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On Becoming a Killer App Published: Sunday, July 22, 2012 12:01 am By: Ulises Pabón, Chief Operating Officer

The term Killer Application (commonly shortened to Killer App) has been used, in the computer industry, to refer to any computer program of such great value or popularity that it drives the sales and assures the success of the hardware it runs on.  In a broader context, the term refers to a feature or component of a system that, in itself, makes the system worth having or worth using.

In the late 1070s, VisiCalc became the killer app for Radio Shack’s TRS-80 and the Apple II.  Computer and telephone companies are constantly searching for the next killer app because they know it will drive sales of their device.  The term Filler App, on the contrary, refers to the dozens of useless programs PC manufacturers load into their computers that provide little, if any, value to the customer. 

Think about the perspective this killer/filler app framework could provide if you were to apply it to your role in your company.  What would it mean to be your company’s killer app?  How does one become a “killer app”?

Three ingredients come to mind when I reflect on people I’ve come to see as “killer apps” in their respective organizations: creativity, drive, and collaboration.

If serving customers were as easy as a 1-2-3 recipe, we wouldn’t need people to do the job.  We can program computers to routinely execute the same steps and provide the same answers.  Customer service, however, invariantly carries a strong problem-solving component and people skilled at looking beyond the obvious, making connections and coming up with solutions are in the right track to becoming a “killer app”.

When you make an extraordinary effort to understand the customer’s needs, empathize with his or her situation, and then open yourself to the options available, making connections among the possibilities and alternatives at your disposal, you are tasking your creative abilities.  It can be as simple as offering the alternative of ice-cream, milk, a glass, and a spoon (all of which are on the menu) rather than telling a customer that you don’t carry milkshakes on the menu (which you don’t). 

Creativity entails making connections.  Although the term carries this mysterious cloak that suggests it’s an innate gift reserved for a few, in reality it’s available to all.  Curiosity didn’t kill the cat; it actually fuels creativity.  When you listen actively to your customer’s request and deliberately and attentively scan the environment for options, you are activating your creative muscle.

Drive is the second attribute of people that behave as “killer apps”.  Finding a solution is one thing, making it happen is another.  “Killer Apps” have a passion for problem solving and serving.  Their drive is fueled by accomplishments.  They are passionate about what they do and they enjoy it.

Passion can’t be faked.  However, it can be nurtured and grown.  The fast-paced world we live in robs us of the chance to reflect on the impact we make on others with our service.  When we pause and think about what we are doing, we discover a source of satisfaction and pride.  The simplest gesture, the additional effort, the extra care; all of these can make a difference that matters.

Finally, the “secret” key to becoming a Killer App is collaboration.  Delivering results is rarely a one-man or one-woman job.  The business world is too complex for a superman or wonder-woman to solve.

During the last two weeks, over 50 percent of my work as a consultant to organizations has been focused on getting people to work together for the benefit of their customers, their organizations, and their own well-being.  You would think that the spirit to collaborate would come naturally.  It does for “killer apps”.  They are energizers, not energy drains; they are open-minded, rather than close-minded; they share the stand, rather than steal the lime-light.

Gone are the days of the industrial-age survival tactics of controlling information, ousting high performers or playing office politics.  In today’s “open-source” economy, those measures stick out as a sore thumb.  They are the signs of insecurity and incompetence.  They may provide “filler apps” with temporary victories but eventually fail.

Nurture your creativity, drive, and spirit of collaboration and you will be on the road to becoming indispensable in today’s hypercompetitive world.


Copyright 2012 QBS, Inc.
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