Random musings.

Visiting family, friends, and colleagues this month, I had several days—and 2500 miles—to reflect on musical and business matters while cruising Interstate 81 with iPod blasting…

I'm always looking for new rock bands with a wildly innovative approach—a way of performing or recording (or even marketing) that fundamentally changes the game.

Maybe those bands are out there but I haven't heard them. Perhaps the quality of popular radio is driving the best stuff underground? I'd like to think that's the case, but a lot of the subterranean stuff is not, well, groundbreaking.

Why haven't more companies at least tried to follow Apple's lead in delighting their customers? By paying $99 for '1:1' customer training following the purchase of a Mac, I can get up to three hours of coaching every day for a whole year at an Apple Store—on any project I'm working on using Apple applications!

I've been getting help on a Keynote slide show, an iWeb web design, iMovie edits, and even iPod playlists. At my average usage (three hours a week) it's costing me a whopping sixty-four cents an hour. This company has created some big time loyalty for me—at a time when I'm less than impressed with 98% of the 'service' I encounter from vendors in general.

I've mentioned before that many of the top rock bands have harnessed creative and personal tension for innovative gain—a great lesson for business teams of all stripes. But even more amazing is how musical duos—including songwriting partnerships—have dealt with differences (and outright hostility) day after day with no other musicians to cushion the daily abrasion.

The Everly Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee are a few examples of brilliant music emerging from the crucible of un-buffered conflict!

And then there's the great songwriting team of Hal David & Burt Bacharach who were in legal war with each other. (You might remember their more famous tunes, 'Do You Know the Way to the San Jose Courthouse?' and 'One Less Subpoena to Answer'.)

Ok, ok, the lawsuits happened after they wrote their best songs, but the point is you don't have to like one another to be in a successful artistic or commercial partnership—and some of the finest collaborative work is sparked by conflict.

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  1. "Why haven’t more companies at least TRIED to follow Apple’s lead in delighting their customers?"

    I was just wondering this yesterday. Three times a week I go to the gym to lift weights and do a bit of cardio. The other three days are strictly cardio. I buy a protein drink just about every day. Even when I have not worked out at the gym, I pop over for the yummy protein drink with fresh fruit after an extended bike ride. I could make it myself for much less. I had already thought of this, but said, “What the heck!”

    Earlier in the week they had run out of straws so the GM went to an outlet and the straws were much smaller. When I ordered the drink and got the straw, I was like "there is no way that protein drink is going to fit in that straw." I made mention of it and took two straws. The following day they still did not have the bigger straws. I was a bit annoyed by then.

    Yesterday, I mentioned it to the GM with whom I am cool and he said, "Drink slower" and laughed. I smiled but I was ticked! I walked out without the drink. The next day I came armed with exactly how much money the company will be losing because I would not be purchasing the drinks anymore.

    It would have been nearly $1,500 dollars had I kept ordering the drink over the next year. I made this point openly as he had made his to me the day before. He told me that the point was well taken, but I have begun making my drinks myself now and will probably go on making them. They're just as yummy and good for me, not to mention it's cheaper..

    Delighting customers is important for business.

  2. Yup, a familiar story. My biggest gripe is with call centers and websites, which are often designed to inflict the greatest misery on the greatest number of customers. I hate to sound like a shill for Apple, but when I find a vendor that EXCEEDS my expectations I want to tell people about it. Google and Amazon deserve their props too.

  3. In the small business I work the team is fractured by tension and conflict. Decisions are supposed to be made by consensus, but the loudest contributors dominate the meetings and the meeker contributors (who have more of the technical expertise but don't want to deal with the confrontations) roll over. The way I see it, too much conflict can be toxic to a small business.

  4. Bill, the way I see it, conflict needs to be encouraged - because you need to hear those different points of view - but it also needs to be closely managed, consistent with the ground rules that the team sets. There are proven communication tools I can show you that allow members to communicate their disagreements in a non-threatening, non-adversarial manner. (Email me about this if you'd like.)

    Also, get yourself an experienced meeting facilitator who knows how to elicit views from EVERYONE, ensure a "safe space," conduct a team dialogue, and achieve alignment on a particular solution.

    Or just wait for my book. :-)

  5. The Apple experiment is an intriguing one -- setting up retail stores with ongoing product training for customers. Maybe Apple customers are able to get such extensive training on the cheap is because Microsoft is now opening retail stores. This will be a fun battle to watch. Sal

  6. Sal, you can guess which side I'm on in the ongoing Apple-Microsoft wars. MS offers little to my community. And Keynote kicks Powerpoint's butt for slide shows, which is a consultant/trainer's bread & butter.

  7. Geez, Sal, you're WAY too obsessed with facts for this website. But all seriousness aside, though I see different versions of all these numbers, most of them seem to show Apple gaining slowly on Windows each year. And MS is getting pummeled on those TV ads. Apple has a long way to go but being the underdog is cool.

  8. I wouldn't begin to argue your point, Cal. The Everly Brothers vocal style left its stamp on a generation of singers - inside and outside of country music - including Lennon and McCartney in their early days. Unfortunately Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel tried to imitate the Everlys too closely and managed to replicate their interpersonal acrimony as well.

  9. ....."there is no conflict!"

    I couldn't work as such under conflict....been there, done that, have a few t-shirts. We did get four great songs on CD though....now want to do more....less too much conflict....heh.


  10. I think the problem that most folks have with conflict is UN-MANAGED conflict. I'll bet my Lexus that the bands you admire have dealt with plenty of conflict. (A safe bet because the great ones have been the most conflict-ridden.) But the best bands (and business teams) learned how to work with and (literally) capitalize on the artistic and personal conflict long enough to put out great product. Some of these bands were only able to contain the conflict for a couple of years and had to disband, while others are still going strong decades later.

  11. It seems that most people that were stating an aversion to conflict were talking about personal attacks. Which it may be inferred from the different musical groups that were in conflict.

    I agree with your post it is important to manage conflict. And I would add that it is important that conflict is not taken to a personal level, but is focused on an issue.

  12. Yes, Alex, good distinction. The focus needs to be on the issue, not the person. A healthy team welcomes conflicting opinions but not personal attacks.

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