Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Shortcut Culture

I have just returned from a short vacation in Los Angeles and while I was there it struck me how what I call the "Shortcut Culture" has pervaded the home of the entertainment industry. Once upon a time young hopefuls would get off the Greyhound in LA, find a job busing tables, save their tips to pay for acting lessons and endlessly trudge from one audition to another driven by the belief that their hard work and commitment just might make them a star.

Today some of those same hopefuls arrive in LA, look for the nearest reality show casting call and head straight there. Their goal is to be as noticeable as they can be regardless of the level of obnoxiousness they need to descend to in order to achieve it. The plan is a simple one, get on a reality show, any reality show and there are literally dozens and dozens to choose from. While most people are aware of the big mainstream ones like the Bachelor/Bachelorette, Survivor etc., the cable channels are awash with all sorts of nonsense like MTV's Disaster Date and VH1's Screams Queens where aspiring actresses battle for a part in SAW 3D. Like I said the plan is a simple one, get on the show and get noticed by a film or TV casting director or like Scream Queens win a role in a movie. In other words take a shortcut. Dispense with all those time consuming, and quite frankly difficult, acting lessons, get noticed first whatever it takes. Just like those thousands and thousands of American Idol hopefuls, putting in the hard work and developing their craft over time seems so last century.

It is easy to look at all this and sound like an old curmudgeon starting sentences with "Remember when...", however, I was reminded that all is not lost by a sales person in the Adidas store in Santa Monica. On last Saturday evening I ventured down the always bustling Third Street Promenade to get a new pair of sneakers at the Adidas store. As I wandered nonchalantly towards the training shoe section I was confronted by a smiling assistant who stuck out his and introduced himself (Matt, I think was his name). He did this in a very engaging and friendly way and despite being in the middle of helping two other people he said he was ready to help me when I needed it. I quickly noticed that while the other assistants stood around and were more reactive, Matt was running back and forth answering questions, delivering sneakers and generally keeping three customers attended to at a level that the others were struggling to achieve with a single customer.

To cut a long story short when I asked to try on a particular pair of sneakers rather than run off and get my size immediately, he asked me exactly what I would be using them for and once I told him, he suggested another pair (actually slightly cheaper) which he told me were more suited to my needs. He was doing this with all his customers including one who he informed that they did not really have the right sneaker for what that customer really needed it for and although he could go with something close, he might be better to go to a specialty store. This particular customer had spent probably 15 or 20 minutes trying on sneakers and talking with Matt and because of this he asked who Matt's manager was because he wanted to tell them how helpful Matt had been and what a great sales person he was and this despite the fact that he had not sold him anything but rather had invested time in providing excellent advice The other customer he was helping also decided he wanted to compliment Matt to the manager and when I was finished choosing my sneakers (the ones he recommended) I also spoke to the manager. I asked him was Matt his number one sales person to which he replied he was and when I then commented about how hard he worked and the manager said that was why he outsold everyone in the store.

As I walked out I reflected that the reality still existed that a salesperson who works hard, is attentive, asks good questions to find out what the customer's real needs are and provides good advice and stellar service still wins big even in this shortcut culture. After all in sales there are no shortcuts. Skill matters, commitment matters, hard work matters and that is why the top sales people are the top sales people and why they earn the big bucks.


  1. Amen! Work ethic is truly difficult to find nowadays. 3 questions- Can we "teach" employees to hold these values dear or is that impossible given the shifts in our culture? Further, should we strongly incentivize those employees who "get it" so we can "re" build a culture focused on skill and hard work? Finally, does Huthwaite provide a program that combines these two activities (creating incentives and re-building value systems towards excellence and hard work?)

  2. John - we also see this same shortcut thinking across the sales industry towards improving skill and performance. Why waste time learning and honing sales skills through training and coaching which can be difficult (especially when it shows that someone is not as talented as they thought they were) when a few online modules will do? Better still, just send me some nuggets to my iphone that I can read "Just in time" before my sales call and all will be well. Perhaps something that I can review in my spare time such as when on a long flight? I wonder how this approach would work in any other skills-based activity?

    For example, it's the first week of the US Open in New York. I wonder how many of the world's best tennis players who qualified for this tournament learned their craft on their mobile device or through podcasts?