Monday, February 28, 2011

Oh. Hello, Sun.

I woke up at 4a.m. this morning, on purpose.

Technically it was 4:19, but the point is that it was quite a leap from my usual 6a.m. arousal.

The importance of being abnormal.

"Keep doing what you've always done and you'll get what you've always got." Changing things is important.

Success is probably a function of one's willingness to do uncomfortable things.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Focusing on the Arrow (forgetting the target)

I was recently asked by a young entrepreneur on my opinion of the ROI of a powerful website. "Too chaotic to declare any ROI expectations with confidence." I announced to her in an ironically overconfident way. (Her business helps teach parents and young children with food allergies).

Too many of us confound ourselves by, what I like to describe as, "Focusing on the Arrow, forgetting the Target." It sounds somewhat Zen when I ask: "Have we devoted ourselves to our Target?"

So, young entrepreneur, you're asking if a powerful, seamless, entertaining and informative website is the correct Arrow for the job, yet you have no understanding of your Target.

As humans, we must thank our ancestors for jumping at the opportunity to find or create a tool at the drop of a Fig Leaf - it's the reason we exist as the superpredators we are today. But in those ancient times often the decision was simple - "Hmm sharp stick, or heavy rock?". In modern society our challenges are quite complex - "Mailer ad campaign or highway billboard?".

Today our Targets are often prospective customers. But if we haven't spent significant (and, yeah - I'll go ahead and say it, More) time sizing them up, studying their behaviors and tastes, we may well be fashioning a Knife (err, Arrow) for a Gunfight.

I'm personally an essentialist. I learned the hard way years ago that no man should ever become too dependent on his possessions. For this reason I do everything as 'light' as possible. The guy who actually uses the screwdriver in his swiss army knife? Yeah, that's me.

And, this attitude travels with me to work, so as for me: I'm experimenting with my Blog and Social Network(s) as my defacto landing space for interested internet searchers (read: I've forgone a classic website and simply forward my address to my blog/facebook page, obviously hosted by someone else). This is because my favorite prospects are generated by word-of-mouth shared by my (satisfied) clients - so I've usually met them semi-socially before we ever engage in a professional relationship. Get it? I want them to be forward-looking entrepreneurs who might feel forgoing the traditional brick-and-mortar website for a more informal slant is just the kind of get-the-job-done thinking they need in their lives.

After some discussion with my entrepreneur friend, we decided that a lavish website would offer her many options unavailable via other internet media such as social networks and blog (think lots of data that could be pared down into fun, interactive web-based tutorials). Once we'd defined her Target, envisioning the tools to reach that goal became far simpler.

My favorite author on "Outcome Visioning" is David Allen. His Natural Planning Method chapter in Getting Things Done is some of the finest advice available on productivity. It's one of several gold nuggets of success he offers in this Masterpiece. Much of GTD is available on Google Books - though I do suggest you buy or borrow a full copy. It changed my life.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Great Product Killed by Poor Marketing and Distribution

Editor's Note (2010-12-01): I am now aware that the "Nexus S" has been released by Google. Will they revise their approach?
Editor's Note (2010-08-25): "It's hard to know what others don't" - Plato.
The Nexus One is a Smartphone (like the iPhone & Blackberry) designed to be the first, true realization of Google's Mobile OS, Android. You may learn more about the N1 here:
and here:
Even I failed to realize the extent of the obscurity (if obscurity can extend) of the Nexus One when writing this article; as I received several private messages asking just what it was. Incredible. - tw

Saddening news, this morning. Google has received their final shipment of Nexus One handsets, and will be discontinuing the project.

This is a black-eye to Google, Android, and the future of open-source telecom.

What went wrong? Why did a solid product, arguably superior to any competitor, launched by a bottomless pocketed behemoth, fail to thrive?

First: We often approach our market from a very singular point of view. We've created a great tool or toy for ourselves and think the whole world should realize the same.

Google made this mistake. They themselves are too large, too fast, too tech-savvy to be truly served by any mobile carrier, so they created a product that would be free of such restrictions, and assumed the world would agree.

It didn't.

Those not living in Mountainview have different needs than those who do. And, this is an important lesson any business can learn to use. If you haven't watched Malcolm Gladwell's TED Talk about Pepsis and Sauces, please take a moment and do so, now.

Personally, I don't mind a carrier - they're all equally bad. So, being given the opportunity to "pick my poison" wasn't really exciting.

Second: Equating local trust to global trust. There is a psychological threshold inside of each of our minds that limits the amount we are willing to pay for an online product, from an online supplier. Thresholds vary from individual to individual, and from supplier to supplier. The more we trust the online shopping experience, the higher our threshold; the more we trust an online supplier, the higher our threshold. Google offered the Nexus One at a fairly normal $529 unlocked cost. However, $529 is quite pricey considering the average online purchase price. N1 was simply too pricey to be trusted as an online-only purchase from Google.

Google mistakenly equated the world's local trust in their search engine and certain other online services for global trust in their corporation as a whole, and their ability to design a quality mobile handset. Yet, we do not know ourselves as the world knows us! Big Tech has tried to diversify for years. Microsoft has tried encyclopedias and search engines and VOIP. Apple has tried classic PDA's and Business Servers. All to lukewarm reviews.

Third: Perhaps most importantly, the N1 wasn't marketed to any particular niche. Better than iPhone? Nah, the Apple loyal bleed and breathe Apple propaganda - you're not going to sway many of them. So, who are the Google loyal out there? Gmail users? Nah. What's out there that gets people really, really excited about Google?

Oh yeah, Google Apps.

Google's greatest mistake was not beating their Apps users over the head with the message, "Your Google Apps experience is incomplete without the Nexus One!". Seamless integration with Apps: They had the card, but didn't play it. The question "Why" prompted me to write this blog today.

So, Google spent millions making a fine product, perfect for a niche market of users that already existed... they even had their email addresses already! And they chose to cast that niche into the masses. Make them feel special, nay, obligated to purchase and use the Nexus One.

Monday, April 26, 2010

View from the Clouds

Efficiency, productivity, collaboration - all used to describe Cloud Computing - But how about Effectiveness? I'm in the Effectiveness business. I ask myself daily "How effective are these systems?", and search for the answers. So when it comes to Cloud Computing, I figure by the time Microsoft is on to something these days, it's a big thing.

In the old days, we used to have Resident Applications on our PC's that used our hard drives to store data. Fast and secure - as long as the Hard Drive remained safe, secure and in working order. Now we're all jumping to the clouds. I have. I keep nearly nothing ENTIRELY on my Hard disk. However, it's not the Applications that are the problem -- it's the information storage.

Google, Zoho have made strides in providing large functionality to their cloud-based systems. Maybe you're OK with the 90% functionality they provide... but for all my efforts, I haven't been able to break away from the tried-and-true MS Word, Excel, Powerpoint-type Resident Applications. Resident Applications are just too smooth and powerful by comparison to pared-down, browser-based interfaces.

I'm not woe-be-gone to the idea of Cloud computing. In fact I really like it, and base as much as I can out there, independent of fragile laptops and slippery memory sticks. I just can't get too excited about the status of it all depending on my browser and subsequent internet connection. Do I need all 600 MS fonts - all of the thousands of features 90% of Office users never touch? No, of course not. But I do need some of them, and so do you.

Cloud computing, in the truest sense, is based on the idea that there are server systems in the Cloud that are more effective than our local machine. However, with the advancement of civilian computing technology, that's not entirely true. I can perform loads more detailed operations here on my local machine than Google, with all its amazing servers in California can provide.

So what is the Cloud good for? Today it's good for storage. I hope one day there will be resident applications that seamlessly access and interface with their cloud counterparts allowing for the fluid collaboration of a white board with the security of networked backup. Think about heavily net-dependent resident applications like Google Earth. Our ever-strengthening local machines will probably always have the Effectiveness edge on remote machines due to the sheer personal customize-ability, and perhaps Processing Power as well.

I could be displaying an unusual lack of insight for the potential of the Cloud, but as of today, I still refuse to give up the functionality of resident software - and choose simply to store the fruits of its work safely, reliably, scalably, in the Cloud.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Creating a Core (aka A Mission Statement that makes sense)

Note: I'm currently re-reading many of the topics of discussion in Made to Stick, and the follow-up hit Switch in Built to Last, a breakaway statistical work by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras published in 1994. I've noticed that much of the Heaths' materials are sourced, digested, updated and repackaged ideas from other authors' works. This isn't a knock against them, but an acknowledgement to the Authors who provided stepping stones. Something about an "Old" Book makes me worry the material is dated, overused or irrelevant - Rarely true. Well-composed ideas are universal, and it's the reader's job to recognize opportunities for application, which are the only true things that change. The effective updating and repackaging of ideas is what progress is all about. Also note that the Heaths openly acknowledge the works they source from (more than I can say for some Authors these days), and Collins and Porras can certainly thank them for the royalties that came from my purchase of their book. Now, please enjoy the post.... - TW

I’ve been reading “Made to Stick” (henceforth “M2S”) by brothers Dan and Chip Heath, which needs to be on the nightstand of every business development specialist. Every-single-page in this book is 24 karat gold. While the as-titled theme of the book is how to make your messages sticky (ie: remembered well enough to influence behavior), there’s a ton of great takeaway for business development.

The best example of this is the discussion of the “Core” of your business. M2S discusses Core in the sense that it must be Sticky, and they delve into examples of Core as-used by Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines, and Hoover Adams at the Dunne Daily Record – how Simple-yet-Specific Core Messages (or, Mission-Statements) can guide the decisions of every member of the organization in nearly every situation by combining a clear organization-wide objective with their own built-in human intuition. A Core (or a Mission Statement) serves the purpose of a guiding North Star for everyone associated with your organization. No matter where you are, separated by time and distance, you have that guiding light to make decisions you know are right by the whole.

That’s great, except, in many businesses I’ve worked with, there was no Core; or if there was one, certainly no one was reminded of, let alone guided by it! I know, it’s post-1980’s and no one wants to be defined by something as simple as one little sentence and we’re all a million different people from one day to the next, blahbleh. Unique Snowflakes out there, take heed of Tolstoy’s quote from Anna Karenina: “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Apply that to business, and be on your way.

So, you need a Core. This can be intimidating. Simple-yet-Specific seems pretty confining, so it’d better be good. Say you were to try to create a Core for your own life; a Rule by which every decision in your life would take into consideration. If your Core was “I am, THE fastest guy in my town.”, that might affect everything from your diet and workout routine to your choice in town you live in. Sure, it’s Simple-yet-Specific, but when you draw out the permutations of how this Golden Rule of your Core might change your life, it gives you pause. You’re not certain you want to be the fastest guy in your town bad enough to eat only bran and chicken, work a job that allows for your stringent training regiment and live in a town populated by un-athletic citizens exclusively. Let’s leave off Self-Coring for now and get back to business.

For a business, finding a Core is a bit easier. I’ve come up with a few questions to help develop one. The first is “What do I want our clients to expect from us?” More specifically: If you imagine your Ideal Client, someone with a need that’s right in your wheelhouse, what kind of expectations do you want them to have at the outset so that they’re more than 100% satisfied when you deliver? The second is “What is the single thing the organization shall prioritize over profitability?” for the sake of argument, let’s ignore the priority of the general safety, health and well-being of staff and clients – unless that is your specific business (lucky you!). More specifically: Clients do not walk through your doors seeking only to provide you business (unless they’re your grandparents). Clients come looking for a product or service to be delivered to them in a certain way. They have an expectation of what it is you will provide in turn for their monies. They should not invent this expectation on their own – it should be clear to them, via the Core. M2S’s example of Southwest uses “We are THE low-fare airline.”; OK, clients know it, employees know it, everyone’s on the same page. Adams’s Dunne Daily Record operates on a similar principle that exemplifies his relentless local-news focus – “Names, Names, and Names”; OK, if I’m a reporter, I know what I’m shooting for; if I’m a subscriber, I know what I’m expecting. It’s not exciting, it’s not unexpected. People are paying their hard-earned money here… this isn’t a magic show, no one’s paying to be surprised. The third question kind of encompasses the first two, that is: “What single idea or concept do I want to run through the mind of every member of my organization before they make a decision?” Specifically, what are our clients expecting, and what is it we’ve agreed to provide them, regardless of profits?

So here it is: A Core from which we can build our own.
[Company Name] strives to provide (Inexpensive/Quality), (Prompt/Deliberate), (Reasonable/Accurate) (Products/Services) to (Niche Market) Clients.

Mix-and-match as necessary and remember that out of Done Cheap, Done Fast and Done Right, you can only have 2. Simple and Specific don’t have to be Polar ends of the spectrum, and you don’t have to sacrifice one to gain in the other. “We are THE Low Fair Airline” and “Names, Names, Names” are super-brief examples that shine bright to every wayward employee, client and vendor. Here’s another by a company called Sonicbids, an online networking service for … well, you’ll see: “We want to help musicians get gigs, and promoters book the right bands. We’re a bunch of people who think music can truly change the world, and make it smaller and better.” Simple? Check. Specific? Double-check. When Suzy the Intern gets an idea to create a genre-based rating system so bands and promoters can give feedback other users can use to make better selections, she’s got a pretty good idea that contributes to the Core. However, when she considers an offer for local music shops in the area bands are touring to pitch them ads for sound equipment, she should recognize that, though potentially useful, it’s not helping Sonicbids get closer to their Core.

In business development, it's too easy to get caught up in the generic demands that come with bringing a product or service to market. Nowadays everyone's burning endless brain-calories stressing over server-racks and marketing campaigns; hurdles every operation has to leap that have nothing to do with direction or expectation. The temptation to draw out plans to endless (and useless) degrees of detail is powerful. However, without a Core to guide the decision-making process, opposing forces only negate each other and waste energy. A Core keeps everyone rowing in the same direction.

So, work to develop a Core. Set yourself, your members, clients and vendors a North Star to guide you through all the little decisions that make your organization what it is.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Elite User

Have you ever heard "Necessity is the mother of invention"?
Often, the people who develop a product or service are not necessarily experts on the topic, but customers of that market that understand best how the product or service will be used and could be made or delivered better.

We all remember Sy Sperling's trademark phrase "I'm not only the Hair Club President, but I'm also a Client!", right?

Sy's catchphrase stuck for a few reasons. First off, it was ridiculous. It made viewers chuckle and spawned thousands of parodies. It was simple. There was no question that Sy was saying he believed in his product. And, it was real. Sy wasn't a pro pitch-man - and the story goes HCM had come out of the gates with a slick professional ad campaign that bombed before throwing out Sy's cameo and taking off. It came from Sy - a bald guy who'd found the answer- to another: "here's a product that works for Us".

It's not that people like to buy things from people who are like them.

Frankly, people like to buy things from experts. Being an expert, or having an expert to vouch for your product or service is certainly important and useful - however, when it comes to product creation, it all comes down to who best understands the need, not the application. I call this person the Elite-User.

This isn't that uncommon. Look at celebrity endorsements as a great example of Elite-Users in action. Professional athletes aren't necessarily full Experts in the design and manufacturing of the equipment they sell on billboards and tv - far from it. But they are, however, Elite-Users of the equipment in application. Lance Armstrong may not know how to engineer an entire professional racing bicycle, but there's no argument he knows how to ride one. Lance didn't build the product, he uses it. Lance's status as a Successful Elite athlete combined with the image of him using the bicycle suggests the same success will be had by the target audience. Sy Sperling's TV ad showed him with a full head of hair (success) contrasted with a portrait of him as bald (user). At some level, they're all Customers, and are or were once just like us, the target audience.

So we've talked about Customers, Experts and Elite-Users and product creation, design and marketing. So what's it all mean?

In short it means the best person to sense a need and create a product is a Customer, and the best person to perfect and authenticate a product is an Expert, and the best person to develop and market a product is an Elite-User.

Final thought: While I love a good celebrity endorsement, the real hero of this story is Sy Sperling. "... I'm also a client." Has genuine meaning when establishing a level of understanding with your market: It's important to be a member of your market. Whether you're in the phase of selecting a product, or working to establish a better connection with your existing leads, you'll do well to remember Sy's advice.

Here's a great video on Sy's story:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lessons from Sparring

I was honored with my Orange Belt (one step above novice) in Okinawan Isshin-ryu the other night. I began studying martial arts to more closely examine the two greatest tenets of performance - Focus and Discipline. After a couple of months, I've had the chance to work closely with the essences of both. The orange came with some encouraging words from Sensei, a bit of added respect (and responsibilities) around the Dojo, and a sobering notice: Tonight we spar.

"Sparring" consisted of Sensei coolly bobbing and weaving around me, delivering effortless jabs and backfists to my face and body while I vainly attempted to apply some of my training to block his attacks.

He'd warned me about this. A 6th degree black belt against a barely-above novice wasn't really Pay-per-View material. I continued to block - and was getting better - now his strikes were mostly just knocking my own gloves into my face. Success is indeed a process.

At some point in time frustration took over and I went on the attack. Sensei easily darted, slipped and parried until I backed off and he resumed dissecting my feeble defenses, finally landing a direct hook to my mouth that caused him to say "enough".

I was counting my teeth on the drive home, and began considering his line of questioning to me after the 2 minute round; What did you see in there? How were things different?

All I'd been able to muster at the time was "It's hard to hit, you're too fast. All I could do was try to block." However, as my head was clearing on the drive, another aspect of the bout came to my mind. Near the end, perhaps prompted by my classmates, I'd stepped in and thrown those few lunges and reverses. Zero had landed as my highly skilled Sensei artfully dodged all danger, but for ten to fifteen seconds of the fight, I didn't get hit at all. For those brief moments, until fatigue set in and the clinic resumed, I'd been equally matched with a 6th degree black belt.

Next class I mentioned this to Sensei; "I attacked, and the fight changed. You had to move and parry - so you couldn't attack, and I couldn't get hit." This got a big smile out of him. He said that in defending his attacks, only, we were matched skill for skill, Black Belt versus Novice. However, when I attacked, other factors came into play that gave me an advantage including our ages, athleticism and size - little of which matters while blocking only.

I wish I could tell you our next Sparring match came to a draw, but it was nowhere close. Apparently I'd only peeled the first layer off Sensei, and Skill, though not Everything, still counts for a lot.

What I took from this, however, was a truth even simpler than the obvious "Best Defense is a Good Offense" line. It is that any opponent or challenge only has the best of you under a given set of circumstances. Often, these circumstances are adjustable. They can be modified to nullify his advantage - and even create an advantage for yourself. When I attacked, I changed the circumstances of the fight. Standing and reacting, my youth, physical shape and size played no part in the match - but when I moved and attacked, they came into play. No matter his skill level, Sensei could not ignore my attacks - he had to address them just as anyone would. Of course his skill allowed him to evade them with little trouble, but that's beside the point. I had changed the fight to one where my advantages came into play.

Final Note: We will never have much control over our opponent or challenge. However, we often have control over the circumstances in which we must engage them. Changing these circumstances can turn an uphill battle into a level, or even a downhill one. It's important to know at any time "What is my competitive advantage here?"

As for me, I'll be learning what I can from Isshin-ryu and bringing it here.