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Trying out a killer tech strategy

What’s the key to a killer tech strategy? It sure as heck isn’t perfection.

September marks our second annual technology issue. But if I had to choose another theme that unites this month’s stories, it would have to be “try.” That seems to be the secret sauce that has fueled the success of restaurant-technology leaders such as Taco Bell and Starbucks. It’s the basis for many of the award-winning social media strategies we celebrate. And it is the common mantra that punctuates the sage advice of industry veterans looking back on their inspiring careers in restaurants.

As Starbucks’ former president Howard Behar told a room full of operators representing commercial, noncommercial and c-store foodservice at June’s FARE Conference, “We always had this rule: If it’s not illegal, immoral or unethical, and you’re not going to poison anyone, try it.” In her interview for the “Next-level mobile” story, Tressie Lieberman, VP of digital innovation and on demand for Taco Bell, explained her company’s always-ahead-of-the-curve approach to our writer this way: “Be agile, nimble and flexible, because it’s a world that’s always evolving. Always know your work is never done. ... Get your product out there, get feedback, refine ... as quickly as you can move.” And for every viral YouTube video or buzzed-about Twitter post each of our digital all-stars scored this year, there were countless social media messages that went virtually unnoticed.

The idea of trying something—anything (within reason)—isn’t exclusive to technology decisions, either. In our November 2014 interview with Focus Brands CEO Steve DeSutter, he admits that patience, in his case, isn’t a virtue for leadership. What’s more important is speed. “Make 100 decisions today; tomorrow, fix the one, or however many, that didn’t work,” DeSutter said. Why the haste? “If we’re not innovating and remaining relevant to our loyal customer, we’re losing,” he explained.

It’s worth noting, however, that technology’s Big Poppa, Steve Jobs, was a famous perfectionist, known for paying attention to the finest details, including how many screws were contained in a laptop case. But that description also is misleading. Tucked into our drawers at home are six iterations of Apple’s iPad and just about every must-have version of the iPod and iPhone. If the latest and greatest model is so perfect, why then do I have to buy a new one practically every year?

Customers don’t expect perfection. They want the convenience, the process and the functionality that’s going to best fulfill their need at just the right moment, with the least amount of effort on their part. They want to feel empowered, smart and in control. They want to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, and they want to be hip to the newest, coolest thing. And all of those things are moving targets.

The bottom line, as the examples in this issue show, is that perfection is impossible. And every successful innovator knows it—even Jobs. As an October 2011 article from The New Yorker reminds us, what transformed Apple into the tech titan it is today was Jobs’ embrace of a little more imperfection. To quote the piece: “In giving up a little control, Jobs found a lot more power.”

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