leadership dot #3389: telepoem

In a creative use of an old phone booth, people can now visit our “Telepoem booth” and dial a designated number on the traditional rotary phone to hear a poem read to them. There is a directory of choices, fastened to the booth with a wire as phone books used to be, offering a whole selection of poems by Iowa artists. The directory gives you the poem category, length of the reading and the number to dial, just as it was in the dark ages of White Pages.

Our local arts organization worked with the state humanities group to bring the Telepoem installation here for a year and I found it to be great fun. It’s free to use, so I listened to several readings — but I’ll admit I received as much enjoyment just from using the rotary dial and hearing that long-ago sound of the wheel spinning around as I did from the poems. It’s a sound that is all but lost with today’s push-button or digital calling.

Vintage everything is so popular right now — and the Telepoem booth fits right into both the arts vibe of our downtown and the trend toward nostalgia. It’s a creative marrying of the two elements that provide a novel activity for people to enjoy.

What do you have from days gone by that you can repurpose into something appealing today?

leadership dot #3377: hammer

Hammers have been around in essentially the same format for an estimated 3 million years. If they’ve made it this long, why tinker with them?

But hammers are another example of a product evolving to meet the needs of its users. To the uninitiated (me), all hammers are pretty much alike. But to professionals, weight is an essential element that drives the functionality of the tool.

As contractors age, they still require the power of a heavier hammer but have a harder time yielding one on a repetitive basis. Manufacturers have noticed the change in demographics and demand and are now utilizing different materials to create lighter hammers with the strike of a heavier tool.

Even products with centuries of longevity need to change to stay relevant. Don’t assume your “hammer” will always be able to hit the nail on the head if you don’t retool and adapt to contemporary needs.

Thanks Curt!

leadership dot #3331: retromania

I spent the day thrift shopping with my 13-year-old niece and had flashbacks to my high school days. The clothing that excited her was very reminiscent of apparel that I wore in my teens while anything I picked out for her to try was deemed undesirable. I learned that skinny jeans are out and wide-leg pants are hip again. She was ecstatic over the leather jacket that was still hanging in my closet from the 1990s but had no interest in anything that looked like it was designed in this decade!

It reminded me of the concept of retromania where we fall in love with things from the past — often things that we did not like that much at the time. But now that they are old, they suddenly gain a fondness because of their age. Often, when I go to flea markets I see specific items that were once in my mother’s kitchen — things we threw away when selling the house — that now garner a premium as “vintage.”

Everything from vinyl records to bell-bottoms are popular again. That should be a clue for you to dig out relics from your archives and give them a new life in 2021. Reprint old t-shirts. Repurpose your original logo. Put your current message on a tie-dye shirt or a patch that can be sewn onto a denim jacket. The older you can make something seem, the more desirable it will become today.

leadership dot #3256: controlled

As if your smartphone did not already serve as the hub for so many functions, there is now another feature you can control with an app: the temperature of the beverage in your mug. The Ember company makes mugs that keep your drink hot (135 degrees plus) and allows you to adjust the temperature from your phone. Do we really need this?

The “smart mug” is not cheap ($129) nor is the travel mug ($179) and more discouraging than the price is the weight. Both are chock-full of electronics and could be used as exercise equipment if the fascination of controlling the temperature wore off.

But what this latest gadget signals to me is that apps are becoming more central to almost everything out there. It widens the gap between those who can afford a smartphone and those who can’t and also creates a chasm between those who are technologically savvy and others who are not as comfortable with this way of operating. Seeing yet one more item controlled via phone says to me that organizations should be investing in a first-rate app rather than treating it as an afterthought or optional.

leadership dot #3230: polarized

It is fascinating to me how the staffing in grocery stores has become polarized on two ends of a spectrum. Whereas it used to be the only choice for people to do their own shopping and clerks to check them out, today there are fewer and fewer lanes where this distribution of labor occurs. Instead, we see the growth of self-check lanes where you do you own ringing and bagging — as well as expansion of curbside pickup and delivery where you do neither, allowing the store to shop for you.

I wonder about the economics of this shift and whether those who used to serve as checkers are now functioning as shoppers instead (doubtful). I wonder if people buy more or less when they shop online for groceries. I wonder if the increase in curbside will continue post-COVID or whether it has become part of the routine that will be hard to give up.

I thought of all this when walking into Aldi and seeing their designated curbside spots. It seems to be off-brand for the economical leader to offer premium high-cost services, even if they do charge a nominal fee for it. Aldi is Aldi precisely because they have foregone the bakery, deli, Starbucks, et al that most grocery chains have added. I doubt they will be as successful if they straddle both sides of the low-cost/high-touch line.

The takeaways for you: a) pay attention to shifts in what becomes normalized and b) to how brands position themselves. It may highlight an opportunity for you to fill the space that has slowly been vacated or it may point to a new opening where you are able to thrive.

leadership dot #3207: external

Some companies ignore what is happening in the external environment while other organizations embrace the changes. American Express falls into the latter category.

Instead of fighting the growing use of online money transfers, they have partnered with Venmo and PayPal to now allow you to “spend, send and split” all through the AmEx app. Customers are able to utilize all the features of electronic exchanges in a seamless process “with no app hopping.” Instead of fighting the shift to virtual instead of plastic, American Express made it easier to use the leading app payment services — and inserted themselves right in the middle of the transactions.

What is happening in your external environment? Look around and reassess what you consider to be “the competition.” Maybe they are just partners-in-waiting.

leadership dot #3173: nostalgia

The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile made a surprise visit in town and I just happened upon it while out running errands. Of course, I stopped! Nearly every car around me pulled into the parking lot and began taking photos. The crowd at the Wienermobile was half adults who came for the nostalgia and half was the kids of those adults. It’s a brilliant way to build product awareness and break through all the other marketing noise.

“Hotdoggers” (as the drivers are called) handed out baseball-type cards with their picture and favorite hotdog topping information, stickers, coupons, and, of course, the beloved Wieinerwhistles.

My favorite part was when the loud speaker system in the vehicle started playing just a few bars of the famous jingle – Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar Mayer Wiener… and, in unison, the crowd sang all the words. The company has not used it in ads since 2010 but its legacy lives on.

The Wienermobile has adapted by adding Hotdogger cards, creating Instagram handles for each Hotdogger, and providing stickers but the experience is essentially the same as it was when it began in 1968. There are times when it is prudent to modernize or create new a new image, and there are other times when consistency and nostalgia win the day. The next time you’re tempted to start anew, remember the Wienermobile and consider what you’d truly like to be.

leadership dot #3172: notecard

I should have known it was coming. The tried-and-true method of studying – using flashcards to aid in memorization – has now been digitized. With special Flash 2.0 index cards, students can scan their notecards and then share them with others electronically.

It’s billed as “the smart way to study” but I think that discounts all the research that says handwriting helps people to remember things. I also believe that writing your own notecards will be more effective than flipping through scans of the work someone else did! But I am old-school, so what do I know?

Technology is a wonderful thing and it has brought untold benefits to our work and lives — but not everything is better by being gamified or digitized. Before you deliver content electronically, ask yourself if a tactile approach would have a greater impact.

Sometimes, the handwritten note – or notecard – has more power.

leadership dot #3119: codger

Yesterday I wrote (dot #3118) about business jargon that should be deleted from your vocabulary. It may seem like an impossible task as some of the words are engrained in our communication and naturally flow into our conversations without a thought.

But a recent post from @adgrayvisions reminds us that common words do in fact fade out of usage. You may have heard some of these gems spoken by your parents or grandparents, but have you heard any of these doozies lately:

  • Britches
  • Rigmarole
  • Hoodwink
  • Fiddle-faddle
  • Lollygag
  • Skedaddle
  • Fiddlesticks
  • Poppycock
  • Bamboozled
  • Bejeebers

Chances are that you have not spoken these words but they were all part of the natural conversations in days past. Words, just as with fads or trends, come in and out of favor. Make sure your vocabulary doesn’t make you sound like an old codger who is flummoxed by nincompoops when they speak a more contemporary language.





leadership dot #3113: ho ho ho

With no social events this holiday season, I’ve found myself watching more Christmas movies than I usually do and what I’ve noticed is that the genre has moved almost exclusively from comedy to romantic comedy. If you watch older movies, they are full of silly, almost slapstick humor: Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Santa Clause, Home Alone, etc. But today’s features are Hallmark variety: A Country Christmas, The Princess Switch, The Christmas Inheritance – well, you get the idea.

I wonder when and why the category evolved. It’s not that the funny ones weren’t successful. In fact, Home Alone is the highest-grossing comedy in movie history ($477 million in 1990). Many of the other titles spun off sequels or even a Broadway play. But now we are relegated to multiple variations of the same plot: guy and girl meet, don’t like each other at first, but fall in love by Christmas.

While it may be tempting to binge-watch a series of modern holiday films, make some time in your schedule to appreciate the classics and to share them with younger generations. Romance is wonderful but everyone could use a good ho-ho-ho belly laugh, especially this year.