It was a very fulfilling way to cap a very busy week: watching CBC's George Stroumboulopoulous interview Cirque du Soleil's Guy Laliberte, American Apparel's Dov Charney and Aldo Shoes' eponymous leader Aldo Bensadoun about the importance of corporate social responsibility.
This high-octane panel discussion--one that would headline the type of business conference that rolls into town and charge about $1,000 or so a head to attend--was the fitting culmination of a 10-day celebration that marked the shoe retailer's 40th Anniversary.
A special event for a special man, because when anyone ever mentions Aldo, they talk about his goodness first and his success second. In fact, in a newspaper article about him earlier in the week, Aldo outlined his three business principles:
Jeez, is this any way to run a global corporation?
I suppose so, given Aldo's 1600 stores gross close to $2 billion every year.
As a corporate mission statement, Aldo's three little words may be somewhat idealistic, but at least the message is clear...particularly when compared to the usual dreary, cliché-filled, jargon-overflowing bullshit that impresses nobody and is remembered by even fewer.
Ah, the principles/mission/vision statement. It's one of the great business lies. Most people I know roll their eyes at best, gag at worst, at the first mention of their company's version. And if one is that cynical from the get-go, things ain't gonna get much better moving forward.
Aldo may not give his employees a mouthful, or Wall Street the standard operational verbiage they expect, but what he does provide is something to believe in. And something to live by.
What made this even more fulfilling was that at Just For Laughs, we are in the process of doing the same thing. In other words, we're trying to distill not merely what we stand for, but what we're aiming for...and doing so in the most precise, real-speak, easy to buy into and easy to follow doctrine. I'm kind of sick of the "We want to be a global leader in..." diatribe that I encountered ad nauseum in the tech biz and still see to this day in annual reports of companies across the entire spectrum of business.
At Just For Laughs, we have locked down the following 11 words over three principles. They apply to everything we do, whether its an international TV show, a pitch document for a sponsor, an ad campaign, a major new event in someplace far away, or the mere press release announcing said major new event.
- Don't be boring
- Must be great
- Gotta be proud of it
Even though I was remiss starting the principles off with a negative, the difference between "Don't Be Boring" and "Be Exciting" is subtle, but important. People have different definitions of "excitement," but I feel that boredom rears its ugly head more thoroughly, hence my choice of instructional words.
As for the other two, being un-boring is not enough. Every action or product must skim the outer reaches of unbelievable. And in the end, if you're not willing to show it off and shout it from the rooftops, well it's probably not all that great and not worth doing in the first place.
When I first showed this around (which I thought both great and un-boring), one of the questions that popped up immediately was "Yeah, but what about profit?"
Believe me I know, profit is corporate oxygen. But as I explained:
"You make sure everything you do ain't boring, that it's great and that you're proud of it, and trust me, the profit will come in tidal waves."
So will Just For Laughs ever be as big as Aldo? Who knows? What's more important though is that we at least borrow from the best. These real-speak principles are one of my first steps.
So what did I learn this week?
Business or person, you've got to stand for something. And the clearer you make what it is you do, the easier it will be to lead others to do the same with you and for you.
Speaking real is the first step in being real.
And, I suspect, in being really profitable, too.