Finding Insight in a Box of Matzah

Greetings. For most of us in business today, selling our products and services is one of the greatest challenges we face…even when we have pretty darn remarkable offerings. After all, most customers have lots of choices, plenty of information, and only so much money to spend. Yet, in our wildest dreams, we fantasize about our ability to create products and services that will literally sell themselves. Products and services that are so unique, so intrinsically valuable, so totally cool, so compelling, and so essential to life on the planet that our customers simply can’t live without them. Products and services that seem, up to a point, to defy the laws of cost, competition, and even nature.

Yes these products and services do exist, but they are few and far between. Still we marvel at the brilliance of companies like Apple, Tesla, Airbnb, Under Armour, and even Lululemon before we could see through their clothing. Companies that inspire us to think that we, too, might also reinvent our industries in ways that really matter.

So imagine the challenge of trying to sell a product that is not only very old but hasn’t really changed much since the time it was invented. And when I say old, I mean really old. Like 3,500 years old. And as for innovation, which most of us assume to be a vital ingredient of business success, the only major change has been its production methods which were initially quite crude and crafted more out of necessity rather than a carefully developed plan.

Then let’s add to the equation the simple market reality that most customers only buy this product for seven or eight days a year. And that the folks who buy it represent one of the smallest market segments on earth. Now add to the mix the fact that there are plenty of competitors fighting for this modest market and using the same exact ingredients to make products that few customers would ever suggest was awesome.

Okay, so I’m talking about matzah. A product that is somewhat popular during this spring holiday season. The “bread of affliction.” An edible tribute to the exodus from Egypt in roughly the year 1,500 B.C. (or B.C.E.). A staple of the Jewish holiday of Passover that only a limited number of people have been chosen to eat. Sure anyone could buy it, and you could certainly eat it the rest of year. But let’s be serious. In a world filled with freshly-baked bagels, pumpernickel, croissants, brioche, baguettes, and even English muffins or Martin’s potato rolls, who (in their right mind) would opt for matzah?

And yet, the folks at Yehuda Matzos have somehow managed to be voted Numero Uno in the world of whole wheat matzah. And one taste of their crisp, beautiful, and rather ancient-looking treat confirms that they have magically figured out how to turn whole wheat flour and water into a veritable taste sensation. In fact, their matzah is different and each year compels me to imagine what it must have been like wandering through the desert with Moses hoping only to find a bit of advice from God and an oasis where they sold premium quality peanut butter.

Which leads to one simple idea. No matter what you do, commit to being the best you can be! Because every company, product, service, or even individual has the potential to be remarkable in ways that really matter. Even if the heart of your “offerings” is all about authenticity or a certain biblical requirement. The most enduring businesses, offerings, and people are the ones that consistently figure this out.

Yehuda Matzos

We win in business and in life when we commit to being #1 in something worth doing. And when we understand what is truly possible for our products, services, and customers, more deeply than anyone else.

Cheers!

Re-Imagining College

Greetings. After a week of college visits with our middle daughter Carly, I am quite a bit more optimistic about young people, education, the value of college, and even the future.

I just have to figure out a way to pay for it.

But a couple of ideas strike me that might make the entire experience of going to college even more compelling for all of our kids and the world we share…

First, wouldn’t it be a great idea if every high school graduate were required to work for at least a year before starting college? A year or more in which they could get a better sense of what the world of work is like, imagine and even explore future career options, take a “break” after thirteen straight years of school, and even make a bit of money that they can use to contribute to their education. All of which would make going to college a lot more meaningful (and possibly more focused) when they arrived. I sense that this is not a particularly popular idea among most students, their parents, and colleges who worry that kids will somehow get “off-track” by interrupting their studies…even though it would benefit all of them.

Second, wouldn’t it be a great idea if every college student was required to spend at least one semester studying, learning, and living in another country and culture? A semester or more in which they could get a much deeper understanding of just how similar and different people are in other places, become more open-minded about other people and the world they live in, and stretch their abilities to adapt and grow in new and unfamiliar places. All essential skills in their lives as global citizens. I sense that this is a slightly more popular idea but that not enough students ever take advantage of the opportunity for any number of reasons.

College should be a time of remarkable learning and personal discovery. A gift to be welcomed and appreciated. And I sense that Carly and most of her friends will make even more of the opportunity if they see its even greater connection to their lives, careers, the broader world, and their own unique potential.

college

We win in business and in life when we view learning more broadly than simply going to college and getting a degree. And when we imagine our own amazing potential to learn and grow.

Cheers!

The Power of Games

Greetings. King Digital Entertainment, creator of the wildly popular game “Candy Crush Saga” and a number of other similar puzzle-centric games is in the news as it seeks to go public and raise roughly half a billion dollars to support its growth. If successful, the company will be valued at $7.6 billion…a remarkable sum for an enterprise that sells a limited number of highly-addictive games on line. Though it is estimated that an average of 144 million people are playing Candy Crush daily. Wow! And, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am semi-addicted to playing. Actually, if you could hold on for a moment I’ll try to get through Level 68.

But seriously…

The success of this company…which began as a small game development shop in Stockholm in 2002…and has now attracted more interest than Pope Francis, should cause all of us to think about what it takes to create products, services, solutions, and experiences that are fun, engaging, and somewhat addictive. Offerings and experiences that are difficult to put down because they make it easy for customers to get involved, develop their abilities, have fun, and even learn new things.

Candy-crush-saga-portada

Games have been part of every civilization on earth. And it is not unreasonable to think that there might be a compelling opportunity to “game-ify,” in some meaningful way, all of the products, services, solutions, and customer experiences we offer. Increasingly we see this happening in engaging marketing campaigns and training programs, and those are a great starting point. But what about the power of making play a significant part of all of our stuff? At VENTURE WORKS we are regularly using play and exploration as the key to unlocking greater innovation for our customers with wonderful results and I’m convinced that the same principles can apply to almost any business, government, or nonprofit initiative that you and your colleagues might offer.

Principles derived from the success of a simple and addictive game.

We win in business and in life when we make our offerings fun, challenging, and somewhat addictive. And when we understand that play is an essential part of being human.

Cheers!

The Gift of Appreciation

Greetings. A remarkable woman named Alice Herz-Sommer died Sunday at the age of 110. As far as we know, she was the oldest survivor of the Holocaust. But her longevity was just a small part of the amazing story of a concert pianist and eternal optimist who found great beauty in music and life. Music that would actually keep her alive through unspeakable atrocities that included the deaths of almost all of her family members at the hands of the Nazis.

Alice-Herz Sommer

Sent from her home in Prague to a concentration camp in 1943 with her husband and son, she would survive by playing more than one hundred concerts inside the camp until she and her son were liberated by the Russian army in May of 1945. In 1949 she would move to Israel where she continued to play and teach music at the Jerusalem Conservatory until 1986 when she moved to London at the urging of her son who would share her love of music and become a concert cellist.

And through everything, she had an amazing ability to never hate and always see beauty in her life. These words from a recent interview capture her essence:

I think I am in my last days but it does not really matter because I have had such a beautiful life.”

And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love.”

You can learn more about her story, or at least a small but beautiful part of it, in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Lady in Number 6. Simply watch the trailer and you will quickly understand the gift that was Alice Herz-Sommer…

Alice Herz-Sommer 2

The Lady in Number 6 “Trailer”

We win in life and business when we cut through all of the challenges we face to find beauty, meaning, and hope. And when we take the time to appreciate the gifts of those who inspire us to see goodness in the face of the worst that is around us. 

Cheers!

Employees and Customers

Greetings. Many of you know that I’m a big fan of the Container Store, a company that has built a remarkable business and a powerful brand by helping all of us to be better organized. It’s a company with thoughtful and energized employees, attractive stores, and a wide range of products all intended to enable us to get our “stuff” under control. They even have simple and user-friendly storage design tools that take the guesswork out of planning. And also being a big fan of the late comedian George Carlin, who was a passionate and humorous commentator on the notion that all of us in America have way too much stuff, I am continually amused (and even frustrated) by the role that stuff plays in our lives.

But I’m also impressed with how passionate the employees of the Container Store are about their mission and how much the company seems to love and value its employees. In fact, it places employees first in all of its decisions and actions…believing that happy, engaged, and empowered employees are the best way to make customers happy. And this approach raises an important issue…

Who should come first in all of our businesses…customers or employees?

For a while, the popular notion was that organizations placing customers first were more likely to be successful. After all, customers are our raison d’etre. But companies like the Container Store, which win high marks for being great places to work, are making a powerful case that hiring, supporting, and inspiring the right employees is the best way to deliver a great customer experience. And it seems to make a lot of sense, because all too often businesses claim to care about customers but treat their own employees with so little regard that even the most customer-centric ones are challenged to keep doing the right thing continually.

In an era when the average tenure of a new hire is less than a year according to Fast Company magazine the experience of the Container Store, and other businesses like it, should challenge all of us to make sure that we are finding and nurturing the very best team members as the best way to ensure that we are building the very best customer relationships.

container_store

We win in business and in life when we hold our own people in the highest regard. And when we give them the encouragement and tools to bring real magic and even a bit of organization to the customers we have the privilege to serve.

Cheers!