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From the Preface
Greetings. It's been three years since Surrounded by Geniuses was originally published, and in that time the need to unlock the brilliance in ourselves, our colleagues, and our organizations has become even more imperative. Economic challenges, increased competition from around the globe and around the corner, and the growing role of the internet, new media, and information technology in nearly every aspect of commerce have caused even the most successful companies to rethink the way they do business. Add to this the changing nature of the relationship between employees and organizations, and it becomes even clearer why we need fresh thinking if we are going to continue delivering the products, services, solutions, and experiences our customers deserve.
Again in this evolving backdrop, the two essential ideas in the book are now resonating with even more organizations. First, they are recognizing the importance of tapping the talents of all their people-from leaders to frontline employees-and engaging them in work that really matters. We will never win consistently in business or any organization if we fail to see everyone as a potential source of innovation and demonstrate our belief in their ability to make a difference, or if we do not make the connection between their work and a bigger purpose-a purpose that revolves around building stronger relationships with colleagues and customers and delivering greater value to those we have the privilege to serve. In this regard, I'm happy that Surrounded by Geniuses has been part of a very useful debate on the nature of corporate innovation and the powerful role that all of us can play-given the right circumstances-in creating new ideas that matter and improving top- and bottom-line performance.
Second, a growing number of companies and organizations are finally understanding the logic of casting a much wider net in the search for ideas and insights that can improve the way we operate, the things we offer, and the nature of the customer experience. The days of looking very narrowly at our own expertise and the best practices of our industry are over. The most thoughtful businesses are hard at work searching for the very best thinking wherever it might be, and Surrounded by Geniuses has become a helpful companion on the journey. In fact, I have been delighted to find that many leading companies across a wide range of industries are using the book and its ten core chapters as a straightforward way to regularly stretch their thinking-asking business units and teams to look at each of these "big" ideas as a starting point in their quest to be different, more valuable in serving their customers, and more innovative and skillful internally. And many companies have also offered the book as a gift for long-term employees, new hires, and key partners in an effort to nurture or maintain their freshest thinking on important challenges and opportunities.
I should also note that the web and other dramatic changes in the ways that all of us are learning, communicating, and accessing ideas are making Surrounded by Geniuses even more essential and valuable today. For the first time ever, nearly all of us have the ability to discover insight and inspiration from practically any corner of the earth with the click of a mouse and use it to drive knowledge and create far more meaningful customer experiences. What we often lack is the clear guidance that this book brings to the task of being open, curious, and engaged with the world around us. These hidden talents or "gifts," enhanced by technology, are our secret weapon in leading our companies and organizations in these exciting but complicated times.
During the past three years I've had the pleasure of talking about the book with more than sixty thousand people in speeches and seminars across the globe. Through these exchanges it has been particularly rewarding to see how the fundamental ideas of unlocking genius and being curious about the world around us have struck a universal cord-transcending place, culture, and language. It has also been rewarding to see how businesses everywhere have used Surrounded by Geniuses as just the right spark for becoming more remarkable and successful than they ever dreamed possible. Knowing that the book is making a difference is one of the greatest rewards of being an author. The other is having the chance to learn from so many readers who have taken the time to call or write to share their genius.
Alan S. Gregerman
Silver Spring, Maryland
Preface to the Paperback Edition vii
Preface to the First Edition x
Part I: The Context 1
Chapter One: White People Swimming Slowly .5
How the slowest swimmers in the world came to dominate the world of swimming, and why you don't have to be brilliant to do brilliant things.
Chapter Two: The Quest for Compelling Value .13
Why you have to reinvent the game if you want to win.
Chapter Three: Genius in Chains 31
Why traditional approaches to strategy, innovation, and marketing no longer make any sense and what to do about it.
Chapter Four: Curiosity as Competitive Advantage 37
Why our innate gift for curiosity is the only real weapon in the battle to remain relevant and how to rediscover it; and Why geography matters, and why a thirteenth-century traveler might be the most important business thinker of the twenty-first century.
Part II: Ten Journeys 49
Chapter Five: The Power of a Promise 55
What if we could make and deliver on a promise that really mattered?
A journey back in time to meet a man with bad feet, a reasonable idea, and a powerful promise...
(Leon Leonwood Bean)
Chapter Six: The Magic of a Conversation .71
What if we could create more meaningful conversations?
A journey through the neighborhood with a nine-year-old girl, a box of cookies, and the magic of a recurring conversation...
(The Girl Scouts)
Chapter Seven: The Wonder of a Performance .87
What if we could create a performance filled with wonder and possibilities?
A journey under a tent where the concept of a circus has been reinvented...
(Cirque du Soleil)
Chapter Eight: Your Wish Is My Command .99
What if we could solve practically any request no matter how difficult?
A journey into the lobby of one of the world's great hotels and a day in the life of a world-class concierge...
(The Ritz Carlton on Central Park)
Chapter Nine: When Every Second Counts 113
What if we could really deliver compelling value 24/7?
A journey into one of the world's finest shock trauma centers where life and death decisions are all part of a day's work...
(University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center)
Chapter Ten: Fastest 131
What if we could be the fastest at the times when it really mattered?
A journey across the harsh savanna of Africa where speed is everything when you're not the biggest or baddest cat around...(The World of Cheetahs)
Chapter Eleven: When Nothing Is Everything 143
What if the little things really mattered and we could do all of them right all the time?
A journey onto the set of one of the most successful TV shows in history where life's everyday problems are a cause for celebration...
Chapter Twelve: It Is Rocket Science 157
What if we believed that failure was not an option?
A journey to the world of rocket scientists where their mission, like all of ours, demands perfection...
(Lockheed Martin and the Atlas 5 Rocket)
Chapter Thirteen: No Smile, No Gain 173
What if we could make customers healthier?
A journey to the front-lines of an unusual effort to make exercise fun and accessible for everyone and its implications for all of us...
Chapter Fourteen: Spider Sense 187
What if we could anticipate customers' needs?
A journey into the life of one of the world's most human superheros to rediscover the amazing power that we all possess...
Part III: Building a New Model of Success 199
Chapter Fifteen: Unlocking the Genius Within 203
How to find the brilliance in ourselves.
Chapter Sixteen: Bringing Genius to Scale 213
How to create an organization that nurtures the genius in all of its people.
Chapter Seventeen: The Essential Work of Leaders 229
How to become a compelling leader in the brave new world of customer and business success.
Concluding Note 235
Map of the Known World 239
About the Author 249
Dr. Alan S. Gregerman is the founder and president of Venture Works, Inc., a consulting firm based in the Washington, DC area, working with clients such as Marriott, Lockheed Martin, CitiGroup, and Verizon. He is a nationally known expert on business strategy and innovation. He is the author of Lessons from the Sandbox, and lives in Washington DC.