Saturday, December 30, 2006

How will things change when women run our institutions?

Want to predict the future? Look at the demographics. And they say that in the future we'll have many, many more women leaders than we do now: women are 57% of college students, USA Today reported in 2005. They're the majority of medical school students and 45% of law school students, too. So, the days of "old white men" running the place are numbered.

Which has caused me to wonder how that may change our lives. Today's New York Times has a small glimpse ("Madam Speaker, After Her First Year of Firsts.") Christine C. Quinn is one year into her term as the first woman Speaker of the New York City Council, an unruly body of fifty-one representatives which has typically been a vocal adversary of the mayor. Here are some notable quotes from the article:

“She has injected more democracy, with a little ‘d,’ into the Council,” said James S. Oddo, the Republican minority leader, who has known Ms. Quinn since they worked for different council members in the early 1990s. “Every single council member has a say in the budget. Every single council member has the ability to fight for their constituents....”
She first indicated her willingness to work with the mayor three weeks into her term, after he called for restrictions on lobbyists in his annual address to the City Council. Instead of rejecting the idea, since it opened the Council’s inner workings to public scrutiny, she embraced it....

In April, she sought to end the bazaar-like process by which members lobbied the speaker for projects to be included in the city’s operating budget. She required that members limit themselves to four written requests that had the support of nine colleagues from three boroughs....
Then she charmed, cajoled and fought the mayor into considering her call for an end to the so-called budget dance....

“I find that if we disagree, she’s very, very clear,” said Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn councilman. “I don’t walk out of the room thinking she said yes but she means no....”
It's dangerous to generalize from one person's experience to an entire gender, but if more women in power means more collaboration, more effective negotiation between opposing parties and more disciplined political processes, then I'm for it.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

What I'm reading now...

I saw this book at Barnes & Noble last week while buying a Christmas present. (Orange cover, memorable title in a huge typeface--great marketing.) I was skeptical--most business books, especially ones that seem this sales-y, turn out to be poorly-written rehashes of business cliches or outdated ideas.

Not this one.

It's well-written, and the subject is very important to any executive or entrepreneur: how to discover, nurture and build relationships. What Keith Ferrazzi reveals is that with good and deep relationships one can make and close great deals. And without them, it's tough sledding indeed. (Usefully, he also tells you how not to be a "networking jerk"--a mercenary who collects business cards like big game trophies, not caring a whit about the people who carry the cards.)

The style is that of a how-to book, but with lots of concrete examples, using real names. I could have done without the "Connectors' Hall-of-Fame Profiles," where legendary networkers such as Vernon Jordan and Bill Clinton are discussed--it almost seemed as if that was a suggestion from the publisher rather than an organic component of the book. But that's a small complaint.

You also get a good sense of the author, and he's very likable. You realize quickly why he has so many useful and valuable relationships.

So pick up this book. It might help you create some new and valuable relationships.

And there's a related blog.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fortune 500 Corporate Blog Review: EDS (#108) part 2

This review is for the Fortune 500 Corporate Blog project. As I mentioned in the earlier EDS blog post, I worked for Electronic Data Systems (NYSE: EDS), in its Telecommunications Strategic Business Unit, between 1992 and 1997.

This is the second EDS corporate blog I've reviewed. (Here's the other.)

Name: "The Goal: Customer Service In The IT Industry."

History: regular posts since June 2006.

Frequency of posts: Not a lot. Two-three per month, decreasing from a high of seven in June, and none since November 7. See, here's what happens with blogs with infrequent posts. It generates questions, such as: has Kim Stevenson, the only poster, gotten very busy? Has she left the company? Or lost interest in the blog? The lack of new content on the blog is important to EDS, because their blogs are a reflection of the company, its people and its insight. The last thing EDS (which has upwards of 100,000 employees) wants to convey is: we have nothing to say.

Nature of posts: Customer service in the IT industry. It's a great topic; not covered much elsewhere, and very nicely done. The posts have a definite point of view, are well-constructed, and reflect the voice of a single author. [But please give us more of them!]

Design/functionality: Like The Next Big Thing, text, text and more text. It uses the same template, with EDS website tabs and links. No references to external blogs or resources (other than in the posts), which is sending another message--EDS is not curious about the outside world, and has all the insight they need inside the company. (I hope I'm wrong.)

Kim Stevenson, EDS' Vice President of Infrastructure Service Delivery, writes all the posts. I like the integrity and consistency that results from a single author, but I don't like the scanty posts (have I said that twice already?).

Links etc.: The blog is unclaimed in Technorati and is ranked #1,563,799, but #25,018 on Alexa. With more posts and some time, it would certainly get a lot more links.

So, EDS... let's get Kim some help in her department so she has more time to make "The Goal" everything it can be!

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Goodbye to another innovator

I learned in this New York Times article that Peter McColough, a longtime CEO and chairman of Xerox, died last week. (UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has a bittersweet remembrance in their December 23 issue.)

He oversaw Xerox during the late '60's and throughout the '70's, when it emmerged as one of the most successful companies in the world via its creation and popularization of xerography--i.e., the copying machine.

But perhaps his most enduring legacy is his creation of the Palo Alto Research Center in 1970. PARC was responsible for bringing into use some useful tools that you are using RIGHT NOW--the mouse, Ethernet and the graphical user interface. (For a taste of what PARC is thinking about now, click here.)

That Xerox never profited much from these innovations should not diminish PARC's importance, nor Mr. McColough's legacy.

(picture: Ethernet cable by Hilary via stock.xchng)

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top 10 best articles of the year

Wrapping up the year with a final best-of list. These were the best, most inspirational, funniest or otherwise most interesting things I read this year in magazines, newspapers or scholarly journals. (Upon reflection, there isn't a funny one in the bunch. Better luck next year!)

Sadly, most of these articles cost $$ or require a paid subscription. They're worth a few dollars, though, if you haven't read them. Enjoy!

10. "Primer on 'Open Innovation,'" Michael Docherty, PDMA Visions, April.

9. "Asking, 'What Would Ann Do?'" Amy Merrick, Wall Street Journal, September 15.

8. "Strategies To Fight Low-Cost Rivals," Nirmalya Kumar, Harvard Business Review, December.

7. "Innovating Through Design," Roberto Verganti, Harvard Business Review, December.

6. "Maybe We Should Leave That Up To The Computer," Douglas Heingartner, New York Times, 18 July.

5. "Internet Encyclopaedias Go Head To Head," Jim Giles, Nature, 15 December 2005.

4. "I'm OK, You're Biased," Dan Gilbert, New York Times, April 16.

3. "Out To Maximize Social Gains, Not Profit," Vikas Bajaj, New York Times, 8 December.

2. "Innovation: The Classic Traps," Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business Review, November.

1. "The Perfect Payday," Charles Forelle and James Bandler, Wall Street Journal, 18 March. Remember options backdating? This is what started it all.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Top 10 (actually 11) Shop Talk Posts for 2006

Continuing our look back at 2006 with the best posts (though who am I to judge?) from Shop Talk this year. Feel free to agree, disagree, shoot these down, or call them all unworthy of a best-of list. Cheers.

11. "Passion beats resources every time," November 28.

10. "Successful innovation takes PIEER," August 15.

9. "Vince the fashion label: lessons in building a brand," September 14; and its related post, "Vince sells out," September 28.

8. "If you want to innovate, get some rest," October 4.

7. "Make some mistakes and profit from it," June 21.

6. "Ending the war between sales and marketing," July 6.

5. "A bit of foolishness," October 10.

4. "What in hell is the fuzzy front end?" July 25.

3. "Storytelling in business--and I don't mean fudging the numbers," November 30, and "More storytelling--this time listening," December 5.

2. "Kanter's Innovation Pyramid," November 8.

And the winner, who will be represent the blog at public functions, charity events and local TV appearances for the next twelve months (in case of illness or injury, the runner-up will assume the role of blog representative):

1. "Building business alliances: lessons from 'Miami Vice,'" August 1.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Top 10 favorite posts of the year

'Tis the season for Top 10 lists. I'm working on three--in addition to this one, a list of the newspaper/magazine/journal articles that most influenced me this year and the posts of the year from this blog. So stay tuned. And if you like this list, spread the love--do your own top 10 list!

10. "Why are referrals the BEST KIND of sales lead?" Landing The Deal. Poster: Dan Tudor.

9. "Designing for experience: webinar," PDMA Blog. Poster: Montie Roland.

8. "Advice for a freshman," Blogspotting. Poster: Stephen Baker.

7. "I agree with Tom. And yet...," The Impact of IT on Businesses and their Leaders. Poster: Andrew McAfee.

6. "Why economists like immigration," Greg Mankiw's Blog. Poster: Greg Mankiw.

5. "10 Awesome Places To Get Free Images For Your Blog," BusinessBlogWire. Poster: Easton Ellsworth. (Where do you think I got the picture at the top of this post?)

4. "The Open Space Fishbowl - A new way to an energised conversation," Anecdote. Poster: Andrew Rixon.

3. "Add a 2x12 to your foundation," Duct Tape Marketing. Poster: John Jansch.

2. "Iqbal Quadir on TEDTalks: the difference one cell phone can make to a village...," TEDBlog. Poster: June Cohen. (Honorable mention: "Malcolm Gladwell on TEDTalks." Honorable honorable mention: "Happiness Expert Dan Gilbert on TEDTalks."

Drum roll, please... bhrrrrrrrrrr...

1. "Gary Hamel: the importance of continuous management innovation," The Business Innovation Insider. Poster: Dominic Basulto. (Honorable mention: "The difference between design and craft" from the same blog.)

(Picture from abimages via stock.xchng.)

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Monday, December 18, 2006

A product leaps from the virtual world to the real

Surprise! This is not a post about Second Life.

Rather, according to this New York Times article, a plot element of the cable TV show "The L Word," about the lives and interactions of a group of women, will be evolved into a full-fledged social network for lesbians.

Says the Times:

From the first season of Showtime’s “The L Word,” a chart mapping the relationships of the character Alice has been a central motif, growing to take over an entire wall.

And now it's grown into cyberspace as well, ready for new-subscriber signup as of January 7. Some of the key actors in the show are partners in the site, called, as is Showtime. (Here's a map of the chart that will serve as the site's logo.)

You could call it product out-placement.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday comix - FAO Schwartz's revival

"Recently, Mr. Schmults has placed a big emphasis on the FAO Schwarz-created toys -- commissioned and branded by the company. Meticulous by nature, Mr. Schmults is determined to make sure they are durable and desirable -- and not sold anywhere else." - The Wall Street Journal, "Reviving FAO Schwartz"

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Fortune 500 Corporate Blog Review: EDS (#108)

First, full disclosure: I worked for Electronic Data Systems (NYSE: EDS), in its Telecommunications Strategic Business Unit, between 1992 and 1997.

On to the review. I'd like to compliment EDS, first of all, on making its corporate blogs easy to find. You can reach this summary link right from the home page. Excellent!

There are two blogs. The first contains insights and opinions from EDS fellows (its best and brightest technical minds) on the future of technology. We'll discuss that one here. A future post will discuss the other (quite different) blog, "The Goal: Customer Service In The IT Industry."

Name: "The Next Big Thing"

History: regular posts since June 2005.

Frequency of posts: Fifteen to twenty per month.

Nature of posts: Opinions regarding current technology trends and news. There was no mention in any of the posts that I read (a dozen or so) of EDS' business at all. The "sales pitch" quotient was therefore a big zero--good. If it doesn't quite live up to its advertisement as "an unfiltered vehicle for some of our leading technology experts to candidly discuss trends, attitudes and the impact of technology on our lives," there are at least firm points of view (see this post on the Zune MP3 player). They're not afraid to go far afield of their domain expertise, making for a nicely eclectic blog--if you'd like to read some thoughts inspired by moon colonization, click here.

Design/functionality: Easy to read, which is good because it's all text--no graphics at all. It's subtly integrated with the EDS website (a smart touch), with tabs and links to key items on that website. While there are lots of external links within the posts, the blog layout itself is highly internal--there is no blogroll, reading list or any acknowledgement of relevant outside thought. That's telling, I think.

Offers RSS and atom feeds. They allow comments (moderated) but no trackbacks. The administrator is not identified. There are several different posters.

I liked that they published their blogging guidelines.

Links etc.: The blog is unclaimed in Technorati and is ranked #119,158. Technorati's information is a couple of weeks out of date.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Worst practices in customer service #2

The final step in completing our house renovation project is installing new smoke detectors, motion sensors and door & window sensors to the new parts of the house. For this part of the job, we called our local alarm company, where we've been a customer for five years, having paid them over $2000 during this time for their installation and monitoring services.

Fast-forward two months. They've blown off four (4) appointments. Numerous calls to customer service have done nothing. So my wife calls the owner of the company. Surely he will resolve the situation quickly--after all, it's his name on the door.

But he doesn't want to hear our complaints. Instead, he takes up time on the call letting us know about the emergency call they had at the health center last night, and the customer who was raped.

Important issues, no doubt, but not relevant to our situation. Why did they miss the appointments? Why didn't they call to let us know? Don't they value us as customers? He doesn't want to review what has happened--he just wants to "move forward."

By the end of the call, he is practically begging us to take our deposit back and go to another supplier.

Hello ADT!

(Pass along the worst practices you've seen--help make this a continuing feature!)

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Business first" at a trade show: a cautionary tale

More than ten years ago, we were preparing for our largest trade show of the year. Our sales & marketing team had been absorbing solution-selling lessons all year, and we were determined to quickly weed out poor leads, only respond to RFP's where we had the inside track, and, certainly, not waste time with unqualified prospects at this trade show.

So we came up with a slogan: "Business First." Our booth was to be a showcase of our product and solution prowess, and only interested prospects, and decisionmakers at that, would be allowed past our gauntlet of booth staffers. No tire-kickers, no freebie-searchers. Certainly no competitors.

We got to the show terribly excited, and eager to lock down a set of leads that would ensure our sales success for the rest of the year. We set up the large booth and the demo systems, hung our posters, wore our business suits--not polo shirts and khakis. We looked great.

And no one came. Our booth featured a group of uncomfortable people milling around, wearing suits, saying nothing. Even the few prospects we managed to draw in were spooked by how quiet and downbeat it was. As I walked the floor, several people asked me if we were exhibiting at the show.

We never did that again.

The lessons we took away: always make the booth fun; have something to give away; encourage people (even non-prospects) to visit and spend time; and don't take it too seriously.

There are lots of how-to tipsheets on the internet about trade shows--this one was the best of the ones I surveyed.

(picture: my favorite booth giveaway ever--a CD/DVD opening tool)

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Monday, December 11, 2006

An alternate approach to product innovation: the Lombardy design cluster

Tired of reading about open innovation? According to Professor Roberto Verganti in this month's Harvard Business Review (link to article), the Lombardy design cluster--a closely-linked group of furniture, lighting, and kitchen products companies in northern Italy--uses a different method to create their innovative products: what he calls "innovation through design."

Dr. Verganti is a favorite of this blog (here's a prior post), and I really like that he mines the industries of his native Italy for lessons that can apply world-wide.

In this case, he studies radically fashion-forward companies such as Alessi, the home furnishings maker famous for the Michael Graves teakettle pictured above. Alessi and its Lombardy cohorts don't try to poll users to see what they need, nor do they rely on new technology to push their products forward. Instead, they ask designers, frequently architects, to come together in intense dialogue to create products that are leaps ahead of today's products.

The designs in some ways appear to be dreams of the future--creating products so new and fresh that they can remain fashionable for a generation or more (that teakettle design is more than twenty years old). See the Kartell Bookworm moldable bookshelf for another example. Products created this way, by this group, aren't only interesting. They're also profitable. According to Dr. Verganti, furniture companies in this cluster outgrew the average European Union furniture maker by nearly a factor of seven.

Here are other companies in the Lombardy cluster as cited by Dr. Verganti:

(Picture: the iconic 9093 teakettle from Alessi)

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Another inspiring thought from Dr. Yunus

Mr. Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is interviewed in today's New York Times.

I was struck in particular by how he answered a question about the increasing number of college-educated Bangladeshis, in part created by Grameen Bank scholarship programs. How do you deal with the situation, he is asked, where there may be more college graduates than jobs available to employ them?

My response [to students who worry about this question] is: “...Yes, I understand your position, but I have a different view. As Grameen Bank children, you should have your...own pledge about your life. And the pledge you make, you repeat every morning: I shall never ask for a job from anybody. I will create jobs.”

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Friday, December 08, 2006

What is the cost of our inability to be present in the moment?

Any parent will tell you that kids are the first to notice things, and, according to today's Wall Street Journal, the same is true with the downside of our multitasking world--specifically, how the always-available email tool of choice, the Blackberry, continually distracts us from the here and now.

I think Blackberry addiction (the article outlines some warning signs and also offers tools to treat the addiction) is a bad thing, period. And I say that as someone who has had a Blackberry for several years and who has fallen victim to this syndrome more than once.

The benefits of the Blackberry are legion. But its convenience comes at a price. When you're checking your email, or responding to an email, or thinking about checking an email, you're working. And when you're working, you're not eating dinner with the family, or playing with your kids. And there's a cost to this--not only a personal cost. At work, email-itis can make your meetings less effective, your managing less effective, your team less effective.

There's a balance to be struck, and we need to work on it. I need to work on it.

Gotta run. An email just came in.

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Friday comix - the Happiness Home (tm)

Some key features:

  • Large parlor and kitchen, for entertaining friends*
  • Celebration center to keep trophies, photos and keepsakes to "cherish the moment a little longer"*
  • Home office to cut out that nasty commute*
  • And, to make things simple, this floor plan comes in one configuration only--no stressing over choices!*
* key elements of a happy life as described in this Wall Street Journal article.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fortune 500 Corporate Blog Review: Interpublic Group (#348)

Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG) is the third-largest advertising/marketing holding company in the world. So they know something about blogs. The closest thing to a "corporate" blog they have is from their Emerging Media Lab, so that's what we'll talk about.

Name: "The Future of Media"

History: regular posts since June 2006.

Frequency of posts: About eight per month.

Nature of posts: Unsurprisingly, the blog deals with the future of media. Post subjects include Second Life, mobile advertising, video games, etc.. They present good analyses of fake user-created content here and here. As befits a research lab, there's no overt selling in the blog. Just talking about what's happening in new media, and why.

Design/functionality: A nice, clean design, with good use of graphics (as one would expect). The text is well organized and formatted. The left column includes categories, recent comments, frequently used tags, a blogroll and a reading list. In short, a very professional-looking blog. Offers an RSS feed. They allow comments (unmoderated, but requiring email verification) and trackbacks. The administrator is not identified. There are a handful of different posters, but Jeff Berg is responsible for more than half the posts.

Links etc.: The blog is unclaimed in Technorati and is ranked #223,757. Technorati's information is more than six weeks out of date. There are a few links from other blogs, mostly small ones.

A good blog on a timely topic. I will add "The Future of Media" to my reading list. Thanks, guys.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Low-price companies change consumer behavior permanently

There's a very interesting article in this month's Harvard Business Review entitled "Strategies to Fight Low-Cost Rivals" by London Business School professor Nirmalya Kumar. It's got lots to say about how traditional companies can compete with low-price insurgents.

Within the article, however, are several passages that will send chills up the back of any marketer. Customers will pay more for more value, correct? Prof. Kumar says yes, to a point. But he also says this:

My research suggests that if a business gets a customer to buy its products or services on the basis of price, it will lose the customer only if a rival offers a lower price.

So once a customer defects to a low-price rival, she ain't coming back.

Well, how about the marketer's favorite tool, feature differentiation? That can help, can't it? Says Prof. Kumar:

Many companies find it tough to persuade consumers to pay for additional benefits. A small premium for greater services or benefits is a powerful defense, as Target and Walgreens have shown.

With the emphasis on small. The marketer's toolbag certainly has shrunk. Thanks Wal-Mart, Dell, Southwest, Huawei!

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More stories--this time, listening

After my post last week about storytelling in business, I received a nice comment from Shawn Callahan of the Anecdote blog about using stories in business another way--about collecting and making sense of stories to understand deeply what's happening in a company. Shawn's ideas are summarized here.

Imagine that your company has recently reorganized. Deep in the organization many disruptions ensue. But what exactly is happening, and how do people really feel about it? Without this basic information it's impossible to assess the impact of the change, and how to mitigate the negative effects of the change.

Stories can help. Getting employees to describe in detail what is happening to them, without imposing limitations such as predetermined hypotheses, closed-ended questions, numerical ratings, etc.--yields much deeper insights (here's a neat white paper from Anecdote describing how this works). And from those insights, a company can design effective responses to improve the work environment and help an important change take root.

Thanks, Shawn, for pointing this out.

(Picture: the listening ear from

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Monday, December 04, 2006

A very brief history of wheeled luggage

At the session on Sustainable Innovation at last week's Fortune Innovation Forum, William McDonough, the green architect and designer, said the following:

"Mankind isn't so smart. It took us 5,000 years to put wheels on luggage."

Which got me to thinking about the history of wheeled luggage, so here is the best history you can get on the subject based on a brief survey of the (internet-hosted) literature:

circa 1851: In "Moby-Dick," Queequeg talls the story of strapping his seachest to a wheelbarrow but then, not knowing how to maneuver the barrow, gathers the whole assembly and carries it.

very early 1900's: steamer trunks with two wheels are advertised.

1970's: wheels appear on traditional suitcases; travelers pulling them by leashes and poorly balanced suitcases toppling over ensue.

1989: Northwest Airlines pilot Bob Plath develops the roll-aboard suitcase for flight crews.

Today: wheels on everything. Soon we will be porting luggage at our front, back and sides, cocooned in storage, like Manhattanites walking their dogs.

(Picture: the TravelPro Crew5 series, via London Luggage)

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Is Microsoft innovative?

In case you missed it, there's a nice article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal featuring a dialogue between Robert Scoble and Dave Winer over whether Microsoft is an innovative company. Given the many shots leveled at Microsoft at the Fortune Innovation Forum this week, it's a timely read.

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