Okay, enough!! What the %^&$%& is a customer journey?

I am a customer service and customer experience practitioner and I would like to know who came up with this customer journey stuff? And why is everyone in the industry talking about mapping the customer journey as if it is some new silver bullet solution that is going to solve the world’s problems? I’m fed up with this nonsense, and like it or not – I’m going to tear down this customer journey thing to shreds

I’m fed up for a totally different reason, and it put the customer journey concept right into my warpath. Here’s the story:

My sister is visiting. We went out for coffee. She recommended that we go to the Blue Crane restaurant in Brooklyn, Pretoria. You see, I have a four year old child and this place was described as having a beautiful river with ducks and everything. This would make for a great, family friendly venue. I bought this endorsement outright and without question. You see – “experts” tell us that “word of mouth recommendations” and the “power of social media” is where all future advertising dollars should be spent.

Here’s what – in approximate chronological order – transpired on the night:

  1. We arrived to a dark, shady looking, dated, untidy parking area
  2. The river ended up being a muddy, poor looking body of water with no visible, or audible ducks. Try explaining that to an intelligent, insistent four year old!!!
  3. I went to the ablution facility and ended up standing in an puddle of smelly, disgusting, unhygienic I-don’t-know-how-long-it’s-been-laying-there urine
  4. I went upstairs to the bar area. I wanted to catch the last 15 minutes of the final rugby match between England and South Africa. There were multiple screens, however the blaring sound from each of theses screens was out of sync. This gave me an instant headache
  5. Out come the menus. These are age-old laminated printed-paper menus. They looked old and I wondered about how regularly they get cleaned. I open up on page 1, and I see the following unequivocally stated:
    1. No split bills
    2. No variation on the menu
    3. Some items on the menu that were probably not in season were scratched out with some sort of black ink. Could be nail polish or something like that
  6. I hadn’t eaten for a while, so I suggested that we order some food. At this juncture, I hear the most spectacular response from the self-same individual who brought me to this place. “The food at this place is not that great!” I’m thinking… then why the TOOT bring me to this place at all? I hate it here, have a problem with EVERYTHING they’ve done so fare and no we have to relocate and I have to wait another thirty minutes or more to eat

So here’s the operative question… How is mapping a customer journey going to help me out in my situation?

Lets get real people. If you are a practitioner, or a customer experience consultant, can we get back to the basics of customer experience management – proactively designing the emotions that we want our customers to feel, and designing the company and processes? Lets not kid our customers and syphon their money on this stuff – bamboozling them and convincing them that they need to map their customer journey

Even before I became a customer experience practitioner, the very first thing that I was taught was to think like, and on behalf of a customer. Doing this requires you to adopt a customer focus that is outside-in. I’ve developed this simple model that explains it better:

  • The customer is interested in fast and relevant resolution according to his “ideal outcome” that makes him feel respected and listened to. As a point of departure, this is where many companies go wrong – they resolve issues according to the symptom, rather than the customer’s ideal outcome
  • Everything that a customer does can be described and documented as a process
  • In order to keep this process controlled, slick and fluid, we define some rules, or boundaries around it. The transactions can only occur inside of these boundaries. (Some companies call these business rules – and use them to constrict – rather than enable the customer need)
  • In order to enable the customer process, we need an enabling business process
  • In order to enable the business process, we need enabling information systems
  • Analysis, adjustment and evolution are integral parts of the initiative

Lets summarise. The customer journey is supposed to add value by getting the whole organization on the same page about what the customer goes through when doing business with your company. So, you spend 6 months on a cross-functional project to document the customer journey. Then… so what?

I officially contend that this has not provided your company with any value. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed spending the last 6 months looking in the rear mirror, documenting a flawed stream of events that differ vastly from the day-to-day individual experience of single customers who have done business with you just today!

I’ll tell you what Blue Crane Restaurant’s customer journey is. It’s this:

  1. Customer walks in
  2. Customer is seated
  3. Customer order drinks
  4. Drinks are delivered
  5. Food order is given
  6. Food is delivered
  7. Customer pays

Oh yes – any disruption to this routine hectically confuses the waiter, leading to poor service, leading to a poor tip, leading to labelling the customer.

So, unless someone with significant authority and proof on this customer journey thing explains it to me, I continue to see the customer journey as a tool that:

  • Keeps the organisation busy – and busy is not accomplishment
  • Suffers from a lack of standardisation in approach and documentation
  • Averages out the experience of customers, therefore removes individual relevance and realities
  • Does not adequately highlight points of failure and opportunities
  • Is inward focused – rather than as a customer would – outside-in focused
  • Pays little attention to detail
  • Produces no clarity on the way forward
  • Is a flavour of the month buzzword

Customer experience (101) – according to me, is about giving the customer what he wants, when he wants it, the way he wants it, at a fair price and delivering a smile to his face and causes your brand to creep into his heart. No matter how you stand on your head, colourful flipcharts and PowerPoint slides will not deliver that. Service to your customers is delivered on the cold face and the customer experience is the emotions that your customer takes away over a series of interactions with your company

If you are not doing what your customer wants, and finding a way to make the business model work, then what are you doing? Must be documenting the customer journey then!

Ordinary South Africans and other people who have inspired me

I was inspired by some brave and humble South African achievers whom I have had the honour of meeting during my small, meagre time. I’m going to name names and I apologise to those who may not like it, but I think that your positive impact on society deserves a mention.

My parents, family, friends and those in my religious/spiritual circle…. Done.

Now… Mr Birkenbach – my dad used to call you Bergie. I respected you so much and Willowridge High School was great because of you.

Roland Schoeman – I remember playing soccer together in primary school and countless teenage conversations, while throwing stones at streetpoles outside the Willowridge school gate while waiting for our parents to pick us up. Your achievements awe me especially because I was naïve enough to miss seeing a champion rise right up infront of my eyes.

Nelson Mandela – I don’t think anyone will ever know what your sacrifice really cost, or felt like. I can’t help but think that if it was me, that I would have reacted so differently – violently, vengefully, and you did not. You are the consummate leader and inspiration and there’s a special kind of reward for people like yourself in the afterlife.

Dr Goldman at the University of Johannesburg, my longsuffering promoter. Thank you, sir. Please hang in there and do not give up on me. We’re nearly there.

Glen Lewis – for your humility and just for being nice when I’ve met you on the odd occasion. As a teenager, I was very influenced by you and I cant recall ever reading any negative publicity about you. That’s admirable – no, that’s great. Thank you.

Alan Knott-Craig. Wow, what a boss. I looked up to you since you first spoke to us as young bursary students in about 2000. If you asked me to go to war, I’d go.

Tito Mboweni – I met you one night while you were the Minister of Labour. Your humility and plain niceness surprised me and made me tell that to people for ages.

Kader Asmal – always smiled and showed so much care when we bumped into each other. Once again, plain humility and kindness.

Mosiuoa Terror Lekota – bumped into you outside the hardware store the other day. I enjoyed our leisurely chat. You struck me as a down to earth and nice gentleman.

Surina, Bertus, Mrs Brikkels and many others who have given me a chance. We honor your contribution and legacy.

As I watch the progression of the olympic torch towards the lighting of the Olympic flame, I see that it is passed from hand to hand. Sometimes it goes out. No biggie – it is re-lit and we carry on. However, when the Olympic flame is finally lit, the legacy of that particular games is sealed. So in life, the ceremonial torch is passed from person to other to carry the light. These too, are small contributions that lead to the lighting of the flame that seals their own, personal legacy. We thank you.

Get sorted with the good, old “P-K”

grew up in Pretoria in the 1990’s. In high school (which was pretty close to an Afrikaans high school and located in a typically mixed English / Afrikaans neighborhood) the term “P-K” was somehow coined. If you don’t know what that is, I am not going to explain, but suffice to say that it involves the use of the palmar manus and swinging it across the air to make contact with the buccal of the often surprised recipient, and is from Afrikaans descent.

Side effects of this phenomenon include:

  1. A sense of gratification from the provider
  2. Nasal mucus flies
  3. The observing of stellar scintillation by the recipient. And…
  4. Quite often – a sense of superb clarity on the part of the recipient

I contend that the old “P-K” offers a solution to some of the many challenges in society today. Let’s look at some hypothetical examples:

Suppose there was a teenager who did not want any discipline. His parents are divorced and he moves between them – and his grandmother, depending on whom he has most recently hurt/disappointed, and depending on where he thinks he is most likely to get his own way. His schooling is in the balance and his future looks bleaker and bleaker. Long lectures, trips to social worker and punishment don’t work. What is the solution?

Suppose also that we have a person in the position of relative authority. This person is barely literate, barely eloquent, but has incredible reach. Suppose such a person is way beyond the age where he should be reasonably acquiring new life partners, but continues to do so because he is allowed to – albeit without much regard as to what the impact of this is to those around him, or what perception about himself this could create.

This man is an adult, and he is well within his rights, but in the greater scheme of things could benefit from a wakeup call. What is the solution?

  • Give this man, and that child a “P-K!”

I am very aware of the legal limitation placed on corporal punishment, or the violation of people’s rights, so I propose a framework to make this work. Similar to the way our South African trade unions, the provider could seek a protected injunction that specifies a future date and time for the event. The “P-K” could then be administered in a safe, free and fair way that is void of any legal repercussions.

There you go – democratic, free, fair, legal and effective.

Because we’re living in a world where the protected human rights are at a tipping point – starting to make no sense, perhaps making some nasal mucus fly may pro-actively solve some contemporary challenges and impart some instantaneous enlightenment.

What some customers really feel

I saw this diagram in a journal, or a whitepaper a while ago. My sincere apologies to the author as I really can’t recall who developed it – but I think it so accurately depicted the experience of customers.

I can almost stop right here.

The reaction time in delivery in so many instances is lamentable, despicable.

There’s something honourable in wanting to be the ‘best’ company in your industry in some way – best product, best service, fastest whatever.  Roger Sant of Maritz Research argued very plainly that there is often a gap between the inter-dependent Brand promise and experience. To a customer, he states, this is unacceptable because he views the company holistically. By way of an example, Roger indicates that a service failure by a no-frills, low-cost airline is more likely to be forgiven, and will matter less than an equivalent experience of a fully-fledged national airline. The lesson here is that a company should be clear and realistic about its capacity to deliver. The company also needs the same level of clarity and realism about is quality to deliver.

The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh is doing it the other way around. He states that they spend no money on marketing – instead they spend this budget to improve the customer experience, doing faster delivery to customers. This means that Zappos is not putting any brand promise out and allowing the customer experience speak for itself. This is definitely a more powerful way of going about it!

OK, OK – that’s not all that Zappos does differently. I know about the mantra “create fun with a little weirdness”, but writing about that is not the objective of this piece today. Research it out for yourself – you’ll be surprised and inspired by what else they’ve done.

Let’s get back to the picture above. When your company delivers to your customers, do you have blind spots and/or bottlenecks that hamper speedy and effective delivery to customers?

I’ve seen something incredible at a client company. They readily admit to problems and delays in customer delivery, but they were not willing to invest in infrastructure to fix the basics that would speed up this delivery. Instead, their approach has been to create different departments, each with a very senior manager and support team – to own the different aspects of the delivery chain, but within the constraints of the current infrastructure.

Fortunately for them, times are still good and money is still rolling in. This solution is extremely short-sighted and consequently, the jury is still out on the sustainability thereof. An unintended consequence of this approach has resulted in less autonomy and less empowerment for workers, and more politics overall.

I’d like to branch out on this picture above from a customer perspective and introduce the measurement of the applicability of the solution that is delivered – against the customer request. Here is an example to illustrate the importance of this.

I drive a fairly exclusive brand of motor car. At some point, I started noticing a strange knocking sound when turning the steering wheel in a certain manner. Over the last few months, I’ve constantly booked in the car to have it seen to. I’ve got no understanding of the mechanics of a motor vehicle, so I’m happy that they try whatever they have to fix it. The problem is – it has not worked and I still have the problem, AND frustratingly – each time the car goes in, they stamp the service book and capture it on their systems that the vehicle has had a full service done.

Let’s summarise the arguments (AKA fire the warning shots):

  1. From a customer perspective, some companies take unacceptably long to deliver.
  2. Delivery should have a louder voice than the brand promise.
  3. Continually review your basic infrastructure and invest to keep the basics right.
  4. Classify and resolve service failures and customer requests according to the customer’s ideal outcome. Do not into a retro-fit the solution into the parameters of current policy and process as this will inevitably lead to a solution that does not deliver according to the customer expectation.
  5. Be truthful and ethical. Do not ‘stamp the service book’ for services that did actually take place. There may be severe downstream consequences for your brand, as well as for your customers.
  6. Do not let the finance managers dictate what can, or cannot be delivered to your customers.
  7. Be innovative, more innovative, more innovative and more innovative. The best thing for innovation is innovation. Although not all innovations will be successful, the culture of innovation within the company is excellent for creating additional markets, and finding that truly spectacular next innovation.

The Truth vs Justice paradox

What is truth? What is justice? Isn’t truth supposed to set you free? Don’t we swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

A problem with truth is – there are many versions. Take the example of an art class sitting in a circle around an object, with the task to draw or paint a still life. If there are, say 20 artists in the group, each would have a different vantage point and would create a piece of work that represents his view, or interpretation of the object. How then, when the work is done, does anyone dare choose, out of all the drawings, the one that is the ‘truth’ – and avoid murder?

Murder – well, isn’t that the cause for this article? The courts – wow, is it not just astounding what comes from there? Most often, we could reasonably guess, there are no witnesses when a murder is committed. Then the argument in court becomes about the word of the accused vs. what the police investigators could uncover. On the one hand, a family has suffered from the early, untimely and possibly gruesome death of the loved one. On the other hand, the accused is protected by law, assumed innocent until proven guilty, offered FREE legal representation, has the possibility of being declared innocent my mis-trial, or on a technicality. The worst still – pleading insanity or getting a dose of “Shabir-Shaik-itis” (South Africans will understand)

Of course, we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand, condemn innocent men to death for crimes that they didn’t commit. The challenge is – how do we strike thie needed balance? It is often told that prisons are full of innocent men!!! All I’m saying – it makes you think. And if it doesn’t, it ought to make you think.

To me, the bottom line is this:

  1. Telling the truth, although a good ideal, does not always set you free
  2. There are different versions of the truth, with the possibility of another version of the truth can easily contradict and negate yours
  3. The South African Constitution unintentionally offers certain constitutional rights that do not seem ‘right’
  4. The law is used to interpret the ‘facts’, otherwise known as ‘the truth’, but the law only represents what is legal – not what is ‘right.’
  5. There is very little ethics in law
  6. There is very little ethics in society
  7. The law is interpreted by magistrates and judges, but with some recent topical events involving judges and their behaviour, does it really inspire confidence?

So, there is a deep link between truth, right and wrong, law, ethics and justice, but there is no golden thread running through these virtues. Therefore, the overall message is not consistent with good, clean living. When we add human greed, deception and ability to hurt, it starts to explain why there are so many problems and challenges in the world today.

As Africans, many of us belive in Ubuntu. Yet, very few of us live it. In a sense, it is understandable. We are exposed to so much negativity, that our society is de-sensitised and relieved when the violence and the problems do not affect us directly. We’re surviving, making a quick buck, dodging bullets and doing what we need to – to survive life in the concrete jungle.

President Mandela started a really great, and much needed national initiative in trying to unite the nation – The Rainbow Nation (Remember that?) So, I guess, most of us will agree that the different Presidents have presided over very different era’s that have resulted in various different national moods. For myself, I miss the President Mandela days – the nation was proud and excelled in sports, winning the African Nations Cup – even the Rugby World Cup.

We’ve been going on a vast decline in so many ways. Where is the justice in that? Perhaps it is just the new way of life where the state is so inundated with the problems of the economically unemancipated masses, that there is no time, political will, or resources to attend to the requirements, even the rights of the economically active and contributing population. Where’s the justice in that? It seems that we are in the era of cronyism, incompetence and self enrichment.

I know, and you know that it’s a reflection of our values. This is MY truth. Where’s the justice in that? How strange. A few years ago, I could have sworn that truth IS justice. How wrong I was!

Consider the folly of optimism and beauty

So here we are – at the point where life has brought us. Undoubtedly, there have been positives, negatives, learning’s, mistakes, successes, hopes and dreams. Every step that we have been through has been a necessary, integral part of our journey to bring us to our destiny, to prepare us for something new, and to help us though life.

I myself face raising a beautiful, talented, four year old blessing of a daughter. Of course, she is constantly testing mom and I. From time to time, this raises questions within me, brings me to various points of introspection, questioning of my approach, and the overall meaning of why God has given her to us.

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed with the thought “the folly of.” The Bible says that it “pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Okay – I do not intend to impose my beliefs on you. Let’s relax. But it does strike me that the uppermost purpose for living, the act of belief in your God (or higher being, whoever He may be) is associated so directly with foolishness. Is this perhaps God’s humble way to move man – with his sometimes loftiness to move towards considering the state and end his fallible, earthly existence and consider the “beyond?”

We received news this morning of a family struck with grief by passing away of their dad, Wayne. For the last two or three years, he fought with cancer and has now graciously been called away from his suffering. I met him once only – seemed a really likeable and jovial chap. I liked him. The news of his passing away has taken my mind to what is humanly the most important thing. That is significance.

I won’t claim to have any answers, or any advice, or any 5 step plan to ensure that you are the best that you can be, and that you leave everything in a better state than you find it, or that you ensure that you reach your potential by changing the world, being kind to yourself and your family. I’ll simply say this… there’s beauty in each of us, and blesses are those who discovery this, learn from it, use it and become significant.

So I want to make it my life’s sole purpose to teach our little girl optimism and love and beauty, because in the end, that what I want her to remember me for.

The scientific properties of light

My sketchy recollection of high school physical science – specifically the scientific characteristics of light – was on my mind yesterday. I juxtaposed them against the contemporary state of values and morals in South African society and thought that there are some lessons that we can take away.

In layman’s terms, let’s define some of these characteristics briefly:

  • Reflection: refers to the property where the light is reflected back to its source in the same form and intensity – like a mirror.
  • Deflection: similar to reflection, but the light does not go back towards its source. Instead, the light beam is reflected in a different direction.
  • Refraction: this is the property of light that causes it to bend due to a change in its speed. This happens when the light travels through certain chemical substances.
  • Absorption: this is the property of objects to absorb certain colours that make up white light and reflect back what is nor absorbed. For example, an object is only blue to the human eye because it has the ability to absorb the 6 of the 7 colours that make up white light, thereby reflecting the blue back to us
  • Error of parallax: this is the property of objects to appear in one place, but actually not be there. May be caused by deflection, refraction or absorption of light.

What sparked this off for me was when I heard about someone saying that the world can change in ONE minute if everyone just decided to care for the person next to them. We often hear that in order for the world to change, it needs to begin with us. I also believe that change, actually, positive change starts with the values and the beliefs and the reactions that we have to events in our lives. So, right now, I am asking myself…. “Self – how do you behave?”

Do I reflect light – and show back the truth in whatever way, shape or form that it comes to me? Perhaps I do, but is this wise and prudent, and considerate of other people’s feelings? Is it the right thing to do? Is it the wrong thing perhaps?

Perhaps, in my life, I deflect light. Perhaps I deflect things. Perhaps I handle things that come to me in such a way that I show it to others, without the source becoming aware of what I am doing.

The way I refract things in life refers to my ability to change the direction of events. This can be done to produce an even better outcome, or to eliminate unnecessary hurt to someone else. It is essentially slowing things down so that the impact is different.

Absorption means that I take in, what comes, but only reflect back what is needed. Once again, this can be absorbing the bad and returning the good. It can also be the opposite.

I’ll leave the error of parallax to a later stage.

You see – I am really trying to talk about values. And I know that peoples’ values are different – and so perhaps it should be. What I believe is evident that there is a relaxation of morals, ethics, standards, values, beliefs, care and concern in general. I hear people say things like “I have not been found guilty in a court of law!” Immediately I think that something doesn’t need to be illegal in order for it to be wrong. Basically, the law distinguishes between legal and non-legal, not between right and wrong. So just because something is legal, doesn’t mean that it is right.

Why does the law exist? Is it there to guide us? Is it there to protect us? Is it there to enable us? Loaded question, but I believe that the law is simply placing limitation on those people who are good anyway. I don’t need a law to tell me how to behave well. If I am morally upright, I’ll do that anyway. Perhaps the law tells us when we are wrong – and those of us who are morally reprehensible (in any way, shape or form) will violate the laws anyway.

The error of parallax speaks to me of a seared conscience – and of an incorrect metaphoric vision. It is that ability that we have when we see something as truth and may not even be aware of the fact that it is not. We’re seeing things that are not there, or that have shifted and we’re missing the point. We’re committing the moral error or parallax when we reflect, deflect, refract and absorb the wrong things, or in the wrong way – and when we become in tune with doing it the right way, the world may improve.

Now if we can only agree on a common, shared, positive set of beliefs, values and morals!

A Lesson learnt from Jacob Zuma

Our family visited some friends over the last weekend. As these things sometimes go, us males found ourselves chatting away, separately, about family, work, the economy, finance, life, sport and politics. The host planted an idea into my head, so admittedly this isn’t all mine. However, I did ask him for permission to use it, so here we go.

Basically we were discussing the Presidency of Jacob Zuma. When I was asked how I saw it, I mustered up a “Well, he hasn’t embarrassed us. He hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t been bad either. He has made some really funny decisions, especially lately, but at least he has been busy.

“At least he has been willing to admit to, fix mistakes that he has made.” To this, the host laughed and responded that we should all look up to Mr. Zuma because he achieved the ultimate – against so many odds.

There are many values that Mr. Zuma has that I do not share. As an example, I don’t believe in (or practice) polygamy. Also, after certain events that have happened to Mr. Zuma, – if it was me, I believe that I would have recused myself from ascending to the Presidency of South Africa.

Okay – enough with me standing on the soapbox. After all, it’s not my job to judge him. What is this column about? Well – it just so happens that Mr. Zuma has taught us all about achieving a goal, even with so much stacked up against him. Lets look at the significant events of the last few years, in approximate chronological order, with no substantive facts. I understand that:

1.     Mr. Zuma has not completed high school

2.     Mr. Zuma was imprisoned on Robben Island. Unlike some of his fellow political prisoners, he preferred to play football over studies and education

3.     Mr. Zuma has (I think) five current wives, countless children and grandchildren

4.     Mr. Zuma’s former financial advisor was imprisoned for having a ‘generally corrupt’ relationship with the then deputy President. He was fired after this ruling

5.     Mr. Zuma had unprotected intercourse with an HIV positive lady, was tried for rape, made an unfortunate ‘shower’ comment that may never be forgotten

6.     The road to Polokwane was rocky, thorny, divisive, yet Mr. Zuma won

7.     The 2010 opening of Parliament speech made by Mr. Zuma was disastrous – many friends and colleagues questioned why ‘this man’ was elected as the number 1 citizen

8.     Prior to, during and after his election, Mr. Zuma has continually made unachievable promises, and told everybody he meets just what they want to hear

Not all of these events are positive, fitting or becoming of a State President. However, the fact remains that Mr. Zuma overcame huge obstacles and difficulties to get to where he is. That in itself, deserves our respect.

So we can say what we want to about the man – whether we like him or not, whether we support him or not – he has taught us a valuable lesson that even in South Africa, anyone with the right goals and determination can succeed.

Some time ago, I remember reading about a belief that some Americans have – “The American Dream!” This belief indicates that anyone with the heart, with determination, and with hard work can succeed. I feel that it is a great belief and that it signals that anyone can grow up and become great.

In American history, we have seen this. People who grew up poor and destitute have risen up to become Presidents, world famous actors and prominent business people.

Mr. Zuma has also shown us that the spirit of “The American Dream” is alive in South Africa. He may have chosen politics as his path, and maybe in the current socio-financial-political climate, it may be an easy, rewarding path – but we should all be encouraged and enlightened to adopt a winner’s mindset.

We should go out to achieve what we want for our lives. So, it is incumbent on us parents to share such lessons with our children. Teachers, please teach this to your learners. There’s no excuse – we can all do it. Because for a man about whom many would say doesn’t have the ‘qualifications’ or the inclination to lead this country, he certainly is. What, therefore, is your, or my excuse?

Significance

Consider the beauty of nature

How the green leaves, in perfection, adorn the trees

And yet, we know that it is temporary

Do they know it? Perhaps no, but in optimism and grace

They do their work, and give beauty and food to the world

Summer comes, and they are here. Then winter and they fall away

And in His eternal grace, God reminds us that we too, will do the same

We rise, we fall. We try again

To show to the world, to those around us that we have optimism

That we have beauty, that we have chance and opportunity

To rise up, to fight, to pursue

The dreams, the goals and the significance that we are born to have

And though life is a struggle, and the world is full of challenges

That we, in our small little way

Can, and ought to

Do our level best to show those who follow

The beauty, the optimism. The potential that they too have

The God given talent and inspiration that each one of us can share

The great positive impact that we can have on each other

Because our success in the future cannot happen without the future

And what we do today, we do for tomorrow – whether we accept it or not

So even though it seems folly

Let us consider the abounding optimism and beauty and power that we all have

And radiate it to the world

We need to work, we need to struggle, but in the end

The green leaves come, the brown leaves fall

And then the tree’s life ends

So, no man comes to the end of his life and wants to be surrounded

By his advisor, his banker and his stockbroker

He seeks to gather those around him

That gave his life meaning

And that little bit of significance

 

Towards Artistry

Has ‘striving for excellence’ run its course? Should we shift focus to becoming artists?

There are certain buzzwords used in companies today that are meant to bring people together, galvanise them around a collective cause and even attempt to motivate and inspire them. One such example is to ‘strive for excellence!’

When doing some research on writing a vision and mission a while ago, I came across some criticisms of using generic, wide-open vision statements that sound good and use up words, but can be meaningless. Lately, I’ve come so see the noble intention of ‘striving for excellence’ in the same way. To me, it’s basically an undefined, open-ended goal. It really can’t be measured, and certainly cannot come to any logical conclusion.

Last year taught me something new – Artistry. Think Steve Jobs and what he achieved at Apple. Think Lady Gaga (alas… Michael Jackson is no more) Think Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel. Each of these individuals does what they do in such a way that it can be considered art. That makes it timeless. That makes it spectacular.

Take Apple’s products. They are beautiful to look at and they are simply functional. I saw a video on YouTube.com the other day that showed whom I think is Will-I-am from the Black-eyed-peas compliment the Apple iPad in the following way… “Here is a device that comes with no instructions, but anyone from a child to an elderly person can use it easily.” This proves the statement made by Leonardo da Vinci that ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’

Let’s look at Lady Gaga. Personally, I think that she is very strange, but she is so unpredictable and therefore very exciting to watch to bring out the next weird thing. Lady Gaga believe that she does what she does because she ‘respects her fans’ and wants to give them her best. So she goes all out – donning interesting, unique costumes, and making really likeable music. No wonder that she is the most downloaded and streamed musician of 2011. She is out ‘there’, building and evolving her brand and engaging her fans.  I am by no means saying that I like everything that she does. Quite frankly, I concede that her appearances and actions do not represent the values that I believe in, but there is truly something admirable about the genius that she brings to her work.

What does an artist do that we can learn from? Well, let’s look at it broadly. An artist:

  • Is unique, different, creative and expressive.
  • Believes in his work and his ability to do it.
  • Starts with the end in mind. He knows what he wants as a finished product – before he begins and is neither complete, nor happy until he has achieved his vision.
  • Is defined by his art (or output) and focuses on this rather than time or resources.
  • Brings awe and delight to his following.

So, any person today can be an artist in whatever they do. All it takes in a decision to execute within the framework of an artist. It can be done in the way a family is raised. A new driver can consider his novel skill as art. A typical employee can decide for himself how to define his work output in terms of his definition of art. He could then deliver his work in such a manner.

When an employee has the knowledge, the skills and the desire/motivation to do this, he has all the ingredients to make this style of work a habit and become highly effective in what he does. Also, because the change comes from inside – rather than as a downward push, it will surprise, delight and inspire the employee, as well as his customers.

Companies could undoubtedly benefit from adopting an artist’s approach to their entire value chain. I recently heard about two examples of spectacular failures within a computer hardware company that could have been avoided with the sense of pride and the attention to detail that an artist has when standing at the half completed canvas. In the first example, the company ordered a few thousand laptops in bulk. Seemingly, this made good business sense because they could negotiate a big discount and benefit from economies of scale.

Unfortunately, this computer company sells to corporate clients, and did not think about ensuring that the operating system and office productivity applications were in line with the specifications and requirements of corporate customers. The result was that the laptops started gathering dust inside their warehouse, and had to be disposed of in a below-the-cost fire sale.

In the second example, the company created a facility on their website that allowed customers to pre-order the new version of a certain product a few weeks before launch. Customers who fall in the categories of ‘Innovators’ and ‘Early adopters’ as defined by Everett Rogers in his Law of Diffusion of Innovation seemed to love this and many of them snapped at the opportunity to both be first and to guarantee their product. These are exactly the types of customers that you NEVER want to disappoint, but what transpired was simply a tragic comedy of errors.

The company did acknowledge the pre-order, but this short and final communication provided no means of follow up. As the day of launch approached, some of the customers became overcautious and phoned in to the company. They found that nobody knew what the correct specification of the new product was, or what the process or timelines for the purchase and delivery of the product was. Some customers were made unrealistic and untruthful promises by agents just so that they would get off the company’s back. In the end, some of the customers received their product a few days after launch, and after enduring a delayed, problematic and frustrating process that could have been avoided if the customer simply drove to one of the company’s outlets on the day of launch.

Reasons for these failures are many and varied. Common problems include a lack of customer focus, a lack of inter-divisional communication and a lack of fluid systems and processes to carry out the end-to-end delivery within the business.

Undoubtedly, companies strive to hire good talent. They try to ensure that they have the best minds in their business divisions. However, what may ultimately serve the company better is to have a greater sense of cooperation and teamwork between divisions that allow the company to deliver on its customer promise. Better still would be to create a company that consistently delights customers and builds loyalty in the same way Apple Computer and Lady Gaga are able to do.

Let’s look at how the respective business divisions within a company could bring artistic excellence into how things are done. Admittedly, this will require a grand shift in paradigm for many, as well as a major, coordinated change management program:

  • Executive leadership – become artists in leadership, goal setting, strategy and motivation. Make every ‘brush stroke’ count.
  • Human Resources – recruit, grow talent performance manage with the acute ability of an artist.
  • Finance – perform the accounting practices and the resulting business analysis with artistic pride.
  • Product Development – design and build products that are simple, elegant, functional, and timeless. In short, build works of art.
  • Operations – focus less on the historical science of supply chain. Build the competency executing operations around delivery of a great customer experience. In this case, both the desired customer experience and the way operations are run will need to be proactively designed. It’s hard, but it is worth it and can be refined until the company has this process down to a fine art.
  • Customer Service – see yourself less as the support area that takes the overflow of customer problems, but as the proud, expert and empowered representatives that take ownership and resolve everything for the customer. This is the ‘frame’ around the artwork because it finishes everything off.
  • Information systems – design systems that are open, flexible, responsive to customer needs, enabling of business needs, fast, robust, proactive and intelligent. (There’s no corny artistic comparison for this one!)
  • Marketing – marketing is about artwork. Period. Make it clear. Explain well. Tell the truth.

 

In the end, the customer sees the company as a single unit. Regardless of the number of people that it takes to make things happen, every interaction counts. Every time a customer interaction is positive, he will praise the company and tell a few friends. The opposite is also true – then the customer will tell the world. With this in mind, the entire company needs to be the artist – or at least operate as one.

Michelangelo is the esteemed artist – he painted the Sistine Chapel. Lady Gaga is the shocking artist. Apple Computer designs brilliant devices. We do not cognitively disaggregate their successes into the tiny puzzle pieces that it takes to pull it off – we have very little thought for Michelangelo’s assistants, Lady Gaga’s support team, or Apple’s corporate hierarchy. In spite of that, they have succeeded in artistic distinction. This will be very hard to do because it requires so many levels of execution of artistic brilliance – individual artistry, departmental artistic shine, artistic inter-divisional collaboration and timeous, fluid executive brushstrokes.

In conclusion, your beliefs and vision matter, but what works is action. This is the problem with ‘strive’ and ‘excellence.’ They are mythical and unachievable. Artistic output can be defined, built, measured, seen, refined and appreciated. It can also deliver personal pride and motivation as well as bottom line results. To achieve the immense success of the great artists, employ the mind-set and the methods of the great artists.