Archives: December 2007



Call (C-A-L-L!) (NOT E-MAIL!) 25-50 (NO LESS THAN 25) people ... TODAY* ... to thank them for their support this year (2007) ... and wish them and their families and colleagues a Happy 2008!** *** **** ***** ******

*Today = TODAY = N-O-W (not "within the hour")
**Remember: ROIR > ROI. ROIR = Return On Investment in Relationships. Success = ƒ(Relationships).
***This is the most important piece of advice I have provided this year.
****This is ... Not Optional.
*****Trust me: This is fun!!!!
******Trust me: This "works."

Happy 2008!!!

Perspective, As the New Year Begins

A good friend of mine, Steve Millard, a true modern telecoms-data movement pioneer, among many other things, keeps me on his intriguing mailing list. Last night (1230.07) I got what follows. As a kid who, in the early 50s, was subjected to "get under the desk" drills in the face of Soviet nucs, perhaps this has special resonance.

But I think the issue is broader than that—fact is, what follows kept me up most of last night (Sunday 1230). In a hyper-rank-conscious society (the Soviets), one incredibly thoughtful Red Army Colonel may have saved the world courtesy one and only one thing—common sense.

My message, though, is not just a tribute to applied common sense. As the new year approaches, I'd urge you to use this story as a reminder of how precious and precarious life is. Last year I touted a wonderful book, The Manager's Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Build Great Companies, by Adecco exec Steve Harrison. I suggest using this Big Story of impending Nuclear Holocaust to remember small gestures. That is, take the time, with family and friends and colleagues and, indeed, strangers on the street, to smile or say thanks or somehow or other go the extra inch to introduce humanity into your moment-by-moment routines. Do this especially when you are harried and "don't have a second to waste." Between this amazing story about you and me and Colonel Stanislav Petrov and planetary nuclear incineration, and Dickens' Christmas Carol (I re-read it every Christmas), we should be humbled—and moved to give serious thought to the ways in which we transit the world on any given day, at any given moment.

[What follows is the beginning of an article re-printed from See the original here, and more by author Tony Rennell here.]

"September 26th, 1983: The Day the World Almost Died," by Tony Rennell

Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant-colonel in the military intelligence section of the Soviet Union's secret service, reluctantly eased himself into the commander's seat in the underground early warning bunker south of Moscow.

It should have been his night off but another officer had gone sick and he had been summoned at the last minute.

Before him were screens showing photographs of underground missile silos in the Midwest prairies of America, relayed from spy satellites in the sky.

He and his men watched and listened on headphones for any sign of movement—anything unusual that might suggest the U.S. was launching a nuclear attack.

This was the height of the Cold War between the USSR and the U.S. Both sides packed a formidable punch—hundreds of rockets and thousands of nuclear warheads capable of reducing the other to rubble.

It was a game of nerves, of bluff and counterbluff. Who would fire first? Would the other have the chance to retaliate?

The flying time of an inter-continental ballistic missile, from the U.S. to the USSR, and vice-versa, was around 12 minutes. If the Cold War were ever to go "hot," seconds could make the difference between life and death.

Everything would hinge on snap decisions. For now, though, as far as Petrov was concerned, more hinged on just getting through another boring night in which nothing ever happened.
Except then, suddenly, it did. A warning light flashed up, screaming red letters on a white background—"LAUNCH. LAUNCH." Deafening sirens wailed. The computer was telling him that the U.S. had just gone to war.

The blood drained from his face. He broke out in a cold sweat. But he kept his nerve. The computer had detected missiles being fired but the hazy screens were showing nothing untoward at all, no telltale flash of a missile roaring out of its silo into the sky. Could this be a computer glitch rather than Armageddon?

Instead of calling an alert that within minutes would have had Soviet missiles launched in a retaliatory strike, Petrov decided to wait.

The warning light flashed again—a second missile was, apparently, in the air. And then a third. Now the computer had stepped up the warning: "Missile attack imminent!"

But this did not make sense. The computer had supposedly detected three, no, now it was four, and then five rockets, but the numbers were still peculiarly small. It was a basic tenet of Cold War strategy that, if one side ever did make a preemptive strike, it would do so with a mass launch, an overwhelming force, not this dribble.

Petrov stuck to his common-sense reasoning. This had to be a mistake.

What if it wasn't? What if the holocaust the world had feared ever since the first nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, was actually happening before his very eyes—and he was doing nothing about it?

He would soon know. For the next ten minutes, Petrov sweated, counting down the missile time to Moscow. But there was no bright flash, no explosion 150 times greater than Hiroshima.

Instead, the sirens stopped blaring and the warning lights went off.

The alert on September 26th, 1983, had been a false one. Later, it was discovered that what the satellite's sensors had picked up and interpreted as missiles in flight was nothing more than high-altitude clouds.

Petrov's cool head had saved the world.

He got little thanks. He was relieved of his duties, sidelined, then quietly pensioned off. His experience that night was an extreme embarrassment to the Soviet Union.

Petrov may have prevented all out nuclear war, but at the cost of exposing the inadequacies of Moscow's much vaunted early warning shield.

Instead of feeling relieved, his masters in the Kremlin were more afraid than ever. They sank into a state of paranoia, fearful that in Washington, Ronald Reagan was planning a first-strike that would wipe them off the face of the earth.

The year was 1983 and—as a history documentary in a primetime slot on Channel 4 [UK] next weekend vividly shows—the next six weeks would be the most dangerous the world has ever experienced. ...

[Read the remainder of the article at]

Cool News

Cool Friend John Maeda, formerly of MIT's Media Lab, was appointed the new president of Rhode Island School of Design, on December 21, 2007. You can get the details at Not surprisingly, the announcement at the RISD website looks great. John, we'd like to add our congratulations to all those you've doubtless received already!

Christmas (Cookie) Greetings

Gingerbread Man cookieFrom 1984 to 1994 Tom had a weekly column, syndicated by the Chicago Tribune, which ran in about 100 papers. This Christmas column appeared, we think, in about 1988. Thanks to a blog reader named Dorothy Lyskowski, who sent us a scanned copy of the one she had saved all these years! So, our Christmas offering to all our readers:

Lessons About Life, Enterprise, from Baking Christmas Cookies

A couple of hours in a hot kitchen can teach you as much about business and management as the latest books on re-engineering or total quality management. That's my take, anyway, after a bout of Christmas-cookie baking. Here are 11 lessons for life (and enterprise), fresh from the oven:

1. Engagement. Watching others helps, but you've gotta get your hands dirty. I hadn't made cookies for years, so I observed a friend do a few batches. I thought I was learning something, and I suppose I was—but nothing really clicked until my hands were covered with flour.

Lesson (for trainers especially): Cut the lectures. Get folks involved in "real stuff" very quickly!

2. A plan. I'm not keen on planning in general, but a time-tested recipe is a godsend. First, it's roughly "right." More important, it gives you the confidence to get started.

Lesson: Any plan is a help; it gives folks the sense they aren't aimlessly flailing.

3. Art. The plan is an outline—not Holy Writ. Plans, including recipes, are made to be tinkered with—and eventually torn up. Cookie making, software design, and real-estate lending are art. And it's the artists, not the slavish followers of others' recipes, who land in the world's halls of fame.

Lesson: Blind devotion to any plan is downright dumb!

4. Trial and errors. Yes, I'd watched a master at work (or at least a pretty good cook), but in my first hour of hands-on work, with instructions close at hand, I made dozens of mistakes, large and small. And in business life, real life, and cookie-making life, error is the fuel that drives you.

Lesson: Don't "tolerate" mistakes. Embrace them!

5. The same mistakes. "Mistakes are OK," some concede, "but don't make the same mistake twice."

Rubbish! I made virtually the same errors, in something as relatively simple as cookie making, over and over ... and over.

Lesson: Nobody ever did anything (interesting) right the first, or 51st, time.

6. A sense of humor. I was awkward at the start. (And at the finish.) I turned the kitchen into a disaster area. Kids and adults made their day laughing at me (or so it seemed). Experimentation—the nub of life and business—depends on learning to laugh at yourself.

Lesson: Learning is precisely about making a fool of yourself—often in public.

7. Perseverance. An ability to laugh at yourself and suppress your ego is key—but so is steely-eyed determination. Sure it was "just" cookie making. But I did want to do it right.

Lesson: Winners want to do everything well, no matter how trivial; and that takes focus and unrelenting drive.

8. Perfectionism. Certainly, the kitchen was a mess. Yes, I was the object of ridicule. But to master one's craft requires nothing less than pain-in-the-butt perfectionism. Most see artists, and creative types in general, as scatterbrained. I'm sure there are scatterbrained artists (and bakers), but their work doesn't end up in museums (or cookbooks).

Lesson: Creativity and perfectionism are essential handmaidens.

9. Ownership. It was made clear to me: I was responsible for the Christmas Eve dinner cookies. There were no backups available—and a long ginger-cookie tradition hung on my frail (i.e., incompetent) shoulders. The monkey was ensconced squarely on my back. So I did the job.

Lesson A: No ownership, no passion.
Lesson B: No passion, no perseverance.
Lesson C: There is no half ownership.

10. Accountability. When I'd helped with some previous cookie making (the day before), I'd screwed up the baking time twice. Now I was on my own. That should have made things more difficult. But, to the contrary, I was so attuned to the task that I didn't come close to blowing it.

Lesson: Until you're engaged in all aspects of a job, you don't fully engage.

11. Taste. OK, I'll brag: I made good cookies. Greatness takes practice—and exquisite taste. I may or may not practice more, but I doubt I'll ever become to baking what Tom Clancy is to techno-thrillers.

Lesson: If we want great products, we need to find, attract, and retain great creators. Period.

* * * * * *

If you'd like to get a copy to spread around, you can download one here as an MSWord file or in a PDF version.

Below ... a different kind of holiday photo. Tom sent it with this caption: "Nothing to do with the post, and I do not confuse myself with the King of the Beasts. But this is how I plan to spend my holidays." Source: His July trip to Botswana.


Service Sucks!
Not By My Lights (Um, Keyboard)!

Vermont, 21 December 2007

Fact is, I made a small fortune in the mid-80s bitching and bitching and then bitching some more about customer service shortcomings. I was commonly referred to, from CA to Timbuktu, as the "king of customer service"—and given too much credit for putting this critical strategic issue on the map.

Therefore I applaud Steve Yastrow's post on Hilton's misbehavior. And applaud even more wholeheartedly the fantastic discussion responding to his Post—you'd do well to read all the Comments. (I did.)

Still ...

I got to thinking about all the sophisticated ideas stirred by the Post. And thinking about all the reporters who almost automatically ask me, "Why does customer service uniformly stink?"

Whoa, chummies!

Fact is, I think customer service is a pure marvel:

**On 21 December 2007 (today), a day before leaving the country, at 4 a.m., from my bed, in West Tinmouth, VT, iced in, wireless working, I readily finish my Christmas shopping. Sure, a lot of stuff can't make it by Christmas—but a lot can, enough to get the job done. (And the rest will arrive by the 27th or 28th, not bad by my shabby standards.)
**Last week at this time I was in Dubai, and woke up to the electronic news that a good friend and mentor had passed away. The memorial service was 72 hours later, in LA. Within the space of 20 minutes I had totally re-organized my 3-continent travel, made hotel reservations in LA, and was set to be where I wanted to be when I wanted to be there. (The email received about the service had of course included a map.) (Also, within a half hour, I'd arranged to meet a couple of good friends, one from England whom I hadn't seen for 10 or so years, at my hotel in LA to drive together to the service.) (Some elements of "customer service" are beyond the Web's power—despite my prayers, God decided to do his "blizzard thing," my travel plans imploded, and I missed the service.)
**Two interesting fellow speakers I met in Dubai and I are already at work on creating a mini-conference next Spring on the Web. (I'm almost certain that Spring will come, in spite of my VT picture above—if I light enough candles this Christmas at San Marco's in Venice.)
**Yesterday morning I read a squib on an unusual, older, out-of-print technical book that sounded cool. I'd ordered it 20 minutes later from some guy who lives in that most common of places these days—God Alone Knows Where. (Oh, and there's a 93% chance he'll come through.) (Another book I came across I decided not to order, thanks to 5 minutes perusing 10 or 15 peer-reviews at Amazon; the formal reviews—Publisher's Weekly, etc.—weren't worth a shit, as usual.)
**Talking to VT friends last week who recently finished building a small recreational house in Colorado. This summer they furnished the whole thing, good stuff for an insanely low cost, courtesy eBay—and on the trip out from VT had a jolly time collecting their acquisitions at various places where the eBay sellers lived. (Batting average with purveyors: 100%.)
**Guy who drove me from the airport to my hotel a couple of weeks ago had just started a wee business that involved very sexy recording equipment—in a 6-month period he'd acquired, from various addresses on the Web and after incredible Web research, about $75,000 worth of equipment, in mint condition, for a touch less than $10,000.

To be sure, one of my colleagues ordered her daughter a computer for Christmas, a big deal and total surprise. Delivery was absolutely, positively promised by today—when she checked yesterday, dear, dear Dell informed her it wasn't gonna happen. (Too bad she didn't consult with me earlier—I could have told her how much Dell service sucks; it's even worse post-purchase.) Susan's and my Christmas trip to Italy will be courtesy frequent flyer miles, and I don't need to tell you yet another tale of the pain involved in cashing in "customer loyalty" FF miles—on the other hand, it did work out in the end and enormously lessened our guilt about this indulgent trip.

So, yes, service horror stories, real "head shakers," abound. But as for me, circa December 2007, I am in "shock and awe" at what I can get done in the way of services (breadth and depth) that would have been unimaginable a scant decade ago.* (*And I do love it that a new Web service,, will allow me, for $5, to automatically get "A" group reservations on Southwest for my insanely inexpensive post-New Year's Albany-BWI trip to see my 93-year-old aunt.)

Merry Christmas—my presents to you, dear close colleagues, will be arriving on time!

Must Watch!

Saturday. 8PM. The History Channel. The True Story of Charlie Wilson. (A couple of reviewers say the same thing: Charlie Wilson's unvarnished story is so good-amazing-bizarre that you don't need Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts to spice it up; this is the killer version.)

Christmas Giving:
Not Too Late to Do Good

Sure it's late, but here are a couple of suggestions:

OLPC. Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child program is a gem. At you can give a kid in a developing country a laptop for $200 or, for $399, do "Give One. Get One." You give a developing country child one, and get one for your child.

BoGo Light. About Two Billion people have no electric lights. Substitutes, such as kerosene, are dangerous and play havoc with the environment. Enter Mark Bent, inventor of a $25 solar-powered flashlight. BoGo is "Buy One, Get One." Go to, and for $25 plus shipping you get one—and he sends one to the relief group of your choice. You can choose pink or orange. Please choose pink!! Orange was the sole color, but men routinely stole them from women. Men are not so inclined to swipe the pink ones. In a tale reminiscent of the development of micro-lending, the guys use the lights to sit around and do nothing; women use the lights to teach each other to read, do family chores such as gather firewood, etc.

FYI, I am a participant in both programs, though I am not associated with either one other than in the role of Cheerleader.

Cool Friends: Pine & Gilmore

Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore are the guys behind the line that Tom has been using for years, "Experiences are as distinct from services as services are from goods," which is from their bestseller The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre & Every Business a Stage. Their new book is Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore were the very first Cool Friends at in 1999. At that time, they were putting the noun experience into the business lexicon in a big way, and they are currently doing the same for the adjective authentic. How do you know when something is really real? Read their Cool Friends interview to get their take on the subject, or go to their website, to learn more about their work. As I write, Authenticity is ranked #1 on among business books, in the category of direct marketing.

MVPs, 2007

For what it's worth, my heroes (& goats) of 2007

CEO: Carly Fiorina. HP, not IBM, became the first $100 billion infotech company this year. Primary reason? The highly contentious, and surprisingly successful, Compaq acquisition and integration. (And, God knows, I don't ordinarily cheer such acquisitions—though I did, in this case, from the start.) Tenacious champion? Carly Fiorina! HP is now seen as a "consumer powerhouse." Laughable idea a few years ago. Transformation agent: Ms Fiorina. HP is "cool" with scintillating designs. Laughable idea just a few years ago. Transformation agent? Carly. New and not so nerdy "culture." Architect? Carly Fiorina. (And said cultural transformation, frankly, makes Welch's work at GE and Gerstner's at IBM a cakewalk by comparison.)

Do I give Ms Fiorina uniformly high marks? No. Does her successor, Mark Hurd, get significant credit? Absolutely. But make no mistake, Mr Hurd is executing Ms Fiorina's bold strategy and working with her altered culture. Period.

CEO: Arnold Schwarzenegger. President Schwarzenegger has made a miracle in my beloved California Republic. Not only has he done "great stuff"—he's retrieved California's swagger and indomitable spirit. Go, Guvenator!

Company: Basement Systems Inc. Love it when there is a superstar performer in a mundane business. Founder-CEO Larry Janesky has built a $50 million ++, fast-growing enterprise in the biz of providing dry basements—that are free of nasty mold and available as another (big) room in one's home. (Also see Larry's bestselling Dry Basement Science.)

Company: Jim's Group of Australia. Ditto. (You can see my biases here.) Jim Penman has 2,500+ franchises worldwide, doin' the stuff that busy working families don't have time to do—such as walkin' and washin' the family dog! (Also see, downloadable at Jim's website, What Will They Franchise Next? The Story of Jim's Group.)

Companies: Germany's Mittelstand—middle-sized firms. These high-value-added, niche superstars make Germany the world's #1 exporter! (The hell with the Giants.)

Companies and People: Private firms, Millionaires next door. The "gurus" never talk about the private firms—that constitute over half the enormous U.S. economy, and outperform the Monsters in the process. Our "gurus" ("our" includes me!) likewise never talk about that ordinary fellow-CEO up the hill running a biz that does uncool things, dressing in uncool garb, going to Disneyworld on holiday—and sporting a bank account to die for.

Person: Muhammad Yunus. Okay, I'm late to the party, but I didn't do MVPs last year, when Mr Yunus and his Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize for inventing and executing the practice of micro-lending. More cheers still to the 94% women entrepreneur-borrowers (and payers back!).

Market: Me! Boomers. Geezers. By the tens upon tens of millions. Money at the ready. (Lots and lots of. And time to spend it.) And insanely underserved by one and almost all. Here's how I put it in my presentations: "We are the Aussies & Kiwis & Americans & Canadians. We are the Western Europeans & Japanese. We are the fastest growing, the biggest, the wealthiest, the boldest, the most (yes) ambitious, the most experimental & exploratory, the most different, the most indulgent, the most difficult & demanding, the most service & experience obsessed, the most vigorous, (the least vigorous,) the most health conscious, the most female, the most profoundly important commercial market in the history of the world—and we will be the Center of your universe for the next twenty-five years. We have arrived!"

Message: Wise up! Wake up! Get rich!

Goats: Bill Sharpe et other "quants." The super-sophisticated mathematically marvelous quants with their derivatives of derivatives of derivatives promised us the end of systemic economic risk. Whoops—they gave us sleepwalkers just the opposite. When a couple of folks in Podunk missed a mortgage payment, the skyscraper of cards imploded. Bill Sharpe was among the Nobel-winning economists who took us down this prickly primrose path. May the milk in their Christmas puddings be curdled.

Hero: Warren Buffett. Mr Basics wondered about the value of the dull & dreary underlying asset (Mo and Maureen of Podunk's capacity to pay down their "cutrate" mortgage), and warned us about the freaky financial instruments that sat atop such "assets." Chalk another one up for Mr Buffett.

Chief Imagineer: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai. Just returned from Dubai. In my seminars I call its stunning development, on a desert flyspeck, the "single greatest act of human imagination in my lifetime." Congratulations to Sheikh Mohammed and his late father, Sheikh Maktoum.

Process & Simplicity: Checklists!! Complexifiers often rule—in part the byproduct of far too many "consultants" in the world, determined to demonstrate the fact that their IQs are higher than yours or mine. Enter Johns Hopkins' Dr Peter Pronovost. Dr P was appalled by the fact that 50% of folks in ICUs (90,000 at any point—in the U.S. alone) develop serious complications as a result of their stay in the ICU, per se. He also discovered that there were 179 steps, on average, required to sustain an ICU patient every day. His answer: Dr P "invented" the ... ta-da ... checklist! With the religious use of simple paper lists, prevalent ICU "line infection" errors at Hopkins dropped from 11% to zero—and stay-length was halved. (Results have been consistently replicated, from the likes of Hopkins to inner-city ERs.) "[Dr Pronovost] is focused on work that is not normally considered a significant contribution in academic medicine," Dr Atul Gawande, wrote in "The Checklist" (New Yorker, 1210.07). "As a result, few others are venturing to extend his achievements. Yet his work has already saved more lives than that of any laboratory scientist in the last decade." (I've attached a "Special Presentation" on this topic.)

Healthcare Providers: Planetree Alliance Members. The "Planetree Model" of "patient-centric" (ugly word, that) healthcare is the Real Deal. Asked to comment on the Planetree Alliance earlier this year, here's what I said:

"All sane persons agree that 'healthcare needs an overhaul.' And that's where the agreement stops. Healthcare issues are thorny, and system panaceas are about as likely as the sun rising in the West. But there is good news here and there—and great news courtesy the Planetree Model.

"In the midst of ceaseless gnashing of teeth over 'healthcare issues,' the patient and frontline staff often get lost in the shuffle. Enter Planetree. While oceanic systemic solutions remain out of reach, Planetree provides a remarkable demonstration of what healthcare—with the patient at the center—can be all about; and is all about, among Planetree Alliance members.

"I know this may sound ridiculous, but everything about the 'model' works. It is great for patients and their families—and is truly about humanity and healing and health and longterm wellness, not just a 'fix' for today's problem. It is great for staff—Planetree-Griffin is rightly near the top of the 'best places to work in America' list, year in and year out. And Planetree also works as a 'business model'—any effectiveness measure you can name is in the Green Zone at Griffin.

"For 25 years my 'gig' has been 'excellence.' Put simply, there is no better exemplar of customer-centered, employee-friendly excellence, in any industry, than Griffin-Planetree. The Planetree model works—and, in my extensive work in the health sector, I 'sell' it shamelessly, and pray that my clients are taking it all in."

(I meant it—every word.) (See "Special Presentation" attached.)

Healthcare Heroes: Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Dear God, what a history. As I said to the dean while visiting to make a presentation, "To make the alumni honor role, it seems, you must have saved a million lives or so"—and I'm not sure I was exaggerating. I'd add that the talk was my favorite of the year—I've never seen so many idealists under one roof! (Students, faculty, others.) By the by, hats waaaaaay off to Mike Bloomberg for his astounding support!)

Book: How She Does It: How Women Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Rules of Business Success, by Margaret Heffernan. America's 10 million++ women business owners and their impact on the economy remains our most under-reported business story. As Ms Heffernan puts it: "The growth and success of women-owned businesses is one of the most profound changes taking place in the business world today." Congrats to these gutsy heroes—by the million.

Book: Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. We all can acquire literally millions of "business partners" with imaginative use of the Web. Collaboration on an almost infinite scale has arrived, for the wise.

Book, Instant Classic: The Black Swan: Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Black Swan told us about the likes of the sub-prime mess long before it happened. Most variation in outcomes (e.g., longterm profit or loss) is the product of a tiny handful of weird (outlier) events. NNT provides example after compelling example—and also illustrates the total impotence of traditional planning methods to cope with black swans.

That's it.

Transaction vs. Relationship

I've been a Hilton customer and a Hilton Honors member for years. You wouldn't have known it when I checked into Chicago's Palmer House Hilton last week.

As I left home in the north suburbs for day one of a two-day conference, I threw a change of clothes into the car. A late-afternoon snowstorm was forecast, and I wanted the option to opt out of a hellish commute home. At about 4:30 p.m., I exercised that option and booked the Palmer House on for $93. That's a really low price for a great hotel. Unfortunately, they felt the need to remind me what a low price I paid.