When I was in college, moving into the dorms was an arduous ritual.
First we’d set up our stereos. Of course they were enormous – mine was comprised of big JBL speakers, a separate Marantz amp and McIntosh pre-amp, a Pioneer turntable and Aiwa cassette deck. The system cost me an entire summer job’s pay and if I was paying by the pound it’s no wonder why it was so expensive.
I also had a couple of apple crates full of records (remember those?) and boxes of tapes.
Along with the stereo, I had a typewriter, an alarm clock, an SLR camera with lenses and a shoebox full of photos. I didn’t have a TV but my roommate did, and that took up even more room. My clothes — a few pair of jeans, some tee shirts, and a down jacket — probably took up the least amount of space.
Today’s college student has all those functions and data (music, photos, etc.) stuffed into their four-pound laptop. In fact, with a couple of duffel bags stuffed full of clothes and a laptop and cell phone tossed in a backpack, they’re ready for school.
Today I needed a storyboard drawn up for a commercial we just wrote. All the art directors in my office were busy so I went online, uploaded the rough sketches we’d drawn, and posted the assignment along with my budget, deadline, and specific requirements. Within hours I had estimates from artists in Georgia, Indonesia, Mumbai, and more places around the world.
The other day I wanted something changed on my blog site. I sent an email to Werner, my blog master in Germany, and showed him the change. It was 5 PM EST here at home so I figured I’d hear from Werner the next day, after all it was 11 PM there. Instead Werner responded right away and said he’d have the programmer make the change immediately. “Where’s the programmer?” I typed. I assumed he was somewhere in Eastern Europe or Asia. “Ohio,” Werner responded. “It’s only the afternoon there,” “he’ll do it right away.”
When I leave the office in the evening, sometimes I take my laptop, sometimes I take my iPad, and sometimes I don’t take anything at all. Of course we’ve got a computer at home and all of my company’s files are stored on the cloud so they’re accessible wherever I am. No more running back to the office in the middle of the night or on weekends to retrieve a document I need to work on. And even though I work most weekends, I can’t remember the last time I went into the office on a Saturday or Sunday even though that used to be a weekly occurrence. In fact, my wife and I just got back from a wonderful overseas vacation and you might have noticed that this blog went out on time just the same. Besides pre-scheduling the postings online, a Wi-Fi hookup was all I needed to keep everything running smoothly.
I just moved my enormous music collection from the hard drive in my office to ITunes Match, Apple’s cloud-based program. This way, no matter where I am, I have all my songs available. This comes in handy not just when I have a hankering to hear something specific but when we’re at band practice and someone wants to hear a particular version of a particular song. Of course, with most songs available on YouTube anyway, I can access them anywhere I can get a Wi-Fi or cellular signal. Needless to say, the stacks and stacks and stacks of CDs in my office and at home are just taking up space and collecting dust. If I knew someone who actually wanted a couple thousand rock, blues, and classical CDs, I’d burn them all and happily ship them off.
The more we interact with the mobile world, the less we need bricks and mortar. These days, BestBuy has become a showroom for Amazon and it’s not unusual to see customers in the aisle scanning SKU numbers into their smart phones to check for lower prices online. Online bill pay keeps us out of banks and post offices. Digital downloads to our iPads and Kindles keep us out of bookstores. NetFlix, iTunes, and peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as Demonoid keep us out of movie theaters.
As I’ve asked here so many times before, WTF??!! (Where’s The Future?). Clearly, legions of old-school face-to-face (F2F) businesses are going to go the way of Borders, Circuit City, and more. But there’s another, less intuitive opportunity. The analog activities that can’t be replaced by digital experiences — gardening, sewing, participatory sports, acoustic music making, cooking, travel, and more — are going to see a startling resurgence. Sure, those activities will be enhanced by the online world — downloadable patterns for knitting or Web-enabled music lessons, for example. But as the world continues to move to a ubiquitous high-tech environment, high-touch will become all the more important and profitable.
On one of our morning runs last week, Stella was telling me about her son and how he wins at everything. He’s a high school golf champion, he always wins when they play Scrabble, and even though he doesn’t run regularly, he did run three miles with his marathoner parents and beat them too.
“It must be great to win at everything,” Stella said. “I’d usually hate someone like that, but he is my son.”
It got me to thinking how hard it must be to always win. Imagine being Bill Gates. One day, you’re ticked off about something and venting to a friend. “Well you know, Bill,” the friend might reply, “there’s always someone else who’s — [big pause] — oh yeah, sorry, I guess there’s not.”
I mean what does Gates do when he’s feeling blue? Call the Sultan of Brunei to commiserate?
My friend Adam Goldstein is the President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. In his limited spare time he’s a competitive runner and much faster that a 52-year-old workaholic has any right to be. But maybe that’s because he’s also the hardest training guy I know. I see Adam when I pull up to the track at 5:30 on Tuesday mornings and his coach has already put him through a grueling regimen of laps and exercises.
Last weekend was the big race Adam was training for, so I sent him a text asking how he did.
“Mercifully 2:29. First time under 2:30 since 1977. (But a) 48-year old from Cayman ran the 800 in 2:17 so still a long way to go. Thanks for asking.”
2:17? I couldn’t have gone that fast if I was on a motorcycle. Truth be told, I couldn’t have run the race in 2:29 — or 2:45 — if I had hired my buddy to run it for me. 2:29 is awesome. But it’s not the best.
But here’s the problem with being the best: best according to whom? Does winning the race make you the best? How about all the other races? Which ones count and which ones don’t?
Rolling Stone magazine just printed a cover story about the 100 best guitar players of all time. The best according to them? Jimi Hendrix. Number two? Eric Clapton. Three? Jimmy Page. Four? Keith Richards.
Now granted, they’re all great players. And the judges, a who’s who panel of musicians and music journalists, were no slouches either. But c’mon. Who’s to say which of these players is really the best? Most influential, maybe. But best? That’s not possible, especially considering that the list didn’t even include guys like Stevie Vai, Robben Ford, Django Reinhardt, and Jorma Kaukonen. Not to mention all the astoundingly talented players who are strumming away in obscurity.
There’s another problem with being the best. How long are you the best for? While I’m writing this, the French Open has been delayed for rain so we don’t yet know if Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic is “the best.” But where is Roger Federer? It wasn’t too long ago that he was the winner of every single tournament out there and now he doesn’t even make it to the finals. Of course someone younger and better comes along eventually, but Rolling Stone said Hendrix was still the best and last time I checked, he’s still dead. Federer hasn’t stopped playing and winning. Certainly he deserves the same respect of being called “the best.”
There’s an old line about success in Hollywood. First they ask, “Who the hell is Frank Smith?” Then it’s, “Get me Frank Smith.” Before too long it’s “Get me a young Frank Smith.” Then, “Get me anyone BUT Frank Smith.” And finally, “Who the hell is Frank Smith?”
Clearly the title “The Best” is both ephemeral and fleeting. And in business, being the best brand is just as temporary a title. Remember when the word “Blockbuster” meant a great movie? Just a few years ago, Blockbuster was a huge brand, arguably the best video retailer around. Today, Blockbuster means a great movie again. And Netflix, which hastened Blockbuster’s demise, isn’t the powerhouse it once was either.
So perhaps the way to be the best brand is to simply be you. Or as Oscar Wilde pointed out, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”