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Archive for March, 2008

Thanks to Andy Woolard for introducing me to Pundo3000: A German website that compares photos on product packaging with the actual product inside. In some cases, the two are quite similar. In many cases, however (as evidenced by the example above)… not.

Check out a few of my favorite (you can click on each image to see full size versions):

I’ve learned three things today:

1. Hacksteaks are indeed hack steaks.
2. False advertising (especially on POP/packaging) is rampant.
3. Germans eat a lot of weird stuff. (I mean… what the heck is this?! A corndog/nut bar?)


Imagine if a website cataloged ALL products and brands in this way: Messaging/Promise. vs. The actual experience.

How would your brand fare? (Or your clients’ brands?)

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The question of the day: Can Massclusivity be achieved?

First of all, what is massclusivity?

From Idea Couture’s Idris Mootee:

In economic terms, luxury products are those which can consistently command and justify a higher price than products with comparable function and similar quality.

In marketing terms, luxury products are those which can deliver emotional benefits which are hard to match by comparable products.

One challenge is whether or not a niche player can move outside of their niche, or expand their niche without destroying their brand in the process.

Another challenge is once it can successfully move out of the niche, how far can it go until it becomes mass? Is there such a thing as massclusivity?

Let me give you some example of Massclusive brands (brands which USED to be niche or luxury brands but have now begun to focus on mass market distribution rather than exclusivity):

Gucci.
Cartier.
Ralph Lauren.
Chanel.
Mercedes.
Faberge.
Yves Saint Laurent.
Lotus. Tiffany & Co.
Godiva.

The question rephrased is this: Can a luxury or niche brand remain luxury or niche when everyone is wearing, driving, eating or drinking it?

Are you really “thinking different” when everyone owns the same iPod or MacBook? Are you really stylin’ when everyone is wearing the same Kenneth Cole, Nike or Puma shoes? When everyone is wearing either one of the top five selling perfumes? When everyone is wearing the same 80′s throwback belts and sunglasses? When everyone is sporting Gucci purses and Chanel cell phone cases?

Can a commoditized brand (even if it continues to charge a premium and position itself as a luxury or premium brand) still remain niche when it can be bough at Target or Macy’s, or luxury when it is mass produced in Asian factories as opposed to hand-crafted in Europe?

Have we entered the era of the non-brand superbrand? Where unique, non-recognizable, word-of-mouth only “custom-made” works of art (in tailoring, shoe-making, cuisine, timepieces, writing instruments, vehicle alterations, and other accessories) are the new luxuries/niches? (The more obscure to the general public and exclusive via scarcity the better?)

I am not talking about the masses here. They’re still buying into the notion that the more well-known the “luxury” or “premium” brand, the more valuable it is. (Hey look: I’m wearing an ugly ass cotton shirt produced by child labor in Micronesia! Between the $280 price tag and the brand name, I know I’m wearing some serious couture!) I am talking about the mavens, the hipsters, and those among us with the sophistication to know real craftsmanship from factory-made crap stamped with a fancy logo and a criminal price tag.

Example 1: Buying your fancy rainforest-friendly ‘organic’ tea at Whole Foods vs. buying premium quality no-brand (but incredibly fresh) loose leaf tea by the gram from La Maison Du The in Paris (a tea store and salon with such an enviable pedigree and reputation that it doesn’t require a website.)

Example 2: Buying your Hilfiger/Cremieux/Lauren/cK suit from Macy’s or Dillards vs. grabbing a flight to London to get your next bespoke suit cut on Savile Row.

For all the hype, fancy packaging and gorgeous stores, I wonder if once “luxury” brands can truly be luxury brands if they do any of the following:

1. Advertise on Television, the radio or the web (print ads are acceptable).
2. Sell their products on the internet or via catalog.
3. Have stores or products for sale anywhere near a shopping mall or airport.
4. Have stores anywhere but Paris, London, Geneva, Dubai, Milan, New York, Monaco, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.
5. Don’t have a store in at least one of the above cities.
6. Aren’t known for custom/one-of-a-kind products.
7. Aren’t enjoyed by royalty.
8. Don’t charge a ridiculous premium to keep poseurs at bay.
9. Don’t require setting an appointment before a sale.
10. Don’t have the best artisans in the world working on their products.

True luxury brands don’t really need to advertise. The last thing they want is to be discovered by the masses. Their market is the world’s old money families who grew up with them. The world’s wealthiest. They want clients with the means to project the level of sophistication, impeccable taste and flawless quality that their products embody. Most celebrities are liabilities to them – The Britneys and the rest of the tabloid crowd need not request an appointment. They would rather stick to Kings, Sultans,Princes of industry and true fashion mavens.

Trust me when I tell you that luxury brands aren’t available in Greenville, SC or Cleveland Ohio. Luxury brands don’t print their mark on cotton T-shirts or baseball caps. And luxury brands don’t use bar codes on their packaging.

Oh, and by the way, Rodeo Drive is a complete sham – just like the promise of massclusivity.

Check out the rest of this very interesting presentation by Idris over on Slideshare.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)

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I finally started using twitter today, and I am pretty psyched about it.

If you’re one of the 6% of adult internet users currently microblogging (using twitter) to keep tabs on your friends and colleagues, put your seemingly time-wasting hobby to good use – or at least come up with a better justification for your twitter habit at work:

You – “Twitter? Yeah! I use it all the time! It’s a great research tool!”
Your boss – “Really? A research tool?”
You – “Suuuuuure! One can find out all sorts of things thanks to twitter, if they are so inclined.”

Enter tweetscan.com (the twitter ap that turns your geeky and questionable tweeter addiction into a pretty kickass “out of the box” initiative that will make you the envy of your cubiclemates).

If you want to find out what people are saying about ANYTHING, hit tweetscan and enter your keyword in the search box. Try it. Throw your name in there. Throw your company’s name in there too. Find out what people are saying about anything at all. Your new product. The airline you want to book a flight with. Your kids’ top 3 college picks. A restaurant you’ve been wanting to try. A new movie. Your latest customer program.

It’s very cool, pretty effective, and best of all, it’s free.

And fresh.

And they didn’t call it twitscan… which is a very good thing.

Via Church of the Customer.

twitter-bb

linkedin-bb-flat

m2network

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Where am I going to be hanging out while not at my desk Tuesday and Wednesday?

At Innoventure 2008, of course!!!! (It’s where all the cool kids and innovation junkies in the South East will be. How could I miss it?)

If you’re going to be anywhere near the Carolina First Center and want to do lunch, call my cellie.

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Screw looking for greener pastures. When the grass isn’t to your liking, hop the fence and go plant your own:

From kottke.org:

Talented people are leaving Pixar because very few people get a shot at directing a film of their own.

For all the success, however, there’s very little room atop Pixar’s food chain. While live-action movie studios might crank out more than a dozen movies annually, the digital animation company built by Apple’s Steve Jobs barely makes a film a year — and had no features at all in 2005 or 2002. What’s more, all Pixar movies so far have been directed by an inner circle of animation all-stars: John Lasseter (“Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2″ and “Cars”), Brad Bird (“The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”), Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo” and summer’s forthcoming “Wall-E”) and Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.” and 2009′s “Up”).

Brad Bird is set to direct a live-action movie about the earthquake that hit San Francisco in 1906.

The thing is… not everyone ought to direct. And when it comes to Pixar (since they rock), maybe, just maybe, the grass doesn’t get much greener than Pixar’s. At least not yet.

My suggestion to ANY disgruntled employee – at Pixar, Yves Saint Laurent, BMW or NBC is this: Don’t leave a great company that allows you the privilege of doing fantastic work just because you think you DESERVE better. Or DESERVE more.

Leave because because you KNOW you can do better, and more importantly because you SHOULD.

Pow. Chew on that, Bobo.

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Once again, because:

a) it’s good.

b) repetition works.

c) every time I run into this, I remember something I had forgotten.

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Excellent little opinion about success (among other things) over at Seen Creative:
“You don’t have the skeleton key. There are no rules, there are no templates, there are no secret ingredients. Everything is unique and everything is dependent on its own circumstance. You can write all the books, magazine articles, or blog posts you want, but someone will always be able to prove the exception. Something will always contradict.
One reason these businesses are successful is probably because their founders didn’t take advice from stupid articles in Wired, or try to ride the latest meme sweeping the blogosphere. They understood that every situation is unique, and they needed to approach it as such. What’s right is what works, not what previously worked.”
Right. In case you didn’t already know it, cookie-cutter solutions don’t generate true success. Companies that stifle innovation, rule-breaking, and re-imagining doom themselves to being indistinguishable from their competitors… or worse yet, barely relevant in increasingly competitive markets.
Don’t ever underestimate the role that visionary leadership plays in a company’s propensity to be a game changer (and by default a culture changer). If a company’s leadership doesn’t have a healthy mix of ambitious, obsessive and a clear vision, what is driving it, exactly? Where is it going? How will it get there?
If you haven’t already added Seen to yout blogroll, now might be a good time to correct that frightening oversight.
Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)
photo by Christopher Wray-McCann

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Enjoy this pretty astute presentation on Leadership vs. Management. (And yes, watch the whole thing.)
Then ask your boss whether he/she wants you to be a manager or a leader. (Sometimes, organizations aren’t clear on this point.) Maybe watch the presentation with them first, THEN ask them the question.
Just bear in mind that you’re either one or the other: Sure, you can’t be an effective manager without some leadership skills and you can’t be an effective leader without some management skills, but when it comes to ROLES, you can’t be both a leader and a manager. You have to make a choice.
What will your choice be?

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Working intimately with Microsoft, this is a topic dear to my heart. (I may be shedding a bit of a tear right now.)
The Blue Monster was designed as a conversation starter. To paraphrase the ongoing dialogue between Steve and I:
For too long, Microsoft has allowed other people- the media, the competition and their detractors, especially- to tell their story on their behalf, instead of doing a better job of it themselves.
We firmly believe that Microsoft must start articulating their story better- what they do, why they do it, and why it matters- if they’re to remain happy and prosperous long-term.
If they can do this, well, we don’t expect people in their millions to magically start loving Microsoft overnight, but perhaps it might get people- including the people who work there- to start thinking differently. Small moves.
Here’s more:
The headline works on a lot of different levels:
Microsoft telling its potential customers to change the world or go home.
Microsoft telling its employees to change the world or go home.
Microsoft employees telling their colleagues to change the world or go home.
Everybody else telling Microsoft to change the world or go home.
Everyone else telling their colleagues to change the world or go home.
And so forth.
Microsoft has seventy thousand-odd employees, a huge percentage them very determined to change the world, and often suceeding. And millions of customers with the same idea.
Basically, Microsoft is in the world-changing business. If they ever lose that, they might as well all go home.
I chose the monster image simply because I always thought there is something wonderfully demonic about wanting to change the world. It can be a force for the good, of course, if used wisely.
It’s certainly a very loaded part of the human condition, but I suppose that’s what makes it compelling.
And Dave Armano chimes in with this interesting bit of insight on the value of being “infected”:
“Everyone at Mix 08 who worked for Microsoft and handed me either a “Blue Monster” business card or had the sticker, seemed different. It was hard to put a finger on, but although they were believers in Microsoft, they also seemed to believe in an external vision that challenged Microsoft to make a meaningful impact in the world.
It’s a non corporate honest opinion, and some at Microsoft embrace it publicly.
What’s to be learned? Blue Monster shows us that no matter how big or small the company that the world is a bigger place. And external influences can become internal influences. And it teaches us that if we are interested in the evolution of corporate culture, that symbols are important. If we don’t find our own—someone will find them for us.”
10 additional lessons to take from this:
1. Even giants can be underdogs.
2. Startups and hungry small companies don’t have a monopoly on passion: Even corporate behemoths have deeply passionate people helping turn the wheel.
3. We all need icons and banners to rally behind. If one isn’t provided, one will be created.
4. Passion is an all-or-nothing equation. If you can’t be passionate about what you do, you’re wasting your time just working for a paycheck. Even outside of work, if you can’t be passionate about something, – anything – you’re wasting your life.
5. It’s good to have a motto. Or a purpose. Or a mission.
6. Sometimes, the best ideas come from a perfect synergy of inside sentiment and outside interpretation.
7. Less words say more.
8. If monsters are conceptually cool, good monsters are even better.
10. Anything corporate-related that is worthy of being printed on a T-shirt, business card or bumper sticker is by default a culture-affecting design.
Some of you may sneer at the very notion of something like this having anything to do with the almighty Microsoft, but there is a lot more to the software giant than meets the eye. Working with these folks on a daily basis, I have a pretty clear view of what the product teams are working on, and it is nothing short of astounding. Microsoft is going to change the way we work and change the way we live for the better. If we let them. (And we should.) Looking at it from where I stand – having seen what these guys are working on – the blue monster’s words make perfect sense.
Personally, I dig it.
Transparency clause: I manage SYNNEX’s Microsoft distribution business in the US, so it is entirely possible that I might be a tad bit biased when it comes to the Redmond giant. That being said, this post probably wasn’t the least bit impacted by this bias – aside from the excitement I genuinely feel about the products and applications Microsoft’s product teams are working on, particularly in the fields of collaboration tools, unified communications, intelligent devices and intelligent environments.
Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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Leading With Insight

I found this pretty sweet presentation on Dave Armano’s blog (Logic + Emotion). Enjoy.

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“Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.”
- Laurence J. Peter

Overheard outside the wire today:

“Best is not good enough. You have to be better.”

Personally, I would be happy with being the best (it would be a good start)… but I guess I can respect the sentiment: Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t ever believe that just because you’re #1, you can chill and stop working as hard. There are always improvements to make – and if you feel that there are no improvements left to make, then you aren’t looking in all the right places.

If anything, I have more respect for “be better than the best” than “give it 200%”. (Hint: There’s only 100%. 100.000001%+ is a fallacy.)

It does kind of remind me of those detergent commercials in the 70′s and 80′s that advertised “whiter than white whites.” (No comment.) I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Even if you’re the best, there is always someone better, stronger, faster, smarter or hungrier than you just waiting for a chance to take over the top spot. Being the best is not good enough. You have to be better.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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Lazare Ponticelli

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
- George Santayana (1863 – 1952)

Lazare Ponticelli was laid to rest in France today after a memorial service with full military honors.

Who was Lazare Ponticelli?

He was the last surviving French WWI veteran.

My grandfather fought in WWI. He was 16 when he went off to fight, and he somehow made it out in one piece. (He then came out of WWII unscathed, which was impressive in and of itself.) WWI was still very much part of my cultural experience when I was a child. I played with WWI toy soldiers and dug little trenches for them in our back yard. The countryside was still scarred by the German artillery fierce barrages of lead and death. WWI veterans were everywhere in France. Old men with canes and thin ribbons on their lapels representing what medals they came home with – green or red, depending on whether it was the Croix De Guerre or the Legion D’Honneur. WWI veterans seemed to be part of the very landscape of France. Every village, town and city had them, and I think that we were better for it. They were a constant reminder of sacrifice and courage. They were a constant reminder that we could do better – and that we should strive to do better.

If we were too lazy to do it for ourselves, we at least owed it to the millions of young ment who walked to the battlefield and never walked out.

They were a constant reminder that there are things that we should never forget.

At any rate, though this has absolutely nothing to do with branding or marketing, I thought that Lazare’s passing was worthy of note. The last surviving French veteran of WWI was laid to rest today, and thus a page of history is truly turned.

Is there a point to this post? Yeah. There is. There are many points to this post, not the least of which is that this is the kind of news that could be completely missed by most of us – what with our busy self-important lives and all. Spending all day at work, rushing out to get the kids to their soccer practice, watching Dancing with the Stars or American Idol or NASCAR, polishing our golf clubs, bitching about what the former governor of NY did or what Obama’s preacher said or Britney’s latest shenanigan. It’s kind of sad that we’re losing touch with our past because we simply don’t take the time to reflect on it. Ever.

Quietly, silently, Lazare Ponticelli died and the world drove right on by. France stopped for him, as they should. It might not have been a bad thing for all nations touched by WWI to pause for a moment to reflect on how little was gained in the 90 years following the “war to end all wars,” and how much the world of today is still wrestling with the power struggles that WWI either failed to solve or altered in less-than-stellar ways.

Remember to take some time to reflect on the past. Not just wars, but the kinds of struggles that the country you live in went through so that you and I might enjoy freedom and opportunity. We aren’t entitled to either of these things. We have to earn them.

Deserve them.

Every single day.

Give some thought to the fact that being self important little consumers really isn’t good enough.

Have great Monday, everyone.

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You must have long range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short range failures. (Charles Noble)

Sometimes though, it isn’t easy to sell long-range to managers who are more concerned with today’s numbers than next year’s. For them, next year doesn’t exist. It’s an abstraction. All that matters is what you did yesterday and what you are doing today. This is a difficult paradigm for those of us who spend more time planning than actually executing.

Ideally, as a business, program or project manager, you want to split your time and strategies between winning today’s battles and planning your overwhelming victory sometime in the future. (Maybe in 6 months. Maybe in a year. Maybe in five years. Who knows.) My point is that you can’t put all of your eggs in the “today” basket or in the “tomorrow” basket. It can’t be an 80/20 split either. It really needs to be a 50/50 (or 60/40) split one way or another.

If you spend considerably more time focusing on “today,” you will still be in the same spot a year from now – treading water – reacting to everything instead of influencing your business environment.

If you spend considerably more time focusing on “tomorrow,” then your execution suffers, nothing gets done, and you’ll never reap the rewards of all that meticulous planning you spent so much time on.

This may seem like common sense to most of you, but I can assure you that for tens of thousands of business managers in the US, the equation looks like 90/10 in favor of “today.” For these folks, “tomorrow” is something you might get to later, when you have a few minutes to breathe. This is not good.

Don’t wait until your car is completely out of gas to get a refill. Don’t wait until you have a 102 fever to call the doctor. Don’t wait until the morning of a test to study for it.

The world of business is no different.

image: Andrew Testa for the New York Times

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The thing about focus – call it a flaw if you will – is that you cannot focus on any one thing for very long. Every once in a while, you have to take a step back, either clear your head or look at the big picture, and return to whatever you were focusing on when you are ready to focus on it again.
“Sustained focus” is a very finite proposition. On a long enough timeline, all focus eventually fades and dies.
And unless you’re a chameleon, you can’t focus on more than one thing at once.
Therefore, you have to look at focus as a limited (see finite) endeavor.
Given enough time, the brain gets tired of burning a hole in a single idea, no matter how complex and entertaining.
Artists take a step back from their work. They let it sit overnight. They walk away and come back to ponder it. They purposely distance themselves from it in order to change their point of view. This is the same thing.
Whether you are a painter working on a fresco, a photographer looking through a camera’s viewfinder, a lab worker peering down at microscopic mites through an electron microscope, a Marine sniper keeping a target in his crosshairs, a tomato sorter in southern Spain, a bodybuilder in Austria, a creative director in Tokyo or a project manager here in the US, there comes a time when focus wanes. When you have to blink. When you have to take a break. When you have to give that focus a rest, if for twenty minutes or ten or five.

In the business world, “focus” is thus forced to become a relative term… much in the way that “quality” has become a relative term.

Relativity may work well in the world of physics, but when it comes to the business world, it is the thread that once pulled, begins to unravel the entire garment.
When you focus, boys and girls, make sure your focus is exactly that: 100% for short but effective durations. Take breaks. Create balance in your workflow – and just as importantly in your employees’ workflow.
Focus is NOT relative.
Have a great day, everyone.
image source: sandia.gov

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“Individuals behave in a difficult manner because they have
learned that doing so keeps others off balance and incapable of effective
action. Worst of all, they appear immune to all the usual methods of
communication and persuasion designed to convince or help them change their
ways.”
- Robert Bramson, Ph.D.

I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to figure out why some people are so vehemently opposed to change, progress or new ideas that they will exert more energy fighting them than embracing them.  I am sorry to hear that so many of you are dealing with this. I don’t have a lot of advice to give you there, except this:

Far be it from me to suggest that every new idea and every bit of change is positive. Success, after all, is more often than not the result of countless failures – some calculated, others not. I completely understand how and why intelligent professionals would (and should) be suspicious of new ideas. Due dilligence does play a significant role in effectively adopting new ideas and making them work. No question.

But some people resist change no matter what. These are not people who take the time to analyze a new idea or concept, run scenarios, try to figure out contingencies, look for lateral opportunities, and get around potential pitfalls along the way. These are just difficult people who enjoy being roadblocks.

Perhaps it makes them feel important: If they can’t actually be agents of change, at least they can be agents of un-change.

Maybe it’s all one big ego trip. A passive-aggressive power play.

Maybe it’s just that making sure that things don’t change defaults to predictability in their professional ecosystem , and predictability equals security. The less you change, the less you rock the boat, the safer you are.

Which makes sense when you realize that people who tend to become human roadblocks have made a career out of doing essentially nothing. (Doing something is what their staff is for.) There can only be security in doing nothing when the alternative (doing something) can be sold to senior management as a high-risk, low reward proposition.

Maybe it’s a little bit of everything: Laziness, insecurity, ego. You name it.
One thing is certain: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Human roadblocks are wired to be the way they are. No amount of logic, enthusiasm or even authority will change them. Or move them, for that matter.
Just like speedbumps, they are there to stay. Just like speedbumps, you have to slow down when you get close to one of them. And just like speedbumps, they’re pretty easy to roll over or get around once you have a clear view of where you want to go.
The thing about human roadblocks is that they don’t go anywhere. Come back in ten years, they’ll still be exactly where they are, doing the same damn thing. Maybe some of you can take some solace in that.
So my advice to you today is this: Don’t go mistaking speedbumps for 500 foot cliffs. They’re just speedbumps. Just keep doing what you are doing, and don’t let anyone stop you from getting the job done.
Have a great Tuesday, everyone.
photo by Christopher Wray-McCann

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Happy Monday!

As you kick off the week with your next project or some concept you need to turn into reality, here are some timely words of wisdom from Blue Flavor:

A great design has a point of view. A really great design will make a clear statement. It’ll be unique in a way that doesn’t necessarily mean it stands out, but it’ll be clear that it has something to say. As such, there will usually people who don’t “like it” and that’s not really a bad thing.

A great design isn’t done by committee. I don’t think you can achieve great design if you have to compromise to please many. Design is best done with one clear vision and an enabled designer who everyone involved trusts to bring that vision to life.

A great design is clear and to a large degree, invisible. A great design should speak for itself and there should never be any question as to what its purpose is.

A great design is written as much as it’s “designed.” The words you choose to use in your designs are as important as anything else that goes into it.

A great design is more than “usable.” If you’re shooting for a usable design, your simply shooting for average. Every design should be usable, it’s much better to be usable and good. Or great.

A great design pays attention to details. If there is one thing I wish I could have on many of the projects I work on is more time and budget to nail down all the little details.

A great design isn’t a template. Along the lines of paying attention to details, a great design will address an entire system in as much detail as possible. This is something that you simply can’t do on the “template” level alone.

A great design takes time and isn’t cheap. This is fairly obvious, but when it comes to design you do get what your pay for, and, along the same lines, if you rush it, it’ll appear rushed.

A great design is never ending. I think, especially when it comes to the web, and interaction design, that a really great design will evolve over time and needs to be looked at, questioned and refined over time.

A great design isn’t perfect. If there is one thing you should pay attention to on this list, IMHO, it’s that striving for perfection in your designs can do much more damage than good. Usually what happens here is that someone isn’t happy because the design isn’t exactly what they wanted to see, and so they want to make changes to bring it in line with that vision. This most often results in compromise to achieve consensus, which also means you’re getting further away from something great. There is no such thing as perfect design, accept that and strive to do something great.

figs by Matt Armendariz

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Booyah. From Experience Matters:

Customer Experience 2008 Resolutions

  1. We shall focus more on our customers and less on ourselves
  2. We shall get to know more about what our customers really need
  3. We shall formalize a voice-of-the-customer program
  4. We shall incorporate personas in our experience design processes
  5. We shall clearly define our brand in terms of promises to customers
  6. We shall judge every interaction on how well it fulfills our brand promises
  7. We shall engage front-line employees in improving customer experiences
  8. We shall get the executive team to collectively own the customer experience
  9. We shall establish a multi-year journey towards customer-centric DNA
  10. We shall give customer experience the attention that it deserves

Dave Armano adds #11:

11. We shall revive a company culture who’s core purpose is to serve people.

That’s the foundation of it all. Great experiences that are customer/people-centric are extremely hard to achieve. If you are working for a company that doesn’t have a culture of customer-centricity baked into it, then it will be difficult to achieve any of these goals. If your company never had it—you will have to figure out how to build that culture. If you had it and lost it—you’ll need to “revive” it.

You can hire all of the customer-centric consultants that money can buy. But at the end of the day, the best results come from a culture focused on serving people. In this case, the people just happen to be customers.

photo by Christopher Wray McCann

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As a reformed meat eater (I’ll eat anything that swims, walks or crawls in the water but not on land – at least not anymore) it seems strange for me to get excited about a burger joint, yet here we are. I just caught a glimpse of this incredible little Kansas “fast food” restaurant on Sundance (yes, the TV channel), and all I can say is this: I wish I didn’t have to drive all the way to Lawrence, Kansas to eat there. (They have non-meat items on the menu.)

Hey, at least Local Burger gives me a reason to go to Kansas someday… Though I hope someone with deep pockets will catch wind of this incredible concept, take the time to go eat there, and make it possible for Local Burger to open more restaurants around the country – starting with wherever I happen to be living.

Why am I so psyched about Local Burger? Simple: I happen to think that the old adage “we are what we eat” is true on every level. I care very much about the quality of the food I eat. I am not a big fan of hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers or food additives. The more natural, sustainable and respectful the farming techniques, the better.

Evidently, the folks behind Local Burger feel very much the same way, which is rare for… a hamburger joint.

From their website:

“Local Burger is leading the evolution of fast food with fresh, organic, local, and sustainable fare that is free of unnatural additives and preservatives. At Local Burger, we consider the special diet, the environment, the economy, animal welfare, and the health of everyone who eats our food. At Local Burger, you’ll always know where your food came from and exactly what’s in it.”

Music to my ears. Here’s more:

Local Burger is the brainchild of chef and entrepreneur Hilary Brown, who fulfilled her vision of offering healthy fast food in a casual environment by opening the first Local Burger on September 14, 2005.

Established in historic downtown Lawrence, Kansas, the restaurant sources all of its meats locally and features a variety of burgers, including elk, buffalo, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, and emu, and is home of the World’s Best Veggie Burger (it’s gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, corn-free, soy-free, yeast-free, nut-free and DELICIOUS!).

At Local Burger, Our Mission is to serve delicious food at a fair price with impeccable service while creating a culture of passion for knowing where our food comes from and how it connects us to our world, to our communities, and to ourselves.

Local Burger’s interesting, seasonal, and eclectic menu offers something for everyone, carnivores and vegetarians alike, and is super Celiac friendly. Enjoy local gluten-free hot dog and hamburger buns, hemp-milk smoothies, and vegan Caesar salads along with sensational sides like quinoa-millet pilaf and Stevia-sweetened cinnamon applesauce. Those with food intolerances and allergies will find Local Burger heaven on earth… an organic Garden of Eden!

Fast food can mean good food. Who knew? At Local Burger, we can pronounce all of our ingredients. Our food is good for you, good for the community, and good for the environment.

We support local farmers, advocate for the humane treatment of animals and workers, recycle right in the dining room, and compost our organic waste, all while serving food that tastes good and is good for you. Eat here, eat well, and enjoy.

If you appreciate quality, sustainability, and flavor, you’ll love Local Burger.
Ahhhhhhhhh…

Seriously. This may warrant a pilgrimage.

All in all, a great concept, a seemingly fantastic execution, and even terrific branding to boot. I’ll bet Local Burger even has a small army of very loyal fans.

I expect great things from this brilliant little startup over the next decade.

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Perhaps it’s a question of upbringing. Perhaps it’s a question of education. Perhaps it’s a question of pride or culture or personality. I may never understand full why some people are always full of excuses why they fall short or can’t get something done. Students. Athletes. Business managers. Farm hands. Soldiers. The list is long.
Every once in a while, yeah, even the best among us drop the ball. It happens. Maybe it’s a crappy client making too many unreasonable demands. Maybe it’s a huge project dropped on you at the last minute. Maybe your heart wasn’t into it – whatever it was. Maybe you just messed up. Or maybe you took on too much and there physically aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.

It happens.

You take your licks. You learn. You make adjustments. You move on.

While failure or less-than-stellar performance occasionally make an unwelcome visit in our daily endeavors, some people make failure a daily companion.

Heck, some people like to make it their M.O.

With them, there is always a good reason why something didn’t get done. Why goals couldn’t be met. Why something couldn’t be accomplished. There was a barricade. They’re still waiting for the email from so-and-so. The map was wrong. The system doesn’t give them visibility to some critical file they need. The situation changed and they couldn’t get in touch with their superior. There wasn’t a gas station for miles. No one gave them the customer list. There were too many bullets flying at them. There was too much distance between them and the finish line. There were too many distractions along the way. There were too many Persians.

Truth: There were too many obstacles in their heads. Too many reasons why sitting on their asses and waiting for someone to come bail them out seemed like a better option than getting the job done in spite of a few insignificant hurdles.

As I said earlier, perhaps it’s a question of upbringing. Perhaps it’s a question of education. Perhaps it’s a question of pride or culture or personality. The point is that not everyone is cut out to be a leader, and for some of us whose mentality leans towards the “excuses are for suckers” camp, that is sometimes difficult to accept.

Cinemax showing 300 every ten minutes isn’t helping either.

There is no doubt that if everyone in Corporate America (or if educators and students) took their work as seriously as Spartans took soldiering, American companies would indeed be something to behold.

Yet, many of them fall short of their potential.

And now, a reading from The Book of Gym Jones:

If you weren’t given the gift you can’t get the gift so the best you can do – if your goal is important – is work as hard as you possibly can, pay attention every hour of every day and then maybe, maybe if you’ve done enough and been smart enough you’ll emerge from the muck of mediocrity to shine a bit brighter than you shone before. Then, upon reflection you might decide your goal is a bit more important so you’ll start paying attention every minute of every hour of every day. You’ll find people who are better than you and you’ll take an empty cup when you meet them. Their example will destroy or inspire you and if it’s the latter you may stay and learn. You might imitate, doing as they do because you’ve already accepted that you do not know best – if you did you’d be leading the group they were trying to join. Perhaps being exposed to their superior ability will drive you to work harder than you thought possible, or necessary. Maybe you’ll overcome your self-imposed (or worse, society-imposed) limitations and shine even more brightly. Wow, you’re getting it: positive reinforcement for hard work and suffering. So maybe you give your goal even more significance and you begin cutting away the ideas and the expectations and the people who you believe prevent you from achieving it. Now you become a real selfish prick, and you begin paying attention every second of every minute of every hour of every day, and you sustain your awareness for weeks and months at a time. You no longer think yourself a unique snowflake, you’re a steel-edged blade shaped like a snowflake and you’re spinning at warp speed. You’re the biggest fish in the pond. You’re a badass. Now you have options.

1) If you think you haven’t yet done enough, and you could do more, you might begin to understand that, the more capable you become, the higher the mountain rises ahead of you. At that moment you may recognize the existence of a legitimately serious group, ahead of you, above you, somewhere you’re not. They are silent, implacable, constantly improving and evolving and because they are truly capable they are accessible to those who are genuine. Among them there’s no defensiveness, no posturing or pretending, and they aren’t interested in anyone else’s. Selection for such a group isn’t based on physical performance alone. Issues of character and commitment, and discipline and persistence balance physical talent. Because you clawed your way out of the muck, were “up all night, dedicated” and maintained interest for long enough to differentiate yourself from the short-attention-span sporting dilettantes who commonly brush up against this group they might accept you as an apprentice. If you empty your cup your chances are better. If you redouble your efforts your odds improve again.

2) If however, you think you’ve done enough or you decide you have “arrived” then you’ll stay in the small pond and stagnate. And when the rot is complete you’ll be just a little bit better than those around you – your initial example will have driven them to reach higher levels of performance – and there you’ll sit, an intellectually bloated, pontificating fuck who once had the juice to work hard but having done so feels entitled to coast on past success all the way to the grave. That’s when you’ll start offering opinions based on the certainty of your own short-lived, amateur experience.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone…and EAT HEARTY, FOR TONIGHT, WE DINE IN HELL!!!!!


um… sorry. It happens every time I watch it.


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“A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.”
- Francis Bacon

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“While one hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.”
- Henry C. Link
Via the yeti, this fascinating article from the Wall Street Journal:
High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7. Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries.
American teens finished among the world’s C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science and reading — on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers.
Finland’s students placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, according to results released late last year. An unofficial tally of Finland’s combined scores puts it in first place overall, says Andreas Schleicher, who directs the OECD’s test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The U.S. placed in the middle of the pack in math and science; its reading scores were tossed because of a glitch.
The academic prowess of Finland’s students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country’s secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students. “We don’t have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have,” says Hannele Frantsi, a school principal.
(…)
Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn’t translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: ” ‘Nah. So what’d you do last night?’” she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely “glue this to the poster for an hour,” she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.
Lloyd Kirby, superintendent of Colon Community Schools in southern Michigan, says foreign students are told to ask for extra work if they find classes too easy. He says he is trying to make his schools more rigorous by asking parents to demand more from their children.
(…)
Finland separates students for the last three years of high school based on grades; 53% go to high school and the rest enter vocational school. (All 15-year-old students took the PISA test.) Finland has a high-school dropout rate of about 4% — or 10% at vocational schools — compared with roughly 25% in the U.S., according to their respective education departments.
And all we could come up with was “no child left behind.”
The difference is this: Finns take education seriously. Not just teachers and educators, but citizens. People. Parents. Children. Voters. Education is culturally relevant. Ignorance, in Finland, is not a virtue as it can be here in the US.
I recall my own high school courses being infinitely tougher and more enriching than almost every college course I took in the US. I am a product of both the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and the International School of Brussels’ (ISB) incredible roster of professors, so my experience may not be typical of most Europeans, but let me say this: Only four courses I took in college were above the level of any class I took in High School in Europe. The rest of my college courses were on the level of ninth grade courses at ISB, if that.
I watch my kids go through school and wonder what they learn all day. They’re on par with European schools in math, but not particularly in science… and not at all when it comes to history or literature. Not even close, in fact.
I’ve actually been asked by an American close to me if we had toasters in France. Seriously. (I politely responded that yes, once American GI’s brought electricity with them, toasters and televisions made their way to France fairly quickly – although the government allowed only one of each per village.)
*sigh*
No matter how you look at it, when your own Commander in Chief is hardly capable of putting Nepal, Thailand, Afghanistan or Turkey on a map of the world, when he has a tough time pronouncing simple words like “nuclear” and seems to have a very tough time understanding (and funding) scientific research – and the majority of the country feels an affinity to him because of that “hey, he sounds like one of us” kind of affinity, you can’t help but wonder if we’re committed to being a nation of educated citizens or a nation of proud-to-be-ignorant consumers.
It is one thing to talk about being a world leader, and another completely to be a world leader. Unless we are talking about debt, illiteracy, carbon emissions and military spending.
As a superpower, we really ought to at least try to do better. Out of national pride, if anything. Maybe it;s just me, but we’re starting to look and act a lot like the dumb rich kid who likes to make fun of the nerdy kids in the classroom and shove the ethnic foreign kids into lockers when the teacher isn’t looking.
We really need to start raising the bar in this country. It was cool to be the Chuck Norris loving tobacco-chewin’ country neighbor with the really tacky McMansion and a huge fifteen-car garage and the manicured lawns back in the 80′s, but not anymore. We’ve become a cliche – both overseas and inside our own borders – and that’s never good.
What makes this situation even sadder is this: The only difference between Americans and Finns is mindset. We’ve just become lazy and self-indulgent. We take everything – starting with education – for granted, and have absolutely no clue how far behind we are getting. Honestly, education in the US may be one of those endeavors that Americans may have to outsource. Let an International Baccalaureate team come in with the heads of the world’s top ten national education programs, assess our K-12 system for a year or two, and rebuild it from the ground up.
Maybe this is the only way we get ourselves out of this shameful pit of educational mediocrity.
But before this can happen, our leaders need to have the will to make it happen – which starts with their electorate having the will to make it happen.
Sadly, in a multiple-choice culture in which no child is left behind, in which even the losing team gets a trophy, in which chief business leaders get paid tens of millions of dollars in bonuses for running Fortune 500 companies into the ground, and in which intelligence seems to demand little more than guessing the right answer just over 50% of the time, there is little need to waste time on world history, geography, world languages, literature or critical thinking. In other words, edukashion don’t need to be much gooder than this. If you spell something wrong, Spell Check will correct it for you. If you say something wrong, no one will catch it anyway.
When everyone is dumb, no one is dumb.
Except… when Americans start to travel to places other than Mexico, the Bahamas and the Florida Keys.
Perhaps “good enough” is just that: Good enough. America: Home of the okay, land of the good enough. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound hot to me. Yet here we are. Whether you believe it or not, whether your US-made statistics agree or not, the sad reality is that America’s K-12 system is in shambles, and yes, we are getting our asses handed to us by Finland.
(Case in point: I challenge any one of you – American readers – to actually put Finland on a map. Not scandinavia as a whole, but Finland. Before you do, I also want you to write down what major country Finland shares a border with. I also challenge you to describe its flag.)
Make fun of the French and the Finns and all of those faggy tree-hugging pinko Europeans all you want, but when they’re traveling overseas, at least they can find their own asses on a map without having to google-Earth it.
For shame.
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