Accentuate The Negative
Some astute readers may already have detected the slightest hint of cynicism in my worldview. Guilty as charged. I'll attack all unsubstantiated assertions and know that received wisdom and common sense are neither wisdom nor all that common, but I’ll argue fervently that cynicism is much more positive than often portrayed. I'm critical and suspicious not from a destructive standpoint, but because of my hatred of the all-pervasive mediocrity that dulls our daily lives.
The modern business world is cyclically obsessed with the grand gesture and new paradigms, largely because there are reputations to be made and profits to be gleaned from flipping start-ups and M & A activity. But the longest journey starts with a single step and I prefer to focus on the less newsworthy.
Notwithstanding the massive verbiage surrounding creativity and human capital, great ideas are rare and merely good ones aren't too common. It's much easier and more sensible, albeit far less sexy to be "negative." Just identify where things are wrong and suggest how to change them. We do that as customers every single day and all our blogs allude to personal grievances, so why not apply it to shaking up your business’s status quo? Eliminate what's wrong and you have a greater product and happier customers at very little extra cost.
This is not new. In a way, it's "continual improvement" or "re-engineering" but without all the hyperbole and documentation and all the better for their absence. I remember a letter to The Times in the 90s that opined that when the Japanese showed the way with quality circles and the Americans sought to improve productivity by importing such techniques, it was typical that the British reaction was to create a system of certification!
Moreover, it categorically does not limit you to being unremarkable. As Thomas Heatherwick, a man renowned for producing astonishing sculptural designs in functional structures says. “Turning aspiration into reality is what counts, not storming off in a rage because your idea has been compromised.”
It is, as I’ve written before, all about putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and making sure that you keep your eyes and ears open. You’ll not be surprised to know that I make a habit of complaining even when it doesn't affect me. I don’t rant and rave on the shop floor, but rather write to the CEO. I do so to draw their attention to the details that are being missed and in a way that tells of positive outcomes for them. I get responses and judge the company by those responses.
While writing this piece, I noticed that Seth Godin had argued for instant complaint feedback to the CEO via fax and I would fully endorse that, even if I fear, that as the flood of faxes becomes larger, a fax wrangler will be deemed necessary. I think it’s already happening because I see an increasing number of my observations being directed to bloated and ineffective customer complaint procedures. That’s why I argue for a more proactive rather than this reactive approach
You have a choice. You can create brand strategies and glorious visions, think in blue-sky terms and parade a bold can-do attitude while criticising naysayers for not being team players. Or you can actually do something that makes a difference because while, if platitudes are your thing, there may be “no I in team” there is very much a “NO in knowledge”.
Insulation from discontent creates the worst marketing for you and your company. Externally, customers don’t get what they want and vote with their feet, while internally, staff who are bearing the brunt of customer complaints and restrictive protocols have their morale corroded and your customer service quality collapses. For me, both elements are captured in the old quote (which I have so far failed to attribute) "One extravagant annual company picnic does not create a healthy working environment; it takes many immediate, smaller happy moments to achieve this atmosphere."
Grand visions do not focus on smaller happy moments, but accentuating the negative certainly does.