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Just Sayin’ Blog – Rube Goldberg Machines and Business

I was recently sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and for 30 minutes I stood mesmerized watching an amazing sculpture designed by George Rhodes known as a ball machine. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen one of these ball machine sculptures. The first one of Rhodes designs I saw was in the late 1980’s while walking through a terminal at Boston Logan Airport. I remember almost missing my flight watching and listening to the sculpture. This Rhodes sculpture at another airport attracted young and old alike. The sculpture really doesn’t serve any practical purpose, but is an intriguing piece of kinetic art. It’s hard to pull yourself away from watching all that is going on – a sculpture that often uses a combination of drums, cymbals, gongs and depending on your point of view makes either a virtual cacophony or euphony of sounds.

In a way these sculptures remind me of a Rube Goldberg machine. Wikipedia defines a Rube Goldberg machine as follows:

“A Rube Goldberg machine is a contraption, invention, device or apparatus that is deliberately over-engineered or overdone to perform a very simple task in a very complicated fashion, usually including a chain reaction. The expression is named after American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg (1883–1970).”

An Example:

Rube Goldberg Guinness World Record by Purdue Society of Professional Engineers

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Rube Goldberg and Business

While watching the steel balls that roll endlessly though the intricate Rhodes sculpture I started thinking about examples of how some businesses work effortlessly and continuously in a similar endless fashion. Businesses that provide the same exacting levels of customer service and delivery of a product (or products) over and over again that are a key to success. Some businesses have developed very simple processes to find success while other companies tend to overcomplicate processes in an attempt to achieve success.

While at the sculpture I was holding a Starbucks coffee and that company certainly comes to mind as a business that invariably delivers both simple and very complicated orders efficiently and effectively. This Seattle based company that got its start almost 40 years ago has today become the largest coffeehouse with over 23,000 locations in 64+ countries. I just order a Venti black coffee when standing in line at Starbucks. I can never tell if the barista is happy or somehow saddened by my straightforward order. A Huffington Post blog titled “The Most Obnoxious Starbucks Drink Orders“ details some of the complicated orders at Starbucks such as a ‘Venti Iced Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato, Sugar-Free Syrup, Extra Shot, Light Ice, No Whip’. Now that order would be a challenge to any barista fulfilling Starbucks “delicious, handcrafted beverages” mantra. It makes me smile when I hear someone standing in line ordering a similar concoction. It really doesn’t matter where in the United States or the world you place your order; Starbucks seems to always deliver the same level of consistent service regardless of the local. The company has obviously spent a great deal of time and effort in perfecting the delivery of consistent levels of service, but it all seems pretty simple to the casual observer ordering coffee. Everyone knows that you’re going to have to wait a bit when ordering one of the “delicious, handcrafted beverages” mentioned earlier versus my Venti black coffee order, but those who order the complicated drinks don’t mind. They know they are going to be rewarded with a delicious drink made to order by a barista that has perfected his or her craft. In plain sight the platform seems pretty simple. Do you think that behind the curtain there resides a Rube Goldberg machine? Doubtful.

Can you think of other businesses which deliver products consistently in a simple straightforward manner? Maybe FedEx, Amazon.com or even MacDonald’s could come to mind. Fortune Magazine lists 50 of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” and the top 5 are:

  1. Apple
  2. Amazon.com
  3. Google
  4. Berkshire Hathaway
  5. Starbucks

I’m sure you’d agree that each of these companies is the polar opposite of a Rube Goldberg.

I’ve worked in a business or two that have taken great steps to simplify business processes through employee training and the use of technology in an effort to reduce back office costs that keep company investments focusing on people and growing the platform. And I’ve worked in a business or two that seems compelled to use a Rube Goldberg machine mentality. I think that those who insist on making simple processes overly complicated could find greater success by streamlining operating procedures, but as long as shareholders are pleased with the return on investment, changes in operating styles aren’t likely to happen. In a highly competitive industry companies that are overcomplicated ultimately could be disadvantaged versus others in the same industry that have found ways to reduce the Rube Goldberg machine mentality.

Do you know of businesses in your industry which operate more like a Rube Goldberg machine (deliberately over-engineered or overdone to perform a very simple task)? I’m sure that you do. Noted management doyen Peter Drucker is quoted as saying:

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

It has to be frustrating for people who work for companies that use complicated procedures or policies in an industry where other companies have found a simpler way of delivering the same service. I’m sure you can come up with some examples in your industry.

So, what’s it like at the company you’re working? Does your company operate more like an Apple, Amazon.com, Google, Berkshire Hathaway and Starbucks; or does it operate more like a Rube Goldberg? Imagine the potential for those companies that operate using a Rube Goldberg machine mentality that pivot to find a better way to provide the services or products they offer. If you look at your company and think you see an area of the business that might resemble a Rube Goldberg machine, perhaps you should seek ways to make it a little less complicated. Isn’t that what leadership is all about?

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Wind at Our Backs? – Part III

Last September and December I wrote blogs titled “Wind at Our Backs?” and “Winds at Our Backs? Part II” writing that “it appears that we may have some wind at our back” when looking at the key drivers (the weather, the economy and miles driven) of the automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry. If you focus mainly on the weather as a key driver and look at what we’ve experienced in the United States this past winter, many would describe it as harsh or brutal in much of the country. Based on the weather over the past week, even though the vernal equinox or the first day of spring arrived on March 20, 2014, our winter really hasn’t seemed to have ended yet. I live in Chicago and this past winter was the coldest (December – March) ever on record and snowiest (9.7 inches from snowiest on record – 1978-79 as reported by the WGN-TV Weather Blog) I’ve ever experienced anywhere, except maybe for one when I lived in Montreal.

Chicago Lakefront 2014x

Chicago/Lake Michigan February 2014

The Old Farmer’s Almanac forecasted that the 2013 – 2014 winter season would bring us colder weather and heavier snowfall in many sections of the country and for those who were hoping that the forecast would come true they weren’t disappointed. Stretching from the Rockies to the East Coast the weather has been a big boon to the industry with extreme or unseasonably cold weather that included snow and ice storms. I’ve talked with a number of retailers and suppliers who had a great first quarter of 2014 which followed a rather lackluster 2013. One supplier told me, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, that on a trailing twelve months he looked like a genius since all the strategies that his company had used in the past year to increase business had really paid off.

Starting in 2011 The Weather Channel started naming winter storms that are strong enough that meet the criteria set by the prognosticators. For the winter of 2013 – 2014 The Weather Channel’s list of 26 alphabetical names were developed with the help of a Bozeman, Montana high school Latin Class. The potential storms this winter began with the name Atlas and will end with Zephyr. Through today there have been 24 named storms with the current storm that hit the Upper Midwest with up to 18” of snow before heading off to Canada. Since it is now the first week of April and a couple of weeks since the first day of spring winter storm Xenia is dumping snow in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. Enough already. Although this winter may have been good for some in the AGRR industry I’m thinking of it more like a Dr. Seuss book I read countless times to my sons when they were growing up – “Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!

 

When you look back at this past winter named storms starting out with Atlas in early October that delivered feet of snow from the Rockies to the Upper Plains winter storms kept hitting almost every week including some areas that haven’t seen much in the way of winter weather for a few years. In early February starting out in Georgia and hitting especially the Atlanta metroplex were a couple of storms that CNBC described as a catastrophic ice storm that effectively shut down Atlanta for several days before continuing on up the east coast wreaking havoc along the way. In early March the greater Dallas-Fort Worth and North Texas area got hit with an ice storm that crippled the metroplex. The Carolinas got hit by a couple of storms in February and March with the last one being Ulysses hitting around March 10th. If you live in the North you expect to get snow and you’ve learned how to deal with it, but it’s not quite the same below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Every year there is a contest that awards a trophy called The Golden Snowglobe that recognizes the snowiest city with a population of 100,000+. The trophy typically goes to Syracuse, Rochester or Buffalo, New York each year, but as of today it appears that for the winter of 2013 – 2014 the winner for The Golden Snowglobe will be Erie, Pennsylvania with 137.2” of snowfall.

For this blog I’m not going to address the economy or the miles driven. Neither of those has really changed all that much since my December blog. Regardless whether you feel the wind is at your back or not, you and your employees are the key driver(s) in your business. How you’re dealing with the various opportunities and obstacles that you face each day in your business determines the success you achieve. All that really matters is what is going on in the market or markets you operate and I hope that you’re achieving success in the markets you compete.

As good a predictor that The Old Farmer’s Almanac was for this past winter, the prediction for the 2014 – 2015 winter season from this long-time source hasn’t been published yet, but I recently saw a very detailed prediction made by The Weather Centre for next winter. Please take the time to read and interpret all of the information and let me know what you think what the upcoming winter will be like.

Since weather is so important to the AGRR industry, in the coming months I’m hoping that you get some hail in the markets you compete. I know a couple of suppliers that think that could be their winning strategy for 2014.

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – The American Dream and Garages

Have you seen the General Motors (GM) commercial selling the new electric 2014 Cadillac ELR? Interestingly you actually don’t know what the commercial is selling until the very end. When I started to watch it (click on this link to view) I recognized the voice of FX television show Justified bad guy Robert Quarles played by Neal McDonough. McDonough also appeared in the great film “Band of Brothers” portraying 1st Lieutenant Lynn “Buck” Compton who passed away in 2012. The commercial begins with our seeing from behind Mr. McDonough standing facing a swimming pool dressed in shorts and short-sleeved shirt in what could be a Southern California back yard. The actor starts out asking:

“Why do we work so hard? For what? For this? For stuff? Other countries that work stroll home; stop by the café and take August off. Off! Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t we like that?“

Six quick questions and two statements set up the commercial. McDonough is then shown walking through his home pointing to his two daughters; then high-fiving one of the girls:

“Because we’re crazy hard working believers that’s why.”

“Those other countries think we’re nuts. Whatever…”

Next he’s seen walking down a hallway heading to the kitchen where he passes a newspaper off to his wife and continues his trek through his nice home.

“Were the Wright Brothers insane? Bill Gates? Les Paul? Ali? Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? That’s right. We went up there and you know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there and left the keys in it. Do you know why? Because we’re the only ones going back up there that’s why.”

Mr. McDonough walks into an opening and then re-emerges dressed in a business suit and walks out of the house to his Cadillac ELR. He then delivers the overriding message, besides selling the ELR of course:

“But I digress. It’s pretty simple. You work hard, create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible.”

As for all the stuff. That’s the upside to only taking just two weeks off in August.”

“N’est pas?” (The French expression impossible n’est pas français is actually a proverb, equivalent to “there’s no such thing as can’t” or simply “nothing is impossible.”)

One heck of a great commercial in my opinion delivering the message of the American Dream being available to anyone and more importantly owning a Cadillac ELR of course. Wikipedia defines the American Dream as, “a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.” Sounds right.

The commercial clearly points out that you’ve got to work hard to get all the “stuff” you see from the beginning to the end of the commercial. No one is going to give it to you. Pointing out in a very quintessential American way the commercial finishes with “N’est pas?” – a French proverb meaning “there is no such thing as can’t”. Words to live by. The owner of Cadillac is GM and as everyone remembers the company went into and out of bankruptcy protection during the summer of 2009. In a way the commercial was an analogy of all that GM and countless thousands of dedicated employees accomplished – “You work hard, create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible.” Granted they also did it with the help of $ 50.1 billion from U.S. taxpayers….

The commercial hasn’t necessarily been greeted all that well by the some in the media as they view it as American being arrogant, but the very simple message in the ad is that if you want you can own a Cadillac as long as you work hard and do what you do well. Simple message.

This commercial follows one aired earlier this year from Cadillac called “American Garages” (click here to view). The commercial is pointing out the value of Motor Trend’s Car of the Year – the 2014 Cadillac CTS. Mr. McDonough does the voiceover for this commercial telling us:

“The Wright Brothers started in a garage. Amazon started in a garage. Hewlett-Packard and Disney both started out in garages. Mattel started in a garage. The Ramones’s started in a garage. My point? Some of the most innovating things in the world come out of American garages.”

This commercial finishes with “Ain’t garages great!” Indeed they are. I know many auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) companies that started out in a single garage.

It has been a long time since I’ve owned a GM product (a 1985 Chevrolet Station-wagon) and I don’t have plans on buying one anytime soon, but these two commercials celebrate what America is all about and why people from across the globe continually come to our shores. The opportunity to try like hell to catch the American Dream by working hard and then anything is possible, especially owning a Cadillac. Plenty of people work hard and then haven’t accomplished what they most wanted as their own American Dream, but it’s all about the opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed.

Don’t let any company or anyone keep you from whatever may be your American Dream.

You work hard, create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible.”

Just sayin’.

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Just Sayin’ Blog – What’s Your Line-up? – “Updated”

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog asking the question “What’s Your Line-up?” The genesis of that blog was a question I had been asked about who was on my fantasy football team. The question I asked in this blog though actually referred to who did I want to work with.

At the end of the National Football League’s (NFL) recent regular season, 5 teams switched out head coaches in hopes of finding new direction and sought after success. This annual event is known as Black Monday. With the NFL football play-offs in full swing and the field narrowing, all the teams that didn’t make it into the postseason had players cleaning out lockers and heading home to think about next season. For a variety of reasons, some of those players won’t be returning to their lockers next summer, but some NFL General Managers are quickly locking up the talent they feel is needed to find success for owners dreaming of holding up the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of next season.

We’ve seen a similar pattern taking place in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry haven’t we? There have obviously been a number of companies changing ownership during the past several years. Whenever there is a change in ownership that change often comes with different values and vision, along with a whole new way of doing business.

As with professional teams, every glass company wants to “put together the best team possible to ensure success”. If you have the right mix of team members in your business, achieving goals and finding success is much easier when you’re working hard to find that “special sauce” or recipe for success against others in your market.

Getting back to the original question, “What’s your line-up?” The real question is, ”Who’s on your team?” People are what make a business successful or not. It doesn’t matter what it is you’re trying to accomplish, its people that make any endeavor a successful one. You’ve got to show differentiation in what it is you deliver of course by using superior products and services versus those you compete, but its people that ultimately separate you from the herd and consistently drive above market results for your business.

If you’re running the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos, the San Francisco 49ers or the Seattle Seahawks; you’ve assembled a team that is comprised of the best you can find. The NFL team owners, general managers and coaches that put together that “special sauce” and get through the regular season and playoff games intact get the chance to get to Super Bowl XLVIII and hoist the Lombardi Trophy at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014.

Those teams that didn’t get into the playoffs are working hard to find team members to add to their rosters during the NFL Draft May 8th – 10th 2014.

As I wrote in the original blog asking “What’s your line-up?”…as “an auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) store or company you had better make sure that your team is comprised of the best”. With all that’s happening in the AGRR industry perhaps there is someone you know that’s a perfect fit for your team.

royalty-free-teamwork-clipart-illustration-1050836

Every player in the NFL wants to go to the Super Bowl, but few really ever get the chance. The best teams with the most Lombardi Trophy’s over the years: The Pittsburgh Steelers hold the most Vince Lombardi Trophies, with six. The San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys are tied for second with five each. The Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants are in third with four; and the New England PatriotsWashington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders are all in fourth with three.The best in any industry want to be members of winning teams. You always try to associate yourself with the best. And you know when you’re not.

So I ask again the questions I asked in December 2012:

     What’s your line-up?

     Who’s on your team?

     Who can make a difference for your company?

     Who is it that can help you make your company better than anyone else in the market(s) you compete?

     Do you surround yourself with the best you can find?

Just sayin’……

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