Mind The Gap

Posted on February 7, 2016 by Josh Linkner

If you’ve ever travelled to London, the iconic phrase, “Mind the gap,” has been forever burned into your memory. The automated warning is heard thousands of times each day at every stop of the subway system. The London Underground, affectionately known as “the Tube”, is the oldest rapid transit system in the world. In 1968, over 100 years after the system opened, a recorded voice was installed to warn travellers to watch out for the space between the platform and train, instructing people to “mind the gap” each time a train stops, system wide. This cautionary phrase has become synonymous with London living and appears on t-shirts, as the punch line to jokes, in video games, and throughout modern culture.

The Gap

The phrase can also be one of the most powerful weapons in your professional arsenal. This is the rallying cry for you to explore what’s missing, what’s not there, and what could be. Recited with the same rhythmic consistency of the London Underground, it is a phrase that can open new doors of opportunity.

Minding the gap has been the source of hundreds of hit products and services, as unfulfilled consumer desires were the geneses behind some of the most famous brands in the world. When you speak to customers, find out what’s missing in their lives. The areas of friction, discontent, and deficiency provide you with a heat map for innovation. Rather than studying competitors’ offerings to find a slight, incremental improvement, focus on minding the gap of customer needs. It is a pathway to entirely new – and highly differenced – solutions.

Minding the gap works inside your organization as well. Attacking internal soft spots helps you fortify your company against emerging competitive threats. The earlier you mind those gaps, the less painful the remedy and more productive the result.

Relationships are another area in which minding the gap can help. Both personal and professional relationships can fall into predictable patterns, with blind spots that can grow geometrically and do serious damage. Taking a pause to mind the gap and explore any missing areas can help avoid plenty of pain, from underperformance to dysfunction.

In business today, we tend to focus on attacking live problems when they emerge. We also focus on what already exists, only to make small tweaks. Instead, follow the lead of our friends across the pond and mind the gap. Look for hidden areas of unfulfilled promises, customer needs, and missing information. While the gaps aren’t screaming for attention, they can be a wellspring of opportunity and, if you get to them first, they can help you leapfrog the competition.

Let this mantra lead you to fresh ideas, opportunity, and inspiration. Mind the gap. Queen’s orders.

How Going Big Can Actually Reduce Risk

Posted on January 31, 2016 by Josh Linkner

In our professional lives, we often find ourselves launching something new. It could be a new product, service, ad campaign, recipe, geographic expansion, process overhaul, sales contest or even an internal cultural shift. No matter what you’re launching, you have a choice to make: Dip your toe in the water slowly, or go big.

Instinctively, the bashful approach feels less risky. Embrace a little change and see how it goes, right? We’ve been taught the need to “walk before you run” so we’re practically hardwired to play small. But in the words of former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, “You can’t cross a chasm in two small steps.”

While it may feel scary, taking the big leap may actually be less risky. Playing it ‘safe’ can have the opposite impact whereby not enough force can cause your launch to crash and burn. In our fiercely competitive marketplace, there’s little room for timid alternatives.Netflix_Web_LogoNetflix is a stunning example of playing big. When the company shifted from movie rentals to original programming, they faced the same choice. Conventional wisdom would suggest starting small, perhaps doing a couple low budget productions to get some practice and see if customers even want original programming. Instead, Netflix roared onto the scene with House of Cards, featuring A-list actors and reportedly costing over $4 million per episode to produce. Next came Orange is the New Black, another bold leap that has gone on to win countless awards. With a string of high-budget, unconventional programming ranging from Kimmy Schmidt to Making a Murderer, Netflix was able to reach cult-like status in record time.

If you were to hear a description of a new TV program and were told it was launching on one of the traditional networks, you may opt out. But if the same description is tied to a new Netflix launch, it becomes irresistible. Because of their commitment to the highest quality and a refusal to cut corners, they have been able to leapfrog established competitors as one of the top producers of original content in the world.

Netflix won by going big. Had they risked only a fraction of their investment, they probably would have lost it all. The company continued this strategy on January 6 when they launched internationally in 130 new countries on the same day. The smart folks at Netflix realized that going all-in is the only way to play the game.

As you embark on your next new initiative, consider the real risk of a half-hearted launch. The brands we cherish are the ones that broke free, pioneered new ground, stood tall for their beliefs, and set out to shatter the mold. Launch big and launch proud. You’ll reduce risk and enjoy far more upside. Netflix isn’t the only one that can stream breathtaking ideas around the world. You’re next.

What do Ford and Amazon Have In Common (And What Can You Learn From Them)?

Posted on January 24, 2016 by Josh Linkner

While both are giants in their respective industries, Ford and Amazon are very different on the surface.  One was the bellwether of the industrial era, while the other helped ring in the digital age over 90 years later.  The automaker conjures up scenes of three-piece suits, while the tech firm evokes images of jeans and T-shirts. Midwest conservative versus West Coast progressive.  Building things compared to selling other peoples’ stuff.

Amazon-Dash-button

Yet surprisingly, these two distant companies are more similar than meets the eye.  Both are leading in their field, both are enjoying record growth and profits, and both continue to innovate at a breathtaking pace.  These two industry titans also share some common strategies.  While their tactics manifest differently in the marketplace, both subscribe to three similar philosophies that drive meaningful and sustainable success:

  1. Always expand their role in customers’ lives. Amazon is an e-tailer while Ford makes cars.  Yet both companies continue to expand their worldview as it relates to serving customer needs.  Amazon, for example, recently launched the Amazon Dash Button, a simple device that connects to your home wifi, allowing you to re-order common items (detergent, garbage bags, pet food, etc.) with the single touch of a stick-on button.  In Detroit, Ford is launching MyFordPass – a mobile app platform that helps customers with all things mobility – from finding a parking space to monitoring safety indicators.  Both companies continuously rethink the role they play in their customers’ lives, pushing the boundaries and running far outside conventional industry norms.
  2. Realization: We’re all in the technology business. Ford doesn’t just make cars. They deliver mobility solutions using the latest technology including ride sharing, autonomous vehicles, and alternative energy propulsion.  Amazon doesn’t just sell books.  Rather, they enable digital business in numerous ways – from drone deliveries to voice-command intelligent home systems to hosting other tech companies’ software in the cloud.  If you really think about it, nearly every business is now in the technology field.  From artists and musicians to financial planners and architects, embracing new technologies allow us to soar.
  3. Less sizzle, more Substance. Amazon doesn’t run flashy or boastful ads.  Ford is…well… “Built Ford Tough.”  Too often, companies polish their veneer in the form of fancy marketing or slogans but fail to consistently deliver the basics for their customers.  Both Ford and Amazon let their quality and service do the talking, which yields long-term customer delight instead of short-term wins paired with buyer remorse like so many of their competitors.

In your field, you can apply the same ‘triple threat’ approach to driving growth, profits, and achievement.  If these strategies can drive results for two seemingly unrelated companies, think what they can do for you.  Borrow these philosophies, and pretty soon your doctor’s office, community bank, bagel shop, software startup, or hair salon will be compared to captains of industry.  The other thing you’ll have in common: jaw-dropping success.

How “Micro-Innovations” Can Drive Breakaway Results

Posted on January 17, 2016 by Josh Linkner

The concept of innovation can be completely overwhelming.  Images of Edison inventing the light bulb or Henry Ford revolutionizing manufacturing push the idea of innovation outside the reach of us mere mortals.  If we define innovation as a gigantic, change-the-world, cure-cancer type breakthrough, the concept is relegated to a select few: billionaires, mad scientist inventors, CEO’s, and super-geniuses.

Yet the vast majority of human progress is crafted differently.  In fact, it’s the little creative shifts – what I refer to as micro-innovations – that most often carry the day.  These mini innovations can be subtle, but add up to significant results en masse.   A fresh way of conducting your weekly sales meeting.  Reimagining the physical layout of your shop floor.  A modern twist to the format you use to conduct job interviews. A novel way to manage a customer complaint.  A new item on the menu.

The folks at Proctor & Gamble were fighting hard to gain share of the $7 billion detergent marketing.  Instead of inventing some revolutionary magic serum, they used a small packaging change to win big.  Tide Pods were launched to allow customers to drop a small pod in the wash rather than pour from a messy bottle.  This micro-innovation led to stunning success, over $500 million of revenue in the product’s first year.

While game-changing breakthroughs are glamorous, small acts of ‘everyday innovation’ are the stuff of greatness.  Too often, we put the weight of the world on our shoulders and believe we only have two choices – a) world-shifting innovation, or b) do nothing.  With that kind of pressure, it’s no wonder that most of us restrict our creative output.  On the other hand, micro-innovations are accessible to us all.   Each of us – regardless of role, tenure, age, or title – has the ability to develop creative solutions that lead to real progress.  In this sense, innovation becomes a daily habit rather than a big, scary, overwhelming phenomenon. We all can be innovators, not just those in lab coats or with fancy degrees.

Take a look at your daily work, whatever it may be.  While totally disrupting your entire industry may be daunting, ask yourself what little creative twists could make a small difference.  Apply creative wonder to your product or service, production, culture, sales and marketing, recruiting, customer experience, and internal processes.  While micro-innovations may not land you on the cover of a magazine, they can absolutely fuel your performance.  Not to mention, they’re tremendously fun.

View your work through the lens of an artist, looking to add just a little splash of creativity to even the most mundane tasks. Remove the burden to develop gigantic a-ha moments of brilliance, and focus on a high output of micro-innovations.  Each change or twist may be small, but your results over time will be anything but puny.

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Chew On This!

Posted on January 10, 2016 by Josh Linkner

Caron Proschan loves healthy living.  She also loves gum.  After finishing an energizing workout at the gym one day, she reached for her pack of gum and realized a huge disconnect.  With plenty of healthy, all-natural food and beverage options, why was her gum a troubling shade of alien blue and packed with un-pronounceable chemicals that would pollute her body?  This a-ha moment led to the launch of a dream and a company – Simply Gum.

Gum

Turns out, the gum industry is big – $4 billion in the U.S. and over $20 billion worldwide.  It also turns out the industry is controlled by deeply entrenched giants, with two conglomerates accounting for 95% of the gum sales in the U.S.  The idea for an all-natural gum seemed cool, but how could Caron possibly take on the industry behemoths?  How could a bootstrapped entrepreneur from Queens, New York stand a chance against the lab jackets and deep pockets of her billion-dollar competitors?

In a recent interview, Caron shared her approach with me.  She embraced three key strategies to launch her company, which is now sold in over 1200 stores and is enjoying explosive growth.  The simple playbook of Simply Gum can help you take on your own giants and boost your success:

1. Embrace Dissonance– That little feeling of discomfort, knowing that something isn’t right, can be a fabulous heat map to opportunity.  Caron’s desire for a healthy gum in an unhealthy industry led to her breakthrough idea.  Look for moments of frustration in your own life, which will help forge a path to fresh ideas.

2. Focus on Differences– Most people in most industries follow the industry norms, and then wonder why their results are ho-hum.  Simply Gum, on the other hand, defied tradition.  Beautiful packaging, transparent, all-natural ingredients, and unusual flavors such as ginger, maple and coffee help Simply Gum stand out instead of blend in.  To truly triumph, focus more on what makes you unique and then scream those differences from the mountaintops.

3. Iterate Fast– Simply Gum is constantly refining their manufacturing processes, flavor profiles, and distribution strategies.  Speed is a powerful weapon against those slow, clunky incumbents, allowing this startup to adapt, learn, and grow faster than the big boys.  Rather than waiting until something is perfect, launch your product, service, or solution fast and then adapt quickly to refine and optimize your offering.

So far, the sleeping giants haven’t fired back at Simply Gum.  Caron is soaring while her competitors remain stuck in the mud. She’s using this precious time to grow and solidify her new approach to a stale industry.  In the same way Red Bull disrupted the beverage field, Caron and her team at Simply Gum are using these three killer strategies to carve out their own field of dreams.

Follow the lead of this creative entrepreneur.  Seek dissonance.  Stand out instead of blend in.  Adapt Fast.  You’ll likely enjoy a big boost of growth, and you’ll give your competition plenty to chew on.

Life Give You Lemons? Make Tacos.

Posted on January 3, 2016 by Josh Linkner

Imagine how lousy you’d feel if the restaurant you owned suffered a late night break-in. Glass shattered, your place in shambles, and valuables missing. You’d probably feel violated, frustrated, angry, and completely bummed out.

Those feelings are common when we’re dealt a setback. It’s easy to play the victim and let life’s challenges stop us dead in our tracks.  We bemoan our circumstances and focus on the injustice of it all.  We wallow in self-pity, fear, and doubt. Often, these obstacles are the very things that obstruct our path to achievement. The cards we’re dealt can feel overwhelming, and may hinder our ability to reach our full potential.

Alberto and Francisco poured their hearts into launching Frijoles & Frescas in the spring of 2014.  This wasn’t some corporate outpost; this was their life’s work. Which is why the break-in and vandalism stung even more when their place was robbed on December 16 in the dead of night. Security cameras captured the incident, and the heartbreak was felt deeply the next morning when these passionate co-owners learned the news.

Instead of experiencing defeat, Alberto and Francisco had something else in mind.  They saw this setback as an opportunity to both promote their restaurant and catch the thieves.  Twisting their troubles, they took the security footage of the robbery and turned it into a hilarious video.  As the security footage rolls, the video shows captions explaining that the thieves really wanted tacos.  The sidesplitting commentary goes on to say that their tacos are so good, people would do anything to get them.  As the thieves scour the store for cash, the caption reads “Guys frantically search for tacos.”   When the crooks rip the cash register from the counter, the caption reads, “Maybe they keep the tacos in the register.”

Set to funny music, more antics unfold with silly captions to crack up the viewers.  Near the end, a picture of the restaurant’s logo with a delicious plate of food appears with the caption, “We take full responsibility for what our tacos cause people to do.”

Promotion wasn’t enough; the creative restaurateurs also wanted revenge.  The video shows the faces of the felons with a caption “Please help us find these guys so we can get them the tacos they deserve.”  Next, of course, is the contact info for the local police department.

This creative flip probably felt great to produce and was cathartic for the owners in dealing with the crime.  Even better, it has now been viewed nearly four million times.  The corresponding media exposure and buzz has driven breakaway visibility and success for Alberto and Francisco, as the lines for their tacos are longer than ever.  Business is booming, and the setback was vaulted far into positive territory.

The same can be true for you.

2016 will likely bring its share of speed bumps, challenges, and obstacles. The good news is that you get to choose your response.  Don’t let the inevitable hurdles hold you back. Instead, take inspiration from the creative owners of a Las Vegas taco joint. Toss your problems back on the grill, add some spicy hot sauce, and serve up a delicious dish of progress and success.

Go The Extra Inch

Posted on December 20, 2015 by Josh Linkner

“Raise your hand as high as you can,” challenged bestselling author Seth Godin from the stage.

Over a thousand hands shot into the air, fingers stretched to the ceiling. Then Godin prodded, “Now raise your hands one more inch.” With giggles, outstretched arms extended higher in perfect unison.  The extra inch was achieved with no injuries reported.

We’ve been challenged since an early age to “go the extra mile.” This cliché’s overuse has rendered the advice useless, blending into the background like the crooked painting over your living room couch. Not to mention, an extra mile can feel like an overwhelming amount of work in an already busy whirlwind.

I prefer the concept of The Extra Inch. Infinitely more accessible. Deeply practical. Dead simple.

Instead of going the extra mile once or twice a year, reframe your approach to go the extra inch with rhythmic consistency.  To me, the extra inch is that little bit of extra effort applied to every deliverable you produce.  It’s the surprising language choice in an email to a client.  The extra garnish on the plate before serving a meal in your restaurant.  An extra provocative question during an impromptu meeting with a colleague. That little something special you add to your big sales presentation.

You get to create the extra inches that are right for you.  If you’re a student, the extra inch may be 10 additional minutes of study per day.  If you’re a software engineer, it could be one extra round of testing before launch.   Those working on projects can add one extra idea or concept that wasn’t part of the specifications, but takes the task to new heights.  Scientists can add one extra experiment, while athletes can add one extra set in the gym.

The concept applies to every aspect or your personal and professional life.  Add an extra inch when interacting with your significant other, just like you did years ago when dating.  Give an extra inch to your kids by being fully present and engaged.  Contribute an extra inch to your community or favorite charity.  That extra little zip – applied with consistency – will deliver a powerful impact for you and all those around you.

In fact, that extra inch is the stuff of greatness.  It’s what gets you noticed and promoted at work.  It allows you to secure the deal, score the investor, or drive the bottom line.  In a world of mediocrity where most people deliver the bare minimum, you can shine brightly by regularly adding just one extra touch of creativity, care, color, or compassion.

If someone demands the extra mile, tell ‘em you gave at the office.  But you have a nearly limitless supply of inches.  Give generously.

Your Single Best Investment for 2016

Posted on December 13, 2015 by Josh Linkner

As the New Year approaches, many organizations and individuals are deep in planning mode. Where will you make your bets to drive the best possible outcomes? What investments will hit pay dirt in the coming months and years?

Of course, there is great debate on which investments are ideal. TV pundits scream stock tips into the camera, while your sister-in-law tells you about a real estate deal that “can’t miss.” Commodities, precious metals, art, start-ups, mutual funds and foreign stocks are being discussed at the dinner table while new factory equipment, headcount expansion, marketing campaigns, and R&D are the talk of the boardroom.

As our heads spin with limitless — and sometimes conflicting — options, let’s turn to the most prolific investor of our time:

“Investing in yourself is the best thing you can do. Nobody can tax it or take it away from you … if you’ve maximized your talent, you’ve got a tremendous asset that can return tenfold.” — Warren Buffett

Stocks can go up or down, deals can collapse. But investments in your own growth and development are the surest bet around. The cost of a book, course, seminar, personal coach, or workshop is dwarfed by the insight and knowledge it can generate. Your ability to discover new ideas, close that important deal, win new investment, get promoted, or help your community is directly linked to your ability to learn and grow.

Surprisingly, most people don’t invest in themselves. According to a study by the Jenkins Group, 42% of college graduates never read another book after graduation. Eighty percent of U.S. families did not read a book last year, while 57% of new books are not read to completion. Whether you prefer books, TED talks, live workshops, or YouTube clips, investing in yourself can quickly deliver the edge you seek.

The same is true in the business world. According to a 2011 study by CEB, “Companies that invest in leadership development have outperformed others by 15 times over the last 60 years.” Businesses invest countless resources in technology, facilities, and compliance, yet the most powerful investment of all — investing to elevate team performance — is often underfunded or cut altogether. Ironically, companies that prioritize leadership development can enjoy enormous boosts in both revenue and productivity.

As you look ahead to the New Year, think about allocating some resources (time, money, energy) to personal and professional development. The format matters less than the focus, so choose whatever works best for you. Read. Explore. Watch. Learn. Grow. Evolve. Change. Adapt. Innovate. Expand. Investing in yourself and your team will fuel performance, and help make 2016 your best year yet.

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Hittin’ the Woodshed

Posted on December 6, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Charlie “Yardbird” Parker transformed himself from decent professional saxophone player into one of the most influential jazz musicians of the last 100 years.  The change happened during a 10-month period, when Parker essentially dropped out of the scene and worked deeply on his craft.

Parler

By fully immersing himself in an environment that pushed his mastery, he reemerged on a path to becoming a legend.

During this period of transformation, Parker practiced relentlessly in an old woodshed in an open field.  “Chopping wood” is now synonymous with doing the hard work of disciplined training.  Today, jazz cats around the world refer to “hitting the woodshed” as a metaphor for study, practice and personal growth.

Artists often retreat to their studio, while famous authors may seek inspiration in nature.  In each case, the creator removes herself from the daily grind in order to advance her craft and expand her art.

Regardless of your industry or profession, committing time to reinvention, creativity, and transformation can return big dividends.  Most of us spend our days heads down in transactional work; checking off to-do items but rarely taking time to explore the possibilities. Scheduling regular time in your own version of the woodshed allows you to discover new patterns and drive meaningful gains.  You don’t have to check out for months on end.  A regular cadence of just a couple hours a week can be the difference between average and extraordinary.  The more time you invest, the more your art will advance.

Nearly every type of work provides the opportunity to create art.  A dental assistant can do the basics, or help transform smiles and ongoing hygiene through the art of patient engagement. A life insurance agent can push paper, or use their art to help clients craft a rewarding financial future. You needn’t paint, play an instrument, or perform interpretive dance to be an artist.  Your art is in front of you, right in the context of your current role.

So the question becomes, how do we develop and expand our art?  How do we make the biggest contribution and seize our full potential?  Like the artists before us, dedicate time to building your chops and give yourself the freedom to creatively explore.  Whether your place of inspiration is an art museum, library, studio, lab, or woodshed, the more time you invest in the zone of exploration and growth, the more progress you’ll enjoy.

Your woodshed is your place for discovery. A place to demystify complexities.  Explore possibilities.  Hone your craft.  Look inward and outward.  Break apart traditions and rebuild something fresh.

There’s just no substitute for hitting the ‘shed.  The good news – you’ll find a small time investment will deliver profound rewards in return.  Now is your time to chop wood.  Your art awaits.

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How To Be Attractive

Posted on November 29, 2015 by Josh Linkner

We all want to be attractive.  To get to the next level in our lives, we are trying to “attract” people: investors, employees, voters, customers, suppliers, friends, a mate, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc.  Of course, we need to turn up the attraction far beyond physical beauty and style to reach our goals in today’s hypercompetitive world.

The most successful business leaders use six key strategies to boost attractiveness. You can harness the same approach to drive meaningful results in your company, career, and community:

1) Lead with passion — When you are passionate about your ideas and connected to the purpose behind your mission, your attractiveness goes through the roof.  In the words of military theorist Ferdinand Foch, “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.”  Amen.

2) Don’t fake it — Nowadays, we all have highly developed “BS detectors.” Keep it real. Authenticity trumps fancy talk any day. Trust must be earned and can be shattered in an instant. Stop being apologetic for who you are not, and celebrate who you are.

3) Be interested instead of interesting — Dale Carnegie had it right — you attract others when you are genuinely interested in them. Listen more, talk less. Ask questions and seek to understand. You’ll be amazed how everyone suddenly wants to be your friend.

4) Don’t waiver — If you are second-guessing yourself or your ideas, so will others. Confidence is the most attractive attribute in any act of persuasion, personal or business. Stand firm to your beliefs, and in turn, others will gravitate to you.

5) Be remarkable — The world doesn’t need another me-too anything. Whether you’re selling your product, yourself, or your vision, make sure they are unique and compelling. Dream your own dreams, not a slight variation of someone else’s.

6) Make a difference — If your idea is a scheme to make piles of cash at the expense of the world, you’ll have an easier time pushing boulders up a mountain. If you are solving a real human problem and truly working to make the world a better place, it will show and you will shine.

The toll booth to your next level of greatness is likely an upcoming act of persuasion. Seize these laws of attraction, and you’ll have more pull than a high-powered magnet. Focus on who you are, and the money, friends, team members, lovers, and supporters will materialize as if they were ordered from Amazon.com. Overnight delivery.

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