Friday, April 3, 2009

What Businesses can learn from Penn and Teller

Dave and Penn

I recently went to a Penn and teller show in Las Vegas. I was amazed after the show, as both Penn and Teller were very gracious and personally greeted every person that wanted an autograph, a picture of even just a handshake. Their show was unlike any comedy or magic show I have ever seen.

First of all, they broke the #1 rule of magic by telling you and showing you how they do about half of the tricks in their act. You might think that would take all of the fun out of the performance, but it only added to the mystery. I just watched them show me how to make a cigarette disappear and reappear as well as “read minds” but because of their master showmanship, I still couldn’t believe what I was seeing!

So, on to my point of writing this blog...What I learned from the Penn & Teller show is the following:

1. If you are a master of something, you can give up some of your “secrets” and have no fear of competition (I am talking skills here)

2. If you provide a public benefit (say…exposing psychics) people will appreciate what you do and be loyal to you (think Google)

3. If you do not have integrity, you don’t have squat! (Peanut Corp. of America)

4. Be humble and thank those that have and continue to help you in your business.

5. Be available to those you work for and those that work for you (i.e-shareholders and staff).

6. It is OK to be different if you are true to your core beliefs (Southwest Airlines, Apple and Google)

7. Reading minds and the future are easy if you are paying close attention to the subject (see #1)

Pretty good for just a “magic” show. Look around at all the trouble our economy and companies are in. Note: I did not say ALL companies. It is the troubled companies that I wish to focus on. Until this economic meltdown reared its ugly head, most consumers and investors believed that those in charge of corporations were doing an okay job. As it turns out, most executives were at best, just showing up for work and at worst, criminally negligent (i.e AIG, Lemon, Meril, Peanut Corp. of America, Countrywide, Circuit City, Wachovia- remember their tag-line “Uncommon Wisdom”?)

Examples of well run companies are Southwest Airlines, whose management had their eye on the ball and read the future by locking in fuel prices at half of the price of most every other airline. Another example is Toyota who also miraculously read the future (30 years ago) and provided well engineered, fuel efficient cars that folks wanted to buy.

In 2000 my wife and I purchased a Corolla for $11,000 and it got 38 miles to the gallon. Chrysler had a similar car called the Neon which cost a few thousand dollars more and got 22 miles to the gallon. Can you guess which company is going into bankruptcy?

Let’s also look at Apple-a company that not only constantly invents products that people desire, but they are constantly improving on existing ones. I am talking about the I-phone and I-Pod; both are wildly popular and have much competition, yet they dominate sales in both areas. The years ago Apple was selling for $12 per share with $10 per share socked away for a rainy day. Regretfully I did not buy the stock but I should have seen the 2000% increase coming.

Here is the point I am trying to get across to you; good business practices do not rely upon "magic", however, just like magic it takes practice and a desire to do something well to become a master of something. Funny, I thought I was going to a Penn and Teller show, I had no idea I was going to learn so much about business. I highly recomned you check out their show at the RIO next time you are in Las Vegas.

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