I love everything about Redwings shoes.

 

The first time I went into a Redwings store and expressed interested in buying my first pair (a 2917 pair of Chelsea Ranchers), the store owner started to tell me about his first pair and the stories that they now tell. Redwings boots don’t get damaged, scratched or worn out ~ they just “collect stories” until they can’t tell any more, and they end up back in the workshop to be re-soled. I was sold. (And soled).

 

Just before handing over my credit card, I asked for advice on looking after my new boots and what treatment they needed. I was directed towards a small pot of wax but not before I was told in no uncertain terms,

“Sir, your boots will continue to look after you, long after you need to look after them.”

Cheesy? Yes. Had he said that to one hundred customers before me? Probably. But in my mind, this was now the greatest shoe brand in the world.

 

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Putting my business hat on (a Stetson wool flat cap bought from the same store), I started to think about what it was like to walk in another mans shoes. What stories would they tell? What kind of different perspective or outlook would I have on life, if I experienced it from a vantage point different to mine?

 

Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes has become something that we don’t do very often. In the entrepreneurial world of explosive growth startups, there’s a good reason for this.

 

“People don’t know what they want until you show them?”

 

Not true. It’s a line we’ve been fed time and time again my successful business leaders. Steve Jobs famously didn’t care for focus groups because he didn’t think people knew what they wanted. It was his job to show them. Perhaps the most famous of all is Henry Ford’s famous quote,

 

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘Faster horses‘”.

 

I have thought a lot about that line, and encouraged by my friend Brian Solis to do some further digging, I started looking for the actual source of that quote. It turns out that there is no real proof of Henry Ford ever saying that. It’s quite possible it was a good headline for the press concocted by Ford’s PR team, or a throwaway comment that has evolved over time and become part of the Ford Model T legend.

 

As far as I can find, what Henry Ford actually said was altogether quite different.

“If there is anyone secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view, and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own”.

Or in other words, put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

 

Bill Gates is fond of saying that “You’re most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning“. My good friend Ted Rubin (probably the world’s ‘most connected’ CMO) goes one step further and suggests that, “Customer service is the only time where you have 100% of your customer’s attention“.

 

Every other time a company speaks to its customers through its marketing, they are multi-tasking. Or multi-screening. But when they have a problem and they want you to sort it out, you have their undivided attention. That’s often why unhappy customers who experience amazing levels of customer service, often become the most passionate brand advocates and cheerleaders.

“The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time”. Henry Ford

Putting yourself in other people’s shoes helps you get stuff done, better.

It helps you provide better experiences.

It helps you build deeper relationships.

It helps you care more.

 

It’s odd how rarely, when a problem or a conflict arises, people in business think to ask how they would feel about it themselves if they were personally involved. It’s almost as if they don’t believe their own human reaction is relevant.

 

But it really is.

 

Whether your problem is with the customer, a colleague or the person who delivers the sandwiches, ask yourself how you would like to be treated if you were them.

 

How would I feel if I was in their situation?

What would I do if it was me?

Would I accept that?

Would I think it was fair?

How would I expect this to be resolved?

 

Then, how about if you made sure that your business gave the kind of answers that you would hope for yourself?

 

Keep asking questions? (Just like in my last post when I said “We need to keep asking why”?)

 

Asking simple questions, and thinking how you would feel in the other person’s shoes, helps resolve conflict.

 

This can just as easily be applied to new product development or innovation. Listen to your customers. Their language might be messy and disjoined, but hidden in there somewhere might be the one insight you need to build that brilliant new thing.

 

It’s easier to solve other people’s problems than our own. Everyone knows exactly how things should be done, because they know their boss could get so much more out of them if only they knew how to relate to people better.

 

So the next time you face a challenge or an opportunity in business, go and stand in the other person’s shoes and first see how it feels (if you’re lucky they’ll be a pair of Redwings).

 

Then act.

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ps. Here’s a little bit of the Red Wings story if you’re interested…

 

 

 

 

Evangelist @IBM • IBM Watson • Travel Around Talking about AI, Big Data and the Future of Marketing • Lover of Old Business Books and Good Bourbon • Based in London, UK.

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