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

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Princess and The Pea

In the previous post I said Carly Fiorina, ex of HP, was "boring." In case it wasn't clear, I meant that Wall Street was bored with her, not that she was as exciting as a fence-post. In fact, just the opposite, as Spooky and Tom note. That's partly her problem, but mostly Wall Street's and tellingly (again, as Tom notes) HP's problem.

In fact, "Boredom" is the problem. As is the impatience it begets. And the lessons it makes us forget. Take the children's story mentioned above. A prince searches for his princess, to no avail. One day, a girl shows up at the front gate and claims to be a princess. The Prince's mother ain't buying it. To disprove the girl's claim, the mother invites the girl to rest for the night, and places a pea under 20 mattresses the girl must sleep on. If she's really a princess, she'll be fine-bred enough to sense the anomaly in her bedding.

Yeah. It makes about as much sense as the Compaq acquisition. Or to HP's board's belated petulance and pique. Over a decision they vetted with glee.

Fiorina was tech's Martha Stewart in a way. The other blonde princess. The personality--the story-- drove much of the fascination, the franchise, the fable, and, hence, what was said and written about her. She was shiny, she was sexy, she was fresh.

She was an impulse buy. A silver bullet wrapped in Versace and Jimmy Choos, rather than glasss slippers.

Should we be surprised those shoes cover feet of clay? Depends. Is she human? Okay then. Her human-ness being established, that makes 80% of what we're reading from the trade press and The Street just so much junior-high hallway chattering, doesn't it?

(Funny. I'm starting to get a Heathers kind of feeling here, how bout you?)

So much of what is written about business, and by business (okay, politics, media etc, too), is really fiction posing as non-fiction; irrationality clothed in faux propriety and the soul-crushing, debate-ending barricades put forth in the form of "irrefutable numbers." And, of course, in Second Comings like Fiorina's.

The silliness leads to us being clubbed by blunt instruments to check our follies:
Hello, Sarbox. Yeah. Sarbox and Fiorina belong in the same sentence. Not because of malfeasance on her part, but because of generic fiduciary misfeasance by corporate citizens who really should know better; better than to be suckered into the express lane by baubles and unicorns. Yeah. No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible, said some French guy.

Carly Fiorina was doomed. Possibly in the same way Ann Fudge at Young & Rubicam may be doomed. Another very large snowflake, surrounded by arsonists and a forest of dead trees, with a snowball's chance.

I just realized something: Fiorina & Fudge. 2 women charged with fixing what the boys broke or allowed to fall into disrepair. They're Fantasy fix-it figures. Fairy Godmothers, who quickly devolve into wicked witches of the west if their methods are too soft (Fudge), or too hard (Fiorina). Our response? We're Goldilocks! Bustin up the furniture, testing every porridge in sight, and jumping up and down on the beds because nothin' feels right. Can we describe what would? No. That would require effort, self-awareness, and an admission that the reason the porridge sucks so bad is because we specified the ingredients or didn't speak up when the order went out. Or, that it's our bed, we made it--and now we don't want to lay in it.

On the whole, it's much easier to toss the maid. And throw a tantrum. Because, well, it's just so hard to get good help these days and can we have more ice cream, please?

Snowflakes and avalanches. Dessert before vegetables. S
hortcuts always sizzle more than spadework. And they cause us to spin Stockmanesque fairy tales--stories grown-ups tell each other to cover the stupid things we do when our hopes are really pegged to an aversion to doing our chores. Or to stepping forward. In this way, it's not just business journalists acting like teenagers: Krispy Kreme's Scott Livengood didn't like using the laundry hamper or feeding the dog, either.

Maybe there's something to that? Grown-ups holding forth in grown-up venues using grown-up words and doing so with all the credulity, certitude and patience God gave a 13-year old.

Are the folks charged with spinning out Fortune, BusinessWeek, WSJ, and Economist articles scribbling their tales of recieved wisdom, their fables, without any clue or self-awareness to the lessons of the real thing? Could be. Probably.

One for Carly:
The Fox and the Crow

A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its
beak and settle on a branch of a tree. "That's for me, as I am a
Fox," said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the
tree. "Good-day, Mistress Crow," he cried. "How well you are
looking to-day: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I
feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as
your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may
greet you as the Queen of Birds." The Crow lifted up her head and
began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the
piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by
Master Fox. "That will do," said he. "That was all I wanted. In
exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the
future "Do not trust flatterers."
One for the inky wretches:
The Buffoon and the Countryman

At a country fair there was a Buffoon who made all the people
laugh by imitating the cries of various animals. He finished off
by squeaking so like a pig that the spectators thought that he had
a porker concealed about him. But a Countryman who stood by said:
"Call that a pig s squeak! Nothing like it. You give me till
tomorrow and I will show you what it's like." The audience
laughed, but next day, sure enough, the Countryman appeared on the
stage, and putting his head down squealed so hideously that the
spectators hissed and threw stones at him to make him stop. "You
fools!" he cried, "see what you have been hissing," and held up a
little pig whose ear he had been pinching to make him utter the
squeals.
One for The Street
The Scorpion and the Frog

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the
scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The
frog asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" The scorpion
says, "Because if I do, I will die too."

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream,
the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of
paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown,
but has just enough time to gasp "Why?"

Replies the scorpion: "Its my nature..."
And, hey, why not one for HP?
The Ass and His Shadow

A TRAVELER hired an Ass to convey him to a distant place. The
day being intensely hot, and the sun shining in its strength, the
Traveler stopped to rest, and sought shelter from the heat under
the Shadow of the Ass. As this afforded only protection for one,
and as the Traveler and the owner of the Ass both claimed it, a
violent dispute arose between them as to which of them had the
right to the Shadow. The owner maintained that he had let the
Ass only, and not his Shadow. The Traveler asserted that he had,
with the hire of the Ass, hired his Shadow also. The quarrel
proceeded from words to blows, and while the men fought, the Ass
galloped off.
Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard's ideal? That donkey galloped off years ago and people have been arguing over several facsimiles thereof ever since.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"It's not personal, it's business"?

Yah, nothing personal. We really, honest, no foolin, hated your resume and the the ideas you had....We mean it. Serious. Two salient snippets from the below article for those who enjoy hearing folks barking up an invisible tree.
"The stock is up a bit on the fact that nobody liked Carly's leadership all that much," said Robert Cihra, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners. "The Street had lost all faith in her and the market's hope is that anyone will be better."
Liked? "Hope"? "Faith"? Anyone will be better? Even Barney Fife? Wait, I thought we're told: Who needs to be "liked" when you're driving the bus? What the hell's hope and faith got to do with being a steely-eyed leather chair pilot and podium-jockey ? Show me the spreadsheets!
But during a conference call Wednesday morning, HP CFO Robert Wayman, who was named interim CEO, suggested that no major changes in strategy would take place following Fiorina's departure.

"We continue to believe we have the right ingredients for success in the marketplace," Wayman said during the call with Wall Street analysts.
Fiorina's real problem? She was boring. It's got nothing to do with strategy. The Street was bored. And impatient for some action. Here's the front of the article, from CNN/Money
Fiorina out, HP stock soars
CEO who engineered Compaq merger leaving after fight with board; will walk away with $21 million.

Hewlett-Packard Co. Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina, one of the most powerful women in corporate America, is leaving the troubled computer maker after being forced out by the company's board.

Shares of HP (Research) jumped 6.9 percent in heavy trading on the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday on the news. But at one point, the stock was up as much as 10.5 percent.

"The stock is up a bit on the fact that nobody liked Carly's leadership all that much," said Robert Cihra, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners. "The Street had lost all faith in her and the market's hope is that anyone will be better."

Fiorina, the only female CEO at a company in the Dow Jones industrial average, had been with HP since 1999. But the company's controversial deal to buy Compaq in the spring of 2002 -- after a bruising proxy fight led by one of the Hewlett family heirs -- has not produced the shareholder returns or profits she had promised.

"While I regret the board and I have differences about how to execute HP's strategy, I respect their decision," Fiorina said in a statement released by the company.

On a conference call with reporters, executives said Fiorina was not terminated for cause and that she would receive severance pay -- and a company spokesman said she'll get a payout of approximately $21 million, including stock options (see correction).

Fiorina told analysts in December that Hewlett Packard (Research) had seriously considered breaking up the company on three separate occasions but each time decided against it.

Some industry analysts had argued HP should either split off its lucrative printer and imaging business, or break HP into separate firms, with one focusing on consumers and the other on corporations.

But during a conference call Wednesday morning, HP CFO Robert Wayman, who was named interim CEO, suggested that no major changes in strategy would take place following Fiorina's departure.

"We continue to believe we have the right ingredients for success in the marketplace," Wayman said during the call with Wall Street analysts.
Yawn.
Alert the media: A blogversation!

Funny thing. In comments to this earlier Steve Krause post about, oddly enough, the sometimes inert, non-dynamic nature of blogwriting, a somewhat conversation-like event occurred.

Egads, it can happen. This moment of voyeurism (or is it exhibitionism?) sponsored by Pookie(r) and accredited by the Global University of Burning Desire(tm)

Monday, February 07, 2005

It's not business, it's personal.

Somebody once told me
Anything that matters is always personal. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life picking yourself up off the floor and wondering how you got there, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
The older I became, the sager this advice got. The more I looked at the fortunate and unfortunate things that happened to me privately and professionally the more this theorem proved itself.

Last week, I was asked to justify injecting "the personal" into business. (Naturally, the request came with the usual pessimistic grin that accompanies the anticipation of a coming belly flop.)

It's really a good question. My answer was essentially, because we only do well that which we care about. And we don't care about that which does not affect us. But as workers and providers of benefit to our companies and consumers, we only loan out our Caring. So caring is ours to give or withhold as we choose. And employees and customers do choose. And sometimes it's not Company XYZ. Your company.

And here is where it seems to me companies get it wrong: People care about ideals, not companies or their brands. People care about themselves first. Organizations are just vessels that can embody the good stuff. But organizations, as paper entities, don't acknowledge that in which they can't participate. And for our purposes here, that thing is human emotion.

As to the "belly flop" element of the above answer, well, they didn't throw us out. We'll see if we get their business. We'd like the challenge.

Can you guess it's not a new question around here? Oyy. Of course not. And the ask-and-answer has turned into a pretty interesting library of stories in and of themselves. Bankers play steely-eyed warriors for 15 minutes, then unload like post-traumatic stress survivors. People in the Arts sometimes start out wildly enthusiastic, then realize the conversation maybe isn't gonna be about poking fun at those "corporate drones" but rather, the meaning behind what they, the the cultured, the artistes, do. Ooops. Political groups? For them, we bring tranquilizer guns, and a bat, just in case. C-suiters? One and two at a time, amazingly refreshing. A gaggle of them? Like the focus group from Hell.

Either way, arms stay crossed. Or they uncross. And then someone tells us a story about how customers don't trust them. Or how the field offices seem to affiliate more with clients than HQ and "what's up with that?" Or how the new Blackberried, teched-out-the-wazoo sales force is churning more bodies than before we upgraded them.

At this point, your limb-crossing status is usually an indicator of whom your wry smile is aimed at.
"Okay, maybe you have a point. Now what?"
Simple.

Shift. Or keep on keeping on. As to those two, I don't have an answer to that one. That's one's own job: A real answer for a change, not a sidestep. Can't do that simple, yet hard for some, first step. I can help refine the primary question. And relate it to your business plan. And execute operationally in all kinds of ways once you give an answer, but only once someone has faced up to the choice that drills or fills parallel holes in their ambition and balance sheets. And yes, you CAN quanitfy your yes or no with a choice of metrics - compound annual growth rate, cashflow, or how many more bodies you see in the office after 5:01. But those are surface symptoms of the personal choices management and staff proxies made 3 quarters ago. As are the changed tenor of customer service requests or their downward trend, or the churn of, at least, more interesting and valuable bodies through an office for a change. Each of these are personal, individual benchmarks, I have found, of decision-makers who are trying to say: "We're doing something right."

And it's funny how often "right" seems wrong when measured against the collective standards of our industries; measured against what's done by everybody else. When we follow, and hope, trust maybe, that someone will confuse it for leading. Strangely, this average usually adds up to an insult by our own personal standards of trade: if my tailor or grocer treated me the way our employee just treated that customer
in the call I just listened in on--giving me no REAL answers, making me do all the WORK, offering me NO inititative or EMPATHY--I'd change tailors and storm out of the supermarket yesterday.

For a customer, it's always personal, eh? Then they bump into a robot called a business person with comparable Emotional Intellligence to theirs, perhaps more, but with the rudimentary AI endowed by the employee manual and a corporate narrative. It's often an abrupt collision. Soft and hard things doing that are invaribly quite messy and disturbing to the softer participants in the equation. It's why we invented seat belts and air bags. Notice, in that case, the automotive one, that we made the car change, rather than wait for people to evolve their own air bags. In this way, companies are way more adaptible than people. They can change overnight. But not for practical reasons. People, however, are stuck with hard-wired instinct, emotion, DNA and stuff they've been lugging around for millennia. And yet, we are surprised when then don't readily adapt en-masse--change directions, snap!, like pigeons or a shcool of fish--

But what happens when you're your own customer? Consuming your own leadership of your self as well as others? Doouble-ooops.

No, the personal is a key to something bigger: real purpose. That thing between and above the false choice of "people or profit."

The trap comes when entities travel that flat, narrow continuum--a line between points--of profit or people. In that setup, somebody's gotta lose. Or, at least, sombody's going to get less of what they want. Sure, the pendulum swings, but when you're left to those few options what you have are people enduring their particular caring or ideal being out of favor. And people are nothing if not impatient. So the more assertive amongst us will do everything possible to yank that pendulum back their way--the techincal phrase for this is chopping off someone else's legs to make ourselves seem taller.

What a waste of time and energy. The obvious solution, if "yours" or "mine" don't satisfy, is "Ours."

But perhaps that's just another can of worms? If I really care about manufacturing quality, and somebody else really cares about weighted average cost of capital, and our customer really cares about, say, getting healthy food in their baby, that's a whole lot of care flying in a lot of different directions. How do you cobble together an "Ours" out of that?

Find the personal in each and marry them. It is there. The union, I mean. It is always there. If it holds a place in a human world, it belongs there or Darwin would get rid of it. In this way, our psyches and drives, needs and urges are supremely efficient: they serve purposes, there is no waste. Just lack of context, or unwillingness to provide it, to join them. The problems we create for ourselves come when we don't know and look for our "why" or don't know which end to grab on to and tug.

Finding the personal. For business purposes, this is relatively simple, but it requires two admissions that make some people nervous.
1. We are put here on this earth to do "Good." (Ask your Scout Leader or Grandmother if you don't buy that coming from me.)

2. Good is latent in everything, as is "Bad".
Following on the idea that people are loyal to Ideals, the second step is to narrow your library of ideals to a manageable set. In this case, and in my experience, this group numbers about 30 or so character traits or valuations. Short, sweet; remember, the purpose of this is to engender agreement on unifying and ambitious goals. For people. Social animals. Others have lists also...

A Social Manifesto for Social Animals

Chris Carfi at Social Customer Manifesto has an ideal...
THE SOCIAL CUSTOMER MANIFESTO

* I want to have a say.

* I don't want to do business with idiots.

* I want to know when something is wrong, and what you're going to do to fix it.

* I want to help shape things that I'll find useful.

* I want to connect with others who are working on similar problems.

*I don't want to be called by another salesperson. Ever. (Unless they have something useful. Then I want it yesterday.)

* I want to buy things on my schedule, not yours. I don't care if it's the end of your quarter.

* I want to know your selling process.

* I want to tell you when you're screwing up. Conversely, I'm happy to tell you the things that you are doing well. I may even tell you what your competitors are doing.

* I want to do business with companies that act in a transparent and ethical manner.

* I want to know what's next. We're in partnership…where should we go?
Very nice. Very. I like that because, well, naturally because it reminded me (especially the last point) of why and what I wrote when asked to describe "What is is a brand..." in the always artificial and soul-crushing way of business "...in 25 words or less."
"What is your definition of a Brand? 25 words or less."

Okay, here's a stab:

Ideals --> Bonds --> Communities. Another word for community is Brand.

[9 words, 2 arrows.]

A brand's job is mobilizing affinity, and assuming leadership of that community--sometimes benignly, sometimes forcefully, but always in service of the shared ideals of the group--company and consumer.

[30 more words.]

In this way, the most effective brands have an almost visionary quality about them. They mirror back to consumers and employees and even competitors an imagined ideal future they often can't enunciate themselves. They guide. They imprint. And that's gold.

[41 more words.]

80 words and 2 arrows. One hopes the first 9 give me permission to offer the next thirty. And then, those 39 have opened the gate to 41 more. If I do the rest right, I may have just found a new friend. Another relationship based on shared ideals—a brand—may have begun.

Now, I have to grow both of us.
Reach out and touch someone. And grow each other.

Last March, about when the above was written (Here or Here), the discussion of Brand in the blogosphere was undergoing what the "meaning of blogging" is today. Words like conversation and authenticity and questions like "what is a conversation?" have arisen since then. If you buy the above selections by Chris or me, the answers to both are very simple: Blogs and (evolving) Brands appeal to the one thing that seems to be in short supply these days: Connection. More precisely, a sort of bio-feedback. A knowledge that "eureka!" somebody thinks like me, or knows my sensibilities, desires and pressure points. They touch a nerve.

So? Well, to use the "bio-feedback" example, when a nerve is struck what's the normal reaction? Depends whether we're talking pleasure or pain, doesn't it? I think so.

The lack of bio-feedback is a synonym for "isolation." For impersonality. In a practical and a metaphorical sense. When I have a good feeling, I want to run to it often, to relate my thanks, tell my friends, or get some more. When I have a bad sensation, pain say, I want to run away from it, to ease it, to name its cause as a warnng to self and others. Well, so far all that action really still only includes me. But as humans, we need to share. Our anger, our joy, our shouts, our accusations, our discoveries. Our feelings. Remember "if a tree fall in the woods?" There you go.

Blogs are a way for individuals to share what they think and know in much the same way that oral stories, Cuneiform type, smoke signals, Gutenberg's press, the pony express, the telegraph, telephone and email all did, each time with incremental benefits approaching the ideal: Free flow of information. Of feeling. But most importantly, that thing caled Moore's Law can be compared to this growth in exponential benefit: Look what bloggers are falling in love with next––Podcasting, via Skype.

Triangulating with blogs, two daughter technologies of the internet that do two things: Take word and thought and turn them into spoken, and therefore, more naturaly self-evolving, feeling dialogue, not the stacatto monologue of blogging. Skype makes real-time shared affinity, shared feeling, the ultimate intent of blogs we'd all agree, possible: Podcasting makes it portable, on demand. It takes the digital personal content and intent of blogs, and makes it practically personal. It's makes it assymetric. It makes it analog. Human.

Goodness me. We're back to where we started with this new-fangled tele-thingy: "Watson! Come in here!" Talking. Sometimes ot learn, sometimes just to be heard, sometimes cause we're lonely or have an idea. To say, "I'm here."

It's always personal. Otherwise, how do I know it's real? That I'm real? That I'm here.


Sunday, February 06, 2005

From UserFriendly via Seb's OpenResearch



There's our new tag: Fouroboros. Proudly putting the we back into schizophrenic, since 2003.

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