Pet Rocks

In 1975, Gary Dahl, a freelance copywriter, bought several smooth Mexican beach stones and began selling them in the United States as “pet rocks.”  But what was initially meant as a joke soon became what Newsweek called “one of the most ridiculously successful marketing schemes ever.”

Within a few months, Dahl had sold over 1.5 million rocks. He was a guest on The Tonight Show, and at one point Gary was selling approximately 6,000 rocks per day.

The reason for his success was largely due to marketing: every pet rock came in a carrying case (with air holes), nestled on a bed of straw. Additionally, the purchase of a pet rock also bought its new owner a manual on the care, feeding, and house training of their new pet. Other factors, especially processes, were of very little importance in driving this pet trend.


Customer Reviews 

Customer reviews can make or break a company in the US. Especially now that the internet gives customers a way to instantly compliment or complain about service (and to make sure that their opinion is available for anyone to see) one good or bad review can drastically change the number of customers a company has.

In 2012, after Brandon Cook from New Hampshire posted a Facebook story about a Panera manager named Sue making a special order of clam chowder for his grandmother and giving her a free box of cookies as well. The restaurant became much more popular. Several people who would not otherwise have eaten at this restaurant went there, and commented about it online. Some of the Facebook comments that people made were:

Cyrus Twirpwhirler: My family is eating at Panera tonight because of this story. Way to go Sue and Panera!

Snow Case: That is so cool, I’m a customer already, but I like them even more now.

Daniel Julian: That is so cool!!! Have to visit Panera soon.


“Have it your way!”

“The customer is always right” is a very common phrase in American business. It was first made popular in the early 20th century when it was used as the slogan for Marshall Field’s Department Store in Chicago and London’s Selfridges Store (founded by American Harry Gordon Selfridge).

Both of these stores became extremely profitable, primarily because they had a reputation for good customer service. As a result, many American businesses have attempted to model their processes on the principle that “the customer is always right.”

In 1911, in an attempt to promote a local business, the Kansas City Star newspaper included an article about the business owner George E. Scott, saying “Scott has done in the country what Marshall Field did in Chicago, Wannamaker did in New York and Selfridge in London. In his store he follows the Field rule and assumes that the customer is always right.”

Many American companies have slogans that show that they care more about customer service than anything else. Examples:

Burger King – “Have it Your Way”

UPS – “What Can Brown Do For You?”

United States Postal Service – “We Deliver for You”

Mounds and Almond Joy – “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut, Sometimes You Don’t”


American Teaching Styles

Perhaps because of the high cost of tuition at American universities, Americans typically view students as customers and schools as businesses. As such, teachers will attempt to cater to the needs of their students – if a certain process doesn’t interest the customers (students), the teacher will change it in order to keep the customers attentive.

During their classes, if American teachers notice that students aren’t paying attention, they will often include several amusing anecdotes that they tell throughout the class to keep their students’ focus.

For example, during a physics class, it would not be uncommon for an American professor to stop the lecture to talk to students about how Herman Weyl (one of the early proponents of group theory) had an affair with Erwin Schrodinger’s (the physicist who’s best known not only for his quantum mechanics equation but also for his potentially dead cat) wife, or how Murray Gell-Mann (who won the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics) was so narcissistic that he once warned his cab driver not to cash his check, because he believed that his signature was worth more than his cab fare had been.

American teachers will also include anecdotal stories from their own lives if these stories have any relevance to the subject matter.


United Breaks Guitars

In 2008, United Airlines baggage handlers damaged Dave Carroll’s guitar. After the airline refused to pay to fix the damage to his instrument, he and his band wrote a song called “United Breaks Guitars” and put it on YouTube.

Within two days it had more than 24,000 views (and more than 14 million views by 2015), and it was estimated that the bad press cost United Airlines around $180 million the following year (2009).

This incident also inspired Carroll to co-found “Gripevine” – a company that helps customers use social media to expose their complaints and convince companies to give better service.


“Way to go, Sue!”

Customer reviews can make or break a company in the USA. Especially now that the internet gives customers a way to instantly compliment or complain about service (and to make sure that their opinion is available for anyone to see) one good or bad review can drastically change the number of customers a company has.

In 2012, after Brandon Cook from New Hampshire posted a Facebook story about a Panera manager named Sue making a special order of clam chowder for his grandmother (and giving her a free box of cookies as well), the store became much more popular. Several people who would not otherwise have eaten at this restaurant went there, and commented about it online. Some of the Facebook comments that people made were: 

Cyrus Twirpwhirler My family is eating at Panera tonight because of this story. Way to go Sue and Panera!

Snow Casey That is so cool, I’m a customer already, but I like them even more now.

Daniel Julian that is so cool!!! Have to visit Panera soon.


proximity and dialogue

Power: Ability to act or produce an effect; legal or official authority, capacity, or right; possession of control, authority, or influence over others; a controlling group; physical might; mental or moral efficacy; political control or influence; the number of times as indicated by an exponent that a number occurs as a factor in a product; a source or means of supplying energy; the time rate at which work is done or energy emitted or transferred. From Anglo-French poer, pouer, from poer to be able, from Vulgar Latin *potēre, alteration of Latin posse potent.

Influence: An ethereal (other worldly) fluid held to flow from the stars and to affect the actions of humans; an emanation of spiritual or moral force; the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command; corrupt interference with authority for personal gain; the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways. Latin influere to flow in.

Importance of sales/marketing: Americans place very high value on market- and customer-orientation. And orientation means listening to, understanding and interpreting, the needs of the customer. Meeting customer needs is the path to success.

Which means understanding and interpreting is the basis for making and delivering products and services. Understanding and interpreting requires proximity to and dialogue with customers. These are the primary functions of sales (account management) and marketing.

In its purest form, sales/marketing listens, interprets, then passes back into the organization to those responsible for the product/service portfolio. Who, in turn, pass back to colleagues in product development. Who, in turn, pass back to research and development.

From this perspective, everything flows from sales/marketing back into the organization. This puts sales/marketing in the lead.


Processes and Communication

In the American business context the communication within and during a process is very important. In fact, the forward movement of a process is dependent on communication. Parties involved in the process must remove roadblocks, anticipate slow-downs. The process may not come to a halt.

Constant communication is the prerequisite for quick response time. Constant communication also secures a common understanding of the process’ goals. It motivates. Feedback within the process is given on a regular basis.

Not to be underestimated is also the value of communicating interim results upwards, to those on the next level of management who exert influence on the process in general, and who might also be the recipient of its ultimate results.


Process-Pope

Klaus-Hardy Mühdeck, current CIO of ThyssenKrupp and former CIO of Volkswagen, is considered Germany’s Prozesspapst – literally process-pope. He is the first CIO to change his title to Chief Process Officer.

In an interview with Computerwoche – Computer Week – in 2006 Mühdeck described his fascination with process management: 

“Processes network functions, no more and no less. Throughout my entire career I have been involved in processes. In most companies it is under the board member responsible for strategy. But the trend is clear. CIO’s are defining processes and systems.”

It is the CIO, says Mühdeck, who is the bridge between the demands of the company and the systems platforms and company-internal processes. CIOs need to be able to communicate with and understand the areas of development and manufacturing. 

You can only truly understand a company’s processes if you understand how the various functions and departments actually work.


The Fractal Factory

In 1995 Hans-Jürgen Warnecke, Head of the Fraunhofer Insititute in Munich from 1993 until 2002, published the anthology Aufbruch zum Fraktalen Unternehmen: Praxisbeispiele für neues Denken und Handeln – loosely translated as Breaking out into the Fractal Company: Concrete Examples of New Thinking and Acting. 

Warnecke instantly became known in the production world both in Europe and internationally. The book takes a deeper look at manufacturing processes addressing questions such as: On what principle are production processes based? How does change best occur in material flow processes? How can the quality of processes be improved?

Prof. Thomas Bauernhansl from the Institute of Industrial Manufacturing at the University of Stuttgart underscores the ongoing importance of Warnecke’s work:

“The concept of the fractal factory, which Hans-Jürgen Warnecke proposed in the 1990s, remains highly relevant and meaningful today for manufacturing companies. The visionary power of his organizational model can be seen at work in agile and flexible production structures.”

Klaus-Hardy Mühleck, considered one of the top experts among CIOs, stresses time and again the influences of Warnecke on his work.