As a creature of habit, my morning routine establishes the course of my day. I wake up while everyone else is still asleep, so I have the house to myself. I make a cup of coffee, cook a bit of bacon, and then sit at the kitchen table to read from a book for thirty minutes. After reading, I get to work on my current writing project. This is my idea of a perfect morning.
It all turns to dust the minute I check my email. The urgent leaps out from the screen, grabs me by the throat, and drags me kicking and screaming away from my perfect morning into the bowels of the salt mines.
Ten minutes or less of browsing Facebook, Twitter, or the internet at large and one walks away with an inevitable conclusion. Outrage is everywhere. It’s “trending” and has been for some time.
Outrage is a natural outcome of judgement and, by nature, is unproductive. When the outrage is personal, as in “you have done this directly to me,” it can sometimes fuel a movement. But abstract outrage – like most of the current outrage expressed on the internet and social media – only serves to burn up a lot of energy. It gives the person expressing the outrage a quick hit of endorphins along with the illusion they’ve actually done something. In reality, they accomplish nothing.
Raise your hand if you LOVE to reach an automated attendant when contacting a company’s customer service number with a problem.
I don’t see very many hands raised, and most of them are standing in the back, close to the exits.
There are very few things more despised than navigating through a call-tree, yet they’re everywhere. It’s the world’s largest undocumented forest.
If customers hate them so much, why are there so many?
All week long we’ve spent looking at the various ways in which the number one is a terrible number when it comes to your business, non-profit, or venture.
Now, it’s your turn. What is your most dangerous “one?” Where do you potentially have a single point of failure built in to your work, business, or project?
Do you have one source of revenue that would cripple your business if you lost it tomorrow? One supplier who controls your “key ingredient?” Does your toolbox contain a Birmingham screwdriver and nothing else? Does your business only have one way of doing things that dates back to the days of blacksmiths and milkmen?
A honey-maker cannot build a business with just one bee. The critical component to your business process sourced to a single supplier can create chaos – for reasons both legitimate and malignant.
A cabinet maker needs wood, a baker needs flour, and a brewer needs hops.
Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company and brewer of Sam Adams beer, has gone to considerable lengths to protect the hops supply he considers most critical to his beer. He has cultivated personal relationships with Bavarian growers responsible for rare and fragile hops. When the Hallertau Mittelfrüh hop was on the verge of going extinct, Koch and the team at Sam Adams worked with the growers and the greater German beer industry to examine and address the underlying causes. These efforts (along with long-term financial deals) protected Koch and Sam Adams against some of the predatory practices of the giants of the beer industry, who had been known to overpay for entire crops just in order to deny the crucial hops to upstart competitors.
If you and I were to walk down the pasta aisle of a supermarket circa 1976, you might be amazed. Not at what you saw, but amazed at what you didn’t see. When it came to spaghetti sauce, there was as little shelf space as there were choices to be made. You’d likely see only two brands, Ragu or Chef Boyardee, and only two flavors, plain and “with meat”. In the 70’s, and for several decades preceding that, there was only one way to mass-produce spaghetti sauce – thin, blended, and somewhat bland.
All of that changed a decade later when Campbell’s Soup hired market researcher Howard Moskowitz in an attempt to revive the slugging sales of its new brand, Prego. Moskowitz had been arguing for years that there was more than one way to make almost everything in the grocery store, spaghetti sauce included. Moskowitz altered the basic recipe for Prego and tested 45 different varieties. Campbell’s and Moskowitz selected the best-performing of the 45 varieties and relaunched with the new recipe and an expanded selection. The combination was an immediate hit with consumers, Prego grabbed a big chunk of Ragu’s dominant market share, and practically overnight forty years of the one way to mass-produce and market spaghetti sauce changed forever. Today, both Prego and Ragu each offer over thirty different pasta sauces to choose from and the sauce section occupies more than half the shelf space on the pasta aisle in supermarkets.
Clipboard tucked under an arm and staring at his phone as he rolled down the driveway on a hoverboard, I’ll admit to judging this book by the cover before he even rang my doorbell.
He worked for Terminex and in less than two minutes, it was apparent he only had one tool in his toolbox: price.
“Do you mind if I ask you what you’re currently paying for pest control service?”
He didn’t stand a chance.
There is nothing quite so dangerous as having all of your income dependent on one revenue source. Every day is spent balanced on the knife’s edge, one unfortunate misunderstanding away from being out of business.
At different times in my career I’ve encountered situations where a single revenue source was responsible for 85% or more of the company’s income. In each circumstance, the need for corrective action was obvious, important, and urgent.
In one case the company operated in the business-to-business arena with only a handful of potential customers (about 24). We shifted a set of resources from the major, highly profitable account and moved them to a couple of smaller, less profitable accounts. Though the company’s bottom line took a hit in the short term, we established relationships with those customers and began to build trust. Over the next several years the revenue and profitability grew with those customers, as the initial seeds we planted bloomed. With increased marketing focus, we also increased the potential customer-base from 24 customers to around 100. All of this work paid off when the company that had initially been the major account filed for bankruptcy protection five years after we began the diversification process.
Everyone wants to be Number One. We climb, claw, and fight our way to the top for the privilege and honor of being able to declare, “We’re number one!”
But when it comes to business, one is the worst possible number. You NEVER want to find yourself with “one.” One customer, one vendor, one supplier, one key employee, one way of doing things, one of anything. I suppose there might be cases where “one” works, but even in those instances, two or more is almost always better.
Anywhere in your business that the number one can be found, it’s your job to root it out. When there’s a “one” in your business it will often become a choke point; the bottleneck that defines the velocity for the entire enterprise. You’ll find your efforts stuck there again and again and again.
The 2008 global financial meltdown. Hurricane Katrina. Pearl Harbor. 9/11. These are only a few examples of disasters that might have been significantly less horrific, and in some cases maybe even outright prevented, if people had listened to those trying to sound the warning.
The intelligence failures of Pearl Harbor, repeated again during 9/11 have been well documented in countless books. The warnings of levee failure in advance of Hurricane Katrina were so numerous that in retrospect it seems to have been common knowledge among the federal, state, and local government agencies involved. The post disaster finger-pointing among those groups is every bit as prolific as the pre-disaster warnings appear to have been. Academy award-winning movie The Big Short (based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name) vividly portrays just a few of the people who were warning of a looming financial meltdown.
All of these examples tip on the extreme end of listening failures. In our day-to-day experiences, it is rare that our lack of effective listening could affect the lives of thousands of people. This doesn’t, however, lessen our burden to give our full attention to listening when we engage in communicating with the people in our lives.
We’re not very good at it.