Trimming the Fat: Get Your Company On A Diet

In a recent interview on FastCompany, Nike’s President and CEO Mark Parker tells a story about a conversation he had with Apple’s Steve Jobs. At the time Parker was recently hired by Nike and asked Jobs if he had any advice that he could give. At first Jobs balked, but then paused and said that Nike makes some beautiful product, but it also makes a lot of crap. His advice: “Get rid of the crappy stuff” and focus on the good.

This idea drives home a point in an earlier post on Ford – are you doing the right things? Ford, Nike, and like many other companies out there, can get caught up in the idea of diversifying. By trying to please every single market segment, the company loses focus on what it does well. Money that could be spent on making good products great is instead spent on making bad or average products that no one cares about.

If you have 30+ product choices, then you’re trying to appeal to everyone and that’s almost impossible to do. If you ever watch an episode of Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay, one of the first problems you’ll find with almost every restaurant is the menu. The restaurant owners think that offering every dish possible will get more customers, but instead it results in poor quality food, and inventory nightmares. If you want to read more about how Chef Ramsay deals with these issues, check out this blog.

Know what you’re good at, and keep making it better. If you stray off the path to satisfy the few outliers, you’ll lose your core audience. In marketing this is known as spray and pray – and even if you’re a large company, this usually isn’t the best approach. If you’re trying to please everyone under the sun, odds are that you’re following market trends instead of innovating and creating a product that people want to talk about. So get rid of the crappy stuff and focus your energy on creating something amazing.


Soft v. Disruptive Innovation

Soft innovation is innovation that anyone can do, and is typically incremental improvements. In my previous post I mentioned Jerry Murrell at Five Guys Burgers and Fries. His business plan is a soft innovation because he solved a problem based on what his product is about. Some examples of this would be:

  • Rewards cards – they’re common place now, but when they first came out they were unique and the idea was simple.
  • Silly Bandz, rubber bracelets that come in a variety of shapes and are now all the rage with kids.
  • Free WiFi
  • Comfortable chairs and coffee shops in bookstores, encouraging customers to read before purchasing

On the other end of the spectrum we have Disruptive innovation – ideas that shake up an industry and cause paradigm shifts, with companies collapsing and even new markets emerging. These are costly ideas, typically involving large companies with massive R&D budgets. Some examples of this would be:

  • Trains replaced by Commercial Airlines
  • For watching movies at home there were Projectors, VHS, DVD, and now Blu-Ray (there are others, but I’m only listing the main ones)
  • In music there was Vinyl, Cassettes, CDs, and now MP3

While soft innovation can be copied (but the results not always replicated), disruptive innovation has more drawbacks, the biggest being cost. Most disruptive technologies cost a lot of money, and the return on investment isn’t there.

A Venture Capitalist told me that he learned the hard way to not invest in a disruptive product if you’re the first to bring the idea to market – and thats because there isn’t a market. Humans by nature are comfort creatures … we don’t want to be disrupted. Unless something can be made more enjoyable, or easier, we’d rather not want to deal with change.

The irony of disruption is that it usually comes off of the back of others. Scott Berkun wrote an article in BusinessWeek where he highlights this. Like that fact that iPod came off of the back of a bunch of clunkier devices once Apple was convinced the world was ready for it.

The point of this post isn’t to say that dreaming big and going the harder route is wrong, because without that there would be many medical and technological advances that we would have missed, and people would have suffered. There is a place for both soft and disruptive innovation – but remember that great ideas are built off of others. To quote Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”


The first time I heard the word “confluence” was during a televised NFL game in Pittsburgh. The broadcaster Al Michaels remarked that the junction where the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers combined to form the Ohio River was known as a “confluence”. I came across this word again the other day, and the visualization of those rivers drew out a deeper understanding. Just as the rivers joined together to form something new, so should we be striving to do the same in business.

What does it mean to innovate? It’s not just to create something new, but to create something unique that makes a difference. Something that is remarkable. In the end that is what adding value is all about – finding ways to stay ahead of the competition by having a product that people want to talk about. had a article recently about Jerry Murrell, the creator of Five Guys Burgers and Fries. In 2002 Jerry decided to franchise his business, and now 8 years later there are over 570 franchises located across the US & Canada, with $483m in sales last year. How did the company grow so fast? It stuck to what it knew. They dont sell fish sandwiches or chicken – they specialize in burgers, and you bet they do it damn well.

Jerry’s confluence was mixing high quality ingredients with a culture that creates workers that care, resulting in a product that has people talking. Think un-empowered workers don’t make a difference? Talk to my friend who spent 10 minutes at a sandwich shop trying to explain to the employee that he wanted both sausage and meatballs on his sub. That employee was stuck in process and couldn’t make a decision on his own, and now they lost a customer (and maybe more).

Can Jerry’s idea be copied? Sure – it’s a soft innovation and the blueprint can easily be followed and possibly even done better, but the point is that Jerry thought of it and followed through. Innovation can take many forms. Small changes can be even more effective than large, costly ones. Make a difference – how can you create your own confluence?

Whats in a Mission: A Tale of Two Car Companies

The American car industry has taken a lot of slack over the past two decades, and even more so with recent government bailouts. The perception of Americans cars are at a all-time low, and customers are flocking to foreign cars. Fords’ CEO Alan Mulally knew had an uphill battle, but he created focus. His mission ‘One Ford‘ – a lean company, giving the people what they want and value, creating an exciting company that is profitable. One Team – One Plan – One Goal.

Ford Mission Statement

Has it worked? Earlier this year Ford made its first profits since 2005, and they’ve created cars for people to talk about. Cars that are more fuel efficient, has a GPS that finds the most eco-friendly routes, and even a system that sync’s with your Apps and allows for voice control. Ford is now considered one of the most innovative companies – and it all came from having a strong sense of mission.
What about the companies who are losing in the industry? Look at Saturn, whose mission was to:

“market vehicles developed and manufactured in the U.S. that are world leaders in quality, cost, and customer satisfaction through the integration of people, technology, and business systems and to transfer knowledge, technology, and experience throughout General Motors.”

It essentially doesn’t tell us anything. One of Saturn’s key core values was to create affordable, high quality cars, with high customer satisfaction. That went by the wayside when they dropped their lower cost lines (models between $8k – 14k) and instead pursued SUV’s and higher end lines (low $16k, high $30k). Instead of expanding their market share in what they knew how to do best – Saturn kept deviating off their original mission and tried to expand their brand.
How much did that effect the company? In 1995 the Saturn S-series outsold the Honda Civic by 7%; in 2004, the Saturn Ion (replacement to the S-series) was outsold by the Honda Civic by 197%. Due to the restructuring from government bailouts, GM has decided to phase out Saturn for 2010.
Do you know your companies mission?


A great way to lose customers, or gain loyal followers

Do short term gains muddy your strategy and what you stand for? If something isn’t your fault, should you make others pay for it?

These are definitely interesting questions to ask yourself – not only for your personal life, but also your business. Things fall out of control, and although we may suffer from it, why should we make others pay? Obviously British Airway’s had no qualms at all when they reached this juxtaposition.

The Icelandic Volcano, whose name that no one can pronounce, caused turmoil globally. Airlines are a mess because of weeks of cancelled flights, creating a back log of travelers who are stuck in their destinations. People are desperate to get back home – but that doesn’t mean they should be taken advantage of.

Simply supply/demand dictates that if supply is short and demand is high, that prices should rise due to scarcity. There are exceptions to this rule, and this is one of them. The majority of people who fly do so in economy, and even those who can afford to pay the extra fee’s for an expedited return may not be happy about the extra costs they’re paying.

This event has caused a massive mess – and it’s a perfect time for a company to get dedicated customers through the good will that they’ve shown. How far should they go – who knows? Under EU law, companies are bound to pay for any expense incurred because of the cancellations, which includes hotel, meals, etc … Now to me that is a bit extreme – but its the law, and if you already have to go that far, why not take the extra step and go a bit further? Richard Branson understands this. What would you do to make a difference to your customers?

Book Review: StrengthsFinder 2.0

Whenever we work on enhancing ourselves, we always look at the deficiencies – I’m not a great public speaker so I’ll make sure to do x presentations this year, or I’m not great with design programs so I’ll sign up for an adobe course. Those are uphill battles that require a strong resolve and a lot of commitment. Why do we put ourselves through that?

Maybe it all started when we were younger. We received praise for what we did well, but more attention was placed on what we failed or were mediocre at. Parents look at a report card and say “Good job on the A- in Science, but you really need to work harder on that D in English … lets get you a tutor and you should stay after school for extra sessions.” Why not send that child to science program after school or in the summer?

A lot of emphasis is put on becoming better in things that we are not good at it and/or not interested in, and very little time is spent on nurturing our strengths. Does that really make a lot of sense? Decathletes may be the best all around athletes in the world, but it is extremely rare for them to be at an elite level in anything. I bet you know Usain Bolt, but do you know Decathlon WR holder?

We should strive at becoming remarkable.

StrengthsFinder 2.0 is about understanding what your strengths are, and how to nurture them and use them to your advantage. This is done through an online test that asks 180 comparison questions that will list your 5 unique ‘themes’ or strengths in the order of which you’re strongest at.

The book itself is worthless. Out of the 174 pages, the first 31 give you a background of why you should know your strengths, about the test, and to help get you in the right mindset. The rest of the book is just fluff goes into detail about all 34 themes. This doesn’t matter because:

1) You can download that all off the website as a pdf file

2) We’re only worried about our Top 5 strengths, not everything else.

Unfortunately, you need to buy the book to get the access code listed in the back in order to take the test online. The results are downloadable as a pdf as well, which includes personalized insights based on your answers, some questions to increase your awareness, and then a worksheet for you to create an action plan.

That said – I highly suggest this book. The results I received, in order of preference were:

  • Strategic
  • Ideation
  • Futuristic
  • Activator
  • Command

These results match both my MBTI (ENTP) and Belbin (Plant), which are profiles that are highly innovative and idea generators, thinking of possibilities and the future.

The purpose of knowing your strengths is that you can then feed them more, and also find ways to use them at your job and make your work more enjoyable. The action plan is a nice way to plan how to use and enhance your strengths, and personalized insights lets you reflect on how you use your strength. I’ve taken a lot of psychometric type tests over the past few years so this was nothing new, but I would definitely suggest it to anyone who is unsure of their strengths or is unhappy with their job and looking for ways to become energized.

Changing Perceptions

Everyday we make judgements. Sometimes they’re based off of experience and repetition (I dont like this shirt because it’s not my style), but other times its based on what others think (this place had bad reviews, so I wont eat there).

Most people trust their social networks, so they typically wont investigate the truth behind a bad review. Why do we listen about things we never experienced first hand?  There is a reason why branding experts will tell you that it takes 10 seconds to make a first impression – it’s because we like simple and quick decisions. If people make strong decisions like this so quickly – how can we alter their perceptions?

If you want to change how someone personally views you, then you need to know how YOU want them to view you. Do you want to be known as an expert, or as someone who is ethical? A person who everyone immediately smiles out and calls out to you when they see you, or someone who is grounded and trusted for making the right decision? By the way, those positions aren’t opposite of each other, but they are how most of us would like to be perceived.

If you aren’t sure how you’re perceived, or if you’re on the right track, then the best way is to ask. Use a mix of those close to you, and those who you’ve just met. It’s hard to give an honest answer face to face, so make it anonymous. Create a survey, there a variety of websites that will let you do that for free, like surveymonkey. The more you learn about yourself, the better you can manage how you’re viewed.

Find out whats important to you, and then be proactive about making it happen.