Are You Still Trying to do More With Less?

You can’t go too long in today’s business world without someone mindlessly spewing the infamous: “We’ve got to do more with less.” There is little doubt that over the years this has been—and sometimes continues to be—the mantra of some of the best and the brightest business minds. But what if what once was true fades and crumbles into myth? What if the world isn’t what it used to be? What if it’s possible to have too much of a good thing?

Dallas Mavericks owner, serial entrepreneur and (TV show) Shark Tank shark Mark Cuban once said, “If you’re looking where everybody else is looking, you’re looking in the wrong spot.” Furthermore, Malcolm Gladwell in his most recent best-seller “David And Goliath” leans heavily on the concept of The Inverted U. The Inverted U for the sake of this discussion could also be called the Law of Diminishing Returns. (Note: I’m certain there are probably finer points between the two but at this moment’s 50,000 feet let’s just envision them as synonymous, at least for now.)

The point being, less can reach a tipping point where there is so much less that what’s left is not enough to be effective (i.e., competitive and profitable). Makes sense, yes?

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions and such so please don’t misread the timing of this post. Instead, I want to share with you this epiphany:

“Doing more with less” is out. It is at this point a fool’s game. It’s time to break from the pack. Today I propose that the new black is…”Doing more with better.” That is to shift attention to increasing quality as well as efficiency; to invest in processes and personnel that will continue to add value time and again over the long run; to stop pinching pennies and figure out ways to make dollars; and to seek opportunities with growth-minded organizations and individuals.

Yes, being lean and financially savvy is important. It always has been and it probably always will be. However, if the dollar you save on product / service / employee today leads to lost opportunities tomorrow then you didn’t save anything. You instead (as the cliche goes) shot yourself in the foot. Look around. How many brands and companies to you see hopping around on one foot? Too many, yes?

This is why I recommend you plant both feet back on the ground, define your goals and then commit to a mindset of “Doing more with better.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empowerment to the People

From time to time you come across something deep and provocative that begs, “Share me! Share me please!” This eulogy (of sorts) of Ms. Red Burns, co-founder of the groundbreaking Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU, is one of those times.

I don’t want to babble on unnecessarily and distract you. But before I cut you loose I would like to make note of two things that make this speech unique:

1) Ms. Burns doesn’t use the word innovate / innovation.

2) Ms. Burns doesn’t use the word disrupt.

Now you’re even more intrigued, yes?

Read the full article on Wired.com here:

Let’s Stop Focusing on Shiny Gadgets and Start Using Tech to Empower People
By Margaret Stewart

From Red Burns’ Opening Remarks to New Students at NYU:

“What I want you to know:

That there is a difference between the mundane and the inspired.

That the biggest danger is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.

That any human organization must inevitably juggle internal contradictions — the imperatives of efficiency and the countervailing human trade-offs.

That the inherent preferences in organizations are efficiency, clarity, certainty, and perfection.

That human beings are ambiguous, uncertain, and imperfect.

That how you balance and integrate these contradictory characteristics is difficult.

That imagination, not calculation, is the ‘difference’ that makes the difference.

That there is constant juggling between the inherent contradictions of a management imperative of efficiency and the human reality of ambiguity and uncertainty.

That you are a new kind of professional — comfortable with analytical and creative modes of learning.

That there is a knowledge shift from static knowledge to a dynamic searching paradigm.

That creativity is not the game preserve of artists, but an intrinsic feature of all human activity.

That in any creative endeavor you will be discomfited and that is part of learning.

That there is a difference between long term success and short term flash.

That there is a complex connection between social and technological trends. It is virtually impossible to unravel except by hindsight.

That you ask yourself what you want and then you work backwards.

In order to problem solve and observe, you ought to know how to: analyze, probe, question, hypothesize, synthesize, select, measure, communicate, imagine, initiate, reason, create.

That organizations are really systems of cooperative activities and their coordination requires something intangible and personal that is largely a matter of relationships.

What I hope for you:

That you combine that edgy mixture of self-confidence and doubt.

That you have enough self-confidence to try new things.

That you have enough self doubt to question.

That you think of technology as a verb, not a noun; it is subtle but important difference.

That you remember the issues are usually not technical.

That you create opportunities to improvise.

That you provoke it. That you expect it.

That you make visible what, without you, might never have been seen.

That you communicate emotion.

That you create images that might take a writer ten pages to write.

That you observe, imagine and create.

That you look for the question, not the solution.

That you are not seduced by speed and power.

That you don’t see the world as a market, but rather a place that people live in — you are designing for people, not machines.

That you have a stake in magic and mystery and art.

That sometimes we fall back on Rousseau and separate mind from body.

That you understand the value of pictures, words, and critical thinking.

That poetry drives you, not hardware.

That you are willing to risk, make mistakes, and learn from failure.

That you develop a practice founded in critical reflection.

That you build a bridge between theory and practice.

That you embrace the unexpected.

That you value serendipity.

That you reinvent and re-imagine.

That you listen. That you ask questions. That you speculate and experiment.

That you play. That you are spontaneous. That you collaborate.

That you welcome students from other parts of the world and understand we don’t live in a monolithic world.

That each day is magic for you.

That you turn your thinking upside down.

That you make whole pieces out of disparate parts.

That you find what makes the difference.

That your curiosity knows no bounds.

That you understand what looks easy is hard.

That you imagine and re-imagine.

That you develop a moral compass.

That you welcome loners, cellists, and poets.

That you are flexible. That you are open.

That you can laugh at yourself. That you are kind.

That you consider why natural phenomena seduce us.

That you engage and have a wonderful time.

That this will be two years for you to expand — take advantage of it.”

 

“In the end, it takes you.”

How about some quick post three day weekend inspiration to get you motivated today? This savory bit was pulled from the new (and free) mini-ebook “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey” by Mr. Brian Solis (http://www.BrianSolis.com).

“Innovation begins here. Innovation begins with you.
You are the change agent. You will help influence an uprising that overturns the prevailing
culture of management into that of leadership and innovation.
It’s not easy, but it’s within your ability and reach.
It takes courage to do what others will not.
It takes vision to see what others can’t.
It takes empathy to feel what others experience.
It takes persistence to overcome resistance.
It takes patience to allow the time necessary for your work to bloom.
In the end, it takes you.
Where you are and where you need to be is separated only by your vision and also
your actions and words.
Savor this moment. And then do something about it.”

Solis is also the author of “WTF [of Business]”, “The End of Business as Usual”, as well as “Engage!”. For more info and links to your favorite book provider: http://www.BrianSolis.com/books

Free Download: “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey”

Stanford and Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders: Tim O’Reilly

Every now and then you come across something that begs to be shared. This podcast is one of those moments:

Standford’s Entrepreneurship Corner Thought Leaders Series presents Tim O’Reilly

Yes, that’s Mr. Web 2.0 of O’Reilly Publishing fame. While I trust you’ll take the time to listen to Tim, these are the ideas that intrigued me. (Note: Some are quotes, some simply paraphrased, and some are O’Reilly quoting others.)

 

  • Edwin Schlossberg: “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”
  • Implicit context
  • Embrace hardware as well as software
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • A system in the space between devices…not just a single application
  • The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits
  • Software is a commodity. Data is the new currency of value.
  • Rethink workflows and the experience
  • Think differently about human / machine symbiosis
  • We don’t have better algorithms. We just have more data.
  • It’s a fairly hard AI problem to pick a traffic light out of a video stream. It’s a trivial AI problem to figure out if it’s red or green if you already know that it’s there.
  • Reputation systems
  • Close the loop
  • What loops can you change? How can you make things smarter? And close the loop?
  • Enable an economy
  • Create more value than you capture
  • Make other people successful
  • Work on stuff that matters
  • Idealism is good for your business
  • Work on things that are hard. Find hard problems.
  • Look a little sideways
  • Code For America (http://CodeForAmerica.org)
  • O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (http://OATV.com)
  • It’s an ongoing process
  • Find interesting problems that are relevant locally
  • It’s about narrating your work in public
  • Sometimes it takes a long time, keep at it
  • Who do you want your customers to be
  • Subscription is an important business model
  • Sensors (hardware) are talking to software
  • The Maker Movement
  • Square enabled coffee shop

Share this! And listen to it again and gain. You’ll hear a little more each time.

Design + Science = Design Science

Time flies when…well…um…time flies. I blink and “next week” somehow morphs into couple weeks behind me. Is it just me? It’s not just me, right? In short, too much work, too much to do, and not quite enough time to share quality content here with you. Sorry. I acknowledge my faults and promise you I’ve got processes running in the background to remedy this. Thanks for your understanding. Let’s move on.

About a month ago I picked up the book “Trillions” by Peter Lucas, Joe Ballay and Mickey McManus. I was inspired to read “Trillions” after attending a presentation followed by a book signing at Princeton University by Mr. McManus. You can read more about that event here: http://www.alchemyunited.com/2012/10/26/a-million-millions-is-trillions.

If you’re interested you can follow my “Trillions” chapter by chapter efforts here:
http://chiefalchemist.com/source/trillions-maya-design-lucas-ballay-mcmanus

Typically, as I’m consuming a book, I do a chapter by chapter “key takeaway” blurb (read: brief) on my Chief Alchemist “workstream” site / blog. That said, Chapter 6 (Design Science on Trillions Mountain) of “Trillions” has a number of insightful gems that demand to be shared.

  • Beyond Design Thinking To Design Science: [Buckminster] Fuller called his approach Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science.
  • Design Science rejects a purely relativist view of traditional design thinking. In Design Science we avoid notions such as “liking” a design for personal or superficially stylistic reasons. There will always be a variety of good designs—some better than others; bounded rationality and the sheer diversity of problem situations suffice to ensure that. But there are also wrong designs…But it is to say that, give a proper statement of goals and a sufficiently broad and careful consideration of the entire situation—technical, human, and market—it is possible to establish principled, professional, systematic techniques that rationally select some design over others.
  • The goal was to understand the whole ecology of people, places, documents, and information, and to model it early, before degrees of freedom had been used up in designing individual pieces of the system…Making—through, iterative, frequent, parallel prototyping—is a design method that turns indistinct dreams into tangible goals in record time.
  • Make The Right Thing: The Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 exposed the human weakness for celebrating what can be done with technology, with little thought about what should be done. We need to remind ourselves that even though we may have some prowess in making things right, we need to put equal emphasis on making the right things. What goals, processes, and guidelines will lead us to the right things—made right?
  • Action at the Interstices (by Pete): I like to visualize all human knowledge as a giant jigsaw puzzle, where each academic discipline is a puzzle piece. In some sense, there is only one picture, and the cuts that we made to the puzzle pieces are artificial and arbitrary…So, the interstices between disciplines are always where the action is. It is where the best practitioners go to invent the future.
  • If we are going to design for Trillions in a way that is human-literate, rather than forcing people to become ever more computer-literate, we need to keep the human at the center of the process. We need a vision of how we will come to understand not just people and their needs and desires, but also how they will be affected by the myriad devices that will become intimate parts of their everyday lives.
  • Studying one product in isolation, unconnected from its “social life,” will no longer suffice…To add to the challenge, the range of potential products that have become technically feasible is becoming nearly boundless…Sizing up the market to decide where to invest one’s efforts and capital has always been a core challenge of business, even when the range of possibilities was severely bounded. Now that so many of the bounds have been lifted, the challenge is that much greater. Remember the stuff in the Crystal Palace.
  • If “ship early, ship often” is interpreted as the willingness to expose not-quite-feature-complete but well-tested products to the healthy pressures of real users, everybody wins. But if it is used as an excuse for shipping half-baked, flaky products; using your customers as unpaid quality-assurance staff—and counting on ever-lowering expectations of quality in a slipshod marketplace numbed by crashing TVs and bug-filed software—it is another matter entirely.
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery suggested this way:”A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
  • What’s happened is that the complexity didn’t disappear. It shifted.
  • All of science is based on cycles of Hypothesis >> Model >> Test >> New Hypothesis, and Design Science is no exception.
  • Progress in science is paced not just by advances in theory, but also by advances in methodology. Design Science is no exception.
  • Our collective goal must be convergence toward a unified user experience. A common interaction physics is the golden path to this goal. Consistency builds confidence, and confidence provides feelings of control, security, and comfort…Our ability to build civilization itself would be called into question if everything were as plastic as most software products.
  • Informatin-Centric Interaction Design: It is possible to identify four distinct states in the evolution of human-computer interaction. Command-centric. Application-centric. Document-centric. Information-centric.
  • We are on the verge of building system unprecedented both in their scale and in their very nature. It is one thing to design a usable computer program. Is is quite another to design a usable environment when that environment compromises innumerable semiautonomous devices mediating an unbounded swirl of constantly flowing information. Usability, or the lack thereof, will be an emergent property of such a milieu.

You might also be interested in this on TheAtlantic.com:

MAYA Tames Complexity in the Age of Trillions

By Kathryn Hawkins

Yes! I agree, you should go buy the book already. Chapter 6 at double the price would still be a bargain.

A million millions is…Trillions

The future is here, almost, and it looks nothing like the present and the past. Or so is the vision / prediction of Mickey McManus (CEO of MAYA Design, http://MAYA.com). Earlier this week to promote his new book, Mr. McManus spoke on the Princeton University campus as part of the Keller Center’s ongoing Events & Lectures series (http://commons.princeton.edu/kellercenter/2012/10/mickey-mcmanus-trillions.html). He, along with Peter Lucas and Joe Ballay (also from MAYA Design), are the authors of “Trillions—Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology”.

Yes of course, I bought the book (as well as had it signed). If you’re interested you can follow my chapter by chapter “key takeaways” here:
http://chiefalchemist.com/source/trillions-maya-design-lucas-ballay-mcmanus

This was not your typical mid-week late afternoon session sprinkled with takeaways of hard and fast (business) rules. Instead the focus was on ideas and concepts that were abstract and thought provoking, if not mind-expanding. I mention this now so you have the proper context for my notes below. Please adjust your expectations accordingly. Also, perhaps consider buying the book to fill in any blanks you might suddenly spawn.

  • Seconds, the measurement of time. 1 million seconds is ~1.5 weeks ago and 1 billion seconds goes back to the mid-70s. But 1 trillion seconds is 30,000 BC!
  • There are 50 to 100 trillions cells in the human body.
  • Malignant complexity
  • Five cloud services currently store most of humanity’s information.
  • Cascading failures
  • The mountain we’re on is nothing compared to the one that’s coming.
  • Nature is the ideal model (for managing complexity).
  • Beautiful complexity
  • Generativity (Ref: Wikipedia)
  • Conway’s Game of Life (Ref: Wikipedia)
  • Generativity + Human Centered Design + Parametic Model
  • Bill Joy (Sun Microsystems): “There are always more smart people working for someone else than working for you.”
  • There’s a bubble coming…
  • Luck is not a plan.
  • Become a student of what’s coming.
  • Count the cards. Learn the tricks. Learn the patterns.
  • A crisis of creativity (i.e., not enough of it).
  • We must pivot from making things right to making the right things.
  • Dream bigger.
  • Brands will become transparent whether they want to or not.
  • Patagonia (company) is a model for the future.
  • There are electrical codes. There are plumbing codes. There are no codes for computing and technology.

Wow. Right?

Lesson in marketing from pop singer Taylor Swift

Earlier this year, after watching the Grammys I wrote a posted titled: “Lessons in business from the soul singer Adele”. So after catching Taylor Swift on 60 Minutes this past Sunday I decided it was time for a similar follow up. Who knows, perhaps I’ll position these pop music inspirations as another series in the AU blogging lexicon. Time will tell.

Watch the video:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7411988n

Read the transcript:
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57451731/taylor-swift-a-young-singers-meteoric-rise

Note: Some of these thoughts might be slight repeats from the Adele article. To me this confirms that great minds think alike.

—It’s never too early to start. Ms. Swift has sold millions of downloads, tickets and CDs and she’s barely into her twenties. The 60 minutes piece goes back to her pre-teens. In short, she’s been working towards this for quite some time. How prepared are you and your brand for the long run?

—Be fearless and relentless. Ms. Swift had such a strong vision and belief in herself that she was willing to tell her record company to take a hike. It was they who needed her, not the other way around. Go Taylor! No one loves a wishy-washy brand with no character. On top of that, as a teen she played bars and other venues that were probably less receptive to her and he type of music. None the less, she played though and built strength and confidence. Lesson: The beaten path is for the beaten. A true champion isn’t afraid to build character, learn from that and then press on.

—Be true to yourself and authentic to the world. Rather than sing songs someone else wrote, Ms. Swift insisted she sing her own. How could she be herself if she was merely puppeting someone else? Perhaps this is a lesson Mitt Romney could stand to learn?

—Be engaged with your fans and followers. There are few pop-stars who are successful enough to hide behind the curtain of super-stardom. Clearly, Ms. Swift is one of them. But does she hide? Nope. Before, during and after shows she’s directly engaged with her fans. Are there times she would prefer not to? Of course. But successful brand building isn’t about doing what you want to do, it’s about doing what you need to do to get the job done. Shaking hands might suck but having no hands to shake sucks even more, eh?

—Be engaged with your own brand. Perhaps 60 Minutes was kind to her and edited out shades of control-freak, micro-manager, etc. I don’t think that was the case. Ms. Swift, despite her youth, embraces the fact that no one understands and defines her brand better than she does. She could certainly afford to outsource such things yet she takes the extra time and in turn reaps the benefits. I can think of quite a few adults I know who aren’t this wise on this matter.

—Quality still matters. If tired manufactured controversy sells best and mindless pop fodder is what the people want to hear, then someone please explain Ms. Swift (and Adele). Be wary of those who champion short cuts for they are probably doing so because they lack the wherewithal to stand alone at the top. Simply put, there are no short cuts to being the best. Gimmicks are like cigarettes, one by one they will shorten the life of your brand.

—Be humble. This one I know is a Adele repeat. Great as these two artists are you would never know it. They let their talent, accomplishments and their fans do the talking. There’s not need for excessive bravado and the usual PR cliches. While I don’t want to come across as sexist, I have to wonder if this is a natural advantage women have that testosterone types do not.

Lessons in business from the soul singer Adele

While it was highly uncharacteristic of me, I somehow managed to watch a good portion of the Grammys last night. To say that the young English soul singer Adele (full name: Adele Adkins) stole the show would be an understatement. Her six wins tied her with Beyoncé for the most wins by a woman in a single Grammy evening. Without out a doubt Adele’s album is outstanding. A one or even two hit wonder she is not.

However, the reality is it’s also highly unlikely that anyone familiar with American pop music would have predicted last night’s landslide months ago when the album “21” was first released. Yet now it all makes perfect sense. Here’s what I think we can all learn from Adele:

—Content is still King or in this case Queen. She didn’t sell hype, endorse soda, manipulate Google SERPs, spew excessively on Twitter, wearing clothing made out of meat or stage a fly-by-night marriage. No, actually Adele did it the old fashion way. She and her team created something of true value. Mind you, I am sure she benefited from social networking. But it was quality work that fanned those organic flames. It wasn’t spin, hot air and spammy tactics.

—Quality is important, very important. The efforts of her team was put into creating something beautiful, crafted, exquisite and memorable. It was not a case of let’s half-ass it and then pull out every trick in the contemporary marketing playbook to try to pass off a stale doughnut as French pastry. In short, it’s more cost effective and smarter to get it right from the start than to try to fix a train wreck with smoke and mirrors.

—Be mindful of spot on execution. What they did they did damn well. Some would say, myself included, to the point of perfection. Would anyone call Adele an innovator? I don’t think so. Her style is timeless classic soul. And when she performs she is 100% committed. Adele sings purely from the heart. But then again, perhaps in the context of today such conviction and a willingness to go against the grain is innovative? The question is, how much are you faking it? And maybe paying greater attention to execution would fall under being innovative as well?

—Show some class. Show some restraint. Respect who you are. While the majority of the other performances were over the top, Adele nailed “Rolling in the Deep” with minimal excess. Mind you, I understand it’s pop music. There’s always a certain amount of frivolity. But perhaps your brand shouldn’t part-take in sugar-coated contests and such just to get people to Like your Facebook page? Perhaps there’s actually more value in being yourself (i.e., something of value) over the long term than trying to be something else in the short? Quality over quantity, right?

—Even in 2012 there is no I in team. Award after award Adele mentioned her producer and thanked her fans. She consistently tried to shift the spotlight way from herself and pull her producer/co-songwriter into the mix. In spite of being sold as a one-woman show, Adele was transparent and shared her moment with her team. Which leads me to my last point.

—Be humble. I don’t watch such award shows often but I’ve seen enough to know that Adele was humble and authentic. She didn’t come off cocky, like she deserved it. Instead she was restrained, natural and nearly embarrassed at all the attention. In other words, she acted like a true professional. That said, you got a sense that deep down she wasn’t surprised. Obviously, their goal was to do a high-quality work of art. They achieved that goal. I am certain she knew this. If she was surprised, it was that so many others had noticed. So, is your brand acting like a giddy one-hit wonder or when you stand in the end-zone do you look like you’ve been there before? That that’s where you belong?

Kudos to you and your team Adele. You’re a beacon of hope for those of us who still believe in quality.

The Taming of the Screw

Earlier today I had coffee with a respected colleague. We both have unique perspectives so it’s always refreshing to meet for some engaging banter. As it often does, the conversation turned to the economy (old vs. new), the internet (web 2.0 vs. web 3.0), and how such dynamic parameters impact companies/organizations in pursuit of growth.

Here is a non-all inclusive summary of our conversation in no particular order:

  1. Now more than ever, the parameter settings (so to speak) that grew a successful company to Tier X, is quite often not the same settings to get to Tier X+1, Tier X+2 and beyond.
  2. Early growth is like pounding a nail. However, at some point that nail turns into a screw. The brute force of a hammer that drove the nail is all but useless for turning screws. Simply pounding harder is not the answer. In fact, it’s a false assumption that is distracting and counter productive. Pounding even harder qualifies as insane.
  3. By definition, change (e.g., growth) requires change. In addition, more is more and better is better. Simply repeating more of yesterday’s this-works is probably not the formula for a better tomorrow. Believing otherwise can be dangerous.
  4. While culture starts with HR, it’s management’s role to set direction, motivate, maximize productivity and reinforce that culture. Culture doesn’t just happen. If the culture is failing it’s not the fault of staff.
  5. While few, some things have not changed. As in sports, victory is shared by the team. However, the responsibility for coming up short belongs to management/leadership.
  6. While certainly not a panacea, tool selection (i.e., technology) can be the deciding factor between getting to Tier X+2 and Tier X+4.
  7. Bureaucracy is not absolute, it is relative. In other words, what’s counter-productive for a Tier X company can be best practices and M&Ps for a company a tier or two up. The challenge is making the transition from controlled chaos to focused, efficient and low noise.
  8. Act like the company you want to be, not the company you used to be. In today’s environment, yesterday as an anchor is no longer a positive.
  9. As organizations grow what is required to sustain that growth evolves. For example, entrepreneurial leadership is often replaced with a more seasoned approach. Darwinism dictates that organisms that don’t evolve die.
  10. If growth were simply a matter of scaling up sales then there would be a glut of multi-million dollar companies. The difficulty of scaling marketing/sales aside, there’s more to sustainable growth than more sales. Higher volume increases noise. Therefore, noise reduction is also critical.

The bottom line…we both agreed that in spite of the macro-economic gloom and doom there continues to be  opportunities for growth minded organizations willing to evolve.

Best Buy and its Marketing Intelligence Agency

“Services, Market Intelligence Are Best Buy’s Not-So-Secret Sauce” by Alan Wolf (TWICE.com, 7 November 2011).

Raise your hand if you think of Best Buy as a down & dirty in the details marketing/marketing intelligence company? What? No hands raised? That’s okay, I was in your camp too prior to this as well. There a couple things that caught my attention and my business imagination.

First, there’s Geek Squad. As I recall, Best Buy was the first (or at least one of the first) to roll out such a branded service. Mind you, I feel for the mom & pops it stepped on. But let’s face it, getting a PC or other consumer electronics fixed is like taking your car in for service—you just don’t know when you’re getting hoodwinked. Not only does Best Buy satisfy a need in the market with Geek Squad but it also uses that one-on-one customer contact as a key data collection point. Their commodity based retail is the razor. The after-mark service— differentiated and higher margin—is the razor blade. Who knew? Did you? Moi? I never drilled down on the thought that deep.

But here’s the kicker:

“Meanwhile, helping to discern market trends and consumer needs — often before shoppers are cognizant of them — is Best Buy’s customer insights unit (CIU), headed by former CIA intelligence officer Bill Hoffman. The operation uses surveys and focus groups, and monitors forums, social networks and other online commentary, to gauge customer satisfaction, understand brands, track the effectiveness of promotions, prepare for new launches, and develop insights and actionable strategies for the company’s various business units.”

Note: It’s not the use of surveys, focus groups, etc. that caught my eye. It’s the fact that the lead dog is former CIA. In other words, the value isn’t in collecting the data. It’s helpful but it’s relatively easy to do in this day and age. Who isn’t collecting something at this point? The value is in turning that data into useful information from which strategic business decision can be made. This end to end process takes three things: collecting the right data, parsing it and then analyzing it to make the right decisions.

Obviously Best Buy is pretty serious about all three, especially the deal breaker, step 3. You don’t call in the CIA just for kicks, right? By the way, I wouldn’t doubt it if Best Buy shares some of what it collects with its OEM partners. For a fee, of course. I guess you can add that to their list of razor blades as well.

Perhaps there are opportunities for you to sell more razor blades? Perhaps you are sitting on the data would lead you to making such an insight?

How to save the fans from the NBA

“6 Ways to Fix the NBA” by Stephen Fried (Parade.com, 20 June 2010). As luck (?) would have it, this article managed to come my way via Google Alerts. And yes, sports as an analogy for business is overdone. None the less there are some interesting observation here that apply to incentives, as well as cause and effect gone astray.

Here is a version of the comment that was submitted:

Dear Parade,

I read the six recommendations on improving the appeal of the NBA and would like to comment. My thoughts are as follows:

1) Change foul out rules — While it’s true people wish to see the star players, no one comes to see fouls either. In any sport fouls are the “ugly” side of the game. I find it hand to believe that what ultimately comes down to more fouls is going to be appealing for the fan. Is there any prescient for ugliness increasing a fan base of any sport?

2) Increase scoring — I would like to suggest there are two flaws here. One, accelerating scoring will only accelerate the gap in two mismatched teams. Does the NBA really need more blow outs? Two, it’s supposed to be a game and sport, the tit-for-tat approach of focusing on scoring is going to wear thin very fast. One could argue it’s the perceived (?) lack of strategy is actually what’s hurting the NBA today. Pass… Pass… Dunk. Followed by pass… Shoot… gets dull after a while. We know they can score, the question is, do they have game?

That said, an interesting idea might be just giving the team that’s leading less time to shoot? Or the team that’s down more time so they control the pace, can readjust, etc.

3) Raise the age limit — Again, two flaws. One, what if the stars-to-be opts out of the college route and decide to play in Europe instead. Two, does this not confirm the criticism that many already make about college basketball? That is, it’s not about education, sport and developing students into citizen, but instead it’s just the minor leagues for the NBA.

4) Encourage quirk — Ha! In this day and age?? Even at 140 characters Twitter is enough for some of these guys to hurt themselves and ruin their careers. In a society that expects perfection this recommendation is just an accident ready to happen. Furthermore, just because they are great athletes does mean they have “personality”. What’s does shooting a basketball have to do with anything other than that? Yes, let them be who they are. Just consider the classic, “Be careful what you wish for”.

5) Change the trade rules — Truth be told, there is already collusion between the agents and the front offices. The free market will be great as long as there is a way to ensure it is remains a free market.

6) Shortern the season — Finally something that makes sense. And please suggest the same for baseball and hockey too. The NFL has it right, as does European football (aka soccer). The irony here is this is a call for quality, yet more (read: quantity) scoring was recommended earlier.

The bottom line… More fans will pay attention when the NBA, or any brand for that matter, becomes a better entertainment value than other choices fans might already have. I’m not so sure most of the six recommendation listed really workt towards that goal. That is to consistently entertain to a level that exceeds expectations.

Thanks for listening.

Mark

p.s. I thought it was interesting that the woman’s league was not mentioned. It very well could be that the WNBA is cannibalizing fans from the NBA. Maybe this is because in the WNBA it ismore about “game” than about size, or should I say size of egos?Btw, when was the last time a fan got beat up at a WNBA game?

NYC >> Web 2.0 >> 2009 >> Douglas Rushkoff

A colleague and I were fortunate to witness this first hand a couple weeks ago. Considering that this was part of the Web 2.0 Expo’s free seminars, is simply amazing. Rushkoff alone was worth the time and the cost of the train multiplied by a few thousand, at least. Cheers to O’Reilly for bringing that event together and having Rushkoff expand our minds. Challenging, brilliant and not to be missed.


The truth about Apple

“Apple The Outlier” by Rich Karlgaard (Forbes.com, 21 October 2009). In response to Mr. Kalgaard’s blog post the following comment (below) was submitted. Maybe you’ll find it entertaining, so it’s also being shared here.

While I didn’t read every comment in detail, with all due respect, I think the essential point has been missed… When it has been more successful, Apple has been the tortoise. There are plenty of cases of Apple and/or Jobs falling on their face. How many of you are using a Next computer :)

On the other hand, where Apple has done really well, is when it slows down while others rush in. The ipod and the iphone both being great examples. Neither were new ideas. What they were were still developing ideas done a bit better and more importantly, rolled out *after* “the tipping point”. Apple doesn’t feel the need to be first to market, they’d rather get it more right their first time. They’ve come to realize the value in learning from others’ mistakes.  If there is an irony, it’s that Apple really isn’t a technolgy company (i.e., technology for technology’s sake). They understand that they are a solutions and services company, and that’s what they focus on providing.

When they get it right, Apple doesn’t waste resources trying to get to the tipping point, they let others do their bidding. In the meantime they’re using their resources (time and people) to build a better mouse trap as well as come up with the marketing spin to make it look new and exciting. I am not trying to belittle the iphone, I am only suggesting it is not the cure for cancer.

There is no doubt, Apple is a great outfit. But the reasons for that success are too often wrong and/or overstated. They have a great formula – look how their growth and market share has nudged up year by year (i.e., like a tortoise) – and at the moment it’s working quite well for them. But a smart competitor could duplicate their formula quite easily. Provided that competitor isn’t blinded by the hype, or fearful of a beast that isn’t even there.

No risk. No reward.

The Last Shopping Mall? New Jersey Awaits Xanadu By Sean Gregory (Time Magazine, Monday, 09 March 2009 East Rutherford, NJ). It’s easy to fall victim to the mood of the moment and immediately jump into Mr Gregory’s (half-empty) pool of skepticism. But let’s hold that thought for the moment and try to see the light.

It’s true, the shopping landscape is saturated with me-too chains, cookie cutter malls, etc. Was there really any difference between Linens & Things and BB&B? Or what about Circuit City and Best Buy? Borders continues to struggle, etc.  Needless to say Xanadu is attempting to make their destination about more than just shopping. They want to build an experience that stands out from the typical. Something that inspire people to take a 25 minute train ride out of the NYC to come visit.  Have they put a lot of money down to test their theory? Obviously, yes. But their vision is their brand and their brand is their vision. It’s not going to be easy – it never is – but it beats being a developer who just finished up yet another strip mall and is now trying to find tenants. Just like every other developer in that same boat.

Bottom line… The last thing the world needs is just another run of the mill guest experience.

All privacy issues aside

10 Best Uses for RFID Tags by Mike Olson, Wired Magazine (www.Wired.com, Issue 17.03, March 2009). Like it or not, RFID is coming. The questions – how to use it in new and innovative ways.

1) Accept and integrate RFID into the retail shopping experience by using them to trigger video and other images on large screen TVs around the store. Using RFID to help customers get more info about a product they’re interested in would also be a big plus.  It would be like taking the web experience and turning it into a real life experience.

2) Similar to the article’s mention of Clubs using it, what about ski resorts? Why are they still using those silly barcode scanners? Yes a liftie would still have to police the line but getting rid of that handheld scanner should free them up to actually attend to the wants / needs of the  guests.

A quickie – 3 fitness related articles (with a twist)

Please pardon the lack of these each getting full blown posting attention.

“Coping (or Not) With Injuries In Training For Marathon” by Gina Kolata (NY Times, Sat 27 Sept 2008)

“From Injury to the Olympics, Radcliffe Shares How She Made It Back” by Gina Kolata (NY Times, Sat 27 Sept 2008).

The key bit is in the first article and comes from Mr Chris Martin (who is not the Coldplay guy):

Martin, though, is not entirely won over. “The bottom line is that the water running and training on the elliptical running machines were stopgap measures to limit the damage to my running fitness,” he wrote.

What’s mentioned earlier in the article is that after getting injured Mr Martin pursued an alternate approach to training that was less damaging to his body. In short… He PB’ed in an Ironman triathlon. Yet he dismisses that method? Shouldn’t he be rejoicing that he’s found a better way? Instead he insists on the superiority of an approach that injured him. Huh? The Radcliffe article is also about a different approach due to injury that also proved to be pretty effective.

Bottom line… There are other ways to train (or market, or sell, or advertise, etc.) that don’t entail hurting yourself. Sooner or later the (macho?) 70’s mindset to (over) training is going to have to change. But as with most change, people are slow to grasp the obvious when they are blinded with routine, habit, addiction, etc.

While we’re on the subject of working out also see “How Powerful Is Your Workout” by Linda Baker (NY Times, Thur 25 Sept 2008). Pretty cool. Makes sense, right? Why waste that spent energy when it can be put to use? Every little bit counts.

“Closing the Innovation Gap”

The Grill: Judy Estrin (www.ComputerWorld.com, late Sept 2008). To read the complete interview please click here. Great interview. Hardly a word wasted. What this interview brings to mind is that to most people innovation is really just a high class word for breaking the rules. Unfortunately, such a mind set scares a lot of people.

Simple put, the majority of corporations are not only anti-rule breaking but “corportate culture” (by its very nature) is about conformity. The carrot is typically for employees to fall in line. Not explore the unbeaten path. Unfortunately, HR won’t approve a dismissal based on someone being too homogenized. If they did it would certainly “inspire” the rest to reach a little further.

Poor management? Possibly. Effective? Maybe. Innovative? Yes.

Prevention is the best way. Yes it is.

Strike up another vote for being proactive. No pun intended. Please invest the 2 minutes in: “Prevention Is The Best Way” by Richard Carmona.

Unfortunately, if this whole Wall Street mess is any indication, we seem destined to continue to be a society of Management By Crisis (MBC). At this rate one has to wonder if a comet is going to hit the earth before we see it coming.

Btw, Dr. Richard H. Carmona served as the 17th surgeon general of the United States (2002-2006). He is national chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (www.FightChronicDisease.org) and president of the nonprofit Canyon Ranch Institute (www.canyonranchinstitute.org).

We need to stop thinking about healthcare as if it’s some sort foreign entity. We are people and we need to take care of ourselves. We work for companies as well as exist in a society and that must also make an effort take care of us. Without us there is no commerce / society – and vice versa. It doesn’t matter what came frist – the ill citizens, or the ill society. We need to find solutions that address the whole disease and not just mask the symptoms of particular body part.

Web 2.0 Expo > Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services (http://aws.amazon.com) has been around for over a couple years now. At this point you’d have to be pretty far out of the technology loop to not have heard of cloud computing, computing in the cloud, etc. There have been countless articles on cloud computing and how it can reduce costs, streamline organizations, etc. At the Web 2.0 Expo there was an afternoon session on AWS hosted by Amazon.

There was an overview of the various services. That was followed by speakers who talked about their company’s use of AWS. That was followed by a couple bits by some VCs. All of it very inspiring. Again and again the point was made that AWS (read: for the most part their computing and storage services) provided flexibility at a fraction of traditional costs. Amazing stuff.

There is no doubt this is the future. On the other hand instead of asking, what am I doing now that I can do more for less. Maybe an even better question would be, what can now be done that just couldn’t be done before? What is the clouds’ first killer app going to be? That is THE question.

The definition of organic search is going to change

Great one… “I’m So Totally, Digitally Close To You” by Clive Thompson (The New York Times Magazine, 7 Sept 2008)

About three-quarters of the way in you’ll find:

“Laura Fitton, a social-media consultant who has become a minor celebrity on Twitter — she has more than 5,300 followers — recently discovered to her horror that her accountant had made an error in
filing last year’s taxes. She went to Twitter, wrote a tiny note explaining her problem, and within 10 minutes her online audience had provided leads to lawyers and better accountants. Fritton joked to me
that she no longer buys anything worth more than $50 without quickly checking it with her Twitter network.”

More and more often there’s a story about someone using their network cloud – so the same can be applied to Facebook to some extent – to solve a problem that prior to hyper-connectedness used to be solved by traditional search (e.g., Google). Granted, this could be one of the reasons why Google wants to exert influence on the cell phone market. Given that their biz model is built on search it makes sense that they are more than a little concerned. True there are already sites where one can post a question, and wait / hope for an answer. However, cloudsourced answer(s) can come almost instantly; from birds of your feather; and are probably more accurate and/or suitable.

The real story here… At this point, who needs Google?