How to Be Like a Perfect Product

Last Updated Sep 16, 2011 10:34 AM EDT

How to Be Like a Perfect ProductBreakfast with orange juice. Every day of your life. Sweet, tangy orange juice. Perfection in a glass. It works. It delivers. It does the job.

What's that got to do with anything like business, management, leadership, or your career? Everything.

You want to be like orange juice. You want your product to be like orange juice. You want your company to be like orange juice. It delivers on a promise, day in, day out, every time. You want to be like that.

Think about it. In a hypercompetitive world where everybody has a voice and every product has a level playing field called the Internet, in a business environment where differentiation is priceless, if you can deliver the way orange juice does, you can make a dent in the world.

How to Be Like a Perfect ProductNot convinced? Okay. How about this? There's something called too much of a good thing. You can max out, play out, overdo pretty much anything. Can you imagine watching Real Housewives every day for your entire life? How about listening to Green Day? Or eating pizza?

You might love it that much, but you're the exception. There are very few things that so perfectly do the job that, day in, day out, most people can eat, drink, watch, or listen to it, know it will always deliver on its promise, and never get sick of it. That's orange juice.

You can say that's a matter of personal preference, but it's not. Not good old OJ. It's so widely accepted as the morning breakfast drink that every hotel in every city in every country serves it with its morning buffet. It's in just about every refrigerator. It's perfect.

If you - as a manager, executive, business owner, marketer, leader, whatever - can deliver the goods the way orange juice does, then you'll go far in this world. Here are some recent and noteworthy examples:

President Obama. Talk about failing to deliver on a promise. He promised change, that things will be different, that Washington won't be politics as usual. He promised to bridge both sides of the aisle. He promised us OJ, told us it was OJ, put it in an OJ container, but to me, it tastes like Kool Aid.

Say what you want about Bill Clinton, but he delivered the OJ. Not right away. It took a while for him to get the process right, but he listened to his constituents and ultimately, he delivered the goods. And he'll always be remembered as a president who ultimately delivered, even if he did have his ... issues.

That's the first important point about OJ. You can have some glitches or make some mistakes along the way - we all do - as long as you deliver the goods, in the end. Nobody's perfect.

Carol Bartz. She definitely made OJ as long-time CEO of engineering software-maker Autodesk. And she seemed to be making all the right moves out of the gate at Yahoo, but in the end, she couldn't deliver. Guess she didn't have the chops for the brave new world dominated by the likes of Facebook, Apple, and Google.

Which brings us to the second important point. A CEO, a leader, pretty much anyone, can make OJ at one company or in one situation, but not necessarily at another. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Some have managed to pull it off - Lou Gerstner at American Express and IBM, Steve Jobs at Pixar and Apple, Mark Hurd at NCR and HP - but they're few and far between.

Sony. Back in the day, Sony made damn good OJ. Trinitron TVs. The Walkman. The Betamax. The Compact Disc player (with Philips). Today, Sony says it makes OJ, but if so, it's not the good stuff, like fresh squeezed or anything. It's like reconstituted frozen OJ, the kind anyone can make. It's sad, really.

That's the third important point. Not only is it not good enough to have made it in the past, you can't just say you make it, either. You've got to deliver and keep delivering the goods if you want your customers to keep coming back. The same goes for keeping your job, getting hired, or even getting reelected.

Now, don't make the mistake of thinking this juicy little analogy is simplistic or trite. It's not. It's entirely accurate in describing what it takes for a company, a business, a manager, a CEO, a leader, pretty much anybody, to consistently deliver the goods and maintain a strong brand in a competitive market.

If you look back through history, every great company has had its glitches: Coca Cola, IBM, Toyota, Cisco, there are no exceptions because, in time, stuff happens. The same goes for every great leader or executive. Nobody's perfect.

Still, we've all got to strive for something. So we set our sights, lock in our trajectory, and try our best to deliver the goods. If you can do that - make a promise and deliver on it on a consistent basis - then you're a rare commodity in this world, that's for sure.

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Image acme401 and REL Waldman via Flickr