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Archive for July, 2008

*Sigh.* As of today, the brandbuilder’s Power 150 (Ad Age) ranking has dropped to 203rd.

To make matters worse, that ranking still links to the brandbuilder blog’s old URL (at blogspot). This brandbuilder blog (wordpress) is nowhere near the Power 150′s radar.

Same blog, new url: All the difference in the world.

I guess the brandbuilder’s Power 150, technorati and Viral Garden rankings shouldn’t matter to me. It isn’t that the content has become less relevant: Moving to wordpress essentially restarted the visitor and link clock to zero, that’s all. With time, things will get back to where they were. So yeah, I know I should just press on and not care…

It’s just that I’m not that friggin’ zen.

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I have to admit it, my latest guilty pleasure is watching HBO’s “Generation Kill” (the story of the 1st Marine Recon Batallion in the first few weeks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq) on Sunday nights. The 7-part miniseries is currently on episode 3, and so far so good. Think “The Wire” meets “3 Kings” with a “Band of Brothers” vibe. 

In terms of pure entertainment, it’s mostly a guy thing I guess, so it may miss the mark with broad audiences. But in terms of painting a pretty complex web of interactions between layers of hierarchy, leadership styles and gradients of professionalism, the show is pure gold. MBA students should be required to watch the show just to see what great leadership and bad leadership look like, and perhaps more importantly how they can work together hand in hand within a single, complex, diverse organization. Sure, the vernacular is more akin to military units and sports teams than the board room, but the principles of applied leadership are exactly the same.

Management Lessons from Generation Kill so far:

  1. As a leader, being competent matters.
  2. As a leader, being competent doesn’t always matter.
  3. Leaders who cultivate cults of personality don’t have to explain themselves as much.
  4. Expectations don’t have to be realistic. Instead, they should always be just shy of impossibly high and unwavering. (Shatter your people’s comfort zone early and consistently.)
  5. Clarity of purpose is key.
  6. Clarity of execution is key.
  7. Use a map or a diagram. Point at something and tell your team where they are, where you want them to go, how you expect them to get there, how fast, etc..
  8. If a process doesn’t exist, create one.
  9. If a process needs to be improved, improve it.
  10. Excuses have an effective range of exactly zero meters.
  11. Train harder and more often than any reasonable person would, then train some more.
  12. The mission is the mission. 99% completion = failure. 100% completion = success.
  13. Success is the only currency you have when it comes to securing a better place on the food chain.
  14. Not everyone in your organization is an A-lister. Too bad. Welcome to the real world. You still need to get the job done. (See #10)
  15. Mistakes may happen, but there will be no screwups.
  16. Every organization needs a ball buster somewhere towards the top of the hierarchy to keep everyone in line.
  17. The grooming standard must be maintained. It is the foundation upon which everything else either clicks like a well oiled .50 cal or falters like a one-eyed, three legged dog.
  18. Be the first to get the thing done. People don’t always notice the best, but they always notice the first.
  19. Do what the other guys are too afraid to do.
  20. Never let the enemy dictate the pace of your movements.
  21. Keep the violence of initiative on your side.
  22. Understand the rules of engagement.
  23. Communicate the rules of engagement to your team in real time.
  24. Let whatever you fear the most be the thing that drives you the most.
  25. Do not dwell on mistakes. Learn from them quickly and move on.
  26. Personal opinions are always irrelevant and unwelcome.
  27. Respect for authority doesn’t have to come from the heart, but it has to come anyway.
  28. Orders are orders. If they were optional, they would be called something else.
  29. Your job description is subject to change at a moment’s notice. Accept this and move on.
  30. If you want routine, you are in the wrong job.
  31. Following the same road as everyone else is no way to get in the game.
  32. How you phrase/present your report matters at least as much as what the report is actually about.
  33. Look after your people but never hold their hand.
  34. Hold your people to the highest standards.
  35. Get the job done. Every time. Faster than anyone else. Be that guy.
  36. Know how to sell your successes.
  37. Action wins. Hesitation loses.
  38. The shortest way between two points is exactly that: The shortest way. (See #18 and #35).
  39. The shortest way is rarely the easiest way.
  40. The easiest way is almost never the right way.
  41. Once failure stops being an option, it effectively cease to exist as a potential outcome.
  42. Nothing you do will ever work the way you expected it to. Embrace the elegant predictability of Murphy’s Law and get the job done anyway.
  43. Blind ambition and gross incompetence often get you there just as well as the other option.
  44. Know your place along the chain of command.
  45. Treat others with respect.
  46. Do not confuse treating people with respect with being polite.
  47. Your environment does not dictate the success of your mission. You do.
  48. Nobody cares about why something didn’t get done. They only care that it didn’t get done.
  49. If you don’t get it done, you probably don’t belong here.
  50. Your job isn’t to be cool or fun or popular. Your job is to kick ass.

And we’re only on the third episode. This is definitely a to be continued post.

 

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Those of us who have been using Vista pretty much since the start already knew this, but there has been so much bad publicity around it that it’s hard to separate myth from reality anymore. Well, Microsoft recently decided to try a little experiment to see if Vista haters and skeptics really, truly didn’t like Vista, or if they were just being dragged along by the anti-Vista bandwagon. (Thanks in great part to Apple’s brilliantly executed Mac vs. PC ad campaign.)

The experiment was simple: Invite a group of Vista skeptics to test drive a new OS code-named “mojave,” without telling them that mojave was actually… you guessed it: Vista.

As it turns out, over 90% of the testers (who thought Vista sucked before coming in for their mojave sneak peek) LOVED Mojave. You can check out their reactions when they are told that Mojave was in fact Vista.

Wow! Vista actually rocks! Who knew.  ;D

The blind test is nothing new in marketing circles, but what sets this apart from the old Coke vs. Pepsi blind test ad campaigns is that the question here isn’t one of preference. Coke isn’t better than Pepsi, and Pepsi isn’t better than Coke. People prefer one over the other because of their taste buds, mostly. As powerful an ad campaign as it may be, you might as well have folks do blind tests comparing Methodist and Presbyterian doctrine. Which do you LIKE better? Which do you PREFER? The “Mojave” experiment doesn’t address preference or taste: It addresses perception vs. reality. Vista had (and to some extent still has) a pretty poor image in the marketplace because very few . This is in part due to a) driver incompatibility issues early on in the OS’ release, b) the fact that many “legacy” PCs aren’t powerful enough to run the OS, and c) a very aggressive campaign to discredit microsoft by its longtime rival Apple.

Fact: The driver compatibility issue is pretty-much ancient history.

Fact: Computers are pretty cheap these days, so while some businesses may not want to allocate the funds to upgrade their hardware or consider virtualizing their PCs, consumers should be able to upgrade their laptops and home PCs to a Vista system without too much trouble.

Fact: The Mac vs. PC campaign may have been fresh and cool and based in truth a year ago, but it has now slipped into the realm of disinformation. In addition, many of the so-called “crapware” that bogs down new computers has nothing to do with Microsoft or Vista. (If your new Vista PC is loaded with stuff you don’t want, the system builder installed it on your machine, not Microsoft.) Sony recently released a crapware-free PC that actually allows users to enjoy a pure vista experience right out of the box, and it pretty much rocks.

Anyhoo. The Mojave experiment is clever, honest, simple and effective. It is what it is: A series of videos showing real people being blown away with how great Vista actually is, after having so brainwashed by 21 months of negative messaging.

Kudos to Microsoft for having taken this approach to bringing the reality of Vista forward with people like you and me rather than an expensive round of corporate messaging. Very clever. You can check it out for yourself here. Hat tip to Steve Clayton for the link. Other articles on the subject at Microsoft Sherpa here, here and here.

have a great Tuesday, everyone. ;)

 

Transparency: I manage US Microsoft distribution for SYNNEX, a global distributor of IT and Business processes. Though the job doesn’t skew my opinion of Vista one bit, it’s worth mentioning.

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Watching it burn

Some of us who have managed projects know a little bit about budgets. Simply put, a budget is a bucket of money set up to pay for all of the line items in a project – or a series of projects.

Typically, the budget is set based on little things like what the client (internal or external) is looking to accomplish, what the client is able to spend, and ROI: (Return On Investment) Do the project’s benefits outweigh its cost, etc.

If you’re thinking “wow, that sounds like it takes a lot of planning and strategery,” you’re right. It does. The one thing you want to ensure as a project manager is that the goals, tactics and budget are aligned before a project starts: If the project is going to cost more than the budget allows, something is going to have to be cut from the project. Simple, basic stuff. If you don’t do this, you might run out of money before the project ends, which isn’t good. Your options then are a) ask the client for more money, b) close the project before having delivered it 100%, or c) eat the added cost. None of these options are good.

It’s with this simple methodology that I look at our federal budget deficit. Is it more complex than a marketing campaign? Of course it is. Infinitely so. But the principle is the same: Figure out how much funding you need to operate your series of projects (social security, national defense, infrastructure, research, wars, etc.), make the necessary adjustments, and go forward with what you can afford.

… Except… that isn’t how everyone understands the fundamentals of running a business/country. The latest Budget Deficit figures look pretty impressive. From CNN.com:

The White House on Monday predicted a record deficit of $490 billion for the 2009 budget year, a senior government official told CNN.

The deficit would amount to roughly 3.5 percent of the nation’s $14 trillion economy.

The official pointed to a faltering economy and the bipartisan $170 billion stimulus package that passed earlier this year for the record deficit.

The fiscal year begins October 1, 2008.

The federal deficit is the difference between what the government spends and what it takes in from taxes and other revenue sources. The government must borrow money to make up the difference.

President Bush inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion when he took office in 2001 but has since posted a budget deficit every year.

Wow.

Maybe I am reading this wrong, but if the FY’09 $490 BILLION deficit is indeed for the 2009 budget year, we’re talking about overspending $1,342,465,700 per day for 365 days in a row.

Wait… Let me get this straight. The US government is overspending (all up) at a rate of 1.3 BILLION dollars per day?

Tell me I’m not understanding this correctly. Please. Someone tell that figure needs to somehow be stretched out over the last 8 years or something… Pretty please? Tell me there is no way that the United States of America’s operating budget is so poorly managed that it bleeding $1.3B per day. Tell me I am wrong about this.  Tell me there is a plan to fix this. One that doesn’t involve a) just printing more money, or b) borrowing from foreign banks.

Maybe this kind of topic changes the conversation when it comes to what types of questions really need to be on people’s minds (and lips) when political candidates (from Presidential elections down to your municipal seats) run for office. Maybe the conversation should shift from soft broad-sweeping opinions about religion and security to cold hard facts and specific plans to fix what is broken. And by the way, this isn’t an indictment of either political party. Republicans and democrats together need to fix this – which is to say this isn’t just about this candidate or that one, but about us, American taxpayers and voters, who perhaps should refocus our attention when it comes to our definition of political leadership, and what our silver-haired years will be like, and the future our children will inherit.

Maybe there’s a branding lesson in there somewhere, both for world powers and the political candidates who aspire to help run them.

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Twitter’s growing pains.

I don’t want to jump on the “twitter keeps crashing” bandwaggon. It’s already pretty full. But man, it’s hard not to.

I just need to remind myself that twitter is free, so I probably need to check my expectations at the door and cut the twitter team some slack. Whatever they’re doing to the code or the servers or whatever, I’m sure it’ll be for the best in the end.  Growing pains are just part of the process. We’ve just become so used to things always working pretty well that as soon as something doesn’t, we scream foul. Maybe we just need to chill a little bit, and let nature take its course with twitter. I’ve tried the Plurk thing. Reluctantly. And yeah, I have a plurk account now… but I never use it. I prefer Twitter. Looks like we all do. There must be a reason.

I guess it’s a testament to how important twitter has become to some of us that when it does crash or get hickups, we all get pretty upset about it. It would be like our cell phones or email not working consistently… or our cable TV… or the subway or bus system deciding that on some mornings, people are just going to have to find another way to get to work. None of those things would be good. Except unlike all of the above examples, twitter is 100% free, so… I guess I shouldn’t complain too much, if at all.

Twitter IT guys, please try to fix your problems soon so we all find better things to complain about than “twitter is down again.” More importantly, the sooner you get your problems fixed, the sooner we can get back to our microblogging conversations.

I think it’s time for my Friday morning venti latte now.

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1. Bad Customer Service

As a follow-up to my US air travel rants of yore, this piece by Joseph Jaffe (also a follow-up to his own rants on the same subject – his being specific to Delta Airlines):

A bunch of my colleagues experienced the delta skelter.

About 10% of the Microsoft people travelling from Atlanta to Brussels on july 21st couldn’t find their luggage in Brussels. Some of the luggage are still missing today. Among the retrieved ones, the suitcases of my lovely colleagues Valérie and Virginie… in  very bad shape (see picture). Valérie called Delta today to discuss a compensation but they asked her to call again within a week.  They obviously don’t have the time to handle her complain.

Bad goes around.

Wow. Check out the picture of the bag here. Imagine if you took your car into a mechanic’s shop for service, it came back with a huge dent in the hood and grease stains all over the seats, and the customer service manager told you “uh, yeah, sorry ’bout that… Why don’t you come back later this week when I have time to talk to you.”

Imagine any company outside of the airline industry doing this. “Sorry about your suits sir, the dry-cleaning machine must have malfunctioned. Come back later this week and we’ll see what we can do for you.” I don’t think so.

2. Bait & Switch Tactics

Seth Godin also focuses on the airline industry today with this:

I feel badly for the airline industry. They are caught in a never-ending price war due to online websites and their own commodification. Pick the cheapest flight to get from here to there…

The natural short-term solution is bait and switch. Advertise the lowest price you can imagine and then require add on fees so you can actually make a profit.

Air Canada, which my readers generally concur is the single worst major airline in North America, has a fascinating policy. No oversized duffel bags, regardless of weight, unless they contain hockey gear. No shin guards, you pay $80 a bag.

Of course, you can have whatever rules you want, even if they’re only designed to help defensemen. The problems with bait and switch are:

1. You have to be very careful to apply them equally, because people hate being treated worse than everyone else.

2. You have to be prepared for anger, resentment and brand disintegration.

 See what his answer to pain vs. pleasure is for companies like Air Canada here. (Hint: Disney has a pretty good system in place.)

3. Community Managers

Chris Brogan has a great piece on the essential skills of a community manager, which ties in nicely with the Tribalization of Business post from Monday. Some of these skills include being experienced communicators, being ambassadors and advocates all in one, being bodyguards and protectors, etc. Great post, but the real gold here is found within the comments. Here are two of my favorite:

“The great community manager is able to match the importance of the bottom line with the requirement of providing customers with a feeling of being #1. He or she is an advocate for the customer while being able to discern what is realistic ahead of time.” – Sol Young

“Not a skill, but an essential for a good community manager is to be empowered by their organization. They need to have very public, spontaneous conversations; sometimes shiny happy ones, sometimes trickier ones. Not an easy string for many companies to cut, but the only way for real conversation and communities to evolve.” – Pamela O’Hara

Join the conversation here.

Chris Abraham follows suit with this post about the importance of Community Leaders:

I woke up to an amazing article written by Jonathan Trenn, The fallacy of community, and I responded in a comment to a pretty passionate article and a passionate comment string, and here’s what I wrote — and I have expanded the argument below, so it is an expansion:

Gosh, I don’t know what to say here… there are so many different types of communities, many of which can surely be manufactured. What every successful community requires is community leadership. Community leadership can be organic and emergent or they can be hired in the form of online community managers or facilitators. A strong leadership — people who have skin in the game — is more important than a good web application; also, these community leaders are often the main draw to the community and can be the difference between keeping or losing your members when a competitor comes to town.

Read the full article here. It’s good. (Why the focus on communities all of a sudden? Whatever the reason, I like that it is on so many people’s minds.)

4. Starbucks, design, and the future

John Moore gives a sneak peek at the design of future of Starbucks stores. (kind of cool, but will it work?)

5. The writing on the wall finally gets the attention of Ford execs.

CNN reports that Ford Motor Co., faced with its largest quarterly loss ever, is finally planning to “shift product line, bringing European-made vehicles to North America.” Duh.

The company said it will make big changes to the vehicles it sells domestically – bringing six small cars made in Europe to the North American market.

Ford said that three large truck and sport utility vehicle plants in Wayne, Mich., Louisville, Ky., and Cuautitlan, Mexico would be switched over for the manufacture of small cars. Re-tooling will begin in December, the company said.

In addition to converting the three plants in North America, Ford said it will ramp up production of small utility vehicles at its Kansas City, Mo., assembly plant, including the Ford Escape, Escape Hybrid, Mercury Mariner and Mariner Hybrid.

Check out Ford’s “new” Euro offerings here. Better late than never, I guess.

6. Back to work already!

Okay, lunch break over. I have to get back to work now. Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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