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Archive for October, 2006


I was watching a TV show on SEAL/BUDS training this weekend, and caught a fantastic little lesson in management and leadership from one of the demolition instructors who berrated his students when their ordinance detonated several minutes ahead of schedule.

What the trainees did wrong was simple: They didn’t do what they were asked to do, which was to run a test fuse, just to make absolutely sure the delay would be adequate. They tried to save time, and assumed their calculations were right. They were wrong.

The instructor sent them to “camp stupid,”which basically meant they would be spending a week’s worth of very cold nights sleeping on the beach. Not a big deal, but the point was well made.

What he explained to them was what struck me. He said:

“This is how we create micromanagers. By doing stuff like this. How are you going to get officers to trust you to do your jobs on your own if you can’t even follow simple instructions? If there’s something I hate, it’s micromanagers, but this is how we create them.”

I had never heard it put that way, but it made perfect sense.

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I found this brown paper bag of marketing genius in my mailbox’s bulk/junk bin today (yes, sometimes, I like to read spam just for kicks,) and thought I should share it with you.

Before I introduce you to it, I am going to go out on a limb here… and say that this may very well be the most compelling promotional sales piece ever written. It projects the company’s professional image with so much gusto that upon reading the first few lines, I was instantly compelled to invest large sums of cash into its stock.

FYI: I changed the company’s symbol to ABCD to protect their integrity, but everything else is cut-and-pasted in all of its glory.

Read that message attentively. Here you will find the internal news about ABCD. Please check this news. This information will be published on October 16. It is your chance to buy ABCD for the well price. ABCD going to rock the market and break it. GO ABCD NOW!!!

Recomendation: Read to the end and think after.

(The actual press release went here.)

P.S We will promote that st0ck till the end of the year and the price probability go up. People will buy it and they will earn big cash. Don’t miss that and buy it now cause the price is low. After the 16 October the price will grow up to 1000%. Take it now!

Brilliant.

It doesn’t matter how great your company is, or how cool its products and services are: If you hand over the Marketing keys to hacks or fall asleep at the wheel… whatever you have to offer will all be for nothing.

Attention to detail is exactly that. A company that doesn’t pay attention to something as important as the way it presents itself or communicates with its customers is not worthy of anyone’s business. Period.

I know that spam is spam… but even spam should have some sort of minimum standards for… I don’t know… grammar. Content. Something. The most obvious question is: Couldn’t this company have spent a couple of bucks on an english-speaking copywriter? Didn’t they think it might be just a tad-bit important? There are thousands of American college students out there who would gladly write this kind of copy with relatively good grammar for little more than a good recommendation.

Wow.

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Away from my desk…


Sorry if the posting has been light these past few days. I’ve been crazy-busy with a few projects and shooting outstanding photos of the Greenville Cycling Classic races this weekend. Postings should resume in a day or two.

Thanks for your patience. 😉

photo copyright 2006 olivier blanchard/f360 photo+design

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“One thing I’d like to make clear is that I’m not anti-MBA. Far from it. I value my management education a great deal, and believe that an MBA provides individuals with very useful set of analytical tools, as well as the ability to thin-slice most business situations. However, I do think that the typical MBA program is mostly focused on becoming a master of business-as-usual, which is a critical body of knowledge when it comes to running a profitable organization. One way (and the best way, I believe) to learn how to engage in innovative behavior is to become a master of business-by-design, and that’s what we’re doing in our Business + Design classes at the Stanford d.school. Organizations need to know how to do both. And those organizations need doers and innovators who can bridge the worlds of business-as-usual and business-by-design.”

Diego Rodriguez (Metacool)

Read the entire piece here. Great stuff on the difference between “business thinking” and “design thinking.”

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Okay, here’s your mission for today:

1) Go here. No wait!!! Not yet. Hold on.

2) When you get there, read all of the posts that are up for the “Post of the month” award.

3) Vote for your favorite. (Just make sure it’s “Playing It Safe – Part 2.”)

Okay, now go here and exercise your right to have your opinion be heard.

Free cookies to everyone who votes for my post. (You’ll have to come to Greenville to pick them up though.)

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Kathy Sierra strikes (and scores) again with this post on many companies’ dysfunctional hiring and employee management habits. The above illustration (ripped from her post) pretty much say it all, but here’s more:

In an earlier post I said, “If you asked the head of a company which employee they’d prefer: the perfect team player who doesn’t rock the boat or the one who is brave enough to stand up and fight for something rather than accept the watered-down group think that maintains the status quo (or makes things worse), who would they SAY they’d choose? Who would they REALLY choose?

In his book Re-imagine”, Tom Peters says, “We will win this battle… and the larger war… only when our talent pool is both deep and broad. Only when our organizations are chock-a-block with obstreperous people who are determined to bend the rules at every turn…”

So yes, I’m thinking Mr. CEO of Very Large Company would say that their company should take the upstart whatever-it-takes person over the ever-compromising team player. “If that person shakes us up, gets us to rethink, creates a little tension, well that’s a Good Thing”, the CEO says. riiiiiiiiiight. While I believe most CEOs do think this way, wow, that attitude reverses itself quite dramatically the futher you reach down the org chart. There’s a canyon-sized gap between what company heads say they want (brave, bold, innovative) and what their own middle management seems to prefer (yes-men, worker bees, team players). “

The clip and paste thing isn’t me being lazy. It’s just that Kathy obviously doesn’t really need to be paraphrased.

That being said, here’s more clicking and pasting:

I’m not done with my horse-training-as-universal-metaphor phase, so here’s another thing I learned from the Parelli Natural Horsemanship conference:

“Too many people fall into the my robot is better than your robot trap… and knock the exuberance out of their horse. What you’re left with is a well-trained robot, not a curious, playful, mentally and emotionally balanced living creature.”

“Hmmmm”, I thought, “that sounds an awful lot like some of the companies I’ve worked for.” Not that you’d ever in a million years get them to admit that. Possibly not even to themselves. But the proof is in their practices. Of course some argue that exuberance on the job is not necessarily a good thing. That too much passion leads to problems. I say BS on that one. Real passion means you love the profession, the craft, the domain you’re in. And that may or may not happen to coincide with a passion for your current employer. When some folks talk about too much passion for a job, they’re usually referring to something a little less healthy… the thing that lets your employer take advantage of you, having you work round the clock because of their bad scheduling, or because they refuse to say “no” to clients, or because you have a manager that wants to look good to his manager… and you’re the lucky one chosen to be the “hero.”

If you knock out exuberance, you knock out curiosity, and curiosity is the single most important attribute in a world that requires continuous learning and unlearning just to keep up. If we knock out their exuberance, we’ve also killed their desire to learn, grow, adapt, innovate, and care. So why do we do it?

Why Robots Are the Best Employees:

1) They don’t challenge the status quo

2) They don’t ask those uncomfortable questions

3) They’re 100% obedient

4) They don’t need “personal” days.

5)… because they don’t have a personal life

6) They never make the boss look bad (e.g. stupid, incompetent, clueless, etc.)

7) They dress and talk the way you want them to

8) They have no strongly-held opinions

9) They have no passion, so they have nothing to “fight” for

10) They are always willing to do whatever it takes (insane hours, etc.)

11) They are the ultimate team players

12) They don’t complain when you micromanage (tip: micromanaging is in fact one of the best ways to create a robot)

13) They don’t care what their workspace is like, and don’t complain if they don’t have the equipment they need

14) They’ll never threaten your job

15) They make perfect scapegoats

16) They get on well with zombies

Image shamelessly stolen from Kathy’s post.

What does any of this have to do with branding? Everything: At the core of every successful brand are people. Happy people create happy brands. Unhappy people create unhappy brands.
If you think that sounds ridiculous, think of it this way: What company do you think will fare better? Company A, where employees are engaged, empowered, passionate and inspired to do great work, interact with their customers and create a positive culture, or Company B, where employees are unfulfilled, afraid to speak up, stressed, scarcely rewarded and micromanaged?

Duh.

Happy employees create happy customers. Unhappy employees create unhappy customers. It’s just science. The question is, what kind of company are you managing?

And if your company is more like company B than company A, when did things go wrong? Why did things go wrong? What are you doing about it?

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Death By Innovation?

Informative little piece at Brand Central Station last week on innovation.

According to Mike Bawden (BCS), more than 80% of the companies surveyed by Brand Central Station said their businesses were more innovative than they were just one year ago.

I’ll just be lazy and pull a little cut & paste again:

“It’s the key to being competitive,” explained Denise Dorman of Write Brain Media in Chicago. Dorman works with a variety of clients located around the country, helping them to spot the innovative and creative, then bringing it to people’s attention.

Her statement was echoed by several others survey participants. “Change can bring success on many fronts,” wrote one manager from a national retail chain. “Merchants, marketing and our stores have the responsibility (for innovation).”

But businesses must be careful to avoid innovation without reason. Product innovation without suitable backing of customer insights can lead to some unpleasant consequences.

Consultant, author and speaker, Reva Nelson puts it this way:

“… what happens with innovation gone wrong, innovation for its own sake?

It forgets its roots, it moves too far away from the main trunk, it tries to disconnect and communication gets shot to hell. There are some consultants, managers and CEO’s who forget about connection and communication, and think innovation is an end to itself. It’s not. All innovation, like all change, must be well-communicated. It needs to take its time, and stay connected to the source.”

This is something I touched on recently on Corante, but far be it from me to try and plug that piece here. Ahem.

So… in I kind of agree with Reva on most points:

1. Innovation for its own sake usually ends up backfiring because it serves no real purpose. Innovation must serve a purpose. It has to fill a need.

2. Innovation is not an end to itself. As a matter of fact, innovation without purpose isn’t innovation. It’s tinkering. Years ago, when I started running competitively, I switched from Nike to Brooks shoes. Brooks makes great shoes, but I got tired of their innovation policy: As soon as I found a pair of shoes that worked for me, that model was obsoleted the following year and replaced by a different shoe. The result: I had to waste 2-3 months each year in a trial-and-error dance just to find another shoe model that worked for me. All I wanted was a shoe that I knew I could race in that wouldn’t contribute to overuse injuries. Brooks wasted my time by constantly changing their line for the sake of having something new to present each year. (They’ve gotten better about this since then… But I’ve switched to Mizuno and never looked back.)

3. Innovation must stay connected to its source. Though Innovation happens at the crossroads of industries and cultures and lifestyles and tends to come from the churning of completely different waters, there is a narrative to all great brands. A history. A sense of continuity, through the brand’s evolution. BMW, Michelin and Apple are perfect examples of companies that constantly ride the evolutionary wave of innovation without ever losing track of who they are. There is a common thread tying all of their products through the years. That’s what you’re after.

What I don’t completely agree with is that innovation must be “well communicated.”

Often, innovation doesn’t need to be communicated all that well. A tiny, almost unreadable fine print section on the back of the package is all you need. Why? Because most of your users don’t really care to get into the details. It’s already understood that a new product (which is usually the result of an upgrade) is going to be much better than previous incarnations. Think about the Playstation 3, for example. How many kids can really recite the specs or tell you precisely why it is better than the PS2? All they really care about is that it is the new version, that gameplay is going to be insanely better than it was on the PS2, and… oh wait, that’s it.

Details are nice, but unless you’re a tech geek (and I say this with complete respect for detail-oriented folks everywhere), you aren’t going to buy you next iPod, Cervelo P3C, iBook, Canon DSLR or Jaguar because their new and improved features were “well communicated”. You are going to buy them because something about their design speaks to you and your needs.

You are going to buy them because you like them.

Or because everyone who uses them can’t stop talking about how much they love them.

Or because the ad was cool, or the packaging was beautiful, or because the pricepoint inspired you to relieve your wallet of a few layers of wrinkled paper.

You could argue that in the best products, the innovation is “well communicated” through the product’s very design (and that is often the case)… but I don’t think that’s what Reva meant.

Innovation translated to marketable features is simply this:

– Bigger. Better. Faster. More fun. Sleeker. Sexier. Smaller. More customizable. More user-friendly. More affordable.

Everything else is just fine print.

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