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Don’t Get Too Comfortable Being Number One if You Want to Stay There – Part II

Opened in 1870, Cedar Point is the second oldest operating amusement park in the United States.Photo Credit:

In part one of this series, I focused on hard lessons learned by Kodak, who had the technology and capability for the first digital camera back in 1975, but was beat to the digital market by their competition, because they became complacent with their monopoly in the 35mm camera market. It certainly was a sad lesson, but just as time can heal old wounds, time can also minimize our sense of urgency. So, in part two of this series, I wanted to share a more recent example of building a sense of urgency and embracing continuous improvement as a competitive advantage to remain at the top.

My family and I are roller coaster junkies, spending approximately 20 days annually at Cedar Point, the United States second-oldest operating amusement park located on a 364 acre peninsula in Sandusky, Ohio. It is known as "The Roller Coaster Capital of the World" and is the flagship park of parent company, Cedar Fair. In the 20+ years that I’ve been visiting Cedar Point, I can always remember the park offering the latest and greatest innovations in ride technology to its guests and maintaining an obsession for breaking world records for both speed and height. I will highlight a few of the “heart stoppers” that have actually forced me to pause over the years and ask “do I really want to do this?” before I took the plunge. It began with Magnum XL200 in 1989, which represented the world’s first hyper coaster at over 200 feet tall and a speed of 72 miles per hour. The obsession produced the world’s first giga coaster, Millennium Force, at over 300 feet and a speed of 93 miles per hour, followed by Top Thrill Dragster, the world’s first strata coaster at over 400 feet and a top speed of 120 miles per hour.

In 2016, Cedar Point unveiled its most recent world record breaking coaster, Valravn, which is both the tallest and fastest dive coaster in the world with a four second pause at the top of a 223-foot hill dropping riders back down 214 feet and speeds reaching 75 miles per hour with a perfect view of Lake Erie. Valravn has the ability to accommodate approximately 1200 riders per hour. While the most recent addition to their coaster lineup was impressive offering the speed, height and thrills that their customers have come to expect, for me, it wasn’t as impressive as the process that I observed at the top of the ride platform.

The first thing that I noticed was visual management boards that communicated time to the ride attendants. The clock starts when the train enters the station and people begin to disembark. The clock begins to run until new riders are loaded, secured and the train is launched. My assumption is that there is a time goal that is communicated to the ride attendant so that they know if they are on or off pace in launching trains. The second visual management technique that caught my eye was the visual of the train itself. When a rider sits in the seat and the restraint locks, the rider’s seat illuminates in green on the screen, indicating that the seat is secured. By looking at the screen, the ride attendant can immediately identify an abnormality on the train and focus their efforts there. (For the record, I was the abnormality noted in the picture as I was spending my time taking the picture rather than securing my restraint.) By focusing the ride attendant efforts, Cedar Point is able to improve the customer experience by decreasing the wait time associated with loading and launching a train.

The ride platform illustrated to me that Cedar Point, who manufacturers nothing but a customer experience, has an established sense of urgency. They recognize that world records are temporary and that there will always be competition lurking in the shadows looking to take their record away. World records alone will not keep people returning to their park if a guest can only complete 4-5 rides per operating day because the queue lines take hours. Cedar Point’s competitive advantage is found in their daily focus to improve the customer experience by increasing the value-added ride time. So, to the Cedar Point team, I say “thank you” and “well done” for remaining focused on the customer and striving to improve my experience every day and it’s the reason why I will continue to recommend their property to others.

Now that I have illustrated a recent example and the impact that it left with me as a customer, I will leave you with the following questions:

  • What is your organization’s sense of urgency?

  • Can the sense of urgency be defined by those who work within the organization?

  • Can your customers see how you are working to improve the experience for them and how you are adding value for them as I did as a guest?

  • What are you doing today that will make you better tomorrow?

It is my hope that by taking the time to reflect on the lessons learned from Kodak and the example of Cedar Point's relentless pursuit to exceed customer expectations every operating day, that you take the time to consider whether your organization is currently utilizing the questions provided. These quick questions will help you assess the presence of creative tension within your organization. If it's present, people can see the gap between where they currently are and where they want to be. It will provide the motivation and trajectory to move towards the ideal state. If its missing in the current state, your organization may have become complacent with its current state of performance. Complacency destroys the potential for greatness.

Melissa Curtis-Hendley, M.T.D., is the Principal Consultant and Founder of MCH Consulting and Design, LLC. She is also a Special Lecturer in the Department of Organizational Leadership at Oakland University. Melissa can be contacted at Please visit MCH Consulting and Design at

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