Today AU, tomorrow the world

“From Push to Pull: How to Navigate the ‘Big Shift’ Reshaping the World” interview of author John Hagel (ConsultingMag.com, 8 July 2010). It’s Saturday, so let’s just cut to the chase…

Consulting: What exactly is the power of pull?

Hagel: I guess it starts with a rather provocative proposition that the current management approaches and institutions that we have in business are fundamentally broken, and to support that proposition we muster a set of evidence around performance trends over long periods of time for all public companies in the United States. In particular, we show that return on assets (ROA) for all public companies in the U.S. has eroded in a very substantial and sustained rate since 1965. In fact, it has come down about 75 percent. There is no evidence of it leveling off, much less turning around. At minimum, it suggests that the current recovery of the economy debate may be a bit misleading. We’re showing some longer-term trends that have been playing out across many economic cycles that we have not been able to respond to effectively.

Consulting: And to what do you attribute that decline over the last 45 years?

Hagel: On one level, you can simply think about it in terms of intensifying competition. One of the metrics we have shows the intensity of competition has at least doubled over this time period. But at a more fundamental level, the basis of competition is changing. In the past, we lived in a world where the source of economic value was around knowledge stocks, developing a proprietary set of knowledge, protecting it fiercely and extracting the value from it as efficiently as possible for as long as possible…

Wow! That’s quite a mouthful, eh? Where we are today traces all the way back to 1965. That’s a lot of bad habits and false assumption to break and remold. No wonder the last couple year felt like a house of cards collapsing. Fortunately, there is hope…

Consulting: How would this impact the way professional service firms serve clients?

Hagel: That’s interesting: One of the key implications, we believe, is for professional service firms to organize a much broader network of expertise. Most professional service firms tend to operate as ‘we have the answers and we engage one-to-one with our clients’ as opposed to organizing a large network and help to connect that network and its expertise to clients. With more and more options competing for everyone’s attention, the notion of someone who deeply understands what a client’s needs might be and who can be helpful connecting that client to the people, information and resources that are most valuable to them will be well positioned to succeed.

Interesting enough, that sounds very similar to the Alchemy United model. Let’s just leave it at that for today. Time to run out and grab Hagel’s “Big Shift”.

It’s like building a house

“The Requirements Payoff” by Karl Wiegers (DrDobbs.com via Information Week, 9 July 2010). As is tradition around here, don’t let the subject matter fool you. This is not just about building systems. The lessons here can be applied across the board. We are all familiar with:

— Look before you leap.

— Measure twice, cut once.

— Do it right the first time.

— Haste makes waste.

The one caveat here is that Karl is focused on user requirements, when the focus should be business needs. Defining what’s wanted (is easy) and defining what’s needed (not so much so) is not the same thing. Being human, we’re all guilty of letting emotions get in the way, eh? The focus needs to be thorough and objective. Not some pie in the sky brain dumping.

In short, have a plan. Then review that plan to ensure the journey you are planning will get you to where it is you are wanting to go. Opps, I meant needing to go.

Social networking is only a means

“Interview: John Jantsch – 5 Minutes with…” by: Daria Meoli (NY Enterprise Report, 19 April 2010). You know John, author of Duct Tape marketing, as well as his new book The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself. Good stuff, right?

Well, if you read and retain one thing this week then this paragraph should be it:

DM: What does “teaching your business to market itself” mean?

JJ: I actually went out and interviewed people from about 50 or 60 companies that get a lot of referrals. They’re doing a lot of business by word of mouth. What I discovered pretty quickly was that the number one way that these organizations were successful in generating referrals had nothing to do with a super special cool way to ask for referrals; they just did stuff that made the experience of doing business with them so great that people voluntarily wanted to talk about them. That’s the idea behind teaching your business to market itself. How do you become the trusted resource? What are all the touch points? What about your culture and your people? The idea is to get your clients so connected to your business that they’d go out of their way to refer you, and not just because they like your product and it does what it says it does, but that they really want to see you succeed.

Brilliant, eh? What did you think of the rest of the interview? Are you going to buy the new book?

What is the sound of one man clapping?

Collaboration. Networking — Social or otherwise. Crowdsourcing. Team building. Etc. Etc. Etc. Sound familiar?

As it was once said:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572 – 1631)

Here are three intriguing perspectives on technology, islands and life as we know it in 2010:

“Interview: Jaron Lanier – Why Crowdsourcing Isn’t Always Wise” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 25 March 2010)

Your book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, challenges the value of crowdsourcing. What’s wrong with the hive mind on the Internet?

It does work sometimes: A crowd of buyers sets a price in a marketplace. But it only works if you want output of a single result. Otherwise, you get design by committee. You get features added to services without anyone looking at the whole complex picture of what you’re trying to build.

“The Grill: Andrew McAfee” by Sharon Gaudin (ComputerWorld.com, 5 April 2010)

What are the best ways that businesses are taking advantage of Web 2.0 technology?

They’re taking advantage of it in a few different ways. They’re using it to let people broadcast their expertise: I’m going to tell the organization what I’m doing, what I know and what I’m good at. I’m not filling out fields in a database. I’m doing this by blogging. That lets me narrate my work.

— “Build Up Your Influence” by CIO Executive Council (CIO.com, 17 March 2010)

Cora Carmody, Jacobs Engineering, “Whether you want to influence your own team or an external partner, you must show them they are important to you.”

And what tools and approaches do you use to make you work life and your home life a better place?

It’s you who define you

“Work-Life Lessons From Peter Drucker” by Bruce Rosenstein (Baseline Mag, 8 April 2010). Finally, another perfect storm. That is, a spare moment or two to do some biz reading and an article worth passing along.

If there were a Business & Management Hall of Fame, Peter Drucker would be inducted, first shot, all the number one votes. If by chance you’re not familiar, here is his wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Drucker. The irony is that the five recommendations listed by Bruce are really nothing new. For the most page they all date back ages and in some form are rooted in many of the great religions. That not to say, business is substitute for faith, not at all. But we’re not just talking the business you here. We’re talking the holistic you — on and off the clock.

The bottom line… If you can’t help you and improve you, who can? In addition, when you stretch out to help and support others that also makes you stronger too. “No man is an island,” indeed.

Staying on task

“How to Get More Work Done In Less Time” by Lexi Rodrigo (FreelanceFolder.com, 16 April 2010).Time, there’s never enough is there? As, “More with less” continues to be the mantra of the moment, the usage of this fixed resource becomes even more critical to success. So whether you freelance or not, Lexi has shared a worthy set tips. Hopefully you have the time to read them.

While you’re there, see also: “10 Productivity Tips That Work Surprisingly Well” by Ritu.

Three to get ready (for next week and beyond)

You might not be an executive. You might not have users.  You might not be a CFO. However, if you’re looking for ideas, inspiration and strategies for staying on a path to success then this trio is for you:

“Escaping the Executive Bubble” by Kate O’Sullivan (CFO Magazine, 1 February 2010).

“There are a whole bunch of natural filters in an organization,” Roberto explains. “It’s not because people are necessarily hiding things, but as information moves through the hierarchy of a company, it gets packaged, streamlined, and analyzed.” As a result, the “news” that arrives at the CFO’s desk has usually been cleaned and polished. And distorted.

“Opinion: Love Your Users” by Frank Hayes (ComputerWorld, 22 March 2010).

Yes, users also burn up a lot of our time with password resets, downloaded malware and simple dumbness. We could cheerfully strangle them for things like that.

But some users, at least, have eyes, ears and brains that can be IT’s first line of defense against problems that we wouldn’t spot ourselves until it was too late.

“We Fail Fast, Learn, and Move On. An interview with Steven Neil, CFO of Diamond Foods Inc.” by David M. Katz (CFO Magazine, 1 April 1 2010).

We got our supply-chain folks involved, studied our approach, and identified what my kids call the “duh” factor. The way we had been loading the truck facilitated the operations of our warehouse rather than our customer’s warehouse. So we changed how we packed the truck to align with the layout of the customer’s warehouse.

Get it?

Opinion: Love your users

March 22, 2010 06:00 AM ET

More is less. Less is better. But more is not better.

“E-mail is Making You Stupid” By Joe Robinson (Entrepreneur Magazine, March 2010). Funny, wasn’t technology supposed to make us all more productive? But it can. Just take a few minutes to step away from the Facebook updates and focus on this article. Great stuff! Especially helpful is Joe telling the truth about multitasking. Not only is it overrated, it’s actually unproductive.

As you’re walking, chew on this:

The cult of multitasking would have us believe that compulsive message-checking is the behavior of an always-on, hyper-productive worker. But it’s not. It’s the sign of a distracted employee who misguidedly believes he can do multiple tasks at one time. Science disagrees. People may be able to chew gum and walk at the same time, but they can’t do two or more thinking tasks simultaneously.

In short, it’s a quality issue. Focusing on less and completing those tasks before moving on will actually yield more.  Trying to do it all at once is a mistake. The human brain is wired to have a limited span of control. Overstep that bound and output and quality actually drop.

You should find this useful as well:

E-mail multiplies like rabbits, each new message generating more and more replies. Want fewer distractions? Send fewer e-mails. Here are some helpful rules.

— Turn off all visual and sound alerts that announce new mail.

— Check e-mail two to four times a day at designated times and never more often than every 45 minutes.

— Don’t let e-mail be the default communication device. Communicating by phone or face-to-face saves time and builds relationships.

— Respond immediately only to urgent issues. Just because a message can be delivered instantly does not mean you must reply instantly.

— Severely restrict use of the reply-all function.

— Put “no reply necessary” in the subject line when you can. No one knows when an e-conversation is over without an explicit signal.

— Resist your reply reflex. Don’t send e-mails that say “Got it” or “Thanks.”

— Use automatic out-of-office messages to carve out focused work time, such as: “I’m on deadline with a project and will be back online after 4 p.m.”

Understanding a non-profit and loss statement

“Helping Hands” by Jessica Tsai (CRM Magazine, February 2010). It’s not easy being a 501(c)3, aka non-profit. By their very nature the measuring stick that the rest of the world use to define success has been removed. Therefore, the challenge is to define what cause’s  success will look like and communicating that to the public/target. Easier said than done, eh?

On the other hand there are a fair number of best practices, free tools and other reasonably priced resources that readily available yet too often ignored. So maybe the issue isn’t so much profit vs. non, but must adapt vs. adapting isn’t so important when all that’s needed is another grant and some more volunteers?

But does it have to be that way? From the outside (i.e., guests) looking in (at the brand) is there really a difference in perception and expectations? In  saying, “But we’re different…” are non-profits actually doing themselves a disservice? Does the fear of competing create an organizational environment that is unable to compete?

Dollars and future sense

“The Future of Money” by Daniel Roth (Wired.com, March 2010). If you thought it was just about dollar and cents then think again. Roth puts one of the world’s oldest traditions in a whole new light. If you like to speculate about the future (pun intended) then this one’s for you.

Also be sure to check out the sidebar bit, “From Credit Card to PayPal: 3 Ways to Move Money”, as well as, “The New Ways to Pay” (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

The moral of the web design story

“Keep Your Graphic Designer on a Short Leash” by Tim Ash (Website Magazine, February 2010). It’s Friday so let’s get right to the meat of the matter. First, it’s not just your graphic designer you need to keep on a short leash. Chances are good you need to keep you on one too. A web site is a tool. A tool that helps you meet certain objectives to engage your guests. But more importantly, it’s a tool that helps your guest satisfy certain needs. In short, it’s about them, not you. Define those needs and then work from there.

For example, just because you (or your designer) see something “cool” on another site does not mean it’s a good idea. The question is, does that “coolness” meet one of your defined needs or not? If it doesn’t help to meet a need then it should be taken off the table. No ifs, ands or buts. The fact is, there are far too many “cool” but bad ideas out there already. Don’t get sucked into thinking “cool” is the answer. Quite often such gimmicks get tired pretty quick. Unless of course you want your brand to seem tired.

Tim’s key pearl comes in the final paragraph:

The moral of the story is clear: When it comes to landing pages, graphic artists need to follow a minimalist visual aesthetic that focuses on conversion and not window dressing. The new landing page may not be exciting visually, but that is not the objective. On a toned-down page the call-toaction emerges from the relative stillness of the page. “Boring” works. And it makes more money — that should make it plenty exciting.

And while you’re at WebsiteMagazine.com be sure to also check the primer “Building and Maintaining an Online Brand” by Peter Presitpino (Editor-In-Chief). A good piece of back to basics to keep you on track.

Seven strategies you need to unforget

“Keep Business Cooking” by Tony Conway, CMP (Sante Magazine, Holiday 2009). Too much to do? Too little time? While this quick refresher doesn’t look to cure your time management ills, Tony does lay down seven simply great ideas to help you regroup and recharge. There might not be much new here but that’s alright. Quite often the tried and true of keeping it simple can be the “new black”. In other words, sometimes it’s the forgotten fundamentals that need to be unforgotten.

Survey sez…

“Want to Know How to Market Better? Just Ask” by Eric Groves (The New York Enterprise Report, February 2010). First of all, kudos to Eric for fighting the good fight and making the right recommendation. That is, just ask (the customer). It often seems that too many “experts” are so self-absorbed with selling their one-size-fits-all kool-aid that they forget the most easy and obvious answer. There’s no reason to guess. Just ask. And let’s face it, in a Web 2.0 world it’s getting easier and easier to do so every day.

There are however three caveats that should be mentioned here:

1) Realize that you’re human and try to be objective about the question you ask and how you ask them. Try to take it a step further and have an objective third party read what you come up with before going forward with the asking. Wording and understanding that you take for granted as an insider might not be heard the same way by those receiving your communication (i.e., survey).

2) Keep in mind that any survey results you do collect should always be interpreted with the understanding that what has been collected is not the opinion of all your customers, just the ones who elected to participate in the survey. Some good input is better than no input at all but don’t overestimate the value of what you’re collecting. That being said, don’t be too quick to dismiss your findings just because they are not what you want to hear.

3) Rest assured that the answers you do get will be subjective, and probably biased by the survery itself. We are all human and tend to forget, embellish, overlook, etc. Those who arer familiar with surveys understand that even something as subtle as the order of the questions can greatly influence the answers.

The bottom line here is this… Listen to your guests. They are telling you a lot and will tell you more if you ask. The biggest issue seems to be listening. Are you listening?

Looking at the world through empathy colored glasses

“The Three-Minute Rule” by Anthony Tjan (Harvard Business Review, 22 January 2010). Let’s look past the trying too hard title and focus on bottom line — context. Nearly everything from web design, ad design or a phone conversation, to buying a product or using service – exists within context. Furthermore, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the context is often not yours but theirs. So, as has been mentioned here quite a few times before, be sure to add Context’s twin Empathy to your checklist.

Essential pull quote:

These situations illustrate the narrow-mindedness to which it is easy to fall prey. In the Thomson example, we were thinking of ourselves as a data provider, though we were really part of a broader workflow solution. We failed to realize the importance of customer context over our own product capability. In the cross-selling and shopping-basket examples, the three-minute rule reminds us that rearranging the context of a shopping experience to better meet customer patterns can be extremely effective. Customers seek solutions, but it is likely that your offering is only part of one. The three-minute rule is a forcing mechanism to see the bigger picture and adjacent opportunities.

Understanding context is certainly important, but to truly interpret it correctly one must also have a healthy supply of empathy.

Sounds like a plan, man

“Using Checklists to Prevent Failure – Interview of Dr. Atul Gawande” by Harvard Business IdeaCast (Havard Business Review, 22 January 2010). This 15+ minute audio interview is going to save you hours, if not days as well as avoid excessive stressful moments. A classic case of what should be obvious and second nature is really a handy reminder. Thanks doc!

In a nut shell: Think ahead, develop a plan, keep it simple, write it down,  communicate, get and keep the rest of the team on the same page, avoid getting bumped off track by refering to the plan but be flexible.

Further proof that more often than not best practices are not rocket science.

The future is? – Part 2

“Bill Gates Sets Out His Global Charitable Goals” (NPR.org, 25 January 2010). As a supplement to yesterday’s post, here is a link to Mr. Gates being interviewed on National Public Radio’s (NPR) Talk of the Nation.

For the most part Mr. Gates’ perspective is global. He does however mention during the inteview that s in the United States the two biggest issue his foundation is  addressing are helping teachers and online learning. Contrast this with the fact that Uncle Sam’s approach has lead to a system where only 60% of the students who start high school actually graduate.  The irony comes when one considers how many massive corporations jump through tax loopholes to avoid paying into the system and then those same outfits also expect to have a well educated work force available so they can be even more profitable.

Is the system just dented and bent, or broken and in need of a complete makeover?

The future is?

“2010 Annual Letter from Bill Gates” by Bill Gates (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 25 Janueary 2010). While certainly not an oracle, Mr. Gates, former Microsoft head honcho, is well established and well connected and needless to say very very wealthy. If you’re curious about what’s ahead then invest some time in Mr. Gates’ thoughts.  In short, good economy, bad economy or New Economy, we have a lot of work to do.

In the event you don’t make it to the last page, Bill says:

I have decided to take the notes I make after taking a trip, reading a book, or meeting with someone interesting and pull them together on a web site called www.gatesnotes.com. This will let me share thoughts on foundation-related topics and other areas on a regular basis. I expect to write about tuberculosis, U.S. state budgets, creative capitalism, and philanthropy in Asia, among other things.

What is interesting is that many of The Gates’ concerns are resource and/or “head count” driven. Yet, there is little mention of population and population control as a means to helping solve some of these problems. We’d all agree that technolgy can be a wonderful tool, but let’s not forget about (changing) good ol’ fashion human behavior as a means to a better ends.

Failure is like Red Bull, it gives you wings

Wired magazine (www.Wired.com) has collected a series of articles on failure. The title of the grouping is, “How To Fail: Screw ups, disasters, misfires, flops. Why losing big can be a winning strategy.” Take some time, these are sure to put the value of “R&D” into proper perspective.

“Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up” by Jonah Lehrer

“Stay in the Game: The Fall and Rise of Alec Baldwin” by Scott Brown

“Learn to Let Go: How Success Killed Duke Nukem” by Clive Thompson

“Time Your Attack: Oracle’s Lost Revolution” by Daniel Roth

“My Greatest Mistake: Learn From Six Luminaries” by Wired Magazine

“Accidental Art: Three Alternate Histories” by Christoph Niemann

For those who like to look up at the stars then “Six Luminaries” is the obvious first read. Other than that, just dive in. Don’t be afraid to pick the wrong one. And for those of you who like to believe that the key to success is perfection. Well, you’re making a big mistake.

“No” is not an option

“Think Beyond Your Means” by Robert S. Levin – Editor-in-chief (The New York Report Magazine, 23 December 2009). For one reason or another it’s been somewhat slow starting this year in finding material to blog about. Not to worry, Mr. Robert S. Levin uncorks another bottle of bubbly inspiration. This was his Letter-from-the-editor in the latest issue so it’s a quick read. No need for pull quotes, etc. required.

Also, kudos to NY Report for beta launching their new web site: http://www.NYReport.com. As small biz resources go, this outfit consistently  provides “good stuff”.

How The West *will be* won

“How the 2010 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders were chosen” by Ellen Fanning and Mari Keefe (Computer World, 7 December 2009). Before you side step this article with, “But I’m not in IT” or “I’m not a CIO” — pause that thought for moment. Dismiss the “IT Leadership” bit and look at this grading scale from these four perspectives:

1) Consider these as leadership qualities that are universal, not just for IT.
2) You don’t have to be at the top of the org chart to be a leader. This is especially true if you want to get to the top of the org chart.
3) In many cases, these criteria also apply to brands, not just individuals. How well does your brand lead? Or not?
4) Finally, instead of “were chosen” substitute “will be chosen” and adjust your resolutions for the year ahead as you see fit.

Which of these dozen or so characteristics do you value most in a leader? What characteristics did Ms. Fanning and Ms. Keefe  miss? Who is your leadership hero?