Cleaner, Greener, Safer, Friendlier.

There wasn’t a smile in the room. No one dared make eye contact. We were sitting in a P&G sales meeting listening to why our market share had fallen to #2 versus Colgate. This had never happened before, and according to the wildly frustrated VP at the front of the room, there would be hell to pay if it were to ever happen again.

The brand team rolled out their new in-store displays, the account teams announced new discounting and the ad agency showed the new line of commercials … all proving that Crest did in fact make teeth brighter and whiter versus the competition. Then, out of no where, an irreverent kid in the back of the room raised his hand, stood up and cleared his throat.

“Excuse me, but instead of discounting, why don’t we give away a small tube of toothpaste to a family in need for every tube our customers buy? Why don’t we connect our customers emotionally with our brand and forever differentiate ourselves from the competition?”

Silence. Complete silence followed … until the VP shook his head, continued on his rant and moved to the next slide in his “we must be better, faster, cheaper” powerpoint presentation.

Better, faster, cheaper has had its day. That day is over. Today’s companies need to stand for something larger than just the products they sell … something that defines purpose, communicates conviction and inspires a new generation of employees with a sense of meaning. Companies devoted to profit as well as larger missions are winning … winning RFPs, winning the battle for talent and winning the hearts and minds of consumers.

What is your differentiation? What is your mission? What is your conviction?

Ghandi called out for each of us to “be the change you want to see in the world” yet most of us live in a short-term, extraction-based mentality during the day (better, faster, cheaper) and only turn our attention to the quality of our communities and planet at night. What if each of our companies embraced a mission of being cleaner, greener, safer, friendlier? What if we woke up every morning inspired to go to work because we knew what we were doing made our homes, our communities, our cities, our surroundings a whole lot cleaner, greener, safer, friendlier?

People are in search for meaning. People want to be a part of something that makes a difference. People want to work for something that matters. I’m sorry but better, faster, cheaper just doesn’t turn people on, it doesn’t make better communities … and it just isn’t going to change our world.

What if every company in Edmonton had the mission and the conviction to make every day a little bit cleaner, greener, safer, friendlier? What would happen to our brand if the world knew every company in Edmonton was working to make things a bit cleaner, greener, safer, friendlier? What if we embedded a larger purpose into our business models and established a bit of humanity alongside the products and services we sell?

Sorry for raising my hand. I’ll sit back down now. You can continue with the same powerpoint presentation as last year.

Cash Cows in FunkyTown

“Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, talk about it … FunkyTown.”

It was 1980.  Disco was mainstream.  John Travolta was had just released Saturday Night Fever, and a band called Lipps released this catchy tune that hit #1 on the Billboard Top 100.  Alberta was a boomtown.  People were flocking to the province, as the price of oil had risen to $37 from $3 a decade earlier.  Life was grand, and nothing could stop us.

FunkyTown was a wild success.  Fans couldn’t get enough of it, and Lipps raked in the money from royalty sales that was then spent on concert after concert where people came to hear that one song … FunkyTown.  Unfortunately, the cash and the glamour was all consuming, and Lipps never really made it back in the recording studio to make another hit.  They tried … kind of … but they had to keep feeding the FunkyTown cash cow, and eventually after five years they packed it in … and now will forever be known as a one-hit wonder.  Sad.

Cash cows are both wonderful and dangerous things.  Microsoft is a great example.  At first they generate extraordinary profits and everyone is feeling funky and can do no wrong.  Profits are used to fund experiments in other areas – but those experiments are unfortunately just that … experiments … that are started then stopped, funded then under-funded, prioritized and then deprioritized.  You see, cash cows often produce wasted efforts across organizations, as they fund experimental opportunities for diversification but as soon as the cash cow hiccups, everything is shut down and all the resources come running back to protect the beloved bovine.  Diversification never happens, and cash cows often end up being one-hit wonders.

In Alberta, we suffer from our own cash cow system, our own one-hit wonder, our own FunkyTown.  We use our cash cow to create one of the finest universities in the world.  We seek out the best and the brightest talent and encourage them to come here to create opportunities for diversification – in areas like medical devices, heart transplants, nanotechnology, engineering, cardiovascular diseases, metabolomics, virology and islet cell transplants.  And just as they are hitting their stride … just as they are moving toward commercialization … what do we do?  We see our cash cow hiccup, we shorten our breath and immediately cut budgets to the very things that could bring us our second hit song, leaving the best and the brightest in our recording studios feeling like they are nothing more than an experiment.  Sad … once again.

The winning formula for attracting investment and people to Alberta is to create a stable environment for greatness to occur.  We need to understand that our cash cow is a blessing if we are smart, and a curse if we are complacent or inconsistent.  We have a winning formula for producing second, third and fourth hit songs … but it requires commitment and dedication to the investment; a stable environment for musicians to generate hits.

So let’s stop “talking about, talking about, talking about, talking about, talking about” disrupting the winning formula we are creating … and let’s commit ourselves to establishing a stable environment that generates multiple-hit wonders.