Thursday, July 31, 2008

Best business books of 2008 (so far)

Click here for my end of year 2008 list. Continue reading for the half-year list.

It's been a great year for business books, in my estimation, so rather than hold off till the end of the year, here's a first-half "best of" list for your perusal:

"The Opposable Mind" - Roger Martin. How the greatest business innovators can resolve paradoxes and therefore create new markets.

"Presentation Zen" - Garr Reynolds. Radical rules for creating and delivering powerful business presentations.

"Rain Making" (2nd edition) - Ford Harding. Finally, a book about selling that doesn't shout, but quietly gives commonsense, useful advice on every page.

"Groundswell" - Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. Describes the business impact of social media technologies like blogs, social networks, forums, etc. It would be important just for the subject matter. Delightfully, it's also very well researched, documented, and written.

"Senior Leadership Teams" - Ruth Wageman, Debra Nunes, James Burruss, Richard Hackman. Illuminating a hidden corner of company dysfunction--the leadership team that can't work together--and demonstrating the practices that can overcome it.

"Brain Rules" - John Medina. A delightful, story-filled book that illuminates how the brain works, and how we can change our behaviors to be nicer to our brain and to others'.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Innovator's Guide to Growth": readable, productive prescriptions for disruptive innovation

I didn't really understand Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma" when I read it many years ago. Perhaps like a lot of people employed by large companies, I suffered "innovator's myopia." But after experiencing disruptive products like Skype, Linux and it started to make more sense to me.

Christensen and his followers are still preaching the disruptive innovation gospel, and now, with "The Innovator's Guide to Growth" I am finally getting the picture.

It's the size and shape of a textbook, and works as one. Written by Mark Johnson, Scott Anthony and Joseph Sinfield, along with Motorola's Elizabeth Altman, "The Innovator's Guide" provides a rigorous introduction and a process for nurturing disruptive innovation. It guides a company through identifying opportunities, developing ideas, devising strategies, and deploying them.

There are no magic bullets presented--the core strategy, to find innovations that fundamentally reshape markets, is still difficult for market leaders to follow. Leaders' instincts are to protect market share and "feature up" their products, precisely the wrong approaches to disrupt a market.

One tenet of disruptive innovation is to target "overshot" customers. These customers have grown disenchanted with the continual upgrades of a product and won't pay more for new features. It occured to me that users of Microsoft Windows Vista--a huge product that just isn't exciting anyone (and annoying many)--are just such overshot customers.

The chapter entitled "Mastering Emergent Strategies" was worth the price of the book alone. Referencing the work of Rita Gunther McGrath and alluding to managerial complexity as elaborated by Boone and Snowden in a recent HBR article, it lays out the case for an iterative approach to planning as opposed to an all-out march to a clearly-defined objective.

The authors define three critical steps for iterative planning: (1) identifying areas of uncertainty, (2) performing "smart experiments" and (3) adjusting and reflecting.

The rest of the book is similarly insightful. If you're an innovator, or need to be one, this book should stay on your bookshelf as a valuable reference for many years.

Related posts:
Use your strategy to drive your acquisitions and vice versa
Rita Gunther McGrath

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Shop Talk Podcast #14 - Jill Konrath on selling to big companies

I had a great time talking recently with Jill Konrath, author of "Selling to Big Companies." She had a lot to say about, among other things, how some tried and true sales techniques are outmoded. Jill's website is

Download the podcast here (20 minutes, 27 seconds).

0:00 Introduction
0:30 The difference between selling to big companies and to small ones

1:50 What's changed in selling in the past decade?

7:30 On follow-up

9:10 On "always be closing"

11:25 Using web2.0 technology to help make sales

15:20 Learning from mistakes

(Theme music: "Nova" by NOMO, from their album "Ghost Rock")
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Monday, July 28, 2008

Cradle-to-cradle: desirable but difficult

I had been puzzling about the implications of cradle-to-cradle manufacture before my friend Sara Kaplaniak's op-ed in our local paper yesterday, but reading it helped crystallize my opinion that, while very desirable, cradle-to-cradle requires a significant culture change among those who would be early adopters of the products.

And that's going to slow down, perhaps by a lot, the growth of cradle-to-cradle products.

A brief definition: cradle-to-cradle is a mindset to construct goods from materials that can be completely reused or returned to the earth; i.e., there is no long-term disposal issue. This mindset has been promoted recently by the architect William McDonough.

An example of a cradle-to-cradle product is the Herman Miller's Celle chair, which according to the manufacturer can be disassembled into components that are 99% recyclable.

The most thought-provoking piece I've read on the subject is "The Biosphere Rules" by Gregory Unruh in the February 2008 Harvard Business Review. Unruh writes about how businesses can be transformed by biomimicry--the imitation of nature, a view McDonough also believes in strongly. Unruh's rules for manufacturers are:

  1. Use a parsimonious palette
  2. Cycle up--virtuously
  3. Exploit the power of platforms

#1 implies using a smaller number of materials, in manufacture, and in limiting (eliminating?) the compounding of materials. This is an issue for manufacturers--historically, they've started with a design and located or created materials to fulfill that design. Now they will be starting with a materials list to begin with and say "What can we make from this?"

The benefit is that the simpler materials are more easily reused, recycled or composted. And a fewer number will make the process to collect and sort them more economical.

#2 says in part that items should be made to wear out. (The limitations of #1 may help matters here--the alchemy required to create super-long-lasting materials may lead to unacceptable waste.) This is the most difficult part for me. My whole nature tells me to buy things that are long-lasting in order to consume as little as possible. And that old things have mana and should be retained. (I have three coats I love that are each more than 20 years old.)

Cradle-to-cradle says that things that wear out are OK and, as long as the manufacturers have good processes for collecting and recycling/rehabbing/refurbishing them, it's even desirable.

I may be the only one who will have to have a culture transplant to fall in love with this concept. But if I'm not, cradle-to-cradle may take quite a while to catch on.

Related post:
Fortune Innovation Forum Day 2 (McDonough)

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The deep attraction of the locally-produced

While reading a review of Rob Walker's "Buying In," in today's New York Times Book Review, I got to thinking about why I buy a certain type of beer.

The review points out Walker's description of the rebirth of Pabst, which after decades of decline began to grow again, led by young people seeking an unpretentious and less heavily-advertised beer to drink. Picking up on the weak signals, Pabst marketing shrewdly capitalized on the image by embarking on a low-profile campaign focusing on small-scale sponsorships of happenings favored by their market segment.

Yesterday, I took the kids and some friends and went on a tour of the Troegs Brewery across the river in Harrisburg.

I only drink local beers--Troegs, Stoudt's, Lancaster Brewing. And reading the book review made me ponder why this was so. Local beer is fresh, sure. Brewed in small batches. It has more taste than the mass-produced beers. But this didn't explain it all to me. To me, the local aspect is predominant.

Was there a "deep metaphor" at work here? With apologies to the Zaltmans, authors of "Marketing Metaphoria" and coiners of the phrase "deep metaphor," I think so. Something deep in my psyche makes me yearn for Troegs Sunshine Pils and revolt at the thought of Miller Genuine Draft.

Similarly, we get our vegetables much of the year from Spiral Path Farm, a CSA farm located about an hour from here, which we've visited.

At any rate, if this is so, it perhaps explains another phenomenon--when a big national bank buys a local bank, within two years a new local one springs up to take its place. Or does that only happen in my town?

Related Post:
"Marketing Metaphoria": Deep yearnings about the products we buy


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Zuckerberg learns

I didn't like much of what I read about Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Seemed like a bratty kid, ego on overdrive. The questions about perhaps appropriating the idea from Harvard classmates cast a shadow to me.

But I am impressed with what I'm reading about him now. Today in The New York Times, Brad Stone profiles some new Facebook integration tools, and in the article some quotes from Zuckerberg that are out of step with his old persona, to say the least.

Like this:

“We paid a lot of attention to making sure that people have complete control over what is in their feed,” he said. “We learned from last time.”

And this:

“As happy as I am with the growth of the ecosystem, there are a lot of mistakes we made,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “I think we can all agree that we don’t want an ecosystem full of applications that are just trying to spread themselves.”

To that end, Facebook announced a series of new incentives for developers to write what it characterized as “meaningful” tools for the service. It said it would pick certain applications that meet a set of Facebook principles to be part of a new “Great Apps” program.

Others are recognizing Facebook's progress:

Blake Commagere, the developer who created zombie and vampire games for a variety of social networks, said Facebook was simply learning as it goes, like everyone else in an unprecedented Web experiment.

“It’s been a learning process for developers and for Facebook,” he said. “They are breaking new ground, but these guys are sharp. They are going to continue to improve it.”

So, it's a much humbler and seemingly wiser Zuckerberg. That can only bode well for the future of the platform and the company.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Slow learner

I was talking to my old college roommate today and he was explaining the challenges of raising a teenager. "I told my daughter pretty clearly she needed to do something. I thought we had an agreement. Three days later she was doing 180 degrees different from what I asked. I said, 'I told you to do something different and yet you're doing this instead.' And she said, 'Yes, I thought about what you said, but decided that it wouldn't work for me.'"

This reminded me of my days as a programmer. When a manager looked over my shoulder and started to micromanage, for example, saying "try this," or "type this command now" or "don't forget to do this." I nodded politely, waited for him to leave and did it my own way.

The funny thing is that when I managed, I was often just like the ineffective manager who told me what code to write. In other words, I tried to work through my people, instead of letting them work. When I wrote the code, I had control. When someone else wrote the code, but worked for me, I thought I still had control. In retrospect, I treated management as an ordered rather than a complex system.

This is one of the problems with the promotion into management. The skills you need are so radically different that when pressed you revert back to what you know. Which is doing it yourself (or trying to do it yourself via another person). Can't be done. Staffers are not marionettes.

It took me years to realize the lack of control I had, and to trust the people more. But I'm not sure I ever learned that lesson completely.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What in hell do stories have to do with innovation?

Regular readers may be tiring of the constant barrage of story-related posts, or at minimum be trying to figure out how they relate to the title of this blog. Here are some words that I hope tie it together.

More and more products are launched and evolve in an iterative fashion. Version 1 does this, version 2 does that, and version 3 finally hits the mark and becomes the standard (exhibit A: Windows). Those iteration windows are becoming tighter, so good information as a basis of planning product changes is invaluable. Google in particular has turned this approach into an art form.

There are more and more ways to get feedback directly from users. Forums, call centers, social networks, Twitter, etc., etc., allow users to communicate their likes and dislikes about a product.

Now, to storytelling. Most business applications of storytelling focus on communicating outward--developing a story that helps communicate the essence or benefits of your product or company. Steve Denning, in his recent book "The Secret Language of Leadership" calls these indirect stories--stories that inspire stories in the mind of the reader or listener. Indirect stories are necessarily incomplete--they are not meant to immerse the listener in an experience (like, say, Harry Potter does). They are meant to create empathy and consensus.

What I'm talking about (as are Shawn Callahan & Mark Schenck of Anecdote, Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge and others) is inverting that model.

In addition to crafting stories and sending them out toward customers, staff, etc., what if we listen to the indirect stories coming from them? They are also necessarily incomplete--mere anecdotes--but if you gather a few dozen, a few hundred, or a few thousand, common themes and threads will become evident. To invert Denning's language, there's the possibility of inspiring stories in the mind of the company.

These stories might say things like:

  • People find our product really hard to use.
  • Feature X of our product is proving more valuable than we expected.
  • A group of people are using our product in an interesting way that we didn't anticipate.

As a product manager, the above stories are very important to me. They help orient me toward things I should do to improve product packaging, add or delete features, alter its marketing message or improve its customer service or technical support. Also, the user stories are pre-hypothesis, meaning that they are free of bias that can come via hypothesis-based approaches such as surveys. They are not adulterated by groupthink, as can happen with focus groups. They are the voice of the customer.

None of the individual anecdotes may send clear messages about where innovation is working and where it isn't. But the accrual of them can do so.

Companies don't use this resource to improve innovation. They should.

And that's what I'm talking about.

(For a powerful example of the accrual of "indirect" stories to create a compelling, nuanced, overall story, please refer to this earlier post on Haruki Murakami's "Underground.")

Related Post:
Stories that people tell about products are invaluable

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Best CD of the half-year

My favorite album, by far, of 2008 is Nomo's Ghost Rock. A concoction of dance-funk, electronica and horns, it's strong from start to finish--from "Brainwave," where the lead instrument is a bleep-bleeping analog synthesizer and the other instruments provide weird backup, to "Nova," a plinky dance track. And in between, the title track and "All The Stars" are standouts.

Great rhythms, improvisation, funky beats that will make you move your body. They're all here. But don't look for vocals, because there aren't any.

The band, nine strong, is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their earlier albums, "Nomo" and "New Tones" are also excellent. I had a chance to see some of their live show when they were in Philadelphia last week, and they absolutely rocked.

The best way to check out some of their music and see tour dates is to go to their Myspace page.

From The Mistake Bank: a comic mistake story (it's funny, too)

Please click the picture to view in a larger size.

There are lots of ways to tell a story. One perhaps underappreciated way is via comics--a narrative combination of words and drawings.

Comics artist Josh Neufeld contributed to the Mistake Bank the great story pictured above, "Past Perfect Progressive in Prague." Perhaps you'll identify with the awkwardness of adapting to a new place and culture.

Josh's most recent work is the comic book "A.D."--taking on perhaps the greatest mistake of our time, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. "A.D." follows the stories of six actual New Orleans residents from different neighborhoods and walks of life, through the calamity and thereafter. A powerful narrative containing real dialogue and settings, with hyperlinks to supporting documentation, it's truly an epic work. "A.D." is accessible on the SMITH Magazine site, and will be forthcoming as a printed book in summer 2009, the fourth anniversary of the hurricane.

Related posts:
"Understanding Comics"

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Network when you don't need to

Act before there is a problem.
Bring order before there is disorder.

Tao te Ching, #27

I had coffee with a former colleague this week. He was looking for a new job, his company having closed its local office. My colleague was confessing his dread of networking. He knew he needed to do it, but it just wasn't pleasant for him.

Also this week, I got an email from another former colleague, who wrote, "Love to catch up. I am out on the street looking for my next position."

Both of these folks are senior people, corporate vice-presidents, who find themselves in the humbling position of contacting people in order to locate their next jobs. They have to network, because their next job depends on it. No wonder it's a burden.

I have been in their position. When I started out on my own, the timing was not planned. Suddenly, I no longer had my prior position, and I needed to find work. I called, I emailed. I touched base. Neediness oozed from my pores. No wonder it took a long while to get a paying gig.

A significant event was stumbling across the book "Never Eat Alone." Reading it helped at my mindset and my approach. It reinforced the importance of a network, why people work with people they know, and why people want to help others they know.

"Never Eat Alone" remains the best book on networking I've read. And the biggest lesson to me was to network because it's fun and exciting to keep in touch with people. Not because you need something. The stronger a network you have, the more you contribute to it, the more opportunities will come out of it.

And, paradoxically, the less you will have turn to it out of desperation.

Related posts:
On "Never Eat Alone"
Networking: burden or pleasure?
The power of "weak ties"
"Weak Ties" #2
A personal relationship makes all the difference

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

You know you are the design leader when...

I have a MacBook Pro. Since I got it I have realized how often the machine's image is used in ads promoting web sites, software, etc. Even if it's software that runs only on Windows! [Keep your eyes open when you're reading a magazine, and you'll see the MacBook Pro's distinctive features--silver case, elongated oval button, CD slot.]

Similarly, if you have a mobile web application, you include an iPhone in the advertisement, like this one here:

So this is the definition of design leadership. When your product is used as background to feature another product, you're it. And right now in consumer electronics and PCs, that's Apple.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Minipodcast with Jill Konrath: "Mr. Prospect"

From The Mistake Bank:

As a young Xerox sales trainee, Jill Konrath learned her sales demonstration script perfectly... perhaps too perfectly.

"Mr. Prospect" - 2:56

You can learn more about Jill and her work at

Related Post:
Jill Konrath Mistake Stories

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Monday, July 14, 2008

"Once Upon a Nation" teaches history through storytelling

My family went to Philadelphia for the US Independence Day weekend. Among other activities, we visited thirteen storytelling benches arrayed around the historic district. At these locations, storytellers told us tales about Revolutionary War-era figures and other notable people and events from Philadelphia's history, including:

  • The first bank robbery in the US
  • A Philadelphia witch trial
  • The invention of bubble gum
  • The escape of one of President George Washington's house slaves
  • The hiking and camping adventures of a young boy who became a renowned artist and horticulturist.
Of all the cool things we did that weekend--visiting the Liberty Bell and touring Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated), eating at a tavern where Jefferson ate--the stories were the most memorable part of the trip. Our five-year-old insisted that visiting all the benches was our highest priority for the weekend.

We attended several events featuring performers playing characters from the period--Ben Franklin, a Patriot soldier, a young aristocrat. You could hardly walk down the street without running into a printer, militia officer or milkmaid--in character always.

At night, we recounted the stories we'd heard that day. As we toured, we looked for references to story characters in the historic buildings.

All of the above are a product of Once Upon a Nation, a group charged with creating a "living history" of Philadelphia. And they've succeeded. The stagings and stories intertwined beautifully with the historic sites to create an fun, immersive, reiterated experience that "Brain Rules" author John Medina would approve of completely.

A real testament to the power of stories at work.

[P.S., The storytelling benches are open all summer till 4:30pm.]

Related post:
"Brain Rules" rules

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

iPhone data price complaints off base

Now I'm not a fan of megalithic wireless operators. But the criticism of AT&T's pricing plan for the new iPhone 3G, especially the monthly cost for unlimited data, is missing the point.

The complaint, lodged by Walt Mossberg and others, goes something like this: "Yes, the new iPhone costs $200 less, but the unlimited data package costs $10 more per month. So after a contract of two years, you'll be out $40 compared to the first iPhone."

But the point is this. We are talking about the iPhone 3G. Its data rates are about three times faster than the old 2.5G EDGE technology on the first iPhone, according to Mossberg's tests.

Which means, minute-by-minute, you'll be getting more data (and thereby more value) from the iPhone 3G.

But there's more. When available bandwidth jumps, people use far more of the service. New applications become possible. Video, for example, is much more reasonable at 400kbps than at 56kps.

So perhaps the comment should be, "For pretty much the same total cost as the old phone, you get a new phone with three times the power and 10-15 times the application utility. Why not stop by an Apple store and pick one up?"

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

User forums are state-of-the-art tech support

I wrote on this topic last year, but it is truer now than it was then.

Earlier today I had a question on something I was trying to do with Excel (exchange rows and columns on a spreadsheet). Several queries into the Excel help file did no good. So I went to the "Post a question or search for an answer in the user community" section and entered my question.

Within an hour I had the answer. (Turns out there's an easy way to do it, just not very well-publicized.) That simple.

It's remarkable that communities of users are providing support far superior to that provided by companies themselves (try getting answers to any email query to tech support in an hour). But as it turns out, for most hi-tech products, tapping (for free) the collective wisdom of the user base is the best technical support you'll find.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

How to treat prospects who visit you

From The Mistake Bank:

When prospects from Hong Kong visited us in the US, we did our normal thing and thought everything went fine. Soon thereafter we had all but lost the deal. Then we visited them, and learned another model for entertaining visitors.

Find more videos like this on The Mistake Bank

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Don't try to fail, just try

It's been worrying me a bit, with all my emphasis on learning from mistakes and removing the stigma from making mistakes, that I might be encouraging people to try to make mistakes.

Although making a deliberate mistake can be a very useful exercise and lead a company to discover insights it couldn't find out otherwise, it shouldn't be the focus of your approach.

The point is to try to succeed lots of different ways, make small bets, try "safe-fail" experiments. Follow those that appear to lead somewhere. Ditch the remainder quickly.

More and more people are thinking this way. My evidence? Today's Wall Street Journal Business Insight section, which talks about experimentation and learning from failure throughout. One example is "In Search of Growth Leaders," by Sean Carr, Jeanne Liedtka and others which asserts that managers who can foster growth have different mindsets than those who can't. [A nice graphic in the article compares people who see life as a journey of learning--i.e., potential growth leaders--to those who see it as a test--similar to the work of Carol Dweck referenced by Amy Edmondson in HBR, and discussed in a recent Mistake Bank post.]

There's also "Oops! Accidents lead to more innovations. So how do you create more accidents?" by Robert Austin, Lee Devin and Erin Sullivan--which says to "explore lots of approaches" and "make accidents cheaper" which is safe-fail by other words.

And "Follow the Leaders," by Craig Pearce, which encourages allowing team leadership to shift from member to member based on the needs of a particular part of a project, echoing ideas from the recent HBR article on management lessons from multiplayer online games.

If you do make a mistake, don't throw it away. Learn from it, and put it in the Mistake Bank. The public one, or one of your own.

Related posts:
Multiplayer games demonstrate a new model for leadership
Amy Edmondson in July/Aug HBR
To progress in complex environments, experiment
Make some mistakes, and profit from it


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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Minipodcast with John Quelch: why is marketing seen as an unseemly profession?

During our earlier podcast with Harvard Business School Professor John Quelch, co-author with Katherine Jocz of "Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes For Better Democracy" (Harvard Business Press, 2008), we went took a brief aside to talk about how the profession of marketing is viewed by others, and by marketers themselves.

John's answer was fascinating, and can be found here (4:35) (right-click to download).

You can learn more about John Quelch's research and thinking on his blog.

Other resources:
Interview with John Quelch from Personal Branding Blog
My review of "Greater Good"

(Theme music: "Up the Coast," from West Indian Girl's latest album 4th and Wall.)

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Female guru alert: Amy Edmondson in July/Aug HBR

Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School appeared on our recent list of Overlooked Female Business Gurus, and she has also published an article in the July/August Harvard Business Review. Titled "The Competitive Imperative of Learning," it's a blockbuster that will cement her position on the guru list for some time to come.

Edmondson persuasively argues that a focus on efficiency in most companies chokes off resources for innovation and learning and creates an environment of harried, fearful employees rushing from task to task. Sound familiar?

In such an environment, given that the business, market and competitive playing field are changing continuously, the certainty is that the company will lack the learning, vision and insight to adapt itself to new realities. In essence, it will become a highly-efficient producer of last year's products and services. The market will have moved on.

Edmondson's work complements that of Dave Snowden and Mary Boone on the Cynefin Framework. Snowden & Boone describe simple and complex business contexts and the challenges these different contexts pose to managerial decisionmaking. In simple contexts, best practices and efficiency are the tools for success. But in complex contexts, learning, experimentation and adaptation are key.

As Edmondson points out, "the influx of knowledge in most fields makes it easy to fall behind." In other words, the space where competitiveness is created today is the complex space.

Three key inhibitors to learning environments are time, safety and review. Efficiency-based companies don't allow time to think and reflect--the emphasis is on processing and dispatching tasks quickly. (Gary Hamel discussed this issue nicely in "The Future of Management.")

And few companies provide the psychological safety required in a learning environment. Learning requires failure, failure is stigmatized, therefore people try to avoid it. Or if it's unavoidable, it is covered up or played down.

I can tell you based on my work to date on The Mistake Bank that psychological safety is a big issue. I have had numerous dialogues with colleagues, members, mentors, etc., which have involved the ramifications if someone were to discover the mistake the person has contributed to The Mistake Bank.

[My position on that matter is this: people who admit mistakes are more valuable to companies, customers and colleagues than those who don't--because we all know that everyone makes mistakes. No exceptions.]

Finally, Edmondson emphasizes the need for disciplined reflection and review. By evaluating, discussing and communicating the results of new ways of doing things, companies achieve the payoff of experimentation. My experience is that most companies don't like to look back.

There's a lot more to the article than I've discussed here. Read it when you have some time to think and reflect! (Better yet, talk about it with a colleague.)

Related posts:
Great innovation requires great teams
Leaders need to manage complexity
Toyota excels by revealing hidden problems
Stop studying the problem and just try something!
On Gary Hamel's "The Future of Management"
For consultants, adopting the "Google 20%" is vital

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008


A few days ago, a former colleague of mine drove from his home in Massachusetts to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, went on a hike, wrote an email to his wife, and took his own life. He was forty-nine, and the several quotes I read about him today were exactly correct: "He always did for other people, never for himself."

I learned the news today. As it was sinking in, the iPod, in shuffle mode, played Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt."

Now I'm drinking a glass of wine, listening to appropriately sad music, Sea Wolf. My colleague, I learned, suffered from depression.

My colleague's brother said this: "This wasn't my brother making these decisions. It was preventable. If people are not more pro-active about getting help for someone, you find yourself here, and all we have now are questions."

You were one of the nicest people I've ever met. Rest in peace, friend.

"Marketing Metaphoria"--the deep yearnings behind the products we buy

Father-and-son team Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman, authors of "Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers," assert that beneath our purchasing decisions lie deep, unconscious frames of how the world works. Companies who can understand these frames and connect their products with them can own key positions in their marketplace and build tremendous brand power.

Did you ever wonder why nearly every Budweiser campaign centers around guys drinking together? According to the Zaltmans, it is because they are reinforcing the brand's association to connection, one of the seven heavyweight "deep metaphors" that account for more than 70% of the metaphor usage found in their research. The other "giants" are:

  • Balance
  • Transformation
  • Journey
  • Container (keeping things in or out)
  • Connection
  • Resource
  • Control

An example of deep metaphor usage is the Michelin advertising image of a baby sitting in the tire. The deep metaphor of container is at work here--high-quality, well-designed tires provide a safe cocoon for the occupants of the car. And by extension Michelin owns the safety position with tires. Other brands must find other metaphors to occupy within our brains (say, journey or control).

As a way of showing how understanding deep metaphors can help companies create innovative products, the authors describe how the hearing-aid company Oticon redefined its product category. Oticon interviewed hearing-aid wearers about why they frequently didn't wear their devices. They learned that typical hearing aids were gawky-looking and prominent, thereby stoking users' deep fears of being broken, ugly containers. The company then created a new product that was smaller and sleeker, resembling a high-tech cellphone device more than an old-fashioned hearing aid, and combined it with an advertising campaign reinforcing the "escape" metaphor.

The authors urge readers to use this type of "workable wondering" to reimagine their innovation approaches, not just to find new ways to package or promote the same old products. I agree. When marketers use psychology to understand customers deeply, and respond to those unspoken needs, they're doing a service. (If they're just trying to get into my brain to sell me more peanut butter, well, that's just creepy.)

"Marketing Metaphoria" is a fascinating, fresh look at understanding how humans react to products beyond their functional attributes--a topic as old as advertising itself. But in connecting itself with the entire innovation process, it's more than just a book about communication.

A video interview with co-author Gerald Zaltman, where he elaborates on deep metaphors and how they can be discovered, can be found here.

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