Here are three things that are true:
1. Digital technology, especially computers and cell phones, can dramatically increase productivity.
2. More and more users of digital technology are small firms or individuals.
3. The vast majority of users of digital technology are totally lame in getting the most out of the investment of their time and money.
"Oh, I didn’t know I could do that."
"You mean I don’t have to manually type my address book in by hand?"
"There are graphs in Excel?"
"Gmail is free?"
Here’s what I haven’t found: people who charge $100 an hour to hear what you do and how you do it and then show you how to do it better. People who organize data and put it in the right place. People who overhaul the way small groups use technology so they can use it dramatically better. People who use copilot to take over a PC and actually rearrange it so that it works better.
More examples: Teach people to back up. Show them how to check their email on the road. Help them understand how to use online networking when it’s appropriate (and warn them when it’s not). Show a restaurant how to use OpenTable to keep the place full, or to use a blog (with an RSS feed) to easily communicate with loyal customers. Teach a company to keep tabs on itself with Technorati.
This is a growth area. The tools are finally in place to market yourself, and even better, the productivity increases you can produce for $500 or $1,000 are not just valuable, they’re actually priceless.
I bet you’re out there. I bet there are people looking for you. Show yourself on this showcase for digital coaches…
Flowers with a sense of humor.
When was the last time you excitedly told someone about Fedex?
They’re perfect. The only time we notice them is when they screw up.
And that fancy restaurant with the four star reviews? They’ve got the fine linen and the coordinated presentation of dishes… it costs hundreds of dollars to eat there, but it’s okay, because they’re perfect.
Which is a problem, because dinner consists of not much except noticing how imperfect they are. The second course came five minutes later than it should of (ten, even!). The salad was really good, but not as perfect as it was last time. And the valet parking… you had to wait in the cold for at least ninety seconds before your car came. What a let down.
A let down?
The place is a gift, a positive bit of karma in a world filled with compromise. And all you can do is notice that it’s not perfect.
As the quality of things go up, and competition increases, it’s so easy to sell people on perfect. But perfect rarely leads to great word of mouth, merely because expectations are so hard to meet.
I think it’s more helpful to focus on texture, on interpersonal interaction, on interesting. Interesting is attainable, and interesting is remarkable. Interesting is fresh every day and interesting leads to word of mouth.
I think our Fedex delivery person is interesting. I like her. I talk to her. And yes, it changes my decision about who to ship with. I also think that Spicy Mina is an interesting restaurant. So far from perfect, it’s ridiculous. But I talk about it.
Along the way, some people in search of the remarkable have resorted to gimmicks to get the word out about their work. Gimmicks might work fine if you run a chain of fast food restaurants or a website, but gimmicks certainly get in the way of building a reputation if you’re a lawyer or a doctor.
So, where to draw the line?
If a product or service adds value for the consumer, it’s not a gimmick. Toll free customer support, for example, was seen as a gimmick when it came out in the 1960s. At least by competitors. Now, of course, it’s required.
Banks open on Sundays? Well, it seems like a gimmick at first, until customers realize that they can’t live without it. Then it’s not a gimmick any longer.
Or consider a doctor who has completely reinvented the way he practices medicine. If it works, it won’t be a gimmick. Because both sides with benefit, for the long haul.
As you sit down to consider ways to be more remarkable, the challenge is to be worth talking about… at the same time you are adding value for the person who’s talking about you.
A workaholic lives on fear. It’s fear that drives him to show up all the time. The best defense, apparently, is a good attendance record.
A new class of jobs (and workers) is creating a different sort of worker, though. This is the person who works out of passion and curiosity, not fear.
The passionate worker doesn’t show up because she’s afraid of getting in trouble, she shows up because it’s a hobby that pays.
The passionate worker is busy blogging on vacation… because posting that thought and seeing the feedback it generates is actually more fun than sitting on the beach for another hour. The passionate worker tweaks a site design after dinner because, hey, it’s a lot more fun than watching TV.
It was hard to imagine someone being passionate about mining coal or scrubbing dishes. But the new face of work, at least for some people, opens up the possibility that work is the thing (much of the time) that you’d most like to do. Designing jobs like that is obviously smart. Finding one is brilliant.
I visited the new Apple store in NYC on 14th Street yesterday. This one isn’t as flashy as the one in midtown, and it has a fairly annoying design flaw. The two front doors don’t close. Push them open, walk away and the door stays open.
On one visit, they had two full-time employees standing there, walking over to each door to close it. At the time, I figured it was actually a design feature… they had a doorman. How quaint.
Yesterday, though, with the temperature outside about 45, they just left both doors open.
I asked Jeff, the employee greeting visitors, "why don’t you guys keep the door shut?" After all, it seems extremely wasteful. Al Gore is on the board, but even if he wasn’t, it must be costing them a fortune.
Jeff told me that people complain all the time and it can’t be fixed.
Obviously, not everyone complains all the time. Perhaps it’s just a few a day. But the people who complain, care. And it’s the customers that care that actually have a huge impact on your business.
If no one cares, you’ve got trouble. Goal one is getting people to care. Goal two: listening to them.
And CNET hates Google
And newspapers hate Craigslist
And music labels hate Napster
And used bookstores hate Amazon
And so do independent bookstores.
Dating services hate Plenty of Fish
And the local shoe store hates Zappos
And courier services hate fax machines
And monks hate Gutenberg
Apparently, technology doesn’t care who you hate.