Tomorrow Is Here, Now

“Master the upcoming culture change” by Paul Glen (ComputerWorld, 23 August 2010). While on one hand this article was encouraging there are also some fundamental oversights.

1) What upcoming change? It’s already here. To believe that it’s coming is a recipe for missing it. Anticipate proactively and don’t just stand there flat footed waiting.

2) The purely technical has been a commodity for some time now. Again, realizing this is the first step to moving forward.

3) Business and technology have always been tightly integrated, or should have been. Business is and always will be an exercise in holistic understanding and approach. The sad irony here is this divide isn’t closing. Article after article, writer after writer all continue to say the same thing: The gap between the business and IT need to close. Yet, that doesn’t happen.

4) One of the smartest things IT (Information Technology) can do is change it’s name. Aside from being dated, it’s encourages a mindset that continues to leave IT out of sync with business. The bottom line, IT needs a serious re-branding.

5) While it’s not Paul’s fault this article could have been written 10, 20 or maybe even 30 years ago. What’s shocking, given the historic trends,  it will probably written again and again in the future. But let’s hope otherwise.

To finish on an upswing, this really isn’t only about IT. It’s about business, period. IT and Business must work together and circle up. All involved have to make an effort to prepare for the future. That responsibility can’t just sit on IT’s shoulders. IT needs to understand and embrace Marketing. And Marketing needs to understand and embrace Technology.

Today AU, tomorrow the world – Part 2

“Renaissance Men Wanted: Big Problems Need Big Innovators” interview of author Vinnie Mirchandani by Thomas Wailgum (CIO.com, 14 June 2010). A quick follow up to yesterday’s post. Looks like Mr. Mirchandani casts another vote for an AU state of mind.

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.

World Cup: Bud vs Bavaria

“Fifa acts after ‘ambush marketing’ by Dutch brewery” by BBC News (news.BBC.co.uk, 15 June 2010). Being a lover of The Beautiful Game, this off the pitch sideshow is worth mentioning.

Internationally televised or not, if the Budweiser brand is fearful of three dozen women in orange dresses then there is something significantly wrong with Bud’s marketing efforts. In raising the issue to the legal level, FIFA and Anheuser Busch have probably played to Bavaria’s hand and have given the tiny Bavaria the even higher profile they were seeking. Haven’t we’ve seen this tactic before? Are FIFA and A.B. that naive?

Finally, as the anti mega-corporation climate continue to grow amount consumers, Buds excessive counter attack against the underdog Bavaria in all likelihood risks additional push back against the Bud brand, as well as the Anheuser Busch family of brands. Worth it? Probably not. What’s next, supporters being banned for wearing their squads’ colours because a sponsor doesn’t like that colour?

For violation of the spirit of the game, “The King of Beers”  should be sent off.

What do you think? Is FIFA and A.B. acting in their own best interests, or looking to be a social media victim of their own 20th century mindset?

Listen and ye shall learn

While not quite a change in venue, but how about a change in medium? Please take a moment to enjoy these two relatively short audio interviews from Harvard Business Review.

“HBR IdeaCast: Positive Deviance and Unlikely Innovators” — Interview of Richard Pascale (associate fellow of Said Business School at Oxford University) coauthor of “The Power of Positive Deviance”.

“What Copycats Know About Innovation” — Interview of Oded Shenkar, professor at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business and author of “Copycats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge”.

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.

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?

Go team!

“Teamwork: It’s About Trust, Not A Technique” interview of Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene by Jonathan Erickson (Dr. Dobbs, 20 February 2010).While this interview/discussion centers about programming teams, the idea certainly apply to all teams.  The most interesting point was:

Dr. Dobb’s: Can tools alone turn an ugly team into a beautiful one?
Stellman: A good team tool can help a good team be better. But if you’ve got a team that’s deeply flawed, just adding a tool won’t fix the problem. At best, it will help you make mistakes faster.

Also from Dobb’s was “Team Building Goes Viral” by Jerry Tubbs (21 February 2010). It’s another quick read with the biggest piece of the take away pie coming from this list:

7 Key Factors: Effective Development Teams Start Here

1. Common Purpose Get everyone on the same page.
2. Commitment Do what’s necessary to get the job done.
3. Trust Establish trust,because it’s mandatory even when you don’t always agree.
4. Understand The Process Master the tools and processes before coding begins.
5. Communication Share knowledge and information constantly.
6. Resources Have adequate resources at the outset so team can focus on the project, not the tools.
7. Leadership Ensure leaders are in place to make technical or business decisions.

In a word… Brilliant!

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.

What you see is what you get (or not)

“Is There an Ecological Unconscious?” by Daniel B. Smith (New York Times Sunday Magazine, 27 January 2010). The majority of this blog is devoted to the more technical if not clinical aspects of life in the business world. But as they say, “All work and no play makes Mark a dull boy.” Speaking from personal experience I have no doubt that there is a positive and necessary connection between my mind, body & soul and my ability to maintain a healthy connection to the world around me.

Yes, Wired’s pro-technology approach – “How Twitter and Facebook Make Us More Productive” by Brendan I. Koerner, 22 February 2010 – makes some sense. That is, humans are wired such that we need to take breaks from the immediate task at hand. However, maybe the true productivity advantages come not from dialing up a browser and Facebooking but from stepping away from the desk and taking a quite moment outside? Maybe there really is an advantage to having a corner office with a view?

Furthermore, if you subscribe to the ecological unconscious ideals then it would seem that they might also explain the increase prevalence of human disconnect (e.g., the need for anti-depressants) in our society. Are we building a world that more and more of us are not fit to live in? Is a (short term looking) productive work environment the same thing as an ongoing healthy human living environment?

Simple and brilliant at the same time

“It’s a Wonderful, Horrible Feeling” by Shaun White as told to Alyssa Roenigk (ESPN, 22 Feb 2010). Better knows as the Flying Tomato, Mr. White (age 21)  is considered to be one of the best snowboarders in the world. He is certainly the most recognizable.

It’s not often someone of such a young age shares an idea such as:

You know how I said that everyone assumes this is easy for me? Well, I probably downplay the one easy part: I cut out a lot of prep time by visualizing complicated tricks. But I still have to practice, and it still gets gnarly and terrifying. I slam my back against the ice all day just like anyone else. And there are still times when I show up at the mountain and think, I hate this. I don’t want to be here. The halfpipe is terrible. It’s cold. Then I look over at the next guy, and he hates it. And the next guy, he hates it too. Then I get this amazing feeling. Great. Everybody hates it. Their spirits are down. I am going to rip this halfpipe. The best riders shine through in bad weather. I’m probably the most prepared of anyone.

To me, it’s simple. If you really want to do something you can figure it out. If you hurt your hand and you have to write with the other, you figure it out. You adapt. I am a big fan of doing what you are really bad at. A lot.

There you have it boys & girls, this gold winner’s four keys to being world-class:

1) Visualize success
2) Suck it up in order to rise above the rest
3) Perseverance and adaptation
4) Get out of your comfort zone and force yourself to do what you’re bad at

Sound just like a day at the office sometimes, eh? Simple and brilliant at the same time.

The tipping tweet

“In Praise of Online Obscurity” by Clive Thompson (Wired Magazine, 25 January 2010). Interesting, if not stating the obvious – if you add enough chefs, the kitchen breaks down. Or at least the intimate kitchen as one originally planned it tips away and something else then takes form.

None the less, Clive’s observations and reminders are great food for thought as one takes on the challenge of scaling up a “community”.  The key might be that just like any other relationship, in order to maintain a sense of closeness it takes work. Often lots of it. The set it and forget it approach will not bread a sense of closeness. Make sense, eh?

If you consider the crowd clay, then what do you do to constantly mold and remold that mass? And at a broader level, is Clive saying that sheep are born to be lead? Interesting.

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.

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.