Engineers, Inner City Schools, and Gaining Salespeople’s Cooperation: Part 1


Dean Kamen is an engineering genius. What many people don’t realize is that he is also a genius as a salesman. Below is link to three killer videos illustrating what I mean.*

First: Two Videos


If you haven’t seen these before, get ready to be mesmerized as Dean tells the story of developing a “Luke Skywalker-style” artificial limb (at the request of the Defense Department) to help maimed solders returning from Iraq. (And this is just one of the technological breakthroughs he and his team are credited with!)  Click Here to View these Videos.


Second: What Kind of Problem Are We Talking About?

Eleven minutes into the second video, Walt Mossberg (of The Wall Street Journal) asks Dean to shift gears and discuss another of his passions: Motivating more young people to become engineers.


In the last two minutes of this video, Dean points out the familiar problems of the U.S. public school system, where only 70% of the students (at best) even graduate from high school despite the billions of dollars spent to improve it.


Then Dean says something absolutely brilliant:


“I realized that … lots of people will talk about changing the schools, charter schools, better funding and training of teachers, and everything else on the supply side of this …


“But there’s a fundamental problem; … which is that there’s no demand in our culture among kids [especially for children in the inner cities] … to become technically educated and competent. …


 “I decided that … it must not be … a supply problem, instead it is a demand problem …


 “It is not an education problem, it is a culture problem. We’re the only culture on the planet where by the time [inner city kids] are eight years old virtually all minorities [and] women have been convinced that science and engineering is either beyond their reach, or too geeky and unattractive to do. …”


Think about all these people culturally rejecting math and science, for a minute. My friend, Senior Consultant Robert Ferguson, reminded me what this problem really means:


 “A byproduct of avoiding math-oriented curricula and hard things like that is an innumerate society. A million and a billion become the same to people. There is no longer any statistical relevance to information, no filtering, and no proportionality. People sign loan contracts with balloon clauses and can’t predict what will happen to them. Leaders try to socialize risk to protect an innumerate society. The 30% who do not graduate are given affordable housing they cannot afford. It is much worse than no engineers.”


 “And, here’s the myth: that improvement naturally happens as time goes by and people in the organization get smarter. It is not true because there is entropy, degradation at the same time as people leave, training lags, key knowledge holders move on. The small anecdotal improvements get beer time celebration while slippage is ignored, thus reinforcing that ‘we are getting better.’ You need a system to hold gains while driving improvement at a certain measurable pace.”

You can see the problem Dean has zeroed in on is truly one of the root causes in our civilization.


So, once Dean spotted the problem, what did he do about it?


Founding F.I.R.S.T.


 So,” Dean continues, “… look, given the cards that we were dealt, in a media-driven culture … [where people do what they celebrate …] where young kids will do what young adults do, let’s turn science, engineering, mathematics, technology, and problem solving into … a fun sport.”

The result was the founding of F.I.R.S.T. (“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”), whose vision is: 

“To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes.”

Started in 1992 with 28 companies in a New Hampshire gymnasium, F.I.R.S.T.has grown into an organization that reaches 150,000 kids every year and whose championship events are so large they must be held in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta!



Second Edition just released-completely revised:
Turn Your Sales and Marketing
into a Predictable Money Machine
(and do it in a way your salespeople will love!)


Leading Your Sales Organization


What does this have to do with leading your sales organization?

Just about everything, actually.


Think about it: Almost every company in North America is faced with huge sales and marketing challenges. The quality movement and Six Sigma have wrung virtually all the savings out of the manufacturing operation. Senior executives are looking hard to find ways of making sales and marketing more measurable and more efficient.


More than one senior executive has told me that in the companies they’ve worked for, sales and marketing is so screwed up, they just know there has to be a better way to manage it.


This leads them down the path of trying to be scientific. Companies have spent billions on CRM systems and sales training, all in attempts to “improve their sales process.”

They’re trying to go down a path that leads salespeople to be more consistent, more structured, and to provide more information about their activities. Heck, entire companies, like Siebel Systems, for example, were built on the idea that management should be able to know what salespeople are doing in the field. 


Yet, if your sales team is like most, there are many among them whose reaction is similar to your local empty lot basketball team: “Yea, right! That’s too time-consuming, too geeky, too troublesome, and it doesn’t help me sell.” What they don’t say out loud is “You can forget it.”


Leading most sales process initiatives is like juggling Jell-O: Lip service is everywhere, but action-and especially results based on that action-is definitely not.


The problem is not a supply problem. It’s a demand problem! There is no demand in the sales culture to be more structured and provide more data. Heck, people sometimes take sales jobs in order to avoid having to be analytical!

So, how do you solve this dilemma? Next week in Part 2, I will discuss strategies that you can implement to change the culture of your sales organization and gain the cooperation and support of your salespeople.


Michael J. Webb
October 3, 2008


*The videos were released by All Things Digital (The Wall Street Journal’s website devoted to news, analysis, and opinion on technology. (The link is to Gizmodo because it is easier to find and watch them there.)



Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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