to accomplish this goal is modelling.  They learn so much from what they watch and experience. What is the best way to build my daughters’ relationship? It might just be calling up my brother and inviting him and his family for dinner.

Time to make a phone call…

Link to Jeffrey Kluger: The Sibling Bond on Ted.com.

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Staffing decisions and Who was Jasper Mardon?

Today I learned:

1. Staffing: When you make a tough personel decision, and no one on your team is surprised when you deliver the news, you made the right decision but you made it too late.

2. Who was Jasper Mardon? The other day I was shuffling through a pile of papers my dad gave me from his working days. An old resume, materials from training programs, newspaper articles. The kind of stuff most people would have trashed years ago.

In the middle of the pile I came across something interesting: an undated stack of papers in a font and style that could only have come from the early PC days. It was labelled “Life’s Lesson’s Learned” by Jasper Mardon.  A forgotten document. Deep in a pile of forgotten documents.

As I tossed it on the “shredding” pile,  the dedication caught my eye: “To my brother, Humphrey Mardon, with whom I shared a war and a sense of values…(and) the officers and men of the Third Queen Alexandra own…with whom I served.” It seemed important. At least to Jasper Mardon it must have been important.   I decided to give it a quick glance. I was immediately enthralled.

The document is essentially fifteen pages of quotes to live by. In a simple, direct style Jasper Mardon shared the collective wisdom of his life and work.  What struck me first was that regardless of when he wrote it, his opinions are still bang on.

Mr. Mardon organized his thoughts into broad categories – Private Life, Man Management, Work Rules, Courtesy, Training & Education, and Public Obligations. Even within this you can see what he felt was important in life.

A few of my favourites:

One cannot be half-ethical. Ethics are like virginity, one has it or one has not.” This was just too good. I googled it to see if this was just a collection of popular quotes.  No results.  An unpublished Jasper Mardon original.

Avoid being one of those experts who is the opponent of anything new.”  Is there a better motto to abide by in a dynamic workplace? I frequently catch myself dreaming up up barriers to change. It is just easier than actually changing.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable people who will have the courage to argue with you.” This reminded me of a Seth Godin blog post.  (I recommend you check his post. It hit so close to home for me that I sent it to my direct reports. The link will also explain why I requested that they please, please not refer to me as “Garmin.”)

Management must balance the interests of the three stakeholders, the shareholders, the employees and the community at large.” As a student I heard triple bottom-line thrown around in class on a daily basis. Classic MBA speak. The concept seems obvious today. Was it so clear 30 or 40 years ago? History suggests it was not.

Criticize early on when it is useful, not when it is too late and merely self-serving.” This gets to the heart of project management in a large organization.  In my experience projects are extremely easy to start, and extremely difficult to deliver.  The tendency is kick things off with whoever you can get on board. Whoever is in has their say. As momentum builds everyone and their dog wants to jump in and add their two cents. “What about this feature?” “I can’t sign-off without that…”  The result is a never-ending loop. The challenge for every project manager is to identify those late-comers and to mitigate risk by getting them to criticize at the outset, while you can still do something about it.

After reading the document I called my dad and asked what he knows about the Mr. Mardon. My dad described him as a brilliant man – an icon in the Pulp and Paper industry. He was also a demanding but tireless mentor to anyone in whom he saw promise and effort.  A guy who spent his life trying to both teach and learn. There is also a little bit of background available online – the best source I found is the You Tube video posted below.  I can’t find any mention of his “Life’s Lessons Learned” though.

It strikes me this man was ahead of his time.  We all create and broadcast in the media available to us when we are around. Mr. Mardon had a dot-matrix printer and the modest aspiration of recording his takeaways from life.  If he was around today we would probably all have the opportunity to share in his insights. We’d be reading his blog, or following his tweets. My guess is he would have been all over social media.  In his own way he said it himself: “To continue to be ‘tuned in’ on the network you must continually contribute.” My e-business or marketing profs couldn’t have said it better.

So that is how I learned about Jasper Mardon. Insights from a  forgotten document that is as relevent as any reading or lecture from my entire MBA, uncovered from a pile of forgotten documents.

More on Jasper Mardon

If you want to learn more about Mr. Mardon, this was the best piece I could find:

I should also mention I thought about publishing a copy of his work here but decided it was not mine to freely post. I do have a pdf of the orginal document. If you would like to give it a read, send me a message at darrenmcknight (at) gmail.com and I will e-mail you a copy.


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.