Monday, September 15, 2008

Relentless Pursuit of Better

Hello again. I know that it's been a couple of months since my last post and I apologize for that. For those that have been following the latest on Shiro's Head and our move back home to Guam, you probably understand why. Thank you for keeping updated on our journey, it really means a lot to us. We've been extremely busy with the movie and with real life. There are tons to talk about but I'll tell you all about it in flashbacks in my future posts. I know blog posts are usually posted sequentially, but hey - it's just another norm to stray from, I guess.

Today, however, I feel the need for my first post back from a long hiatus to be an excerpt from one of my mentors, Seth Godin (from his best-seller "Small is the New Big" pg 174.) If you get it, cool. If not, then don't worry - should you and I ever get a chance to meet, I'd love to explain it.


What an amazing world we live in. Information flying about at the speed of light. Cures or treatments for many major diseases. Airplanes. Food for many, if not most. Cat food that tastes like pate. It almost feels churlish to complain. But here's the deal: Almost everything is lousy. ...What's with the layout of this keyboard? They came up with a keyboard a century ago, decided it was good enough, and then stopped! Holy carpal tunnel, Batman. I've got a few chapters' worth on this topic, but here are my two main ideas:

1. Humans tend to work on a problem until they get a good-enough solution, not a solution that's right.
2. The marketplace often rewards solutions that are cheaper and good enough, instead of investing in the solution that promises to lead to the right answer.

This all sounds pessimistic. Are we doomed to inefficient products, unreliable computers, overpriced services, and new devices that last for a while and then just break? I don't think so. I think that the open nature of the Web and the hypercompetitive environment of worldwide competition are pushing things in two different directions at the same time. First, toward hypercheap, sort of junky stuff that discounters and others want to sell in volume. And second, the "relentless pursuit of better" (RPB). The RPB is the opposite of good enough. It's not Welch's Six Sigma nonsense, through which engineers codify mediocrity. It's a consistent posture of changing the rules on an ongoing basis.

David Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue, was talking recently about the way he's running the airline. By any measure, it's good enough. Hey, it's far and away the best airline in the United States. But he's not even close to settling. He riffed about turning one out of three bathrooms on every one of his planes into a ladies-only bathroom. What a great idea. Low cost. Fast. And embracing the RPB.

I asked him why he doesn't just raise the price on the 20,000 seats JetBlue runs between New York and Florida (every day). If he raised it $10, he'd make an extra $11 million a year in profit! Without losing a customer. He said, "We could always do that later. Right now, it keeps us focused and hungry and efficient to do it for less."