5 things Dad taught me about sustaining excellence

Typically, I reserve the yearly homage to my father for his birthday on October 20th. But as I reflect on my own birthday today, lessons learned and life experiences over the last year, I cannot help but remember the invaluable maxims my father repeated over and over. They have been my compass across uncharted territory, my guiding light when left to navigate alone in the dark.

“Never quit…Be relentless!”

“Nothing worth having, is ever easy to get.”

“Be Patient”

“Anger is a virus that can infect you and destroy you if you let it.”

“Dreams are a wonderful thing, but without courageous action they will not take you very far.”

Nick Nann, age 19. Artist, author, musician with RCA Records for 25 years, very proud American.
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Got Code?

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The concept of a professional code is probably as old as humanity itself

  • The Greek State of Sparta, for the most part, rose around the principles of one man and those who shared his code of action. In the early part of the 8th Century BCE, Lycurgus of Sparta laid the foundations for the famous warrior state that most are familiar with today.
  • Much of Roman society was arguably influenced by that code of “State and citizenship first, individual second”.
  • Around the 12th Century CE, The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon (The Templars) rose as an organization around just a few French clergy-knights. Although history is a little fuzzy on how much clergy, how much knight.
  • By the 13th Century CE, documents were being circulated that formalized many versions of this professional code into what is commonly known as “Chivalry”….or the code of Knighthood. 
  • Contrary to many misconceptions, the concept of the Japanese code of the Samurai, Bushido, is a relatively modern development. As a formal code, it really didn’t crystalize until the latter part of the 17th Century. There is no doubt, however, that it grew from like-minded individuals who formalized and institutionalized it as a professional doctrine.

The point is that many longstanding organizations throughout history began from a handful of individuals that shared a “professional code” so to speak and built the organizations around them. Further, one of the common characteristics of individuals who managed to sustain excellence throughout their lives was also some form of professional mantra that guided almost everything they did;

  • Theodore Roosevelt believed whole heartedly in, “Living the strenuous life”.
  • Gandhi preached, “Action and change through non-violence”.
  • Steve Jobs lived by the relentless pursuit of form and function, art and practicality in consumer products.
  • Nelson Mandela lived by using the example of works of others as inspiration.
  • John Wooden’s code revolved around constantly practicing the fundamentals…in sports and life.

These are all examples of famous people, but the idea applies to anyone, any organization. It all begins with the individual, in the mirror. When those who share the same professional code come together, an organization can grow and flourish. For it to sustain excellence, however, it must always look from the roots up.

The real question is, “What is your professional code?” Do you have one?

Why I’m Weird, Why you should be

Have you ever been in one of those group settings, say the standard corporate training seminar, perhaps a new classroom environment or even a dinner party or other social gathering? It’s often awkward and the host attempts to break the ice with the once around the room introductions and “share something about yourself that most people don’t know”.

The challenge is that in the conformity, fit-in, ‘herd mentality’ of the 20th Century most people were conditioned to try to not stand out which only inflates the social paralysis that grips people. Today, in the mass communication, digitally noisy 21st Century, there is so much information and story overload that it’s very easy to get swallowed up by it…and quickly. So in the scenarios above, people either clam up and say as little as possible or they yak endlessly about the same things that the last five people talked about in an attempt to out discuss the subject and create more noise. Unfortunately, none of that is telling your real story, none of it separates you from the herd and it’s usually not very interesting.

In his book, We Are All Weird, Seth Godin suggests that it is not only ok to stand out with your own story but essential as we move past the ‘one size fits all’ culture.

“Mass is about the center, the big, fat, juicy addressable center. Governments, marketers and teachers have organized around servicing and profiting from the mass. And now; the center is melting.”

-Seth Godin

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I’m not suggesting that you go around dressing like Lady Gaga, but there is a real and specific reason she does so, it moves her ahead of the herd and it gets the attention she needs to tell her own story. Everyone has their own story and it’s far more interesting than the usual ‘share button’ dribble that gets passed around Facebook and Twitter. Does that mean air all of your personal drama to the world? Noooo. It does require that you give some thought to ‘your own story’ and have the courage to throw it out there.

So as an example, here are three ‘weird things’ about myself that are shared in the social environments mentioned above. I always share these three together too. Each snippet seems to grab the attention of a different part of the audience and together create a story that is mine alone.

 

Secret Agent Man

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For the better part of my last year in college, I interviewed to become a federal agent with the United States Secret Service. The goal was to work for the FBI and investigate complex crimes.

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You broke what? With Your What?

Probably not the brightest thing I’ve ever done, but yes in my earlier martial arts days I would break bricks with my head in demonstrations.

 

Anyone ever tell you that you look like that guy from “Friends”?

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Chandler Bing? Yes, repeatedly…in fact, I’ve heard it so much that I need to start charging Matt Perry for being his doppelgänger.

We all have our story to tell, that makes us interesting and unique…so go out and tell it. You can’t be afraid of people thinking you are weird, we’re all weird in our own way. You may miss out on making some real connections and opening new doors for your life and perhaps your career.

LEADERSHIP, It’s no longer the “$5 day”

On January 5, 1914 Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company announced to the US that they would pay their factory workers $5.00/day for their labor. This was a little over a 100% increase from the average wage across the United States and it sent a shock wave throughout the country. Leaders in other organizations were both outraged and terrified by the unprecedented move as they knew theirs would soon have to follow suit and contemplated the perceived lower profit margins.

Henry Ford, however, became an overnight hero and helped transform the middle class economy of the United States. Workers flocked not by the thousands but tens of thousands to come work for the Ford Motor Company. Workers in his factory not only felt the pride and prestige of their newly prized positions but they often made public commitments to give a 100% increase in their efforts to Mr. Ford for his generosity.

Source:
“I INVENTED THE MODERN AGE, The rise of Henry Ford”, by Richard Snow

But that was literally, 100 years ago, at the birth of the linear assembly line age. The world of 2014 is a stark contrast to the world of 1914 and even  terms like, “carrot and stick management technique”, have become antiquated buzz phrases. Yet leaders in many organizations today still believe that it’s just a matter of “pay them more and they will work harder” or worse “we’re paying them more so if they do not produce more results they get the stick”.

So what if your organization does not involve pay? Like amateur athletics? Or it’s more complicated than simply paying people more, like being the president of the United States? Some have reduced leadership to the “destination and map model” or more commonly known by the buzz word….Vision. The net result over the last ten years has been sterile corporate objectives, mission statements and founding values that has done little more than pay lip service to the true meaning of the term vision.

So if that is all obsolete, what’s a more “21st Century” notion of leadership excellence?

“Leadership is recognizing and communicating another person’s worth so effectively that they come to realize it in themselves.”

– Dr. Stephen Covey

And how do you communicate another person’s worth?

Public acknowledgement of their accomplishments

Everyone likes a ‘moment on stage’, to know that they matter. But it must be sincere, it must not be overdone and it must not be a backhanded compliment with ‘areas of improvement’ wedged in between. People are a little sharper today than a century ago. Overdone compliments and the old “positive sandwich technique” are an obvious and quick way to lose credibility as a leader.

Invest your personal time, in their professional development

The world does not need more on-line training modules, webinars, manuals, formal mentor programs or team bonding events. It needs people, taking a genuine interest in people, at all levels and passing on knowledge and coaching from their own experience. Naturally this will have limits, a leader cannot be all things to all people all the time, nor can they afford to get caught up in individual dramas that can ensue. But that should not stop them from trying, as most people simply want to get better as a professionals and as a human beings. This is genuine mentorship, this builds trust and respect.

Create new opportunities, new challenges

Regardless of the size or scope of the organization, few people want to remain stagnant and those that do are often grateful for being nudged out of their comfort zone. So it is safe to say that people need new experiences and to steal a line from Dino De Laurentiis; “It jars something deep inside, allowing us to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens.” Leadership is the responsibility to make sure that everyone in the organization has new challenges, pushed past boundaries and have professional opportunities that matter to them as well as the organization.

And yes, people want to get paid but

That by itself is no longer enough, nor is it leadership. Organizations that cut corners with people’s compensation can quickly lose trust and credibility, earn a reputation for caring more about the dollars than the people. On the other hand, organizations can over compensate and can end up getting taken advantage of by those tempted by greed or willing to cut corners themselves. Leadership is the responsibility to balance the pay component, if applicable, with the culture created by the other three components above.

Ultimately, leadership in the 21st Century is a complex topic and a lot has been written about it, just in the last decade. It’s safe to say though, it’s much more than the “Five Dollar Day”.

“If you take great care of your people, they will take great care of your customers and long-term profits will follow.”

– Jack Taylor, Founder of Enterprise Rent A Car

Web Intelligence Science 101

It’s pretty amazing to think about how digital age continues to bring about quantum shifts in how business is conducted. Not only has so much changed in kind, but in scale and in a continually shortening order. Seemingly overnight, market places have become a global landscape. Also, consider a few of today’s digital basics that were still deemed almost laughable less than a decade ago;

  •  Having your own web page as an absolute must
  • Internet sales departments taking precedence over the brick and mortar sales teams
  • Companies creating a new position called, “Social Media/Marketing Manager”.
  • Facebook as a business tool
  • Recruiting new talent via social media like LinkedIn, etc.

And that really just scratches the surface! Consider all the new buzz words that have emerged in just the last couple years; Reputation Management, Social Media Marketing, SEO, SEM, Pay-per-click, etc. Most of these are already being over used, misused and/or bundled with a larger topic.

That larger topic is evolving into an actual science; a Web Intelligence Science that will, in the future, harness all of these digital age components into a new field of study for marketing. And there is evidence that the future is indeed already here. Take a look at the link below, it’s a course currently offered by the University of California at Irvine and it’s called…Web Intelligence;

Web Intelligence.

Granted, this course focuses mainly on analytics and data mining but the implications are huge. Today’s pilot course can quickly become tomorrows field of study and marketing degree. If the last two decades have done nothing else, they have shown that it pays to not underestimate Economic Evolution.

Here is a simple illustration of what this Web Intelligence Science may look like and what the future is bringing.

Web Intelligence Science 101

Click on the link above to download the animated slide.

The Nannocode, Revisited

There are some universal truths that apply to everyone; they exist in all cultures and function independently of politics, religion or business. These truths are akin to natural laws and like Newton’s law of action and reaction; they govern the consequences of ones actions.

Everyone is, of course, free to choose their actions but rest assured that everyone does make choices whether consciously or unconsciously every day. The consequences of those choices have a ripple effect across ones personal and professional life. Therefore, before one can find any path to external mastery, the road to internal mastery must first be paved. Here are ten principles for cultivating internal mastery.

These principles are meant to be a guidepost, something to aspire to, a personal and professional code that anyone can strive towards. How one lives up to these principles is always in flux, it’s not meant to be a tool for value judgment nor is it an application for sainthood. It is simply a starting point to what is called the inner circle of self-mastery.

Courtesy

Principle: Get treated, as you treat others.

It is the “Golden Rule” that every grade school child in the United States was once taught; “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” It’s how you treat those around you, when you are not ‘required’ to be kind or patient that speaks the most about your character. It is also as much about respect and follow-through as it is about kindness. Do you respond to those emails, voice mails and text messages in a timely manner? Or do you make people wait, repeat themselves over and over or chase you down? Do you treat what’s important to the people around you that matter most, as just as important?

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

-Saint Basil

Integrity

Principle: Reap what you sow

At the end of the day…at the end of your life for that matter, the only thing that you truly own and take with you is your character. It’s not the character that others see but the one only you see in the mirror. Integrity often gets directly associated with honesty, which is true, but there are other important traits in the mix that makes the blend that is your character. Do you speak with sincerity? Or are you always trying to manipulate others? Do you show loyalty to those that are loyal to you? Do you make sacrifices for that loyalty? Do you pay the price, daily, to get better at what you do and improve your competency?

“Character is like a tree and reputation like the shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

-Abraham Lincoln

Perseverance

Principle: Those who keep taking action with purpose, get results. Those who don’t, get nothing. 

A mentor once said; “Never quit” but the meaning goes deeper than simply to keep going. Action yes, but with focus on a direction and a relentless discipline towards mastery. It also involves courage to act in the face of adversity and tackle the biggest obstacles without hesitation. Perseverance can be related to motivation, it’s intrinsic, and it’s about taking action under the toughest conditions and when others won’t.

“Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake somebody.” 

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 Self-Control

Principle: Manage yourself or others will come in and manage for you. 

A healthy definition for the principle of self-control involves balance. Humans are creatures ruled by emotion so to simply say ‘hold them back’ or ‘contain’ them like pulling on the leash of a collared animal is not realistic or sustainable. Science and medicine now suggest that this kind of repression can lead to both physical and/or mental ailments.  Even the Mr. Spock of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek found that emotions were not something to simply tame. At the same time, your emotions should not be in control of you. Look at it as, “making friends with your emotions”. Practice self-awareness, cultivate the ability to direct and redirect both the positive and the negative emotions. They can be a great source of passion, enthusiasm and courage to aid you through solutions and leadership. With some reason, logic and left -brain thinking you can redirect the negative emotions.

“Remember to not only say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at a tempting moment.”

-Benjamin Franklin

Indomitable Spirit

Principle: All things either grow, adapt to their environment and evolve or they wither, stagnate and become extinct.

Stay the course…mastery is a pursuit, a lifestyle and a mindset; It will not always be easy, in fact it’s more often very difficult as is with most things worth having. There will be constant temptations for the ‘next best thing’ or the ‘flavor of the month’, etc. Just remember that there is no replacing solid fundamentals, in anything: business, sports, art, and life. The fundamentals are the real meal that nourishes you, the rest are side dishes and desserts. Part of mastery is adapting those fundamentals to the changing environment.

There will also be many plateaus, the extended break in the action where you feel like you are just spinning your wheels, not moving forward. That’s a natural part of the process; mastery is never a straight performance line pointing up at a 45-degree angle. Those times of ‘plateau’ may be happening for a reason. They are meant to reflect, re-balance and reevaluate so try to enjoy them.

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will.”

-Mohandas Gandhi

Humility

Principle: Get over your business card or no one will want it. 

There will always be someone smarter, tougher, richer, better looking or more powerful than you. The minute you start thinking that you are bigger than it all, you will run into trouble. That’s about the time the ‘rug’ that is your life gets pulled out from under you. Be open to the opinions and knowledge of those you perceive as less experienced than you, even the youngest student can be a teacher. It doesn’t mean that you have to always agree, but listen for understanding, not just to respond. You may gain some insight; at the very least you will earn some respect.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that really counts.”

-John Wooden

Gratitude

Principle: Gratitude creates gravity.

How often do you give thanks for what you have? To those around you? Do you subscribe to what is called abundance mentality? Some call it the law of attraction, others refer to it as gravity but by any name it is a force that draws things to other things through motion. The motion you create through your actions, your mind and your heart will determine what gravity brings towards you. Having that attitude of gratitude creates a gravity that simply brings more abundance into your life. Try starting your day with two or three things that you have to be grateful for, everyday. You’d be surprised what the day brings.

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

-John Milton

 Belief

Principle: Believe in something, otherwise you will fall for anything. 

Principles are a belief system, so is self-confidence or logic or even love. What do you stand for? Your country? Nationalism is a belief system as well. The word belief often gets relegated to discussions about religion or codes of conduct that govern people’s actions. There are other places though to start thinking about your belief systems and what you stand for. The point is to start somewhere and elevate your awareness. Principles are a good place to start because they are natural laws that apply to anyone and everyone. Either way you make a choice though, you decide what to believe in and stand for or your environment will start doing it for you. There is very little room in between.

“Principles are natural laws that govern the consequences of our actions.”

-Dr. Stephen Covey

Purpose

Principle: Everyone has unique gifts, use them or lose them. 

Do you know your purpose or are you wandering aimlessly? Getting rich for example is not in and of itself a purpose. It’s a means to an end but what end is the real question? How many people have you seen become wealthy or famous only to lose it all just as quickly or throw it away on drugs or some other form of self-destruction? Wealth can be a great thing but how you acquire it and what you do with it must be wed to a compelling purpose. If you had to write a statement at the end of your life that would be put on your tombstone, what would it say? Or a mission statement that defines your life, how would you define your own purpose? Does that statement energize you? Give you a sense of significance?

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”

-John F Kennedy

 Passion

Principle: Nothing great is ever achieved without passion. 

Webster’s dictionary defines passion as: “intense, driving or overmastering feeling of conviction. A strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object or concept.” Passion often gets confused with motivation or inspiration. Motivation is an intrinsic quality; it is making the choice to act when you don’t feel like it or when it isn’t easy or convenient. It is you, lighting the fire within you. Inspiration is something external that can fuel that fire or cause it to burn brighter or just a bit longer. Passion is whether or not that fire exists within you in the first place. Is the fire within you burning? Smoldering? Or has it gone out? Do you even know?

“There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life less than the one you are capable of living.”

-Nelson Mandela

 

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Scotty talks, business should listen

Imagine a business environment where you need only dictate an email near your laptop then say ‘send’ and it’s on it’s way to all the names you’ve already recited. Or you are the road warrior in your car, you speak directions and the navigation system actually understands you. Phone calls come in over the car speakers and you say, “mute radio” then “answer call” and you are connected to the caller. No more pounding away at tiny key boards on your smart phone because voice to text actually understands you. What if you need to translate that text or instant message directly into Mandarin Chinese?

Well we’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming. Auto makers, computer/tech as well as cell phone companies are all jockeying   to get real, working voice recognition software in place. So far, no one has really gotten it right…clunky, inaccurate and lacking versatility but each year it gets a little better. Ultimately, the company that gets it right first will earn the keys to the market place kingdom. After voice recognition software really takes off in those industries life will become like a Jetsons cartoon; Smart houses, smart appliances and just about anything with an on/off switch will be voice activated.

By the end of the decade we may all be saying, “A key board, how quaint.”

Frankenstein’s Customer Service Monster

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For almost two hundred years now, the classic novel by Mary Shelley has stood as the iconic definition of the human struggle to tamper with natural forces through science. In doing so and through careless judgment, a monster is released on the world that cannot be contained.

Has Frankenstein’s monster come to the business world? Has what we call “Customer Service” replaced Mary Shelley’s creature as the modern day Prometheus? There is always so much confusion and opinion on what constitutes customer service so it’s important to make the distinction from what business now calls “Customer Experience”;

Customer Experience is the art, science and strategy of giving people a reason to return to your business and feel good about telling others to use your product or service.

 Customer Service is the mechanics behind managing a weak customer experience.

The former is pre-emptive and assumes a positive outcome. It revolves around creating a culture in an organization that has enthusiastic people; processes that make it easy to do business with them and quality products that are both inviting and reliable. The latter is typically reactive and assumes/prepares for negative outcomes. They are tools, analytics and gimmicks designed to put a Band-Aid on the root causes behind a lack of customer loyalty.

To illustrate the difference between the two, here is a personal example;

 I recently stayed at this hotel while on a business trip (I won’t name the hotel or even the city I stayed in to protect the innocent, well not so innocent.) At check in, they gave the gratuitous speech about how their biggest concern was that I enjoyed my stay….canned customer service tactic #1. Within 5 minutes of getting to my room I received a phone call, it was from the front desk; “We just want to make sure that everything in your room was satisfactory.” Having just walked in the door, hard to say it wasn’t but I got it….it was the “follow-up call” or canned customer service tactic #2. Then I saw something new, something I haven’t seen in all of my travels. I saw the picture below;

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A post it note attached to the headboard of my bed advertising that they used clean sheets. That blew me away!!  Obviously canned customer service tactic #3 but they have to advertise that they use clean sheets? Kind of scary. Of course customer service tactic #4 was the email survey  at the end of my stay that takes 20 minutes to fill out and I don’t have time for anyway.

Now here is where the fun begins. The TV didn’t work, it would get stuck on one channel but I assumed I was a goof and didn’t know how to work it. Then clock wouldn’t work. It wasn’t set on local time and after 20 minutes of playing with the switches I gave up. Again, I’m thinking I’m just dense but I haven’t had these issues elsewhere and it would have been cool if the clock was just set to the correct time, duh? But then the iron was broken, a real problem as I have meetings in the morning. The showerhead was one of those slow drip, cheapies and there’s nothing like a drip shower in the morning.

The biggest fun came when they charged the wrong credit card, after I specifically asked them nicely not to. In the morning I asked the young lady at the counter to kindly change the credit card. After 30 minutes on her cell phone, trying to track down her manager (as I stared at the “Manager on Duty” sign) she informed me that she cannot find him and doesn’t know how to refund my card on her own. I finally said to just leave it on the current card and moved on.

None of that was really life changing or earth shattering, but it did affect the experience and consider this; What if instead focusing on all of the customer service tactics they focused on a better audit of each room, a checklist perhaps to make sure that all the amenities are working properly? Perhaps better training for their employees to handle common situations at the counter? Or even a culture of communication so management is still approachable if they are off site?

It’s just a thought, but one fact remains. Great experiences are what cause people to return and promote to others, not Frankenstein’s monster. Call it what you will, as businesses obsess over customer service tactics it continues to grow into a monster that cannot be contained.

 Do you focus on great experiences in your business? Or the monster?

Economic Recovery & More Star Trek

One of the most popular questions I received towards the end of 2008 was, “When do you think the economy will get back to normal?” My answer of course has remained the same ever since then; “If by normal, you mean the way it was prior to 2007 then it won’t. The economy has been on economic steroids for a couple of decades now and has just had a near death experience.” Much to the chagrin of those asking, I would go on to explain that the economic dust will not settle throughout most of the second decade of the 21st Century and “business as usual” has forever changed.

That rerun has played on predictably; I get labeled the ‘pessimist’, the ‘doomsday prophet’, and the ‘Nay seer’. Then the follow-up question ensues, “Ok, Mr. Wizard how exactly do you see the economy recovering?”

That answer is easy….. Innovation. Every quantum leap, next step in the evolution of the economy or every ‘game changer’ has stemmed from some significant innovation. In the 19th Century, the development of electricity created the industrial revolution. In the 20th century, the automobile, powered flight, the telephone, then the cellphone all shaped business and the economy. In the 21st Century, the Internet has reshaped the world into a global economy. And like Nicola Tesla, the Wright Brothers, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, there is someone right now in their garage or basement workshop creating the next step in economic evolution. I would get a few chuckles and the conversation would move on to something else.

That was 2008-09, fast forward now to 2013. GDP in the United States is still highly unpredictable, with an actual drop in the last quarter of 2012. Business and consumer credit remains restricted. The automotive industry continues to restructure and struggle. The housing market, although rising, is growing artificially through historically low-interest rates and significant foreign speculation. Most companies have adopted some form of “Lean Practice” and have learned to drive more productivity with a third fewer employees. So yes, profitability is up but unemployment remains high is well. As a result of it all, consumer sentiment will stay uncertain.

But then in January, one of those really cool “Aha moments” happened. It came by way of the book; MAKERS, The New Industrial Revolution, by Chris Anderson. In the book he used an analogy that any Star Trek geek is all too familiar with;

Star Trek: Nemesis

 “Imagine the scene where Captain Jean Luc Picard utters the words, ‘tea, Earl Grey, hot’ and the complex and vaguely described replicator thingy produces an exact cup of hot tea all the way down to the cup. The atoms themselves combined to the exact objects described and stored in the computer banks. Of course we are nowhere near manipulating atoms into objects but that is a glimpse of what the future of 3D Printing could hold. Like the evolution of 2D printing, we are back in the 1980’s, the ‘Dot Matrix’ era.

The book goes on to discuss the current state of 3D Printing, Digital Manufacturing, robotics and how it is already reshaping the global economic landscape. “This is it!” I thought, a game changer!! Take the automotive industry as just one example; Imagine taking your car into a dealership for mechanical repair or a body shop for physical repair. Gone are the days of hearing “we are still waiting for parts”. The exact schematics get downloaded into the shops computer and the parts are made right on the spot using a 3D printer or Digital C&C machine from raw materials. Whether the printer is on sight or vended to a local service bureau, the parts are now ready locally in hours instead of days or weeks.

This is not stuff of science fiction either; it’s all taking shape today, in our time and will reshape the future of the economy. Fortunately, this time around I have some ‘expert’ testimony to back up my predictions. Chris Anderson’s book makes reference to FORBES Magazine in agreement that 3D Printing will be a game changer. Just Google; FORBES, 3D Printing and see what the search pulls up.

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I never put my predictions of 2008 in writing, I wasn’t even writing back then. Only those I spoke with could vouch for my Rasputin rants. In fact, if you’d had said to me in 2008 that by 2013 I would be writing a blog with thousands of people visiting each year, I would have said you are crazy. What’s crazy is how quickly innovation can change everything. Better to stay two steps ahead, than fall behind. Prediction locked into cyberspace this time and another vision of Gene Roddenberry becoming a reality.

Spontaneous, Not Canned Rewards

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There was a time when companies like Best Buy separated themselves with their rewards zone program and it was actually kind of fun to go online and check out where you stand, print out the gift certificate and go shopping. Today, everyone is doing it, some customers expect it and most businesses use the program the wrong way anyway.

Instead of a tool for communicating appreciation and generosity to customers, many companies make it obvious that it’s merely a gimmick with two pages of restrictions, blackouts and provisos that only communicate inflexibility. The irony is that the same company will spend thousands to millions, depending on the size of the company, with marketing firms to build the infrastructure of that rewards programs. The physical rewards cards, the software required, the cost to get the word out about their “great program”…. all of that costs money, a lot more than the cost of the giveaways. Plus it has all become predictable, ineffective and actually a bit of a pain in the butt!

Like me, you’re probably getting bombed at every corner with some kind of rewards card. At last count, I actually have 17 physical cards in my wallet for some kind of rewards program. Not to mention spammed to death with hundreds of emails per week from hotels, airlines, insurance companies, banks and retail chains, I delete almost all of them, as I simply don’t have the time.

Now imagine these scenarios….

  •  You go to the same Best Buy, spend $40 on a couple of DVDs, the cashier says….. ”Thanks for coming in today, those are on the house.”
  • You take a friend to lunch, the server says….”We wanted to make your day, we took half off the bill.”
  • Your insurance agent…..”You’ve been with us for years, we took $150 bucks off your premium to say thank you. Let your friends know we are here.”
  • The car rental company…..”We see you rent cars all over the country, thanks so much. Please enjoy this weekend on us.”

The list could go on but the idea is no cards, no “buy 5, and get one free”, no list of “can’t do’s”, just spontaneous thanks and here you go. What impression would that give you of that companies generosity? How many people would tell? How many Tweets, Facebook posts, blog clips? How often would you go back???

Of course behind the scenes there is a structure within the companies program; a max dollar amount, so many customers per day, customers who’s been consistent purchasers or even every 5th new customer. The key part is that from the customer’s perspective, it is totally random, special, and a happy surprise. Also, how much per year could that company save by not having to buy cards or infrastructure for them?

To Starbucks credit, they have done a good job at moving towards this model. They will automatically load your rewards onto your Starbucks card when you hit a certain number of purchases. When you hit the mark, they will tell you, “You have a free drink on your rewards card, would you like to use it today?” You no longer have to mess with emails or bringing in the free drink postcard, it’s a little more random and fun. You still have to carry a rewards card around so it will be interesting to see which company can eliminate those and make it simply a spontaneous reward.