Thursday, 26 February 2009

The Mail, the messenger, the media

There seems general agreement that the Mail's 'Facebook could raise your risk of cancer' headline was even more ridiculous than the 'Social websites harm children's brains' one that rapidly followed it. Certainly the Mail's reporting wasn't terribly nuanced (in a blog I have to tell you that I'm understating). Much of the response was well argued, and engaged with the topic amirably (eg Jackie Ashley) - but much also seemed no more nuanced and no less ridiculous than the Daily Mail pieces themselves.

A few things struck me. First, the strength of feeling this topic generates - the first comment on this post arrived when all I'd posted (accidentally) was a title I'd abandoned by the time the comment arrived. The risk is that I leap to my own position without actually listening to what's being argued. Certainly I came across that.

Second, and linked to this, we tend to shoot the messenger. The fact that the piece was in the Daily Mail instantly rendered it poisonous for some. Now, I don't much like the Daily Mail, but neither do I much like some of the stances and weak arguments I find in the paper I read every day. I read it because of the quality of much of its writing, not because it agrees with me. There were a lot tweets and blogs that merely focused on the author's well-established dislike (however justifiable) of the Mail, and seemed to use that to avoid engaging with the underlying argument.

Third, I'm struck by the "either / or" nature of much of the comment. So, maybe it's not that kids go out less because they spend time on Facebook OR that they spend time on Facebook because they go out less. Maybe both are true, mutually reinforcing. Maybe social media allow us to connect and interact in truly valuable ways previously impossible, AND, maybe there could be downsides as well. Seems ironic to me that media that have arisen with post-modernity (both / and) are used so extensively to promote modernist perspectives (either / or).

Finally, as a number of pieces highlighted, research is ongoing in this area, and it's complex. But you don't have to look hard to identify research that points to changes about which we might at the least be ambivalent. So, for example, research suggests Generation Y prefers to use blogging, texting, and IM in preference to the face to face and telephone communication preferences of preceding generations. We also know that communications effectiveness is highly dependent on non-verbal elements and tone of voice (the 7%-38%-55% rule). Put these together and we have workforces that are increasingly able to connect and communicate widely and rapidly (good), but who prefer to use communications media that are less effective for communicating emotion, lack of congruence, and nuance (bad). It's both / and again.

What do I want to learn? Like much of the above, it's pretty obvious. Work hard to engage with arguments, neither trumpeting my established positions, nor shooting the messenger. Recognise the potential for 'both / and' positions. And go gentle on the social media revolutionaries. Chesterton spoke sense: "The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right." I find it very easy to be wrong about both.

Friday, 20 February 2009

What do names say?

Following on from the previous post about positioning, I like the Obama Car Wash in Oxford's Cowley Road.  "Can we make the alloy wheels shine and get that difficult muck out of the door sills?  Yes we can."  Makes me wonder about competing car washes, though.  What would you expect from the Sarkozy Car Wash; the Brown Car Wash; even the Berlusconi Car Wash?  Perhaps not.  Sarah Palin used to own a car wash.

Main theme here, though, is positioning and naming around money.  There seems general agreement that one of the causes of the economic crisis is greed - specifically the pursuit of money for its own sake.  The idea that we'd let the desire for (easy) money grip us as a society is an idea that people now entertain as possible, even if they don't fully agree.  There are eloquent posts from consumer and business perspectives, arguing that there's got to be more than getting and spending money.  

Just to be clear, I love what you can do with money - whether that's securing a home and a level of comfort for my family; accessing the arts, sport, holidays, food and drink; or giving it away to effect change where it's needed.  I understand that without money life can be much more difficult.  But I'm also aware of the pull of money - that it can hold you and grip you, whether you have plenty or little.  

So it's from these perspectives I react to the Motley Fool's new web site for consumer finance -  It's there "to help you build a relationship with your money". 
 But I don't want a love relationship with my money.  I'm intrigued that the lovemoney blog talks about ensuring that its name had to fit with company values - (not spelt out, but not previously about "loving money", I think).  And what are we to make of the the little heart in the logo?  Seems to me the obvious implication is that this is a site about loving money - albeit with a logo that brings a light touch to it.

I don't get why you would choose this name.  "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and some by longing for it have ... pierced themselves with many griefs".  That (from the Bible) seems more obvious that it's been in ages, and in our post-Christian culture is a quotation that still resonates.

I exchanged e-mails with Saul Devine - MD at The Fool.  Much credit to him for a thoughtful and generous engagement (in line with how I think of The Fool).  The gist of his response was that the literal meaning of the name is not the intent of the service, and that the brand messages inherent in the site are contrary to the more negative associations of the name.  He stresses that the service is about responsibly handling money - and I've always found it to be that.

But surely that just means the name is wrong?  In naming a business or a service would you not work hard to avoid names that point your customers in the wrong direction?  Would you not avoid names with associations that your site had then to overcome?  Yes, I get the potential for ironic naming; yes, I understand the potential for whimsy, for ambiguity, for attracting attention.  But this still seems a very strange choice to me.

Just to be clear I normally like the Fool's content a lot.  I find it helpful - and reckon it lives up to the 'wise fool' stance pretty well.  But I'm likely to visit a site called less frequently - because I just don't want to love money.  

The point of this - not to beat up on The Fool - but that names matter.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Integrators, aircraft & positioning

I'm intrigued by the (perhaps) apparent relationship between aircraft and integrators / outsourcers.  EDS build aircraft in-flight and Accenture have this week been giving balsa aircraft to Oxford students as part of their recruitment drive.  

Accenture were dishing out chocolate too (a bit too sweet, I thought), and not just to students - the barbers across the road were dissing their laxative chocolate (plain wrapper) and the 'Assenture' [sic] whose name they saw on it.

Back to aircraft, back to positioning.  What do you associate with planes, and building them?  Yes, you get the romance of travel (huh!), the appeal of engineering (no, me neither), and the sense of humanity pushing against its earthbound limitations (why not space travel, then).  On the other hand you also get industries in trouble; more than your fair share of carbon emissions; chronic lateness; and spectacularly lost luggage.

Turning to the individual associations.  Accenture distribute balsa wood stamped 'High performance.  Delivered', packaged in a bag on which is printed 'See how far you can go with Accenture'.  Can't speak for you, but I've never thought of balsa as 'high performance', nor as far-flying.  Rather, I think of it as flimsy, cheap, and short-lasting - and aircraft built from it as uncontrollable and short-lived.  I've never been an Accenture client, but this seems at odds with their other marketing.

The (now far from new) EDS video pokes fun at itself, and the aircraft builders look to be having real fun.  But, as commented at the YouTube post, it portrays customers having coffee blowing in their face, as they travel in something that's far from finished, and that looks pretty unpleasant and chaotic.  Again, I've never been an EDS client, but I don't suspect this is the desired impression.

Of course, both companies are having fun, and it may be unfair to be quite so po-faced about fun initiatives.  But, if every interaction with customers, potential recruits, and even the general public is a moment of truth for a business, then they (and we) have to be sure that the value of being associated with fun outweighs other the other associations.  Do these ones?  Maybe.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Being more innovative about innovation?

About 15 years ago I did a survey on innovation.  Like a lot of surveys on innovation it re-uncovered the obvious.  We all think innovation is a good idea, wish we did more of it, and don't know how to institutionalise it without killing it.  Yawn.

But, we also highlighted that in Britain we have a peculiar view of innovation.  We tend to think of it as being:
  • technology-based
  • revolutionary not evolutionary
  • expensive
  • large scale.
Conversely, other geographies (and at that time Japan in particular) think of innovation as being probably not technology-based; evolutionary / incremental; potentially low cost; and often small scale.

I wondered last week if this was one of the factors behind a recent ITPRO report that non-IT execs value IT but don't see it as a source of innovation.  Rather than just concluding as the report does that this means the IT function still lacks strategic clout (sigh), it could mean that either non-IT execs, CIOs, or both are looking for innovation in the wrong place - in technology alone.  

I remember, as we did seminars about this research, one VC participant talking about how what he especially looked for was businesses that took an idea proven in one domain, and applied it to a new one.  Sounds innovative to me.  But, note, not a new idea per se in sight - just a new context.

So, how about we all try this for a few months: 
  • stop looking for new ideas, technologies, etc
  • start looking for new contexts in which we can apply ideas already shown to work
Might even align with cost conscious times?

Monday, 9 February 2009

Well, yes, and your point is ...

You know how sometimes you read something and you are clearly less surprised than the writer?  Been one of those days.

Example 1: IDC reports that SMBs are using data protection (ie backup, recovery, etc) technologies only previously seen in enterprise data centers.  So, as an SMB (at the small end) who synchronises data between two computers, backs up to an external drive, and backs up to a cloud, this isn't really that surprising to me.  Been doing it for about three years.  

Is it just that I'm a smug git?  Not just that.  Rather, consumerisation of IT (as the analysts have been telling us) is real.  It means that technology adoption (and sophistication) moves more rapidly from enterprises through SMBs to consumers - and then the flow reverses as technology adoption starts at home.  There, t
hose protecting photographs, movies, their entire music collection, etc, now have tools available to them to back-up in sophisticated, rapid, easy to recover ways.  SMBs - well of course they get there too.

Example two: Computer Weekly reports on an NCC Group study that demonstrated that managers click through on games links they're sent, and play them at work.   If this is news to anybody then I suspect it's more a comment on how out of touch with the realities of online behaviour they are.  

But, I realised, the unknown links I click through most are, of course, news stories - like this Computer Weekly one - from aggregator sites.  Wonder how many managers have clicked through news stories without checking where they're going first?  More than click through to games? I think it's possible. 

Postscript: I clicked through to the NCC Group site to read the story there and got a browser warning about the site wanting to run a dll that claimed to be from Microsoft Corporation.  Sounds dodgy to me.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Time, trust and circles

Reading John Griffith's excellent blog 'my perfect ad' reminded me of some thinking I did a few years ago along similar lines.  What clients were teaching me was that how we delivered service was at least as important as the topics to which delivery related (cf earlier blog re iPhone).  Further, because every interaction is a moment of truth, strengthening or weakening relationship with the client, over time we will build virtuous or vicious circles, depending on client experience.

A virtuous circle might look something like this.  
Key attributes are relevance to the task / issue at hand; timeliness; accessibility and usability.  Did the client get what they needed, when they needed it, how they wanted it, easily?

Similarly, a vicious circle might look a bit like this - 

The wrong thing, the wrong way, at the wrong time.  

Key is that you're always building up or running down trust - so if you consistently go round the virtuous circle, you'll probably be forgive one bad interaction, and your client will pay attention whenever you appear on their horizon.  But if you consistently go round the vicious circle you are likely to be ignored - even when you start offering a virtuous circuit.  Share of mind achieved is not transactional, but based on previous experience.

Where does this apply?  Pretty much all customer and client interactions - plus a lot of on-line interactions.  Think about community members, blog-readers, tweet followers, etc.  

And, of course, sorry if I've just wasted your time.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Trusting enough not to go public

In the past few days, I have been in two gatherings with 'Chatham House rules' - one a gathering of IT leaders from the same industry sector, the other of community leaders.  Both were really valuable - the first to an IT vendor testing propositions, both to the participants themselves.

So what?  Well, first, it is a truism that we live in a 'world without secrets'.  Whether it is CCTV on our streets, or the use of Facebook by one party to declare a relationship or marriage to be over, we can find ourselves living much more public lives than previous generations.  And, whilst that's sometimes about media intrusion, it is also to a very significant degree our own choice, directly or indirectly.  Second, in both of my meetings, it was the decision to go counter to this prevailing public trend that enabled the meetings to be so valuable.

So, IT leaders go private, and can give the feedback they really want to, without finding themselves lampooned by their competitors or lambasted by vendor sales people.  Community leaders can talk freely without fear of media misinterpretation, or of doubts, uncertainties and politically-incorrect opinions being held against them, and so forth.  Sounds good to me - but not the norm.  So why do we so rarely stop to make choices in this sphere?  Is information sometimes less valuable when shared widely, because the wide sharing precludes certain outcomes?  Worth thinking about when blogging, tweeting, status-sharing?

And of course, there's the paradox that to 'go private' requires lots of trust.  More trust than going public, because the latter in no way relies on trust - we know once it's out there, it's out there.  So, perhaps the real question is what is it that makes us willing to trust each other? Enlightened self-interest?  Or something more?  I hope so.  I think so, too.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Words from the wise

Back in 1992, I worked on a 'futures' project at KPMG - looking at likely changes in a range of industries.  One of these was media, so we gathered input from the great Paul Styles OBE (media guru bar none).  I remember Paul's prediction that we were the last generation who would buy music in physical form - telling us that we would listen to it on demand over networks.  This was, as I said, 1992 - certainly before I was using the Internet (and I suspect you too).
This week, the Guardian's Technology section caught up with Paul.  "Forget your iPod" was the message on the front page, thought not repeated in the article itself.  Basic messages were that
  • only a small percentage of iPod music is purchased downloads, and the the vast majority of downloads are not purchased
  • streaming music (from YouTube, MySpace, Pandora, Last, etc) is already taken hold - used not just on PCs, but also on the iPhone, etc
At one level, of course all this is true, but it makes me think three things:
  • there's a lot of things we learnt 10-15 years ago being presented as new news.  In the rush to understand what's happening now, we'd do well to listen a little more to those who were around before and during the first Internet rush.  They, at least, have been through one crash and burn
  • kind of misses the point about the iPod - as it morphs in any case into the iPhone; as we see WiFi growing across wider areas (so the iPod Touch becomes closer to an 'always-on' wired device) - so the iPod could remain a key device - the issue is surely the iTunes model, not the iPod at all.  In other words we need to think more about the underlying issue and models, looking at how things are developing, rather than drawing the seemingly obvious and (obviously) wrong conclusions
  • how could they fail to mention Wolfgang's Concert Vault? A great iPhone app, as well as browser - check it out.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

'How', not 'what' - and why

Four months into using the iPhone.  I like it a lot.  There's all the obvious stuff that it really ought to do that it doesn't do, sure.  But because it does what it does do so very well I rarely miss what it doesn't do.
I'm struck, though, by the App Store, and what it might be a sign of.  So, what about ...
  1. The importance of an ecosystem, rather than a single instance of core or application functionality in driving usefulness and making the device compelling.  So, the killer app is a meta-app?
  2. How cheap the apps are - I'm almost embarrassed to have paid for any, let alone as much as £11.99 (Omnifocus, and yes, worth it).  How can this not have an impact on applications software pricing first in the consumer space, and then through that spilling over, in the corporate space?
  3. The way it throws out apps that do one thing really well.  Those apps I especially like include Movies by Flixster; TubeStatus; BibleYouVersion; Facebook; AroundMe; and TwitterFon.  They're changing how I expect to access content and functionality away from a browser interface to something that's more akin, dare I say it, to an applicance.  I'm intrigued that widgets on my Mac weren't nearly as compelling, despite working pretty much the same way.  My sense is that we're seeing an early stage of usable, compelling, mult-function information appliances.
  4. I'm wondering about how these applications, their pricing, and the appstore are signs of future shifts in what mainstream corporate IS will look like - just today Mark Raskino posted a tweet (@MarkRaskino) from the Gartner BI Summit in Den Haag where a large corporation were reported to be finding that the iPhone UI was stimulating executive interest in Business Intelligence. 
So, perhaps stating the obvious, I think the 'how' often matters more than the 'what' in content / application / service provision - and that buried in the iPhone and its App Store are some pointers to a wider future.

And, in case you wondered, Cowabunga.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Why, oh why, oh what?

Always struck by how much people talk about what they do at work, not why they do it. Job descriptions typically reinforce this.

Does it matter? I think so. It encourages an internal focus, because the why usually relates to customers and clients. It de-emphasises purpose - leaving work often feeling lacking in purpose. It leads to the wrong discussions about how to make the job better, more efficient, etc.

Here's a business, spotted in Oxford, that gets it right. Wouldn't be as compelling if the van said "I check fire extinguishers", now would it? Wouldn't do much for the driver's sense of job-value either, I expect.

I help technology businesses, investors, and policy makers do the right next thing, and do the next thing right. What do you do at work?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Competitors, compassion, and craziness

Some things I've read in the past few days ...

"Get planning to move ahead of the sheep now" - a Tweet from someone I follow

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because  they were like sheep without a shepherd" - re Jesus in Matthew 9v36

"The prevailing trend that what one achieves - fame, wealth, performance in a turbo-charged career - is vastly more significant than the investment we make in emotional intimacy. ... we now know more clearly than ever - from extensive research - that it is the latter that is far more likely to make us happy" - Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian

Googling "make money" generates about 62m results; "give money" generates about 2m results; "profit" about 194m, "generosity" about 10m and "compassion" about 28m.  And googling "intimacy" - with many results suggesting we miss the point altogether - generates 14m results.  Interesting way of measuring what we prioritise?

I work for myself, so I understand the need to compete and generate revenue - if I don't win work that others want, then I don't pay the mortgage.  I recognise I need to invest in what I do at work, to be serious about it, or I have neither clients, nor expertise on which to trade.  And, of course, I'm not always generous-spirited about those with whom I compete.

But, maybe, just maybe, this is as good a time as any to think about how we bring respect for competitors (and of course others) into our businesses - and how we put those businesses themselves into perspective.  Aren't we capable of so much more?

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A Strange Land - What's This About?

So, Happy New Year!  About time to introduce this blog, I reckon.

I've started blogging for a couple of reasons.  First, it offers me a chance to figure out what I think about a bunch of issues I encounter in my business life - to reflect on what they mean, why they might matter, etc.  Second, for those with whom I've connected, it's an opportunity, should they want one, to see what I'm thinking - to stay in touch with the issues I'm working through, and perhaps to even engage with me on them.

If these are the 'why', there are some guidelines I have to set myself.  
  • Topics have to be those that could be of interest to more than just me - and, specifically, to the group of people with whom I have worked, am working, or will work.  That means I'm likely to focus on technology, media & broader business related issues - be they industry, market, adoption, management, strategy, leadership or whatever
  • So, no holiday snaps per se, no family histories, no social life - this is not my life-story played out in semi-real time
  • On the other hand, if I'm working through issues for myself, then expect my values, beliefs and context to show through - I don't want to be compartmentalised.
  • And finally, if this is to be of use to me and of potential interest to others, I have to blog on a regular basis - expect at least weekly posts, except during holidays.  
So, why the title and tag line?  They're about me finding these to be strange and unusual times - and my ambivalence about that.  Yes, I work with and am enthusiastic about the changes technology brings - but I'm also wary of some of the impacts of that change.  So, I find myself wondering where I am, what's really going on - and feeling, on occasion, far from home.

And the references - for those who are especially curious -DylanTS Eliot (and through him Shakespeare and Seneca), and the Bible are all in there.  I'm sure there are other echoes too.