Barbara Kingsolver said, “Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth but not its twin.”
In coaching clients, I often ask to see a lot of numbers. KPIs and benchmarks, historical performance and pro forma data are all important. The reason I ask for data is because our memories are not perfect.
- We think quarter-over-quarter growth was good, but the numbers might indicate we did better or worse than we remember. Measurement helps us discover trends, opportunities or weaknesses and then connect those to future action.
- We think our employees answer the phone a certain way, present treatment using the most efficient scripts and help patients say yes to treatment, leveraging the best financial options and systems for each family.
- When we play prospect, secret shop, video and audio record, watching film, however, we see a different reality. One in opposition to our memory. In too many businesses, the reality on the ground simply does not match our gut feeling or memory of how well things are going.
Last year, AuDExperts completed mystery shops in hearing care offices for clients paying us to do so. We monitor everything from how many rings it takes to answer the new patient phone call to what shows up in the mail and every word uttered, script used, or lack thereof and the body language and first impression of the treatment coordinator and the doctor.
The results from these mystery shops can totally transform a practice. But, even when I show a new client the data and benefits from secret shopping, many are resistant. They list excuses why secret shopping will be too difficult, too harsh on the team, too expensive, etc. I know. I used to do the same thing. I was resistant to measurement because I was afraid what I would see and I didn’t have the confidence in myself to fix the many problems I was certain would need fixed.
What we really resist is an accurate assessment of our results versus our reality.
In your practice and in your life, you can embrace data and measurement or avoid it. The best results, however, lie on the other side of your assumptions and quick conclusions. We cannot rely on our memories alone. We must measure and we must do it diligently and consistently.
Scientific American describes the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly like this: “One day, the caterpillar stops eating, hangs upside down from a twig or leaf and spins itself a silky cocoon or molts into a shiny chrysalis. Within its protective casing, the caterpillar radically transforms its body, eventually emerging as a butterfly or moth.”
Recently, I listened to an incredibly fascinating Radiolab segment on caterpillars. Researcher, Martha Weiss, explained how caterpillars go through a biological meltdown that reduces them to soup.
“Not only does the caterpillar turn into a soupy matrix but it also stores away helpful structures inside its body early in life. Jan Swammerdam, a Dutch microscopist from the 1600s, was the first to demonstrate that there are some of the structures of the future butterfly inside the caterpillar. The wings, antennae, and even the legs are actually already formed even before pupation takes place. Crazy, right?
The segment reports, “the caterpillar will actually start to grow little tiny adult parts that are super thin and transparent, and it just keeps them tightly rolled up and hidden up against the edges of the chrysalis, but they don’t actually ever go through the goo.”
In the 1600’s many people saw the butterfly as a metaphor. It represented a mystical death and resurrection, but Swammerdam was the first to show it was actually a transformation.
Before Swammerdam’s dissections, people saw the progression from caterpillar to butterfly as some sort of quasi-mystical, quasi-religious reminder that people can become a more perfect version of themselves. After his demonstrations, people started asking, “What of my future self is in me right now?”
NPR Interview and Radiolab segment
I’ve been teaching this concept for many years. Until recently, I didn’t know caterpillars were a supporting example of the principle. Usually, I cite companies, business leaders or athletes to make my point, but I’m perfectly happy using a hungry little caterpillar to illustrate the lesson.
Just like the caterpillar carries what it needs for its future self, you already have everything you need inside you to succeed right now.
Some clients are a little baffled, maybe even a little defensive when I tell them if I had never been born, they would still find a way to succeed without me. There would be some other teacher or expert they would find because their success has much more to do about them than it ever has to do about me. Harsh but true words for all coaches and consultants to accept.
You might not have the exact step-by-step knowledge on how to split-test an online ad campaign or which list selects to use in direct mail, but you have the mindset and determination inside you that says you won’t rest on yesterday’s laurels; that you will not be satisfied and complacent with old results.
You’ve decided you will be the best at getting better. So, today that might mean paying attention to what I have to teach you, but in ten years if I get hit by the proverbial bus, you’ll continue to succeed because of what’s already inside you.
This is a secret confession the most successful people on the planet make quietly to themselves, lest they seem egotistical or overly-confident in shouting it to others, but they make it nonetheless, however quietly: that they’ve always known they would succeed.
A huge part of this truth comes when you realize, like the caterpillar, that you’ve already packed away inside you everything you need to be your best future self. It’s simply a matter of discovering this truth and then taking action.
Warren Buffett doesn’t have any extra hours in his day. Neither did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the NASA team that put a man on the moon. What they had was an ironclad determination to succeed and to take the first step without waiting for something or someone else to tell them it was their time.
Like them, you can choose this path for your life.
When Brian Carroll was laid off unexpectedly from his sales position at a car dealership in Michigan, he received a call from a past customer wanting a car.
Carroll told the buyer he no longer worked at the dealership, but the customer didn’t care. “He hired me to find the exact car he wanted and to negotiate with different dealers to get the best price.” Carroll then drives the new car to wherever the customer wants it delivered.
The car concierge. Brilliant.
This is not new, even though most sales people on the showroom floor have never considered it as an option to break free from working for someone else.
I created this option for myself by working with the same salesman for many years in a large network that sells nearly every brand under the sun. I haven’t gone through the normal motions of buying a car for over a decade.
Carroll says he now sells 30-35 cars a month, doing better than he did at his old job. And, I’d wager, he has more freedom and flexibility in being his own boss. If he’s smart and enterprising, he’ll recruit another handful of sales professionals to expand the business in other markets, franchise out his tools and systems or both.
This isn’t as innovative as Tesla ditching the entire inventory channel and car lot model used by every other car brand, but it is a very smart improvement.
In business, there is an ever-present temptation to innovate. We want to create something new, exciting and sexy. And yet, there really isn’t anything new under the sun. Jobs and Apple didn’t invent the telephone, but they did improve it significantly and sky-rocketed to become the world’s first trillion-dollar firm as a result.
In audiology, my specialty, we’re all racing to deliver in-office earmolds through 3D scanning and printing. Yes, it’s cool, but if I pick up the phone at lunchtime today, call your office and your team doesn’t answer, should you really spend more time, energy and money innovating, or should you simply improve your existing processes?
I know the answer but it’s not the sexy, exciting, shiny-new-object answer that most business owners want to hear.
Sigh. It’s very easy to make business owners rich but very difficult to get them actually to do the simple, boring things required to quickly double or triple revenue.
Write this down: given the choice between innovating and improving, take improvement ten times over.
There’s a great article in the Wall Street Journal today about NFL coach Andy Reid, who is taking the Kansas City Chiefs to Super Bowl LIV in Miami this weekend.
The author, Andrew Beaton, focuses on two of Coach Reid’s unique abilities. He thinks like an outsider and he doesn’t have an ego. He’s been a head coach in the NFL for 21 years and made the playoffs 15 times.
Those familiar with him say the reason he’s successful because “he’s willing to incorporate unusual, often unpopular perspectives.”
I never played football and I know enough to watch and enjoy the game, so I can’t add anything to the conversation about his unique offensive style, how he hired college coaches with playbooks that were not only unconventional but often mocked in the NFL, etc.
Beaton says, “Reid didn’t just tolerate these newfangled ideas. He actively sought them out and learned them better than almost anyone in is position.”
In your professional practice, how willing are you to embrace new ideas and learn them better than anyone else in your niche? How obsessed are you at being the best at getting better?
How much of your practice is about you? Whom do you really serve? It’s inspiring to see other doctors around the world embrace this same philosophy, sometimes word-for-word, and I take no credit for its inception. My team and marketplace helped forge our purpose. Shelfing my ego meant allowing the market and all of the stakeholders in my business to tell me what it wanted.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, isn’t known for having a small ego. This is part of his persona, but he said, and I’m paraphrasing, “It doesn’t matter what I want. It doesn’t matter what the players want. The only thing that matters is what our fans want. Their vote is the only one that counts.”
Cuban shelved his ego when he said this many years ago, and he’s right.
When you consider the top-performers in any industry, profession or niche, they are people who are capable of shelving their ego. They look for new ways to kill off some of their best-loved ideas. They embrace new things and learn faster and better than the competition.
Sure, there are examples of CEOs, athletes and success stories in every niche where larger-than-life personalities make it big and have egos to match. Yet, they almost never sustain a two-decade career at the top and remain liked and respected by others.
Those who are successful don’t become nice people after they’ve achieved some level of success, but rather they achieve and succeed because they are nice; because they don’t have an ego.
Reid illustrates this truth. His players and coaches love working with him. He doesn’t make anything about him, unless it’s taking the blame for something that went wrong.
There are too many sports analogies in life to list here. I could teach a semester-long course in the application of these principles both on and off the field. The big questions for you and your team remain:
- How resilient are we at overcoming and adapting to change?
- How often do our egos get in the way?
- What sunk-cost and status-quo biases need to be set on fire in the business?
- What obstacles can be turned into opportunities when we embrace change and our reality?
The internet once promised complete information equality. Children in poor countries would have access to the same knowledge as a child in California. But, it hasn’t turned out that way.
Different countries have different ideas about the internet. China and Turkey censor their internet aggressively, while America allows disinformation, extremists, hate speech and pornography to infiltrate every corner of the web.
The Arabic language, for example, is spoken by more than 350 million people, but represents less than 1% of the information on the internet. The Spanish internet isn’t that far off.
In an absolutely brilliant and impressively in-depth report by Kevin Roose, Elizabeth Weil and Bill Wasik, contributors to The New York Times and Atlantic magazine, the argument is made and thoroughly supported that the free internet we were all promised has devolved into a cesspool.
I obviously agree and have been beating this drum for many years.
Today’s internet works a lot like the real world. “It has an income-based hierarchy in which everything, from cleanliness of the water to the quality of the schools, is determined by how much you can afford to pay.”
Look at the internet 10-20 years ago. Everything was supposed to be free. Hulu, a video start-up at the time, claimed the end for the era of paid television. You would be able to watch your favorite shows over the internet, “anywhere, anytime for free.”
The largest newspapers and magazines started pulling down their pay walls or not building them at all, giving way to the internet’s maxim that “information wants to be free,” a maxim that I’ve consistently challenged and have seen supported by smart people like Cory Doctorow.
In 2008, Wired magazine ran a cover story that said, “Practically everything the web touches starts down the path to gratis,” calling free services “the future of business.”
So, where are we today?
The average American spent over $1,300 last year on digital media. Even Hulu, the champion stalwart of “free” television, pulled the plug on their free tier of membership. The cheapest Hulu subscription is now $7.99 per month.
Watching YouTube videos has become nauseating if you don’t have a paid YouTube TV account, starting at $11.99 per month, unless you enjoy watching horrible ads for horrible products that pop up throughout the viewing experience.
From news and productivity apps and dating sites and even an incredibly popular email program, Superhuman, which costs $30 per month, the internet has clearly walled itself off into a neatly manicured garden for those who pay and a wild jungle for those who cannot or will not.
This begs the bigger question, what is the real cost of free?
If the free internet results in Facebook mining our data, Amazon and Alexa tracking everything you say and order, Google collecting personal health information and selling all of this to the highest bidder, countries like China and Turkey vigorously censoring their internet and extracting a heavy price (up to and including the rights to your intellectual property and trade secrets) in order to do business in their countries, then where is the internet headed in the next 10-20 years?
It’s an important question and is covered in the aforementioned report, which I’ll be sending to and dissecting for my private clients.
As a subscriber here, I’ll give you a few hints regarding the main takeaway points and lessons for your practice. I’m not shy about the paywall I’ve erected in this business nor do I undervalue the information I share and the power it holds for smart business owner who implement. It appears it only took 10 years for Hulu to catch up with me.
First, there will be more and more regulation and taxation on the internet, information and data.
Your ability to out-earn all of this and to maintain adequate margin in your business is paramount. Go back and look through this report to see where I’ve encouraged you to get better at asking what never changes. Relationship marketing, internal referrals, driving more revenue per employee and lifetime customer value – these all start with a sold understanding of human psychology and behavior.
The best firms on the planet are well-suited to this challenge.
Even World Wrestling Entertainment has over 60 data scientists who work tirelessly to protect their brand and the connection with their fans. It’s wrestling for crying out loud. I doubt the world’s best dental and medical associations have one-tenth the staying power for the next 20 years to help their members navigate the tremendous tidal wave of online regulation and taxation coming their way, and these associations do something a little more important than leg locks, atomic elbow drops, piledrivers, jackknife powerbombs or Stone Cold Stunners.
Second, you must learn to master this online opportunity for your business to attract and retain customers or smarter people will eat your lunch.
Marc Andreessen was right when he predicted a future where there will be two classes of people: those who tell computers what to do and those who are told by computers what to do. AI will quickly separate the smart marketers from those dragging their feet, thinning the herd and distributing more income to the top 1% faster and faster so that each industry and niche is dominated by a few top players in each market.
In a recent event with Jimmy Nicholas, he and I unpacked and revealed for the first time the new A.I. his team has built with IBM’s Watson, in order to accurately record, transcribe and predict 99.8% of all incoming phone calls for our mutual clients. Jimmy and his company, Jimmy Marketing, do this nearly 60,000 times every single month.
He’s mining those data to help clients predict the times and hour of the day when they are most-likely to miss calls, resulting in a potential revenue recapture of nearly $25 million per year for our clients.
Jimmy runs the same predictive A.I. for our Google and Facebook ads, split-testing the best offers and calls to action, boosting conversion rate for one of our radio-to-web campaigns by 432% while simultaneously driving down cost per lead by over 3X.
Third, if you think you can figure this out on your own, as a small business owner, doctor, lawyer, specialist or audiologist, I urge you to put on your thinking cap.
Seek more clarity about where the web was 10-20 years ago, where it is today and where it will be 10-20 years from today, and run like the wind to see if your market is available to work with Jimmy and his team.
If you are already working with Jimmy and his team, your job is not done. I’m urging you to get on the phone each month with your marketing account manager in his office and set bigger goals, leverage untapped opportunities and invest like the big boys and girls who lurk in the shadows, waiting to eat your lunch.
This is a clarion call to action.
The cost of what the internet tried to be (i.e., free) is about to destroy anyone promising you something cheaper and less sophisticated than what we’re doing now and in the future with Jimmy and his team.
Get this done now, or please don’t say I didn’t warn you.