“Just one thing”

In a scene in the movie, Central Intelligence, Kevin Hart’s character is reconnecting with a high school classmate, “Fat Robby,” played by Dwayne Johnson.

Hart asks how he got in such great shape. Robby responds:

I didn’t do much really. All right.

I just did one thing.

I worked out 6 hours a day, every day, for the last 20 years. Anybody could do it, right?

That reminded of something I see in the telling of a lot of success, and failure, stories.

People try to boil it down to just one thing.

But, the real story is more like what Johnson says after that. It really wasn’t just one thing.

Hart’s face is the typical response you get when you try to explain it’s really more than just one thing.

Walmart’s success is a good example.

The first thing people think about Walmart is low prices.

Many people think that’s the ‘just one thing’ for Walmart.

They missed that Walmart invested heavily in its supply chain management, long before other retailers. They did this to help save costs and keep prices low, but it also had an unexpected benefit. It meant that stores were stocked and shoppers more often found what they wanted.

Even the second generation Walmart management lost sight of this, and other, important value dimensions as they focused on the ‘just one thing’ of low price in the 90s and 00s.

They kept costs low by doing things like servicing shelves less and cutting cashier labor to the bone.

This led to messy, disorganized stores and long lines at the checkout.

Walmart may have what you want on the shelf, but they made it less appealing and less convenient to get it.

For a lot of customers, cleaner, more organized stores with shorter checkout lines became more appealing, even if the prices weren’t rock bottom.

Losing customers to competition made Walmart management realize they had neglected the importance of these other value dimensions. So, they put more effort into keeping stores clean and organized and making it easier to check out.

Business improved.

It’s good to remember that success and failures usually come down to more than just one thing.

Many times those other contributors are not obvious.

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Why not?

I stumbled upon this nice article about Brian Wong, young CEO of Kiip, a company that is effectively integrating ads into mobile games.  He asks an interesting question.

Every single one of us wanted to be an astronaut when we were young. And every time I say this, everybody goes, “Yeah, yeah.” I’m like, “What happened?” Like why did everybody just start deciding to be an accountant or a banker.

How many of us would do this?

John Maloney is the president of Tumblr, and I’ve known him since September of 2009. I actually made a trip out to New York with some friends as a vacation, which was the first time I’ve ever been to New York. Instead of being on vacation, I decided to be an idiot and emailed like 40 people. Folks like Fred Wilson [a venture capitalist] and John Maloney responded. I ended up having coffees with both of them, and John brought me back to the Tumblr offices.

On keeping perspective and succeeding:
…a year ago I was broke and I had no job [after being laid off from Digg].

And then seven, eight months later, when I call my mom up and I’m like, “Hey mom! We just got money!” And she’s like, “Oh. Now that your company’s healthy, you need to be healthy. Eat some more vegetables.” Like my dad literally grew up in a village in the middle of China that had mud houses. And to him, what he has now — like he’s living in an apartment, he has a roof over his head, he has food to eat and he can eat whatever he wants, he can walk along the water, which is where [my parents] live in Vancouver — it’s like he taught me how to be appreciative of the little things. He taught me to remember where you’re from, and that as long as you have a beating heart and you’re not a lazy motherf*cker, you can make something out of yourself. That’s it.

Gervais on Success

Ricky Gervais

Test Marketing

I recommend this 12 minute Harvard Business Review podcast with Ricky Gervais. These are the parts that stuck out for me.

First, he agrees with me about awards.

The awards.  They’re a thrill. But, deep down, I know its only the opinions of a few people and it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose.

I’ve often been amazed at how awards are generally accepted as some great honor, when many times they’re a results of nothing more politics.  If you follow any awards like the Nobel Prize or even the Oscars, ask yourself what you really know about the people making the selection.  How and why is their criteria better than ours’?

Gervais continues on what he thinks is important:

What matters is the work you did. You tried your hardest and you’re proud of it.  You brought something into the world.  That’s the important thing.

I don’t try to please anyone except myself.  And if people like what I do, that’s fantastic.  If they don’t like it, then that’s good too.  If you start to try to water it down or second guess people, you end up with something so safe and homogenized that a lot of people will like, but they won’t love it.

I’ve always wanted to rather do something that really moved a million people then washes over 10 million.

I think that’s an extremely important insight.  Many successful organizations who have established their million fans make the mistake of trying too hard to expand to 10 million to find out that they’ve lost their million fans and aren’t that well liked by the other 9 million people.  I’d rather keep the million and find something else that works for another million.

I like the following because I think many successful people have their collaborators that we hear very little about.  Buffett has Munger, for instance.  Vince has E.

These are the no bullshit people.  That means these guys are tight enough with the Talent that they don’t blow smoke up the Talent’s bohunkus just to earn a spot in the entourage.  And the Talent trusts, values and appreciates their opinion — though they may not always agree.

Gervais explains how his collaboration with Stephen Merchant works.

It helps with two people.  Two heads are better than one.  But, there’s a compromise, which is bad. The best things are a single vision. So, you got to find a single vision between the two of you.

One, it’s luck.  Out of 6 billion people, I bumped into someone who sees eye-to-eye on 90 percent on everything we talk about.

He and Merchant have a golden rule.  One veto and it’s out.  No justification or compromise.  It just goes.

So, what you end up with the compromise is that every second of that thing, you both love it.

I love how Gervais appreciates the luck of finding a good collaborator.  I see so many people who I believe could be much more successful if only that could find those people they hit it off with.

I liked this bit about how he gets his material because it ties in with the experimentation and crowd sourcing themes that I write about on this blog frequently:

The things I work up on my own, it’s an evolution.  It’s a process of natural selection.  So the audience chooses the best bits.  They either laugh or they don’t.

So, if I do something that isn’t funny, they don’t laugh and it doesn’t survive.

If I say something that is funny, it’s funny every time.

What you’re left with at the end of a series of gigs is a survival of the fittest.  It’s the best gene pool that I could come up with.

So, I’ve got a room full of 10,000 collaborators and critics.

I’ve found the same thing with business presentations.  The best presentation I do on a new subject is about the fifth time I’ve presented the material, because I try a variety of things to illustrate a point and I keep the stuff that worked in presentations one through four and drop the stuff that didn’t.  And it works.

That’s why it’s always good to find practice audiences, have a keen eye for body language and learn how to cull out honest feedback.

Finally, on dealing with the fact not everything is for everybody and his inspiration.

I just do things that make me laugh and I always think that if I do something that genuinely makes me laugh, with no ulterior motive other than ‘that’s funny’, then there will be someone else in the world that finds it as funny as me.

And with 6 billion people in the world, there’s probably quite a few people who find it as funny as me.

And, that’ll do for me. That really will do.

BMW Just Gave Away Their Secret to Success

I was watching the Olympics and saw the ad, that is currently playing on BMW’s website.  It gives away the secret to their success. If only other businesses would listen.

The narrator in the ad says:

We realized a long time ago that what you make people feel is just as important as what you make…

Yes.

That is value proposition. Many businesses and products that had what seemed like good products failed because they didn’t realize this.

I remember once, a long time ago as a young engineer in my first job working with an older engineer that was hooked on Corvettes.  He had bought many over the years.  He was trying to call GM to get some spare parts and was having a terrible time with the customer service department in getting anyone who not only knew something, but would actually treat him with respect.  Here’s a loyal customer for goodness sake.  This gentlemen was nearly in tears as he described to me the experience and explained that had ended his love affair with the Corvette.

Here Chevy had a hit product and loyal customer.  Yet, they still managed to make him feel bad enough to cause him to reconsider being a customer.

That’s not how you want to make your customers feel.

BMW’s commercial ends with:

…and at BMW, we make joy.

Listen up CEOs.  How do you make your customers feel?   With a good many companies they make me feel just slightly enough better than the competition to keep me coming back which leaves the door wide open for competitors.

How you make your customers feel can be an intangible, and high value, competitive advantage.