Archive for August, 2011

Truth Shines Through

A good song is a good song. This one even survived a contrived country/folk music arrangement, complete with the requisite beautiful performers.

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SELL!

The inevitable finally happened. Steve Jobs is out (sort of). Wise tactics on their part to make it public at the end of a day, presumably to allow time for cooler heads to prevail in the market. Conventional wisdom on this stuff is that if you can’t get out right away then stay in. Very much more complicated than that here. It’s debatable whether or how many of the shots Steve has been calling for the last year, and further debatable exactly what his new role as Chairman really entails. On top of that they clearly have a roadmap designed that will last them several years. Whose roadmap is it?

My gut tells me this is the beginning of the end. Not the end of the company, mind you. But the end of the vision, which in many ways is worse. We have to not only watch them lumber around while they become less relevant, but their relative power still presents a significant barrier to entry for more innovative companies and ideas. It could take a couple of decades to fully run its course.

The Finger Pointing Stage

Finger pointing is not listed as one of the Five Stages of Grief. It probably falls under anger, though not exactly. It’s not always at the surface, but there’s usually a degree of it in just about any bad thing.

Certainly any time something bad happens that we instinctively know could have been avoided, the finger pointing stage is a very big part of the recovery — one that crops up quickly and usually hangs around a while.

Everyone involved strategically finds their angle and proceeds to do the dance of hiding, spinning, smoothing…or blaming.

There’s going to be plenty of blame to go around on this Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse debacle. The facts are just beginning to surface, and without betraying any trusts I can only divulge that there are going to be more. It’s not pretty. Like most tragedies of this nature it took a series of mistakes and errors in judgement to set the stage for bad luck to come along and wreak havoc, which is usually the case.

It’s takes a complicated arrangement of coordinations and competencies to accomplish big things, whether that’s a show production at an outdoor arena in the midwest, or the building of a bridge, the stewardship of the economy, or the flying of jets into buildings (be reminded that this operation wasn’t entirely successful either). And it usually takes multiple failure points for it to come crumbling down. Suffice to say that had any one of the failure points I know about been handled correctly the outcome would have been very different. Getting to perfection is deemed impossible, so it’s down to debating what an acceptable margin of error is…across however many interrelated potential failure points there are.

Who has oversight on that? Who was in charge? Who can we make the ultimate blamie? It’s complicated and difficult because multiple and in some cases seemingly unrelated disciplines failed. People are at risk, and may die. How much risk IS acceptable? We’re never going to get to perfect. What are we willing to accept? And on the other side of that coin, how many regulations and agencies and how much bureaucracy are we willing to tolerate trying to get close? It’s important to recognize that it only gets more complex and more difficult to manage and act when there’s more institutionalized involvement. More failure points. More places to point fingers.

No doubt important and helpful things will be learned from the finger pointing exercise. The next one won’t look like this one. But there will still be a next one.

Feeling it — Knowing versus Understanding

The difference between understanding and knowing is significant. One may understand how to play piano, but not actually be able to play a song. Knowing is being able to do it.

This is the difference in how more people are feeling about the economy and their future these days. It’s one thing to understand that the world is changing, that the industrial revolution and associated mindsets and practices are fading, but it’s entirely another thing when one experiences it for himself. Knowing.

Like many things in life it takes on a whole new light when it hits home or becomes so pervasive that it no longer can be avoided. We are no longer believing, or even hoping, that things will return to “normal.” And that new reality is producing a level of panic and ongoing despair among the working generation the likes of which haven’t been seen in America since (arguably) the Depression.

Of course inside of these kinds of broad changes are opportunities. We understand this academically (largely because we are told this is the case), but have yet to foster the mindset and necessary skills to design and act accordingly. We do not know how to proceed. And so frustration abounds.

We used to see ourselves as a product of an evolution we largely understood, one that had already happened. All we had to do was follow instructions — what we were taught in school or in training. But being in that whirlwind is entirely different. There’s no training for this, and schools are as ill equipped as we are. Better figure it out because the outcome for those who don’t evolve is extinction.

Don’t Try to Sell Me Anything

“Don’t call me. Don’t talk to me. Don’t send me an e-mail.” Just don’t you dare try to sell me anything.

This is the sentiment of an increasing number of people in the marketplace, to the point that some can get irrational about it. Why? Too many times they’ve been betrayed and not received any value (and wasted time) on the contact, interrupting something they barely have time to do to listen to some sales person blather on about whatever. Consider…

  1. It can be annoying. Customers are not always ready to switch into that gear just because it happens to suit the sales person’s schedule.
  2. No permission. Sometimes just on principle you’ll get the axe from a customer. These days it’s expected that sales people (and marketers) gain permission to contact customers. Exceptions are made of course, if there is enough value to the call (see #5).
  3. General cheesiness and/or poor communication skills. Or any of numerous other communication problems to include condescension, arrogance, aggression, weakness, style, just about any imaginable thing can cause it to go wrong. Must be able to communicate on a level and in a style congruous with the customer intellect and social reality.
  4. People are afraid of being manipulated. “I don’t like to be sold. I want to get the information and make my own decision.” How dare anyone actually try to SELL you something. Are you afraid of passing by a billboard on the way home for fear that some Jedi Mind Trick will be played on you by the ad? Isn’t it the sales person who is equipped to get you the information? Rationally customers know this to be true, but they are still quite circumspect about sales people and the process because there is a long history of sales people betraying that trust and going too far, or being incompetent.
  5. No value – the bottom line is the customer doesn’t perceive s/he gets any value out of a contact from a sales person.
How to fix it? The damage is largely done (historical context here). The only remedy is to, over time, produce some value for the customer. If you contact her then it’s imperative for that call to have an agenda that THE CUSTOMER WILL PERCEIVE AS RELEVANT TO HER TAKING CARE. This may mean bringing some relevant and new (as in not readily available) information to the table, updating previous information, etc. But again, keep in mind that it’s the customer who will decide about the relevance and value of the contact. Better be on your game.
Without that it’s just spam. With it you have a small chance of success.
Unfortunately many of your less professional and skilled peers are dragging you further down with poorly executed contacts on a daily basis. You seriously do have an uphill battle ahead.
Welcome to sales.

Predicting Versus Explaining

…continued from previous post.

Predicting is more powerful and valuable than explaining. How to predict?

Innovate. Invent. Develop. If you’re at or near the center of the whirlwind then you are among the first to know what it’s going to do.

If you have an hour to spare this video of Steve Jobs’ closing remarks at the 1997 WWDC is interesting. You’ll hear him predict many of the innovations that are widely understood today: things like Facebook, Cloud Computing, etc.

Bear in mind that at this time Apple was still in trouble. Steve had just returned, and shortly thereafter became an interim CEO. It was widely believed that the PC and Microsoft had crushed them into being a bit player. Now Apple has $70 BILLION (with a B) in spare capital laying around. Predicting is valuable. Making your predictions become a reality is…insanely valuable!



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