Somebody said we were allowed to think out loud. Pardon the mess.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

No fair

I know you're reading. I know you come back.

I know you have ideas and opinions.

So where the hell are they?

I'm feeling rambunctious. This blog is a way for me to think out loud. To share what I'm thinking and doing. This stuff tracks the information I'm paid to give and sworn to create. This is the good shit.

Where are you in this Equation?

I'm gonna stop sharing billable thoughts if we don't get the comments thing going.

I know you're reading. I know you come back. I know you have ideas and opinions.

Share them.

"Climb ev'ry mountain" Cliff Notes version

...The entrepreneur's dilemma: We are allowed to make it very personal, to actualize ourselves in the extreme through our business efforts. For us it's not business, it is personal. But the structures we then create, unless we're very careful, suck the very same passion we crave out of the efforts of similarly needy humans, those who work for and represent us. Those we count on to promote and execute our vision.

Notice, that "our vision" snippet? Usually that means: "your vision." We often impute our beliefs, values and commitment to those who merely sign on for a "A paycheck." Bad move -- not a collective and thrice-checked, "Us."

Easily fixable, but management has "real" business to attend to.

We then demand of our people "Where's the commitment!? Where's the magic, the stretch?!" Once we're done huffing, we then unleash them on unsuspecting customers who somehow sense from these employees: "Gee, it's all business with this guy. He doesn't care. He doesn't know. Where's the humanity and flexibility and can-do? Where's the power? Where's the personal?"

Ladies and germs, real difference and competitive advantage come when we allow more than a casual relationship with our motives and emotions. Real profit comes when understand those of others.

Management is necessary because people don't get the point, not because they don't know what to do. Management is often necessary because leaders don't lead. They don't provide the motivating story.

More from Fouro's Executive Lexicon and BIG Book of Business Wisdom©

Loss Liter -- Unit of measure. Amount of alcohol consumed upon learning the brown-nose down the hall got your raise/promotion/office.

Mentorture -- The New-hire's experience of being assigned to a more senior associate to learn the ropes, only to find their primary skill is bitching about the company.

Parody Pricing -- Charging what the competition charges for a comparable offering, except yours doesn't work when customers get it home.

Peter Principal -- Indicator that certain small businesses shall remain so. Forever.

Pro Formation -- Finance. Latin for "Making Shit Up"

Youthenasia -- The belief that any idea deriving from anyone younger or less senior than you deserves to die, on principle.

Zero Defective - Company TQM Guru.

Friday, May 21, 2004

For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction

Translation: "Tommy looked at me. So I punched him."

Off to King's Dominion for Math & Science Day With Fisher 3rd & 4th Graders. Woohoo - the Physics of rollercoasters, the Biology of upchucked hotdogs, soda and cotton candy!

And the study of working groups of [junior] humans jostling to get their jollies at any cost, minus the mahogany panelling and leather chairs. Reports from the field to follow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Dispatches from the Climb Ev’ry Mountain department

Boy, there sure is a lot of jostle and champing at the bit out there in blogville. A disturbance in The Force. I love it! Yesterday afternoon, I was pointed to Seth Godin’s post on Alpha Credit Card Execs and Beta CPAs (Fair characterization, Seth? Probably not.):
I just finished giving a talk to a group of 400 high-powered (high-leverage, high-paid) credit card execs. As I left the hotel, I passed a much smaller room, where a seminar for local CPAs was going on...

The difference, i think, was that a long time ago, the people in the second room had made a decision about what they deserved, or what they were capable of, or what they were going to stick with. And it was a bad decision.
Then, I find Business Pundit lamenting the lack of ambition and rambunction in companies:
Talk is cheap. I guess that is why so many people talk about being great but never do anything about it.... I. Don't. Understand. Sometimes I think we benchmark not to see if we are better than our competitors, but to make sure we are all doing the same things so that we can feel comfortable.... I think most companies are confined to mediocrity because they want to do what everyone else is doing. It gives them a sense of confidence that they are on the right track when in truth they are just playing follow the leader.
And, in comments, vinod has this:
Generally, there are only 2 [opportunties] to get out of "Chasing Taillights" mode -

1) at the VERY START of the venture - before any revenue commitments are made, employee orgs are designed, relationships with external firms are constructed, etc. This is the "having sex" part of new venture creation ;-) You've got a blank slate.

2) AFTER the company is profitable / out of the woods - when the short / medium term health is secure, and you've got enough time / $$$ to fund exploration.
Fair enough. But relative to what Seth, Rob and vinod are saying is this point: many of these people are only following the rules as they’ve been set out for them. Set out wrongly. In my estimation, we see the tail wagging the dog of what Business is really about: Allowing men and women to exercise their creativity and energy, with profit as proof of their success, not a ring through their noses.

In that vein, let's add another, third bullet, to vinod's above--one I think has far more probability of occurring than his "#2":

Henry Kissinger once said "A lack of choices clears the mind marvelously." When companies are against the wall, when every available arrow in their quiver has been shot and missed, their "sliderules" are failing them, they then become open to new ideas; teachable, as it were.

Large scale case: Chrysler was in the dumper several times in the last few decades. In many instances their problems stemmed from a lack of leading their market and getting stodgy and bureaucratic, causing finance/senior management to dictate strategic risk choices due to their lesser size relative to competitiors. This led finance to go to the only bag of tricks they knew and felt comfortable with. Messy, wrong acquisitions and projects as silver bullets and "leapfrog " moves--Lamborghini, for instance. I'm simplifying for space, but these suit-centric choices, if you will, got them in holes and delivered them to death's door. At this point, many traditionalist auto-types gave up on Chrysler and bailed for another "host". Suits gone, guys like Bob Lutz, were allowed a "What the F*ck," last ditch effort. In other words, freer reign.

("Whadawegot to lose?" Who was watching to say, "NO"? )

What did Lutz do? He raided design schools and foreign and unusual sources and shipped in a hot rod culture and let them go to it... Cars built for love of curve and metal, for love of cars. Bing bang boom, Viper. Using a V10 development people in finance hated because of parts economics of scale, and because it wasn't their idea in the first place. Next: Prowler. Next PTs. Next: Curvy-fendered Ram pick-ups when the trend was to GM's boxy longbed frame and body of the 1500s and Suburban genre.

They were designing cars people suddenly "had to have." Lotta craft, lotta love, lotta intuition, and Bob Lutz out front running interference with his "First law": The customer is not always right. In this case, he meant designing to the customers desires, ahead of them, not to the customers specifications, which was what previous management had done with focus groups and market testing concepts to death--not one, but three! cupholders as "design breakthrough!" He let people exercise their love and skill, used some unususal research models like cultural anthropology and resurrected a winner. Even Daimler-Benz got interested, not for Chrysler's sexy balance sheet--it still wasn't all that sexy, yet--but for their ideas.

And that brings us to the prologue. Once craft and goofy passion had generated the new appeal, guess who got re-interested and re-exerted their control? Yes, the suits. Cat's away the mice will play. The suits then went to their "craft" and engineered a very dumb M&A with D-B, two different DNA streams, poorly imagined and merged. Not impossible, but poorly understood and intuited. And now, the indigestion is getting worse. Germany and the US are at each others throats. Again, an arranged marriage signed in differing blood types, on a balance sheet, not--NOT--on a dogeared 1969 copy of a Le Mans month Autoweek, after a suitable period living in sin to learn and blend each others quirks, as it should have been.

Now, race back to the 1920-30s when car manufacturers were everywhere. Look at a PT cruiser or Ram. Shape remind you of anything? A Packard, Ford, Doble, Velie, Studebaker, Hudson or Dodge of the era? Of course it does. Car designers didn't have CADCAM or statistical sampling or one way mirrors with customers behind them to guide ideas. They had their gut, their art and their craft.

Now go back further: Adam Smith. Division of Labor. 1776. Wealth of Nations. Smith knew he was onto something good. But, while he may not have seen all the effects of his newly new minted economic description, he recognized one: It’s stifling potential on people’s minds and ambition….
“if man is not asked of his work to exert his understanding, or his invention when presented with challenges, then he generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.
Funny how most of us business types gloss over that one for the more soul-crushing but "actionable" examples of mass production Smith used in his Pin Factory example, eh?

And herein lies the entrepreneur's dilemma: We are allowed to make it very personal, to actualize ourselves in the extreme through our business efforts. For us it's not business, it is personal. But the structures we then create, unless we're very careful, suck the very same passion we crave out of the efforts of those who work for and represent us. We then demand of our people "Where's the commitment!? Where's the magic?!" Once we're done huffing, we then unleash them on unsuspecting customers who somehow sense from these employees: "Gee, it's all business with this guy. Where's the humanity and flexibility and can do? Where's the power? Where's the personal?"

Ladies and gents, Seth and Rob and Vinod are right to wonder. They're just right. It doesn't have to be that way. This way.

You have the Pole.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

[Test marketing ad, Telco-client, 1997]
...I can take my tool, a hammer say, and build a chair with it. Nice service. That helps people. Or, I can take my tool, my hammer, and bash someone's kneecaps with it.... The insults to psyche and the resulting overload stands to soon tilt things on their axis. It must. Turbocharged entropy will do that to systems. They get manic. They generate shrapnel.
Hmmm. Looks like Ad Age, of all people, has been pondering "shrapnel":
Why Public Sentiment Is Rising Against Relentlessly Intrusive Marketing

According to a new Yankelovich Partners poll, 65% of Americans say they are "constantly bombarded with too much" advertising; 61% think the quantity of advertising and marketing they are exposed to "is out of control"; 60% report that their view of advertising is "much more negative than just a few years ago."

Popular protests

Responding to sports fans' disgust over the sale of naming rights, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors restored the name Candlestick Park to its baseball stadium, which became the first pro sports arena to return to its popular name because of popular protest. In Denver, Mayor John Hickenlooper rose to prominence as the lead opponent to the sale of naming rights to Mile High Stadium. The placement of ads on pro baseball uniforms and batting helmets drew a spate of negative news coverage this month, a letter from a U.S. senator and a New York Times editorial.

Advertisers are being expelled from schools in droves. Channel One, the in-school advertising service, was removed last school year from Nashville, and will soon be kicked out of Seattle. New restrictions on the marketing or sale of soda or junk food in school have been approved in places such as California, Texas, New York City and Philadelphia.

Formidable opponents

These are just a few flashpoints. I could list many more. The point is that the advertising industry is growing a formidable list of opponents. It would do the industry some good to ponder why this is happening. The main reason, I suspect, is that the industry abides no limits or boundaries. There seems to be almost nowhere that the industry won't stick an ad...

Lack of respect

The industry's implicit message is a total lack of respect for our time, our privacy, our attention, our peace of mind, and not least for our concerns about our kids. "Your attention is ours," the industry says, in effect. "We are entitled to it at every moment." This implicit disrespect for consumers is starting to overwhelm the explicit messages that each advertiser is trying to get across.

The industry's disrespect is obvious in the spread of coercive advertising. If advertising were popular, why would the industry force us to watch it? But it does; the industry takes advantage of captive audiences in schools, colleges, movie theaters, airport lounges, mass transit and at ATMs, gas pumps and doctors' offices, among other places...
Good and sensible article, from a business and a public policy angle: if advertising doesn't stop throwing spaghetti at the wall, they're gonna be forced to behave. As noted above, turbocharged entropy, borne of desperation. A lack of original thinking and a cost benefit analysis leaving consumers transparently on the short end shows that a business built on winning friends and loyalty is has been seriously upside down. Another case of numbers winning over sensing. Too bad.

[update: Looks like Johnnie Moore has been noodling the Yankelovich Study and "Reciprocity"...
I don't want to live in a world of mere transactional efficiency. When I go to a shop I don't want the staff merely to cow tow in an effort to make my life fractionally more efficient. I don't want every communication I receive to conform merely to some anxious guess as to what I might want to hear. I am willing to be suprised, provoked, and engaged... I don't expect to be placated. I don't expect to be treated with precision by a company as I'm not a cog in a machine but flesh and blood. I don't want to be the cause of unnecessary anxiety... I'd quite like to be treated as the fallible human being that I am, by others who are willing to admit some fallibility.
Yeah, me neither. Now, what's the metric that allows a pressured telemarketer to leave well enough alone before burning their bridges? What's the imperative that encourages a marketer to help me find solutions to my challenge, even if their product isn't it?

Inflation Rises
as Oil Prices Soar

Gwyneth Paltrow
has New Baby

Jockey Takes New
Fame in Stride

Google NewsMap
Newsmap is an application that visually reflects the constantly changing landscape of the Google News news aggregator. A treemap visualization algorithm helps display the enormous amount of information gathered by the aggregator. Treemaps are traditionally space-constrained visualizations of information. Newsmap's objective takes that goal a step further and provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands which, when presented together, reveal underlying patterns in news reporting across cultures and within news segments in constant change around the globe.

Newsmap does not pretend to replace the googlenews aggregator. It's objective is to simply demonstrate visually the relationships between data and the unseen patterns in news media. It is not thought to display an unbiased view of the news, on the contrary it is thought to ironically accentuate the bias of it.
Link: Tacitus

Monday, May 17, 2004

Brain, Metaphor, Archetype, Brand. Part 2.5

Well, of all the posts in this jumble of non-billable hours, the series on my (or, rather, my company's) take on what makes people tick seems to have a life of it's own. Part III, likewise, is morphing into a book unto itself. But to those who've been patient in their emails asking, "Where the hell is part III?!", a little fix to tide you over.

Some are still hazy as to why brand matters beyond marketing, or how brands are really a misunderstood place holder for deeper meaning. Or why brand and leadership, or the lack of either, are intricately entwined. Phew.

And then, happily, some are coming along for the ride, putting the pieces together and whomping their heads, saying, "Wow, I could have had A V-8!" Or something like that. Okay. Let's try and start tying this together.

We left things in Part II, promising some examples of archetypes in brand-motion... and to explain why "Survivor", "American Idol", "The Apprentice" and "Junkyard Wars" have some of the most brand-loyal viewerships going.

R-Complex boredom.

Education author Eric Jensen, in Arts with the Brain in Mind reveals that "America is a feeling-phobic society." This goes in spades for subgroups filled with "Professional Adults" called corporations. Of course, the feelings are still there and very active. They're just non-sanctioned, unofficial "elephants" taking up space and sapping oxygen. And this reveals a paradox for most businesses interested in moving product: many have no firm idea what moves people. Nor do they have processes to share this knowledge. That's hardly surprising. Most organizations are configured to hard facts, heavy analysis, and predictable results. Bureaucracies define themselves by their aim for consistency. What is surprising is that that bland paste of "consistency" equates to figurative "death" to our R-complexes. If there is no challenge "I am dead and useless" goes the brain imprint. And people shut down. Or they move on. Or they fight.

click to enlarge

Our brains--at least the parts willing to exert for ambition and spend for affirmation of identity, these parts recoil at spadework and predictability. And they have unique ways of showing themselves, depending on the circumstance. For example, have you ever asked yourself why "Survivor" or "Junkyard Wars", "American Idol" or "The Apprentice" or even Extreme Sports blasted so powerfully onto the American scene?

R-Complex boredom. These shows or activities feed our primal need to face and identify with challenge. Notice that some are solo efforts, some are teams, but all are ensembles. Each has conflict, alliance and resolution. Each has winners and losers. Each is personal, not abstract. Each is simple in its outcome.

That's because simplicity and rigid black and white choices--the R-complex's definition of Authenticity--is what's missing from modern life. For some of us, watching a TV show is enough of a fix. But most need more... [Continued Here]

Dispatches from The Bullet Points We Respect Department
• Number of seconds that the average American can wait for an elevator before becoming visibly agitated : 40

• Rank of “Education” among priorities of new parents: 1

• Average number of U.S. Public-schoolchildren per PTA member: 7

• Chance that U.S. parents require that children do their homework before watching TV: 1 in 12

• Rank of “listening to other students” among classroom activities that schoolchildren find the most boring : 1

Source: Harper's Index
Culled this and some other stats for a recent project. I left out all the sourcing here, but Harper's footnotes every stat in case you're not familiar with The Index.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

We think we know...

Who we are selling to. And what we are selling. And when.

We say "people." Or, "People matter." Or "people buy on emotion and justify on logic."

Those things are all true. Very true. Definitively true. In who, what, and where senses.

Now, how often do we spend time discussing "people" as opposed to "TPS reports"?

Where's your "Why?"

Have you defined a dictionary of "People Attributes" that guide your conversations and the resulting actions?

Do finance people, the number counters, get a chance to share air with HR and similar "people counters", in order to find congruent leverage between numbers and flesh? Seriously. Congruence. LEVERAGE. Are you finding reason that this should occur and leveraging your reputation and power that this should happen?

Wanna know a goofy secret? Passion, plumbed and permitted, are the answer. People, not process, plan or Pert Chart are the answer.

Deeper, but not harder; different, but not difficult answers are the answer. Patience (not: unknowing hasty action) propels.

HR deeply wants to be respected by R&D. R&D knows they're not people people--and know that's their weakness. Sales and Marketing respects what Finance is capable of doing. Finance "gets" that without sales they have nothing to count. Everybody knows that production is the engine, just like everybody knows that armies are really run by sergeants, not generals.


CEOs don't "know" what they're doing. They just make it up on the fly.

Know what? That's their job. Managing unpredictability, I mean. Dealing with "sh*t happens." Important point. When they forget it, that's when they start to say and do stupid stuff. Mahogany paneling will make you do that. Stupid stuff.

Stupid, like forgetting you're one of the "guys." And, that ALL the guys -- providing and buying the product -- want to be Spartacus.

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