The Chicago Innovation Awards – Part 2
“There are plenty of real businesses that won real awards. Let’s talk about those.”
“Okay, what did you think of the pre-show?”
He slouches in his leather chair. “I slipped in quiet-like. Why not give me your impressions?”
Once again, he’s turning the tables on me. But I close my eyes and bring up the picture in my mind. “I get there early. I’m in the lobby and it gets louder and louder. 1,500 people hitting the portable bars and yammering at each other.”
I check to see if he’s listening. I should know better. This guy misses nothing. “So I’m sitting on a bench, ignoring the throng. I turn to the fellow beside me and it’s my marketing professor, Phillip Kotler. Haven’t seen him in 20 years.”
Loren looks comfortable and satisfied. “That man wrote something like 50 books and I’ve read every one of them.” That’s a lot of reading. I remember back when Kotler drove a Ford Taurus and loved it while his students traveled in Beemers and Benzes. They couldn’t figure him out. And there’s something he said to our class at Kellogg that I’ve never gotten out of my head. ‘It’s not your job to satisfy your customers,’ he said as the students dropped their jaws. Then he went on: ‘It’s your job to DELIGHT your customers!’ He doesn’t take credit for the line. Now, in this economy, students are graduating college with no jobs. So the school shifts focus. Northwestern is teaching them to start businesses. And they’re succeeding at it. It’s the new normal.
I inhale the rich aroma. It goes down nice and helps loosen my tongue. “This crowd is completely different than I expect. Dressed to the nines—some in tuxedos. But they let me in the door anyway and call me ‘sir.’”
He gives a sneer of distaste. “I hate that ‘sir’ talk.”
So do I. “By the way, it turns out Kotler’s on the board of advisors for this event. He introduces me to Tom Kuczmarski who moderates with Dan Miller. These guys founded The Chicago Innovation Awards twelve years ago.”
“Just give me the meat of it.”
I can do that. “First thing that surprises me—the pizzazz—lots of loud, lively music and entertainment. Like the academy awards on steroids. Then Tom Kuczmarski and Dan Miller get introduced with a promise to take them out of their comfort zone. And that’s what happens—big time.”
Loren leans back and lifts his cowboy boots to the table. “Risk taking is the only way you get innovation.”
“Yeah, that’s the way I heard it. Then they’re in a video skit. It’s a reality show—kinda like American Idol. They’re competing with the The FootworKINGz.
“This is a group that dances in tightly choreographed rapid rhythmic jerks—moves taken from the streets of Chicago. And they’re sensational. Tom and Dan do a magic act but those dancers are a tough act to follow. It turns into a nightmare. That sleazebag Howard Stern leads a panel of judges. At least I think that’s who it is. They all gang up on Tom & Dan and their magic act. They criticize it and cut it to pieces.”
Loren sips his cognac and nods. “Like a presentation before investors.”
I see the connection and grin. “So Tom passes a hula hoop over Dan and suddenly he’s undressed to his boxer shorts.”
Loren smacks his lips. “Just like going through due diligence.”
“Then he shrinks Dan to the size of a baby and the guy squawks like a parakeet.”
Loren passes his snifter under his nose. “Man’s ego always gets in the way.”
“Then the judges give absurd advice about how to improve the act.”
“Expert coaching,” he says.
It occurs to me that Loren got a lot more out of this thing than I did. “Then Tom and Dan decide, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ And they perform on the live stage with The FootworKINGz.”
“You don’t need classical training to be a success. Sometimes it holds you back.”
“You saw all this yourself, Loren. I’m supposed to interview you.”
He smiles. “You just did, John. You just did.”
I feel like he taught me a lesson of some kind but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
His phone rings and he checks the screen. “Gotta take this call.” And I sit and wait. From what I can make out, he’s talking to some staffer that’s buying up shares of tonight’s companies. Finally he pockets the phone and sips his Hennessy. “Let’s get down to the real businesses that won real awards.”
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