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    June 2008

    Mondays with Mac: Reward the Gift of Imagination

    June 30, 2008 2156 Views

    One of the most amazing things about business (and life) is the power of one idea. And one of your greatest challenges as a leader is to understand how to find and nurture them.

    One of the great myths in life is that most breakthrough ideas come from scientists with advanced degrees. While that is true for some industries, most new ideas come from ordinary people with what I'll call "fertile minds" – minds that are always curious and looking for better innovations. "Fertile minds" are not plentiful in most organizations, but they do exist and it is up to the leaders to identify, reward, and cultivate the gift of imagination. For most leaders, however, imagination goes against the grain, because new ideas can rock the boat and cost money. I'd like to share with you some of my favorite examples of the power of one idea.

    • Howard Schultz was inspired by a trip to Italy and came back inspired to be the first coffee shop in the United States to focus on, of all things…coffee.
    • For years, Dunkin Donuts' sales would slow in the summer, until someone thought…let's add ice cream. A simple idea that increased sales dramatically.
    • McDonald's only served lunch and dinner in all their stores until some maverick franchisee had the courage to ask customers if they'd like to have breakfast at his store. Their answer was yes, and you know the rest of the story.
    • Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express, did a research paper in a business class on the feasibility of starting a "next day delivery business." His professor acknowledged his "off the wall notion" with great skepticism, but with Fred the creative juices had begun to flow.
    • In 1951, Kemmons Wilson took his wife and five kids on a vacation. He was so frustrated by the second-rate accommodations available for families that he decided to open his own hotel that was clean and never charged extra for children. Plenty of doubters predicted failure because there was nothing like it at the time. He decided to call it "Holiday Inn," and by 1979 he had the largest hotel chain in the world with 1,759 hotels in more than fifty countries, and sales of over $1 billion.

    I remember it like it was yesterday. In 1985, we had a small publishing company selling quotation gift books. I had always liked quotes and the books were selling well. However, one night after work, I was talking with friends, and out of the blue the thought occurred to me: "people really like quotes, wonder if they'd want to put them on their walls?" From that Successories was born.

    This simple concept not only applies to business leaders, it applies to leaders in all areas. For example, Notre Dame's legendary football coach Knute Rockne took his team to a New York stage production for relaxation prior to a big game. While watching the chorus line, Rockne conceived the idea of a new offensive formation that gave him a great advantage over his opponents, and eventually revolutionized the game of football.

    I could cite hundreds of other examples where one simple idea made a powerful, positive impact. Remember, keep your mind open and reward the gift of imagination in your organization

    Mondays with Mac: Learn From Southwest Airlines

    June 23, 2008 1967 Views

    "Soutwest Airlines was founded" in 1974 by Herb Kelleher with the simple goal of focusing on two things: hiring the best people and offering the best prices. His start-up airline has become legendary in the airline industry. Thirty years later, the market value of Southwest Airlines is now worth more than the next five airlines combined. I fly Southwest occasionally, and when someone mentions the name, I immediately think of enthusiastic employees who make work fun…fun for their customers, and fun for themselves. Of course, I'm not suggesting that having fun is the only reason for their success. They've made many other right decisions along the way. However, by building a culture around having fun and respecting one another, they have been able to attract great people who love serving their customers.

    Not long ago, I flew Southwest and the flight attendant announced, "I'm pleased to say we have a 99-year-old gentleman on board today. He's celebrating his birthday and this is the first time he's ever flown." Well, as you might imagine a light round of applause broke out. Then she said, "On the way out stop by the cockpit and wish him happy birthday." The cabin exploded with laughter.

    Dan Zadra, the president of Compendium, is a friend of mine. He has his own theory about Southwest that came straight from Sheila, a flight attendant who he met on a trip from Seattle to Phoenix. Dan watched Sheila move with boundless energy to calm a crying child, plump an old man's pillow, trade jokes with the passengers, and answer questions in English, Spanish, and Japanese.

    At one point, Sheila spilled an apron full of pretzels in the aisle, and Dan instinctively moved to help her. She said, "That's okay, Dan, it's my turn." Dan then said, "How did you know my name, and what do you mean it's your turn? I haven't done anything yet."

    Sheila smiled and answered, "I saw your name when I took your ticket. I always try to remember my passengers' names. It's polite. And taking turns is something I live by. I believe we all take turns serving each other in life. Right now, it's my turn to serve you, and I want you to really enjoy yourself on my flight. Someday, you may have the chance to serve me or my daughter or my dad. And when it's your turn I'm sure you'll do a great job.

    Success doesn't happen by accident. It starts with unwavering commitment from the leaders to build a dedicated team of passionate people who serve their boss: the customer.

    Mondays with Mac: Discover the Power of Focus

    June 2, 2008 1804 Views

    "If you chase two rabbits both will escape." In eight words this Chinese proverb captures the essence of focus. In business and in life, there is a natural tendency to think, "more is better," but I have to tell you that most of the time the opposite is true. To accomplish "more" we need to focus on "less." It's really that simple: focusing on your priorities can be key to your success in business and in life.

    At Successories in 1997, I learned about the power of focus the hard way. I didn't focus – and I paid the price. Golf was the hot sport because Tiger Woods had just come on the scene. We decided to purchase a small catalog company called British Links, a leader in golf art and golf gifts. The logic was simple: (1) we understood the specialty catalog business and (2) we understood the wall décor/framing business. Successories had become one of the largest framers in the country and half of the British Links' sales were from framed wall décor. Therefore, we could leverage our expertise and economies of scale to make it work. It looked absolutely great on paper! (There's a book in there somewhere...927 Reasons Why Things Look Great On Paper, But Won't Work. I know lots of friends who could help me write it.)

    I won't bore you with the details of why this venture flopped, but within three years we sold the golf company for next to nothing. However, the most devastating part of the deal was not the money we lost from the sale of British Links, but the momentum we had lost growing Successories, our core business.

    In hindsight, I was an idiot! It was like Ray Kroc after opening twenty McDonald's locations's time to get into the pizza business. He didn't, of course. He kept his eye on hamburgers and fries and made McDonalds the largest restaurant chain in the world. Many other businesses – like Starbucks and FedEx – also focused their way to success.

    But remember this: Focus is not a "business only" thing. Each person has only twenty-four hours per day, and how we spend those hours shows what's important in our lives. The question we must ask ourselves is...Are we focusing on what really matters?"

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