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When trainers catch an elephant, they will take a strong chain and tie the elephant’s leg to a long steel pole which they drive deep into the ground. For a while, the elephant will pull and fight but they they stop because they learn that they can’t get away. Over time, the pole becomes smaller and smaller because the elephant doesn’t pull as hard. The chain becomes a rope, the pole becomes a stake, and soon they stop fighting altogether. With a fully trained elephant, a trainer will simply tie a rope to its leg and toss it to the ground, or attach it to a very small stake, and the elephant won’t even try to get away.

The elephants’ belief that they are helpless becomes so strong that it becomes even stronger than innate instinct for survival. In 1967 at a circus in Mannheim, Germany, 6 elephants died as the result of a tent fire. They were all tied to very small stakes hammered into the ground…stakes they could have easily pulled themselves free from.

What is your ball & chain?

Nobody is without their own ball & chain.

They limit you. They make you believe you’re a terrible athlete, a horrible singer, just a middle manager, not an executive, a follower not a leader. Our education system doesn’t help (Why grades in 1st grade?), our whole system of rewards and punishment is not helpful either. (Why are good grades in math more rewarded than a good performance  in dancing?)

Brands have their own ball & chain.

Amazon could have just stuck with the vision of being the world’s largest book store. Instead, they revolutionized book reading.

Zappos could have been happy becoming a profitable online shoe store. Instead, they revolutionized customer service.

Dreaming and the courage to do so, is actually tremendously important for us as individuals and companies, but also for our society. Just think what our world would look like if, for example, Einstein, explorers like Columbus, and the Brothers Wright had been “realistic” and hadn’t had the courage to dream and to pursue their dream…. It is not unlikely that we’d still be sitting in the dark at night, and that we wouldn’t be flying in metal tubes over oceans to other continents and countries at over 30,000 feet.

We have an obligation to dream.

More importantly, we have an obligation to get rid off the ball & chain.

FoE Book Cover

This insightful book argues that success of any enterprise is built on a foundation that goes deeper than what we do and how we do it. In Firms of Endearment, terms like purpose, meaning, appreciation, joy, and yes, even love are not only acceptable, they are critical in the corporate language and culture. And they are not reserved for internal use or marketing efforts; these attributes are applied to all stakeholders, including customers.

Some people might think it’s about a 60’s revival or some do-gooders. Exactly the opposite is true. The book features an in-depth study of firms that have outperformed  their peers and the market as a whole. Publicly traded Firms of Endearment enterprises returned 750% over 10 years while the S&P overall provided a 128% return. Even more interesting, these companies provided a 205% return, while the S&P lost 13%. We’re talking about household names like Amazon, Best Buy, Google, Honda, IKEA, Patagonia, Timberland, Whole Foods – just to name a few.

Why do emotional connections between stakeholders make such a difference?

It’s fairly straightforward. Think about the relationships in your life: Some are rewarding because you really feel appreciated. Some are pure transactions. Interactions often drain energy while feeling appreciated gives us more energy. And they encourage us to have more interactions with the brand. Same is true when your turn it around: You feel more energetic when you are being appreciative of what you are doing and whom you are interacting with than if you were feeling dread about it.

The focus on emotional connections decreases the turnover rate, increases internal and external loyalty and, ultimately, improves profitability. Companies have to do better than just declaring people are their most important assets. They have to live it.

Former Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker, now at Kleiner Perkins, just published her newest slideshow about the rise of mobile computing.
A few observations:
  • Slide 19: 60% of time spend on smartphones is new activity for mobile users. That’s an amazing stat. Just think about how hard it is to change behavior. Not in the mobile world: Apps, Social Networking and games make people change their daily behavior. Think Foursquare. Think Yelp. The question is: How long is that window of opportunity open? When will it close?
  • Slide 22+: Mobile Advertising -growing pains but huge promise. It’s a short-term promise. Once advertisers flood the market with mobile ads, users will be turned off and tune out very quickly. We need to focus on utility, not advertising.
  • Slide 35/36: Mobile Shopping changing behavior. Once again, we need to focus on this changing behavior. How we can add more utility to this behavior, make it more valuable? NOT disrupt it with ads.
  • Slide 42: “Gamification of apps is the ultimate way to engage a new generation of audiences.” YUP!
  • Slide 50: Google, AOL, eBay, Yahoo! and Amazon are shaking in their boots. Pretty convincing slide documenting the wealth creation, destruction cycle
  • Slide 54: Pretty poignant on this day, watching the events in Cairo: “Empowerment – impact of empowering billions of people around the world with real-time connected devices has just begun.”