When it comes to concepts like core values and strategic differentiation, I think we sometimes make things more complicated and theoretical than they need to be. I was reminded of that this morning during a visit to the chiropractor.
I’ve seen this particular doctor a number of times, and I’ve come to learn that his small practice, comprised of the doctor, a therapist (his wife) and an office manager, is extremely successful. I’ve always found the chiropractor and his wife to be a little crazy. I don’t mean that in a bad way; they’re not mentally unstable or unhealthy or anything like that. It’s just that they’re a little over-the-top and extreme about some things, maybe even a little strange. Come to think of it, the woman who works at the front desk is the same way.
What are these people crazy about? Two things: the physical well-being of people in general, and the personal lives of their clients.
During my first few visits to the office, I thought they were just intensely interested in my family and me because we had come to know them through our children and a sports team they’re on together. I figured that these people just wanted to invest in our friendship through their work, so they were going out of their way to get to know us and give us constant advice about health, fitness and any other area of our lives where they could help us. That was nice of them, I thought.
Well, this morning I realized that I was wrong.
As I was waiting for my adjustment, I was watching the chiropractor adjust another patient while his wife was helping someone with stretching and pilates (it’s a big open workspace). As I was observing and listening to what was going on, it suddenly occurred to me: these people are crazy with everyone!
Of course, this shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. When I think about the great organizations I’ve known, I realize that every one of them is extreme and over-the-top about something, so much so that others might find them to be weird. Yes, weird. The truth is, some people I know wouldn’t be comfortable at my chiropractor’s office; they would probably feel a little overwhelmed or put off by the enthusiasm, intensity and curiosity of the doctor and his wife. But for every person who would be turned off by that, there are probably nineteen others who are drawn to the office precisely because of it, and that’s what sets the practice apart.
I decided that this isn’t a bad way to think about core values and strategic differentiation. If your business isn’t crazy about something, it probably doesn’t have a strong culture, and it probably hasn’t differentiated itself from the rest of the market. And that means it’s not attracting the right customers and employees, and repelling the others.
Think about a company like Chick-fil-A. There are some people who find their attention to almost hokey customer service (“It’s my pleasure, ma’am. Have a blessed day!”) to be exaggerated. But there are many, many others who love it. Chick-fil-A may not be for everyone, but that’s the point. Craziness wins. Is there any other quick service restaurant that is truly crazy about something? I’m struggling for an example.
Apple’s retail stores provide another example. I will admit that I find their stores a little extreme, in terms of being too hip, geek-trendy and, at times, a little smug. The people who work there are fanatics about design and aesthetics and using technology in the most progressive ways. Most of their customers love that about them. And so, even though I am not their target market, I have to admit that it works. Craziness wins. What about Best Buy, Verizon and all the other places that sell computers and smartphones and technology? Are they crazy about anything? Nothing jumps out at me.
Jos. A. Bank is another company that seems a bit crazy. They have so many promotions and sales, and their old-school employees will bend over backward to find a way to sell you just about anything on sale. That makes them an easy target for jokes. They’re over-the-top not just in their advertising, but in the way they help people find a good deal. And for every customer who finds that a little cheesy or cheap, so many others shop at Jos. A. Bank precisely because they know they’ll get a good value from an earnest sales associate who just wants to help. Craziness wins.
I could go on and on describing companies like REI (crazy about hiking and camping), the Cheesecake Factory (crazy about celebrations with big plates of rich food), Southwest Airlines (crazy about humor), and Harley Davidson (crazy about biker culture). They’re all crazy. About something.
One way to look at this idea is to ask the question: could Saturday Night Live do a skit that spoofs your organization’s culture? They could certainly do a funny one about my chiropractor. And about companies like Chick-fil-A, Jos. A. Bank, Apple, REI, and Southwest Airlines. (Some of these companies have, in fact, been spoofed by SNL.)
But most companies are not crazy enough to warrant a spoof. They work hard to avoid being perceived as over-the-top about anything. And they’re probably proud about that, or at least relieved by it. And yet, in so many ways, not being crazy about something is a recipe for not standing out in the minds and hearts of customers, employees and the market as a whole.
So, the question for leaders is this: what is your organization crazy about?