Human First

Boise Airport

I corresponded with Delta Airlines about the changes they have rolled-out to their SkyMiles program.  The new rules favor those who spend the most money and have the highest status level.  Amending the rules of their ‘loyalty’ program is the airline’s right.  The response I received from Delta told me that the enhanced SkyMiles model was consistent with other companies in the travel industry.  It represents the classic, ‘everyone else is doing it so we must change.’  First, not everyone else is adopting this model, Delta is choosing these rules strategically. They are trying to get everyone else to follow them to generate a new middle ground.  Second, Delta has a tremendous opportunity to address areas of frustration, such as the lowest availability of award seats, customer service that ranks near the bottom, and upgrade thresholds that punishes elite flyers who are joined by their spouse or family members on a trip.  Third, innovation takes risks.  Building loyalty requires integrity.  Delta is testing the theory that numbers matter more than people, that manipulation is greater than innovation, and that everyone else will follow it to the lowest common denominator. 

As Roderick Russell suggested, be human first then optimize.

No Instructions = Innovation

What assumptions curtail innovation?  What folklore and fear have we adopted as dogma?  One Laptop Per Child tried a new approach.

“We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.”

What if you assembled your ultimate fans and request they craft an initiative for your enterprise?   Unhindered by the narrative of past projects and debate, what would they design?  How would a fresh perspective allow innovation?

Off Track

Does your organization’s routine inspire innovation or wears down new ideas before they get a chance to fly?

If you have ever run in a new city it is easy to find a loop that works and use it as your main route for the remainder of your stay.  However, some of the greatest discoveries happen when you are willing to use the tried and true as a landmark and begin to explore.

If you stayed to the confines of the Tuileries in Paris you might miss…

How do you ensure that your routine does not keep you running laps on a track while making only left turns?  What steps have you taken to explore new terrain?

Veteran or Old

In many professional sports you hear the term ‘rebuilding year’ when a team is no longer in contention for the playoffs.  It is a chance to add youth and new players in hopes of creating the chemistry to make a run at a championship.  On the other end of the spectrum is the philosophy of a team filled with veterans.  Players who have been there and won the sport’s highest crown.  These are sought after additions to any team as they have demonstrated a mastery of the game, maintained a high level of composure and built a legacy of achieving the ultimate goal- winning.  It is a knife’s edge that separates the thin line between the high value tag of ‘veteran’ and dreaded description of ‘old.’

How many social sector organizations qualify as veterans?  Venerable organizations that deliver consistent results and are held in high regard throughout the community?  When people speak about attributes in the community these organizations are mentioned.  The chamber of commerce refers to the organization in its promotional materials.  On the other side of the tracks is the cause that once was.  Perhaps the Founder could not let the cause grow gracefully or a board lost focus, programs became stagnate, or a scandal knocked the champion off its pedestal.

How do you keep your organization vibrant?  How do you assemble a group of champions without become a relic?  Do you allow for innovation?  Is the mantra, ‘we have always done it that way’ become your clubhouse cheer?  How do you play like a champion and not and old-timer’s game? 

Innovation or Business As Usual?

Reading the book, The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma and I was struck by the following passage.

‘In the new world of business, the riskiest place you can be is trying to do the same thing in the same way as you’ve always done them.  Few things are as foolish as hoping old behaviors will somehow present new results.’

The social sector has been quick to innovation on some fronts and tied to the volumes of history in other areas.  The sector was the fastest to adopt to the promises of social media.  Many nonprofits found Facebook to way to claim a stake in the internet’s version of the Homestead Act.  Every enterprise was trying to get their virtual forty acres.  The Facebook application Causes was ideally suited to handle the growing swarm of grassroots campaigns.  On the other hand, many nonprofits were slow to respond to the current economic crisis.  There was much delay in considering cost-cutting, laying-off employees, merging or even closing the doors.  I noticed many for-profit businesses were far faster to make adjustments.  The social sector turned to its donors and asked for critical operating support with urgency. Soon each group’s message was lost among a cacophony of organizations trying to champion their dire situation.

We know that the old model will not work in a new economy.  Donor’s interest have moved, priorities have shifted, corporate giving has undergone a massive transformation, the collective memory of 2008-2009 will remain etched in the Baby Boomer’s memories (among other generations).  Those that the sector most planned to sustain us with financial contributions, time and talent may be less able.  So what has your organization done to amend the way it does business?  Did you adjust to survive the recession and plan to return to business as usual?  Have you altered your strategic plan to take advantage of opportunities that were unimaginable 18 months ago?  Are you still considering yourself a victim of a global economic crisis or has your enterprise become a entrepreneurial leader?

The book makes another point.  ‘The space shuttle uses more fuel during its first three minutes after liftoff than during its entire voyage around the earth.’  So often you find that launching an idea into orbit takes a tremendous amount of energy and commitment.  So much so that we frequently leave our ideas on the launch pad waiting for another day and more favorable conditions.  How can you combine innovation and your organization’s authenticity to find a new orbit?  As I wrote about last week, NASA is being given a new vision, the moon is being left to private industry and Mars has become the next challenge.  If your competitive advantage consisted of programs focused solely on the moon the game has changed.  Are you ready?