What Can We Learn About Business from Arthur Rubinstein – What Are Your Business Superpowers?

During a recent conversation about personal and business superpowers, I recalled something I read many years ago about one of the twentieth centuries greatest classical pianists, Arthur Rubinstein (1887 – 1982).  Although I am almost certain I read about the one of his many superpowers that is the basis of this blog in his 1980 autobiography “My Many Years”,  (Last night, I found my copy of the book, it is 626 pages) I was not able to find the exact reference I was looking for. One of Arthur Rubinstein’s amazing superpowers was the ability to play 100 distinct volumes, from pianississimo (very very soft, a whisper) to fortississimo (very very loud, yelling), certainly a necessary superpower for a world class pianist.  Add to that other essential superpowers such as perfect pitch, a photographic memory that enabled him to rapidly memorize musical scores, and a great passion for the music of multiple composers, and you have a pianist who was recognized as one of the greatest, if not the greatest of the twentieth century. Given all that natural talent, Rubinstein was a tremendous success from his early performances in 1904 through the 1920’s.  However, in 1934 he withdrew from concert life for several months to begin a period of intensive study and practice.  He stated that he had neglected his technique in his early years, relying instead on his natural talents. There are two very important business lessons here:
  • What Are Your Superpowers? – As a business owner or executive, identify your natural talents, abilities and developed skills that distinguish and elevate you from others in your industry. Dig deep and periodically repeat the identification process.  Many of us have both business relevant and irrelevant superpowers, so make sure you identify those talents that give you your competitive advantage.  Identify the talents that enhance your ability to excel in your current and future roles, and talents that enable you to bring superior value to your business, community and the world.
  • Continually Enhance Your Natural Superpowers – Just like Arthur Rubinstein, your natural talent can get you far, but not as far as possible. As is often stated by my colleagues at ActionCOACH and many other mentors and speakers, you’ve got to “Learn More to Earn More”.  Don’t rest on your laurels.  Continually learn, improve and practice, some of your competitors are doing exactly that.
My colleagues and I are uniquely positioned to assist you in identifying and enhancing your business superpowers.  Give us a call.

2019 Business Excellence Forum – Blinding Flashes of the Obvious Part 3

The second day of BEF kicked off with Michael Losier, author of “Law of Attraction – The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less of What You Don’t.”  Among the many BFOs were:
  • Contrast – The brief observation of what you don’t want will bring clarity to what you do want
  • The Law of Attraction is like a Google search, refine the search until you find what you are looking for.
  • To invoke the Law of Attraction, refine your Words->Thoughts->Vibes->Results
Our next speaker was Stephen Hightower, President & CEO of Hightower Petroleum Co.  Mr. Hightower was profiled in CNBC’s “Blue Collar Millionaires”, he went from cleaning toilets in his parent’s janitorial business to founding a multi-million-dollar oil company.  One of his big breaks occurred when his company was chosen to provide all the fuel that is put into new cars coming off GM’s production line.  At the time, he didn’t have the credit nor the supply chain to satisfy the contract.  In fact, he needed to triple his capacity.  His search for credit and supply led him to the following BFO:
  • “If the opportunity is big enough, you can find a supplier to support it.”
Having the right relationships has enabled his company to now supply the fuel for most of the cars produced in North America. The additional BFO’s from Mr. Hightower’s presentation included:
  • As long as you don’t die, you have the opportunity to do something different
  • “Exposure gives you the ability to see what is possible.”
  • “90 % of my customers are being called upon by someone else.  100% of my customers were once customers of someone else.”
This last BFO from Stephen Hightower was so powerful and valuable that it covered my BEF investment several time over.  We all have competitors, thus, to succeed for the long haul, we must CONTINUALLY exceed our customer’s rising expectations. Stay tuned for the next installment of BFOs from the 2019 BEF.

Good Enough Never Is

I am re-reading “Built To Last” the 2002 book with the subtitle of “Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras.  In Chapter 9, entitled Good Enough Never Is (I borrowed it as the title of this blog), the authors make the following key points:
  • The critical question asked within many of the visionary companies cited in the book is “How can we do better tomorrow than we did today?”
  • The companies in the book institutionalized the asking of that critical question as a way of life.
  • The visionary companies attained their extraordinary position because they were very demanding of themselves, never content to cease building and improving.
  • The author’s research clearly supports a strong correlation between the success of the visionary companies and the concept of “continuous improvement (CI)”, in some cases going back more than 100 years (way before CI became a management catchphrase in the 1980s).
  • Visionary companies put mechanisms of discomfort in place as a defense against complacency.
  • While taking the long-term view, the visionary companies did not back away from pushing for current growth at the same time they pushed for growth in the future. In other words, they didn’t plan for lower sales this year to fund higher sales next year.
  • The visionary companies consistently invested for the future.
These key points and several others were nailed down in the book with specific examples from the author’s research of both the visionary companies and the lower performing “comparison companies.”  For instance, in the case of Marriott (the visionary company) and Howard Johnson (the comparison company) they point out that in 1960 Howard Johnson was one of the best-known American companies.  J. W. Marriott, Jr. said at the time that he hoped that the company he had inherited from his father could one day be as successful as Howard Johnson.  By 1985, Marriott was seven times the size of Howard Johnson.  The book credits this to “Marriott’s relentless self-discipline as a continuous improvement machine versus Howard Johnson’s complacency.”  Marriott instituted mechanisms to stimulate improvement, including:
  • “Guest Service Index” reports – a major KPI based upon customer comment cards and surveys.
  • Annual performance reviews for every employee – EVERY EMPLOYEE.
  • Incentive bonuses.
  • Investment in extensive interviewing and screening of potential new hires.
  • Management and employee development programs.
  • Investment in a corporate “Learning Center.”
  • Employing “Phantom Shoppers.”
In comparing Motorola with Zenith, the author’s point out that Zenith squandered its reputation for quality by becoming complacent.  Zenith was the last company in their industry to invest in solid-state electronics, printed circuit boards and was late to get into color TV.  As an aside, I was in Chicago last month and noticed that the former Zenith headquarters building was being demolished. So, considering this, the questions I want you to ask yourself are:
  • What “mechanisms of discomfort” can you create to defeat complacency in your company?
  • What are you doing to invest in the future of your company? Leadership development? R&D? Enhanced recruiting & training? Technology?  Before your competitors do.
  • When business takes a dip, does your company continue to invest for the future?
  • Does your company’s culture not accept “comfort”, or do you constantly work to do better tomorrow?
You may be thinking that your company is not nearly as big as Marriott or Motorola (now part of Zebra Technologies).  They all started as small companies but adopted these concepts very early in their history.  You can too. Both the good news and the bad news from the author’s is “Good old-fashioned hard work, dedication to improvement, and continually building for the future will take you a long way.”  There are not shortcuts, magic potions or work-arounds. “Success is never final.” My colleagues and I at ActionCOACH are ready to assist you to build your company to last.