Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thankful for...

...Maura, George, Charlie, and a healthful year for all :)

...my dad, who at 84 is starting to really slow down.

...the clients I've done work for this year.

...folks who have referred me to others.

...the people I've talked to about marketing, narrative, innovation... or just life in general.

...the great blogs I've read.

...Harvard Business Review.

...free books.

...the 300+ people who joined The Mistake Bank.

...serendipity (aka luck).

...Bitstrips.

...the people who've followed me on Twitter.

...the people I've followed (even the Carnival Barkers).

...TweetDeck.

Going to put the blog for a bed for a few days while we visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday. Safe travels, all.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Public health story database needs your contributions

Cognitive Edge and a nonprofit called Innovation Health are launching a narrative database focused on public health issues, including child vaccinations and obesity. It needs your stories of encounters with the medical industry.

Health care is one of the preeminent issues of our time and will be front and center in our consciousness when the financial crisis is long past. The health-care infrastructure is a complex system with lots of actors, and so narrative analysis offers a better way of evaluating it than surveys or metrics.

Please consider sharing your experiences. The link is here and the password is HEALTH.

Note the following:

By participating in the survey, you acknowledge, accept and approve the use of the information provided by Innovation Health and the Cognitive Edge practitioner network. Innovation Health will use the information to observe patterns that the stories may reveal. The Cognitive Edge practitioner network may use the information collected as a demonstration data set to illustrate the applicability of sense-making to health and wellness.



Related post:
Is there a health-care crisis? The stories say yes

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Inside the Blogroll: Andrew McAfee

This is the first post in a new, occasional series, in which I profile one blog I read regularly. I have a long list of blogs in my RSS reader, and I'll talk about what's on the list and why I read it.

First up: Andrew McAfee: The Impact of IT on Businesses and their Leaders

Andrew McAfee is an associate professor at Harvard Business School, and he studies how IT investments have contributed to competitive advantage. Of particular interest is his focus on Enterprise 2.0 (a term he coined)--how social technologies akin to Facebook, Twitter, etc., could help enterprises, and what the barriers are for their adoption.

It's a great blog, with lengthy, detailed posts; lots of excellent comments; and a combination of techie-business focus that I like a lot.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Public relations firm took too long to change to home-based business"

From The Mistake Bank:

Reporter Marcia Pledger of The Cleveland Plain Dealer has been collecting and publishing great small-business mistake stories for a while. Here's a nice one about the cost of worrying too much about what others' perceptions might be:

A manufacturing company told me that if I started a public relations firm, I had its business. My next move was to find a location. Relationships are one thing, but I needed credibility for prospects.

Starting a business from my home 22 years ago was not even a thought. Back then, home-based businesses were not considered "real" businesses, so I leased an office....

read the rest of the story at the Plain Dealer site here.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Shop Talk Podcast #16 - Robert Wiesheu on Selling in Different Cultures

For this edition of the podcast, I'm delighted to spend some time with my friend Robert Wiesheu, one of the most interesting guys I know and someone who's spent more than a decade selling to customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. As such, he has a great perspective on what it takes to successfully sell even if you don't look or sound like the people you're selling to.

Podcast file (18.2 MB, 15min51sec)

Highlights:

1'25" Challenges in selling into different regions
5'00" Preparing to sell in a country for the first time
6'10" Is there bias against a foreign salesperson?
7'25" What to think about when preparing a product for worldwide sales
9'10" Working with in-country agents

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

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Monday, November 17, 2008

The value of the "ack" in personal networking

My technical background is in computer networking. I spent my twenties studying network protocols, designing queueing systems, and working on security issues. It was a great experience that is still useful today, 20 years later, now that everyone uses that Internet thing.

One principle of networking protocols is the idea of guaranteed delivery versus nonguaranteed. Basically, when you send a message over the Internet, it is broken up into tiny pieces, called packets, and sent down the line, mixed up with all sorts of other packets, and finally reassembled into a message on the other end.

With nonguaranteed delivery, the message is just sent out, and the sender doesn't really know if it got there (believe it or not, there are good applications for this). With guaranteed delivery, by contrast, the receiver sends an acknowledgement (or "ack") to the sender saying, in essence, "I got your message, thanks."

The "TCP" in TCP/IP is a guaranteed delivery protocol.

I was thinking about this because I am doing less computer networking these days and more personal networking. Emailing, Twittering, spending time on the phone. And the "ack" concept works just as well here. (Another metaphor for an ack is a "handshake." I like that one.)

Email, to me, is a nonguaranteed delivery protocol. From a technical standpoint, that's nonsense--Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP), of course, sends acknowledgements to your mail server when your message is delivered. But I'm talking about personal communication.

When you send an email, you don't know if someone got it unless they respond. This is the "ack." For much email, lack of acknowledgement is fine. But for others, acks can be very important to maintaining and enhancing your relationships. For example:

  • If someone refers a prospect to you, you should first acknowledge that you got the referral (thanking them is also good!), and you should send another ack when you get or don't get the business. The referrer is curious to know, and also wants to see if you follow through on referrals.

  • If you ask someone a question, and they respond via email, a short ack is good. "Thanks, that helps." They know then that you took the time to read the response and (hopefully) make use of it.

  • If someone asks you a question on email, and you don't have time to answer, you should acknowledge you received it and when you think you might be able to respond. That way the sender doesn't sit waiting for your response to arrive.

There are probably lots of other good times to send an ack. Please post your own ideas in the comments. Thanks, and I'll try to acknowledge all the contributions :-)

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Friday, November 14, 2008

A silly but fun use of Twitter

Many people say, "What on earth is Twitter good for?" and there are lots of answers. One in particular: it's really great for providing a real-time status of a bad Mexican wrestler-monster movie that you watch while you eat dinner at the bar. See below (note to those unfamiliar with Twitter: the first post is at the bottom; the last is at the top). Enjoy!


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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Getting out the stories of Burmese prisoners--an heroic feat

George Packer's Interesting Times blog from The New Yorker yesterday discussed Human Rights Watch's honoring of a Burmese hero, Bo Kyi. Mr. Kyi had been held as a prisoner by the Burmese government, enduring the brutalities of that unique brand of confinement. Upon his release, Mr. Kyi moved across the border to Thailand and founded an organization, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, the mission of which includes "report[ing] on the military regime’s oppression of political prisoners who are presently detained in various prisons."

My Kyi's remarks on accepting his award were powerful, and are excerpted in Packer's post. I found this passage particularly striking:

We have a way to communicate with the prisoners and get their stories out. I cannot tell you how we do this. I do not want the Burmese regime to find out. But I can tell you that these stories fill the pages of our reports and those of Human Rights Watch.

The media use these stories. So do political leaders around the world. Over time, the stories of these prisoners generate pressure on the international community to take a stand.

Burmese dissidents are outgunned and outmanned. But they have ideas and stories on their side. Who doubts they will win someday?

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Sesame Street simple" communication with a story

My first reaction to this Bob Sutton post--"Sesame Street Simple: A.G. Lafley's Leadership Philosophy"--was a slight recoil. Perhaps because I thought we had tapped out on learning from A.G. Lafley (can't we let the man run his company in peace?). But also because my natural communication style is not "Sesame Street simple." Unsure of that? Read this blog for a while.

But, after letting it sit a few weeks, I'm starting to get what Sutton is saying. He's onto something important about communicating with and influencing large numbers of people:

...although executives who talk about many ideas and complex ideas will be viewed as smarter -- wiser and more effective executives pick just a few simple messages and repeat them over and over again until people throughout the organization internalize them and use them to guide action. Constantly changing messages lead to the "flavor of the month problem" where people don't act on the current message because they have learned that, if they wait a few months (or days) the message will change (managers in such organizations become very skilled at talking as if they are acting on the flavor of the month, but not actually doing the thing that senior executives are pushing at the moment.) And making things overly complicated may make the senior executives seem smart and feel smart , but if a message is too complicated to understand, it is also means that the implications for action are impossible to understand as well.

Managers "talking as if they are acting...but not actually doing" recalls the damaging "false urgency" that inflicts many companies, as John Kotter discusses in his new book.

There's a way to do "Sesame Street simple" in a way that provides powerful insight and direction. Telling a story. Stories can be understood by everyone. They can be retold and honed for a particular group ("what's our 'the consumer is boss' story?"). They can convey complex lessons and spawn deep discussions about meaning.

That's a "Sesame Street simple" approach even I can understand.

(Photo: Hokey Pokey Elmo from Toys R Us)


Related Posts:
On John Kotter's "A Sense of Urgency"
More on "A Sense of Urgency"
A.G. Lafley: "The Consumer Is Boss"

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From The Mistake Bank: Sue Pera on the downside of expansion

From The Mistake Bank:

This is the first of a series of interviews with businesspeople about mistakes they've made in their careers. If you'd like to be part of this series, email me at john (at) caddellinsightgroup (dot) com.


Find more videos like this on The Mistake Bank



Sue Pera is the owner of the Cornerstone Coffeehouse in Camp Hill, PA. Visit them on the web at http://thecornerstonecoffeehouse.com. (Disclosure: I usually hang out here on Friday mornings, when the cleaners come to do my office. It's a great place; if you happen to find yourself in Camp Hill, you must stop by.)

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Creative Destruction? #2

It's been two months or so since I visited a couple of places nearby in the midst of what Joseph Schumpeter might call "creative destruction." At the moment, they're just abandoned buildings. I'll keep visiting and see how/when these places shape up and begin contributing to the economy again.

32nd Street, Camp Hill, PA, 10 Nov 2008


Carlisle Pike, Silver Spring Township, PA, 28 Oct 2008


Related Post:
Creative Destruction?

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Is "renting the new buying"?

Hobby Princess blogs very infrequently these days (I'm guessing that a new baby in the house has something to do with that). Nonetheless, when she posts, it's essential reading. Her most recent post, "Renting Is The New Buying," theorizes how the recession might alter our consumption habits.

She writes:

Cheap things don’t feel like luxury, because luxury is not just a sensual, but also a social experience.

In the recent Sex and the City movie there is a wonderful experience of consuming luxury in a sustainable way. Carrie notices that her assistant-to-be brings a genuine Luis Vuitton handbag to the job interview and asks the young woman (Jennifer Hudson) how she can afford it. Her answer is: “I rented it”. Indeed a breed of new online services, such as borrowbagorsteal.com, froxylady.com, and fashionhire.co.uk offer designer dresses, hats, bags, sunglasses, and jewellery for hire.

We are already used to rent apartments, washing machines, paintings, bikes, laptops, phones, copy machines, badminton rackets, power tools, and even pets for short periods of time. But perhaps we should think about renting and borrowing on a broader scale, as a real alternative to owning.

John Quelch has written about the rise of the "simplifiers," who are getting rid of their stuff and downsizing. This group still invests in experiences--often "rented"--like vacations.

So, what do you say? Are we starting to simplify? And will that mean renting more and more of what we use?

Related post:
The era of cheap s--t is over

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

John Quelch on Obama's marketing triumph

Harvard's John Quelch knows a thing or two about marketing and politics, having co-written the recent book Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes for Better Democracy, a detailed examination of the similarities and differences between commercial marketing and political marketing.

In this post, he efficiently and clearly dissects the many ways in which Obama's marketing superiority contributed to his victory (while acknowledging the stacked deck McCain competed against). It's a terrific, timely analysis.

Related posts:
On "Greater Good"
Podcast with John Quelch on Marketing and Democracy

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Innovation made easy... or else

Many of my posts originate when two interesting ideas collide--two things I've read, possibly from very different points of view or with different objectives in mind, somehow fit together, or together illuminate something to me that's clearer than either piece on its own.

Today there are three such things. Let's call them stories of innovation made easy. First is the paper "The Ergonomics of Innovation," by Bob Sutton and Hayagreeva Rao in September's McKinsey Quarterly, which despite its awkward title is very clearly written and argued. Its central point, illustrated by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's campaign to save 100,000 unnecessary hospital deaths, is that the best innovations are often the simplest and most basic. In other words, a partial solution that is easy to communicate and to implement may bring far more value than a more complete solution that is more complex and difficult to bring into production. Here's a synopsis of Sutton's and Rao's argument:

A basic idea from ergonomics is that physical and cognitive “affordances” can help people to think about, know, and use something more easily and to make fewer errors. The IHI campaign didn’t use the language of ergonomics but nonetheless applied its logic in hundreds of ways by designing and spreading affordances that made it easier for the staffs of the participating hospitals to change.
I've meant to write about this article for several weeks. But two more things I've read this week buttressed Sutton's and Rao's arguments. First is a report from Mark Schneck at Anecdote on a talk from this year's ActKM Conference in Australia. This simple change didn't save 100,000 lives but may have saved 100,000 hours wasted reading emails:

Jane mentioned that one of the actions from their knowledge strategy has had a big impact. This simple action was for all staff to write a clear description in the subject line of their emails. Adopting this practice has helped staff deal with information overload by being able to quickly identify emails that they need to deal with, and which ones can be simply deleted.

Finally, today Andrew McAfee blogged about an innovation at American Airlines that simply isn't sticking:

According to American, "Customers with PriorityAccess privileges will be invited to board first or board at any time through their exclusive PriorityAAccess lane, which allows them to bypass lines after general boarding has begun." The new configuration seems to be pretty uniform; I’ve seen it at every airport I’ve flown out of over the past month, which is more than a couple.

The new configuration also seems to be uniformly ignored. My fellow travelers and I have continued to line up and board just as we always do, except now we use two narrow lanes instead of one broad one. I haven’t yet seen us fliers make any effort to sort ourselves into the ‘right’ lane, and I certainly haven’t seen anyone voluntarily take themselves out of the lane reserved for the elites and rejoin the general boarding hoi polloi.

More importantly, I also haven’t seen American’s gate agents make any effort to sort us properly. I’ve heard them make announcements about the two lanes, but that’s as far as it’s gone....

It struck me at some point over the past month that I was witnessing an excellent example of why so many business improvement efforts fail: it’s not that they’re not good ideas, it’s that they're not easy enough to enforce. American’s PriorityAAccess boarding procedure is a straightforward case of what used to be called ‘business process reengineering,’ and it’s also a microcosm of why reengineering so often failed. It’s one thing for a small group of smart people to study an existing process and figure out a way to execute it better. It’s quite another to then deploy that new-and-improved process broadly -- across many business units, geographies, and/or interdependent groups.

In other words, the PriorityAAcess procedure didn't provide enough affordances to allow harried gate agents to easily deploy it. So they didn't.

This is an important lesson for me. My automatic mindset seeks out the elegant, complete solution. I don't gravitate toward the simple, dumb solution. Even though, as I'm learning, that one may be the best of all.

(Bonus: this also reminded me of the previously blogged about innovation at a Singapore hospital, where a cheap webcam helped significantly reduce wait times in the emergency room.)

Related post:
Stop studying the problem, and just try something!

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Comparing two customer research approaches

I had two remarkable experiences today.

First, I interviewed a marketing manager about some software he uses. He spent thirty-five minutes describing why the company chose the software, how he used it, how he learned to use the features over time and thereby developed proficiency in an area of marketing he hadn't known well before, how the supplier had given him very responsive support, how the user's group had helped him... and, by the way, three or four features that, if they existed, could really help him. I recorded everything and will review this and a number of other interviews with the client using narrative sensemaking approaches. In the end, they'll get a deep, detailed picture of how they're viewed by their customers. They'll know features that customers will value. And they'll know some things that bother their clients.

Later in the day, I got a survey to fill out. It looked like this:

Rate each question on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being Poor and 5 being Excellent.

* Trainer communicated in a clear, concise, and easily understood manner.

Comments:

* Demonstrated that he is knowledgeable in [...].

Comments:

* Displays pride, enthusiasm, and a positive attitude in his work.

Comments:

* Demonstrates a professional attitude and supports the [client].

Comments:

* Practice topics are clear and correct for [skill and experience].

Comments:

* Trainers were timely and approachable with problems and concerns.

Comments:

It's unfair, I know, to compare the two approaches. The first is more expensive and time-consuming. There is more at stake for the software company than for the second group, a nonprofit.

But, really, what can one possibly learn from the second approach? Isn't the interview method better in about 1,000 ways?

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Monday, November 03, 2008

A salute to free thinking

By free I mean it doesn't cost anything. It's also the other kind of "free," too--unconstrained and bold.

What I'm talking about is the insight and information available today on blogs. It's absolutely remarkable what is on the net, as close as your browser or RSS reader. By any measure, it's tenfold or onehundredfold what the most curious reader had access to ten years ago.

I haven't canceled my newspapers yet, but not one of them (not even the Times) can provide a list of contributors this strong. Here is who I read every day, whose insights I cherish and who make me think new things:

Bob Sutton
Fred Wilson
Dave Stein
Andrew McAfee
James Surowiecki
George Packer
Doc Searls
Rita Gunther McGrath
Jill Konrath
Tim Berry
John Quelch
Nancy Baym
Andrew Meyer
John Jantsch
Ford Harding
Ulla-Maaria Engeström (Hobby Princess)
Dave Snowden
Cognitive Edge guest blog
Harvard Business School Working Knowledge
Garr Reynolds

So... who am I missing? Who else should be on my RSS feed list?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The voices say: time to read "War and Peace"

Sometimes something tiny can influence us, such as a Tweet--this one:

Increasingly amazed (and worried) at the number of people I know and respect who do not read novels.

Then today I read this blog post: "Tolstoi's Guide to Complexity," about "War and Peace." The post's author, Jochum Stienstra, writes eloquently about how the book has influenced his thinking since he read it fourteen years ago.

Okay, I said. This is a message to me. Time to put aside the stack of unread business books and spend a little sabbatical reading an old classic. I've picked up and put down "War and Peace" perhaps ten times. Never read it.

Now it's time. I dug my old Signet Classic edition out of the box and cracked it open. Again.

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