I’m not in love … with my car – Has Toyota lost its innovation mojo?

Some of you will know from reading my latest book “The Music of Business” that I’m a big fan of Toyota’s innovation.  It’s with some astonishment and disappointment that I must report a crack in the otherwise seamless seam in their unstoppable innovation drive.

I recently bought a new Toyota Prius from Beadles, having owned two previously and swapped to Toyota due to poor service from BMW. Compared with the last two cars, I’m afraid that this Prius has regressed, speaking electronically.

It has the facility to connect my iPod, yet on a number of occasions, the car has ‘frozen’ my iPod solid, so my only choice has been to reboot the iPod.  It has also destroyed some of the files.  The service centre has not been able to locate the cause of the fault.  Worse still, since they cannot locate the source of the fault, Toyota GB’s customer relations department have gone into denial over the problem.  If there’s one thing thats much worse than having a problem, it’s when customer relations people attempt to rewrite the story for fear of legal problems that they think might occur if they told the truth! OK, the ability to connect your iPod is not life threatening, so why am I writing this?

The satellite navigation is a permanent liability on this vehicle when all previous models were fine.  Toyota have redesigned the system and the screen is approximately 10% smaller than the previous model.  This seemingly small change has big consequences and I’m astonished that it was not picked up in focus groups and so on which are all part of the design process.

In brief, the sat nav, when set on the ‘shortest route’ i.e. the ‘straight line’ option, does some very strange things.  I spent two hours going about 5 miles in Wales recently, when the sat nav took me on a 270 degree excursion when there was a perfectly good trunk road available.  This included a trip through an unmade road and a farm.  As I was not familiar with the area, I trusted the sat nav and travelled approximately 30 miles on this straight line option, eventually arriving back nearly at where we had started.  The impact of this was that a 5 hour trip turned into a 10 hour one as we hit traffic on the motorway on our eventual return.  Small things can have much greater consequences.

Toyota's Sat Nav System in operation

Toyota’s Sat Nav System in operation

It has on several occasions advised me to take diversions due to ‘traffic congestion’ when there have been traffic lights ahead.  As a result, I have no faith in the system.  It is making me late for important business meetings and I regard punctuality as key in all my business dealings.

I was late for an important business meeting as the sat nav did not recognise an address in Tunbridge Wells recently.  The address was an established building and not a new build.  Toyota themselves have acknowledged that the system does not find “55 Calverley Road in Tunbridge Wells”, but moved back into denial when I asked them to put it right.

55 Calverley Road - It's just an illusion according to Toyota's customer service centre

55 Calverley Road – It’s just an illusion according to Toyota’s customer service centre

I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ as innovation is continuous in most companies these days.  But the previous sat nav worked just fine in terms of navigation and the new system is a retrograde step, which Toyota needs to learn from.  At this point in time, this will be the last Toyota I ever buy.  The petrol heads amongst you may well say, “but it’s not the engine Peter”.  Yet, the electronic features of a car are now as important as the engine imho.  I may be an unusual buyer as I buy a ‘stereo system on wheels’ rather than an ‘engine’.  I certainly don’t want a car that destroys my record collection and makes me late for business meetings.  I like it even less when I as the customer get caught in the ‘crack in the pavement’ when the Service Centre say its a matter for Toyota and Toyota say it’s a matter for the Service Centre.  What say you Toyota?  Have you lost your innovation mojo?

In the warped words of Roger Taylor and Queen “I’m in love with my car (NOT)”

Rage against the Washing Machine

Computers are wonderful things and I personally could not live without my Mac.  However, the old phrase GIGO (Garbage in Garbage out) still applies.  It’s amazing what people seem to believe if it is on a flat screen.  Here’s an example of what happens when people disengage their own intelligence in favour of a database:

I was phoned a few months ago by a company wanting to ‘conduct research’ on my washing machine. They refused to get off the line despite several polite attempts to persuade them to do so, so I told them I had a “Toyota” washing machine….

Two months later I had a call from another company offering me insurance, who proudly started the call with:

“We’re calling you today to offer you exclusive insurance cover for your Toyota USB2000 washing machine ….”

Sometime later: Me : “You do know that Toyota don’t make washing machines?”

Them : “Have you sold it?”

Me : “I have a Prius. As I said, Toyota make cars”

Toyota make great cars … but no washing machines

Them : “We know that sir.  The washing machine you have is spelt differently. Have you sold it?”

Me (broken record) : “Toyota make cars, not washing machines”.

Them (still keen to insure my washing machine): “We bought the data from another company.  Do you have a washing machine” ….

A hybrid washing machine?

A hybrid washing machine?

I had a similar experience when I bought an advert from Yell.com (now Hibu.com) recently.  The promise was articulated thus:  “We cannot get you business, but we can make the phone ring”.  This seemed like an entirely reasonable premise.  A couple of weeks later, the phone did ring:

“I’d like to buy some turf”

Me : “Aah, sorry, this is a business consultancy – you have the wrong number”

The following week, I got a call for Calor Gas.  I was suspicious so asked where he got the number from – it was the Yellow Pages!

The following week, I got a call for plate glass. Yell insist on giving you a different phone number so they can track calls.  Clearly this one had been round the block many times.

No problem, you would think – just call them and it would get sorted out.  Well, no.  Yell started off by trying to rewrite history, suggesting that it had not happened the way I described.  They then tried to shift blame by telling me that Yellow Pages did not belong to them any more.  It was only when I pointed out that their phone number was the root cause of the Yellow Pages calls and asked to speak to their CEO that they finally capitulated, after which time most people have given up.

What would have been better?  Well, simply offering to investigate and fix the problem without fuss would have been a much better turnaround.  Unfortunately they trusted the computer more than they did me to start with, wasting time and damaging their reputation, making me want to “Yell about it”.

Incidentally, saying you want to “Hibu about it” just does not work as well 🙂 …  Perhaps that’s why they renamed the company recently?

Life’s a Gas, Heart of Grass, The Green Green Glass of Home

On the upside, I have discovered a great business opportunity for a one stop shop that sells Grass, Glass and Gas … Hurry, hurry …  Happy Christmas!

3G business for sale on Yell.com

Coming soon, my recent dealings with HR outsourcing company RSM Tenon and boutique solicitors Twenty Twenty Law make for an interesting story of disappointment and dishonour in dealing with others, Bah Humbug!  To finish here is Pink Floyd’s prophetic tale of corporate cyber control where common sense is replaced by algorithms and bulls…t.  Welcome to the Machine:


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk

Comfortably numb

Hello, hello, is there anybody out there?

We live in an age where we have all the tools to help us respond to customers as individuals.  Why then in an age of mass customisation do companies and organisations still manage to do things that make you wonder ‘is there anyone at home?’  This week’s prizes for poor customer service go to Asda and Student Finance England.

The price of going to Asda

A friend of mine called me recently.  He went to an out of town Asda to buy some food.  They did not have any onions, so he drove up the road to Tescos to get some.

What, no onions with my guitar?

He returned to Asda a couple of hours later.  A few days afterwards he received a parking ticket from APCOA parking for exceeding the two hour limit.  They had logged him entering the first time and leaving on the second visit.  He has so far had to submit receipts from Tesco for the onions but had no reply from Asda regarding the waste of his time for doing this.  The store is an out of town development with no other shops or reasons to park within range.  Are they not satisfied that he buys his food there?  Why no reply?  Why do a lack of in-store onions lead to tears?

SFE = Student Failure England

I hear that Government departments have been through extensive ‘lean’ training to make them more effective and efficient.  Well, it does not look like it’s working.  I have recently applied for my son’s student loan and have all but given up, having written to them dozens of times only to get standard responses which did not deal with the issues.  Worst still, I get 2 or 3 copies of the responses sent by post every time.  On one occasion recently I got four letters telling me that his loan was approved and then one on the same day telling me that they needed more information (which I had already previously sent months back).  They tell me that there’s nothing they can do about repeat letters and conflicting information, as it is the computer’s fault.  Student Finance England have a facebook page so that they can answer individual queries (you cannot contact them by e-mail).  I mentioned the waste of everybody’s time to them and they told me the thread was closed!

Rant over.  The point is that we really ought to be able to do better than this if we are to rebuild the UK plc?  Great service makes the difference between repeat purchases and a one off trial as companies such as Toyota and First Direct understand. Excellence is not a luxury good in today’s marketplace.   In Asda’s case, they need customers to come back time after time, so this really should matter to them.  Student Finance England is a Government monopoly, so I guess it matters less, but don’t we owe it to our kids to get this stuff right?

  • Who gets your vote for superb customer service and personal service in an age of mass consumption?
  • Whose service should go in room 101?

Post your comments here.

A bit more Floyd to finish us off.  I don’t think The Gnome has a message for us, but it is a strange little piece anyway:

Innovation Excellence – Calling all firestarters

This week, I have a great opportunity for writers, musicians and business leaders.  I have just been appointed “Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor” for a US based Global Innovation Company called Innovation Excellence.  The company is run by Julie Anixter, who worked with Tom Peters and Seth Godin amongst other leading business thinkers around the world.  Innovation Excellence is the most popular innovation website in the world with over 10 000 readers per day and counting.  As part of my job there, I am planning interviews with people in the coming year such as Ahmet Ertegun’s biographer, CEO of Atlantic Records, Bill Nelson, Professor Adrian Furnham, Bernie Torme, Sir Richard Branson and Sir Paul McCartney.  We’re starting shortly with a piece about the enigma that is Richard Strange, leader of proto-punk pop-art group The Doctors of Madness and perhaps punk’s godfather,

So, what then does the Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor do?  Good question!  You don’t see many RNR Innovation Editors on the staff at the Financial Times or the New York Herald Tribune!  My job is to interview, write or commission articles with any of the following types of people:

  • Innovative musicians – Names that spring to mind include Robert Fripp, Lady Gaga, Brian Eno, Madonna – people who have either innovated within music or are gamechangers in the music industry.
  • Innovation leaders – Especially those who get the idea that innovative leadership requires both discipline and improvisation – Virgin, Toyota, First Direct, Google, 3M, The Eden Project spring immediately to mind.
  • Innovation authors and academics – Again those who have a ‘Rock’n’Roll outlook’ on the subject – Brian Clegg, Tom Peters, Adrian Furnham et al are on my list of suspects here.

Innovation Excellence is also open to sponsors who wish to help build the best educational resource in the world for innovation.  Contact me via e-mail at peter@humdyn.co.uk to see what’s on offer.

So, in the warped words of the hymn “Come all ye faithful … and also a healthy dose of firestarters …”  Drop me a line and let’s see if we can create a guest article or interview.

Speaking of firestarters, time to finish with a bit of that…

Oops I did it again – Britney Spears and learning companies

I commented on the concept of a learning company in my posts on Lady Gaga and David Bowie recently.  The idea of a learning company is a company which learns faster than its competitors and speed of new product / service delivery is vital in today’s business world.  Many academics, such as Peter Senge, Chris Argyris and Peter Senge have commented on this idea, which Britney Spears unwittingly stumbled upon in her classic hit “Oops, I did it again”.  Let’s see Ms Spears in action:

In the context of business, “oops I did it again” refers to the tendency of businesses to repeat themselves, sometimes in the face of compelling evidence telling them to change course.  Organisational learning can mean several things:

Single loop learning – Where we keep existing values and introduce new behaviours – this is often dubbed ‘continuous improvement’, where we look for better ways to do existing things.

Double loop learning – A fundamental reassessment of the way we operate – often more radical and therefore even more difficult.

Companies find it intensely difficult to institute learning at an organisation wide level, be it single or double loop learning.  Marks and Spencer nearly went out of business through having such a strong culture that it did not learn from its customers.  Manifestations of this included a refusal to accept credit card payments for many years and their disastrous initial expansion into Europe.  On the other hand, Toyota have based much of their growth in recent years on behaving as an organisation that learns, alongside other approaches such as lean thinking.  This has given them an incredible edge compared with their competitors.  I have just come back from giving a keynote on this very topic at the 7th International HR Leadership Conference in Athens on this topic, which is central to a turnaround in the way in which businesses operate in the new world order.  I also met Evan Davis from the BBC programme Dragons’ Den last week, where we discussed the need for some new thinking if we are to create a sustainable turnaround in the economy and I shall post separately on this topic soon.

Lessons from Britney:  Don’t repeat yourself.  Learn and adapt.

I have scoured Britney Spears back catalogue for other songs that have a business leadership lesson in them and, frankly, I have failed.  “My perogative”, “Everytime”, “Toxic” – not one transferable business lesson, unless someone can spot something I have missed.  So, I have no particular reason for including the video of “Baby one more time”, except for its own value!

p.s. My new book ‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available FREE via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.   A print and e-book version are also available at PUNK PM.  Britney Spears gets a mention as an honorary punk rocker in the book, even though she is not one.

HR without all the boll...cks - Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wakelin Photography

Finally, let’s hear a Louis Armstrong mashup of Britney’s masterpiece:

What’s new pussycat? – Musings on Innovation

What’s new pussycat? Click on the picture for the book

This is a preview for the new book ‘Punk Rock People Management’, available as a high quality print version at Punk HR and  as a Kindle book.  I’ve included an extract from the book on the theme of innovation to whet your appetite.  Our title suggests that we ought to have some music from Tom Jones – hardly punk rock!  But a sideways shuffle takes us to one of Tom’s classics performed by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band – the wonderful tortured tale of Delilah:

Here’s the extract:

INNOVATION – What’s new pussycat?

I once read a book entitled “Innovation in HR”, published by an HR institute.   I was moderately excited to receive the book, which was a gift for perceived services of acting as an ‘agent provocateur’ to the profession – by the way that’s ‘irritant’ in English.  You can be sure that, once an HR professional starts speaking in French to you, they are about to be inauthentic.  Imagine my disappointment when I opened the book to find it empty – ha, ha!  ‘Caveat emptor’ I should have replied to keep the foreign language HR intercourse going….

Yet, perhaps that is a little unfair, and I feel I deserve to have my bare bottom thrashed with hawthorn twigs for even having such thoughts!  Nonetheless, I must be brutally truthful, in that this rather long book had very little to say other than ‘be positive’.  This in itself is often only half the story in terms of innovation.  It may be nice to surround yourself with ‘shiny happy people’, but they don’t always succeed in the innovation game.  If Isambard Kingdom Brunel had decided to hold a series of ‘iron horse focus groups’, 360 degree appraisal forums and ‘drop in customer transportation strategy listening sessions’, he would probably have never built the Great Western Railway and the world would have never have discovered Swindon – some good points in this then – oops!  If James Dyson had written a pleasant letter to Hoover explaining his minor concerns with their vacuum cleaner rather than getting fed up and  making one that sucked (in the best sense), we would NOT now have “The Dyson” as a new name for “The Hoover”

In short, innovation in new products and services requires more perspiration than inspiration.  Innovation is not over when the flip chart is full in the brainstorming meeting and everyone has imagined 101 ways to use a paper clip as a labour saving device for nail care in HR.  Cold sweat, blood and sometimes tears are required.

If you want to innovate, know that perspiration matters more than inspiration, and comes AFTER the brainstorming session.  Too many so-called innovation social networks are only concerned with creativity.  This fine as far as it goes.  However, there is evidence to suggest that modern social networking websites are a new displacement activity, replacing ironing, daydreaming and focus groups at work.  In the words of Andy Warhol and Lou Reed “It’s work” that counts.  Toyota stands out by being excellent at execution as well as inspiration.

Punk Rock People Management offers us three lessons on innovation:

  • Perspire more than inspire.  A walk on the wild side to discover new ideas is necessary but never sufficient for profitable innovation.
  • Run the numbers alongside the brainstorming and recycle your thinking until the innovations have been tested to destruction to improve the ratio of new ideas : profitability.
  • If your innovation is more ‘product push’ than ‘market need’, know that you need to work much harder and differently to succeed.

‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available for FREE via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.   If you like this extract, you will LOVE my other books – so ‘BOGOF’ – Buy One and Get One Free !  Contact us to book your next conference keynote based on our heady mixture of business leadership and music.  You can watch a slideshow of some Punk Rock HR women previewing the contents at ‘I Kissed an HR Girl and I Liked it‘.  Big thanks to Lindsay Wakelin Photography and Sue Cook for this.

To finish, here is Rock’n’Roll’s greatest failure John Otway performing Delilah at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)  annual conference to the amazement of 200 HR professionals!  John attempted to innovate by organising his own record-breaking Rock’n’Roll World tour in the style of Spinal Tap, but failed.  This is an innovation story in its own right, more of which will be told in the post on Spinal Tap.


Kissing a fool


AC/DC and high voltage performance

Ever been to an AC/DC concert? What can we learn from AC/DC about business and high voltage performance? Check this video out:

AC/DC start a concert as if they are already on the encore. What would happen if you started your meetings as if they were all over before they started? With difficult decisions taken, staff energised, excited and engaged about their part in the business? It’s a different approach to the anticlimax approach to business meetings. Let’s look at another deeper lesson from AC/DC with powerful implications for business.

Before I get into trouble here, let me say that I love AC/DC’s work, having first seen them in 1975 at Gravesend Woodville Halls, when I was just inches away from Angus Young and Bon Scott. Life was never the same… But, in my opinion as a musician, AC/DC’s success lies in the fact that they have not really innovated to a great degree. More or less the same three chords arranged in a different order over 35 years, with a classic sound that has kept people coming back for more of the same. Slightly harsh you may say? Well, what I mean by this is that AC/DC have not switched genres – they have not ‘done’ Country and Western, rap or dealt with space themes such as David Bowie. This has given them immense success from people who like their consistency. What Tom Peters calls ‘sticking to the knitting’ has served them very well indeed. AC/DC’s album ‘Back in Black’ was the 2nd highest selling album in history, after ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson. So, what has this to do with business strategy?

In business, whilst it pays to have a strong culture / brand such as Ryanair , love ’em or loathe ’em and Ikea, when the market changes, a very strong culture can fail to adapt. We saw examples of this with Sony, who did not spot downloading because they had a record company and Marks and Spencer, who lost hold of the market and refused to take credit cards for many years with disastrous consequences. So a strong culture and unchanging brand and business offering CAN be a route to commercial success, but companies ALSO need to learn how to adapt and become a true learning organisation if they are to survive and thrive in a turbulent economy. We looked at Prince in the previous blog as someone who has adapted and largely kept his audience base, even though he has probably tested their patience to destruction. Companies such as Toyota, Unilever, Nokia and Skoda have also been successful at maintaining a strong culture whilst adapting their offer to meet new customer needs. Indeed, Skoda came ‘back in black’ by learning rapidly from the VW Group. So the smart money is on being a creature of habit whilst also remaining nimble and flexible to respond to your audience, customers or marketplace.

We exploring more parallel lessons in business and music in our book “Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to Hiring, Inspiring and Firing staff”. Get your free copy of the book by writing to me here.

FINAL COVERWe will be exploring high voltage performance in the context of leadership at the 7th International HR summit event in Athens, Greece on October 20th following on from Dave Ulrich. For now, it’s back to the DC!!!


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk