Last week, when I was on the road I read Seth Godin’s glowing post on Tom Peter’s crazy schedule. Here’s what Tom had to say about his trip:
So I've been consciously working on a new (for me) approach, with at least a smidgeon of success. Either at day's end or dawn's early light, I have a little meditation and self-counseling session on making the day count, rather than devoting the day to eager anticipation of the moment I can cross it off the calendar. Professionally, that first means looking anew and in depth at the forthcoming lecture to be sure that it clearly encompasses (as best I can) an ennobling purpose, challenges participants' minds and engages their souls. (Will it at least aspire to the JFK idea that no speechifier should utter a word unless she "aims to change the world"?) Also professionally, I "work on" my attitude. This may be day 45 and mile 76,000 for me, but for the Client it is D-Day for an Important Event (often their year's #1 event, for God's sake); hence my exhaustion and accompanying short temper must be thrust aside ... and downright cheeriness and spirited engagement must become the invariant orders of the day. Besides, such cheeriness, even if feigned, cheers me up first and foremost! Next, and in a way most important, even though I have little trouble infusing my lecture with meaning, I must thoroughly convince myself that this is a day every hour of which is worth savoring! Hackneyed though it is to write, 25 October 2005 ain't gonna come around again and this 62-year-old is gonna be a day older and closer to checkout time when it's done.
While I think it’s great that Tom has such a good attitude and I admire both Seth and Tom, something struck me as odd. It could have been that I was tired from being on the road, as well. There is, however, an underlying assumption in the post that no matter how tired you are, you can still give the best performance, every time. I disagree.
As an athlete most of my life, I’ve tried several times to push back standards. In the mid 90’s a friend and I went to Africa to set the world record running up Kilimanjaro. We trained for months, running up and down the mountains in Colorado for up to 10 hours at a time. When we got to Kenya, we spent a week on Kilimanjaro acclimatizing and studying the route. Only after all of this preparation were we ready to make an attempt. We waited for the right day and got lucky. We set the record.
That day I recognized that our peak performance was an alchemy of many things some that we could control, like our training, and others we couldn’t, like conditions on the mountain. I certainly would have never deceived myself that I could have pulled off the record on Kilimanjaro after traveling 76,000 miles over 45 days. I would have given a sub par performance.
The ability to have a truly peak performance in business is similar. My company, Radar Communications, has only hurt long-tem relationships with clients when we accept a job knowing that we are too worn out to do the very best for our client, exceeding their expectations. In today’s business you get only one chance to perform at your peak. If you don’t, you will lose a customer.
Likewise, brands have a habit of communicating their ability to always be on. To be there, waiting to give you the very best performance. Most of the time the “peak performance” message is quickly diluted when the customer starts interacting with the brand by such things as calling to place an order and having to wait too long on the phone or by getting a delivery only to find out half of the items are back-ordered with no communications.
The only way to solve this dilemma of promising a peak performance and delivering something less is to practice the art of saying no. It’s hard to do. Yet, I’ve lost too many clients over the years by trying to stretch our capabilities at Radar too far. I hadn’t trained enough.
I’ve learned that by saying no I can create satisfied non-customers. And, I’d rather have satisfied non-customers than dissatisfied customers, any day.
How much more satisfied would Tom’s customers have been if he had said no once or twice and traveled only 33,000 miles?