Star Concepts


It's what stands in the way of achieving, and even pursuing, challenging goals. Naturally, we choose to stay comfortable if we have the option. That's why people can't lose weight, make a million dollars or just get out of bed earlier. It's not because we can't. We simply choose not to...we choose an easier path because it's more comfortable. Sometimes we're forced into an uncomfortable scare, job loss, new kid's school schedule, etc. And, most of the time we seem to adjust...until we find comfortable again. 

So, the obvious questions can you keep yourself uncomfortable enough, motivated enough to achieve remarkable and meaningful goals?

Create Content

Most organizations, and people for that matter, don't spend nearly enough time working on what really matters...meaningful content. Instead they worry more about selling the idea, spreading the word and getting on Oprah (I realize that's actually not possible anymore).

Companies spend more energy and money on interrupting people than ever before, mainly because of the proliferation of channels. They feel pressured to sell the story, buy the ad, talk to the editor...before someone else does. Ironically, if the same energy, passion and commitment was devoted to creating content, they wouldn't need the push...the pull would happen instead.

In a conversation about how to generate more PR, a chef once told me, do something truly remarkable and you can't hide.

Spreading the word is indeed important...but without remarkable content, you're pushing boulders up a hill. Good luck.

If It's Too Broken, Don't Fix It

Just because it's broken, doesn't mean you should fix it.

The U.S. Postal Service was invented in 1775. Of course there wasn't email, the internet, FedEx, DHL or UPS. If you wanted to get a message to someone, you either sent a telegram, wrote a letter or yelled really loudly. That system worked (more or less) for a long time. Now, it's been disrupted, to the point where staying the course will lead directly to mounting debt and degraded service. Making adjustments to something this broken is a futile undertaking. Especially when the alternatives are already in play.

Time to abandon and start over...or maybe just abandon.

Understanding the People You Lean On

What makes a person tick? What makes their needle spin? What dreams can you help them achieve?

These are the most important questions you can ask someone in an interview (both ways). Without knowing the answer you can’t make the employment relationship anything more than just a job...a transaction, you give me eight hours and I’ll give you $$. And, if it’s just a job, nothing remarkable is going to happen...and eventually you’ll be replaced, out of business, or at best be in a constant struggle to survive.

Be Like

A lot of us spend a great deal of time, energy and resources trying to be like someone else. Our goal is to replicate everything they've done that's good, and then one up it. Better is the sweet spot. The problem is that virtually all of us will fail for two reasons. First, those that we are planning to overtake aren't standing still...they're getting better too. Second, we don't have the advantage of being first and owning the edge...they do.

The idea of being like the iPhone, Four Seasons or Haagen Dazs feels like a safe path. We rationalize that even if we fall short, we'll be good enough to steal a small part of the market. It's also much easier to copy someone else's story rather than inventing our own. That may have worked five or ten years ago because there weren't nearly as many choices and there was room for runner-ups. Now, there are hundreds and thousands of companies (often small ones) who are willing to risk everything to create their own stamp, their own edge. Those companies are the ones getting the attention, chipping away and stealing share. It's not the ones trying be like someone else.

Easy vs. Hard
Follow vs. Lead
Like vs. Unlike

You decide...choose wisely.

Micro Learning

Monika gets it. Learning isn't about how much and how fast you can cram into people's brains. Rather, the best learning occurs when you pair a student with someone with a perfectly matched skillset tailored just to them.  Better yet, the process occurs at the micro on one or small groups.

We call this tutoring. Previously, your search for an algebra expert or guitar master was limited to finding someone nearby. Not any more...

In Search of Expert Individual Tutors

Your project can work the same way. Why limit solving problems to those around you when there's a better way?

Tom Peters Interview

This video is just over an hour long...but worth every minute.

One of my favorite takeaways...when asked about what advice he would give CEO's...Start by Doing Phenomally Good Work (from the Germans no less)

I put together a Google doc bullet point list of takeaways. Feel free to share.


Advertising Isn't Dead...It's Broken

The old model, selling people features and benefits, doesn't work anymore. There's too much clutter. Unless you're a gazillionaire, you don't stand much of a chance. However, you could change your approach. You could adapt to a new marketing order and use advertising for a completely different purpose. You could use ads as an opportunity to begin a conversation... instead of selling products. A quick rewind of recent advertising history might help put this into perspective.

Prior to radio and TV, if you had something to sell to people outside your immediate area, you bought print ads and billboards. It was a straightforward system, the more ads you bought, the more you would likely sell. Soon, competitors started advertising too. And, "what" you said about a product was overshadowed by "how" it was said...the advertising profession was born. Things started changing with the advent of TV. Slowly, as more and more companies could afford to advertise, we started to see ads which were designed to entertain instead of sell. Some companies figured it was better to get people to talk about the ad, not just the product. That required loads of creativity and was hard. But, those ads rose above the clutter. They convinced us that the people behind the products were interesting, imaginative and funny...that they were real people, not just big companies. Their ads created an emotional connection and started a conversation. Those companies won. Life was good. The internet (specifically, wide distribution of broadband) changed the game again. The cost barrier to entry was lowered to practically zero. Companies of all sizes and even individuals could get into the act. Viral marketing as we now know it was born. But, cheap led to a very low signal to noise ratio...lots of junk and more clutter than ever. Instead of working harder to start a conversation, companies abused the system and tried pushing old tactics in a new medium. And then, the death spiral became cheaper, which meant you could buy more ads, which led to more clutter and an increasingly ineffective mechanism. More and more people stopped paying attention.

Fast forward...If you think of customer conversations as the lifeblood of your business, you understand all this. You know how important it is for customers to go out and tell your story. Respectively, that's what you spend most of your time and money on...engaging with customers and reinventing your product and story to keep things fresh. And, as a new marketer you know that advertising is your chance to connect with people and stimulate conversation. You understand that it's not just a space to interrupt someone and sell them something. You've studied marketing history and know what not to do. So, you wouldn't waste time and money placing boring ads that look and sound like everyone else's. Instead, you would try this sort of thing.

Why Your Company's Performance Matters

Your company wants you to perform at the top of your game. When you do, it greatly improves their chances of winning. But, why should you care? What's in it for you?

If you have 3 or so minutes to spare, here are my two cents on the matter...

Busting Up Average

Hugh calls it "De-Commodification" (I kind of like the term...he doesn't). But, no matter the words, the idea is spot on.
You need to get people to talk about your hotel, the guest experience, etc. And, people don't talk much about commodities...the average. So, everyday, you need to ask yourself, what are we doing to bust-up the change the guest experience into something worth talking about? How are we going to change the check-in process, in-room entertainment, etc.? At the same time, you need to be careful not to make this about gimmicks...that doesn't work. Find out what makes your guest tick, what will make their stay with you easier, more enjoyable and personable. Make things better...not just different.

Give people what they want, and deliver it in a meaningful way.

Technology and Conversations

I recently ran across these conversation starters while skimming ehotelier forums:

"Dear Hospitality Professionals, Can anybody provide me with information what it is like to work for the Concorde El Salaam hotel in Cairo, Egypt?"

"Currently Negotiating salary for a GM role in Asia. Can you please advise what the salaries are like or I should expect for a 61 room 5 star resort/hotel with 2 F&B outlets?"

This got me thinking about how technology has changed the way conversations occur, and more importantly, how fast information is exchanged. Consider the amount of time it takes for a stranger (prospective guest, employee, vendor, etc.) to know almost everything about your company. Consider who these people are talking to, who they're listening to and how they're doing it. Whether the information they gather is true, half true, or completely false doesn't matter. What matters is that now more than ever, they're basing their decision to buy, donate or sell based on outsider information...the stuff you don't initiate. You might call this process a reality check...information they gather from others is stacked up against what you say. If it jives, you're okay. If not, might not get the call.

Here's the point...You no longer have control of the information or the conversations about you. Your website, advertising and PR plan are quickly becoming a sideshow as people find new ways of learning the truth. Customer evangelism is no longer limited to backyard BBQ's and to the office watercooler. Rants and raves are now being amplified to all corners of the planet...and at lightening speed. As a result, you only have two nothing and hope things go in your favor...or, become an active participant, learn and educate.

So, are you part of the "new" conversation? Have you conducted a Google search on your firm or hotel to see who's linking to you? Better yet, do you have one automatically delivered to your in-box each morning? Do you regularly monitor sites like epinions and trip advisor? Do you watch the blogosphere via Technorati? Does your website have an RSS feed? If some of this sounds like a a foreign language, I understand. Most people don't read blogs, let alone write one. And, most people don't check multiple on-line forums before deciding to talk with you. But...some people do. And, those people talk to other people. And, as each day passes, the minority gets closer to being the majority. You get the picture. I'm not suggesting you become a computer hack. I'm challenging you to embrace the fact that conversations happen...with or without you, and now, in places you may never have imagined. Your task is to somehow get tuned-in, jump-in when it's appropriate, or better yet, start a new discussion altogether.

The bad news is that technology has made the conversation game much more complicated. The good news is that technology has leveled the playing field, giving everyone an equal opportunity to spread the word about their product, and engage their's cheaper and easier than ever. Now, you just need to acknowledge the power, and make use of the tools available.

Rising Above

If you're going to rise above the clutter, you'll need to make some sacrifices...and take some risks. And yes, it will probably cost more. But, in the long run, if you share your efforts with the right audience, you WILL beat your competitor(s).

I'll spare you my own example, and point you to Seth who makes the point quite well using us (hotels) and his breakfast.

And, yes, I know I reference Mr. Godin on a regular basis...he's a smart guy and I'm still catching-up on a back-log of his posts. So, there's probably more to come.

If you're in the USA, have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend. Drive carefully...if you can afford it.

Don't rest on success


In recent years, there’s been a growing emphasis on hotel design. Just look around or watch the newswire…100 million and even billion dollar projects are now commonplace. Need some hotel eye candy? Just hang out in Orlando, Las Vegas or Dubai. You’ll get your fix.

But, it’s not just happening at the mega project level. I’ve seen this trend emerging at all price points…from B&B’s to convention centers.

So, why is this happening? A couple of reasons…a proliferation of wealth, and the desire to get attention.

Hotel developers are reacting to the same dynamic shift we’ve experienced with just about everything we buy…more and more choices. And, as seen in other industries, the knee jerk is to spend more on physical attributes and their marketing to secure diminishing attention from prospective guests. The new order…build it bigger, with more flash, bells and whistles, and you’ll get more customers…and make more money. And, as long as there’s money available and a romance with the finer things, this trend is likely to continue.

Here’s the problem…design gets attention. But, it’s not likely to keep it. People will go once, maybe twice to see something spectacular. But, that’s it. If there’s not more to the story, they’re not likely to come back, or more importantly, tell someone else about their experience. So, once the economic cycle turns, and it always does, that investment in the “icing” no longer pays dividends…unless you can afford to change it, and change it often.

How many times have you been to the Grand Canyon? To the Empire State Building? To Hoover dam?

Now, how many times have you been to your favorite restaurant?

Bear with me, here’s a quick story to illustrate my point further…

Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina is where you find America’s largest private home…a remarkable palace built by George Vanderbilt in 1895. It’s a remarkable example of design and architecture. Biltmore is blessed with annual visitation in the neighborhood of about a million people…not too shabby. However, ever since the place was opened to the public some 30 or 40 years ago, the folks at Biltmore have been plagued with a problem…how to get people to come back. I mean, once you’ve seen the big house…you’ve seen it. So, here’s what the smart folks at Biltmore did…every few years they change…the design and the story. They open a new room at the main house, add a winery, a restaurant or an outdoor center to get attention. And, they change the experience with a new story…a new story about the Vanderbilt way of life. This approach did two things. It allowed them to build a “club” of loyal customers who would gladly spread the word to others. And, it reduced the average return visit to once every three to five years. That’s certainly better than once, or twice in a lifetime.

Then, they did another remarkable thing, they built a hotel…on the estate. Yes, the design was superb and harmonious with the existing experience. But, more importantly, its success was the result of the care you received and the story you could tell your friends…”I was a guest of the Vanderbilts”. During the first year of operation, we had droves of people who returned at least once and some who came back even more often. One couple stayed with us five times…the first year!

Design is a significant part of any hospitality experience. It starts the emotional juices flowing…resulting in either a resounding “I want to go there”, or a disappointing “lets pass”. Beyond that, it should complement and reinforce the rest of the story, and the way people feel when they leave.

So, if you’re going to hang your hat only on design, either on purpose (like the new Palazzo Versace) or by default, you better have the means to make frequent changes…and make that frequency the reason to come, much like the Bellagio does with new attractions like the holiday Cranberry Bog. If you aren’t committed to changing it up every so often, the Wow factor gets old…especially when you’re your neighbor adds more lights.

Happy New Year

As 2005 fades in the rearview mirror, it’s natural to reflect a little...and to look forward.

First, I thank all of the people who have impacted my work and personal life in so many fruitful ways…my family, my friends, my colleagues, my readers, my listeners and the many people who gave me inspiration with their wonderful ideas through their e-mails, their questions, their books, their blogs, their podcasts and most of all their willingness to share.

Now, a look back…

Some of my best memories…

The birth of my daughter, Lauren
Getting to spend everyday with my wife and family
Discovering podcasting and starting indieHotelier
Getting to know new friends like Dr. A in HI
Having the opportunity to work and share ideas with two of the most creative people on the planet, go see, ideasinfood…it’s contagious
Reading fabulous books like A Whole New Mind, All Marketers Are Liars, The Big Moo and The Tipping Point
Listening to great podcasts like Daily Source Code, Savy Solo Cast, Tartan podcast, etc.
Finding wonderful independent musicians and their work courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network
Seeing countless extraordinary sunrises over the San Juan Mountains from my back porch
Seeing my first day of over 100 unique visitors to this blog
Getting the chance to enjoy new technology, gadgets and software (Macromedia, iDog, Wordpress, etc.)…it’s like Christmas all year long
Successfully completing my biennial check-ride
Having my mom and son visit

My best posts…(I read them all again. So, these are my picks)

January, Remarkable People
February, What’s More Valuable? Repeat Or Referral?
March, When You Care It Shows, The One and Only and The Robin Williams Effect
April, The Butter Story and Where Has Service Gone #5
May, Opening Your Doors and Big Isn’t Better
June, The Want Factor
July, Stories Through Process, Attention and Andrew Harper…Stories and Trust
August, Paths, Is Your Story Interesting? and Few Words
September, The Delivery, Sustaining Passion and Riding The Tail
October, Variety Is The Spice of Life, You Can’t Shout Your Way To Success, The Pressure’s On
November, To Think Or Not To Think, Defense vs. Offense and Advertising Relevance
December, Setting People Up, More Mooing and The Cost of Promoting Average


2006 is full of hope and promise, even more ideas, more creativity, faster, better…and more speed bumps and roadblocks…more life. I can’t wait.

Some things I plan to do…

Spend time with my family
Publish my manifesto, “Vanished” (yes, you can still vote on it at Changethis)
Meet more creative people
Make new friends and rekindle some old friendships
Start a network of destination oriented podcasts
Continue to help people develop memorable guest experiences and projects
Continue to develop a network of creative, energetic and passionate hospitality experts
Develop a better way for hospitality people to find meaningful work
Finish my book
Help someone
Produce a better sounding podcast
Develop alternatives to traditional advertising
Keep spreading ideas

On this eve of the New Year, remember…strive for perfection, and hope you never get there.

Be safe and enjoy!

The Cost Of Promoting Average

The cost of promoting something average is extremely high. So high in fact, that many don’t make it. Getting someone to notice you by slapping on some marketing doesn’t work anymore…there are just too many average hotels to choose from. How much do you think that run-of-the-mill, roadside, chain hotel spends on advertising, franchise agreements and contracted discount business just to stay alive? How much does your local Hilton or Marriott spend? A bunch…I bet. In the mid-90’s, I managed a property like these and shelled out almost $500K each year to shout the message that we were better than our neighbor. Wow.

On the other hand, how do you explain that little guys like Smith Fork Ranch, Inn at Little Washington and Twin Farms run full almost every night and spend virtually nothing on marketing?

Here’s how…the marketing is built-in.

1. They’re remarkable...the experience is meaningful and extraordinary. It makes people feel good.
2. They’re easy to talk about…they have an interesting story that’s easy to remember and fun to tell.
3. They cater only to one audience…they don’t try to convince people who wouldn’t be interested in their experience.

Being successful has very little to do with how much advertising you can buy or how much flash you can afford to put on your website. It has a lot to do with how much you invest in the experience. Please think about that if you decide to build a hotel.

To Think Or Not To Think

I apologize in advance…this is a long one.

I’ve often proposed that you should employ “thinkers” to ensure your organization moves forward. While I stand behind that theory steadfast, I admit I’ve seen some disastrous situations unfold as a result of under trained or improperly placed individuals. Or, worse, great people were placed in stifling environments, eventually conditioned to keep their ideas to themselves. In either case, I’ve seen things go into the crapper just the same. So, what to do?

Stick with thinkers…and fix your approach.

There are two basic ways to go about doing business when you have employees:

The easiest and still the most common method (because there are so many models to duplicate) is to adopt “old school” command and control tactics and set-up a working environment perfectly designed to serve one cause…protect the company’s financial well being. Put a number of people in charge, hire a bunch of drones, create as many rules, SOP’s and procedures to be sure no one steps out of line and beat it in to employees to “do good for the company and we all win”. This may sound extreme and far fetched. Or, it may sound eerily familiar. How do you know? Your workplace is average, your product is average, your price is average, the guy sitting next to you is average. No one takes risks, no one argues or debates, no one puts forth crazy ideas. No hail mary’s, not even a reverse. No one is having any fun. Everyone does just enough to get by.

If you set-up your company or department this way…for people to just get by, that’s exactly what will happen. They will perform just well enough to keep their jobs. And, you as a leader and your organization will be average in the process. Ask GM, American Airlines, any major bank or the less than stellar sandwich shop down the street.

On the other hand, you could try something different. You could take a few chances and set-up your company to be really great…for everyone.

Passionate, imaginative, creative people have a natural tendency to prosper and to be successful. And, they want to be with others just like them. They don’t want to be average. And, they certainly don’t want to fail. All you have to do is get a core of these folks on your team, put them into a position to win and get out of their way. The rest will take care of itself.

Getting them on the bus

Hiring these sorts of people takes guts, patience, compassion…and money. It means you’ll pay more than everyone else and care for them like your children. And, you’ll listen, even if you know their ideas are wrong.


Having winners on your team is only half the battle of winning. Put the right person in the wrong position or give them responsibility they can’t handle (no training and/or no tools) and the game’s over before you get started. The key is to put people in the right seat on the bus (thanks for the analogy Jim Collins), train the mechanics until they become second nature and set-up just enough rules to keep people out of trouble and to free their minds to “think”. You don’t want them thinking how to complete the report. You want them thinking about how to best serve people. Yes, mistakes will be made, sometimes costly. But, it’s a small price to pay for fabulous ideas, exceptional service and blowing the doors off your competition.

Keep winning

Finally, it’s vitally important to keep the winning, thinking culture alive if you’re going to sustain success for the company and for everyone involved. Remember, remarkable people want to be a part of something important and they want to prosper. So, give it to them. Reward them for thinking differently, for taking a chance…even for making a mistake. When something works, give them stock, bonuses…and genuine appreciation. When something doesn’t work, give them credit for trying, be nice…and listen to the next idea. Then, talk about avoiding the mistake in the future.

To win, failure must be accepted and even encouraged if the end result is better than the missteps along the way. A great leader has the foresight to embrace that concept ahead of time.

Carnival of the Capitalists Goes Back to College!

Years ago (really not that far back), if you wanted a great hotel experience, there were very few places to choose from…places like The Sagamore, The Breakers, Arizona Biltmore, St. Francis, Coronado, The Plaza or perhaps The Greenbrier. On the other end of the price spectrum, the anchor was Holiday Inn. And, there wasn’t much in between.

Along the way, came brands based on value and consistency. For the most part, it was an average experience. But, it was a low risk investment on the part of the guest and they filled a void quite nicely.

Now, there are literally thousands of properties in hundreds of niches. If you want cheap, there’s a couple on every city block. If you want hip, boutique, or to swim with Dolphins, there’s more than one to choose from. Just go to Las Vegas or Dubai if you don’t think there’s something for everyone.

The problem with all this variety is that it’s extremely difficult to get noticed. Having “spacious accommodations”, “fantastic views”, the “best price”, “fine dining” or “personalized service” isn’t good enough anymore. Just about everyone has those things…or at least they claim to. Now, the only way to cut through the noise is to be different. Not gimmicky, but genuinely different...heart, soul and passion different. Gimmicks are short-lived. And, while they might grab someone’s attention for an instant, it’s not long before they figure out the trickery and that you’re a phony. Being different is about finding a new way to generate intrigue without being obvious about it.

Once you have attention, of course, you need to keep it. There’s only one way to do that…be exceptional and create memories. Be exceptional by showing your passion and enthusiasm for what you do…in everything you do. Be exceptional by having a great story to tell…one with meaning.

So, ask yourself questions like these…what are we prepared to do to get attention, and to keep it? How are we different? And, what can we be the best at?

The pressure’s on because being big, fancy or cheap isn’t good enough anymore.



As pilots we're taught the mechanics of flight to ensure we get up in the air and back down again safely and enjoyably. Once we have that figured out, the real teaching begins. That's when we learn to improvise and adapt. Because, much like in ordinary life, not much goes according to plan. We're asked to perform with the expecation that the s**t "will" hit the fan. The instructor's mission is to determine...How you will react? How you will adapt? What happens when one wheel doesn't come down, when the fuel gauge was stuck on the wrong indication (and you're sucking air), when you lose all electrical power (at night) or worse, a T-38 shears off the nose of your airplane at 5,000 feet (true story, I know a guy that happened to)? Great pilots are the ones who get to tell us these stories. The rest...I'll give you one guess. In aviation, this is where the men are separated from the boys (or, women from girls, whatever, you get my point).

Now, while it's not a matter of life and death in the world customer care (except for that one guy that threw a stapler at me when I was a desk clerk), the rules are the same. Anyone can be nice and offer smiles, hugs and kisses when the waters are calm. But, what about when it's choppy or there's a tidal wave? When there's no time to analyze, no time to think...just to do.

Better have the people with the "right stuff" on the line...because things almost never go to plan.

Creativity Leads To Remarkability

Want a creative work environment?

Try this...

First, hire smart, passionate, caring and honest people


Allow them to “act” and “express” themselves
Have Less rules
Have Less structure
Preach Adaptive
Train them to Improvise
Give people Freedom to “play”

In other words, Get Out of The Way!