Earlier this year I spent a fabulous afternoon at the RAF Museum at Hendon. It’s a real boy’s day out – lots of aircraft from the earliest bi-planes to the the Eurofighter. One wall of the first hall you enter is a display representing the first 100 years of flight.
Having walked up and down it a few times the conversation got the observation that somewhere around the early 70s everything started to look the same. The divergent design and engineering of the early pioneers had been replaced by corporate cloning and telling an Airbus from a Boeing requires far too much frequent flying. From our estimations it happened somewhere around here:
Fast forward many months and I was sat with the inimitable Neil Morrison discussing the tribulations of trying to source providers for learning and it’s the reflection of these two events that has lead to this post.
When I thought about it everything since the late 60s/early 70s has become far more generic – whether it be retailers, clothes, cars, household appliances, hotels, etc. You only have to look at the ‘new’ format of the HMV stores to see how someone does something new and novel (Apple in this case) and people jump on the band wagon of the next big thing.
I’m the first to admit there’s safety in knowing what you’re getting – in fact after a particular nasty bug I caught in China the comfort of McDonalds was the only thing my brain/stomach could face but the conformity surely doesn’t have to extend to everything and it leads me to a question…
Have most of us lost the inclination to be individual and act independently from the crowd?
When you move this into a work setting you would only have to read my e-mail for about 72 hours to see several examples of people telling me they have exactly what I need (without even asking me) and most of those people have never met me, don’t really understand my role and for the person who told me he could solve our sales training needs – really don’t understand our organisation.What’s more what they are offering isn’t different, it doesn’t distinguish itself and definitely doesn’t give me the inclination to pick up the phone.
I asked one of my team for some feedback on a meeting with a potential supplier he’d had last week and he replied with genuine surprise “it was different from normal, they actually asked about what we needed and didn’t just tell me what they could do for us”.
I realise in my own work I am guilt, at times, of trying to offer a solution before understanding the problem, but I try to catch myself and thankfully I work with people who are more than comfortable to push back – which is a good thing (most of the time).
I realise also that people who develop the solutions to ‘our’ problems are caught in the trap of firstly, needing to demonstrate coherent examples of interventions and products that have they have deployed before and secondly needing to offer a cost effective solution that doesn’t involve a drawing board for every problem but there has to be a balance between the drawing board and the production line, surely?
Maybe this isn’t a problem of product/solution at all, maybe this is all about sales technique – making the customer (me) feel they are getting something bespoke without actually making the internal investment or requiring client investment every time.
Maybe this is about working with people who make you feel that the burger they are selling you was hand crafted just as you want it by a fully trained chef rather than off the rack in a paper box and whatever the business analogy for “do you want fries with that?” is I’ll let you know after the next few days e-mails…