Posts Tagged ‘E-Tech 2008


Assembly Line Thinking

Duvel Assembly LineThe assembly line, courtesy of Henry Ford’s desire to make the automobile available to the masses, is an example of sheer efficiency that still amazes. The growth of American industry during the last century, I believe, lies in its adoption, but I also believe America’s future as an industry innovator is at risk if we don’t modify our assembly line mentality a bit.

We’ve applied assembly line thinking to just about every area of life. Public school, restaurants, and even airport security have adopted these practices. While some industries benefit, others are harmed by the lack of individual attention to detail. Sadly, the ones affected the most are the outliers of our population. If your tastes and your interests run down the middle, you’re set for life. Stray from the norm and you’ll become lost. In spite of the norms, society isn’t totally unwilling to change.

Chris Anderson’s Long Tail concept does an excellent job of capturing this changing attitude. In some ways, however, the Long Tail still occupies what’s perceived as the extreme. In our chase to capture ever more market share, we’ve confused quantity with quality. A current client has adopted the practice of vetting his customers and unless they meet certain criteria, he turns them away. The interesting part? My client is actively growing his business, but believes his client profile plays an invaluable role in the ultimate success of his business.

What’s Enough?

Adopting a less can be more approach appears to have its own rewards. I’m often asked when I plan to hire full-time employees. My answer often surprises. I have no plans to ever hire employees. My choice to work with a network of skilled individuals, equally committed to their own businesses, helps ensure that my work doesn’t slip into an assembly line. The second most common question that pops up is, “When do you plan on selling out and retiring?” This question usually only comes from people completely unaware of my business model. I’m the product or more accurately, what I produce is the product. That makes it a little difficult to sell my business without me, which defeats my plan to remain my own boss. Both these questions, however, are representative of our changing perceptions of what holds value.

For example, historically, when families started businesses, they employed extended family and gave future generations an almost guaranteed form of employment. Now, the expectation when someone starts a business focuses on when it will be sold for an obscene amount of money. People still chase things bigger than money, but money enters the conversation more often than is used to. Apparently many of us believe we’re only one IPO away from lifelong wealth.

Showing Your Passion

This new reality brings me back around to where I started. Assembly lines have their place and value, but they aren’t a one-size fits all solution. And while money represents a valid end goal, its potential to fulfill your passion feels very temporary. I’m probably in the minority, but if money is your only driver, customers can sense it. Instead of leading a community revolution, your market will be determined by whether someone else can duplicate your product versus duplicating the experience you offer.

If people can’t sense your passion, it’s difficult for them to feel passionate, too, making it difficult to build a sustainable, long-term audience. I was reminded of this cause and effect in Kathy Sierra‘s keynote at E-Tech this morning. Determine what you want to be really good at, commit the necessary time, and concentrate your efforts. You can also take cues from the most passionate of followers—die-hard sports fans.

Rain or shine, these people support their teams, often for little or no reward except for the chance to be there to share the excitement when the team wins. On top of that, they buy the gear and publicly identify themselves with their teams whenever possible. You can’t produce that kind of passion with assembly line thinking. What are you doing to create the loyalty that fills a football stadium when the wind chill registers 23 below*?


(Image courtesy of pickinjim2006. Some rights reserved.)

*The Green Bay Packers and the New York Jets NFC title game was played at Lambeau Field where the temperature at kick off was -1, with a wind chill of -23. (link)


The Lone Exception

If you’ve ever wondered whether an iPhone can bring down a plane if left on during takeoff and landing, I have personal proof that it takes more than one. My seat partner on my journey out to E-Tech yesterday felt no urge whatsoever to follow the flight attendant’s instructions and power down his iPhone. I suspect he probably wasn’t the only one, and I have my own suspicions about the validity of such restrictions, but the flight attendant pointedly stopped and asked him to turn it off. He went through the motions, continuing his usage after she moved past our seats. This individual considered himself the lone exception to a standard the the majority had no issue complying with.

For all our recent love affair with group involvement, community-based efforts, and other multi-person action, individuals still consider themselves the exception to certain rules. This belief is two-pronged: on the positive side, there’s the individuals who take a stand against, often alone, the powers that be to accomplish change that benefits the whole; on the negative side, there’s the individuals who believe that their actions needn’t follow the “rules.” I find myself awkwardly straddling this argument because I’m by no means a believer that one should follow the rules “just because.” However, if you choose to participate in society, some of the trade offs do include a willingness to not be the lone exception.

For example, what if I elected to ignore the traffic signals while driving? The people around me have no way of knowing (and then taking safety precautions) that I’ve chosen to not follow the rules until I broadside someone in an intersection. To me, the continued use of the iPhone wasn’t the issue so much as it was the thinking that drove the behavior. Where do we draw the line between acting against community standards and crossing into the dangerous territory of individual behavior negatively impacting the surrounding people?

This question goes back to one of the original ideas behind this blog: how much thought do we give to our actions? Whether it’s the words we speak or the behavior we choose, I believe we don’t give it enough thought. Perhaps we think about what happened afterward, but because of the fast pace many of us take in life, the idea of thinking before acting seems down the priority list a bit. There will always be a place for the lone exceptions of the world, but it stops being lone when everyone believes their behavior is exempt.


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July 2018
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