Monday, March 31, 2008

A new mistake story video from The Mistake Bank

When I got overloaded at one job and was allowed to hire an assistant, I thought my troubles were over. But I had just pushed them onto my new hire, and they came back to me pretty soon.

Find more videos like this on The Mistake Bank

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Chef David Chang--in a weird way, a leadership role model

On vacation, you're supposed to catch up on your reading. But when you're chasing five- and seven-year-old boys around all day--beach, fishing, mini-golfing, etc.--till they finally crash at 9pm, you get even further behind. Which is why it took me this long to get around to reading the recent New Yorker profile on wacky restaurateur David Chang (sorry, only abstract available on line).

What interest could he be to Shop Talk readers? For one, the author Larissa
MacFarquhar cannily focuses on Chang's many eccentricities and (self-described) weaknesses. So much so that you wonder how he could manage to get out of bed in the morning, never mind start two (going on three) highly-successful New York restaurants.

Secondly, through his nearly nonstop chatter, Chang lets us in on his biggest secrets to success. Read this:

[Chang said,] In four years, we've gone from this small-ass Noodle Bar to this f-ing big restaurant, when the whole goal in the beginning was, let's serve better food than that place across the street. I know we've won awards, but it's not because we're doing something special--I believe it's really because we care more than the next guy.

And this:

[Chang said,] Recently, over at Ssam Bar, a sous-chef closed improperly, there were a lot of mistakes, and I was livid and I let this guy have it. About a week later, I found out that it wasn't him, he wasn't even at the restaurant that night. But what he said was, "I'm sorry, it will never happen again." And you know what? I felt like an asshole for yelling at him, but, more important, I felt like, Wow, this is what we want to build our company around: guys that have this level of integrity.... If we start being accountable not only for our own actions but for everyone else's actions, we're gonna do some awesome s--t.

And this:

Cory Lane began setting up for service: a cork at each place to rest chopsticks on, then a folded napkin, then a menu tucked inside the napkin, then a water glass. He measured to make sure that each napkin was exactly one thumb-length from the edge of the counter. Then he crouched down at the end of the row and squinted to check that everything was lined up.

Managing the details, accountability, teamwork. It works in the restaurant industry. It works most everywhere.

(Photo: the interior of Ko, from the restaurant's website.)

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Innovative Irish company gets the red out

Traditionally, photography has been an edit-after-the-fact art form. In the film era, this meant taking lots and lots of pictures and discarding the ones that didn't come out right. Early digital photography has used editing programs like Photoshop to eliminate red-eye or improve lighting after photos have been downloaded to a PC.

An innovative Irish company, FotoNation, has developed technology that allows photo improvement to occur before the picture is actually taken. As profiled in today's Wall Street Journal, the company has developed a compact software program that eliminates red-eye in flash photographs before images are written to disk, among other innovations. Nikon and Kodak are building FotoNation's technology into their digital cameras.

Another interesting point about FotoNation: despite being founded in Galway, Ireland, the founder is Israeli and the chief engineer is Romanian--another example of the growing heterogenizing of Ireland's technology sector.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mistake Bank update

The Mistake Bank is three weeks old tomorrow. And like any infant that age, it's still hard to know what it will look like when it grows up. Yet there have been hundreds of visits, several dozen members joined, and nearly that many stories shared.

Many people I've talked to are intrigued, but a bit wary. What if I don't have any stories to share?

Let me make it clear, then. With the Mistake Bank, lurkers are welcome. Please sign up and visit often. You never know what you'll find. [Perhaps an embarrassing moment or two.]

If you want to share a story, but don't know how, take a look at what's already there to use as a model. Or do it your own way.

[If you happen to be at Wireless 2008 next week, and want to share a story, email me at inquiry (at) caddellinsightgroup (dot) com. I'll be there with my new Flip video camera and would be delighted to record it for you.]

The experiences, discussions and interactions I've had since the Mistake Bank went live have only reinforced my belief that we can build it into a useful, fun resource for all kinds of people.

Won't you consider joining?

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

US cable giants find a way into wireless

People have been wondering how the cable companies would establish a wireless presence (forget for a moment that they owned part of Sprint PCS but sold it off years ago). Several of them established the Pivot program, with Comcast, Time Warner, etc., acting as value-added resellers of Sprint's network. But in my experience with the cable companies, they like to own the network. Leasing is not their cup of tea. Given that, it was a bit of a surprise that they chose not to bid in the recent 700MHz wireless auction.

Now comes the news that Time Warner, Comcast and Bright House Networks (three members of the Pivot consortium) are in discussions to invest in a Sprint-Clearwire WiMax joint venture. Rumors of a tie-up between the two most prominent WiMax service providers have swirled for months, especially given Sprint's recent troubles.

This is a perfect situation for the cablecos, in my view. They get access to a full near-nationwide network, cost-sharing, and a bit of a head start on the big wireless players Verizon and AT&T on 4G.

Looks like there's another nationwide broadband competitor. Hooray!

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wright Brothers set the standard for entrepreneurial thinking

I've been reading a lot about the Wright Brothers this week, given our stopover at Kitty Hawk on the way to South Carolina for spring break. The novella-length Wikipedia entry was interesting reading on the Blackberry web browser while we headed toward North Carolina at 11pm. [As soon as I get a chance to edit the video I shot at Kitty Hawk, I'll post that as well.]

Among the interesting resources I found was a fifty-year-old article in the Atlantic Monthly, which excerpts "Miracle at Kitty Hawk: The Letters of Orville and Wilbur Wright," using a sample of the letters to outline the brothers' career. The article says this, about the period when the Wrights discovered that certain aeronautical assumptions which they and others had taken for granted were invalid:

Wilbur Wright said, on their way home after the 1901 gliding experiments, that he didn't think man would fly in a thousand years. In a way, though, as Orville Wright said long afterward, it was encouraging to learn that the work of predecessors could not be relied upon. It meant that more knowledge was needed, rather than that flight was impossible.

This passage stopped me in my tracks. Discovering that Lilienthal's lift projections, on which they had based their glider designs for years, were erroneous did not discourage the Wrights--it did just the opposite.

Which is a brilliant summary of the entrepreneurial mind.

(Photo: the Wright Brothers' 1901 glider. Courtesy of NASA.)

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Old technologies hang on for decades

What do radio, mainframe computers and photocopiers have in common?

They were all predicted to die a quick death at the hands of a successor technology, and all are still here today.

The New York Times profiles the venerable IBM mainframe, still a multi-billion-dollar business (not that any CIO would admit publicly to buying one), which has hung on through the minicomputer revolution (remember DEC?), the PC revolution and the client-server revolution.

According to the Times article, "survivor technologies" retain certain compelling benefits that the successors do not offer. Hence, for certain niches, they continue to provide value. For radio, it is the idea of "audio wallpaper," entertainment that's less distracting than video--i.e., good while driving or working. For the mainframe, it was the ability to retain billions of dollars of software investment while taking advantage of hardware's increased price-performance. Photocopiers offer easy-to-handle and share hardcopy documents that the paperless office can't provide. (I worked for a year without a copier and was that ever a pain.)

So consider this: the next time you read that a certain technology will be obsolete within five years, you may want to buy some stock in the dinosaur.

(Photo: an IBM mainframe that is likely no longer in service.)

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

News item: a media company grows by studying its customers

In March's Harvard Business Review, Richard Harrington, CEO of Thomson Corporation, discusses how the large financial-media company reinvented its strategy ("Transforming Strategy One Customer At A Time" - free link). With his coauthor, Anthony Tjan of the Parthenon Group, Harrington shows how Thomson, by changing its focus from the standard segmentation used by its industry to that of specific end-users, was able to better understand its market position and identify attractive new product features.

This epiphany--innovation and differentiation through understanding how end-customers utilize a product and how they do their jobs--would not be surprising to Procter & Gamble, or to Clayton Christensen, who wrote about this back in 2005 ("Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and the Cure" link - $$).

One question is why this was so novel to Thomson. My guess is that it relates to how media companies view themselves. They have grown up as mass distributors, sending standardized product out to customers via newsstands, television, radio. Focusing on specific end-customer segments was time-consuming and unnecessary when there was always a new growth medium out there. Now, with growth stagnating for most media companies, they find they are no different from the packaged-goods manufacturers who sponsor their television programs.

To wit: they need customers, and customers need a job done.

How to market a product that isn't a product
Shop Talk Podcast #4 - Tony Ulwick on Determining What Customers Really Want...

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Corporate IT maximum-security is damaging innovation

Exhibit A: A fellow I serve on a board with recently got a new job with a city government. I asked him for his updated contact information and he said, "I can't give out my work email address. They don't like anything that's not 100% city business done on their computers."

Exhibit B: another friend who works for a large telecom company tried to access my new site The Mistake Bank from work and found that corporate IT had blocked all social-networking sites.

Exhibit C (counter-example): Google's CIO, interviewed in today's Wall Street Journal, says the company's policy allows users to download their own software, supports multiple operating systems and uses public resources (like their own for work-related activities.

Andrew McAfee, for one, has often pointed the finger at internal IT shops for inhibiting the adoption of transformative Enterprise 2.0 technologies. Accurately so, in my opinion.

Why? Reasonable concerns regarding security risks and productivity impacts have spawned draconian, corporate-wide policies that essentially prevent employees from learning anything except that which is corporately-sanctioned.

A company worrying about people frittering away time on Facebook simply closes off access--and thereby prevents employees from keeping track of and developing valuable contacts that can help them deliver better results in their jobs.

Obsessing over use of work IT resources only for work--such as the concern about non-work-related emails my friend encountered--forgets that more and more work concerns things outside the company--learning about the issues facing customers and partners, researching competitors, understanding innovation. It also conveniently forgets that knowledge work frequently spills over the boundaries of the work day--thereby forcing some non-work activities into the hours of 8-5.

In sum, while this throttling of external IT resources for more and more companies may or may not make them more secure and productive--it certainly limits the horizons of employees, depriving them of oxygen needed for learning, innovative thinking, and being a whole person.

And is that a reasonable price to pay?

How enterprise 2.0 adds value to the connections between workers

(Photo: Alcatraz Island from amagill via Flickr Creative Commons)

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Today I'm wearing a green rugby shirt with "IRELAND" emblazoned on the front. My parents gave it to me recently. As I went to put it on this morning, I looked at the tag. It read proudly, "100% unoriginal." Very Irish.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all the Caddells, McShanes, Mallons, Reillys, McFaddens, McAndrews and O'Connells.

(Photo: the 100% original Irish rugby shirt)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More learning from mistakes

From the New York Times, Sunday March 16, an interview with CEO James McCann:

In 1986 I bought the assets of a failed floral company in Texas called 800-Flowers and took that name. I thought I was smarter than everyone else and neglected to hire lawyers and bankers to do due diligence. I unknowingly signed for all liabilities, which I later learned was a debt of $7 million.

People advised me to file for bankruptcy. Then my grandmother took me aside and said: “This bankruptcy thing? We don’t do that. Find another way.” I worked like an animal to get out of that hole....

If you look at highly successful people, they make the same number of mistakes as others, but they recover quickly. They don’t sit around moaning about what they’ve done wrong.

A more complete retelling of this same mistake can be found in this article in Inc Magazine.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Scott Berkun on learning from mistakes

While working on The Mistake Bank, I found this essay by Scott Berkun, author of books like "The Myths of Innovation." Upon reading it, I was struck by how well-articulated his arguments are and how closely his thinking relates to what we're trying to do with The Mistake Bank.

It starts off like this:

You can only learn from a mistake after you admit you’ve made it. As soon as you start blaming other people (or the universe itself) you distance yourself from any possible lesson. But if you courageously stand up and honestly say “This is my mistake and I am responsible” the possibilities for learning will move towards you. Admission of a mistake, even if only privately to yourself, makes learning possible by moving the focus away from blame assignment and towards understanding. Wise people admit their mistakes easily. They know progress accelerates when they do.

And there's lots more. The section entitled "How to Handle Complex Mistakes" is particularly relevant--as is his discussion on the importance of keeping a sense of humor about yourself. Please give Scott's essay a read, and please visit The Mistake Bank to see some stories and create some yourself!

Announcing The Mistake Bank
Mistake Bank #12 - Don't Forget About Support!
Great Innovation Requires...Acceptance of Mistakes
Learning From Mistakes, Part 72

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Shop Talk Podcast #6 - Todd Mittleman on Honda's Fuel Cell car

[UPDATE March 2009. New podcast with Todd Mittleman can be found on our new Customers Are Talking blog.]

On this edition of the Shop Talk Podcast, I talk once again with Todd Mittleman, Director of Environmental & Safety Public Relations for Honda, this time about the Clarity FCX, Honda's fuel cell car for the mass market, to be launched sometime in the summer of 2008. (You can find our first interview here.)

If you've ever wondered what on earth a fuel-cell is and how it can power a car, and how you can drive in Southern California's carpool lanes with no one else in your car, you'll want to listen.

Please right-click and save here to download the podcast.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

A must-read for people who present

I have sat through, by my estimate, more than a thousand lousy presentations. You know the ones: someone in a suit stands at a lectern and dryly reads PowerPoint bullets for a half-hour, or an hour, or sometimes even longer. The slides use a garish corporate template and contain unreadably-small text, save for a few lame clip-art images. Ugh.

Even worse, I've given hundreds of similar presentations.

Luckily for me and other poor presenters, Garr Reynolds has been providing expert critique, tips and examples to help people present better on his Presentation Zen website. (I've written about Garr's work a number of times: 1, 2, 3, 4.)

Now, he's assembled his ideas into a book.

As you might expect, Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery is beautifully designed and laid out. With lots of white space, beautiful pictures, and a nice variety of page layouts, it reinforces its theme by its very look. [Similar to Edward Tufte's books, Presentation Zen is fun to flip through just to look at the pictures.]

If you didn't think you could say more with less text, or didn't know how to find cool photographs that would actually enhance your message, or didn't know how to make your subject as compelling to the audience as it is to you, Presentation Zen has insight you need.

While Reynolds echoes themes and specific advice he's presented in his blog, the accrual of the information between the book's covers has a more powerful effect than reading the same material over a long period of time in several blog posts. For example, throughout the book he shows side-by-side comparisons of poor slides and improved ones, or shows a number of different ways of conveying the same information with different slide designs. By the time you get to the end, the message is clear.

In other words, if you read Reynolds' blog regularly, you should still invest in the book. And if you don't read the blog, you should buy the book right away. And start applying the lessons today. [Please! I'm going to another seminar at the beginning of April.]

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Friday, March 07, 2008

New version of "Flight of the Gossamer Condor"

A few months ago, I made mention of the passing of inventor Paul MacCready. Recently, I received this email from Ben Shedd, the director of "The Flight of the Gossamer Condor," the story of MacCready's efforts to create a human-powered aircraft. With his permission, I include it here (slightly edited).

I made the film THE FLIGHT OF THE GOSSAMER CONDOR and it was great to find it mentioned in your blog. Paul MacCready's story has had a big impact on my life as well and I appreciated your comments.

For the 30th Anniversary of the Gossamer Condor's human-powered flight into aviation history, the film was remastered in HD and digitally restored from a preservation film print made by the Academy Film Archive. I would be glad to send you a preview copy of the DVD. In the past year, the film is now required in a national high school engineering program called PROJECT LEAD THE WAY and it is my hope that a whole new generation of teenagers will be inspired like you were to design and create their own inventions from seeing the Gossamer Condor's story.

Thanks, Ben, for writing, and for those interested in checking out the new 30th anniversary DVD, click here.

(Photo: MacCready's plane the Gossamer Albatross (the successor to the Gossamer Condor), courtesy of NASA)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Announcing the Mistake Bank--please join us

"From mistakes we learn; from successes, not so much." Meet the Robinsons.

The Mistake Bank is a social network for "war stories," or brief narratives of mistakes that people have made. Members share videos or blog posts recounting mistakes that they have made in their life, and discuss other members' contributions. All are welcome. Click here to visit the Mistake Bank, or here if you're ready to join.

Better e-commerce another way: invite related sites

Building on yesterday's post on e-commerce and making sites more effective, today's Wall Street Journal profiles, a selling site for handmade goods, and its embrace of independent related sites that connect users and allow them to share information (link to article - $$).

The article, by Raymund Flandez, puts a particular focus on We Love Etsy, a small social network of Etsy sellers. Through We Love Etsy, sellers share insights on how to use more effectively, highlight products they like, etc. The community helps otherwise lone sellers connect--a bit like an online Chamber of Commerce.

There's additional stickiness as well: if someone is a member of and We Love Etsy, she has that much more invested in the Etsy platform, and she'll be less likely to defect if another e-commerce site comes calling., for its part, approves of these independent sites (though they have begun to ask sites to request permission to use logos and trademarks). Rob Kalin, Etsy's founder, is quoted saying this:

"What it means for us is that we don't have to spend anywhere as much money on marketing because there are all of these avenues for people to spread the word and talk about what we do."

If there's a downside to these user-created sites, it's that their independence makes it difficult for Etsy to control their message. But by supporting a free exchange of information, Etsy retains a channel to the candid feelings of their sellers, and underscores its own authenticity.

Anyway, haven't we come to realize that controlling messages is at best twentieth-century marketing practice?

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

e-commerce sites: more, related content is better

The March Harvard Business Review has a must-read article for anyone who sells via a web site ("In E-Commerce, More Is More" - free link). The authors, Andreas Eisingerich of the Tanaka Business School and Tobias Kretschmer of the Munich School of Management, studied e-commerce sites, their users and owners.

According to Eisingerich and Kretschmer, uncluttered sites, personalized shopping recommendations and clear, relevant product information are no longer differentiators. The most successful e-commerce sites now offer, in addition to merchandise, broad content that connects with their audiences.

These sites (examples include Porsche and Ralph Lauren) surround their products with lifestyle information that brings their audience back again and again. While only a quarter of the sites surveyed used this technique, the best-performing companies owned them. Users also had the highest likelihood of revisiting the site.

Ralph Lauren's site includes RL Quarterly, a magazine with travel, sports and leisure profiles that appeal to Ralph Lauren customers and reinforce the sporty, elegant image of the clothes. Ralph Lauren ads appear throughout, and the top of each page is a menu for different categories of merchandise. The store is never more than one click away.

It seems a small step beyond this to add the ability to interact with like-minded people. Now that could be a sticky site indeed.

(Photo: a picture of Little Palm Island, Florida, from RL Magazine)

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Waiting for the call to come in

A few weeks ago I was traveling in the northwest of England and I had an occasion to take a cab from my hotel to the office where I was working. The taxi driver who picked me up was very upset. He started cursing out the dispatcher and his terrible luck and I was ready for him to start cursing me out too. He tore through intersections in a futile effort to make up time. I was a bit shocked, but rather than engage with him, I just heard him out. "This is such a low F-ing fare and it's on an F-ing company account." And that he had to come from a long way to pick me up and that it was in the middle of F-ing rush hour. He saw the prospect of working for an hour just to make a few pounds and was very upset with that.

Eventually he calmed down. He began to talk about his life. He liked to work out. His girlfriend had just had an ectopic pregnancy and was recovering from surgery. At one point during the conversation he kind of took a breath and turned around to me and said: "You sit at your corner waiting for the call from the dispatch. You don't know when it's gonna come. You don't know how good the fare's gonna be. You don't know whether you're gonna make enough money that day to be able to support your family."

And he said, "You know, I'd really much rather have a proper job on an oil rig in the North Sea. That's something I hope to do some day."

It made me think of entrepreneurs. The taxi driver was one. He was waiting for the call to come in. That's the way he had to work. What a terrible feeling of powerlessness.

As I left the cab, I wished him good luck in finding his job. And he said, "Thanks mate." And drove off.

spoken through SpinVox

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Witnessing the "gamer disposition"

One of Harvard Business Review's 2008 breakthrough ideas identified "The Gamer Disposition" as a hallmark of high-impact business performers of the future. Gamers had certain attributes (bottom-line orientation, comfort with change, etc.) that would help make them successful in business.

"The Gamer Disposition" was notable because it played against the stereotypes most businesspeople have of gamers: slackers and loners who would make low-value employees. Also, the authors, John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, made the point (indirectly) that the gamer qualities were not found in many current employees.

As I've observed my two young gamers battle "LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga" these last two months, I've seen some of the gamer disposition in action. Here's what I've seen:

  1. Unafraid to fail - getting terminated by Count Dooku a hundred times didn't dissuade my guys from trying again.

  2. Do rather than research - there is no user's manual for the game, and the kids didn't want one. They preferred to learn by doing again and again. (Me: "How did you learn you had to drop the gate on the Rancor to kill him?" My five-year-old: shoulder shrug, "We just tried it and it worked!")

  3. Resourceful - they'll ask their friends how they overcome certain obstacles, and share their learnings with pride.

  4. Ever-learning - the biggest prize they get from playing the game is the ability to open up new parts of the game; to become a beginner again. Expertise isn't that interesting to them. "What's next?" is.
The above practices seem useful to me in navigating any complex business context. It will be interesting to see how business has changed twenty years hence, when "the gamer disposition" is no longer the exception, but the rule among employees.

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