My son was at a trampoline park a few months ago and I took this picture because it made me think of a concept I learned in a gamification class from Mario Herger last year. As humans we love challenging ourselves with obstacles. Often times we find obstacles so engaging we will intentionally give ourselves challenges in order to see how far we can push ourselves, as well as how we compare to others when presented with obstacles. Sometimes we enjoy obstacles so much we will find overcoming such obstacles is the most rewarding part of what we are looking to accomplish. The designers of golf courses create sand traps in locations of the course that create obstacles to make a difficult game even more difficult. When the kids in the photo were given a foam pit to jump into they found merely jumping into the pit wasn’t fun, or challenging enough so they built a foam wall to try and jump over. In life do you have a foam wall to challenge you? If you do have a wall is it challenging enough to push yourself to heights you didn’t know you were capable?
Last week I was talking with some coworkers about a 2013 initiative we are taking on. I forget how I got on the subject but it was something to the effect of me being tired of doing things the way they have always been done which made me think of a recent Mini Cooper YouTube video I had seen. I showed it to the group who seemed to like it and I’ve since used it in other meetings before brainstorming new ideas or initiatives. For a while it sort of spawned a new catch phrase where we say things around the office like “eh…that is so normal.”
My favorite part of the video is when it says “normal can never be amazing” and “who would ever want to be normal?” As you go about your work, if you feel passionate about what you are working on, chances are that work won’t be normal, it will be amazing. Every time I see a Mini I now think of the video (so probably great marketing to BMW’s credit). If you walk down the hall people will see you and likely think about what you have done for them. Will those people think your work is amazing?
Here’s to you doing amazing work in 2013…
For the future of retail, I’m sure you are looking at Amazon like everyone else is. I’m convinced the Internet will continue to disrupt traditional retail. Bezos is one of the most brilliant minds of our time, some say the next Jobs. I have tremendous respect for Bezos. Just a few of the things he’s done…
- Started Amazon before anyone even started thinking about e-commerce at scale. He is willing to take enormous risks at any cost. He left a high profile Wall Street job to start a company that few believed in. An e-commerce bookstore in ’94? He is a visionary.
- Started with books, expanded quickly to nearly everything. The strategic risks continue.
- Bought Zappos, has left them alone. Is letting Tony continue to work his magic. Wants to bring more of the Zappos culture to the rest of Amazon.
- Saw ebooks coming, thanks to Jobs/iPad. Pivoted and developed the Kindle. My wife and I love our Kindles.
- Gives the Kindle/Fire away at cost, or next to cost and makes money on services/goods from using the device.
- Loses money on shipping (Amazon Prime etc), will do anything it takes to win your business (see this).
- Amazon’s supply chain. Look at these pics!
- Robotics. He didn’t just invest in Kiva, he bought the entire company! If you haven’t seen this video, it is a must.
- They use psychology to encourage you to make more (and better) purchasing decisions. They are masters. Look at me when I did Christmas shopping. They know people will do shopping for themselves and used my own data to temp me.
- Analytics/Algorithms. Amazon has the best recommendation engine. Google has to be worried about this. You don’t go to Google to search for products, you go to Amazon.
- He isn’t done. Amazon is still going strong. He still has more tricks up his sleeve, you can bank on that.
I’m sure I missed lots of things. I have my eyes on Bezos (I personally think Amazon’s stock is overvalued though!). He will win continue to win until someone disrupts the great disruptor. Whoever that will be, it won’t be easy.
I just gave my thoughts on Om Malik’s page on Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems.
Maybe part of the problem is we argue too much. Disagreeing and having your own opinion is fine, but at some point we need to learn to agree, or agree to disagree. At time of writing this, 145 people are agreeing and disagreeing with great passion on thoughts from the article. Religion, science, technology, politics, and social issues are all examples of this. It seems impossible that we we will ever all agree, but maybe I’ll disagree with myself. Is it a good thing that we never all agree? Maybe disagreeing (or as JFK in the article references, him challenging the nation) makes us rethink ourselves, our ideas, and our existence.
Sometimes the most simple solutions, are the most brilliant. If you are are struggling with solving a big problem, maybe you are thinking too hard and the solution is right in front of you.
When I was in college I worked at the Safeway in Bowie, MD. I did lots of jobs in the store and learned a lot from all of them, but I think I learned the most while working seafood. I liked working in seafood most because it was like running my own business. Most days and nights it was just me behind the counter and I had a small corner to sell seafood.
Sometimes it Stinks
One of the things I learned while working in seafood is it stinks. I would work and then put my shoes in a plastic bag I kept in my car’s trunk so I wouldn’t smell up my car. When you work more than 30 minutes in seafood you smell like seafood, there is no getting around it I’ve found. Whether the seafood is fresh off the truck or not, seafood has a unique odor to it and after working with it for a few hours, you will too. Similarly in life if you are around someone for long enough you will start to take on characteristics you may or may not like. Be careful who you surround yourself with.
Another thing that working in a sometimes smelly department taught me about life is no matter what you do, life is going to stink for you or others around you at one point or another. I am convinced there is an communal mood across the masses. You know how there is the saying “it must be a full moon”? When working retail I interacted with hundreds of people a day. Depending on what you believe, whether the law of attraction or the law of “full moon”, moods across the masses for the most part seemed fairly consistent. I don’t know that the law of attraction always works because I think we’ve all had days where you are in the best mood and ready to really tackle life and as soon as you interact with a few people you see a pattern of moods across the office, coffee shop, or home life. You can’t control the mood of others so don’t let them affect yours.
If it Smells Fishy, Don’t Buy It
There is a saying in life that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” and similarly in life if something smells fishy don’t do or buy it. Trust your gut. I don’t think I need to say much about this, just rely on your instincts, they are usually right.
Sometimes You Need to Take a Step Back
One of my favorite business interactions was also while working in the seafood department. As a young college kid on weekends I was usually scheduled to come in at 7am and setup the seafood case which meant putting fresh crushed ice in the case, laying out trays in rows, and finally putting product on the trays with proper signage. One of the weekends the District Manager was in the store and had a brief interaction with me as he was inspecting the case I had setup. I felt pretty proud of myself and the job I had done setting up the case that particular day so I asked how he thought it looked. How he responded might seem like common sense, and I think it is, but as I’ve found over the years what is common sense doesn’t always mean we do it. He responded by motioning for me to come over and stand next to him about 20 feet away from the seafood case. As I stood next to him he said “Jeremy what I do isn’t all that hard and I’ll teach you a secret, business is all about taking a step back every now and then.” He next said “you see that hole where you don’t have any product in that tray over to the bottom right of the case?” I immediately replied with “yeah, I am running low on that” to which he said “yeah so break that tray up into two types of product so there is product everywhere the customer looks”. He said “customers won’t buy a product they can’t see and they don’t and can’t buy those metal trays…they aren’t for sale…our seafood is”. As basic as a concept as it is, taking a step back resonated with me and I’ve used that simple “secret” the DM taught me throughout life from that point on.
Jeremy’s Theory of Supply & Demand
This one has always intrigued me. Seafood isn’t the most popular thing people think to buy when they are in a grocery store. There can be a negative connotation to it for some. Trust me, if you are a young college kid trying to interact with college aged customers (of the female type), being behind a seafood counter doesn’t work to your advantage. I am convinced if you can sell seafood you can sell just about anything else. One of the things I saw first hand was what I’ve called Jeremy’s law of supply and demand. I took economics in college and you probably did too. You probably didn’t learn about Jeremy’s law of supply and demand though did you? My law of supply and demand says that c + c = $. That is one customer + one customer = cash money and lots of it. I could literally go an entire hour without any customers and all the sudden one customer would order something and almost instantly others would appear. It was odd and it was very consistent. I would get that flood of customers and then business would die off again. I don’t know if you’ve seen this concept in life but it always fascinated me.
I contemplated majoring in psychology in college, I always loved my psychology courses. I always wanted to try an experiment where I paid someone to have a cart full of products who played the role of an actor who came by my counter every five minutes. My hypothesis is that my seafood sales would at least double but I never got to put my theory into practice. I think the reason why customers attract other customers is for many reasons like the common peer pressure tactic many marketers use but I also have another theory. I think in part people don’t approach a certain area of the store because I am standing behind the counter and it is awkward for some to approach. I have always wondered if part of the reason people are more likely to approach a department when someone else is already there is it helps ‘break the ice’ in some unconscious way. If you have a business and can try putting this theory into practice, I’d love to hear what has worked for you.
OK so you are probably thinking “OK Jeremy great…and crazy Seafood business theories…but what about every day life…how does this theory work in real life?” I’m glad you asked skeptical person, I have an interesting video that demonstrates this theory in about 3 minutes. In the video you will first see a guy dancing all by himself in a audience. In the first 30-45 seconds another person joins him and every 20 seconds or so after that more and more people start to join him until it becomes a viral event. In life there are a few people who will do something despite what others think and it takes just a few people to join that person to create a movement very quickly. If I took more than a few semesters of psychology I probably would have learned what theory can be applied to these types of events but for now I’ll pretend I’m the only one who has ever thought of this.
At one point or another most of us have to work. Some volunteer their labor but most of us are working for our wages. I might have blogged about this in the past but when I was in kindergarten I rode the school bus to and from school like most kids. I remember sitting on the bus one morning going to school thinking “wow, this is incredibly monotonous.” OK I might not have known the word monotonos at six but I remember thinking another twelve years of school seemed like forever. I’ve never really liked monotony, I don’t think many people do, but for some reason I seem to be particularly sensitive to it. Once I have done something, I don’t tend to want to do it too many other times. I seem to be pretty good at looking at patterns and making connections based on what I observe, more so than most I think. Maybe that is why at six I already saw the road ahead of me. My son Tyler is the same way from what I’ve been able to see so far. We were working on a Batman activity book one time which had a bunch of batman characters every few pages and the goal was to spot which picture of six didn’t match the others. He could spot the picture that didn’t match the others incredibly fast. I think it is how we are wired or something, it is odd but cool.
When Routines Are Bad
IMDB summarizes the movie Groundhog Day by stating the main character played by Bill Murray goes through life as a weather man who is “reluctantly sent to cover a story about a weather forecasting “rat” (as he calls it). This is his fourth year on the story, and he makes no effort to hide his frustration. On awaking the ‘following’ day he discovers that it’s Groundhog Day again, and again, and again. First he uses this to his advantage, then comes the realisation that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing EVERY day.”
In life a lot of us are living like Bill Murray, we’re living each day like the previous and we’ve become masters of our environments so we can almost predict what will happen before it happens. This is when life starts getting monotonous, unchallenging, and to some demotivating.
When Routines Are Good
Routine can be a good thing and I think Flannery O’Connor said it best in The Habit of Being, letter to “A” by saing “If you do the same thing every day at the same time for the same length of time, you’ll save yourself from many a sink. Routine is a condition of survival.” We’ve become adapt at minimizing risk and the unknown to make us more successful, or so it would seem. I have all sorts of habits like putting things in the same place, parking my car in the same place, learning what makes people happy and repeating it, avoiding repeatedly what makes people angry. We all do this, many times without even thinking about it.
I’ve become obsessed with robotics recently. Everywhere I look I see human jobs being replaced by robots. I won’t weigh in on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that robots are “taking” human jobs, my only thought on it is “like it or not…it is inevitable…and often times fascinating.” Kiosks, phones, robots, manufacturing, 3D printing, and more are all ways humans are getting squeezed out by more efficient, less costly, and non unionised robotic work forces. Each generation seems to face new innovations and with change comes the need to evolve or get passed over. In the future of work, creative people willing to adjust quickly will rule.
I’ve started noticing people are trying to get creative work over the “grunt work.” Here’s the odd thing though, thanks to all of our more “efficient” processes, the grunt work is going away as well. Work as we know it is quickly changing. It is at times more difficult to be creative when templates, systems, standards or processes limit creative freedoms.
I find the global economy fascinating and I think we are only seeing the beginning of a distributed economy. Technology is changing nearly everything. In the future, and arguably to some extent today, if you want a job done you can outsource that task to the masses on the Internet. Instead of competing with people in your geographic area for that project, we are now all competing with one another in the future. Reputation and keeping your skills up will be even more critical than they are today.
What do you think? How will we be working, or not working in the future? Let me know in the comments.