Thursday, October 20, 2011

Robo Golf

Several months ago I learned about Sphero (hat tip to Brad Feld), the world’s first robotic ball that is controlled by smartphone apps, and it keeps popping up in my thoughts.

The company has a golf app that is pretty cool.  Essentially, you use movements of your smartphone to control the movements of the ball.  Brilliant.  I don’t know if I’d pay $130 for one, but I do know that I’d want it if I were a kid.

Here's "Office Golf" -

And here's a ridiculous version of "night golf" -

With all the talk in the golf industry about needing to make the game easier and more fun, the Sphero product has me wondering about what other software-based inventions could arise.

How about a ball whose spin can be controlled by a mobile app a la Tiger Woods Golf.  Or, a ball that actually listens to commands like “get down!” or “go!” 

How about a clubhead with a laser in it to show where you’re aimed.  Or, a putter that uses GPS to calculate the distance to the hole and then shows with lasers how far to take the club back and through (a la the lines on a putting mat).  Or, an interesting product someone emailed me about recently involves a putter that reads greens. 

Personally, I’m a golf traditionalist so I likely wouldn’t use products like this outside of testing them and having a little fun.  But I certainly think it would be interesting if stuff like this existed.  With software advancements at their current trajectory, it’s simply a matter of time in my mind before there’s an intersection with golf. 

Sure, the products I described would essentially create a real-life golf video game experience, but who cares?  For most, golf is all about having fun.  If a product like the Sphero gets more people playing and enjoying the game, I’m all for it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Perception Trumps Reality

I attended a “Franchisor Boot Camp” last week in Denver that was hosted by Greg Nathan, a well-respected expert on franchising and psychology.  The goal of the conference was for franchisors to learn techniques for building more profitable partnerships with their franchisees.  It was a great learning experience with lessons that apply to both business and life, and I’ll likely touch on many of them for a long time in this blog.

One of the first and most frequent things Greg Nathan said was:

“When perception meets reality, reality comes in second place.”

This resonated with me because I recognize it as being very true but it’s a difficult concept for me to wrap my mind around. 

Reality” is defined as the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined.  Perception” is defined as the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information.

My tendency is to look at facts, analyze them in black/white terms and come to a logical conclusion.  Meaning, I focus on “reality” and place a lot of value on it.  And I’m a big believer in taking responsibility for this reality.

What can be missed in this process, however, is an analysis of how people perceive these facts/terms/conclusions.

For example, when a franchisor rolls out a new initiative, have they taken into account how the franchisees will receive it?  Let’s say the initiative will create long term value but it requires an initial investment of time and money.  How will the franchisee feel when he hears about this required investment?  Maybe his cash position is strong so he sees it as a great opportunity.  Or, maybe his margins have been squeezed during the recession, the financial stress of which has caused stress with his spouse, and this new expense will be perceived as the proverbial “straw” that breaks not only the business, but the marriage. If the franchisor is unaware of this, the messaging and execution will be way off.  Now, while the franchisor feels good about themselves for this new initiative, the franchisee blames the franchisor for ruining his business and his marriage.  The seething franchisee then becomes vocal about his disdain for the franchisor and starts eroding the culture of the entire organization.  Meanwhile, the franchisor doesn’t know what the hell just happened.  They deployed an initiative that creates long term value, which is what the franchisees pay royalties for, right?

This is extreme, but it demonstrates how a mismatch between reality and perception can spin out of control pretty fast.  Whether you’re a franchisor, franchisee, entrepreneur, manager or anyone else in the workforce, you can probably think of your own similar examples.

So how do we build a better understanding of people’s perceptions?  According to Greg Nathan, the answer is to connect with them on a personal, human level.  Talk to them.  Ask questions.  Understand what’s going in their lives.  How are they feeling?  What are they nervous, excited, etc. about?  Let them tell you where they’re coming from.  Empathize, and be authentic.  Not only does this help you understand their perceptions, it develops trust and commitment.  And this makes all the difference in your ability to communicate, assist, lead and motivate.

Developing healthy relationships is a critical component of business success, especially for an entrepreneur when the company is young and fragile.  Understanding that perception often trumps reality is a key part of building these strong, healthy relationships.  I’ve added another post-it note to my desk to remind me of this “reality” and hopefully the advice helps you too.