Category Archives: Ideas


Sometimes, upon waking some image or word will sit brightly illuminated on the stage of my mind.

The other day, the word, “usufruct” was mysteriously there.  I knew not what it meant… it just seemed familiar and very relevant to the shifts underway in my life these days.

I looked it up on Google:

  1. the right to enjoy the use and advantages of another’s property short of the destruction or waste of its substance.

So, here I am facing a birthday whose last digit is a zero, happy in my job, but feeling pretty stultified by the obligations of mortgage, marriage and family.  I am more than half way through my days here on earth and now I can see the beginning of fresh eyes developing on my rental of this material substance and space.



I am also seeing my days not so much as building blocks to be maximized or wasted on the path toward some accomplishment in life; education, work, marriage, family, et cetera;  I am beginning to see my body less as a needy carrier for my mind and more as a temporary opportunity to move through and sense the material world. In these thoughts, I am reminded of an old favorite, Theillard de Chardin‘s, Hymn to Matter.

For the first time ever, I am looking at this body, these moments as sources of usufructus (enjoyment).

Am I becoming more like Zorba the Greek?


Who knows what the future holds… I do find myself spending a lot of my imaginal life moving over the Mediterranean toward islands scented with salt, herbs, citrus, and olives.

Form: Static purity or dynamic flow?

It just occurred to me that I have been pursuing Form in business and life as a static purity to be obtained by stripping away all that is unnecessary, akin to this and Platonic solids.

But, after this week of dynamic change and refocusing at work, I’m coming to realize that Form is probably more accurately seen as the aggragate across time and space of a dynamic flow around geometric points.  Like this and this.

Yvon Chouinard, CEO of Patagonia, sees this too: the focus on the immediate flow v. focusing on the purity of the end state, nicely summarized here.

This approach certainly feels more free, easy, and invigorating than focusing on grinding toward an austere future perfection.

Malcolm Gladwell: Albert O. Hirschman and the Power of Failure : The New Yorker

“Hirschman was interested in contrasting the two strategies that people have for dealing with badly performing organizations and institutions. “Exit” is voting with your feet, expressing your displeasure by taking your business elsewhere. “Voice” is staying put and speaking up, choosing to fight for reform from within. There is no denying where his heart lay.”

Working from within can be a long, messy,  frustrating process; but, of course, the insights, leverage, and potential satisfaction gained may be worth the effort.

John Cleese on Creativity

Advice on creativity from the master of so many things, John Cleese.

Essentially, give yourself time in creatively open mode.  Here are five keys:

1. Space –  away from the trivial urgencies of “normal” life.

2. Time – about 90 minutes is ideal and a clear endpoint will create a useful forcing function to focus your endeavors.

3. Playfulness – don’t short-circuit your creativity by jumping to a decision.  Linger in creative discomfort until  you must decide so that the best ideas have time to rise up through the molasses of your mind. Stay in the what if and why mode as long as possible. Try to determine when you must decide before you start into the creative process so that you can avoid deciding before you have to.

4. Confidence – to be playful with what if’s, illogic, and seemingly wrong ideas knowing that a better solution is more likely the longer you can linger there.

5. Humor – is the fastest way to move from “closed” (rational, decisive, task-focused) mode into “open” (relaxed, playful, creative) mode.

Watch for yourself and for  your creative endeavors:

Specialization Fails Business Leaders

Buffet and Munger

The division of labor leads to specialization leads to great efficiency, but probably not in the case of business leadership.

Charlie Munger has a fascinating perspective on educating business leaders that were excerpted on Farnam Street.

In my experience, history was the ideal course of study in preparing for business leadership.  It is, essentially, the study of causation, including analysis of all possible contributing factors, not just the engineering, psychological, technical, or cultural variable sets.

Of course, in business, studying history often takes the form of case studies.

Has over specialization and turf protection blinded business leaders to larger issues and insights that case studies of business success and failure might reveal?

How could analysts pushing collateralized debt obligations not see the house of cards they were building?  Were they missing the forest for the trees because their education and the culture they worked in were overly specialized?

Munger’s wisdom not only makes sense, it has earned him (and Buffet) some real dollars.


Building Demand While Killing Brand

Marketing leaders often see their task as stoking demand by building awareness and desire.

“Make it sexy!”

“Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

“Forget the features, sell the benefits.”


Glossy photos, glowing copy, a firm, smooth close.  Bring ’em on home, Marketers!

Nothing happens until someone sells something.  The art of creating desire; nothing would sell without it.  How else could we possibly meet this year’s top line goal?

Putting these popular ideas into practice might drive short-term demand, but they will kill your brand in the long-term.

The problem is, according to Joyce, in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, art that creates desire alone is pornography.  In the end, pornography is never satisfying, it’s the ultimate bait and switch.

Your customers expect much more from their experience with your products and services.

Customers hope for an experience of the sublime, something just short of pure heaven; not only in the product we doll-up for our catalogs and web pages, but from every interaction with us.  They don’t  click onto your site hoping to find something mediocre, they don’t order your product in hopes of getting something passable.  No, when customers interact with us, they hope, deep within, to experience the sublime.

We’ve all grown used to accepting better than usual, but our hope still smolders in our subconscious driving us onward.

Our deepest hope might be to find some proof that perfection of Form, a truly sublime experience, is possible.

Companies who have figured this out develop seemingly magical loyalty (Apple) and often cash to match (Apple).  Steve Jobs told Walter Issacson, “The most sublime thing I’ve ever seen are the gardens around Kyoto. I’m deeply moved by what that culture has produced, and it’s directly from Zen Buddhism.”

Of course, Joyce approached aesthetics and the sublime from a Catholic/Thomist perspective but the pursuit of the sublime, by Japanese Zen Buddhists or Irish Catholics shares some common characteristics:

Thomas Aquinas‘ aesthetics can be summarized as pursuing the following:

Integrity and perfection: Integritas sive perfectio

Harmony or due proportion: Consonantia sive debita proportio

The brightness or clarity of Form: Claritas sive splendor formae

Of course, Form emerges from the fundamental belief of Platonic Idealism, that the idea of the thing, its form/whatness/quiddity/essence is more real than its material/thisness/the particular  object before you.

A circle is a good example.  In theory or form, it is :

A round plane figure whose boundary (the circumference) consists of points equidistant from a fixed center.

In the material world, a  perfect circle has never been created… even in the most precisely machined material manifestation, one atom might be out of alignment and keep that particular manifestation of circleness from meeting the idea of circle that we can easily describe and imagine.

You might say, “I see circles all the time, get real.”  Well, that’s been said before:

Antisthenes: Plato, I see particular horses, but not horseness.

Plato: That is because you have eyes but no intelligence.

The best marketing and brand leaders understand the relationship between desire and the sublime, between pornography and art, between real products/real people, and Form.

Steve Jobs certainly did, and look where it took his products, his company, and his balance. sheet.

I imagine him not missing his money because now he’s happily joined the world of pure Idea.





Leadership = E=mc2?

Could it be that managers focus on linear relationships, while leaders focus on exponential ones?

Managers look for year-over-year, organic progress; boards, analysts, investors, and banks love predictable progress.

But, if  you want exponential gains, you need to unleash the forces that will move you up an exponential curve.

Einstein figured out the relationship between energy and matter


In a flash, all the linear progression of the bomb-maker’s art were left in a cloud of radioactive dust near White Sands, NM.  The heaviest conventional bombs used in WW2 were 1 ton bunker-busters, the first nuclear test was of a 20 kiloton weapon, or 20,000 times stronger than the prior state of the art.

What can you do to convert your mass (inventory or service capacity assets) into energy (cash) using the speed of light squared as your multiplier?

Leaders focusing on transforming the moment of detonation/conversion, the moments/touchpoints of customer/company interaction, might be a place to start.

Customer Experience Management and the Service Profit Chain

Customer experience management. Possible?

Analyze, measure, improve every customer touch point?

Energize the entire organization in a maniacal devotion to creating intensely satisfying customer experience every time?

How can that be done, really?

Customer experience leadership, simplified by the Service Profit Chain

To understand the drivers of customer experience and to communicate how to affect those drivers throughout your organization, you need a clear conceptual model, something, to structure people’s thinking about the wildly complex set of variables that mix in moment-by-moment business activities.

Even the models are complex, here’s a graphic of the Service Profit Chain:

Source: Heskett, et. al,

But, how to bring this actionable clarity?

Simplifying Customer Experience Leadership by Simplifying the Service Profit Chain

The graphic above would be useless in the hands of a front-line, customer-facing supervisor trying to help an associate better serve a customer.  It is fairly complete, but overly complex.

Ockham’s Razor, that the simplest complete explanation for any phenomenon is the most preferable, would lead us to parse the Service Profit Chain down to that arrow that connects employee retention and employee productivity (customer-touching employee work) with external service value (the moment of customer experience).

Hosting Conversations, Hosting Customer Experience

If we think of every customer interaction with our brand (web, call center, product, service, billing, etc) as a conversation between two people, we begin to have a conceptual structure that  is clear enough for even front-line supervisors to use in the heat of the moment.

We are hosting a party and we want ALL of our guests to have a lovely experience:

  • Socially connecting
  • Energizing
  • Satisfying, with a hint of the sublime if possible

What type of conversation are you hosting today?  One constrained by focus on/measurement of:

  • Average Handle Time?
  • Average Order Value?
  • Up-sell/Cross-sell Rates?

Scoreboard v. Playing Field

Are we looking at the scoreboard while the game is being played and lost out on the field?

Is your organization aligned behind hosting an exceptional conversation between your customer-facing people and your customers?  In word, yes, of course; but in deed, really?

The basic work of our organizations, where our long-term financial success will be won or lost, is in hosting exceptional conversations, be they be real-time person-to-person or asynchronously, enabled by the web (see a Zappos employee selling shoes and Fogg, Persuasive Technology).

Does this work?

Ask Zappos who used these ideas to create what they call a Wow! machine and a billion dollars in sales in 10 years.

Have your conversations built that kind of organic growth over the last decade?