Give More: Lagniappe

The Big New Idea for Retail, Service and Hospitality: Lagniappe.

A ‘word worth travelling for’ is something I have always enjoyed. Mark Twain writes about just such a word, ‘lagniappe’ in a chapter on New Orleans in Life on the Mississippi (1883). It’s origin is probably Spanish. It’s meaning is special and for companies striving to make a difference – or merely to survive – its value is enormous. As Mark Twain explained,

It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen’ … something thrown in, gratis, for good measure.

In other words, lagniappe (pronounced “LAN– yap”) is about making an extra effort … about going the extra mile … about doing something extra special. It is a gift. It is a courtesy. It is a way to stand out in a positive way. For companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Zales, Starbucks and Sodexho … it is a way of life.Successful companies know how to run successful businesses. They know how to win over and keep customers. They know how to hire and inspire their workforces. They know the importance of giving MORE THAN. They know lagniappe.

We can learn from this well travelled word in retail, service and hospitality. Lagniappe then is a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase. It is the basis of the Gift Encomy and comes from our long history in tribes. For over 99% of the history of mankind we’ve lived in small tribes. These tribes consisted of between 10 to 50 individuals that lived by hunting and gathering. Existing through a concept called by anthropologists as a gift economy. Each member provided for others and status was achieved through the concept of gifting. Cooperation was the route to success as a whole.

Status was not a consequence of how much you had, but rather how much you gave away. Giving for the benefit of others with no expectation of immediate return. Trade existed, but only with outside groups. This trading was inherently competitive and thus only done with strangers.

Today we are firmly entrenched in an exchange based economy. With the adoption of money, almost everything is now traded freely. Trading involves trying to get the best deal, typically at the expense of others. The basis of exchange is inherently antagonistic with the aim of giving less and getting more. The market economy is a zero sum game. You give me A and I give you B. Transactions strive to be equal, leaving no additional place left to go in the relationship. So how can you “wow” consumers with lagniappe? Consider these ideas:

  • Greet consumers enthusiastically at the door – You had me at hello – is a famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire. Rather than saying next or wave the person forward, start your welcoming process by opening the door for them.
  • Metro bank in the UK give dog biscuits to their customers (those with dogs rather, than just feeding the queues).
  • Providing cold bottled water on a hot summer day—It’s simple but it works.
  • Walking a consumer to their car with an umbrella on a rainy day—No one likes getting wet when they are running their banking errands. Go that extra mile on rainy days.
  • Writing on lovely note paper (in ink) a thank you note after the transaction to thank them for their business. Follow-up is they key to success in any business.
  • Or Just Pick Up The Phone and leave a message; It takes all of 20 seconds to leave a thank you voice mail yet that message can brighten someone’s day.

As a business why would you want to incorporate lagniappe into your marketing mix? I believe there are at least 3 distinct reasons and corresponding benefits of giving more to exceed expectations (in service, retail and hospitality).

  • Better Positioning– stand out from your competition. If everyone is providing x, the fact that you provide x + y (gift) differentiates your offering. Less than 30% of consumers buy on price. You want to tap into the 70+% who are looking for value and a strong customer experience. Business Benefit: Differentiation
  • Increased Loyalty– giving the little extra (gift) enhances the customer experience. It creates a bond between the business and the customer. The benefit of that bond include increased loyalty and ultimately patronage as a form of repayment. Business Benefit: Retention
  • Increased Reciprocity– Part of giving extra is to create goodwill (inequality).  That inequality is repaid by positive word of mouth or word of mouse. The best form of marketing is via positive word of mouth.  By giving a signature extra (gift) you provide something for your customers to talk, tweet, blog, or Facebook about. Business Benefit: Referrals

The gift or little extra is about the respect for the relationship.  It becomes a beacon, a sign that shows you care. It’s a physical sign of goodwill and customer appreciation. Let’s be honest. Most people see retail or service as boring.

Spice it up with a little lagniappe.

 Be Amazing Every Day

Sisu – The Beating Heart of being Amazing Every Day

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Sisu – The Beating Heart of being Amazing Every Day

While I am very grateful for his gift, it has caused my mind to begin to explore it’s vast potential and it has distracted me from doing anything else. On a Saturday. You see as part of my Be Amazing Every Day programme, there is an instruction (buried within it, as an embedded command), to read more (and watch) more than you thought possible. It works for me too and James has woken this desire to fully understand this word. My reading has created new neural pathways, new thought processes and is a paradigm shift.

So I invite you to begin your journey of discovery by reading the amazing poem, Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer (even if you have read it before). Buried within this inspiring and challenging poem are the beautiful lines,

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

This could be described as a form of Sisu, a Finnish word that cannot be translated properly into the English language. If you had to translate it, it might evoke determination, bravery, resilience, perseverance and hardiness. It also could mean to act rationally in the face of adversity and remain functional when the only logical thing would be to run away or hide. Staying top left for those in the know.

There is no doubt that the term Sisu dates back hundreds of years – it has a bleak tradition. The modern and more positive concept of Sisu arose originally out of the harsh and violent conditions under which Finns had to survive throughout their history, and it can be seen as a product of these conditions.

It is often described as the essential character of the Finnish nation. Mika Hakkinen (one of the world’s greatest motor racing and Finnish through and through). He describes Sisu in an episode of the now defunct BBC programme, Top Gear. He is training James May (aka Captain Slow) to drive a rally car and takes time out to define the term (you can skip to 4:30 to 5:10).

 

The origins and etymology of the word is derived from ‘sisus´, which quite literally refers to the physical internal organs of a human or animal body (literally its ‘guts’), or it can simply mean the interior of an object.Whereas ‘having guts’ primarily refers to displaying the courage and audacity to do something risky, ‘having Sisu’ has the added dimension of doing so with integrity, honesty and humility.

Eminem – Guts Over Fear ft. Sia (contains some (strong) swear words) – is a powerful, visceral description of Sisu.

Sisu is about taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. Sisu is not so much about individual acts but is an entire way of life, a life philosophy. It is often used (sometime inappropriately) to refer to athletes, soldiers and national heroes. More generally to anyone who endures stress in their daily lives or who chooses to stand up against injustice. From Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela to the recent Noble prize winner Malala Yousafzai – take the time to watch and listen to her amazing Nobel Peace Prize Speech (contains no swear words and is amazing in every way):

The surprising thing is that hardly any empirical research has been done to explore the meaning of this construct as a possible psychological strength resource, and it has long seemed to have a somewhat elusive nature. Sisu might be at the basis for the growth of aspects of Positive Psychology. Sisu as a psychological power potential was introduced for the first time in the 3rd World Congress on Positive Psychology in Los Angeles on 29 June 2013. Sisu is described as a psychological key competence which enables extraordinary action to overcome a mentally or physically challenging situation. Malala would surely be the very definition of Sisu.

Sisu also contributes to very understanding and being of Amazing Every Day. It needs noble discipline, a consistent, courageous approach toward challenges which at first seem to exceed our capacities. At the very heart of Sisu seem to be equanimity, something akin to vital force  and relatively high emotion regulation. Sisu is about fighting through a wall but without boasting about it.

The term ‘guts’and Sisu may be described as twins who were raised the same family, but who then wandered off on their own and developed their own unique characteristics. Maybe you need to have both to be Amazing every day.

So thank you James. You have changed my brain forever and you are Amazing. Lucky it’s a long weekend.

The Universe Conspiracy – Pronoia

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I have been developing a unifying theory about success (I know that sound a bold claim) partly influenced by Philip K.Dick’s book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? First published in 1968, the book served as the primary basis for my favourite film Blade Runner. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic near future, where Earth and its populations have been damaged greatly by nuclear war during World War Terminus. Most types of animals are endangered or extinct due to extreme radiation poisoning from the war. To own an animal is a sign of status, but what is emphasised more is the empathic emotions humans experience towards an animal. But there is a problem with my theory; it is developing too easily. Someone told me that it was ‘cool’ because the Universe was conspiring in my favour. I am suffering from pronoia apparently.

Joseph Heller’s line in Catch 22. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” – might have to be turned on its head for Hollywood star Susan Sarandon. “Just because you’re pronoiad, doesn’t mean they aren’t for you,” the actress might say. Susan Sarandon talked about her belief in ‘pronoia’ as she was revealing what a joyous experience it had been to make Cloud Atlas, the film adapted from the award-winning novel. Some might say this is nonsense because it is a Hollywood actress telling us this ‘fact’.

Pronoia is defined as the opposite state of mind as paranoia: having the sense that there is a conspiracy that exists to help the person. It is also used to describe a philosophy that the world is set up to secretly benefit people. Almost a Zippie mantra promoted by Saradon. A Zippie is a person who does something for nothing. Any supporter of free culture, free food, free books, free software is a Zippie – and the Universe conspiring a central belief.

But does it make the proposition wrong? As students of logic should know, not every appeal to authority is a fallacious appeal to authority.  A fallacy is committed only when the purported authority appealed to either does not in fact possess expertise on the subject at hand, or can reasonably be supposed to be less than objective.

Hence if you believed that PCs are better than Macs entirely on the say-so of either your technophobic orthodontist or the local PC dealer who has some overstock to get rid of, you would be committing a fallacy of appeal to authority — in the first case because your orthodontist, smart guy though he is, presumably hasn’t much knowledge of computers, in the second case because while the salesman might have such knowledge, there is reasonable doubt about whether he is giving you an unbiased opinion.

But if you believed that PCs are better than Macs because your computer science professor told you so, there would be no fallacy, because he presumably both has expertise on the matter and lacks any special reason to push PCs on you.  That doesn’t necessarily mean he’d be correct, of course; an argument can be mistaken even if it is non-fallacious. Similarly, not every ad hominem attack — an attack against the man or women — involves a fallacious ad hominem.  Attacking the person can be entirely legitimate and sometimes even called for, even in an argumentative context, when it is precisely the man / women whom is the problem.

Attacking a person involves a fallacy when what is at issue is whether some claim the person is making is true or some argument he is giving is cogent, and where the attacker either

  • essentially ignores the question of whether the claim is true or the argument cogent, and instead just attacks the person giving it or
  •  suggests either explicitly or implicitly that the claim can be rejected false or the argument rejected as not cogent on the basis of some irrelevant purported fault of the person giving it.

So the question arises – does pronoia exist, ignoring who told us it might?. I have been exploring the idea that it if you do the right thing often enough, good things happen. The sneaking suspicion others are conspiring to help you and you them. Pronoia is also a prevalent theme in the 1988 novel The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. In it, the protagonist, a young boy is told by an older man to pursue his dreams.

He tells the boy, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” The book also deals with omens, signs that the universe wants the boy to follow a specific path, which will lead to his goal of fulfilling a dream.

The writer and Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow defined pronoia as the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf.The academic journal “Social Problems” published an article entitled “Pronoia” by Fred H. Goldner in 1982 (vol 30, pp.82-91). It received a good deal of publicity at the time including references to it in Psychology TodayWired Magazine published an article in issue 2.05 (May 1994) titled “Zippie!”. The cover of the magazine featured a psychedelic image of a smiling young man with wild hair, a funny hat, and crazy eyeglasses. 

The simplest definition of pronoia may be to say that it is the opposite of paranoia. A person suffering from paranoia suspects that persons or entities (e.g. governments / deities) conspire against them. A person enjoying pronoia feels that the world around them conspires to do them good.

The principal proponent of pronoia in the 21st century has been the astrologer, writer, poet, singer, and songwriter Rob Brezsny. Brezsny’s book Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings, published in 2005, explores the philosophy of pronoia.

 

Can we reject it on the basis of the non expert status of the writer? Well maybe we can relax and suspend our disbelief and imagine that if we do good things –  good things may happen to us in return. Maybe it does not matter in the long run. No act of kindness (no matter how small) is ever wasted.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Ask Better Questions

Stop asking a dumb questions like, ‘what do you do?’.

Ask better questions. Every day. In my earlier years when I was naive I thought that my success would increase in proportion to the number of business cards I handed out. I handed them out in droves (printers loved it…) but I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting any business. After a few years of experience under my belt I realised that it wasn’t the numbers that count, but the quality of relationships that I nurtured.

To be a great networker you must become “you” centred rather than “me” centred. Recognise that people want to talk about themselves more than anything. They are their own favourite subjects. Take advantage of that and learn these 10 questions that will make people feel warm, appreciated, and important.

Zig Ziglar, the famous sales trainer once said,

You can get everything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want. 

This is so true. Thanks Mr. Ziglar.

The following are ten questions that Bob Burg, author of the book, “Endless Referrals” gives to help you get to know potential referrers and leave a lasting positive impression. Try using them today and see this amazing thing happen.

You’ll notice something in common with each of these questions. They all centre around the person you are talking to and allows them an opportunity to talk about themselves. Don’t expect to ask your Centre of Influence each of these questions, but do have a few ready when you talk to others. Think of it as a game – watch Brian Walters brilliant explanation…

 

 

Be Amazing Every Day
 

Which is better: Aggression or Collaboration?

It must be obvious surely? Or perhaps a trick question? Well the answer is not as obvious as you may think. Human beings probably have killed in war more members of their own species than any other animal species on this planet. It is undeniable that ours is a pretty aggressive species when compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. Aggression and war are hard-wired into the brain, but so are acceptance, empathy and collaboration. But which is better? There’s only one way to find out: FIGHT! is a recurring feature within Harry Hill’s TV Burp.

The term aggression comes from the Latin aggressio, meaning attack.Every night on the news there are reports about murders, wars and rapes. You might want to start by stop watching the news. But the news isn’t the only place where people encounter violent or aggressive behaviour. We see it at work, while commuting, on the tube and in the home. You can observe it in queues, shops offices and in sport. It starts in the school yard and grows as we get older.


I am a huge fan of Psychologist Robert Plutchik, whom identified eight primary emotions which he coordinated in pairs of opposites: joy versus sadness; trust versus disgust; fear versus anger and anticipation versus surprise. He created the 2D wheel and a conical 3D version in 1980 as a tool for understanding his psycho-evolutionary theory of emotion. Intensity of emotion and indicator colour increases toward the centre of the wheel and decreases outward. At the centre terror becomes fear and then apprehension; ecstasy becomes joy and then serenity. Secondary emotions are displayed as combinations of the primary ones. The cross over and closeness is revealing when we look at our emotions towards aggressiveness.

Researchers in ethology (which is the scientific and objective study of animal behaviour under natural conditions) believe that aggression confers some sort of biological advantages. It all comes down to economics and the notion that aggression, much like anything else, has benefits and costs. Aggression may help an animal secure territory, including resources such as food and water. Aggression between males often occurs to secure mating opportunities, and results in selection of the healthier/more vigorous animal. Aggression may also occur for self-protection or to protect offspring.

Konrad Lorenz stated in his 1963 classic, On Aggression, that human behaviour is shaped by four main, survival-seeking animal drives.Taken together, these drives—hunger, fear, reproduction, and aggression—achieve natural selection. Well maybe. Humans share aspects of aggression with non-human animals, and have specific aspects and complexity related to factors such as genetics, early development, social learning and flexibility, culture and morals. What are these benefits and costs of aggression? Aggression between groups of animals may also confer advantage; for example, hostile behaviour may force a population of animals into a new territory, where the need to adapt to a new environment may lead to an increase in genetic flexibility.

It is interesting to note that during the Cold War, politicians on both sides used their belief that war was highly likely to justify the manufacture and deployment of more and more nuclear weapons. Yet the belief in the near inevitability of war makes war more likely. In 1978 Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson published a ground breaking book On Human Nature. The book tries to explain how different characteristics of humans and society can be explained from the point of view of evolution. Aggression is, typically, a means of gaining control over resources. Aggression is, thus, aggravated during times when high population densities generate resource shortages. According to Richard Leakey and his colleagues, aggression in humans has also increased by becoming more interested in ownership and by defending his or her property

With increased understanding of the relations between genes and environment behavioural scientists have acquired a deeper understanding of the bases of aggression than was previously possible. The brain is awash in chemicals, including hormones and neuro-transmtters that accentuate or dampen its responses and influence its organisation and operations. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that relay, amplify, or modulate signals that are sent between neurones and other cells.There are many different hormones and neurotransmitters, of which the most important are glutamate and GABA, which excite and modify synapses. From all of the possibilities explored and the theories made, you might think that there has been a conclusion made about exactly where aggression originates as well as what could incite a particular aggressive action, but there has not been. However the following compounds seem to be most active:

  • Adrenalin, which triggers the fight or flight response
  • Testosterone, which stimulates aggression
  • Oxytocin which instills trust, increases loyalty, and promotes the tend and befriend response
  • Oestrogen, which triggers the release of oxytocin
  • Endorphins, which reinforce collaborative experiences with pleasure
  • Dopamine, which generates a reward response and fortifies addiction
  • Serotonin, which regulates moods
  • Phenylethylaline, which induces excitement and anticipation
  • Vasopressin, which encourages bonding in males in a variety of species

Out of the last few years of neurophysiological research has emerged a new hope that solutions may indeed be found to the chemical and biological sources of aggression. But there is a caveat. While War has yet to be reduced to a simple set of deterministic biochemical events taking place exclusively within the brain, research clearly demonstrates that basic neurological processes provide all of us with alternative sets of instructions that lead either toward impasse or resolution, stasis or transformation, isolation or collaboration. While no one really knows the exact causes of aggression or if it can even be said that there is one thing that causes it. So, although, there may not be one conclusive answer to why people are aggressive, it doesn’t mean that a combination of theories can’t be right or that someday, researchers will find the answer.

The Cold War and the resonant fear of nuclear fear is now largely over, but old wars continue and new ones have been initiated in many parts of the world. You may hear that the waging war as an inevitable consequence of human nature. This attitude is not only dangerous in encouraging the view that war is the method of choice for settling disputes, it is also very wrong. To get the right answer requires not only a profound understanding of how the brain works, but a global shift in our attitude toward conflict, an expanding set of scientifically informed techniques, a humanistic and democratic prioritisation of ethics and values.

We don’t need a fight to know, we need to begin with a willingness to start with ourselves.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Innovate and Cry

I made someone cry at work the other day. I did not mean to, in fact I was trying to encourage them. I am sorry, I was wrong.

I have seen something more dramatic happen in the last few months. The truism innovate or die is being challenged. Lasting success is more rare than ever, as the innovation rate rises and competition gets tougher. So, how do you keep up with the increasing complexity and innovation in the market? The most natural way, of course, is to unleash the innovative potential of the organisation. Which can be very painful. To do so, a creative climate is a necessity, but far from enough. Innovation excellence requires shared language, processes and platforms too.

Explore, play and create novelty.Innovation as an expression of human creativity and lateral thinking, is not the result of economic development, but rather the source of sustainable economic and social progress. I am privileged to be working at the cutting edge of empirical service innovation and it is very exciting. In restaurants and hotels I work closely with, I see that they are constantly attempting to find innovative ways to serve customers more effectively and efficiently. My experience of seeing innovating in a service business, is that it seems to work best if the innovations are:

  • aligned with you why or purpose,
  • meet (and predict) a future consumer need and
  • can be delivered by empowered staff.

Now more than ever, innovation is seen as key to growth, to acquiring and sustaining competitive advantage, and to building shareholder value for the long term. But is innovation deflecting us away fro giving excellent service? Of course service systems are the dynamic configurations of people, technologies, organisations and shared information that create and deliver value to customers, providers and other stakeholders.

I see the innovation process fast becoming more open and more global. Setting up shop in local markets around the world and getting customers more involved in innovation efforts are now a vital part of any successful innovation effort.The rising significance of service and the accelerated rate of change mean that service innovation is now a major challenge to all business sectors. Innovation is forward looking. Solving yesterday’s problems is important, but not innovative. Copying what others do well is often a good approach, but not innovative.

Hotels, restaurants and the service industry form a growing proportion of the world economy and are becoming central to the way businesses, governments, families and individuals work. Innovation, a term applied almost exclusively to technologies in the past, is increasingly used in relation to service systems. Ideas of service are, of course, not new. However, the scale, complexity and interdependence of today’s service systems have been driven to an unprecedented level, due to globalisation, demographic changes and technology developments. Over the course of modern history, innovation has proved fundamental for formal organisations. In the past decades, as market competition intensified and the business environment grew in complexity and uncertainty, innovation became essential not only to an organisation’s performance, as several studies have demonstrated, but to its very existence and survival.

Innovation can be seen as a new or improved ways of designing and delivering services. This may include innovation in service delivery systems, though often this will be regarded instead as a service product innovation. Innovation of this sort may be technological, technique or expertise-based. While radical innovation can be viewed as market driving idea which comes from the leader’s vision of market opportunity, the incremental innovation from the service team is equally powerful. Just don’t make them cry.

It is surely true that every company, in every industry, needs an innovation strategy. This can be a high-tech product innovation, packaging innovation in consumer goods, or process innovation at financial services companies. But this requires a zoom out then zoom in approach. This results in a new challenge to service innovation, the real-time nature of introducing new services. The service cannot be tested in a laboratory. At minimum it must be pilot tested with real guests in a real hotel. Real clients in the restaurant. Even though innovations are desirable, the customers and organisation may resist them. And that can be dangerous ground and can produce some negative feedback on social media.

My passion for excellence requires that innovation is most successful in service operations that seek the support of employees for innovations and, beyond that, encourage employees to participate in a culture of innovation. Many individual strands of knowledge and expertise relating to service systems already exist, but they often lie in unconnected silos. Perhaps my favourite expression,

Learn, Love, Laugh, Cry and Innovate.

I will try not to make anyone else cry tomorrow.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Be Amazing by Thin Slicing

This is truly amazing: the latest neuroscience research reveal that our decisions are made 7 seconds before we become aware of them. We already know that within 7 seconds of meeting people decide all sorts of things about them, from status to intelligence to promiscuity. But this new research questions the very notion of free will.

When you meet a new business acquaintance for the first time you do some quick brain references and heuristics (short cuts). It could be when you first meet your new boss, a recent addition to your team, or a potential client you want to sign up. There are lots non verbal clues that your brain scans for to make these decisions. In fact, studies have found that nonverbal cues have over four times the impact on the impression you make than anything you say. The moment that someone sees you, his or her brain is asking as a hard wired survival mechanism:

  • Are you different?
  • Are you someone to approach or to avoid?
  • Are you friend or foe?
  • Do you have status and authority?
  • Are you trustworthy, competent, likeable, confident?

Indeed people decide on your trustworthiness is judged in a tenth of a second, or less based on your facial appearance. The Princeton researchers found this out by giving one group of university students 100 milliseconds to rate the attractiveness, competence, like-ability, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness of actors’ faces. Members of another group were able to take as long as they wanted. While other traits differed depending on time spent looking, trustworthiness was basically the same.

Psychologists call it thin slicing, the ability to find patterns in events based only on narrow windows, of experience.The term seems to have been coined in 1992 by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal in a paper in the Psychological Bulletin. One of the most popular books on thin-slicing is Blink written by Malcolm Gladwell. In this book, the author goes through and describes interesting examples and research which exploit the idea of thin-slicing. John Gottman, a well-known marital expert, describes how within an hour of observing a couple, he can gather with 95% accuracy if the couple will be together within 15 years. His accuracy goes down to 90% if he observes the couples for 15 minutes, supporting the phenomenon of thin-slicing.

Even more intriguingly, neuroscientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain found that decisions are made before you know. In the experiment participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand. Using fMRI, researchers would scan the brains of the participants while all of this was going on in order to find out if they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use before they were consciously aware of the decision. By monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the front polar cortex, the researchers could predict which hand the participant would choose 7 seconds before the participant was aware of the decision.What might this mean, then, for the nebulous concept of free will? “We think our decisions are conscious, but these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg,” says John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.

What does this mean for you? Well, be aware that people pick up your attitude instantly (less than a second). Before you turn to greet someone, or enter the boardroom, or step onstage to make a presentation, think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody. I encourage people to use their eyes first. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. While you do this slowly raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the eyebrow flash that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.

There a universal truth about the power of the smile. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. Condition yourself to stand tall and move slowly. Status and power are nonverbally conveyed by height and space. Standing tall, pulling your shoulders back, and holding your head straight are all signals of confidence and competence. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested. But be respectful of the other person’s space. That means, in most business situations, staying about two feet away.

Some people believe that thin slicing causes the phenomenon known as déjà vu as they happen within the same time frame of thin-slicing and might also have a direct correlation. So even if you think you have heard this all before, every encounter, from conferences to meetings to training sessions to business lunches, presents an opportunity to meet people, network, and expand your professional contacts by making a positive first impression.

You’ve got just seven seconds, but if you handle it well, seven seconds are all you need. But, I do find it a bit disconcerting that decisions are made by unconscious me 7 seconds before conscious me. Better still read my card below:

Be Amazing Every Day.

Innovation is full of Paradox.

Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins.

Tom Peter’s again, right on the money. Paradox can prove to be very revealing about human nature and leadership. Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory. He once said, ‘Now that we have met with paradox we have some hope of making progress.’ 

At the most basic level, a paradox is a statement that is self contradictory because it often contains two statements that are both true, but in general, cannot both be true at the same time. What generates real innovation is actually understanding why (and how) paradox can inspire people.

The origins of innovation can be found in the evolution and development of the neocortex. These higher centres of the human brain are the source of abstract thought and also our very human quality of learning from failure. The ability to Explore, Play and Create Novelty in a safe environment becomes critical. The word ‘innovate’ can be traced all the way back to 1440. It comes from the Middle French word [which apparently on my Linkedin profile is something I am an expert in] ‘innovacyon’, meaning ‘renewal’ or ‘new way of doing things’. This echoes Peter Drucker’s brilliant reflection on innovation,

Change that creates a new dimension of performance.

The act of introducing something new (innovation) begins with an internal brain process. We can look at where by using tools like fMRI to determine which areas ‘light up’ during the process but it’s origin is unclear. Somewhere there is spark, a neuro-chemical reactions and the beginning of the fascination over an idea. This state of innovation, constant fascination and being intensely interested in something, is a primitive survival mechanism that might not help survival (you might eat the wrong killer berry). Yet by making a safe environment, where we can explore, play and create novelty we create a spark that both motivates and innovates.

Daniel Pink beautifully describes (in his book Drive) the paradox of money as a motivator (watch the surprising results it delivers). Companies need to allow more autonomy and self direction. That’s why Google gives its workforce 20% of their time to explore projects on their own. That’s why 3M and W.L. Gore do something similar. They know that the root of innovation is fascination and failure.

Wise leaders accept their setbacks as necessary footsteps on the path towards success. In The Innovation Paradox, Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes argue that failure has its upside, success its downside. These two are not as distinct as we imagine. They co-exist, are even interdependent. Both are steps toward achievement.

It’s not success or failure, but success and failure.

Every company worth knowing has identified innovation as a core competency needing to be developed. However a large percentage of our time and our organisation’s energy is necessarily spent on activities that don’t require innovation. We also know that scaling up an innovation depends on the operation of relatively routine tasks and processes, many of which are in place and already have been proved effective. What’s needed in organisations whom aspire to a culture of innovation, is the energy to create a spark and then embrace success and failure as equals.

The key to the innovator paradox then is the development of this neurochemical spark within people. So what sparks people? If you do some analysis of the most creativity and innovate people in history, you will find that the spark lies deep in their brain. They are able to be curious and creative. They become fascinated, even obsessed by ideas. While it can certainly be supported by systems, it can never be reduced to systems. Because that’s where innovation starts, with the innovator and the inspired individual, compelled by their DNA to make a difference. Then all that person needs is from you is time, some resources, meaningful collaboration, and periodic reality checks from someone who understands what fascination is all about.

One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king. – Abraham Maslow

If you study the lives of people who have had those Eureka moments, you may well note that their breakthroughs almost always came after extensive periods of intense, conscious effort. They worked, they struggled, they explored, played and created novelty. They gave up, they recommitted and then the breakthrough came, often at unexpected moments. The conscious mind works overtime in an attempt to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Unable to come up with the breakthrough, the challenge gets turned over to the subconscious mind, which then proceeds to figure it out in its own, without time pressure and focus.

Coming up with the right question is at least half of getting the right answer. If you want a breakthrough idea, begin by coming up with a breakthrough question. Find the one that communicates the essence of what you’re trying to create. Perhaps Einstein said it best when he declared, Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted. He was referring, of course, to the part of the human brain that ‘knows’ intuitively; the part that is tuned in, connected, and innately creative.

If you, or the people who report to you, are not currently in a state of innate fascination, it’s time to turn things around. That is, of course if you really want to spark some innovation. Throughout history, the best managers and leaders always have allowed this special space of paradox and innovation to exist. Since failures so often lead to successes, and vice-versa, rather than try to sort these two out, wise managers focus on the innovation process and what can be learned from it.

What exists on the other side of failure, is fuel for your untapped creativity.

Be Amazing Every Day.

[If you don’t get this message, call me; if you do get it, don’t call. Spread the word.]

Less is More

The common phrase ‘Familiarity Breeds Contempt’ is a familiar dictum to many managers and leaders, who have had this concept drilled into them since their earliest days of MBA school and management training. I’ve heard it from family members, teachers and employers. Indeed I am sure you can can recall horror stories about bad managers who lost control of their authority by becoming too familiar with their juniors and people they were meant to be leading.

So a crucial leadership question is, does the familiarity really breed contempt? If it does, how does the leader maintain the perfect balance (the so called Goldilock’s Syndrome) where he/she has to get it just right level of familiarity? Is less more which would offer camaraderie and also avoid the potential contempt by the subordinate? In the first decade of the 20th century, an obscure British journalist came up with a newer version of the phrase. His name was Holbrook Jackson, and he was pretty well known among the journalistic intelligentsia of the time. He said,

Familiarity breeds not contempt, but indifference

The far better known (both at the time and subsequently) Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton’s had a particular preference for paradox, and was never hospitable to platitudes. Chesterton adds to the Jackson quotation, with an acidic,

But it can breed surprise. Try saying ‘Boots’ ninety times.

Excellent, and worth a try! Benjamin Franklin went further (not in a management sense) and proposed that fish and visitors have something in common. Both begin to stink after 3 days. The present research offers empirical support for Franklin’s quip. The more people learn about others (and anyone who has had houseguests knows all too well how much one can come to know in a short time) the less they like them, on average.

The present neuroscience research shows that although people believe that learning more about others leads to greater liking, more information about others leads, on average, to less liking. It seems ambiguity (i.e. lacking information about another) leads to liking, whereas familiarity—acquiring more information—can breed contempt. This less is more effect is due to the cascading nature of dissimilarity. Once evidence of dissimilarity is encountered, subsequent information is more likely to be interpreted as further evidence of dissimilarity, leading to decreased liking.

The evidence seems to be on the whether familiarity always breeds contempt, is that it depends on a variety of factors. However is seems that familiarity can breed contempt, more often than does not. To give some hard evidence and big data for this theory, Sirota Consulting, they surveyed and looked at employee job satisfaction of 1.2 million employees at 52 companies over 30 Years. According to Sirota’s research there is a significant decline in overall job satisfaction after an employee has been working with an employers for an average of six months or more.

The leaders who always maintained a safe distance with subordinates at all times, so that those employees did not cross the line of respect, earned more respect. It certainly involved non-transparency from leader in various matters, but the show still went on successfully. There were absolutely no complaints, even though the annual raises were poor and performance ratings were below average. The subordinates often praised the leader, and even justified the low raises as not being the leader’s fault (Stockholm syndrome )

It seems the leaders who offered total transparency and camaraderie to their subordinates, often found some of their subordinates being disrespectful and deceitful towards them, despite their good deeds and commitment to employee development and promotion. interestingly there were complaints from employees who always received good raises, but received only one time low raise and below average rating (which was fair and just because of the subordinate’s poor performance).

The 4 things that seem to matter most are (and are regarded as being savvy):

  • Equity – to be treated fairly
  • Achievement – to be proud of the job and company
  • Confidentiality – knowing when not to share
  • Camaraderie – to have good, productive relationships with fellow employees

It always makes sense in keeping the correct and careful balance in maintaining professional relationship between the leader and the subordinate at all times. Socialising with those we lead is to be cautioned, for it can most probably lead to contempt and loss of respect. Nonetheless, the leader can still opt to socialise with subordinates at company functions or special occasions, yet always maintaining the socialisation at arms-length.

In summary there is no doubt that familiarity can breed contempt, but the savvy manager must understand how to develop a working camaraderie without crossing-the-line into revealing personal details.
 The last word and best insight on this Familiarity Breeds Contempt story comes from Mark Twain, who said it most appropriately:

Familiarity breeds contempt. How accurate that is. The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it.

Be Amazing Every Day.

A Passion For Customer Service Excellence

A had a meeting last night with the smartest guy in the room. It was a big room too, at the Hoxton Holborn. Boy he knows his stuff. He asked whether I was superman. He could not comprehened someone (me) writing 132 articles in 180 days (let alone reading them) as well as training every day, inspiring thousands of clients, running a business, training 4 restaurants, 2 Hotels and coaching lots of people.The answer is of course no, I am not Clark Kent. I am just living the be amazing every day programme. So my connection (call him Mr T), whom I have the total respect for, asked me to write about something in today’s article.

What is customer service excellence? 

Actually it is is a brilliant, highly complex and difficult question. Except it is very simple. Customer service is just a day in, day out ongoing, never ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate, type of activity. Watch this first: 3.14 seconds of Tom Peters A Passion For Customers:

 

 

Now think about the last hotel you booked in and had poor service:

Customer service excellence has always been and will always be one of the critical competitive advantages for any business. Richard Whiteley In his popular book, The Customer Driven Company, (1991) emphasises the theme saturation with the voice of the customer as the key to ensuring excellent customer service and consequently a successful and profitable business. Failure to listen and respond to the voice of the customer causes stress, anger and frustration for millions of customers and the ultimate failure of those businesses that are not happily and intimately connected with their customers.

So Mr.T, here are my Seven Excellent Customer Service Commandments

1. Under promise, carefully understate and over deliver. Exceed customer needs and expectations. If customer satisfaction has one sure thing, it’s about exceeding expectations and how well it works. People like to be pleasantly surprised, within limits. Build relationships with your customers. In a highly competitive service environment, meeting customer expectations may not be enough. Successful companies strive to not just meet, but to exceed customer needs and expectations. Nothing impresses a customer more than an employee who goes, “above and beyond the call of duty” to ensure total customer satisfaction. Today, customers expect something more than this traditional customer service. They not only expect, they demand exceptional customer service. They are particularly pleased when businesses exceed their expectations, show that they care about them personally, and employees work swiftly and effectively on their behalf.

2. Ask the right questions.Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers. Never stop learning about your customers. This means really listening. Often, the only thing a customer wants is to feel understood. Learning how to listen effectively is not a widely held skill. However, it can be taught, and listening training is a common feature of many customer service courses. Know your customers so that needs can be anticipated. This best practice requires that owners and employees constantly ask questions, collect, analyze and use data. Feedback from the customer is a source of constant business renewal and adjustment. As the business environment changes and as customer needs shift, continuous feedback allows a business to adjust and change accordingly. The critical question is, “What do my customers need, and how can I best provide it?”The purpose of a business is to create a customer who creates customers. ~ Shiv Singh

3. Maintain happy employees. Remembering that happy employees make happy customers is a critical bit of advice for every chief executive. Happy employees mean happy customers. In most businesses, especially service oriented businesses, the employees’ attitudes and behaviours determine the quality of customer service. Herb Kelleher, former Chief Executive Officer of Southwest Airlines, argues,

Put employees first and customers second.

At first this may seem contrary to the notion of having a company that is customer focused. But, if we adhere to the notion of a happy employee makes a happy customer, then this makes sense. Southwest Airlines has been successful in a very competitive business (see / read again my blog on 10x companies by Collins on Great by Choice) Southwest has instilled a spirit of entrepreneurship in all its employees. The philosophy is that Southwest Airlines is in the people business and it just happens to run an airline. Companies that consider they are in the people business are companies that provide excellent customer service. Tom Peters, (1999), says that we should make work fun. In a company that makes work fun, employees look forward to their job where they are valued and appreciated.

4. Create and use service standardsYour customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. ~ Damon Richards. Successful companies that provide excellent customer service clearly define the service standards that are essential for business success. Service standards serve two purposes. First, they are a powerful force for shaping the image that your customers have of you. Secondly, they are a great tool for measuring how well each employee in your business meets the levels of service, which are essential for your business success. Service standards should be measurable because you can manage and train for things that of excellence in customer service.

5. Have a written plan for ensuring excellence in customer service.

This one, Mr T I am always amazed by – organisations that don’t have a plan. A written plan helps to ensure a total organisational culture you can measure. Especially critical is developing a mission and visionary plan that stresses the importance of customer service. The mission statement for the customer-oriented company clearly puts the customer in the spotlight. If a company cannot clearly identify the customer within its mission, the mission statement does not contribute toward the goal of customer service. The visionary plan should be developed among all employees with leadership from the owner or chief executive officer (CEO). It should have a limited number of goals that powerfully speak to the direction of the business and its emphasis on customer service. It’s recommended that not more than five to seven goals be developed. Customer service may be incorporated into one of the major goals or it may be inherent but clearly recognisable in all the goals. Having a plan in writing and frequently making reference to the plan is a way to put customer service in the forefront of a company’s business plan. This written plan should be based on customer input. The customer should be involved in the development of the plan, and it should be continuously updated and adjusted, as customer needs and expectations change in the changing environment.

6. Smash the barriers to excellence and adopt Excellence, always.

Here is a simple but powerful rule: always give people more than what they expect to get. ~ Nelson Boswell. 

It seems to be the natural tendency for organisations and businesses to develop a bureaucracy over time. The longer a business has been in existence, the more rules, policies, and regulations it seems to have in the rulebook. Frequently, these rules, regulations and policies are barriers to customer service excellence. Employees must be freed of the shackles of too many rules, too many regulations, too much paperwork, and overly restricted communication channels. Only then, will employees be free to truly focus on the customer and provide excellent customer service. The employees themselves are the best data source for identifying and eliminating these barriers, but the customers too can be an excellent source of this critical information.

7. Offer your customers options. If you can’t satisfy your customers needs and expectations, the next best thing is to offer options for other sources of service, even if it is a competitor. This shows the customer that you truly care about them and not just in selling your service. Good customer service is made, not born. Most companies find that employees require training to provide good customer service. Some of the areas in which employees often get help from customer service training include:

Then and only then can you walk the talk at the top. It is critical that the owner or chief executive officer of the business demonstrates a genuine concern and desire to provide excellent customer service. Tom Peter’s called it MBWA (managing by walking around). Nice.

So, Mr T, my 7 rules for Customer Excellence can be found in companies that exemplify a decision to do only excellent work.These practices are not just something the company does, these practices are the company. Every employee in the company must understand and carry out these practices on a daily basis. Hiring people with the right attitudes and keeping them constantly trained, rewarded and recognized for demonstrating the best of these twelve practices is the way that companies achieve success. It is essential that the top person in the organisation, CEO or owner also demonstrate these practices; not just among external customers, but among those internal customers, especially employees.

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves. – Steve Jobs

I am no Superman Mr T. I amazing, every single day.

Be Amazing Every Day.