Thursday, September 17, 2009

It was a stormy night many years ago when an elderly couple entered the hotel lobby on the outskirts of a mountain resort area and asked for a room.

“I’m very sorry,” responded the night clerk. “We’re completely full and so are all the other hotels in the area, but I can’t imagine sending you out into the storm again. Why don’t you stay in my room?” the young man offered with a smile. “It may not be a luxury suite, but it’s clean. I need to finish my bookkeeping here in the office.”

The distinguished-looking man and woman seemed uncomfortable, but they graciously accepted his offer. When the gentleman went to pay the bill the next morning, the clerk was still at the desk and said, “Oh, I live here full time, so there’s no charge for the room. You don’t need to worry about that.”

The older man nodded and said to the clerk, “You’re the kind of person that every hotel owner dreams about having as a staff member. Maybe someday I’ll build a hotel for you.” The hotel clerk was flattered, but the idea sounded so outrageous that he was sure the man was joking.
A few years passed and the hotel clerk was still at the same job. One day he received a registered letter from the man. The letter expressed his vivid recollections of that stormy night, along with an invitation and a round-trip ticket for the hotel clerk to visit him in New York.

Arriving a few days later in Manhattan, the clerk was met by the distinguished gentleman at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-Fourth Street, where a magnificent, new building stood.
“That,” exclaimed the man, “is the hotel I’ve built for you to run! I told you at the time that it might happen and today you can see that I was serious.”

The clerk was stunned. “What’s the catch? Why me? Who are you anyway?” he stammered. “My name is William Waldorf Astor. And there is no catch. You are the person I want managing this property for me.”

That hotel was the original Waldorf Astoria, and the name of the young clerk who accepted the first managerial position was George C. Boldt.

This is a true story, and there’s a personal message in it for us. Why do we need a benefactor to come along and make us believe in our dreams? How is it that an outsider can perceive more potential in us than we can sometimes see in ourselves?

Usually, we hold ourselves back because of a little voice from the child of our past that recalls foolish mistakes we made or rejections we experienced. Don’t listen to those doubts and fears.
This week, don’t put your big dreams on layaway. Focus on believing you are worth the effort.

Five Secrets of Great Innovation

So what does it take to succeed with a great new product? Business expert Steven D. Strauss offers this advice:

1. Think of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” Bobby Kennedy’s famous motto is an apt description of the first ingredient necessary to create a successful new product. Terrific products come from terrific ideas.

2. Tap the power of one: Whatever successful product you look at, you will invariably find there was some man or woman steadfastly committed to its success. Ed Lowe was nothing but a young, ambitious veteran with tons of unsold clay when he decided that he had a better cat litter. He single-handedly invented a new industry.

3. Keep it simple: If you are going to offer something new and improved, make sure it’s simple and does one or two things very well. People famously cannot program their VCRs, but they don’t have to program their DVRs.

4. First is best. Getting your product to market first can mean the difference between having a winner and being a loser. Post-its were first. Pampers were first.

5. Try, try again. When Dr. Percy Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted after standing near a magnetron tube, he realized something unique had occurred. Yet it would take almost 20 years of trial and error before Raytheon could turn that into the first microwave oven.

Read more from Steven Strauss on Innovation and Creativity.

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