Archive for May, 2010

Incongruous

Photo by David Stewart - 2006

When most people think of Paris it involves an image of the Eiffel Tower. There are few places in the world that have such an iconic image associated with them. But when I think of Paris (and France in general) the exposed girders and industrial feel of the tower has always seemed out of place against the more refined and artistic side of the rest of the city, at least in my perception. This feeling was not changed after visiting Paris myself.

Not surprisingly it was pretty controversial when first proposed.

Imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack.     — Le Temps [newspaper], 1887

Eiffel responded to his critics by pointing out the strength conveyed by the mathematically correct curvature of the outer edges, as well as other nuances in the design. It is true that when the viewer focuses on the arcs and curves and details it definitely seems much more French.

And now it’s completely accepted as an important and beautiful element of one of the greatest cities in the world. A certain amount of incongruity is what makes it stand out, what makes it worth talking about, and what makes it interesting. But the subtle details are done right. There is an elegance that makes it blend in an interesting way, not a boring safe way. Once used to it it becomes hard to imagine the Paris skyline any other way. There is a lot to be learned here.

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No Magic Bullet

From time to time job offers, or at least discussions about possible offers come along. A pretty compelling discussion about one happened recently (as in a few months ago). Most of what follows I wrote while in the midst of it, and finally decided to share it (with some edits) here.

It could be a great job, for a company I generally like and have a lot of respect for. It would be a ton of responsibility and a pretty lucrative move. I would basically be driving the messaging of their most critical products, the products that have the most impact on their bottom line. I have a friend on the inside who seems to really want me to be there to help him. He thinks a lot like I do and I know we can work really well together. There’s lots of cool stuff to challenge and engage me.

Why am I not excited about it?

They are at a place where they’ve already been on top of the market they are in, and the past few years have been oriented around trying to defend that position as market conditions have changed radically. It would not be easy. They are publicly traded so the quarter to quarter profits are a key factor in their definition of “success.” Yet they also need a long term strategy. The market has changed to a point where they aren’t the clear choice for most customers anymore. They are a very viable choice, but the playing field is much more level these days (reminds me a bit of Microsoft). Seems like they can’t possibly expect to enjoy the dominant position they’ve held in the past, unless they come up with a new breakthrough product or technology, which I don’t see happening. They can still make tons of money and be profitable, but is that good enough? I get the feeling they are scared and scrambling. They are looking for a magic bullet; someone to come in and save the day. I think I could really help them, but how do I tell them there isn’t any magic bullet? There isn’t anyone who can come save the day for them. There aren’t any magic words to put on a piece of paper or a website that’s going “fix” it all. Those days are over. That’s 1.0 thinking. They really, mainly just need products people want. Then they need people who can understand their customers and communicate sincerely with them. That I can do.

I feel like that won’t be enough. So many companies aren’t interested in investing REAL money in R & D. It’s so much easier and more profitable to polish up the same old turds and ideas and stick them back out there with a new spin. It seems like nobody wants to pave the way or take the lead and do something really new and groundbreaking. The risk is too high and it’s too expensive. Small companies generally don’t have the resources. Stockholders in larger companies won’t stand for all the short term losses on the promise of big gains in the end — that’s what VC money is for. Stockholders want results NOW. So find a way to sell this crap. Sure they can innovate along the way, but it’s all incremental.

I honestly feel like they’d be better off to invest more money in their products and pull back on their marketing if necessary.

Is that really why I’m not excited? Yes, partly. But, it’s also that I have a job working for and with people I genuinely like and respect (for the most part), doing something I think is important in the organization, not to mention enjoyable (for the most part). It’s a great job. Why, really, do I need a better one? More money, more prestige, more dignity, the ability to live where I want? Those are all valid factors that make me interested in it. But I’m not generally career oriented in that way. I don’t have that need to move up the ladder all the time. I don’t define myself by what I do. I don’t need to always get credit for what I’ve done. I like to be in control of things, but not necessarily everything. I like playing on a good team where I contribute along with the other team members. These things are part of what they offer, but also things I already have.

So what’s the deal?

Afraid of change?

Afraid of failure?

That could be it. Scary. It just doesn’t seem like the risk justifies the potential upside to me. And then there is the all important loyalty factor. Have to go with my gut here.

I turned it down. In fairness there wasn’t an offer on the table (yet). I shut it down before things got to that point.

Polarized

Binary is for computers. People are analog and respond to the various shades of gray. When you constantly espouse one political viewpoint you lose credibility. You are trying too hard to convince. Nobody wants to be convinced, so…nobody listens anymore, except for those who are already convinced. The parroting of party lines is not an intelligent or thoughtful discussion.

Race to Zero

It took my wife several hours to find a hotel for an upcoming trip we are taking. There are plenty available, but determining which was the right one for our needs took a lot of time, and based on our past experiences these selections can be somewhat hit or miss even after researching them thoroughly. There are lots of tools on the web that try to help, but none of them are all that great in my estimation. None of them provide much in the way of real insights about locals. In the “old days” I’d just go to a travel agent, which took a fraction of the time she just invested. Not perfect, but a good one would be nearly spot on nearly every time.  Now, you’re on your own. Such is the race to zero.

There is an analogy to the music industry here. With MySpace, iTunes, Reverb Nation, and any of dozens of other alternatives it’s EASY to find new music. But it’s not so easy to find good new music, and harder still to find good new music I like.

This is the downside of the Internet and our race to zero in general. Lot’s of 1.o sensibilities trying to make it work in a new world that requires 2.o thinking. We’ve gotten to the point where things are cheap or free, but so far we’re generally getting what we pay for. Hard to complain about that, as we did it to ourselves.

We need effective aggregators folks. People who can distill it all down and make well grounded assessments about consumables. That’s an opportunity.

Our Need for Drama

All our lives we’ve been told fantastic stories. Our real life is comparatively mundane. We think our time is supposed to be filled with the dynamic ups and downs of a good drama. So, we find ways to create it. We invent fights, or take actions that produce breakdowns in our taking care. And to whatever extent we have or create our drama we often look for ways to trump it up. That’s why everything that happens to us is such a big deal…assuming it’s not something embarrassing. That changes everything.

Self Management

There are many facets of one’s personality. Different parts will emerge under certain circumstances. This mechanism is built and trained over the course of our lives and becomes who we are to others. It’s almost instinctual and not something we intuitively think to control in the moment when things happen.

But control it we must.

It’s part of being a rational adult. It’s a crucial part of being a professional. And it’s certainly a crucial part of being a professional sales person, where you must interact with lots of different personality types under different scenarios. You can and must train how you react to things.



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