Our obsession with famous people fascinates me. I once saw a local celebrity at Costco. It was clear that I wasn’t the only one who noticed him. He politely greeted and talked with those who approached him while he continued shopping. I did not approach him. Uninvited intrusions into people's personal space make me nervous.
When I see a news article about a crazed fan crossing the line in pursuit of a moment with their favorite celebrity, I wonder what the $% were they thinking? Let’s say you track down your favorite famous actor, actress, musician, athlete, model, or whatever—what do you plan to say to them? What do you hope to accomplish? How will that meeting go down? When I imagine these scenarios, they never go well.
- Scenario #1: The Famous Actor
- Me: Tom Hanks!
Actor: Uh, hello.
Me: Wow! Okay. I can't believe it's really you. That is, so COOL! (awkward pause)
Actor: So, ah, why are you on my doorstep?
Me: (Confused look) Uh, haha, yeah. I just came by—I mean I was just in the neighborhood—your last movie was AWESOME! How you landed the plane on the water! Saved all the people! Dude, so AWESOME!
Actor: Well thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. Now, my porch is private property, so you're going to need to leave.
Me: Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah, right. Sorry, I didn’t realize. I should go. (Pause with dazed look) You like donuts? I saw a place down the street. You wanna—
Actor: (Shakes head, and motions towards gate) No. You need to go, now.
Me: Yeah, you’re right. Goodbye. Awesome movie again! Awesome! (Looks at gate) Could you open it? Kind of caught myself in the crotch when I was climbing over it—not too sure what I did exactly. Probably need to see a doctor.
Actor: Yes, I will open the gate. Goodbye.
Me: Bye. (turns to go)
- Scenario #2: The Famous Musician
- Me: Hey Jack!
Me: Now that I have you locked in this room, I need you to do something.
Musician: Uh, Okay. What?
Me: Play that song from that monkey movie? You know the one where the guy gets the monkey from the jungle.
Musician: Curious George?
Me: Yeah, yeah, that’s it—I love Curious George!
Musician: Upside Down?
Me: YES! YES! That’s it! I love that song! Upside down . . .
Musician: I can’t play it for you.
Me: What? Why not?
Musician: You’ve tied up my arms.
- Scenario #3: The Famous Athlete
Me: Hey Tom!
Athlete: How did you get on the field?
Me: Well—I, ah, hey do you like my jersey? Number 12, huh? You like it? It’s kinda tight around the gut but not too bad—
Athlete: Are you the guy from the player parking lot?
Me: No. No. No. Must be another guy. All us old guys look the same in our matching jerseys. Wanna toss the ball around a bit?
- Scenario #4: The Famous Model
Model: (cold stare)
Me: Um, um. Hmmm. Okay, yeah, uh, well. What to say. What to say—You look very nice today. How about you tilt your head a bit to the left? Or no. That's fine too. Just stand there. That works. Can you do that “Blue Steel” look? Gotta love that Ben Stiller. Ever met him? Funny guy.
Model: (cold stare)
I guess I’m just not cut out for the celebrity-pseudostalking thing. I’d be so bad at it. I really would. Don’t get me wrong, if the right opportunity presented itself, I’d love to have lunch with Tom Hanks, jam with Jack Johnson, or toss a ball with Tom Brady. I don’t know the names of too many famous models other than Tom Brady’s wife, Gisele, and well, I don’t know, that would be awkward—I guess she could be there when I play catch with Tom.
People love their celebrities though. Everyone has their favorites and that’s fine. I think people have been star-struck from the beginning of time. It’s the way we are wired. It is in our DNA. Back in the day there was probably a Neanderthal hunter dude that everyone thought was all that because he could kill a wooly mammoth with one swing of his club. The guy had swagger and everyone loved him for it. And there was this Neanderthal woman in the tribe who could skin the kill in under 7 seconds. Everyone digs a tough chick who knows how to use a blade (just ask Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich).
I do think we sometimes enable the darkside of celebrity obsession too much. Think about how easy it is to stalk your favorite celeb these days. It requires no work really and you don't have to risk the stigma associated with being a "stalker." Just get yourself a couple social media accounts and—get this—the celebrities do the work for you. They post text, pictures, and videos of themselves—way more than you could get from hiding outside in the bushes. Without even asking, they’ll tell you what they’re wearing, eating, saying, doing, what they look like with makeup on, with makeup off, on the beach, by the pool, in the gym, and in the bathroom mirror.
Following celebrities on social media is a big deal these days. Did you know that Selena Gomez has 108 million followers on Instagram? Taylor Swift - 96 million. Ariana Grande - 94 million. Beyonce - 91 million. Katy Perry has 94 million followers on Twitter and Justin Bieber has 91 million. Kim Kardashian has 50 million followers and she doesn’t even sing. Or act. Or do anything really except be Kim Kardashian. And be married to Kanye (27 million on Twitter).
It's a certain type of celebrity that garners the most attention in social media. And with Bill Gates as an exception, the number of people who follow tech and business leaders is relatively low. For example, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Founder and CEO, only has a paltry 176 thousand Twitter followers. Makes sense. I mean, what has he done anyway? Sure he runs a multibillion, multinational company, but come on, does he tweet out pictures of himself in front of the bathroom mirror? What? No poolside shots with him and his buddies wearing matching speedos? Who’d follow him?
I’d follow Jeff Bezos. Not that I want to know what he’s wearing or eating, or what he looks like with make-up on, or by the beach—well, you get where I’m going with this. I’m not interested in knowing any of that personal shiz that only stalkers, governments and organized crime knew just a few years ago. But I would be interested in hearing Bezos take on wide range of business and technology topics. Over the last 25 years, he’s proved to be genius in these areas. I’m guessing that he has more to share than I have capacity to learn.
To me, Bezos is the Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the modern technology industry. No! Not because the hairstyle. Come on! I’m not that superficial. Give me credit! Although, I admit at one point I considered comparing Bezos with Charles Barkley so there may be a subconscious pattern. The Charles Barkley comparison kind of worked—a tad undersized for a big man but a prolific rebounder and scorer who's not afriad to mix it up in the paint. But as much as I loved him as a player, Charles never won a championship (’93 Suns team—so close!) and in my mind Jeff has already brought home multiple championships.
Back to Captain Picard though, the comparison goes more than scalp deep. Think about all the different adventures Picard led his crew and us on as they pursued their mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. Picard was our intergalactic travel guide for, what, maybe seven seasons and 176 episodes worth of quality drama? Who else in Starfleet did more both in terms of quantity and quality?
And this is my first point, over the last 20 years what company as done more with technology to change how the world does business in both the B2B and B2C spaces? Sure, there are people at Star Command who have made some incredible breakthroughs in Warp Core design and others who have transformed photon technologies. And I agree that Starfleet has other commanders who have proven capable explorers—who have brought us strange new worlds, new life, and changes that have shaped civilization.
But compare these other starships to Bezos and his enterprise crew. What has Amazon accomplished? Nothing too significant, I guess—just built the world’s leading retailer (kicking retail giants like Wal-mart and Target in their nethermost regions), transformed into a tech leader that rivals Google, Apple, and Microsoft, and created a major media content provider (competing with Hollywood studios, Netflix, major book publishers). Oh, yeah, the Amazon CEO also has a company that builds rocketships. Did I mention this? He’s working on putting people and things into space. Captain Bezos! And here the world thought the guy just wanted to run an online bookstore.
The Amazon story
rivals beats Apple’s own incredible story that peaked 10 years ago (a lifetime in the tech industry). And unfortunately for Apple and the rest of the world, the more charismatic and comparably capable Captain James T. Kirk is dead (RIP Steve Jobs). Amazon is Star Trek: The Next Generation. Bezos and his crew are significantly transforming general consumer behavior and business computing behavior in the current tense. Amazon's starship is neither stuck in a reoccurring orbit around a long discovered planet nor drifting in space somewhere waiting to get its warp core back online.
This is not a rip on all other tech companies. And I’m not saying Amazon is perfect. Every ship in Starfleet has its problems, weakness, and shortcomings. They’re all only a coordinated Klingon attack away from disabled shields and a damaged warp core. I'm just saying that if I were a Hollywood producer looking for a new primetime series, I would go with Amazon given the depth and breadth of stories they they’ve generated and continue to write.
Keep in mind that I may also produce some spinoff series and standalone movies based on other starships in the fleet. I’m thinking another multi-season series called: Deep Search Nine: Googling Space. A reality TV show featuring intergalactic teens sending pictures and videos to each other called Starchat. A movie thriller called Windows: Alien Resurrection and another whodunit movie called Spacebooked. And perhaps a documentary called The Search for INTELligent Life. (kinda lame, I know)
Yeah, so anyway, back to my celebrity encounter with Jeff Bezos. I am uncomfortable intruding into the peoples lives just because they're famous, but if there's a legitimate reason to interact with them—well you make the most of it. Let’s just say (hypothetically) that Bezos’ boat broke down somewhere around the San Juan Islands and I just happened to be passing by in my boat (assuming I actually had a boat). And in the process of me helping him out, we struck up this conversation about all the great things he’s done, is doing, and is planning on doing. (This coming after he has asked me about me, my family, and my fictitious boat, because, I imagine Jeff’s a good guy; and this is what nice, graceful guys do, especially when you help rescue them and their busted boat.)
So we’d have this conversation about how technology is transforming business because this is a topic I find fascinating and I’m sure he does too—because he’s the guy leading much of the transformation. And then as we talk tech-biz-transformation, I slip in my concern about the Borg his team is building (AWS) and ask him if he’s got any concerns about getting assimilated into that Borg—because if it happened to Picard, it could happen to anyone. He laughs and we talk about AWS for a while.
And then I ask him what I should think about Alexa. Is she for real? Because a woman that always talks in a nice tone and who does whatever you say? Serious? Think about it. That’s not normal. Have you been around women in the last half-century? Have you spent any time watching the Syfy channel? Sweet, well-meaning, AI always leads to problems. This is how humanity ends! Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines?
At this point, we’d probably be back to the nearest harbor and I’d tell Jeff that he could hang with me while he waited for the mechanic to check out his boat. He says cool. So we head over to the nearest restaurant in Friday Harbor and knock down some oysters on the half shell. That’s when I’d start asking personal DNA questions.
Everyone has a gene that I call the obsession gene. No, I am not a scientist. But I’ve got plenty of data to back up my hypothesis. Were you paying attention to the social media numbers I included earlier? Selena Gomez – 108 freaking million people follow her on Instagram. I mean really. Same Old Love is an alright song, but not 108 million alright! That’s the obsession gene at work. It causes us to give irrational amounts of attention to what rationally does not deserve that level of attention.
Obsession is normal and irrational obsession is common. People obsess about things, games, places, ideas, political positions, behaviors—there are so many ways to obsess. But people are the most common targets of our obsession. People obsession gone wrong gets the most press, but our obsessive traits can be a powerful motivator for doing good when pointed in the right direction and pursued with some level of moderation. The Uncle Ben rule applies here: with great power comes great responsibility. In the case of the obsession gene power, many people employ to much of it in pointless endeavors like closely following modern melodramatic reality star sagas.
I don’t know how closely Jeff Bezos follows the Kardashians or Selena Gomez, but I have seen the fruits of his obsessive powers exercised in a responsible and productive fashion through my interactions with his company, Amazon. Somehow, it seems, he has reversed the polarization of his obsession gene. Instead of focusing his genetic energies in the pursuit of celebrities, he’s reengineered his obsession gene to focus on common folks—his customers. Customer Obsession is one of Amazon’s core values—in fact it is at the top of their list. This value is reflected not only in Amazon’s customer service but, more importantly, in the progression of their products, services, technologies, and value. So as Jeff and I are drinking our drinks, looking out over Friday Harbor, and waiting for our lobster and salmon, I ask him about his obsession gene.
Not only do I ask about his obsession gene but also about the customer obsession genetic material that he’s woven into the DNA of his companies. Because this is a topic I’d really like to get his perspective on. Every company writes “we love our customers” into their corporate value statement. But it’s how a company applies those words that determines whether they limp along on auxiliary power or push the boundary towards Warp 10.
The food has arrived at our table now. Jeff’s eating the lobster and I’m having the grilled salmon. We watch, as a pod of orcas makes its way north in the waters just beyond the harbor. As we eat and watch this awesome display of nature, I work through my thoughts on what differentiates Amazon’s customer obsession. Some companies measure their customer love by call wait-time metrics or by scores from post-transaction one-minute surveys.But is this obsession?
Obsession is watching every episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians at least 7 times. It's following all the Kardashians, Jenners, and their various hip-hop love interests and friends on every social media platform. It's recording every interview and talk show appearance and then hosting Kardashian study groups at your home where you rewatch and discuss them. It’s cataloging every news segment and article about them—ET, TMZ, Rolling Stone, People, US, E!, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, Univision, CSPAN. It’s keeping track of every place visited and every product endorsed, sold, purchased, browsed, or dissed. It's following up with customers and vendors to better understand what the Kardashians care about and why.
It’s compiling all this data, analyzing it, transforming it, and turning it into not only recommendations for the Kardashians but also into new ideas for how you do business. You use customer data to modify business processes, reengineer technologies, restaff your teams, enhance the customer experience, and pioneer into new markets. And then you do it again. And again. In a never ending iterative cycle of continuous improvement. This is what Amazon does. Except instead of focusing all their obsessive energy on one glamorized family in Southern California, they channel their genetic drive on millions of customers spread out over multiple contries—ordinary people like you and me.
As we finish our meal, soak in the sunshine, and smell of salty air, I ask Jeff why he supposes his obsession gene manifests itself in such a distinguished, productive, and remarkable way. And how he managed to find 270,000 employees whose customer obsession attributes align with his own. And how he manages to keep his crew from getting distracted by other obsessions? Like Selena Gomez and that dang catchy I love you like a love song, baby song that keeps re-pe-pe-peat-ing over and over. And over again.
By this time the mechanic's back and he tells Captain Bezos that the boat is fixed and ready to go. Jeff says, “Derek, thanks for the help, the meal, and the engaging conversation. I enjoyed it.” I thank him profusely for sharing his experience and wisdom. It really has been life changing.
As Jeff turns to go, I notice that he looks a bit down about leaving. And I understand how he’s feeling. It’s been such a wonderful afternoon, that I don’t want it to end either. So I say, “Hey JB!” (I know it’s kind of personal for me to share this, but yeah, when you save a man at sea and then spend the subsequent afternoon with him, you form a bond, you know. So, yeah, I call him JB now and he's taken to it).
So I say, “Hey JB! How ‘bout next month, we take our boats—and shoot up the Inside Passage to Alaska?” Jeff loves, loves, loves the idea. We exchange numbers, set a date, and share a solid bro hug. And that’s how our day ends.
You can follow our Alaska trip on Twitter and Instagram. ;-)
Note: I collected the images used in this blog off the Internet and I don’t own them. I did create the header image pulling the space element off unsplash.com.