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June 2011 Archives

Winning Like Dirk and Rory

Posted by Bill Lee on June 23, 2011 at 02:13 PM

We've just been treated to the sweet site of two superb athletes come back, big time, from the depths of sporting despair. In golfer Rory McIlroy's case, he blew a four stroke lead  at the Masters last April by shooting an 80 in the final round (a 43, I believe, on the last nine holes -- I've shot a 43 before!) Last week he bounced right back, big time, to win the US Open going away with a record score.

NBA star Dirk Nowitski is the leader of the Dallas Mavericks, who blew a big lead in the NBA finals in 2006--2 game up and just minutes away from winning their 3d--when the Miami Heat stormed back, won the 3d game and then three more in a row to humiliate the Mavs. Two weeks ago, the Mavs soundly beat the same team--this time enhanced by LeBron James and Chris Bosh, to win it all. Sweet redemption.

Success is always sweet. But success  on the heels of disatrous failure is even sweeter. A few things that both athletes share in common help explain their resiliance.

1. They have a passion for their game.

Rory used to go to sleep holding a 4 iron to cement the grip into his mind. Basketball wasn't Dirk's first sport (it was tennis, of all things--imagine seeing an athletic 7-footer across the net from you). But you get the feeling that if he wasn't playing in the NBA, he'd be happily banging away in a city league somewhere.

2. They value mentors.

Dirk has a mentor that's been with him since he moved to the states as a 19 year old from Germany, who puts him through grueling drills and exercises, and also helps keep his head on straight. After a few years getting banged around by NBA level players, the young German was ready to quit and go home. His mentor told him, "No, we don't do that." After his Master's meltdown, Rory sought out Jack Nicklaus, who's won more major tournaments than anyone, and asked him, "How do you close out a major?" And then took his lessons learned to heart.

3. They show up.

The glamour, excitement and fame both athletes enjoy are a small part of the job description. Developing the superb skills that both posses requires showing up for hours of practice, practice, practice. And then the next day, doing it again. And again.  Dirk's work ethic is legendary in Dallas, where I live. Why do they put themselves through this? See #1 above.

4. They never settle.

I've watched Dirk play for 13 seasons now, and he continues to noticeably improve his game every year. He seems always to be working on new offensive moves, some of which require intricate footwork that he works on until he can pull off, under pressure, with a tough and equally (if not more so) athletic opponent in his face. He's been an All Star several times, a league MVP, and now a finals MVP and NBA champion. But you can bet he'll be back in the gym doing the gym rat thing day after day so he take his game up to a new level again next year. I hope Rory takes the same approach to his game and career.

Yet Another Type of Value Customers Can Provide

Posted by Bill Lee on June 15, 2011 at 03:48 PM

Readers of this blog know that customers can create value for firms well beyond their purchases. They can market for you, sell for you, spread positive word of mouth, provide referrals, help build customer communities, contribute valuable input into product development and strategy, and more. This month's Harvard Business Review shows how customers can provide yet another type of value: motivating employees. 

Customers are much more motivational to employees than their managers or firm leaders. Radiologists shown just a photo of patient they'd never met were inspired to read X-rays more carefully and accurately. A simple picture was enough to remind them of the importance of their work. College fund raisers were inpsired to increase their efforts upon meeting a student who'd received a scholarship due to their efforts. Wells FArgo Bank, managers show videos of customers who were saved from severe debt by the bank's low interest loans--all of these, vivid reminders of the ultimate purpose of what they do. 

Think your business is too mundane for such an exercise. Jack Stack, CEO of Springfield Remanufacturing Company (now SRC Holdings), which was famous for rapid growth of firm in Missouri that remanufactured engines, spurred his employees by distributing sales and promotional materials to their assembly lines, showing that the engines they were building powered the trucks and tractors that worked farms and transported goods that put food on families' tables. Employees began to swell with pride. Later Stack learned that one of his workers had been out with his son and saw a truck from one of the brochures. The worker said, "Your daddy built that engine." 

THe HBR research also showed that firm leaders who try to inspire the troops are much less successful. Conclusion: to motivate and inspire better performance, forget the speeches. Bring in people or families that have benefitted from what your employees do.

Tribes vs. Communities: You Be The Judge

Posted by Bill Lee on June 6, 2011 at 03:35 PM

What shall we call peer association groups--such as those formed by dog lovers, or software engineers, or quilters, or Harley owners? Or, more to the point for my particular audience, what shall we call peer groups that companies form for their customers, or that customers form for themselves?

Seth Godin and others have advocated we call them tribes. I'm advocating communities. Names matter, particularly when they come with histories attached, so let's look at the historical differences. I'll let you be the judge.

  • Tribes are exclusionary. They impose arbitrary criteria on membership--things like race, ethnicity, kinship. Communities tend toward inclusiveness. Doesn't matter what your color, race, heritage are--do you share our values and interests? Join us!
  • Tribes tend to be hierarchial, with social structure based on rank. Communities tend toward egalitarianism, with status conferred by merit, not social rank.
  • Tribes tend to be autocratic. They're typically ruled by a "chief." Communities tend toward empowerment. Thomas Jefferson regarded the town halls built by the early communities in New England as the great laboratories for the democracy that emerged in America.
  • Tribes value traditionalism, the way we've always done things. Communities value education. They're more interested in "what's next?" than "what was." 
  • When it comes to outsiders, tribes are about "us vs. them." Communities are about "how can we grow something bigger than either of us alone?"

Look at regions, such as the Middle East or AFrica, where tribes form the foundation for societies. They inculcate an outlook that's hard to overcome in their efforts to build modern, liberal, entreprenurial societies.  Communities, on the other hand, were the social building blocks in America. Were they always perfect--of course not, human nature being what it is. But they were key to our entrepreneurism and democracy. 

Want me to join your "tribe"? I'll pass. I'll go with that other group that calls itself a community.