Saturday, June 18, 2005

What's in it for Me?

It's funny, but often it's possible to succeed without focusing solely on the bottom line or "what's in it for me". This seems counterintuitive, perhaps, but I have several examples at hand where serving a greater good and staying focused on a larger vision have reaped far greater rewards as a side benefit than they ever could have gained by making the rewards themselves the end goal.

For instance, as I sit and write this, I am listening to KOTO radio in Telluride, Colorado, where I've had the good fortune to spend a fair amount of time over the years. For a couple of months, I even had a weekly radio show of my own, there, called Weather or Not. And I was on the air with them again later as part of The Long and the Short of It team the year that tall person and I and the small person we had with us at the time got lucky enough to be asked one New Year's Eve (out of desperation, but who's complaining!) to take the 8-midnight shift. But I digress...

From 1200 miles away, I am listening to a great bluegrass show on KOTO - live, no less - that I'd probably have a tough time getting tickets for, were I to be fortunate enough to actually be in Telluride. And there is no charge for this. Why does the station do this? Mightn't it eat into ticket sales, if people have only to listen to the radio or a streamed broadcast on the internet? And what's this... if I was there, I'd even have access to free wireless for internet surfing? What are they thinking?!

There may be a few people taking advantage of these free opportunities without contributing financially in any way (what a waste of a revenue opportunity!). I bet, though, that there are enough of us (I gave to KOTO, for instance), who willingly send money to support a worthy cause. And there are others who may be listening to the show streamed over the internet this year and next year, may consider heading to Telluride to hear the show in person instead. This is a very big show. The producers and the radio station are not hurting themselves at all by focusing on a bigger picture. If they'd been focusing on how to ensure revenue for every last effort and activity, they'd be stepping over dollars to grasp for nickels.

I've also become acquainted with a couple of companies that make teleconference bridge lines available for free. This seems odd until I stop to realize that this is a loss leader. They are literally banking on the fact that a significant percentage of those who take advantage of this free service will stick around and pay for some of their premium services. Blogger does the same thing. And of course, they're right. I do plan to pay for the premium services when I'm ready for them.

I learned this concept best from a local fishmonger that has since become a well-known tourist destination at the Pike Place Market. Their larger vision? It's to become world famous. This vision has dictated their decisions far more than "how can I make money today" and it's been a very successful strategy. In fact, it's been so successful that they are now (from what I hear, anyway) making far more money than they ever were before they made the shift and are even in the process of embracing an even bigger vision. At least part of their fame (have you seen the Fish! videos and books?) comes from having made that shift in focus. In all respects, they are now truly world-famous. And get this... the money, the very good money that that they make comes strictly as a side benefit of achieving a vision that is larger than that money so many people pursue as a goal unto itself.

These are real life examples of the "keep your eye on the hoop and the baskets will take care of themselves" philosophy. It takes a long view of costs vs. benefits, it takes some patience and some persistence, and in the business world it takes having a good business model and checking regularly to see where you are against that model so that you're not giving away free stuff forever. In the corporate and personal worlds of individuals, it takes understanding that there may be long term benefits that matter more than short term gains and an ability and willingness to assess which you really want and need at this moment. The parallels may not seem obvious but they are most certainly there. Take a moment to think what this might mean for you and how it might affect some of your decisions.

If you have thoughts or questions about how this might apply for you, I hope you'll send them to me at so that we can expand the conversation further. Feel free to share your thoughts about Gillian Welch too - I happen to love listening to her, especially when she's got Emmylou Harris and Alison Krause with her too. It might seem that I am sitting at a computer in Bellevue but tonight my heart is sitting in a field in Telluride, listening to beautiful bluegrass sounds.

What would you do if you didn't have to worry about whether you'd benefit?