Innovation and Luggage - one of REW's CORE values explained

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At Real Estate Webmasters Inc we have 3 Core Values: 

Customer Success : Innovation : Always Be Awesome.

These values are critical to our mission and our culture.

Recently the management team has asked me to articulate and communicate these values for our staff for a new internal feedback tool we're working on. 

While taking on innovation - I realized that, while the basic definition is easy to grasp - "real life" application of the value is not as apparent to those who are not closest to code. 

So I decided to do provide a "non code" or non invention focused writeup on innovation inspired by a comment in "The Leadership Challenge" (Kouzes & Posner) which is what I happen to be reading here in the airport as I contemplate this post. 

The book provides some real life examples of leadership best practice and one that I think is appropriate here is to approach the definition through story telling. 

So here goes: 

The basic definition of Innovation: always looking for better ways to do things (no matter what those things are).

Some examples: 

How can I increase the customers experience and satisfaction?

How can things be done more quickly with the same level of quality?

How can quality be improved in the same amount of time?

How can I achieve less errors in communication or code?

The challenge with this core value is that while it is easy to align in a production or R & D environment, it is not quite as easy to immediately apply to other disciplines without a bit of thought. 

To address this, I will provide an story from my own life / role as the CEO - but not as likely of an example as one might expect.

My example is luggage:

As the CEO I am tasked with travelling all over the world in order to build REW’s profile, meet with important stakeholder clients, assist in sales and marketing and develop our brand.

Anyone who has ever had to travel for work in a major way knows how physically and emotionally draining work travel is. While the list of cities and counties may look impressive on social media - the reality is, you spend most of your time in waiting areas, planes, hotel rooms and conference centres knowing that you have to “make the most” of the work part of your trip in order to justify the time and expense for the trip. Your back is sore, you’re eating terribly, you feel tired all the time and you miss your family. It’s a tough job and I have mad respect for anyone who undertakes it.

So back to my example: (Luggage) As we became more successful and travel was becoming an ever increasing norm for me in my role I started to have some serious issues with my luggage. I wasn’t very experienced in travel and the prospect of hauling a heavy back around everywhere seemed like a terrible idea, so I’d always check my bag. This was challenge #1

Of course my checked bag always had all my clothes, (including my expensive shoes and suits) my toiletries, business cards, and anything else that mattered other than a book and a computer.

And can you guess what started to happen? The airlines started to LOSE MY LUGGAGE! In my first major year of travel I swear they lost my luggage AT LEAST 5 times!!

Imagine how stressful this is: You’re headed for a big presentation, you’re barely prepared, you’re young and nervous, you get in the night before because you didn’t want to book too far in advance because you’re trying to save $ on the extra night hotel and now all your stuff is gone! GONE!!

Now 4 out of the 5 times they found my bags but it was always AFTER I needed them (and most of the time the airlines were quite nice) but seriously - this is pretty much a DISASTER!

The stress and hassle made me want to never travel again! But obviously that was not an option - so what was I going to do?

Innovation #1: Carry on!

Seems so simple and logical right? I figured screw it, I’m just going to learn how to plan better, reduce the amount of items I actually need, pre-send critical work materials to the venue, and get down to where I can travel with nothing but carry on.

I know I know, it seems trivial now. But because of this one simple innovation in my process (and because I took the time to think of a solution to a problem I was clearly having) I have never since had a single last minute issue in travel due to luggage. My stress is immensely reduced, and I’m always nicely dressed for my presentations.

And THANK GOD! Now, many years later I travel probably 40-50 times per year. And I need to! It’s what it takes in order to do my job to the fullest and help our company succeed.

Challenge #2: Crappy luggage!

So here I am, I’ve solved the lost luggage problem, and I’m now carrying everything I need for me trips. Of course, being the complete cheap-ass that I am, I was buying the “best deal” luggage I could get that would fit my things.

What ended up happening is even before they would break, they were heavy, awkward and never seemed to work right. I ended up constantly having to battle my own luggage to get to my plane and I found that I literally kept getting injured. I’d throw out my back, my shoulder would get fubared it was much better than lost luggage - but still, it kind of sucked. And THEN IT WOULD BREAK! Now I’m truly carrying (awkwardly) carry on that is meant to have wheels. DOH!

Innovation #2: Awesome luggage!

Now this was accidental innovation. I was in Las Vegas in the airport and I had very fortunately won quite a bit of $ playing black jack after an event. I had a pocket full of “free money” (or at least that is how it felt) and as I’m walking to my gate BOOM! Crappy carry on luggage blows a freaking tire!

That’s it! No more crappy luggage, I’m going to bite the bullet and get something better!!

I walked into the luggage store, explained my travel needs and asked what the best damned luggage on the market!

The rep brings me over to the TUMI section and says - “This is the best we have sir, and it’s amazing!” I tried on a few, and OF COURSE the best one was way more expensive than the rest - but it felt so good! It glided so well, and seemed to be so well planned out. I needed to have it!

So I bought the roller bag and corresponding suit bag for WAY too much (because I was in the airport, I don’t ever recommend buying anything in an airport, especially expensive things) and do you know what?

IT’S FREAKING AWESOME!!!!

I no longer hate the “airport” part of travel! Seriously - my bag rolls so well, and because I invested time (and in this case $) thinking about a problem and finding a solution - I’m not dealing with injuries or broken luggage. It fits perfectly in all aircraft (they rarely give me a hard time even on the smallest planes) and as a strange side bonus - it’s even started a few really interesting conversations - “Nice luggage” they say - and on we go into pleasant conversation.

You see: Innovation can happen anywhere, all you need to do is identify something that could be better, think about the pain points, explore solutions and implement. My life is better now because I didn’t settle with my first understanding of “Luggage” - what challenges in our day to day could you improve on?

Bonus (kind of silly) innovation:

Innovation is a CORE value to me, in my life and in my companies. So naturally I think about innovation all the time. It’s a constant and applies to things that are big and obvious - but also things that are small and might seem inconsequential.

But the cool thing is: If innovation is a habit, you’re never wasting time even on the small things, because often the innovation / solution required for the “small stuff” does not take much thought or effort at all.

Challenge #3: When going through security scanning stuff comes out the other side and you’re holding up the line and folks are glaring at you because you’re holding your laptop in your hand with no shoes on waiting for the bag that holds your laptop and your shoes. You can’t move or even start getting dressed because those things come out last.

And when they do - you’re still dancing around trying to get your belt on, your wallet back in your pants pocket - your shoes tied - even I hate that guy!

Innovation #3: Proper gear and staging!

Want to avoid all that nastiness? Here’s my tip for innovating. Wear shoes that are slip on! (Seems simple right?) No belt on! (Wear things that stay up without it) Before you get to the buckets - take all your pocket things, watches, jewelry etc and put them in your jacket pocket.

Imagine, everything you used to mess about with (cell phone, change, wallet, watch, jewelry, whatever) is now in one convenient place so when it comes out the other side - instead of grabbing and properly placing everything where you need it to go (pants pocks, wrists, neck, fingers, belt loops) BAM! You toss your jacket over your shoulders and slide on your shoes and you’re good to go!

But wait, there’s more! What about the computer / luggage dance? I told you I take optimization a little seriously.

Me I have a roller bag, a suit bag and in the suit bag is the soft case that holds my computer and then my computer.

So what I do is stage the roller through the scanner so that the contents come out the other side in the order in which they need to for maximum speed and efficiency.

Roller first: Comes out, I immediately put it on the ground and lift up the hand.

Suit bag (with open pocket and open soft computer case) comes out and I put it right on the roller immediately with the pocket facing out and the computer case staring up and me.

Finally here comes my computer! Shazam! I grab that little sucker, put it in the computer case, zip up suit bag and I walk away.

You’ll notice I did not zip up the computer case :) - Why? Because I know I’m about to get on the plane, stage my bags in overhead with suit bag zipper both facing out and up and I’m going to grab my computer as soon as I’m allowed.

I swear people look at me like I’m an airport ninja! So there you have it - Innovation!

It’s a CORE VALUE at REW and it can help in so many ways in your life.

Remember - it’s not just about “inventing cool shit” - which is also where we love to apply it. It’s about always looking for better ways to do things :)

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