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Opinion Editorials

The real reason more apps don’t succeed

(EDITORIAL) Every day, someone has a grand idea for the next big app. What is the real reason behind why we don’t see more success stories?

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smartphone app tech

What’s new at the technology zoo?

My brother-in-law, Don, is a project manager for an app development company in Chicago. Whenever we get together for family gatherings, everyone loves hearing about the new technologies the company is working on.

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One night over dinner, I asked how things were progressing with an app that had launched a few months prior. Don explained that things aren’t going well. The app’s designers are refusing to make suggested changes that would help both its usability and marketability.

When you assume…

“People just assume that once their app hits the market, it’ll be a success,” he said. “Everyone thinks that their idea will turn out to be the next Facebook because they have these grand plans in their head.”

Recurring trend

Most of us know that this isn’t the case. I asked him what behaviors he notices in developers that could ultimately lead to their app’s demise.

His explanation was simple. People walk into his office with grand ideas that only exist in their mind, and they often neglect to think about how it translates to the marketplace. And, once you get something in your mind, it’s easy to be combative about changing your ideas.

Stepping stones

“We live in a world with well-done apps like Facebook and Instagram, and people want their ideas to be like that,” he opined. What they forget, he noted, is that “Instagram started out simple, and now it’s evolved.”

He went on to explain that people want to build what Instagram is today, not what Instagram was in 2011. And, because of this, they have trouble scaling back on their ideas.

Tread lightly

He urges anyone with an idea to start out as simple as possible, test it, and go from there. When you’re launching a technology to the world, you want to get it out there quickly and have it fail quickly.

That way, you can see what went wrong and figure out how to tweak it sooner. This is much better than pouring energy and money into an idea for months upon months, only to still have it fail.

His advice can apply to any idea we have in life. It’s almost impossible to be a great success at your first attempt of anything, so it’s best to start off slow and learn through trial and error.

#StartSlow

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Taylor is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and has a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Illinois State University. She is currently pursuing freelance writing and hopes to one day write for film and television.

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Opinion Editorials

How you can be a positive point of change in the service industry

(EDITORIAL) Be the change you wish to see in customer service. Learn how your business practices can brighten someone’s day and bring in more customers.

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outside trafficking service retail foot traffic customers

Have a nice day

Good customer service can be a turning point in someone’s day. Even if the customer doesn’t end up purchasing something, having the right attitude can greatly benefit your business.

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Customers need to feel like you care about them, or that you can at least convincingly execute that illusion.

Brand loyalty

If your customers feel comfortable with your business and employees, they’re likelier to keep coming back. Additionally, people spread the word when you provide good customer service.

This can mean better online reviews and more customers coming from word-of-mouth recommendations.

I work retail, so I get to experience both sides of customer service. I understand how difficult it can be to maintain your cool when someone is yelling at you. There are days when you feel like you might end up imprisoned for acting on your feelings towards customers. I try to keep this in mind on the rare occasion that I venture out into the world as customer.

Shopping is an extraordinarily stressful situation in my world.

For starters, I’m extremely picky about every little detail, down to barely noticeable stitching patterns, minute accent colors, and textures. I also have trouble finding clothes since most mainstream stores are very gendered in their options. Add in a generous helping of social anxiety and you’ve got a perfect recipe for never wanting to enter a retail space besides the one that pays me to be there.

Necessary evil

Unfortunately, I am not very gentle on my possessions. This means every so often I have to face the nightmare that is the mall. I realize online shopping exists, but I avoid shopping in general to such a degree that I have no idea what sizes I wear. Plus, it’s difficult to scope out everything through online photos.

But I had a mission: find a comfortable pair of shoes that don’t look like trash so I can wear them to work. Tragically, my heart was set on a pair that were sold out everywhere.

I thought I was willing to compromise, but I was wrong.

I set myself up for failure. But I still went around the mall in a stressed out frenzy, hitting up every store in sight and racking up my step count.

I was genuinely near tears because I was so frustrated, but one employee got me back to normal levels of publicly acceptable human emotion.

When I walked into his store, my defeat and desperation were pretty evident. He immediately greeted me and diffused my stress with humor and a willingness to help. Although I ultimately didn’t find what I was looking for, I now know there’s at least one store I can go to where I feel comfortable asking for help. I’ve even recommended the store to my friends.

Customers are people too

So what was it about this interaction that stood out? His attitude. Even with no end sale in sight, he still devoted attention to me. Typically, I avoid asking employees for help because I don’t want to annoy them. But if I feel welcomed by a business, I’m far likelier to stick around. I also don’t want to become victim of the dreaded hover, where employees trail you around the store, oblivious to your disdain.

Treat your customers as individuals with a problem you are not only capable of solving, but that you’re more than happy to solve.

Pay close attention to what they’re saying. If they ask to explore on their own, don’t continue pushing a product or suggestions. But keep an eye on them and jump in if you sense they’re a bit lost.

Make sure you’re greeting your customers, but be genuine. You’ll just end up sounding like a jerk if you’re obviously faking it. If you struggle with difficult customers or coworkers, I suggest playing a game I created called Uncanny Valley. Try to be the nicest version of yourself as possible, even if you’re raging inside. When someone comes into your business, they don’t know what’s going on with you. However, it’s your job to be attentive to what’s going on in the customer’s world.

Customer service serves

I don’t take it too personally if an employee is impolite, but it certainly doesn’t make a good impression. Ultimately, your business can’t succeed without customers.

Customer-facing positions must delicately balance the needs of customers without being overly intrusive or neglectful. Pay attention to your customers, treat them as individuals, and be as genuine as possible for best results.

#Smile

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Opinion Editorials

To the unsung entrepreneurial heroes – we believe in you

(EDITORIAL) To the unseen entrepreneur we see you and we know that you work your tails off to do good things in your community even if it never means going IPO.

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restaurant entrepreneurs

Womp womp

I recently frequented one of my favorite new restaurants to find it permanently closed after less than a year. This locally sourced brunch place had pinpointed all of the farms that supplied their food on a map of California that hung like gallery art in the center of their restaurant.

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They made sandwiches at their shop with donated food for the homeless and wrote inspirational notes to tuck inside their brown bag lunches. Their food was not only nutritious but delicious, and they seemed to always have patrons when we went, not too many that there was a line out the door, but enough that they always seemed busy.

Don’t stop believin’

I wish that we had spent more time there, more money, told more of our friends or left glowing yelp reviews, but we are only two people, two people who took a delicious restaurant for granted because we thought how could this fail?

I’m sure that’s what the owners believed too when they started out.

They probably thought they’d make great food that people want to eat in a location newly dubbed Silicon Beach – amid shiny live/work complexes, surrounded by startups and young people.

They ventured that they could morally source nutritious food, give back to the community, and be excellent.

Part of me imagines that they did so well as a restaurant that they shut their doors just to expand, or open in a better location, or take a much needed break. But they probably failed, like so many businesses do, and I want to take a moment to say thanks.

Cheers to you

Not just to the restaurant that served the best breakfast tater tots that I have ever had the pleasure of eating, but to every entrepreneur who embarks on a journey that tries to make the world better.

I’m not just talking about the tech entrepreneurs, though we need you too.

I’m mostly talking about the unseen baker that wakes up at 3am every morning just to bring a handful of baked goods to their city. Or about the small store owner that stocks chotchkies and cookbooks and beautiful things all of which I wish I could buy. I’m talking about the start up plumber who shows up to your house on a Sunday afternoon and fixes your toilet because you’re at your wits end.

You are the unsung entrepreneurs, the heroes that we hurriedly thank on our way out the door.

You are the folks who had a dream and risked everything to bring us delicious food, adorable chotchkies, and functional plumbing.

Lifevest in tow

A mentor of mine once told me that to be successful you must jump in the water, swim as fast as you can, and slowly increase the speed.

To those of you out there swimming as fast as you can we’re behind you, and we appreciate you.

This is your headline, one you don’t often get — keep doing what you’re doing, we believe in you, and your hard work does not go unnoticed.

And if you decide after everything you’ve been through that it’s time to hang a permanently closed sign on your front door, there are people out there, lots of them maybe, who will mourn the loss of your mini quiches, your adorable iPhone cases, or even the best breakfast tater tots in the world.

#HeresToYou

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Opinion Editorials

The secret to a high-performance culture

(EDITORIAL) The secret to high-performance culture has nothing to do with having beer in the fridge at work. Let’s discuss…

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goals

Good to great

I can’t believe it’s been more than fifteen years since Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great was released. I liked that book a lot, and I wasn’t the only one. It was a perennial best-seller and lauded as one of the best business culture books around.

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The seven characteristics of great companies (level 5 leadership, the hedgehog concept, etc.) seemed like a great guide for all of us.

But is it really helping us to become great?

I’m not encouraged by the fact that two of the “great” case studies are now either out of business (Circuit City) or in some deep trouble (Wells Fargo).

In Collins’ defense, he never promised those companies they would always be great.

Either way, can we honestly say that the wisdom in this book has helped a significant number of today’s companies make the leap from good to great? I assume there are some out there, but I think if it were a significant trend, it would be more obvious to all of us.

This is frustrating

We were promised some research-based insights that were going to lead our organizations to greatness.

Yet when we tried to implement that, we generally ended up with organizations that continued to plod along the same trajectory they were on before.

We made some improvements, for sure, but we failed to create truly high-performance cultures.

And I think I know why.

The body of research behind books like Good to Great is certainly well intended, and I do believe it can generate some insights that could genuinely help you improve your company, but it misses one of the most important truths I’ve discovered about culture in my two decades of consulting with organizations:

all great cultures start on the inside—not with the external ideas.

The external ideas do matter, and studying great organizations can teach us a lot, but the work of culture is always going to be about building and growing, not copying.

Define your culture

And that means you can’t make your culture better until you know what it is. You can’t create a Jim-Collins-approved culture that excels at confronting the brutal facts, for example, until you know how your people already experience your culture when it comes to things like speaking the truth, sharing information across department lines, articulating strategic imperatives, and even letting people be their whole selves at work.

Are the two related?

These cultural themes may seem disconnected from your quest to move from good to great, but simply declaring to your people that you want your new culture to be brutally honest—when they are already uncomfortable sharing even a little bit of their personal identity in the workplace, or they already notice that people refuse to say anything controversial when a leader is in the room—is going to be a huge disconnect.

Your people already know what your culture is.

They experience it every day. And when you set out to create a new awesome culture that is fundamentally disconnected from their experience, then the change will not make sense to them, and you will see resistance.

I am told frequently that it is natural for people to resist change, but I don’t believe that’s entirely true.

People don’t resist change—they resist change that doesn’t make sense to them.

Where you are, not where you want to be

So if you want to make the leap from good to great and create a high-performance culture, you won’t get very far unless you design that effort with your current culture as the starting point. Here’s what that looks like.

I worked recently with a small nonprofit that was doing good work, but had become a little slow.

They were creating important products and services that advanced their mission, but they were bringing them to market just a little too late.

To solve that problem, they started by digging into their current culture. We worked together to map out 64 distinct culture building blocks within 8 culture markers—measuring things like agility, growth, inclusion, transparency and innovation.

This wasn’t about evaluating their culture as good or bad (which is what most culture assessments do, benchmark you against some abstract model).

Instead, this work focused on accurately describing their current state. It placed each culture building block on a continuum, ranging from traditionalist, to contemporary, to futurist. In other words, how close are they to traditional management practices, versus the “future of work” leadership and management practices that cutting-edge companies are inventing today.

Transparency

When they saw the scan of their workplace culture, they noticed something interesting in the data. Several of the building blocks related to transparency were outliers, scoring closer to the traditional end of the spectrum compared to the rest of their culture.

In other words, their people felt like the quantity of information being shared internally was limited, particularly when it had to cross silo lines (in traditionalist cultures, information is guarded, and silos focus internally first).

But if you’re thinking to yourself that the solution for this group is obviously to become more futurist and start sharing more information in order to get faster, then you’re falling into that same, benchmark-based, good-to-great trap that we’ve all been falling into for the last twenty years.

And they knew that they actually did a great job sharing information – that was a cultural value for them that had historical significance.

So what was this data telling them?

Decision-making

The culture scan had also uncovered an internal pattern around decision-making that connected to their transparency scores. In their historical desire to not withhold information from each other, they had developed a pattern of including many different people and groups in the organization in just about every decision that was made.

And with more people included in the decision-making process, it is inevitable that some of them felt like they didn’t have enough information (hence the traditional-leaning scores).

But the problem wasn’t a lack of information—the problem was in their ability to move quickly on decisions with so many cooks in the kitchen, each of whom was asking for more and more information about issues that were probably not central to their work in the first place. As they uncovered these insights, they developed a clear new priority for their culture:

Everyone has a voice, but not everyone decides.

They started to map out decisions using the RACI model (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed), in order to clarify decision-making roles internally. For some people, that meant they were getting LESS information.

If they were only being “consulted” on the decision, they would probably hear about it more toward the end of the process.

Those in the “informed” role wouldn’t hear about it until after the decision had been made.

In this case, the association was able to unlock speed NOT by putting more information into everyone’s hands, but by putting less out there but in the right hands.

And streamlining the decision-making process so everyone had clarity about why they were being included or not included.

Chase what you want

They are now well on their way to a faster, high-performance culture, but they are doing it on their own terms, and incorporating the historical/traditional values that still matter to them. They are getting strong buy-in internally because the cultural shift (a) ties directly to how their people already experience their culture, and (b) helps them meet member needs better.

This story is just one aspect of their current culture shift, of course, and they have more work to do before we could call this a good-to-great leap.

But by tying their efforts to a more nuanced understanding of their existing culture, and in some cases even moving in the opposite direction from what the management experts cite as “best practices,” they are moving towards a high-performance culture customized to what drives their success – not anyone else’s.

#GoodToGreat

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