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Are you aiming high enough?

 5 March 2021     Donald Cooper 

Whatever business you are in, mediocrity is no longer an option. Let’s face it, if you’re trying to succeed in business by being mediocre, once your customers have been to Disney World, you’re doomed. Once they’ve seen amazing and been treated wonderfully, you can’t fool them anymore.

Way too many businesses are just trying to get by when they need to commit to being remarkable, extraordinary and world-class. They aim to do just a bit better than last year and if they do, they’re thrilled. They’ve lost their passion, they have no commitment to excellence and they have no vision as to what an extraordinary future needs to look like.

One client recently admitted to me he and his business had developed a high tolerance for mediocrity – and it was killing them.

I’m old enough to remember when television sets had dozens of large tubes inside instead of the compact electronic wizardry of today’s TVs. The tubes were tucked way inside under the massive picture tube and they burned out frequently. As a kid, we had two TVs and the repairman was at our house a lot.

It usually took an hour for him to reach in under the picture tube and wiggle out one tube after another to find the one that had burned out. Then, blindly reaching into the back of the set to insert those six-pronged tubes back into their sockets was a further exercise in time-wasting frustration.

To solve this problem, Motorola – one of the market leaders at the time – came up with a design innovation they believed would assure them of market domination for years to come. They put all those tubes and the base into which they were fitted into a glide-out drawer that made their TV sets easier to repair. They even came up with a catchy name for this amazing innovation.  They called it, “Motorola – works in a drawer.”

The only problem is, they didn’t aim high enough. While they were busy creating a TV set full of tubes that were now easier to repair, Japanese manufactures started flooding the market with TVs made with transistors that never needed to be repaired. Motorola was doomed! Many businesses are working to improve a business model that’s basically doomed. They need to rethink and reinvent or, to use the current word, they need to pivot.

Land Rover, the British car company that built their global brand on the promise of ‘go anywhere’ rugged dependability, lost sight of its commitment somewhere along the way and ended up producing the least reliable vehicles in the luxury market. At some point they got religion and worked to get better. But, apparently, they didn’t aim high enough. A few years ago, the highly respected Consumers Report magazine rated Land Rover vehicles as “most improved but still the worst.” That’s the very essence of not aiming high enough.

Stop playing it safe. Stand out. Aim higher. Be famous for something. The very successful Yard House restaurants in the United States are famous for offering the world’s largest selection of draft beers. They have over 150 selections listed on their web site, including a gluten-free beer for people with wheat allergies. Beer lovers flock to the Yard House for an extraordinary beer experience.

They even offer ‘beer floats’ – beer with vanilla ice cream. Now, that makes me gag, but the point is they’re doing some slightly bizarre stuff that makes them stand out and get talked about.  Have you given your target customers something to talk about, tweet about or text about? That’s what drives business growth today.

It has been said the world-famous Canadian architect Arthur Erickson never built a building that didn’t leak somewhere. But he was always pushing the envelope, always creating extraordinary structures and, in the process, he made a few mistakes. His buildings are spectacular; they uplift, inspire and make emotional connections with people.

If you build ordinary, boring square building that look ugly and destroy the soul, they probably won’t leak but they’ll damage us in other ways. We lived in an Arthur Erickson-designed condominium building for several years and it did leak a bit here and there. But every day, it uplifted us and enriched our lives. So, when you go for extraordinary, you may mess up a bit but people will still love you for making a difference in their lives.

As an award-winning fashion retailer, I offered massage chairs for husbands, a pirate ship play area for kids, free diapers for young mothers, free beverages for everybody and an invitation to “Please take as many items in the change room as you wish.” We were the only retailers in the world doing any of this stuff. It was a heck of a lot of work to pull it off, day in and day out, but women drove up to three hours to shop in our store. They loved us, they told their friends and our sales were three times the national average.

What will you do this year in your business to aim high enough? Will you first create and effectively communicate to every member of your team a clear vision of what your business commits to become to be a profitable and responsible market leader in three to five years? A vision that will inform, focus, challenge and inspire everyone on your team.

Will you aim high enough in design, quality, innovation, and delivering extraordinary customer experiences? And then how will you communicate your compelling value story in an over-served and under-differentiated marketplace? Remember, there’s no point being the best if you’re also the best kept secret.

Will you aim high enough in the people you hire and promote? Will you search for talent and passion or will you settle for warm bodies? We become what we hire, so hire wisely. Then, will you create a culture of clarity, urgency, joy, respect, inclusion and accountability? A culture that attracts, engages, empowers, challenges, rewards and retains top performers. A culture that listens.  Your team knows stuff and they hate it when you don’t ask. The good ones leave in frustration and the mediocre ones stay and take ‘I don’t give a damn’ pills.

Will you talk about goals, targets, aims and objectives or will you drop those weak and wishy-washy words and talk about commitments? Commitments to customers, to each other, to the environment and the bottom line. Commitments to do the right thing and to be extraordinary! Developing the commitment mentality changes everything. Then, will you measure performance – and deal more effectively with non-performance?

Will you create world-class operating efficiency by setting clear and high standards of performance and behavior in every part of your business and implementing the systems, processes and technology to make it happen? Or will you be doomed by not aiming high enough?

Is it more work to offer 150 kinds of beer, to design buildings that uplift and inspire, to build a pirate ship play area or to do what you do at a whole new level of amazing? Of course, it is. Is it worth it? You be the judge. All I know is in this highly competitive world where there are way too many other people selling what you’re selling, mediocrity is no longer an option.

So, what would extraordinary look like in your business? What has never been done before? What would truly amaze and delight your target customers and what will you commit to do to become that? What will you do this year to aim higher in design and innovation; in marketing, customer care, branding and profitability? In creating world-class efficiency and in managing and engaging your team? Or will you be doomed by not aiming high enough?

That’s it for this week. Stay safe. Live brilliantly!


Phoenix AMD
Cocoon by Sealy
This HGO article was written by:
Donald Cooper
Donald Cooper

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now, as a business speaker and coach he helps business owners and managers throughout the world to rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability.


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