Calling All Innovators

As I've mentioned a couple of times, I've really been impressed with Intuit since I started my MBA four months ago. I recently saw that Intuit has come out with two contests to promote innovation and collaboration among entrepreneurs.

The first contest offers $10,000 for the best way to organize data and reduce paper documents and the second offers $5,000 for the best way to facilitate the use of QuickReceipts (Intuit's new software that allows customers to return and exchange merchandise without a paper receipt).

I love how Intuit goes beyond its own resources to solicit ideas from anyone and everyone. That's the kind of attitude I think is necessary to continue to innovate and grow in difficult economic times.

How to Change Things

I just finished reading Switch, a book about how to effect change. Very Dale Carnegiean, the substance of the book was nothing revolutionary, per se. But I liked the way the Heath brothers broke things down to the Rider and the Elephant (borrowed from The Happiness Hypothesis). Here are a few of my favorite pointers from Switch.

Follow the Bright Spots - Pretty obvious but often neglected. Find out what is working and seek to replicate it. In the book there's a great story about a man who successfully fought child malnutrition in Vietnam using this method.

Script the Critical Moves - Similar to a S.M.A.R.T. goal, this means just taking great care to specify and record steps to achieving a goal in manageable, exact behaviors.

Shrink the Change - Make the task appear smaller and manageable. For example, issuing a rewards card with two of ten spaces stamped will generate more repeat business than an empty card with only eight spaces.

Overall, this was a very helpful book and I would recommend it to anyone (and don't forget to read Made to Stick, by the same authors!).


One of the few lessons from high school science classes that has actually stuck with me is the difference between velocity and acceleration. Simply put, the velocity is the speed at which an object is traveling, whereas acceleration is how much an object is increasing in speed.

To put it another way, one is an indication of a current status and one is an indication of rate of change.

People love ranking things. Best business school. Best company to work for. Best mustache. Rankings are designed to show how something compares to similar items in a particular category. It shows velocity. And people like that because it helps them make judgements based on what they see.

Velocity has played a part in a lot of the decisions I have made in my life, including what schools I have chosen and what companies I have worked for (not so much with mustache decisions :{ ). Despite this, my view on velocity as an important decision metric has begun to change. Lately, I've been learning to appreciate acceleration as a better measurement.

No Excuses

Last year, I posted about my opinion that ideas are easy, that it's the execution that is hard. The more I learn about business, the more I believe this to be true. I think we all know how great of a resource the Internet can be. But how many of us effectively use it to solve problems? I'm not just talking about Google, but also the vast landscape of knowledge in the form of databases, forums, libraries, connectability to bloggers and industry experts, and so many more tools. The best part is that most of this is free and (forgive the cliché) literally at our fingertips.

I'm just beginning to fully embrace this as I work towards my MBA and future career. Since the time I was in high school and starting participating in FBLA, I have had a number of ideas for new businesses. But up until this point I haven't followed through on them because I didn't have enough money or enough knowledge or both. I think that the time has come for that to change.

There's no excuse for not knowing or not acting.

Sloooooooow dowwwwn!

For some reason, I find this incredibly stupid commercial hilarious.

Despite loving the commercial, Jimmy Dean's superhero campaign hasn't exactly become viral (less than 11,000 views in two months). It will be interesting to see if this campaign will be a success for Sara Lee, or if it will share the same fate as slow motion man and disappear into thin air.

Oh no!

Life Lessons from Yogurt Leaders

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Minneapolis, Minnesota and tour the world headquarters for General Mills. I had the chance to meet with and hear from some very amazing people who work there. Here are just a couple of the takeaways I wrote down from Becky O'Grady, President of Yoplait.

New products are extremely difficult to introduce, and less than 20 to 40% of them succeed. A brand manager must be courageous and resilient in order to last in this type of work.

Active engagement is necessary to be successful. Often, it's just the "what" that matters, not the "how". As long as you are results-driven, there are many ways to come about a solution. In addition, collaboration is key. Brand managers must have the ability to communicate and inspire effectively.

In all, it was a great visit! Thank you General Mills for hosting the CBPM MBA students!

Persuading by Showing Weakness

Lately I've been reading Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive for the second time. A lot of what the authors include makes a lot of sense to me. One chapter in particular stood out to me. The main idea of the chapter was that you can use your weaknesses to your advantage to make them into strengths. And by that, I don't mean in the cliche interview question response kind of way (my biggest weakness is that I work too hard and care too much).

Rather, this concept is best used to portray authenticity and honesty by exposing a part of you that is less than stellar. Consider the following examples

Progressive's campaign to inform potential customers of the lowest price for insurance, even if it's from another company.

Avis car rental's slogan "We're #2, but we try harder."

One of the old Volkswagen Beetle's campaigns "It will stay uglier longer."

Naturally, one caveat to this is that the weakness you expose can't be so significant that it completely turns people away from what you are offering. But properly played, I think that this tool can be effectively used to show people that you are just a regular person (or company) with regular faults. Of course, if you can follow your shortcoming with one or three or ten reasons why you are still amazing, then you'll have a better shot at being persuasive.

Dinner Company

If you could have dinner with any living person, who would it be?

For an aspiring businessman, a reasonable answer might be someone who is the founder and former CEO of a 3 billion dollar company. But what if the person who asked you the question was that person and you were already having dinner with him?

Essentially, that's what happened to me last when when the CBPM had its advisory board dinner. I had the opportunity to sit across from Scott Cook, founder of Intuit Inc.

The main takeaway for me, however, was not the dinner company conversation. I was just amazed with the level of support UW and the CBPM provide to each one of its MBAs. I really believe that no other school I applied to would have provided me as good of an opportunity to connect with top executives from major companies.

For that reason and so many more, I'm so glad I came to Wisconsin.

P.S. The next day, I got to have lunch with Colleen Goggins (super nice lady).


A while back, I listed motivation as one of the top three things I would look for if I were a hiring manager.

I think persistence is another. The Japanese have a proverb that states "nana korobi ya oki", which means if you fall down seven times, get up eight times (fuzzy logic if you think about it, but you get the idea).

We all get knocked down from time to time. But not everyone has the courage to get back up. The ones that do are the ones I want on my team.


My Biggest Regret

When I was in college, I began the search for an internship for the summer between my junior and senior years. I checked my school's recruiting web site and found an intriguing posting for a small company named Mondoro, a furniture and home accessory manufacturer located in Hong Kong. The position was designed to be a mixture of day-to-day operations, marketing, and involvement with local charities. Included in the internship was airfare to Hong Kong, room and board, and a small monthly stipend.

I applied for the position online and interviewed with the Mondoro's founder and CEO, Anita Hummel, on campus. I was impressed by her business savvy and her vision for her company. Apparently, she was impressed with me because she offered me the internship. I happily accepted, and prepared to spend my summer in Hong Kong.

A couple of months later, as I was doing my taxes for the previous year, I found out that I owed the IRS about $1,000 as the result of some independent contract work I had done the previous summer (how that all worked would have been nice to know earlier).

Worried about earning enough money to pay tuition in the fall, I decided that I couldn't afford to spend my summer in Hong Kong and canceled my plans with Anita. In turn, I found an internship with a financial reporting company in Philadelphia that paid 14.25 an hour.

To make a long story short, my summer was a complete bust. Within a month of moving to Philadelphia, both the person who interviewed me and the HR rep who prepared for my arrival had left the company. I found myself literally copying data from one window and pasting it in another window for eight hours a day, five days a week. Add that experience with a myriad of other bad experiences (sleeping on the floor, company car breaking down, getting stuck in West Philly at 1 AM, etc.), and you could pretty much say that I wish I'd gone to Hong Kong.

In fact, I consider this to be my biggest professional regret up to this point in my career. Mondoro may not have paid much financially, but it would have given me a significant amount of experience and adventure. Instead, I completed an internship that I don't even put on my resume.

The takeaway from all of this is that I learned to choose opportunities that will strengthen, enlighten, and stretch me instead of opportunities that appear to make more financial sense in the short term. My solace in making the wrong decision is that I learned this lesson. And the fact that my copy and paste skills are pretty dang awesome.

Going Red by Going Green

In a move that a lot of us saw coming months ago, Frito-Lay announced today that they are scrapping the still new, biodegradable SunChips bag. Effective immediately, the company will be replacing the packaging of five of its six flavors.

The move comes after the eco-friendly bag, infamous for being deafeningly loud, attracted the ire of thousands of munchers. Many of these critics have been quite vocal across the various forms of social media. The result for Frito has been an 11% decrease in sales over the last 52 weeks.

The underlying issue behind this whole fiasco is that most people only want to be green if it doesn't inconvenience them in any way, shape, or form. I'm not saying that there aren't people who don't make personal sacrifices to reduce their footprint, but as a whole we are often unwilling to compromise.

For example, we like buying cars that have high mpg cause it saves us on gas and *I guess* cause it's good for the environment (and stuff). But how many have actually switched to bicycles or public transit at the cost of personal convenience? How many of us go out of our way to recycle our paper, bottles, and cans?

Again, there have been a small percentage of people who have led the way to greener living, but we have a long way to go. I'm not a tree-hugger, hippie, or even an Al Gore fan. I don't really consider myself an environmentalist. But I find it a little funny that we have the technology to make something compostable, but we refuse to use it because it is slightly annoying.

In the meantime, SunChips will go back to its former, non-biodegradable self. And we will go back to munching in silence.

The Art of Non-Conformity

Over the weekend, I had the chance to attend the Madison stop of author/blogger Chris Guillebeau's 50 state, "Unconventional Book Tour". I had the chance to grab a copy of his book and listen to him speak about the advantages of living a non-conventional life.

Here are the main takeaways I learned from Chris.

Pursue meaningful adventure over efficiency
All too often, we focus on checking off tasks and getting a certain amount of work done. While efficiency is not a bad thing per se, don't overlook other opportunities at it's expense. Instead, seek out meaningful adventure. Chris epitomizes this principle with his goal to visit all 192 countries before his 35th birthday.

Leave a legacy
We should not only seek to leave something behind, but focus our efforts on what we can contribute that will help make the world a better place. We should ask ourselves what we can offer that no one else can.

Follow a passion that resonates with others too
Frequently we hear that we should follow something that we are passionate about. But a sometimes forgotten caveat to that is to select something that others are passionate about as well. You may love watching TV on the couch, but if you can't sustain yourself doing this or make a positive contribution, it may not be the best choice for you. This principle reminds me of the Hedgehog Concept.

It's not too late
With the explosion of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and hundreds of other amazing ideas that have spread throughout the Internet, it is easy to think that we have missed the boat and that we are too late to make our mark. The response to this is that we can always make a difference in world and we shouldn't let late timing prevent us from trying. Everyone has something to offer. Everyone can make an impact.

Observing Needs

Scott Cook is a big fan of observational studies when it comes to consumer behavior. He argues that you can't necessarily go off of what a consumer says in a survey, you have to follow that person home and see exactly how they use your product and what they need from your product (not what they say they need)

When he visited our MBA group earlier this month, he gave the example of Raid bug spray. Raid initially designed their product in a way that even a small amount would kill bugs quickly. But upon doing observational studies, they discovered that a majority of their consumers were spraying way more juice than was necessary to kill the critter. In essence, not only did consumers want to kill the bugs, they wanted the satisfaction of seeing them writhe around and drown in poison. The consumers' psychological need outweighed their functional need.

With this information, Raid decided to dilute their formula, saving the company 15% on cost of materials. With the new formula, the bugs would not die so quickly, and the psychological needs of the consumer could better be met. Within a short period of time, sales increased by 50%.

The Wallet of the Future

I always have these three things in my pockets. This is a problem to me. The time has come for a new device that merges the functions of a set of keys, a cell phone, and a wallet. I want to have one item in my pocket that does everything.

This device will look and work like a phone, but will also have the following features:

- A computer chip inside that can be securely programed to allow you to start your car, open your garage door, and unlock your house
- Another chip linked (again, securely) to your bank account and credit cards, allowing you to swipe the device at a POS terminal to pay for a purchase
- Access to important documents, such as a digital driver license, insurance information, organ donation info, blood type, allergy info, emergency contacts, and anything else that might be needed for driving or emergency situations
- Information storing all of your purchase receipts, membership and loyalty program info (grocery stores, fast food restaurants, etc.)

The technology already exists for all of this. It just needs to be put all together. It may take some time, but I think we'll have something like this in the next three to five years.

Apple is the obvious choice to make this happen. Call it the iWallet or even the new iPhone, I don't care. Yes, there is some infrastructure that would be required to make this all work. But companies will be more than happy to jump on board if Apple takes this on.

What do you think? What else would you like to see such a device do? I've turned off comments on the blog for now but if you have any other ideas, tweet me @brandbadger. I'll share the best ones in a future post.

Entrepreneurs Can Change the World

I just found this video from an excellent TED talk, and I couldn't resist sharing it. Enjoy!

Bankbuster Video

Today Blockbuster Video filed for bankruptcy. This doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who saw this coming months, if not years, ago. Despite being firmly established in the movie rental business, Blockbuster's lack of innovation has opened up the way for two competing companies to wedge themselves into dominance.

A while back, Blockbuster ventured into the "new game" of allowing customers to receive movies online and in the mail, essentially to directly complete with Netflix. Blockbuster had the advantage of numerous physical locations where customers could exchange movies if they didn't want to wait for them to come in the mail. At first, I worried that this might cause Netflix to slip, but Blockbuster was unable to convince customers that their core competency in movie rentals transferred to this new arena.

At the same time, Blockbuster's established core competency was attacked by Redbox. Kiosks became more and more ubiquitous, and the experience of renting became easier, faster, and cheaper. Redbox took the "old game" and improved it at Blockbuster's expense.

In the end, Blockbuster failed to see the way rental behaviors were changing and failed to come up with appropriate solutions necessary to stay in the game. We'll see if they can make any changes as they close some stores and reduce debt. But it may just be too little, too late.

Make it Suck Less

Most of the time, we see ads showing us how triumphant and victorious you'll feel once you quit. Ads also tend to portray how easy it will be ( a person confidently walking down three steps). It's refreshing to me to see Nicorette's recent take by admitting that quitting does suck, but they can help make it suck less.

I think that Nicorette can safely assume at least one thing about its target market, and that is that they are stressed out. That's why a lot of people smoke in the first place. So trying to quit only adds to that stress. Many of these people have probably tried to quit before, thinking it was going to be easy. So now, framed by the proper expectations (put in a blunt way for comedic effect), the journey of quitting can take place more realistically.

I'm a Big Kid Now!

What do you do if you want to put something out to market that is really unique, not just another me-too product? You do what Kimberly-Clark does time and again: invent your own product category. For nearly 140 years, Kimberly-Clark has been making paper products. Many of their offerings were completely revolutionary at the time they were introduced. For example, K-C invented the paper towel, and they were the first to put toilet paper on a roll.

More recently, they introduced Huggies Pull-Ups in 1989. The company has perfectly positioned and marketed these "training pants" as the perfect product for your toddler who is too big for diapers, but not yet ready for underwear. Since the product was launched, Pull-Ups has been a huge success for Kimberly-Clark. Even after copycats came to market, K-C has consistently enjoyed market share topping 60%. They've done this because they created the category and therefore dominate it. When it comes to potty-training, Kimberly-Clark is number 1.


How loyal is your customers to your brand? Do they use your product only because it is cheap or convenient? Would they switch if they could find a better price elsewhere? Or do they Facebook about you, rave to their friends about you, and sleep outside your store every time you release something new?

Obviously, there are different stages of customers. Apple is the classic example of a company that has fans, not customers. Apple fans seem to have an endless supply of passion and enthusiasm for their iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks. As a result, Apple has experienced mega success in recent years.

Having a loyal fan base isn't all fireworks and sprinkles, however. To begin with, the more devout your fans, the higher their expectations are for the next big thing. If you are not able to continually produce bigger and bigger, you very well may set up your fans for a huge let down. The good news is that fans are tolerant and forgiving of mistakes, provided that you get back on track after the flop.

Second, the bigger your following, the more you lose control of your identity as a brand. This can be a double-edged sword you want your fans to engage with your brand and share it with their friends. But you do need to accept that your fans will shape and re-configure your brand to their liking.

Finally, being a "fan brand" can polarize you from those who don't share the passion. Polarity can definitely breed success (just ask Sarah Palin), but you need to be able to handle criticism from your detractors.

In all, striving to make fans out of your customers is a good thing. Few brands can pull it off, but those that do have the potential to win big.

Choosing a Cause

Almost all major companies these days are involved in some sort of social change program, or cause marketing. As a result of the donations given and the awareness raised by corportations, great progress has been made in cancer research, environment protection, and other noble causes. This is not to say that these companies' motives are entirely altruistic. Most companies receive a millions of dollars of free publicity through participation in social programs.

In my opinion, the most effective campaigns come from companies that show expertise in their chosen cause. For example, a car company would have a more compelling case fighting to reduce carbon emissions than by fighting to reduce heart disease.

Additionally, I find it more credible for a company to solve the problems they themselves create, as opposed to solving the problems that others create. For example, Brita has been very active condemning the use of plastic bottles, citing environmental concerns. But the fact that they are a water filtration company set to directly benefit from any type of change diminishes the validity of the awareness they raise. I much prefer seeing campaigns from Dasani and Aquafina, bottled water brands that promote action plans to waste less and recycle more.

Overall, I think that it is a great thing whenever a company decides to get involved in social change. But for maximum efficacy, companies should choose causes that are relevant to themselves and the challenges they face.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself

Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, recently spoke to our group of MBAs. Among many valuable insights, he pointed out the need to continually ask the following three questions as it pertains to business.

How can we improve the current game?

How can we change the game?

What new games should we play?

He noted that the second and the third questions are the most important to focus on, yet most businesses dwell primarily on the first.

True to Focus

Creating a brand extension into a new cagetory of products can be risky. When ballpoint pen manufacturor Bic started making razors, it worked out well for them. With lighters, same thing. But when it came to making perfume, Bic lost their focus and the product flopped. Up until that point, they had been making products that were for "disposable convenience." Perfume strayed from this category, so it failed.

When I started, I did so intending to follow in the form of sites like trendwatching and springwise. However, since I have started my MBA in Brand Management here in Madison, I've gained clarity in what my focus should be. As such, I have redesigned the blog and moved it to I will still be focusing on innovation and creativity, but doing so more in the realm of how it relates to brands instead of trends. I am still tweaking some things about the site, so please be patient as I get everything in order. Overall, I hope you enjoy what you read and that it is relevant for you. Please subscribe and tell your friends!

Packaging Facelift

For decades, people had to deal with messy paint cans that were hard to open and use. In 2002, Dutch Boy finally introduced a new Twist & Pour container that made painting a whole lot easier. Because of the new packaging, Dutch Boy won big.

In spite of success stories like this, major brands still insist on packaging its products in inefficient ways. One glaring example is spaghetti sauce. Prego, Ragu, and others still use either glass or hard plastic bottles. There are several reasons why this is a problem.

1. Bottles are bulky and hard to recycle
2. It is difficult to get out the last of the sauce
3. Using a bottle requires you to use an extra pan to heat the sauce

These three problems could be averted by using a resealable pouch container to package the sauce. It would need to be strong enough to stand up on a store shelf, but thin and collapsible in order to reduce waste and to facilitate use of the entire product. Additionally, the pouch could be placed in a pot of boiling water (which you'll already have for the spaghetti), heating it and sparing you the use of a saucepan.

This type of packaging is already in use in Japan and some other countries. I'm not sure why the U.S. hasn't picked up on it, but that issue isn't something a little consumer awareness couldn't fix. With a growing emphasis on "green" and the constant need for consumer ease, this could be a big win for the world of spaghetti. For now, it's a huge missed opportunity.

On a side note, A year or two ago I submitted this idea to Campbell's, maker of Prego. Apparently they don't share my enthusiasm. Just wait, within the next five years we will see this happen. If Campbell's doesn't pick up on it, someone else will.

Uh Oh, SpaghettiOs!

Chef Boyardee is finding noticeable results after starting its "Obviously delicious, Secretly nutritious" campaign. According to parent company ConAgra, consumption of Boyardee products has increased as awareness of its nutritional benefits has grown.

Similar to Kix's long-used slogan "Kid tested, mother approved", the Boyardee campaign is a good example of remembering to appeal to the customer AND the consumer (or, more accurately, what the customer perceives will appeal to the consumer). Companies sometimes get confused marketing products in which the person buying and the person consuming often not the same (such as breakfast cereal or canned ravioli). That Chef Boyardee points to benefits for both the customer (nutrition) and consumer (taste) plays to their advantage.

As far as the whole "don't tell the kids its good for you" element, that has definitely been done before, but it works here because they've been able to make the commercials amusing and not too sappy.

Bonus! Here's an old Chef Boyardee commercial, just for fun.

Goals, Anyone?

I've been thinking a lot about goals lately. I think that everyone at one time or another has been to some sort of training session where there has been a presentation on how to make and meet goals. Personally, I'm a fan of the S.M.A.R.T. method, whereby the goals you set are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Despite mapping my goals out in this way, I still fall short more often than I'd like to admit. So that leads me to an open call for anybody who is reading this: what methods work for you? do you know of any good books about goals? what experiences can you share about goal-setting/achieving?

In my head I've been formulating a possible future business idea surrounding the idea of goals, so I'm hoping to learn everything I can about them. Again, whether you're a regular reader of my blog or some random person whom I don't know, please comment and leave your thoughts!

We All Have Germs

When it comes to improvement in both professionally and personally, we often talk about identifying our weaknesses and turning them into strengths. To me, this always seemed to be much easier said than done. However, as I've thought about this more and more recently, I've really begun to see and believe that such a change can take place.

One example of turning weakness into strength is Howie Mandel. Howie is well known for having mysophobia (an irrational fear of germs). His condition is so severe that he cannot shake hands with people.

At first thought, this condition would seem to be debilitating to anyone's life and career. While I'm sure there are still drawbacks for Howie, he has adapted in a way that has strengthed his brand as a celebrity. Namely, he shaved his head (it makes him feel cleaner) and began giving people fist bumps instead of the more traditional handshake. As a result of his new image, Howie has enjoyed a surge in his "star status".

This is not to say that everyone should shave their heads and start giving more fist bumps. But I think that one thing we can learn from this is that we can all find ways to leverage our weaknesses in order to reinforce ourselves and the brand we portray.

How Does Your Brand Come Across?

I snapped this picture on a sidewalk in Cardiff, Wales. Along my path were tile mosaics of various countries, with illustrations of symbols commonly identified with that country. It was peculiar to me what the U.S. had on its mosaic. On one hand, there was the Statue of Liberty and a bald eagle-- symbols of freedom that all Americans can be proud of. More conspicuously to me, however, were the images of a hamburger, fries, and a dollar sign.

Personally, I do not want to be known for symbols so easily connected to obesity (fast food) and greed (money). Yet, that is how the U.S.'s brand came across (at least to the Welsh). The takeaway from this, at least for me, is to have a greater awareness of how my brand comes across. That way I can focus more on projecting the image that I want to be associated with, instead of something carrying a negative connotation.

The Partnership

As described by Ken Kavajecz, the essence of the Partnership between the UW MBA program and each of its students is for each person to "ask for more than you think you deserve and to give more than you think you owe".

The more I thought about that this week, the more it resonated with me. That kind of environment, when properly executed, could create an avalanche of productivity and innovation. And I think this may have been where I have fallen short at school and work in the past. In past endeavors I've shown up, done what what expected of me, and that was it.

One of the reasons why I am excited for the next two years is because this is one way I hope to break the mold of my past self. By so doing, I hope to reinvent myself as someone who constantly asks for more than I think I deserve (in a good way, I hope), and gives more than I think I owe.

Everybody's Free

"Do one thing every day that scares you."
- Eleanor Roosevelt

This simple idea was planted in my brain as a junior high school student in the 90's by the same guy who told me to wear sunscreen and to respect my elders. While I can't say that I have always adhered to this guideline, something about it keeps recycling it through my memory at certain points in my life.

On Wednesday I started my full-time MBA. Last night, as I was reflecting upon my first two days, I was pondering how I could not only succeed, but thrive in my program and be exceptional. And that's when it came back to me. Do one thing every day that scares you. I have weaknesses that I have been dodging and overlooking for years and I think that now is the time to confront them. Stay tuned as I hope to share success (or failure) stories about how I have extended myself outside of my comfort zone and what result came of it.


I recently came across this extremely interesting and disturbing article about a Japanese business model where actors are hired to come into another person's life (a la Truman Show), flirt with them, have an affair, and document the infidelity in order to then blackmail the individual.

I'm appalled that in a world with so much opportunity for creativity in business, we have people choosing to engage in activities like this. How much better this world could become if everyone focused on bringing people together as opposed to splitting them apart.

College Admissions

Over the last 15 months I've spent hundreds of hours preparing for grad school: studying for the GMAT, researching schools, filling out applications, writing essays, interviewing, etc. Over this period, I pored over the web site of every business program ranked in the top 25, as well as the sites of a dozen unranked schools.

The whole process has been eye opening to me. On one hand, I have been appreciated, accepted, and awarded scholarships by some the country's top schools. On the other hand, I have been ignored, lied to, and discriminated by others. Naturally, I chose a school that welcomed me heartily over schools that wanted me to beg to get in.

I could go on for probably 20 pages about all of my observations about my experience. But frankly I don't have the energy to write it all down and edit it so that my arguments and opinions are sound and make sense. If you ever talk to me in person and want to get me going, though, just ask me about college admissions.

Seth Godin recently wrote about this subject. He argues that college has turned into an expensive status circus. He's not against higher education. He's just against archaic institutions being obstinate elitists who charge astronomical tuitions (which they get away with because of their prestige and recognition).

The Box Itself

We often use the phrase "think outside the box" to encourage creativity in problem-solving. In my experience, many people incorrectly equate this phrase to mean doing something outlandish merely for the sake of being unique. The result of this kind of attitude can be an answer that is admittedly different, yet ultimately impractical.

In a college marketing course, we once brought in an owner of a struggling Italian ice store. As a class, we assessed his business model and made suggestions for helping him attract new customers. When we finished, I felt that our brainstorming session was overall ineffective. The bulk of the suggestions were either over-simplistic and expensive, like "advertise more" or absurdly outside the box, like going door to door or using a network marketing model to sell ice cream.

In 1945, psychologist Karl Duncker designed an experiment in which he challenged participants to fix a lighted candle on the wall in a such a way that the wax would not drip on the table below. To do so, he provided only a book of matches and a box of thumbtacks.

Duncker found that many of the people attempting to solve his problem developed creative solutions, to no avail. For example, some tried to tack the candle directly to the wall. Others attempted to melt some of the candle’s wax and use it as an adhesive to stick the candle to the wall. In the end, the answer to the problem was simply to dump out the thumbtacks and use them to attach the empty box to the wall, which could then hold the candle.

Duncker concluded that the reason why most participants did not find this easy fix was because they were experiencing functional fixedness, or a mental block against using an object in a new way that is required to solve a problem. In other words, everybody was so busy thinking outside the box that they forgot to think "the box".

Coming back to the Italian ice case, I think that my class was so fixed on finding creative solutions that we missed the practical solution, which was to find a better location. His shop was located in Provo, Utah, the only college town in America where students don't drink alcohol. Emerging from this drinking dearth, the market forces forces that be have filled the void with the only thing that Mormons are allowed to get drunk on: ice cream.

The last time I counted, there were over thirty ice cream, gelato, shake, and/or smoothie places in Provo. Most of them were situated very close to BYU campus. Our Italian ice friend, however, was located several miles away in place that rarely got foot traffic. In light of all this, my recommendation to him should have been either 1) move closer to the students in order to have a better shot duking it out with all of the other guys or 2) go to a city that was not so saturated with frozen saturated fat.

In sum, there are many times when thinking outside the box is beneficial for solving problems. But don't forget to think about the box itself, too.

Think Down

The Paradox of Choice is a great book that explains why the commonly held belief that "more choices=better" is wrong.

In one chapter, the author explains counterfactual thinking. Simply put, this is when we think about the world as it isn't, but might be or might have been. Essentially, it's when we think of an outcome of an event that is different from the way it actually happened.

There are two directions counterfactual thinking can occur. Upward thinking is an imagined state that is better than what actually happened. Downward thinking is an imagined state that is worse. As it turns out, upward thinking can be damaging to our emotional health and can be the cause of regret and despair. Downward thinking can be the cause of appreciation and contentedness.

Most people would probably tell you that it is better to will a silver medal in the Olympics than a bronze one. In reality, bronze medal winners are generally happier with their achievement than athletes who win silver. This is because the 3rd place winners tend to think of how close they were to 4th place and receiving nothing, whereas 2nd place finishers dwell on the tiny difference that cost them the gold.

I think that understanding the difference between upward and downward counterfactual thinking can help us be grateful for what we have and not feel regret for "the way things could have turned out."

Don't Contact Us

Am I bothering you? Is my patronage to your business burdensome to you? No? Then why do you make it so impossibly difficult to contact you when I have a question?

I understand that the internet is all the rage these days, and that you love to tout that most questions can be answered on your web site. But what about those times when I want to know something else that's not there?

Oh that's easy. Click on the "Contact Us" button. Wait a minute here. This button just takes me to a FAQ page that has nothing to do with what I want to know. I really just want to talk to a person.

Well, I finally found your telephone number for customer service. Let me call that. Hold music... English. Accounts. Punch in my SSN. Stupid phone tree. More hold music. Yes, I know that most questions can be answered by the website. I wouldn't be calling if mine could. I'm starting to get impatient.

Um, can I just talk to a person. Oap, there we go. What's that? Oh. My name is Drew. Yes I just had a question..... (I ask my question). Um. I can't really understand what you just said. (Where is this call center anyway?) I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you've outsourced.

Well, 30 minutes ago I really wanted your product/service. But right now I just kind of want to punch the guy in your company who made it so hard to get through and get a straight answer. I guess you don't need my money.

Really, is that the best you can do?


I find it somewhat amusing that I have been on this planet for 26 years and have only known what I was going to do with my (professional) life for about two months. In the end, I was influenced in part by Jim Collins' Hedgehog Concept. As shown in the diagram, this concept basically encourages you to try to find the intersection of

1) What makes you money?
2) What could you be best in the world at?
3)What are you passionate about?

I think that it is easy to dwell on things that may only fulfill one of these criteria. For me, staying at E*TRADE, windsurfing in Hawaii, starting a business, getting a PhD, traveling, playing tennis, and doing pottery each fell into only one of those categories.

In pursuing an MBA in Brand Management, I hope that I'll be able to tap into each of those goals in order to fall somewhere in the center of the mix.


It's string. That goes between your teeth.

I would have never thought in a hundred years that floss could be improved upon. It's just string, after all. Then I used Glide. This floss was unlike anything that I had ever used.

Perhaps it's odd that I'm so intrigued by floss, but for a guy who's about to pursue a career in brand and product management, this is about as good as it gets. To me, Glide is a prime example of someone taking a boring, ordinary item, and making it extra-ordinary. Something worth talking about. And I think the name fits the brand perfectly.

What else can be improved upon? Toilet paper? Disposable razors? Spaghetti sauce packaging?

I think everything has room for improvement. Upgrading floss demonstrates that.

You're the Expert

Sometimes the first thing a client says to me at work is (something to the effect of) "I don't really know what I'm doing, but..." Anytime I hear this, I get excited. To me, this is a concession that means "I'm talking to you because you're the expert. I will believe whatever you tell me, as long as you say it with confidence." As a result, I feel like I am in control.

The confidence that comes from this opportunity can be very empowering. Closing a sale is a lot easier when your customer has already admitted that you know more than they do.

For me, the tricky part is having this type of confidence on every interaction. I think the key is to remember that whether your (potential) customer says it or not, they are coming to you because you are the expert.

Explanatory Slings

I thought this was clever. It's a sling that shows what happened so that you don't have to explain it over and over again. I think this exemplifies that it's the idea that counts, not the technology.

Owning Up

Though I have not closely followed everything that has been going on with Toyota, my casual observance of their reaction to the problems and recalls has left me with a good impression. The Toyota ads of the past few weeks have not been directed towards selling cars. Rather, the company is (rightly) owning up to the mistakes they have made and they appear to be genuinely and sincerely focused, for the time being, on regaining consumer trust.

In 1982, several people died after taking Tylenol that someone had laced with cyanide. Though Johnson & Johnson (the manufacturer) was not directly at fault, they owned up and did everything they could to make it right. The company tried to find the culprit, both internally and by working with police. More importantly, however, they changed the way they did business and introduced tamper-proof and tamper-evident packaging. As a result, the entire industry changed and millions of people are safer because of it.

I believe that with the tragedies that has occurred with Toyota's braking and steering malfunctions, there is a great opportunity for both Toyota and the whimpering auto industry as a whole. The first step is owning up, which they seem to be doing. In the end, however, the true test will be whether Toyota can effect a change in the way they do business; a change that makes people safer in the future. If they can do this they will, like Johnson & Johnson, regain our trust and remain a successful company for many years to come.

Foamy Shampoo

Today I used some Dove shampoo that my wife recently bought. As I massaged the white goop in my hair, I thought of how well it must be working because of how thick and foamy it felt.

And then I realized that I had been duped. Shampoo is foamy for the same reason that margarine is yellow and Silk is located in the refrigerated aisle by the milk: because that's how consumers expect and want it. For some reason, people think foamy shampoo cleans better than non-foamy shampoo, even though it's purely psychological. So Dove counts on that assumption when they create their product. And I fell for it.

Nice branding, Dove.

Lunch with Seth Godin

On Friday, Michelle and I went to a charity event to see Seth Godin speak. Seth is an influential marketer/author/blogger whom I follow pretty regularly. I bought his new book, Linchpin, at the event. Michelle knew it would mean a lot to me, so she ran up to Seth and had him sign my copy. Seth's gave a really intriguing presentation about being indispensable. Here are some of the notes that I took from the event.

A genius is simply someone who solves a problem in a new way

A factory is anything that produces the same thing over and over again

Seth's definition of Art
1) made by a human
2) gives a gift
3) changes someone for the better

"If you can write it down, I can find it cheaper"

Don't do something where people expect you to be average

Getting good grades in school only means that you're good at school

On the recession: "Just because the tide is out doesn't mean there is any less water in the ocean"

Anxiety is the feeling of failure in advance

Overall, we had a great time and I really enjoyed seeing Seth in person!


At the Hongqiao Pearl Market in Beijing, vendors thrive on the fact that customers (mostly foreign tourists) by in large are clueless as to the value of the items for sale and how little vendors would actually sell them for.

"She's asking $30 for that Ermenegildo Zegna tie. Could I get it for $20? Or maybe even 10?"

"$80 for Adidas or Puma shoes is a bit steep. I could probably offer half that."

With a little bit of negotiating, though, you start to figure out the exact price at which the vendors won't sell. When I visited this market, I used this information to my advantage, spreading real prices to the members of my group and even other tourists whom I didn't know.

"Most people will give you shoes for $5 or $6."

"Thanks. Don't pay more than $1 for the ties."

Once the shopkeepers found out what we were doing, they were furious. Understandably, the more ignorant they can keep people, the higher their margins. They got angry and said they wouldn't play by our rules. But in the end, they had to cave. I'd just go into a shop and skip the entire bargaining process by saying "I'm here to buy 10 ties for $10 or I'll go somewhere else."

Though some customers are able to find the bare-bones price, I'm sure that these merchants often score big on tourists who don't know how to haggle (or even that all the name brands are fake, for that matter).

Most businesses don't have the luxury of feeding off of ignorance. With the internet, consumer reviews, and word of mouth, you can't expect to pull a fast one and get away with it.

One More Beef With Education

Bus Driver
Park Ranger
Computer Programmer

These are a few of the things that remember wanting to be when I grew up. Except for the first two (which were on my radar when I was about five), I realized that I wanted to be these things through the help of school career counseling between 7th and 12th grade. Every year during that time, a counselor would come into one my classes and I would have to take a questionnaire that asked me things like “Do you prefer working individually or as part of a group?” and “Do you prefer having a set, rigid work schedule or a flexible one?” The questionnaire would narrow down all possible careers and tell me what type of career I should pursue.

Looking back on this experience, I can’t help feeling like this was an epic waste of time. While I can’t fault the system for my changing interests each year, I do question their approach and execution of my “career guidance.” I feel that too much emphasis was placed on the “what” and not enough on the “how.” Unless my memory fails me, we spent very little time discussing the best paths for me to choose to make my dream career possible. To make my career become a reality, I was taught, I should go to college and major in that field. However, the older I get, the more I am coming to the realization that going to college and majoring in what one wants to do is only one of many ways to make a dream career possible. As an 18 year old recent high school graduate, I knew next to nothing about internships, work-study programs, specialized vocational schools or other opportunities that might have been a good fit for me.

So what did I do? I went to the educational equivalent of Wal-Mart. At my “big box” university, I got a quality education for a low-price. Seven and a half semesters later, I left my alma mater with an amazingly bland degree in general business. At the time, of course, I didn’t know that my degree was bland. I had been taught to go to college and major in what I wanted to do, and that’s what I did. Yet, in just the first couple of years since graduation, I have learned the (now obvious) lesson that a very general degree gets you a very general job.

In retrospect, I don’t know what more direction on the “how” could have done for me. After all, what I wanted to be changed radically from year to year and essentially has nothing to do with the path I’m now pursuing. On the other hand, with more “how”, I might have gained skills and learned about opportunities that could have opened me up to something other than a bland big box bachelor’s degree and set me on a more efficient track.

Sand Dollars Less, Real Dollars More

In college, I took a course in personal finance. In the class, I studied useful topics like how to buy and finance a house, how to invest and save for retirement, and how to use credit responsibly. I took the class only because it was required for my major, but it turned out to be one of the most practical classes that I took in college.

In my eight years of high school and college I was required to take the following science classes:

High School - Biology, Chemistry, Physics
College - Biology, Physics, Physical Science

In all, I took nine semesters of science. Now this would be well and good if I wanted to be a scientist, or even a doctor. But I don't. I want to be a businessman. I can understand the need to familiarize students with a broad range of topics, but why does our education system insist on requiring so much science when few people will ever use it in their life or their jobs?

Conversely, I believe that our education system has largely neglected the importance of teaching about money and finance. These topics, I would argue, have a much more practical application for more people than science does. I consider myself lucky that I had even one semester of finance training. But if it had not been part of my major, I would have left college knowing more about mushrooms and mollusks than about money.

I don't mean to say that science is worthless. I could have just as easily described all of the humanites, social science, or English classes that I was required to take. I definitely see the need to teach all subjects for a well-rounded education. My point is that I think that our "general education" is a top-heavy with subjects that many people do not need on a regular basis. As a result, more useful topics like finance are glazed over or omitted.

Though blame for the current financial crisis can be appropriately placed upon greedy bankers and businessmen, I strongly feel that there is some culpability left over for our education system. Over the last 20 or 30 years, if our schools had spent more time teaching students how to spend and save responsibly, we as an American people might not have gotten ourselves into this mess in the first place.

On the other hand, my knowledge earthworms have five hearts is bound to pay off someday.

Taste Testing in Politics

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has found himself in some hot water over racial remarks he made during the 2008 presidential election. Amidst the stir, one thing is strikingly absent: the outrage of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. It seems like every time a prominent figure makes a comment with even the slightest hint of racial overtones, those two "civil rights activists" pounce immediately. But not in this case. In my opinion, their noticeable silence after Reid's comments further proves my belief that these two Reverends have something other than equality on their agenda.

I just finished reading an excellent chapter in Predictably Irrational called "The Effect of Expectations". In this chapter, the author recounts the Pepsi Challenge, a study that essentially showed that in a blind taste test, a majority of people preferred Pepsi to Coke. Unfortunately for Pepsi, when consumers know which cola they are drinking, they prefer Coke to Pepsi. In other words, somehow Coke has branded itself in a way such that cola drinkers actually change the way they think about how something tastes, depending on the expectations they hold and experiences they have had.

My guess is that in a "blind taste test" (if you read Reid's quote without telling them who said it) that Jackson and Sharpton would be up in arms. Yet when they know that it came from one of their own (a powerful liberal), there is no controversy.

One Way to Get Free Publicity ...

... is to develop a product you know very few people will ever buy, and then price it so outrageously high that it turns heads.

Here's an example I came across a couple of years ago. This $1,000 Pizza is topped with caviar and lobster tail. The pizza's creator was quoted as saying, "Sure, some people will say it is just a publicity stunt, but I have researched this for over a year and think there is a demand. I have already sold one."

Ridiculous. Tell me, was that guy more concerned with the $1,000 he made from his one sale, or with the hundreds of articles written and 1.3 million Google search results that now come up about his pizza?