Serious business

““Innopreneurs:” Tips For Success During A Recession” by Duncan Stewart (Business XPansion Journal, September 2009). Another round up to keep you focused and on the straight and narrow. Chances are you’ve heard these before but it’s always helpful to get another nudge.  Now that the summer is over and the kids are back to school it’s time to get back to business.

The AU faves:

3) Make it a no-brainer to try your product.

4) Find money in unexpected places.

7) Now is the time to finally invest in the latest productivity technology.

8) For better marketing results, go direct.

These are just the highlights. It’s up to you to consume the rest.

Google isn’t always the greatest – Part 2

A quick addendum to the previous post on Google and Yahoo.

First, here is the link to Yahoo’s Finance page: http://finance.yahoo.com/. And here’s Google’s: http://www.google.com/finance. As you dip your toes into Yahoo’s water you’ll notice similar aesthetics that often overshadows Google’s more utilitarian approach.

In addition, here’s a quickie from CNN Money: “Do you Yahoo? Probably” By David Goldman (CNNMoney.com, 23 August 2000). The article points out that Yahoo’s approach is less profitable than Google’s. What it fails to clarify is the time frame of this measurement. Is it the last two of three quarters? Or more? Or less? Even so, three or four quarters does not a long term trend make. It should also be noted that to some extent this is an apples and oranges comparison. These are both internet based companies but their paths in terms of focus and approach quickly diverge. There is little reason to believe they will produce similer results.

Btw, did you notice the similarity between Yahoo’s design and CNNMoney’s?

Google isn’t always the greatest

“Where Yahoo Leaves Google in the Dust” By Randall Stross (New York Times, 22 August 2009). While the Google hype machine would like you to believe otherwise, Google is not perfect. Yes, they are a damn good advertising machine but there are plenty examples of failed Google projects that were eventually sacked. If fact, that’s Google’s M.O. — if a project takes off they continue to refine it  but if it doesn’t they cut their losses and move on. They don’t waste resources on ideas that fail to gain traction in the market. For some there’s a possible lesson here. I digress.

When it comes to having a successful web site it is essential to embrace the value of a great UX (user expereince), or as we at AU like to say, the all inclusive Guest Experience.

Yahoo understands that information about money — a user’s own money — presents some tricky psychological issues. James Pitaro, vice president of Yahoo’s audience group, said, “In our research with users, we found that the more information that was displayed on the page, the greater the anxiety.”

Put another way, it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear. Say too much and you run that risk that nothing will be heard. No doubt you are passionate about your business.  That you want your guest to know everything about your brand and you want them to know know it all the second they meet you (i.e., visit your web site, see your ad, etc.). That’s just not practical. That’s not the way relationships work. There is a pace and rhythm to The Guest Experience and often TMI (too much information) is not part of The Guests’ expectations.

The other lesson here is that Goliath can be beat, but you have to choose your battles. You have to be willing to suspend your subjective passions for a moment. Stop, step back and be objective about what is going to maximize the Guest Experience that your brand offers. Ultimately, it is your guests who will beat Goliath, not you. Think about it…

Finally while we’re on the subject of Yahoo vs Google there is another place where Yahoo slays Google — email. Yahoo offer unlimited storage while Google is currently capped at 6 or 7 gigs. Fair enough, 6 gigs is still a lot of email but it’s not as much as unlimited. Regardless, Yahoo’s UX is much stronger (and almost a desktop experience). For example, you can drag and drop emails from one folder to another. You can even drag an email onto your Contacts folder and Yahoo will prompt you to add that person’s email address and other details to your contact lists. Simple, clean and easy.

One often overlooked bomus is that both Yahoo and Google allow you to check your other email accounts (commonly known as POP3 accounts) via their interface. So rather than have to use (for example) Verizon’s crap web mail you can use Yahoo (or Google) instead, much like you might have used Outlook to check multiple accounts. This is also handy when you’re transitioning from one email address to another. You can have your email come in via the old address and then send out via the new one, all via a single interface. Yahoo mail is also slickly integrated into MyYahoo!. MyYahoo! is great for setting up pages of RSS feeds but that’s another lesson for another day.

Btw, the Yahoo calendar is great too. You can even set up reminders to be sent to your cell phone via text message. Remembering important dates and appointments has never been easier.

The bottom line… If you have more than one email address or are looking to make your life – both online and off –  easier, AU proudly dismisses the Google hype and highly recommends Yahoo email and MyYahoo.  Check it out, it’s time well spent.

It’s not going to happen unless you try

“Inspiring Minds” by Stephanie Overby (CIO Magazine, 1 August 2009). Training is back in style and the pursuit of innovation is finally moving to the right side of the lip service tracks. What’s next? Executive pay becoming reasonable again? Think about it, a $100k pay cut could mean and $1,000 for 100 people.

Oops. Let’s get back to innovation and what this article has to offer. It looks as if Ms. Overby has saved the best for (the) last (paragraph):

But just as important as a spotlight on success is highlighting ideas with potential. Domino’s McGlothlin tries to keep the phrase “that’ll never work” out of his vocabulary, even when an idea clearly needs more time in the oven. “I have a tremendous team,” says McGlothlin, “and as long as I don’t squash their innate passion and curiosity, I believe that innovation will happen.”

Keep minds open and ideas flowing and sooner or later good things are going to happen.

The Chaos Scenario

As heard on WNYC,org’s The Leonard Lopate Show:

Bob Garfield, Advertising Age editor-at-large and co-host of On the Media, documents how the digital revolution has separated the 350-year connection between mass media and mass marketing, and prescribes a new way for business and institutions to go forward in the changing media landscape. His book The Chaos Scenario looks at what happens when the traditional media world order collapses and there’s nothing in place to replace it.

The audio of the interview can be found here: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/episodes/2009/08/03/segments/137774

Mr. Garfield does a perfect job of summing up the current state of marketing and how the internet empowered guest is changing everything. Click to get a free download of the first two chapters of The Chaos Scenario.

Brilliant stuff.

Two for the innovation show

“Guy Kawasaki on Innovation and the Myth of Lightning-Bolt Inspiration” by Diann Daniel (CIO Magazine, 25 February 2009). Mr. Kawasaki is the well respected venture capitalist so when he says that inspiration is free and development tools are cheap it’s worth a listen. Here’s a key pull quote to hook you in:

Again, at an intellectual level, no company laid off its way to success. On the other hand, it’s easy for “experts” to say that one must keep innovating when your company is running out of cash since it’s not their necks on the line. There are no magic bullets. It’s just a tough time.

Yes, it is tough but so is climbing Mount Everest. To face the challenges of the new normal one must continue to push forward (i.e., evolve, innovate, etc.) Standing still is not an option.

With that said, coming up with new ideas is half the battle. Some might even say it’s the easy part. For changes to be effective they must be accepted by the organization (and guests) those ideas are being offered to and/or thrust upon. For that part of the process we offer: “Mentor: Inside the Change Studio” by Bill Deam (CIO Magazine, 1 July 2009).

Ready? Let’s go!

What? Yes. When? Not so much so.

“What Data Mining Can and Can’t Do” by Allan E. Alter (CIO Insight Magazine, June 2007) The subject of business intelligence (BI) came up in a meeting a couple days ago. The discussion centered around using broad patterns, as well as past behaviors of individuals to make future predictions. This article isn’t new but given the authority of Mr. Peter Fader (who is the interviewee) it will help you properly wrap your mind around this topic.

In short, there seems to be a fair amount misunderstanding when it comes to BI. Well, at least Prof. Fader thinks so.

Still looking for a good summer read?

“What You Pay For (a review of Wired’s Chris Anderson’s new book ‘Free’)” by Virginia Postrel (New York Times, 10 July 2009). Mr. Anderson is often a voice worth listening to and thus his latest book is worth investigating. The question seems to be, is the biz model he champions where things are or where they are going? If you believe it’s where we are then the next question is, “What’s next?”

Big Brother is Googling

Google watch:

“Google Plans a PC Operating System” By Miguel Helft and Ashlee Vance (New York Times, 8 July 2009). What so many have been saying for so long. Time will tell if this will be good news for the rest of us.

“Great Wall of Facebook: The Social Network’s Plan to Dominate the Internet — and Keep Google Out” by Fred Vogelstein (Wired Magazine, July 2009). The classic battle between good and evil. But who’s good and who’s evil?

“Secret of Googlenomics: Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability” by Steven Levy (Wired Magazine, 22 May 2009) Who would have thought that a tweak or two on an auction would becomes a billion dollar money machine?

Don’t stop ’til you get enough

“10 Questions for Robert Kiyosaki” by Robert Kiyosaki (Time Magazine, 13 July 2009) The concept behind Time’s 10 Questions is fascinating. For those who are not familiar, Time asks its reader to submit questions for a particular “celeb”, editors pick their 10 favorites, and then those get answered and published. Similar to Letter to the Editor but different.

This latest interview with Mr. Rich Dad, Poor Dad is particularly good. Here’s a sample:

Do you think anybody can be successful in business? Rogelio Gonzales (Brick Township, NJ)

Absolutely. It takes discipline. Most people would like to have a great body like Charles Atlas, but they’re at Burger King wolfing down a Whopper with fries. I don’t know how you can expect to get anything you want without some degree of long-term commitment. Quitting is the easiest thing to do. That’s why most people don’t make it.

Please take a moment and consume the other nine. In terms of insight and inspiration we promise it will be time well spent.

The sweet spot and the silver bullet

“Debunking Innovation’s Buzz” by Larry Bonfante (CIO Insight, June 2009). It’s worth mentioning that Mr. Bonfante is the CIO of the United States Tennis Association (USTA). Pardon the heavy handed cliche but he serves up a couple  aces when he notes:

Innovation isn’t some sort of mystical silver bullet that will solve all of our problems. Nor is it some new technology that we can buy and implement. Innovation is about creatively leveraging the tools and processes at your disposal to drive business value.

Stop being your own worst enemy – Part 2

“The Human Element of IT” by Chris Dowse and Dr. Paul Hertz (CIO Insight, June 2009). More or less a follow up to their article in the same publication in May, but applied in a slightly different way. For the non-IT types please  look past the IT-centric focus and apply the broader concepts. That is, we are human and who we are effects what we do, how we do it and who best we do it with. If we can understand our strengths (and weaknesses), as well as those of others around us then that is one step closer to the victory circle.

With that said, doing so is not easy because being human has its faults.

God forbid we should actually talk to each other

“How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live (in 140 characters or less)” by Steven Johnson (Time Magazine, 15 June 2009). If you’re still trying to get your head around the latest mainstream media hype that is known as Twitter then Time has prepared a few thousand character expose that should get you up to speed — or dummied down depending on how you look at it. As one would expect from Time, Mr. Johnson is thorough as well as entertaining. However, the ball gets dropped in the last 30 or so tweets.

But what actually happened to American innovation during that period? We came up with America Online, Netscape, Amazon, Google, Blogger, Wikipedia, Craigslist, TiVo, Netflix, eBay, the iPod and iPhone, Xbox, Facebook and Twitter itself. Sure, we didn’t build the Prius or the Wii, but if you measure global innovation in terms of actual lifestyle-changing hit products and not just grad students, the U.S. has been lapping the field for the past 20 years.

The first discrepancy is  that at this point Mr. Johnson is off topic. What started as an overview of Twitter suddenly takes a sharp turn into cheerleading. Equating Twitter to the superiority of USA ingenuity is a bit of a stretch. The next discrepancy Mr. Johnson fails to recognize is that the if he mentions (i.e., “but if you measure…”) is a big if. Twitter is not the cure for cancer. Mr. Johnson then nose dives in the final paragraph.

This is what I ultimately find most inspiring about the Twitter phenomenon. We are living through the worst economic crisis in generations, with apocalyptic headlines threatening the end of capitalism as we know it, and yet in the middle of this chaos, the engineers at Twitter headquarters are scrambling to keep the servers up, application developers are releasing their latest builds, and ordinary users are figuring out all the ingenious ways to put these tools to use. There’s a kind of resilience here that is worth savoring. The weather reports keep announcing that the sky is falling, but here we are — millions of us — sitting around trying to invent new ways to talk to one another.

Read another way, Rome is burning and we just keep tweeting. And that’s a good thing? Are there benefits to Twitter? Of course there are. AU is certainly not anti-technology or anti-progress. We use Twitter, too. What we are is anti-hype. Bring together 17 million people, let them throw enough tweets around and eventually there are bound to be a couple success stories. The question is, how much time and effort was wasted to get to those one or two miracles?

Twitter is  a great tool and it can be fun but it’s hardly sliced bread.

Coke adds choice to life – Another perspective

“Global CIO: Six Lessons CIOs Must Learn From Coke’s Dazzling Innovation” by Bob Evans (Information Week, 22 June 2009). A couple weeks ago we did a  post about Coke’s new drink dispenser called Freestyle. Mr. Evans celebrates Coke’s innovation but approaches it from a different perspective, that of the CIO.

The bottom line is that this effort took management commitment, getting the right team together, and then teamwork within that group. Very simple. Very effective. And a great lesson for the rest of us.

Changing the game

“Customer Loyalty Program Goes Beyond Discounts and Coupons” By Jarina D’Auria (CIO Mag, 15 June 2009). This is brilliant! Stop whatever you’re doing and read it now. Read it twice, it’s short. As a teaser here’s a pull quote from Haggen’s Chief Information Officer Harrison Lewis:

“We wanted to redefine the game because we believe this is a competitive advantage for us and we wanted things that really would benefit our guests,” Lewis says. By creating an experience different and easier than that of other supermarkets, Lewis believes customers will bring in more business for the company.

and another bit from the last paragraph:

Members of the Haggen staff took the time to hear the opinions of customers before implementing the program by holding a panel to discuss their preferences about supermarket shopping. “We wanted [the program] to make the experience easier for them to shop in our stores,” says Lewis. “We respect our guests and their time.”

Makes you want to pick up and move to Bellingham, Wash.

Coke adds choice to life

“Coke’s RFID-Based Dispensers Redefine Business Intelligence” by Mary Hayes Weier (Information Week, 8 June 2009) Don’t let the geeky title scare you. Put yourself in the shoes of a Coke guest and read between the lines. This a perfect example of the shift in expectations that’s being driven by the empowerment guest now enjoy as a result of “technology”. Offline or online is not important. What is important is the experience. As much we hate to tip our hats to high frutose corn syrup & water, Kudos to Coke for this effort.

Our guess is that eventually Coke will link all the machines so that instead of having to reenter your custom flavour everytime you’ll be able to enter your own code and the Freestyle machine / network will take care of the rest. There’s also the possiblity of integrating the machines with a web site (or social network widget) and letting people share their custom flavours. Similar to Abobe’s Kuler (http://kular.adobe.com) but slightly  different.

The best way to win the game is to change the game

“Beyond Detroit: On the Road to Recovery, Let the Little Guys Drive” by Charles C. Mann (Wired Magazine, June 2008). Another articles from Wired’s latest issue that focuses on The New Economy. Here is a must read paragraph. If you’ve tasted victory in the past then chances are good that it will have even more meaning to you.

The only escape from this conundrum is to pursue what Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has called disruptive innovation—the kind of change that alters the trajectory of an industry. As Christensen argued in his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, successful companies in mature industries rarely embrace disruptive innovation because, by definition, it threatens their business models. Loath to revamp factories at high cost to make products that will compete with their own goods, companies drag their feet; perversely, financial markets often reward them for their shortsightedness. Good as they are, the European and Japanese automakers are established companies. At this point, they are as unlikely to pursue disruptive innovation as Detroit has been. That gives the US auto industry an opening. To take that opportunity, it will have to behave differently—it will have to step far outside the walls of the Rouge.

There it is again, success isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. From time to time it is possible to arrive but sooner or later the sands will shift and the quest will have to continue. When it does, be sure to think about what your competition won’t do or can’t do and then do that. Use their success against them and change the game, at least for a moment. Repeat as necessary.

Google says, “Surf’s up”

“Google Showcases New Communication and Collaboration Tool” by By Miguel Helft (New York Times, 28 May 2009). Yes, let’s all pray that this – and the other similar apps that are sure to follow – puts an end to email as a collaboration tool. Nine times out of ten even a wiki is a more helpful project organization tool than email. With a wiki everyone is forced to stay on the same page, literally.

Welcome of Fantasy Island? – Follow up

This is a (shameless self-promoting) follow up to a post a couple weeks back on an article by Ms. Sharon Machlis (“Opinion: When head counts are low, take time to save time”, ComputerWorld Mag, 18 May 2009). The AU blog post was also posted as a comment to Ms. Machlis’ article. In this week’s print version of Computer World the editors at CW decided to print that comment / post. It’s nice to be the needle that gets pulled out of the haystack, again.

When dinosaurs fall like dominos

“The New New Economy: More Startups, Fewer Giants, Infinite Opportunity” by Chris Anderson (Wired Magazine, June 2009) If you’re trying to make sense of what has happen and of what’s to come Mr. Anderson sheds some valuable light on the matter. As expected, there are two AU caveats:
1) Capital was traditionally only available to fairly large companies. The internet changed that. Investors can not only move money quicker and easier, they now have a tool for mitigating risk by providing a better way to identify and evaluate the smaller companies with the potential to be the next big thing. (Note: This relationship also works in the other direction. The internet provides a platform to companies seeking investors.) The large companies have reached growth capacity, the smart money is looking for better returns, and there are small upstarts lining up to accept that backing. The internet provides the frictionless fluidity to make that happen.

2) From the consumers’ side the internet provides each individual a choice. No longer are consumers forced to consume the me-to, mass marketed products and services that are the by product of the large companies’ cookie cutter (i.e., economies of scale) approach. Also, consumers are no longer at a disadvantage in terms of the availability of information. They know what they want and they know where to get it. Big is out. Small and personal is the new black.

The real question is, will the USA be the next debt ridden, too-big-to-fail dinsaur to fall?