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.”

 

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?

“Figuring it out is the fulcrum,” said the man with the billion dollar smile

Luck favors the prepared, as well as those who keep their eyes and ears open for “opportunities”. (Colleagues who do the same is a big help too.) The truth be told I consider myself quite fortunate to have made time for Steve Papa’s appearance at Princeton University late yesterday afternoon. Aside from being a graduate of Princeton (1994), Papa was also one of the founders of Endeca Technologies. Less than a year ago Endeca was acquired by Oracle for around $1.1 billion.

Here are some of the highlights from my notes:

  • Rule #1 – Ignore the experts. When you’re doing something new there are people who just won’t get it.
  • Learn to succeed despite the odds. Have faith, it’s part of the process.
  • When financial times are tight, sell a painkiller (i.e., a product that increases revenue).
  • Recession, reinvention & re-organization.
  • Main lesson: Ideas <–> Figuring it out <–> Execution. There’s more to it than just ideas and execution. The fulcrum (that few talk about) is figuring it out.
  • “Survivorship bias”—Don’t let early customers over-influence your product / direction. The customer is always right, but not every customer is the right customer at the right time for your company.
  • Being entrepreneurial is the relentless pursuit of credibility.
  • Fact: Entrepreneurs don’t create risk, they mitigate it.
  • Be aware of macroeconomics
  • “It’s always a good time to innovate but there’s not always time for every innovation.”
  • You will hire people who will not do what is good and best for your company. This is particularly true of sales people.
  • With regards to hiring:
    – Repeaters vs creators
    – Doers vs leaders
    – Intellectually curious vs focused
    – Experience vs potential
    – Credibility vs talent, or both?
  • Where the company / product is in the development cycle will drive the specifics of your hiring needs.
  • Key to sales: Timing, territory & talent in that order. [Note: He made it a point to highlight that timing and territory come before talent.]

The two best gems came towards the end of the presentation:

  • Luck plays a bigger role than most will admit. But luck favors the prepared.
  • “I figured out the right approach by process of elimination.”

Needless to say, Steve knows his was around the playing field. Yet much like Jack Dorsey, there was a quiet confidence in Papa’s persona. No chest thumpin’ or other Thump-isms, just simple honest ideas, opinions and facts. Strictly business—humble, human and with a smile.

Some thoughts from Jack Dorsey (The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, Sept 2012)

Yes, the Mr. Jack Dorsey—inventor of Twitter and founder of Square (the payment platform)—was on the Princeton University campus yesterday for a presentation + Q&A session sponsored by The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. In front of a full-house in McCosh 10, a casual but poised and polished Dorsey put his mega-success on pause to share some business wisdom with what was primarily tech-aware university students. Fortunately for my colleagues and I, many of the The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club events are open to the public. Apparently, the club doesn’t subscribe to the infamous stealth-mode philosophy.

Here are most of the highlights from my notes:

  • William Gibson: “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
  • Constantly! Reset. Rethink. Reorganize.
  • Try to structure your company in such a way that it allows for multiple founding moments.
  • Square’s motto: An idea that can change the course of the company can comes from anywhere.
  • New energy + new people = new ideas
  • Disruption is an undesirable approach. The ultimate objective is revolution.
  • “We need more confidence.”
  • “Square enables people to do what they love.”
  • A beautiful company will lead to a beautiful product (but not necessarily the other way around).
  • Recommended book: “The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership” by Bill Walsh.
  • In speaking about the Golden Gate Bridge, “Small groups of people can do epic things.”
  • Also about the GGB, Dorsey said it was an example of a brilliant combination of engineering, design and utility. He discussed the fact that most people who use the bridge probably don’t consider how magnificent it really is. He added that great things can (and sometimes should) be forgettable.
  • The DNA of the company is essential.
  • Come to meetings prepared.
  • Square has sit-down and stand-up tables. Dorsey drew laughs by adding that the meetings that use the stand-up tables tend to be shorter.
  • Naming the company is important. It sets the tone for everything. Square was finite and fitting, yet at the same time extendable.

Jack Dorsey was refreshing, humble and ego-less. It was often hard to believe that one of the 21st century’s business/technology heavy-weights could be so understated. There was no you’re so lucky I’m here. No, I have all the answers kids so listen to me. It was simply one very successful (young) man’s view of the world, and a sincere willingness to share it.

One of the key takeaways for me was what he didn’t say. He rarely used the word innovation (and dismissed the use of the start-up anthem of disruption). Aside from that, his next most important message was the emphasis on people. Finding the right people to work for his company so those people can develop beautiful products for people in the market who will be excited about its availability. The key was not technology but people. Surprise! Very old school, yes? None the less, Dorsey’s ideas shimmered with pure brilliance. Everything old could be new once again.

Innovation as an Ends is Highly Overrated

A couple weeks ago I attended TigerLaunch Startup Challenge 2012 at Princeton University, as hosted by The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. The keynote speaker was Bill Taylor (Princeton ’81) the co-founder of the iconic Fast Company Magazine. Bill was also one of the judges in the competition. Thought the magic of YouTube, The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club has shared Bill’s keynote.

Bill Taylor keynote at TigerLaunch 2012 (Princeton University) Fast Company

Bill Taylor Keynote: TigerLaunch 2012 (Part 2/3)
Bill Taylor Keynote: TigerLaunch 2012 (Part 3/3)

Based on my now cryptic notes here are the highlights I gleaned from Bill Taylor’s keynote address at TigerLaunch 2012.

  • Be passionate. When someone say no just drive harder.
  • Luck and timing helps.
  • Business plans are written to reflect singles and doubles. The reality is there are strikeouts and home runs.
  • The business plan is a good exercise but it never goes as planned.
  • Be naive, be an outsider, it’s an advantage. Fresh eyes can be as important as experience and expertise.
  • Hire for attitude. Train for skill.
  • Customers!
  • Entrepreneurs must learn to manage emotions and emotional connections.
  • Be memorable.
  • Being smart isn’t enough.
  • Eat your own dog food.
  • “The only thing worse than failing is success.”
  • “Architecture of participation”
  • When crowdsourcing be exact about what you want. Ask for participation everywhere you go.

Good stuff, yes? But wait there’s more…

In total there were eight presentations—Bill Taylor plus seven start-ups. The start-ups were: Collections, Waiter d’, QualTraxx, nat|Aural, DUMA, Pasand and BeneTag. Obviously, there was a lot of creative entrepreneurial energy in the room. However, there was one thing that was (pleasantly) absent. That was the use of the word innovation. There was plenty of talk about customers, business models, technology, growth, etc. but no one seemed to be over-focused on innovation for innovation’s sake. Realistic and refreshing.

Conclusion? Innovation as an ends is highly overrated—as it should be.

How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success

We’ve all heard the stories. The twenty-first century equivalents of Daniel Boone, Paul Bunyon and Paul Revere. Amazing and larger than life.

First, there’s YouTube. Three former Pay Pal employees sketch out an idea on the back of a bar napkin (so to speak). They proceed to pursue the idea. Why? Because they can and they’re the types to do so. They launch quickly, continue to tweak, etc. and the site goes viral before the word was in the mainstream lexicon. As the story goes, less than two years later they sold to Google for well over a 1.5 billion dollars. Billion,

And then there’s Facebook, as “documented” in the film “The Social Network.” Mark Zuckerburg & Co whip together an idea, or stole it depending on who you ask. From there they rocket from stuffy East Coast Harvard to West Coast “swimming pools and movie stars” and onto billionaires and millionaires in less than two hours of running film time. With a little help from naiveté and Sean Parker, of course.

Both stories are impressive and inspiring. In that context, it doesn’t get much better.

Unfortunately, they are also both an exception to the rule. And not just small exceptions but are probably at the extreme edge of the exception scale. Winning the Power Ball lottery or dating a super-model is probably going to happen to you sooner than your idea becomes the next (me-to?) YouTube or Facebook. Yes, these thing can and do happen. I’m not here to squash dreams. But is looking to score the equivalent of back to back to back hat tricks in the World Cup a wise and realistic use of your energy?

Presuming you’re going to put some life-saving on the line, add stress to your life and your family (where before there was none), etc. perhaps there’s a better way? Perhaps, a business plan, or at least the draft of one?

Please note: I’m not a big fan of a business plan, as a plan per se. On the other had, the process of: collecting ideas; writing them down; organizing them so they make sense; flipping them upside down to look for holes; fully vetting your ideas; a draft a mission statement; assessing the size of the market and how you’re going to motivate and communicate with that market; defining goals and success and how those will be measured; sketching wireframes (if it involves a website) or the offline equivalent; formally and thoroughly analyzing the competition; reasonable and objective estimates of the resources required (i.e., time, talent and money); best case(s) and worst case(s); showing this collection of organized ideas to colleagues; and then stepping back yourself to see if the reward warrants the risk…

Well, there’s something to be said for a business plan forcing you to accomplish that.

The point of this exercise it’s only to prove yourself right, it’s to prove yourself wrong. You’re probably going to go forward anyway&mdash;as most entrepreneurs do&mdash;just make sure you know what you’re up against. The fact is, plenty of top flight squads have swaggered onto the pitch presuming victory over a less  worthy opponent and gone home humbled and without the victory. Yes, over-thinking it can be dangerous. However, I’m willing to bet that the non-victorious under-think more than they over-think it. Do you believe there’s no scrapheap of failed YouTube, Facebook, etc. wannabes? Just because that heap isn’t good Hollywood material doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit I have a soft-spot for spontaneity. I appreciate being quick to market. I embrace the agile mindset. When it’s time to run, I’m ready to go. Foolish! Hungry!! On the other hand, when it’s asked, “Nice. Which direction is this next YouTube/Facebook headed?” and “How are you going to get there?” the answer should be more than a couple pages of bullet points, most of which are the usual pages (e.g. About Us, Contact Us, etc.). Frankly, that type of swagger raises a red flag. Your opponent, the devil & his details, are probably smiling. The W is all but theirs.

The bottom line…Odds are you’re going to need to put the uber long-shot myths aside if you want Justin Timberlake in your “based on a true story” dream come true movie.

Finally, I’d like to end this with this thread from Quora.com:

http://www.quora.com/Startup-Advice-Strategy/As-first-time-entrepreneurs-what-part-of-the-process-are-people-often-completely-blind-to

Some serious food for thought in that one, yes?

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?

Friends don’t let friends blame IT

“7 IT lessons from the collapse of Borders” by Frank Hayes (ComputerWorld.com, 7 March 2011). Truth be told I am by nature a geek. Not that I’m necessarily a shiny new object kind of guy. But I do appreciate technology, it’s application, and it’s potential for positive impact. While I don’t wear my geek pride on my sleeve, I do consider myself a card carrying member of the Geek Union Local 0101.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been reading articles similar to thee one by Frank Hayes. These memories go back to the mid-80’s. That’s a long time to repeatedly blame the same player for not making the championship. Mind you, IT has its faults. But so does marketing, operations, HR, finance, etc. And while I hate to wear out the sports analogy, business is a team effort. Everyone must work together.  When there’s a win, it’s a team win. And when there’s a loss a good coach will suck it up and accept responsibility. In short it’s hard to image IT being 100% responsible 100% of the time for 100% of the project that failure. Hard to believe, right?

The point I’m getting to is that Frank’s article inspired me to send him an email. I felt compelled to let him know that I found the post-game analysis of the decline of Borders very interesting. However, the perpetration of the myth that it’s always IT’s fault also needed to be addressed. Once I sent it, I figured the matter was closed. Nope! Here is the version of the letter that appeared in the 9 May 2011 print issue of ComputerWorld. Yes, I guess they do still print letters submitted by readers. So here’s another one of the record books that cleared the Editors’ Hurdle.

I enjoyed Frank Hayes’ March 7 2011 column, “Seven IT Lessons from the Collapse of Borders.” It was s great Monday morning wrap-up.

But I do take issue with one statement, where he says that “no one in IT was able to convince management to reinvent Expert.” Expert was Borders inventory management system, and Hayes points out that it was unable to scale as Borders grew.

Why is IT being made the scapegoat once again for C-level incompetence? I think that Expert’s shortcomings would have been pretty obvious. I can’t imagine that one needed an MBA to see how the system (and I’m not just talking about technology) was failing. Hayes seems to imply not only that IT staff were the only ones who could see the problem, but that IT was also the only one responsible. Really?

If the fall of Borders was IT’s fault, then what were the executives responsible for?

I’m growing tired of IT taking one for the team. And it’s one thing when Marketing and other departments pin one on IT. Let’s face it, they’re not going to admit any guilt themselves. Buy why is Frank Hayes reinforcing a myth and a stereotype?

Well said, right?

Innovation Rejuvenation

“How to Restart Innovation” by CIO Executive Council (CIO.com, 14 December 2011). Great collection of ideas! But let’s be honest, this is not rocket science. That said, let’s also dig a bit deeper and harvest some additional gold from between the lines.

Starting with the Brent Hoag (VP and CIO of Diversey), there’s the famous, “If you can measure it, you can manage it.” Diversey  didn’t just say, “Let’s be innovative.” Geez, anyone can do that. The key here, they made a particular team responsible for that business need. While it’s true the whole organization should play a part in innovation, by making it someone’s responsibility it’s more likely to happen. Thinking about it is easy. Talk is cheap. The key is actually making an effort, and actually making someone accountable for it too.

Next comes Allison Redecki (Senior VP and CIO of GS1 US) and, “Tear down the silos!” Which by the way also applies to Hoag’s team. What Redecki has done is to have her people not re-actively serve their clients but to be proactive and walk in the clients’ shoes. The goal is to strive to be in a position to add value, not just regurgitate. In some ways the requests for new ideas is actually a by-product. The by-product of IT having a better understanding of what the business is doing and what it’s trying to accomplish. Without that understanding there would be no new ideas to be offered. That said, in asking for ideas (and presumably rewarding them) IT is forced to become closer immersed in their clients’ world. Silos down. Everybody wins.

And finally there’s Mark Carbrey (CIO of Cross Country Automotive Services) and their focus on The Guest Experience. His team is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating. In addition, using volunteers for such efforts not only keeps everyone engaged beyond their focus (read: it keeps them looking beyond the silos) but it also excites them. Everyone across his team is continuously a part of something new.Funny how participation gets people to well…um…participate.

The bottom line…It’s alarming how many organizations put their employees in cubicles, ask them to focus a fixed target, measure them on that, and then those same organizations are shocked when, “Think outside the box,” doesn’t produce significant innovation. If you want your team to use The Force, then you have to also give them the opportunities and inspiration to feel The Force too. Or as Chevy Chase said in Caddyshack, “Be the ball Danny.”

Maybe Net Neutrality Is A Non-issue

“Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality” by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (ScientificAmerican.com, 22 November 2010). Excellent thought provoking stuff, eh? And in the spirit of Sir Tim’s lead (i.e., simple and to the point) let me just add a couple more things for you to chew on.

First,while in theory I agree with Sir Tim, the reality is he’s fighting against human nature itself. History is littered with example after example of mankind trying to control that which should not (and often can not) be controlled. Whether it’s Mother Nature, or other human beings, man’s will to power is well documented. Some might even argue that the battle for control is the basis for all history.

Second, I believe Net Neutrality might be a non-issue. Here’s my scenario:

(Unique) Content Owner A (CO-A) notices that (commodity) Access Provider 1 (AP-1) is “limiting” access in a way the compromises the quality of the CO-A experience. CO-A decides to launch a preemptive strike and block traffic being served via AP-1. CO-A also initiates a marketing effort that spins the positioning of AP-1 as evil for undermining the quality of CO-A. The people side with CO-A. And being that AP-1’s access is the commodity, AP-1 has to comply or suffer customer push back and/or customers jumping ship to another access provider.

I’m not going to suggest this argument is perfect. The only major flaw would be if all the APs conspired to limit access of the same content in the same way at the same time. Obviously, that’s illegal.

I think it’s worth noting that we’ve already seen this game of chicken with cable channels and cable access providers. The channels that have run into negotiating issues simply took their fight to the people. So now imagine the “terror” if Facebook blocked a particular access provider.

Okay, your turn. What do yo think?

New Technologies Can’t Save Old Business Models

“Is the iPad Really the Savior of the Newspaper Industry?” by “Amy-Mae Elliott (Mashable.com, 19 October 2010).  The short answer is, no. The iPad will be of benefit to a handful but it is not the savior of the (print) newspaper industry. The main reason is, the old publishing model was based on geography, barriers to entry, distribution, etc., and not so much on content (as is the prevailing myth).

Consumers were forced to buy from their local (news) provider because there were no other options. The reality was, aside from local news and sports, and significant percentage of the content was identical / similar to the next market over, etc. The newspaper model was based on taking what was essentially a commodity, repackaging it and charging for its ease of availability. Once the access limitation was eliminated so was the value add. The fact the barriers to entry (to become a publisher) also dropped significantly only made matters more difficult. For example, look at what Craig’s List did to the newspapers’ local monopoly on classified ads.

The problem right now is that the supply of news greatly exceeds demand. This could explain why we’re increasingly subjected to so much non-news. As many publishers are scrambling for original – but what is ultimately crap – content, they’ll “print” anything. What’s sad is that each individual newspaper still believes they are in the content business. They are in collective denial and refuse to admit they were in the distribution business. Regardless of their stack of journalism degrees, etc.

In short, there’s no needed for the same story to be “reprinted” hundreds of times in an all access, all the time world. It seems unlikely the iPad is going to change that. Some will survive. Many will not. And a handful will morph into something else.

All that said, the magazine model might be a different story. With a higher percentage of original content that often address a niche interest and/or target market. There certainly seems to be a possibility the iPad can help that model.

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.

Yes, but maybe your brand just kinda sucks

“Are You Listening?” by Mary Brandel (ComputerWorld, 12 July 2010). Yes, all good points. But let’s just cut to the chase… Maybe your brand just kinda sucks.

For example, take the Domino’s Pizza YouTube incident. A few months ago I responded to an article by an (old school) PR type. Evidently, she was appalled that one person and a video could do so much damage to a brand. While it was unfortunate, the fact was,  in terms of quality and stellar brand reputation Domino’s was already in questionable territory.The video was a symptom.

I’m not trying to imply that guy did with the video was right. One the other hand, the management at Domino’s made a conscious effort to built the brand around, “Delivered in 30 minutes of less.”  Not, “The best damn pizza without leaving the house.” Nor was it, “Domino’s Pizza — Quality delivered.”My contention was that the video had meaning because to enough who viewed it it was feasible.

Long story short, Anne and I went a couple rounds until eventually the discussion ran out of gas.  However, it should be noted (in a last laugh sort of way) that Domino’s latest campaign is about quality. Why? Because, yes Virgina, the perceived quality of the product, including taste, impacts how one perceives the overall brand. Yes, that video was low. Low enough to strike Domino’s right between the eyes.

Or maybe you kinda suck in a different way…

Twice in the last week or so I’ve been told by two different outfits, “…but we meet with our perspective clients…” That’s great, provided that’s how the merchant/client wants to be approach. Maybe that cold call walk in is an interruption? Maybe, much like myself, they want to gain all they can online and then if interested schedule proper meeting to get right to the meat of the matter?

I agree that in today’s world pounding the pavement and the flesh is a great differentiator. But it’s not a panacea. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Online reputation management is important in a reactive sense. But don’t stop there.  Don’t overlook the possibility of being proactive and ensuring best you can that your brand doesn’t kinda suck to begin with.

Be BI smart and respond (but that includes proactive listening too)

The journey of this post starts here: “Business Intelligence Meets BPM: Using Data to Change Business Processes on the Fly” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 17 June 2010). On one hand this is fascinating stuff — collecting data, analyzing it and distilling information that objectively drives business action. The business side of my brain goes, “Wow!” But then reality sets in and that, “Wow” turns to, “Wow, scary.” This freight takes two forms:

1) The private person in me shutters to think that Big Brother is not only watching but he’s storing, tracking, cross referencing and analyzing too. This is taking place at and unimaginable level of granularity.

2) The business side of my brain also appreciates the fact that Guests are people. They are not just data points on a graph or cells in a spreadsheet. Analysis is certainly essential but one would bet there are plenty of companies over-valuing this new found power. They are forgetting that they are in business to serve people, not just respond to ones and zeros. As a matter of fact, read this article first: “Superhighway to Hell” by Stephen Saunders (InformationWeek.com via InternetEvolution.com, 19 June 2010).

Back to the first article by Kim Nash. There are some bits to this article (pull out of the context of the whole article) that beg to be addressed AU style:

As Kilcoyne and Coyne learned, modern business intelligence and analytics tools can extract data from enterprise software, populate pre-built statistical models and quickly produce insights that used to take weeks. “In the past, doing predictive analytics needed a PhD in statistics to build a model and interpret results,” says Aberdeen’s White. But newer analytics tools “hide the underlying statistical nerd details,” he says. “Business people don’t have to worry about how the sausage gets made.”

One word: Derivatives. No one needed to understand those either, correct? Information is only as good as the understanding the business people have of the data that was used to compile it. A report without caveats and context is no report at all. If BI is about removing assumption then that thoroughness should be part of the end to end approach.

Key to game-changing decision making is the ability to detect and respond to market changes, taking into account historical knowledge. DirecTV uses analytics to save customers who want to cancel their television service. The company started the program two years ago when it sought to cut churn rates.

What’s interesting is that the examples sited are all reactive. There is some action and then analysis is used to define the appropriate way to respond. Maybe this should be supplemented with a proactive approach as well? That is, avoid upfront engaging customers who don’t meet the good customer profile. For example, for a fitness club, membership retention would be less of an issue if the right customers were attracted in the first place. Waiting to see who leaves seems archaic, no?

How hard agents press depends on how valuable the customer has been to DirecTV, Gustafson says. “There are some people we just do not want to lose.” About 60 percent of customers who want to depart are deemed worth trying to save, he says. The company uses tools from Teradata and SAS to analyze past behavior, evaluating data such as the average annual revenue the customer represents, her payment history and how many pay-per-view shows she buys.

This is a perfect example of forgetting that we’re dealing with real people here. Maybe I am a marginal customer. But if I have 500 Facebook friends and 1,000 Twitter follows then that should be a factor too. To simply place a value on an account (notice I did not say guest or customer) is at best dangerous if the evaluation is this superficial.

Every customer saved is one less customer the company has to try to win back weeks or months later—an expensive process, Gustafson says, that can involve mailings, e-mail and telephone calls as well as sending someone out to reinstall the service. “When the customer first calls, they have a certain mind-set: They want to cancel,” he says. “When we call back, they’re unprepared. It’s a little psychological advantage we have.”

Oh no he didn’t! Forgive me if this sounds insulting but only an idiot would go on record saying such a thing. But again, Mr. Gustafson’s statement is another example of forgetting that guests are real people, not rats to be manipulated.

Now, though, the My Coke Rewards program has helped the company develop more in-depth knowledge about loyal customers. The inside of every bottle cap is printed with a 12-digit code that customers can text or type into a website or desktop widget to accumulate points that can be exchanged for prizes and other awards. Those who opt in to e-mail marketing receive regular offers to gain more points, as well as other marketing pitches. Each is customized based on segments created from demographic information and behavior collected by the site. On average, 285,000 customers visit per day, entering an average of seven codes per second. Information embedded in the codes may include a region or location where the bottle was sold and whether it had special packaging, such as an Olympics logo, that Coca-Cola uses to tailor its pitches.

Read that again… It’s not a 12 digit number, it’s a code. In other words, you can’t drink a soda in peace without wondering when and how Coca-Cola is going to watch you. Scary, right?

After four years, My Coke Rewards is among the longest-running marketing programs in Coca-Cola’s history. And as the program has grown, the company has changed the way it runs in response to insight from analytics, Rollins says.

First, of all the programs Coke has ever had four years constitutes “among the longest-running”? MyGawd, has their marketing department been thinking or just rolling the dice and hoping to find something that sticks. Must be nice to have that type of budget. Furthermore, this reads as if they are responding to analysis, not guests. Not good.

Coca-Cola uses the FICO Precision Marketing Manager suite of statistical analysis tools to study data from its websites. Marketers look at which come-ons elicit the most and best responses, says Thomas Stubbs, Coca-Cola’s interactive marketing director in global IT. Coca-Cola also exchanges data with companies that supply prizes, including Nascar, Nike (NKE) and Sony. “As technology has evolved, we’re able to do more and have a relevant dialog with customers, not just push our ideas out there,” he says.

“A man might not want to admit that he’s a Diet Coke drinker. He will say in a survey that he prefers Coke. But we see he enters only Diet Coke PINs and market accordingly.”

Danger Will Robinson! While it’s true that Coca-Cola might want to know more about who consumes their products, Coke is treading on thin ice if they believe that their definition of the guest is better than the guest’s himself/herself. Do such details constitute useful information? Yes, of course. Might they also be making over-confident decision, and possibly insulting the guest? Yes, that’s very true too.

The idea is not just to save business but to create new business. Successful projects spark new ones. Analytics tools help companies create more money-generating interactions with customers and shave costs from internal operations. CIOs should connect analytics technologies with ideas about refining business processes, says Aberdeen’s White. “Meld them together and that’s very powerful.”

Bottom line… it’s about The Guests, not data and analysis. This shouldn’t be about “refining business process” but about improving The Guest Experience. Same ends? Maybe (but probably not). Different means? Yes, very different means. One puts The Guest first and one does not. If you could analyze the two approaches which would you bet to be the winner? Of the companies you deal with which try to improve The Guest Experience and which are more concerned about their processes and their bottom line?

And finally, to help get it all back into perspective: “It’s Not Your Relationship to Manage” by Lauren McKay (CRM Magazine via DestinationCRM.com, May 2010).

The darkside of PPC

“Fight Click Fraud on Pay-Per-Click Ads” by Kim Boatman (Inc.com, 7 July 2010). As they say, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” PPC (pay per click) might not land you in the hospital but it can take more out of your butt than necessary. A couple quick points to add:

1) While Kim gathers plenty of good points, the best and often most overlooked is the one about limiting a PPC campaign geographically. I wish I had a buck for every time I saw an AdWords ad in search results that was obviously for a local based business well out of my area. Wasted impression add up. In turn, CTR (click throught rate) effects ad placement and bid price.

2) Keep in mind, (typically) PPC is *not* like old media. It’s not about impressions and trying to be everywhere all the time. PPC is about quality. That is, ads and keywords that draw in quality leads and customers. CTR is a handy guide but ultimately it’s about conversions and the quality of the lead/customer there of. In short, PCC isn’t a shotgun, it’s sniper fire. However, you have to take the time to draw the right bullets to your target, else you’ll be spending more than you should.

Have you ever been the victim of click fraud? And what are your PPC tips and secrets?

Clay Shirky: How cognitive surplus will change the world

Just plain damn interesting. As found on TED.com. Watch, listen, ponder a bit and enjoy.

A trillion hours is a lot of hours, eh?

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?

When the push is the process – Part 2

“Campaigns No Longer Matter: The Importance of Listening” by Shashi Bellamkonda (SocialMediaToday.com, 4 May 2010). Just a quick follow up on the ideas in the post from earlier this week. Embrace it for this is the current state of the art of “marketing” in 2010. Two rules (aka absolute truths): (1) Walk the talk . (2) Actions speak louder than words.