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Have a Purpose. Don’t Innovate.

One last blog post I read that I am way behind on.

Please, Can We All Just Stop “Innovating”? is posted at the Harvard Business Review Blog.  Bill Taylor tackles how companies are over killing innovation as a business practice.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which did not get nearly the attention it deserved, made the case that the word “innovation” has outlived its usefulness. “Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovations strategies, and even innovation days,” the hard-hitting piece noted. “But that doesn’t mean the companies are actually doing any innovating. Instead they are using the word to convey monumental change when the progress they’re describing is quite ordinary.”

Innovation is used everywhere for everything today.  I agree with the WSJ article.  A lot of the “innovation” is a quite ordinary change.

Here are three examples in the post about truly innovative work.

Southwest Airlines never said, “We want to be the country’s most innovative airline.” Its leadership said, “We want to ‘democratize the skies’ and give rank-and-file Americans the freedom to fly.” They perfected a new way to be an airline by virtue of what they wanted to achieve as an airline. They did what made sense to them, even if their strategies made no sense to the legacy carriers.

Tony Hsieh and his colleagues at Zappos never said, “We want to introduce innovations to e-commerce and do a better job of selling shoes over the Internet.” They said, “We wanted to build the greatest customer-service brand in the world, a company whose mission is not simply to deliver products but to deliver happiness.” Thus Zappos created a special culture, a unique way of doing business, and an almost mythic status among its customers, who have given the company permission to sell all sorts of products above and beyond shoes.

Cirque du Soleil did not set out to make a few tweaks to the traditional three-ring circus, or market-test a few new acts as a way to offer innovations vis-a-vis Ringling Brothers. Rather, an immensely talented group of street performers set out to define a whole new category of live entertainment, a creative leap that made perfect sense to the artists who dreamed it up, but made no sense to circus veterans or to audiences who had never seen such shows before.

The common theme Bill points out is having a purpose.  In all three cases, having a strong purpose that was communicated and believed in led to the innovative thinking.  It was delivering to the customer that mattered.  Not being “innovative”.

Have a purpose you believe in.  Understand the customer.  Deliver to the need.  Innovation will come.

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Zappos – Lean Like?

The lean philosophy starts and ends with the customer.  If we are not adding value for the customer then we will not be around for very long.  I have worked in several industries and every where I have been the companies talk stress being customer focused.  Unfortunately, in every case it is just lip service.  As soon as push comes to shove, the focus is on what is best for my world or silo and we quit talking about the customer.  It can get frustrating, because there are companies that are focused on the customer and drive it as their core business value.

Zappos is one company that focuses on the customer experience.  There is a great interview with their CEO Tony Hsieh (an 18 minute video of the interview too that is worth watching).  Tony Hsieh states:

“….the ultimate aim of the Zappos brand is to be the very best when it comes to customer service and consumer experience.”

Tony goes on to say:

“In the long run, customer service is just good business,” he says. “The problem, however, is that the payoff is usually two or three years down the line.”

That sounds great.  I have heard it all before, but what actions are they taking that makes this come to life and stick to the long-term thinking?  From the article:

  • The company provides free shipping both ways
  • Zappos has a 365 day return policy
  • Only products available in the warehouse are placed on the site
  • The warehouse is open 24 hours a day
  • The company is contactable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • The 1800 contact number is prominently placed on every page of the site
  • The company trusts in its reps; sales staff don’t have scripts
  • If products are unavailable, sales staff direct customers to competitors

As an online consumer, I really like the things listed above because they get to the heart of some of the issues I have had purchasing online.  There were two bullet points that caught my attention the most.  The first was The warehouse is open 24 hours a day”.  In the video, Tony Hsieh talks about this in more detail.  They understand running a warehouse 24/7 may not be the most efficient way to run a warehouse, but it drives quicker turn around of a customer order and increasing the customer experience.  Tony talks about automatically upgrading the shipping of repeat customers.  Some orders are placed at midnight and could be received 8 hrs later.  8 hrs later!  I have never received anything in less than 24 hrs and that is after paying an arm and a leg to upgrade to overnight shipping.

The second bullet point that caught my eye was “If products are unavailable, sales staff direct customers to competitors”.  If you are concentrating on delivering the best customer experience and not driving sales this makes sense.  The customer is looking for something now or maybe it is something Zappos will never carry so direct them to where they can get it.  This thought is, by doing this the customer remembers how much of a help it was for them and they come back later, building a loyal satisfied customer based.  How many of our companies would drive a customer to a competitor if we didn’t have what they wanted?

How does Zappos drive this behavior in it’s employees?

Ultimately, Hsieh believes that every company needs to determine its core values, and rather than have a vague sense of what those ideas should be, he insists it is important to select ‘committable’ core values.

So what are the values?

1. Deliver WOW Through Service

2. Embrace and Drive Change

3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

5. Pursue Growth and Learning

6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

8. Do More With Less

9. Be Passionate and Determined

10. Be Humble

Doesn’t a lot of this seem very lean like?  #1 is customer focus.  #4 sounds like “creativity over capital”.  #5 is continuous learning.  #6 is respect for people.  The similarities are there.  Tony Hsieh does not claim that Zappos is a lean company.  It just seems like what we look for as lean leaders though.  Zappos has taken on trying to teach their culture to others.  There is a great blog about it and how you have to relate this to your company, not just copy and paste, which is what we have seen people do over the years from 5S to andon lights and so on.

So why hasn’t everyone heard of Zappos if they have such great customer service? In the video, Tony Hsieh mentions Zappos does not advertise much if any.  They are very reliant on word of mouth based on the customer experience.

I hope to help my company be so customer focused.  What about you?


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