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Anita Alvare's insight:
Are you wired, connected, change oriented? Your future depends on it.
I’m pretty fast on my feet. I think fast, walk fast, talk fast, and sometimes even eat fast. I have a (bad) reputation for finishing people’s sentences for them, and 20 minutes into a movie, I have the plot line pretty much wrapped up. But after listening to the machine-gun delivery and predictions about the workplace-of-the-future by Jim Carroll - Author, Global Futurist, Trends and Innovation Expert - I’m afraid I may need to pick up the tempo a bit.
When someone starts their presentation by saying, “No one understands what’s going on anymore,” you know you’re in for a wild ride.
At the AmeriQuest Symposium in Florida, Carroll told the invited audience what all of us already know and feel: change is happening faster than ever before.
Sixty-five percent of today’s pre-school age children will work in jobs and careers that don’t yet exist.
Your social standing with your peers will depend upon the cell technology you are carrying around (let’s talk shallow).
Half of what students are learning in college is obsolete before they graduate (time to write that worthless tuition check).
Digital camera manufacturers have 3-6 months to sell their “new” products before they become obsolete (click!).
And by the way, success for your business will have nothing to do with legacy, history or size but will be defined by your ability to change. Fast.
The future belongs to those who are fast.
Carroll predicted that smart phones are about to become credit cards in our wallets.
Many science fiction movie and TV scenarios that we’ve seen or are watching now will become reality.
To illustrate this point, Carroll showed a cartoon of George Jetson video conferencing (Skyping) with Mr. Spacely, his boss at Spacely Sprockets.
The animated sitcom, The Jetson’s, was set in the year 2062 “in a futuristic utopia.” It premiered back in “the olden days” (1962) of television. And believe it or not, it was the first program ever broadcast in color by ABC-TV.
Carroll’s breathless delivery focused on what world-class innovators will be doing that others won’t to keep pace with this runaway train known as “the future.”
1) They will put speed of change in perspective.
If your cell phone is older than three months, you’d better run (not walk) to the nearest phone store for an upgrade.
2) They won’t be afraid of thinking boldly.
The rules of automotive design, manufacturing and distribution will be re-written, new forms of business partnerships will be created.
3) They will align their businesses to Silicon Valley velocity.
Say “hello” to a world where facial recognition technology will anticipate your every need, where everything, everywhere is connected.
4) They will check their speed.
In the next five years there will be more changes in the retail sector than in the last 100 years.
5) They will ride generational acceleration.
Half of the global generation is under 25 (!). They are coming into industry “wired, connected, change oriented.”
I can’t speak for anyone else, but while Carroll was talking, the thought bubble coming out of my head was of a shack on a beach in Cuba. I’m not sure if I am (1) able and (2) willing to race through what’s left of my life at the pace he describes.
And after years of listening to futurists’ predictions at professional conferences, I’ve come to find that they are usually right.
So with that in mind, here’s Carroll’s advice for getting warmed up for the inevitable:
Business, Innovation, Marketing, Management, Strategy, Technology, Workplace of the Future, Author Jim Carroll, Trends, Futurist, Technology, Future, Smart Phones, World Class Innovators
Anita Alvare's insight:
I feel sorry for photographers these days. Inexpensive “stock” photography is all the rage now, especially when budgets are an issue (which is almost always). I love the stock concept images that give truth to the adage, “One picture is worth a thousand words.” But I am not sold on the stock photos of people. Everyone looks so fake, so perfect. But Seattle-based Getty Images is apparently trying to do something about that. Starting with its photo files of working women and families.
When it comes to using people shots in your marketing, I highly recommend that you create your own image bank. Your employees, customers and members don’t look like perfectly groomed plastic stock people.
But custom photography can be expensive and I need to continually sell my clients on the value of the investment as it relates to building an authentic brand.
And photography today is definitely trending authentic.
The good news/bad news is that now everyone is a photographer. Digital cameras and cell phones are at-the-ready and companies are getting more comfortable using amateur shots and inexpensive stock-images-for-hire.
But the trouble with stock is that everyone is using the same stereotypical stuff. Especially when it comes to the people shots.
Enter Sheryl Sandberg, a Facebook executive and author of “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” who advocates for women achieving leadership roles.
She announced yesterday that her nonprofit organization, LeanIn.org, has formed a partnership with Getty Images, a stock photo agency with an archive of 150 million still images and illustrations. Together they will be offering a special collection of images that they feel “represent women and families in more empowering ways.”
This is a first for Getty: jointly creating a collection with a nonprofit that will pocket 10% from the licensing revenue.
So will that be the demise of the perfect people pictures?
It’s a start.
In the new collection, gone will be the perky blonde executive woman in the power suit with the leather briefcase and sensible heels (feeding a baby in a high chair).
In her place will be the working woman sporting a tattoo sleeve working comfortably at home with a baby on her lap and a laptop on her desk.
Older women will be shown participating in meetings with young millennials (imagine that…).
Women in the workforce will be portrayed with updated hairstyles, casual clothes and the latest digital devices in hand. (No stylist needed).
Young girls will be shown working on computers, not playing with dolls.
And men will figure more prominently in parenting roles, especially as it relates to father/daughter interactions.
“When we see images of women and girls and men, they often fall into the stereotypes that we’re trying to overcome, and you can’t be what you can’t see,” Ms. Sandberg said in an interview.
I like the “can’t be what you can’t see” quote.
But I worry that this new collection will begin to look as unauthentic as the current crop of stock images if it gets too extreme.
There will be plenty of shots available of women lifting weights, painting houses, performing surgery and driving trucks.
And the dads will be changing diapers, setting the table and braiding their daughter’s hair.
(I’m personally holding out for the shot of the man taking the meeting notes. Talk about a breakthrough…).
Visuals are immensely powerful and aspirational.
That’s why image-based communication is taking precedence over the written word: Pinterest, Instagram, and cell phone cameras rule.
We all need models to model the lives we want to live, the people we want to be.
I’m a huge fan of that.
But I think I’ll pass on the tattoo sleeve look for now.
Anita Alvare's insight:
Are you ready for a strong economy, higher wages and an unemployment rate below 6%? If you are, then this could be your year according to an economist who had some interesting things to say last week about Millennials, Obamacare, and if you can believe it, the start of a talent bidding war by year’s end.
I received an invitation from our client the MidAtlantic Employers’ Association (MEA) a member-based regional organization that supports the workforce-related needs of mid-sized businesses to attend a briefing on 2014 business trends. I saw it as a good opportunity to get my expectations in order and maybe hear something upbeat for a change.
The Great Recession has been such a drag. We’re all tired of living it, talking about it, and moving in slow motion.
If the past 5-7 years were a color, it would be battleship grey or pea green. Drab. Flat. In need of a metallic boost.
But listening to noted national and regional economist Joel Naroff, PhD, MEA’s guest speaker who advises companies on the risks and opportunities that economic developments may have on their operating environment, we all should expect to be earning and spending more by New Year’s Eve.
He did have one word of caution that could put a hold on the party favors:
“Let’s assume government does the right thing this year,” he said. “It’s a heroic assumption; if there’s a way to mess things up, they’ll search for it.”
That tempers things a bit but let’s just assume, shall we?
Something is about to give and Joel says it’s going to be the labor market, the driver of future growth.
He feels the current unemployment rate of 6.7% is real (I tend to disagree but he’s an economist; I’m just a skeptic).
Joel predicts we will have a “really strong economy in 2014.”
The unemployment rate will dip below 6% (5.5 percent is full employment nationally).
Businesses will soon experience the (most expensive) thing they fear the most: turnover.
The landscape will be shifting from cost containment to labor retention. Your employees will be sprinting for the exits over the next two years in search of higher wages.
The Millennials (born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s) who look for “jobs,” not “companies” will be itching for their next assignment. If you don’t have one for them, they’ll be on their way (on average, they change jobs every 1.7 years).
Their nemesis, Baby Boomers, are retiring (or worse, dying) at a rate of 10,000 per day and will be doing so for the next 19 years.
And did you know that the male workforce participation rate has declined for the past 65 years (as opposed to 11 years for females)? Stunning.
The labor pool is shrinking fast so if you’re an employer, you’d better start thinking about what you need to do to attract and retain Top Talent ($$$).
The bidding war is about to begin and rising wages could impact company profits, but the flip side is increased consumer spending. The key to a robust U.S. economy.
As to The Affordable Care Act, that unpredictable elephant in the room, Joel was blunt: “Live with it, people.”
He claims the business community walked away from the table and the law went on to be written by everyone but business people. “There are winners and losers…” Yup.
Joel admits he’s been looking through a “frosted” crystal ball for the past few years. So he makes his economic predictions with this caveat: “This is today’s forecast, not yesterday’s and probably not tomorrow’s.”
Or as Edgar R. Fiedler, an American economist who was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy in the 1970s famously remarked, “He who lives by the crystal ball soon learns to eat ground glass.”
Anita Alvare's insight:
MI6 agent James Bond (played by Pierce Brosnan) made his first on-screen cellphone call in the 1997 movie, Tomorrow Never Dies. I need to get a hold of that phone. The handset outfitted by the wacky Q Branch contained fictional extras such as a fingerprint scanner and remote control for 007’s BMW. But it’s the stun gun feature that interests me most. Why? Because the FCC is considering lifting a decades-old ban on cellphone use on airplanes. If that should happen, I pity the chatterbox sitting next to me.
Two things quickly come to mind:
1) Is there anything more boring than listening to someone else’s phone conversation?
2) If you can’t find peace at 35,000 feet, where do you suggest one goes?
I’ve forgotten a lot of things over the years, but one thing I remember vividly is the first time I saw someone using a cellphone. I was sitting in the back of a cab in D. C. when a young woman in a power suit walked across the street talking on a phone with an aerial and no wall plug in sight.
What the heck…?
It was the coolest thing I had ever seen and little did I know that someday I, too, would wear a power suit and walk and talk and trip and slam on the brakes with my own portable phone in hand.
I liken the use of cellphones to an (acceptable) addiction with no cure.
Have we really reached the point where life is what happens when your cellphone is charging?
Today it’s hard to imagine not having this albatross at-the-ready. But it wasn’t that long ago that we all lived happily without it.
The first mobile telephone call was made on April 3, 1973 by Martin Cooper, a former Motorola inventor, who is known as "the father of the cellphone.”
When Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, made his first call on March 10, 1876, his first words to his assistant, Thomas Watson, were “Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you."
Mr. Cooper wasn’t nearly as charming when he made his first call from Sixth Avenue in New York.
He rang up the boss of a rival manufacturer who was left speechless when he realized someone else beat him to the development of a portable, hand–held device.
Cooper would later recall, "There was silence at the other end of the line. I suspect he was grinding his teeth." (And I suspect that was the last time there was any silence on the other end of a mobile phone).
The phone Cooper used weighed about two pounds and it had a “brick-like battery” that took 10 hours to charge (for 30 minutes of conversation). The LED display could dial up any one of 30 phone numbers.
Not so funny was the cost of the first cellphone offered commercially in 1984: $3,995.
Talk then was anything but cheap.
But today is seems as if talk is too cheap.
It’s also ubiquitous (327,577,529 mobile phones in play in the US alone). And phone chatter has become rude, intrusive, and possibly soon, an in-flight annoyance.
For the life of me I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to be unreachable on an airplane. It’s such a rare treat.
Fifty-nine percent of American voters agree with me (30% haven’t heard I may be packing a James Bond phone).
The Association of Flight Attendants is apoplectic about the proposed ruling. If you think they all look crazed now and ready for retirement, just wait.
So Pray for Peace.
If only in-flight.
Anita Alvare's insight:
When you’re writing a regular blog, you’re always looking for interesting ideas and stories you can share with your readers. Tell them something they don’t know. Add to their knowledge of something they do know. Or put something out there that is irresistibly intriguing. Like the headline I saw last week that announced, Men using just half a brain. Where does one begin…?
My grandfather, a very successful businessman, always told me I thought like a man.
I took that to mean I was analytical, decisive, goal oriented, and tended to see the humor in things.
Just like him.
I didn’t realize it meant half of my brain cells weren’t firing.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found striking differences in how men's and women's brains are wired.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released their study’s findings (which included some 1,000 young people aged eight to 22) to show that the women’s brains were wired to better integrate emotion and reason, while the men’s brains had stronger links between coordinated action and perception.
Male brains appeared to be wired front to back, to parts within a hemisphere, but there are few connections bridging the two hemispheres.
In females, the pathways criss-crossed between left and right, with more powerful communications links between hemispheres.
Meaning what, exactly?
Well, it means that at any given moment, a woman is likely to be using her whole brain while a man is using only half of his, according to Ruben Gur, a neuropsychologist who was one of the study’s authors. (I just report the news…).
Generally speaking, these differences might explain why men, in general, tend to be better at learning and performing a single task (they used the examples of cycling or navigating) while women are more equipped for multitasking (I don’t know any man who would argue with that).
And because the female connections link the left hemisphere (associated with logical thinking) with the right (linked with intuition – “thinking without thinking”), this might explain why women tend to do better than men at intuitive tasks.
When it comes to marketing your products and services, you’d do well to recognize that all men (and women) are not created equal. There are definite gender differences.
Think of it as a head game.
Several studies have shown that men and women see things differently because their brains' visual centers work differently.
Women are better at distinguishing colors (men can’t even pronounce “mauve”).
Men are more sensitive to fine detail and rapidly moving stimuli.
Women tend to score better in memory tests (such as remembering words, faces, and special occasions), and in social cognition tests (that measure empathy and “emotional intelligence”).
Men tend to outperform women involving spatial tasks and motor skills, such as map reading (to this day I can’t read a map and I don’t know North from South).
All you have to do is watch beer commercials to know how different the sexes really are. Maybe that’s why they’re my favorite ads. They are so foreign.
And so funny.
Yet ad company Leo Burnett Worldwide says that one survey found 79 percent of men don’t even recognize themselves in advertisements today. They feel they are made out to be absolutely clueless (half-brained?).
Maybe advertisers do that to cozy up to a female audience. Women, after all, are the most powerful brand ambassadors out there.
They account for 85% of all consumer purchases.
They try new things based on a friends’ suggestion (80%).
And they will encourage their own friends to try new products (74%).
It’s nice to know women are finally appreciated for their (100%) brain power.
Anita Alvare's insight:
Chocolate lovers be warned. Lay’s® just introduced their Wavy Original Potato Chips Dipped in Milk Chocolate. This “brand extension” will add 240 calories to your intake if you have the discipline to only eat from their mini single-serving bag. The real trouble starts when you buy the 5-oz. (800 calorie) bags that are now available only at Target. “Betcha can’t eat just one.”
I am no teenager but I still break out every time I eat chocolate. My dermatologist says it’s not possible, but trust me, it’s true.
So I have to pick my spots (pun intended?) before I give into the temptation that is chocolate. More often than not, it’s so worth it but chocolate and potato chips give me pause.
In 1963, the advertising agency Young & Rubicam developed the “Betcha can’t eat just one” advertising campaign slogan for Lay’s Potato Chips. Bert Lahr (“The Cowardly Lion” in The Wizard of Oz ) was the commercial spokesperson.
It was a brilliant campaign because as everyone knows who loves and eats potato chips, you cannot eat just one. It’s impossible. (Let’s hear it for market research).
This phenomenon has a name designed to make you feel even more disgusted with yourself: hedonic hyperphagia. The scientific term for overeating for pleasure rather than hunger.
But hey, it’s not just you. Even the rats can’t resist chips. In laboratory studies, the pitiful rodents scurried right past the chow pellets and bolted for the chips.
Wait until they get a load of the chocolate dipped “dessert chips…”
In the weeks leading up to Lay’s new product introduction, the ABC news crew was given sample bags for an informal taste test (good PR move) and I loved this review:
“It’s like a chocolate pretzel, but worse for you, and therefore more delicious.”
This great combo of “salty, sweet and crunchy” is intended for a limited shelf life. Or so they say.
Lay’s is known for thoughtful test marketing. Their affinity score (a measurement of how much consumers like a brand) is the highest in the $31 billion salty snack market.
“When you try something drastically different, you have to walk before you can run,” says Ram Krishnan, vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, the parent company.
This is a company that is constantly innovating and improving its products. It is always “in trend” – for both the flavors they offer (sophisticated and complex like sweet and salty) and the celebrities they have chosen as their spokespersons.
I have to believe the wavy chocolate chips have a future.
And this should make you feel better.
Potato chips were invented in 1853 by a Native American named George Crum who at the time was the chef at a Saratoga Springs, New York resort.
Rumor has it that railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt pitched a fit because his French fries were too thick and soggy. The second batch George prepared was sent back to the kitchen as well.
Time to create the potato chip (no doubt mumbling obscenities under his breath).
George sliced the potatoes wafer thin (in protest), fried them to a crisp, and piled on the salt (“he expected the customer to choke and spit them out.”).
But Vanderbilt couldn’t eat just one (in fact he ordered more) and “Saratoga Chips” were immediately added to the menu.
And here’s the best part.
The creator of the potato chip lived to the ripe old age of 92.
Anita Alvare's insight:
When was the last time you made poached pears for your customer? Never, right? Well it’s time. Or at least it’s time to think of some creative ways to get close to your customers, thank them for the business they send your way, and have them see a side of you that differs from (but enhances) the business professional they have come to know. Remember the old adage: people do business with people they like.
Years ago I used to float freely throughout my customers’ offices.
Dropping off a package here and there.
Saying hello to the guy in the office next door.
Passing by a Vice President who waved me into his office and just happened to remember he had a project or two that would be perfect for me.
But things are very different now. Corporate offices are in lockdown. You need an appointment (and a visitor’s badge) just to enter a building. My roaming days (and casual new business approach) are over.
And remember when you thanked customers for their business by taking them out to expensive restaurants and sending them gift baskets that needed a crane to set them down on their desks?
There are so many business ethics rules today about accepting gifts and restaurant meals that it becomes too risky unless you know the individual office policies.
I was thinking about all of the above last week when I signed up for a free cooking lesson given by my neighborhood Italian BYOB restaurant, Fiorino. The owner and brilliant chef, Franco Faggi, is a very civic minded guy and offers FREE cooking classes several times a year to a lucky group of 12 who can fit into his tiny kitchen.
Everyone in the group turned out to be a customer. We all loved his restaurant and couldn’t wait to see how he created those magical dishes. Ages ranged from a sophomore in college to retirees.
We were in the kitchen working together, patiently taking our turn to stir and taste test, breathing in the fabulous aromas, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. We finally sat down to lunch to enjoy the spoils at 12:45.
In that short time, we grew to know and like each other.
We were sharing an experience that would become a fond memory, and better yet, something we could revisit every time we made one of Franco’s recipes at home.
A thought occurred to me: I should do this with my customers. It’s so much fun and we’re actually learning something that’s useful.
But what if your customer doesn’t like to cook?
How about bowling? It’s a great equalizer. When I get ready to roll a strike, the ball usually lands behind me with a thud. But that’s OK. Huge laughs from all around. But I don’t care. It’s sickening fun (especially when your customer does it too).
Or maybe invite a customer to see a celebrity in person. I once took a customer to hear John Cleese of Monty Python fame speak about leadership. Talk about strange and mesmerizing…
Once we were promoting the opening of a new restaurant for a client so I invited an out-of-state client to be my guest for the evening. She never saw anything like it before and it was a great way to show her another side of our capabilities.
What are you doing with a customer that another customer might appreciate seeing?
I happen to live and work in the Birthplace of our Nation so I will often take out-of-state clients to see historic landmarks like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall (where’s the Rocky statue?) when they’re in town.
What’s fun and interesting about your home turf?
But what if your customer isn’t allowed to go on outings or accept gifts?
I love taking photos and will often give a client a framed picture of their child or spouse that I took while at a business or social gathering. They absolutely treasure it.
So what unique ideas can you share to help us all take better care of our customers?
Speaking of sharing, here’s Franco’s recipe for Poached Pears. Enjoy!
Poached Pears (Pere cotte al vino rosso)
Recipe courtesy of Franco Faggi, Fiorino Restaurant, Philadelphia PA
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 2+ hours
Cook Time: 20/30 Minutes
▪ (6) Bosc pears
▪ Vanilla ice cream
Wash the pears, place in a pot (standing up); add wine, water, cloves, cinnamon sticks, lemon peel and sugar. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until cooked.
Remove pears from the pot and simmer the liquid by half to a sauce consistency; cool.
Plate the (whole) pears with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the side, spoon the sauce over the pear; drizzle some sauce over the ice cream, sprinkle with confectioner sugar and decorate with mint leaves.
Photo Courtesy of Julie Camburn
Anita Alvare's insight:
Does anyone know a man who once spent 10 hours under water (and twice fell asleep there), and in the heat of battle broke his back in a 40-foot dead drop, bit off half his tongue, and continued to put up a fight and climb higher and higher into the mountains for cover, even after his body was literally shredded in a gunfight and everyone in his unit was killed? I do now.
Last week I was in the presence of a hero. My client, AmeriQuest, hosted a Symposium in Florida for their customers and partners and invited a former U.S. Navy SEAL to tell his improbable story.
His name is Marcus Luttrell, and if he sounds familiar to you it's because actor Mark Wahlberg is currently portraying him in the movie, "Lone Survivor."
It is a grisly, heart-stopping film about a 2005 military surveillance and reconnaissance operation in Afghanistan that went terribly wrong. Everyone involved in Operation Red Wings was killed except for Marcus Luttrell, "the biggest, heaviest, and slowest of them all."
Hospital Corpsman First Class Marcus Luttrell claims he was "born to be a gunfighter." It's an admission that literally takes your breath away but then so does his story of survival and redemption.
An identical twin raised in Texas, he and his brother began training to be Navy SEALs at the tender age of 14. That's when they "crossed the line" and endured grueling training that would eventually earn them a coveted spot on a SEALs team, and for Marcus, set in motion his incredible life story.
If you don't believe war is hell, think again.
During his service in Afghanistan, Luttrell encountered unspeakable evil, unexplainable kindness, and unbearable loss.
After his four-man Navy SEAL team was discovered by local goatherds on the slopes of a mountain, they were forced to move to a less desirable observation location. Two hours later they were ambushed by Ahmad Shah's men, the terrorist leader they were ordered to dispatch and interrogate.
I can't really do justice to the story Luttrell told or the way he described having "death all around you, comrades destroyed in front of your eyes."
Nor can I deliver it in the same rapid fire cadence that pushed his story forward until he stopped suddenly as if he could see before him what he was describing.
But at his hour of certain death, alone, surrounded by the enemy, he found himself eyeball-to-eyeball with a man holding a rifle who he was sure was Taliban. But then he heard these words:
In that split second he made the choice to stand down and that was the instinctive emotional intelligence that saved two people's lives on a day when many lives were lost.
His Angel of Deliverance was a local villager who took his battered body down the mountain and with the help of his neighbors, "doctored" and cared for him. (The two men would meet up again years later and neither could explain why they didn't kill or abandon the other).
The villagers called him Dr. Marcus, a courtesy he didn't discourage (he didn't have the heart to tell them he was a sniper).
The Taliban eventually managed to find him, tortured him, and left him for dead when the villagers rescued him from their mutual enemy, moving him from cave-to-cave until he could be pulled to safety by a U.S. helicopter unit. He recalls with amazement that they were willing to sacrifice their entire village to keep him alive.
Here’s what Marcus Luttrell learned from his near-death experience that he wants us all to know:
Life is short; it can be snatched away quickly.
Keep getting back up, even if it's only one small step at a time.
When you accept that you are going to die, you'll be surprised how much you want to do in the time you have here.
Time is the most valuable thing you have; don't waste a minute doing anything you don't enjoy.
People can surprise you with their inherent goodness.
Faith, family and stubbornness can literally keep you alive.
Don't be late for anything, unless you're dead.
Anita Alvare's insight:
My father always did his Christmas shopping on December 24th. But he shopped at only one store: Sears. Just the thought of it struck fear and loathing in the heart of my mother who prepared herself for kitchen gadgets and shall we say “questionable” gold jewelry. But as a kid I loved Sears, so it saddens me to see this great American brand closing its flagship store in downtown Chicago, one of hundreds of Sears’ stores that have been shuttered in only the past few years. I feel a death coming on.
Maybe it’s the death of retail stores altogether. The whole experience of walking into a store, touching things, trying on clothes, asking for help. All that in-person engagement is so 20th Century.
Now we can conveniently order things online 24/7 and immediately send them back (at considerable expense and inconvenience) when they don’t meet our expectations.
Gee, what fun.
The Internet, social networking and mobile devices have “fundamentally and permanently changed” the way people shop, according to Edward S. Lampert, the hedge fund manager (uh-oh) who is Sears’ majority owner and chief executive.
Quite a lot has changed since Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck incorporated the mail order catalog business in 1893.
By 2005, with Lampert at the helm, the Kmart discount chain (another lackluster, depressing brand) had purchased Sears for $12 billion and renamed the entity Sears Holdings. Lampert claims that Sears and Kmart were the first retailers to pioneer an Integrated Retail strategy that included their Shop Your Way loyalty program and buy online/pick-up in the store programs.
But it may be too little too late. Sears’ core retail business is in a deep dive.
And last week, on the heels of the store closing announcement, Sears had to defend itself against the devastating in-store photos posted by Brian Sozzi, chief equities strategist at Belus Capital Advisors, depicting the company’s New York and New Jersey Sears locations (reminder: your customers, employees and critics are now carrying cell phone cameras).
He described shopping in the Sears stores as “a flea market experience.”
“It’s just badness throughout, “he said of the walk-thru. “Every store has something fundamentally wrong with it.”
Sears cried foul, with its Vice President of Communications arguing (via Twitter) that select photos aren’t representative of the company’s nearly 2,000 stores.
But as we know, people read less today and rely more on images to shape their opinions and knowledge base. The damage was done.
In hindsight, Sears spread itself a bit too thin over the years. The catalog company that became the powerhouse retailer started aligning itself with other brand capabilities as far back as the 1930s. You know all the names: Allstate Insurance Company, Dean Witter, Coldwell Banker, Prodigy, the Discover Credit Card.
These non-retail businesses bled the bottom line and led to a string of divestitures in the 1990s. How many times has this same story/different brands been the death knell for once proud companies?
Whatever the outcome, I will always have fond memories of Sears.
Our family revered (and bought) Kenmore appliances, DieHard batteries, and Craftsman tools.
And when the Sears Catalog arrived at our house, my sister and I would go through its hundreds of wafer thin pages, carefully selecting and cutting out furniture, rugs and models that we would paste on the inside of the box lids we used to create an open split level neighborhood.
Frustrated Designing Divas, we’d spend hours on end trying to out-do each other, “furnishing” our homes and creating the glamorous families that lived there. Not surprisingly my sister grew up to become an interior designer (but with much-improved taste).
If you want to "Come see the softer side of Sears," you’d better hurry.
Anita Alvare's insight:
By now you’re probably all sick to death of hearing about "Bridgegate" (or is it "Bridgehazi?"). But I wanted to chime in from a crisis media point-of-view just to ensure that none of you make the same mistake at your next nearly two-hour press conference. Rule One: Never say what you’re not when the cameras are rolling (as in, ”I am not a bully.”).
If you’ve been too busy playing the slots in Atlantic City to hear about the furor last week in the Garden State, here’s a recap:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used a one-hour and 48 minute press conference last Thursday to issue a public apology for the stupidity of his two aides who apparently got a little carried away with the power of their office and decreed that lanes be closed and traffic disrupted on the George Washington Bridge leading from Fort Lee, New Jersey to New York City.
(Tweet: Ann Coulter (@anncoulter): This is the longest press conference since Mark Sanford announced he was in love!).
This sinister plot was the best they could come up with to punish the evil Mayor of Fort Lee who said he couldn’t identify Christie in a police lineup if his life depended on it (or was it Christie who said that about the Mayor who didn’t endorse him?).
Upon learning about the conspiracy, Christie fired his top staffer with the innocent Irish name, Bridget Anne Kelly, who allegedly put the wheels in motion (or not) with the chilling command: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." (A phrase for the ages, or at least a tee shirt).
(Tweet: Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler): "I've terminated Bridget's employment" presumably because her first name is a constant, painful reminder of the scandal.).
Replying to the email with the equivalent of “message received” was Port Authority Official David Wildstein who is currently lawyered up and pleading the Fifth. He got fired too but I’m sure he’ll be singing an operetta shortly, with Christie in the starring role.
From my professional point-of-view, I think Christie held his own during the press conference, even though it would have been better if the news had been broken originally by his office. He took on all comers and seemed genuinely embarrassed, remorseful and committed to righting the wrong.
But then he tripped up, which is easy to do when you’re talking off-the-cuff for hours.
(Tweet: Molly Ball (@mollyesque): As a reporter, I love Chris Christie. Unlike every other politician, he keeps saying different things the longer he talks.).
Christie flunked Damage Control 101 by echoing the “I am not a crook” Nixon line that dogged the former President throughout his political career.
It would be like me saying: “I am not a control freak.”
Or Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell saying: “I am not a witch.”
Or Toronto Mayor Robert Ford saying: “I am not an addict of crack cocaine.”
Later amended to: “I’m not an alcoholic.”
Further clarified with: “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. But am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably, in one of my drunken stupors.’’
You get the point.
But there are exceptions to this rule, of course.
Like when basketballer Charles Barkley said: “I am not a role model.”
Or when humorist Will Rogers said, "I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat."
Remember to tell them who you (really) are. Not what you’re not (really).
Anita Alvare's insight:
The New York Times is reporting that E-book sales have been flat or in decline for most of 2013. They’re actually down 3 percent from August of 2012. Could it be that hard cover books and independent book stores might be making a dramatic comeback during the final breathless shopping days until Christmas? I hope so. But if you’re looking for a fascinating read for the price of a newspaper, try reading one-and-done biographies with no chance of a sequel: the daily obituaries.
Admit it. You read obituaries, too. I’ve been hooked on them for years but more so lately.
Maybe it’s because I know so many people I read about. Not all of them personally, of course, but you start seeing whole generations passing away, their entire life stories compressed into mere paragraphs.
The late Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, recommended that we take stock of our lives by imagining our own funerals (isn’t this a fun holiday blog?).
According to him, it’s all about “deposits” and “withdrawals.” The more you put into life, the more you get out of it.
And consequently, more people will show up at your funeral saying nice things about you (beloved…cherished…scratch golfer…).
Some people’s life circumstances, talents, and choices change the course of history. For better or worse.
While others live quiet lives that will never merit a headline, maybe not even a posting.
But everyone, in the end, leaves behind the story of their life (just remember, no edits allowed at “press time”).
Years ago I cut out and saved the ultimate obituary.
The deceased was Giorgio Carbone, 73, a flower merchant turned prince-for-life from Seborga, a medieval town near the Italian Riviera (his 300 followers declared it a sovereign state).
But here’s the best part: he was known to his subjects as “His Tremendousness.”
Obviously he made more than a few “deposits” in his lifetime.
The trappings of his principality included a constitution, a national anthem, and an official motto: Sub umbra sede (“Sit in the shade”).
It would be hard to top that one.
And here’s an intriguing one. One that got me thinking about how any one event/decision/action/relationship in our own lives can affect the lives of so many others (Think It’s a Wonderful Life).
Joseph P. “Reds” McAfee, 91 died of a heart attack on December 4th.
You’ve probably never heard of him (I hadn’t) but he played in one of the most famous upsets in college football history.
His big moment came when he was a freshman playing for underdog Holy Cross College against the Number One ranked college football team, Boston College.
On November 28, 1942, Mr. McAfee set the stage for a stunning upset with his 55-yard punt return. Psyched, Holy Cross went on to defeat Boston 55-12.
But here’s the thing. His stellar play, and that of his teammates, left the Boston College players and their fans in total shock. They weren’t prepared to lose.
And they didn’t feel much like partying either.
So they cancelled a planned victory celebration that night at the Cocoanut Grove, Boston’s premier nightclub at the time during the post-Prohibition 1930s and 40s.
That evening the former speakeasy burned to the ground. The fire claimed 492 lives.
Saving lives became part of McAfee’s life story.
Side note: My friend’s twin boys used to call me “Wonder Woman.” I have no idea why but it occurs to me now that I need to find a way to weave that descriptor into my life story.
Quod me fugere (“Watch me fly”).
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. I’ll start thinking again in the New Year…
Anita Alvare's insight:
Our local business publication runs a CEO Profile feature that always asks the question, “What is the one word that best describes you?” The C-level answers tend to be perfunctory: leader, focused, driven, passionate, curious. The usual suspects. In thinking about my own response to that question, I have to say the one word that comes to mind for me is grateful.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and fall is by far my favorite season. There is something very moody about autumn, especially when you live on the East Coast. It’s a good time to think deep thoughts. Appreciate what you have. Light a fire. Bake some pumpkin bread.
We can thank the Pilgrims for having the good sense to create a holiday that, unlike Christmas, requires only four basic ingredients: food, family, friends and football.
I’m grateful that I don’t have to cook the Thanksgiving dinner. That honor goes to my big sister Rodie who is much more qualified than I for this important annual ritual (I bring the can’t-lose-dessert).
But when you think about the original Thanksgiving menu, my sister is actually getting off pretty easy. She can comfortably work her magic inside a modern kitchen, not standing outside over a boiling cauldron and roasting pit in frigid New England.
The first Thanksgiving spread supposedly included seethed (boiled) lobster, cod and turkey; roasted goose, duck, and venison with mustard sauce; fricassee of Coney (Island?); stewed pumpkin; fruit and Holland cheese; topped off with dessert (brought by one of the lazy settlers), featuring Indian corn meal pudding with dried whortleberries and savory pudding of Hominy (a food made from kernels of corn which are soaked in an alkali solution of either lime or lye. An acquired taste for sure…).
There was no Calorie Control Council back then to spoil the Pilgrim’s belt-busting get together. Today we have to put up with relentless media stories warning us that the average American could consume as many as 4,500 calories at this holiday meal (which brings to mind the definition of an optimist: a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day).
I’m very grateful that I get to take the entire Thanksgiving week off from work. I do it every year. No big plans. No travel. Just a week to be with family and friends and celebrate my son’s birthday (he was conveniently born while I was on vacation).
When I return from this hiatus, I will be even more grateful that the people I work with will make me feel like I wasn’t missed a bit (everything’s under control, boss), that my clients will have taken some time off as well (it can wait ‘till next week), and that you, my readers, graciously spent a moment to check out my blog.
Anita Alvare's insight:
60 Minutes did a great piece this past weekend about the developer of the world’s best-selling camera, GoPro. If you’ve never heard of this wearable video camera, it’s probably because you aren’t into surfing, skydiving, auto racing, snowboarding, mountain climbing, exploring outer space, flying like a bird, or teaching your son how to ride a bike. That’s the kind of action its clip-on-anywhere lens can capture. And it’s wreaking havoc on the traditional camera market.
Twelve years ago, an entrepreneur with a failed start-up behind him decided to take a breather to contemplate his next move. He packed up and traveled around the world perfecting his surfing moves.
In between wipeouts from Australia to Indonesia, he attempted to film his surfing adventures by strapping a 35mm camera to the palm of his hand with a rubber band.
I think you know where this is going…
The rubber band was soon replaced by a belt that attached the camera to the body. Before long he had built a wearable video camera prototype that became a waterproof film version able to capture the action up close and personal.
The inventor’s first customers were surfers lining up outside his van/corporate office/warehouse parked along the California coast.
From these humble beginnings, Nick Woodman created GoPro, a company offering wearable and gear mounted camera systems that let amateurs shoot like the pros, “capturing stunning photos and video of their life’s most meaningful experiences.”
GoPro positions itself as the world’s leading activity image capture company. Nice.
It’s a marketer’s dream that keeps on giving (back to the company). Customers are constantly feeding them with creative content, sending them footage of their own personal adventures that are often featured on GoPro social sites and company promotions.
To Woodman they represent “a first person view that is one of hundreds…thousands of perspectives” inspiring the company to make the world’s most versatile camera even more versatile.
You just can’t make this stuff up.
And they don’t have to very often (yet it’s not unusual for mini-drones to be flying overhead in the GoPro office as their creative brain trust noodles future camera applications).
GoPro is a video revolution that has made an adventurous, enterprising, eccentric young man a 38 year old billionaire (worth $1.3) who is ranked at #386 on the Forbes list of 400 Richest Americans.
"It gets people off the couch and out into the world doing stuff, so it's a noble cause in addition to growing our business," said Woodman.
And what started as an inexpensive camera for sports enthusiasts has made a giant leap into the commercial market, which is another reason why the company’s sales keep doubling year-after-year.
Major film studios and professional production companies are using GoPro cameras to redefine action filmmaking (if it breaks during the crash scene, it doesn’t matter. It’s cheap to replace).
TV news crews (including 60 Minutes) are adding headed-your-way drama to their coverage.
And businesses are turning education on its head with mind blowing visual demonstrations that make the learning experience fun and unforgettable.
Keep your eye on this ball/camera.
Meaningful experiences are coming to a computer/smart phone/TV/theatre near you.
Just imagine the many ways you could use GoPro film content to spice up your website, social networks, trade show booths, training programs and presentations.
It’s an awesome way to outsmart the competition, tell your story, and capture and share customer experiences.
Anita Alvare's insight:
When my father would leave home in the morning for work he would often say, “I’m off to the salt mines.” I had no idea what that meant but I remember thinking it didn’t sound like much fun. Well, two weeks ago I actually went to a salt mine in Kansas and I’m pleased to report that it was as cool (literally 68 degrees) and creepy as you can imagine. Too bad I missed their Halloween Party last weekend…
The connection between work and salt dates way back to the Roman Empire. The word “salary” comes from the Latin word salarium, an allowance that was paid to soldiers for buying salt. People used to actually fight over this valued commodity; it was extremely expensive. But now we just pass it around the table or sprinkle it on the icy driveway without giving it a thought.
Over time the word came to mean 'fixed periodic payment for work done,' and that’s how we got the English term “salary.”
Since 99% of you probably have never been – nor will ever go – to a salt mine, I thought I’d share the highlights, or should I say, low lights, of my visit.
Strataca, a.k.a the Kansas Underground Museum, is built within one of the world’s largest deposits of rock salt.
Right off, they gave us the shaft.
In keeping with miner’s tradition, we took a 6-ton hoist down over 650 feet beneath the Earth’s surface in complete darkness. (The ride back up was a bit better. A child in sneakers kept jumping up-and-down nervously which made his shoes glow-in-the-dark. No one asked him to stop).
The elevator door opened to what could only be described as the largest Man Cave you have ever seen. All that was missing was the Big Screen TV and the snacks. It was vast – 300,000 square feet of mined out area – with a grey-white somber hue.
We had our hard hats on and rescue breathers over our shoulders (just in case…) and were given explicit instructions not to lick the walls. I was not even mildly tempted but evidently the same people who lick icy poles in the winter get a thrill out of tasting salt mine walls (but they only lick the jagged rocks once…).
The walls of this intriguing space “act as ancient scrolls of the earth, revealing secrets of the strata formed by the Permian Sea some 275 million years ago.” Over 500,000 ton of rock salt is removed each year (by only 12 miners), primarily used to de-ice roads across the mid-west and eastern US (they love it when the call comes in from Chicago).
Mike Rowe, host of the cable show Dirty Jobs, joined the miners a few years back to film them detonating a packed wall of explosives and demolishing a massive salt wall into small, minuscule blocks.
Hollywood loves salt mines, too. With its 68 degree constant temperature, relative humidity, and not a live critter in sight, they use this cavernous space to store their original camera negatives, television show masters, costumes and props.
Medical and business records, oil and gas charts, and God knows what from the U. S. Government, are stored underground as well. In fact, it would be the perfect place to sit out a World War or environmental disaster.
But first you have to get to Kansas.