Burning Desires

What do Bill Gates, Martin Luther King and Vidal Sassoon have in common? Each of these visionaries had an idea that they turned from potential into solid reality, ultimately impacting our lives for the better. It's what author Steve Elliott calls the "grassfire effect," a grass roots movement to affect change on a global scale, one spark of creativity at a time. Here, from his book of the same name—The Grassfire Effect (Broadman & Holman, June 2005; www.amazon.com)—Elliott shares his practical tools to increase business.

TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS LIKE MOM This notion that the customer is always right works well in theory, but if a customer is cursing you out for something you didn't do, she's flat-out wrong. Instead, Elliott suggests, it's better to think that the customer is always Mom. If you see Mom in all your customers, you'll treat them differently and show more respect.

BREAK DOWN THE ANONYMITY If you want to have a positive grassfire effect, the first thing you need to remember is that you can't know people until you know their names. So get to know your customers. The proper order of things is to give first, so offer your name first.

CULTIVATE OPINION LEADERS No matter how big or small your organization, you'll always have an inner circle of people. Elliott refers to the 80/20 Rule, or Pareto's Principle, which states that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. Applied to the grassfire effect, 20 percent of your customers will determine 80 percent of your grassfire effect. You need to cultivate these 20 percent. The three types of people who have the most influence on an organization's growth are salespeople, who find something they like and then use their persuasive ability to convince others to try the new thing; connectors, who seem to know everyone and are always bringing people together; and mavens, who serve as an ombudsman, fact-checking everything and then sharing their knowledge. Good businesses will identify and use these people to their advantage.

MEET THE CUSTOMER'S BASIC NEEDS Consider any successful company and you'll be able to boil down their business model to some core service. If you open a can of Pepsi, PepsiCo is meeting your need for an affordable, accessible soft drink. Similarly, money-back guarantees are another way in which companies can meet the basic needs of worry-free patronage.

CONDUCT REGULAR MEETINGS Calling a grassfire effects meeting—a very short get-together designed to spawn ideas—will help your organization increase its idea-sparking concepts. The format should be no more than 21 minutes long, it should start on time, and should not accept questions. It should be focused on one of two things: either meeting the needs of your organization's grassfire effect so that customers will grow your business; or building a stronger bond. Elliott calls this the Law of Twenty-One—that on virtually any topic, a small group of people can come up with 21 ideas in a matter of minutes.