Sunday, July 27, 2014

When a customer's suggestion is actually a strong preference

A tiny, beautiful mistake story from the New York Times "Vocations" column. The teller is Lucas Evans, a driver for Uber. The interviewer is Perry Garfinkel.

What’s your rating? [note: Uber drivers are rated by passengers on a scale up to 5. Drivers with lower ratings get fewer assignments.]

Mine is 4.8. I think I lost some points when one woman felt I had not listened when she suggested I could take Olympic or Wilshire Boulevard to her destination, rather than get on the freeway. I didn’t realize her “suggestion” was actually her preference.

People who deal with customers need to have good listening skills. Driving someone around also involves your own competence - how much do you know the neighborhoods, routes, traffic, etc.? Successfully understanding when a customer's preference is firm, even if it's different from your recommendation, is a key skill, one that Evans has clearly learned here.

[Note that this brief analysis is already longer than the story itself. This is one of the magical powers of learning from mistake stories. There's a huge amount you can discuss and learn from any story, even a short one.]

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The "Chief Everything Officer" gets a forklift driving lesson

Here's a great mistake story from Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company, brewer of Sam Adams beer. The interview with Koch is from a new series in the Washington Post called, "When We Were Small," about the startup phases of successful businesses.

When you start your own business, you’re the CEO, but you’re not the Chief Executive Officer, because there’s nobody there to execute for you. You’re the Chief Everything Officer. Immediately, you have to start doing these things you’ve never done before, and it ranges from, for us, how do you design a label? How do you make a sales call on a bar? How do you negotiate a real estate lease. I had never done any of that. And the list goes on and on, all these practical nuts and bolts of the business that, if you do them really badly, they can kill your company.

Here’s a literal example. In the very beginning, a truckload of beer arrived that I had to put away into the little warehouse we had. Well, I had never driven a forklift before. I had driven tractors and gators and things like that. But a forklift, I learned, steers from the back, which is a little different if you’ve never done it before. And you have this pallet of beer in front of you, so you can’t really see through the front.

So I get the beer off the loading dock and start driving it to the brick warehouse, where the door into the building is only about six inches wider than the pallet. So, I come rolling toward the door and — bang — the forklift hits the side of the door, takes out two courses of brick. The beer gets knocked off and half of it breaks. It took me an hour to sweep up. I never bothered to fix that door, though. I figured it I fixed it, I would just hit it again.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Scientist Freeman Dyson: trial and error created the bicycle

In a 1998 interview in Wired Magazine, Stewart Brand asked the famed physicist his thoughts on failure:

You can't possibly get a good technology going without an enormous number of failures. It's a universal rule. If you look at bicycles, there were thousands of weird models built and tried before they found the one that really worked. You could never design a bicycle theoretically. Even now, after we've been building them for 100 years, it's very difficult to understand just why a bicycle works - it's even difficult to formulate it as a mathematical problem. But just by trial and error, we found out how to do it, and the error was essential. The same is true of airplanes.

(Hat tip to Jeff Stibel on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network)