February 12, 2016
You Are The Smartest People In The Room

It must be an amazing time to work at the Apples, Googles, and Teslas of the world. These companies are teeming with the best and the brightest, working on innovative products and disruptive technologies. It felt much the same way during the golden era of Wall Street. Recruiting events at Harvard and Stanford were standing room only affairs.

While I feel fortunate to have worked with some exceptionally intelligent people, lately I have been hanging out with the smartest people I have ever met. They can answer any question with stunning accuracy. These smartest people in the room are you — the customers and employees of any organization. Your ability to analyze and explain everything is why I encourage CEOs to employ technology to establish a listening culture that will help to access this collective brilliance.

Jim Collins, the extraordinary Good to Great author, once advised me to look for the one thing we could fix that would ultimately address a range of issues at an organization. I now believe figuring out that one thing universally starts with the development of a listening culture.

Most leaders will agree with the premise of management by walking around. As illustrated by Undercover Boss, there is a substantial benefit to getting outside the office and experiencing what is really happening first hand. While this provides great insights, there is still only one person doing it. Image if those same leaders could see the things you see. Enter crowd-sourced wisdom collected via technology.

For starters, you know what business their organization is actually in. The answer to this most basic of questions is frequently misdiagnosed by businesses and non-profits of all kinds. They allow their investment curves to outpace their learning curves with devastating capital and human costs. You will fix that.

For example, looking at data from over 5,000 restaurants, we know consumers care most about the taste and quality of food and the attitude and friendliness of the server. They are there to eat a product in a social context. While things like price, value, speed, and skill are important variables, they are not business defining ones. Selling food cheaply or quickly that just tastes okay or is served in a lousy environment will never succeed. The opposite can be true in other industries.

Many businesses waste a ton of time and money creating experiences for consumers when they just want to transact as efficiently as possible. The CEO of a once premium-priced regional airline shared with me that people loved their food and service; they just weren’t willing to pay for it. He was in a time and utility business competing for business with an experience strategy.

You can answer every detailed question, too. Soon you will tell the boss who is doing a good job when no one from management is watching. You also know the well-managed locations of any chain long before the numbers tell the story. Collectively you are brilliant stock pickers. Someday you will advise government leaders about which programs are working. Image the social impact possible when the people using the programs are easily heard- our founders called this we the people.

There are some rules to accessing your collective genius. The main principle is to replicate human best practices in technology. You should be properly thanked for your opinions in a way you know you are actually being listened to. While some may be willing to publicly post their every insight, most prefer something more private to avoid taxing their personal network. You are also far more likely to share advice in the moment, which is why the ubiquity of mobile makes all this transformative.

Finally, it is critical that you be allowed to express what is on your mind versus answering the pre-determined questions of others. When visiting clients as CEO of Goldman, Hank Paulson brilliantly started the meeting by stressing that their satisfaction was important to him and simply asking the question, “How are we doing?” It always led to great conversations and outcomes.

With billions of mobile devices activated globally, your capacity to diagnose and explain is virtually limitless. Yet too often today’s technology is deployed in a tone-deaf fashion in order to scale organizational efficiency to your detriment. It is tough to communicate with leading technology businesses. Most organizations currently use mobile with a broadcast mindset. They are trying to reach you to provide information or to convince you to buy stuff. But mobile devices have become the new tongue of a generation. The important corollary is that mobile have the potential to become the ears of innovation, revealing crowd-sourced wisdom sourced from you- the smartest group ever assembled.

Rob Pace is the founder of HundredX, Inc. HundredX is dedicated to using technology for good and multiplying positive outcomes.

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