Kevin Cope Published on Fast Company

Ryan Cope  |  December 2, 2014


Do you want your employees to think and act like owners of the business? You definitely should. Employees that feel invested in the company are more engaged in their roles. So exactly how do you get your employees to think and act like owners? Kevin Cope tells you in his most recently published article on Fast Company.

Leadership Lessons From Henry Ford

Ryan Cope  |  October 27, 2014

1917 Ford Model T

This month marks the 106th anniversary of one of the most innovative and life-changing products in history, the Ford Model T. Of course, the Model T wouldn’t have been the success that it was without the leadership and business acumen of its creator, Henry Ford.

Before 1908, cars were a luxury that only the affluent could afford. Not only did they have a huge price tag, but they were also expensive to maintain and repair. Ford saw huge potential in the future of the automobile and was determined to build a vehicle that fit the budget of the middle-class.

When Ford introduced the Model T, it started at $825, a price that was much cheaper than anything else on the market. It was also simple to drive and easy to repair, making it an instant success.

Throughout the next several years, Ford did something surprising. He dropped, and continued to drop, the already low price of the Model T. In fact, by 1916, the Model T was less than half of the original price at $345.

That wasn’t the only surprising decision Ford made. In 1914, he decided to offer $5 a day to employees that met certain criteria, which was double the average wage at the time (Just imagine Walmart deciding to pay its employees $18 an hour!). When a company is considering ways to lower the price of its products, doubling employee salaries certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

So why did Ford decide to lower the price of his product while increasing the salary of his employees when common sense says otherwise? Because one of the skills that made him such an innovative leader was his ability to see the big picture.

Ford knew that if he were able to lower the price of the Model T, then more people would be able to afford it and sales would increase. As you well know, his strategy worked. Sales sky rocketed so that by the 1920, he was producing over 1 million cars per year.

And before Ford raised the wage of his workers, he was having serious employee retention problems. Getting new employees up to speed is time-consuming and costly. By raising wages, Ford was actually saving money as he attracted top talent and retained that talent longer.

Ford was responsible for one of the most influential products of our time, in large part, because he wasn’t afraid to take risks. But what’s more, he had the business acumen to take the right risks, or as we like to say, strategic bets. And that is something that is lacking in most managers and leaders today.

Mark Zuckerberg got it right when he said, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

So happy anniversary to the Model T, and let’s all make it a goal to take more (smart) risks!

Your Service Sucks And You Don’t Know It

Ryan Cope  |  October 22, 2014

There is no question that good customer service is vital to any healthy company. Just as important, if not more, is the service given between colleagues and departments (or internal customers) within the organization. In fact, how employees treat each other is highly reflective of the way they treat their customers. Stephen R. Covey once said, “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”


At Acumen Learning, we have the opportunity to work with thousands of employees from some of the greatest companies in the world – companies such as GE, Coca-Cola, Verizon and Cisco. During each course we teach, we ask these two simple questions:

  • Question 1: On a scale from 1–5, how would you rate the service you receive from your colleagues?
  • Question 2: On a scale from 1–5, how would you rate the service you give your colleagues?

To date, we have surveyed more than 30,000 people from both companies large and small, and what we have found is fascinating. Every single person has responded that they give significantly better service than they receive! While it’s possible that we’ve just happened to survey the 30,000 employees who give exceptional service – we highly doubt that’s the case. What we’ve found is this:

People tend to judge themselves by their intentions, and others by their actions.

In other words, there is a gap between the grade of service people think they give and the grade of service they actually give. And this gap isn’t just found with the service given to internal customers (colleagues), but with the service given to external customers as well.

So how do you bridge the service gap? Well, the single most impactful thing you can do is to improve your communication skills. Most people could spend their entire lives trying improve their ability to communicate, so don’t think that I am going to cover the entirety of the subject here. However, I do have a couple of simple tips that, if implemented, will make a big difference.

Listen To Understand

Before you start talking about what you think your customers (whether internal or external) want, try asking questions and really listen to what they need. No matter how hard you work, if your understanding of their needs is off, you will never have satisfied customers.

Communicate More Frequently

It’s easy to think that everyone knows what you know, but they don’t. Your actions just aren’t as clear as you think they are, so make it a goal to communicate more information more frequently.

When is the last time you asked a colleague or customer how satisfied they are with your service and for suggestions on how to improve? Asking this question on a regular basis will do wonders for your relationship with your internal and external customers.

In the end, a good rule of thumb is that if you think you communicate enough, you probably need to double it.

Where is innovation born?

Mike Wright  |  October 15, 2014

Consider this…

Where is innovation born? Sure, sometimes it happens like Newton where an apple falls and you get that stroke of genius, but probably more often than not, innovation isn’t a singular individual ah-ha moment.

Instead, most innovations are born in places where ideas can combine, even collide with one another, to form newer ideas, bigger ideas, and better ideas. In short, the place (or the space) where innovation happens probably plays a bigger role than most people think.

Take Alcoa, the aluminum giant. In the early nineties they followed people into their homes to study how they consumed soda pop. They found that consumers would put a few cans of soda in the fridge from their 12 pack, which were sold in a suitcase type package back then, and the rest of the cans they’d put in the pantry. This presented a problem, when all the cold pop in the fridge was gone, consumers would choose a different cold drink instead of taking the time to put more cans (aluminum cans mind you) in the fridge.

Alcoa developed an ingenious solution, but how they developed it was equally ingenious. Check out the slides below to see what we mean…

Where is innovation born?

Acumen In Action™

In your next team meeting click through the slideshow and use your business acumen to explore the following: 

  • What stood out to you about the story of Alcoa?
  • Why are the simplest ideas sometimes the best ideas?
  • What innovations has our team implemented?
    You may want to remind everyone that the goal is an innovative culture where even a simple idea that improves a process is celebrated.
  • Are there any ideas that we’ve passed on that we should maybe revisit?
  • How would you rate our environment? Have we created a place where ideas can connect?
  • How can we improve our space to foster more innovation?

Seeing the Big Picture

If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture(Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 30 and read the introduction to Profits. Why do so many innovative dot-coms no longer exist? What’s the relationship between innovation and profits?

The Top 10 Books to Build Your Business Acumen

Ryan Cope  |  September 23, 2014

Whether you received a business degree or not, building and sharpening your business acumen on an ongoing basis is necessary to stay on top of your game. One of the most accessible forms of learning is reading, but there are so many books out there, it’s hard to know what which ones are worth your time. Fortunately for you, I’ve put together a list of 10 books that are sure to blow your mind (in a constructive way, of course).


Drive, by Daniel Pink

Have you ever wondered what truly motivates your employees – or yourself for that matter? In his book, Daniel Pink argues that there is a gap between what science knows and what business does. You’ll learn what he calls the three elements of true motivation (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) and why the carrot-and-stick approach can actually do more harm than good.

7 habits

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey

In one of the most influential books of our time, Covey outlines the “7 Habits” that successful people have mastered. Whether you are the CEO of a company, a college student, or a stay-at-home parent, this book is a must read.


Good To Great, by Jim Collins

There are a lot of good companies out there, but few companies that are truly great. Jim Collins, a master researcher, dedicated years to investigating the great firms of our time and what makes them that way. He shares his insightful findings and creates a framework that helps any company go through the good-to-great transition.


First, Break All The Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

The Gallup Organization studied over 80,000 managers from just about every industry to find out what sets great managers apart. What did they find? That the best managers do not hesitate to break the rules set by conventional wisdom. Buckingham and Coffman present the fascinating findings and provide practical insights for managers at any level.


The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M.R. Covey

When listing the qualities of a successful organization, the ability to build trust probably doesn’t make the top of the list, but Stephen M.R. Covey makes the case (and a very convincing case at that) that trust is necessary to build any high-performing company. This book will teach you how you can measure and improve your ability to build trust, and how this essential trait can save you time and money.


The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen

Perhaps one of the most influential books on innovation, The Innovator’s Dilemma explains why great companies fail, even when they don’t seem to be doing anything wrong.  CEOs, employees, and entrepreneurs will all find that this book sheds a whole new light on business and innovation.


Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson takes you deep into the life of one of the most interesting and inspiring leaders of our time. Although Jobs may not have done everything right, his approach to business provides countless insights into running a successful company.


Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler

Much of what we are able to accomplish is based on the quality of conversations we have – whether they are personal conversations with family or friends, or business conversations with customers, employees, or your boss. Based on 25 years of research, Crucial Conversations presents a model to help you improve your conversations in any situation.


The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell

We’ve all heard the term “going viral,” but what are the factors that lead up to this phenomenon? And I’m not just talking about YouTube videos that go viral, but social trends, ideas, and products. This is exactly what Gladwell set out to answer when writing this book.


Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company, by Kevin Cope

Yes, this happens to be a book that we wrote, but it is also (in my humble opinion) the best book out there on business acumen. Best described as an MBA in 180 pages, this book helps you speak the language business. After reading Seeing the Big Picture, you will understand the 5 Drivers of any successful business and have a working knowledge of the financial statements.