Race for the top, race to the bottom

I’m in Minnesota today, and I’m so delighted by what I’m experiencing.

In addition to extremely nice people, inspiring architecture, a vibrant arts community and surprisingly good food, there’s a vibe in the air about the work people are doing. This placed is filled with organizations that are working hard to create stuff that’s worth doing.

What a radical difference from so many other places I’ve visited recently. There, you’ll find strip malls and low-grade office parks, with disheartened people following scripts and trying to cut costs. These are consumer and business-focused marketing organizations that have decided that the best way to make a buck is to race to the bottom. To be the cheapest or the fastest to market. No need to worry about a worn carpet or an industrial waste product with side effects. Cutting corners during the day, so they can make enough money to buy what they like at night.

I found the same contrast up in the air. American Airlines is racing to the bottom as fast as they can. The staff has given up. No smiles, no service, no effort. Saving money is the order of the day. Jet Blue, on the other hand, continues to strive to get to the top. From the free wi-fi at JFK to the terminal they want to build there, to the snacks (they even suggest mixes–created by taking say, animal crackers and pretzels and mixing them up–even though it means people are taking twice as much!)

So, I think I understand what happens when you win the race to the top. You end up with a healthy, motivated workforce that’s focused on adding art and joy to your products. You end up with profits and market share and a community that’s glad you’re there.

What happens, though, when you win the race to the bottom?