The Real Secret to Success

Success in being effective and being efficient is (IMHO) very similar to regular success. That is, it’s not about grand slams and home runs. It’s not even about doubles and singles.

The real magic happens at the plate. It’s about knowing which pitch to swing at, and which to let go. In short, you can’t hit a single—let alone a grand slam—if you’re constantly swinging at the wrong pitch.

For example, many people get all jazzed up about Facebook. “Look at that grand slam!” And those same people get all star-struck about on how far the ball went / is going.

Nope!

The brilliance is that Facebook swung at the right pitch at the right time. Obviously, the swing (i.e., execution) also plays a significant role. But they also didn’t swing at some crap pitch in the dirt.

The bottom line…Mitigate your risk—i.e., increase your chances for success—by staying focused and letting the wrong pitches pass by. Losing focus and swinging at pitches not worth swinging at is not a strategy of the successful.

This article was inspired by:

Scott Hanselman
“Scott Hanselman’s Complete List of Productivity Tips”

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Are You Still Trying to do More With Less?

You can’t go too long in today’s business world without someone mindlessly spewing the infamous: “We’ve got to do more with less.” There is little doubt that over the years this has been—and sometimes continues to be—the mantra of some of the best and the brightest business minds. But what if what once was true fades and crumbles into myth? What if the world isn’t what it used to be? What if it’s possible to have too much of a good thing?

Dallas Mavericks owner, serial entrepreneur and (TV show) Shark Tank shark Mark Cuban once said, “If you’re looking where everybody else is looking, you’re looking in the wrong spot.” Furthermore, Malcolm Gladwell in his most recent best-seller “David And Goliath” leans heavily on the concept of The Inverted U. The Inverted U for the sake of this discussion could also be called the Law of Diminishing Returns. (Note: I’m certain there are probably finer points between the two but at this moment’s 50,000 feet let’s just envision them as synonymous, at least for now.)

The point being, less can reach a tipping point where there is so much less that what’s left is not enough to be effective (i.e., competitive and profitable). Makes sense, yes?

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions and such so please don’t misread the timing of this post. Instead, I want to share with you this epiphany:

“Doing more with less” is out. It is at this point a fool’s game. It’s time to break from the pack. Today I propose that the new black is…”Doing more with better.” That is to shift attention to increasing quality as well as efficiency; to invest in processes and personnel that will continue to add value time and again over the long run; to stop pinching pennies and figure out ways to make dollars; and to seek opportunities with growth-minded organizations and individuals.

Yes, being lean and financially savvy is important. It always has been and it probably always will be. However, if the dollar you save on product / service / employee today leads to lost opportunities tomorrow then you didn’t save anything. You instead (as the cliche goes) shot yourself in the foot. Look around. How many brands and companies to you see hopping around on one foot? Too many, yes?

This is why I recommend you plant both feet back on the ground, define your goals and then commit to a mindset of “Doing more with better.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Truth About Great Designing

Plenty has been said about great design (i.e., the output). Unfortunately, without a thorough and holistic process the output is doomed to (an ever increasing risk of) failure. The foundation to a proper and effective process is understanding. The willingness to ask why. Five whys if possible. You’ve heard of The Five Whys, yes?

In any case, I bumped into this pearl last night:

“You must understand the problem. Deeply and completely. Who is this for? Why do they need it? How are they doing this today? What can’t they live without? This is where the most amount of energy and time should be spent, yet this is where assumptions and dogma tend to trump exploration and deconstruction.”

Read the rest of Delighted App’s “Understand the problem”.

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Empowerment to the People

From time to time you come across something deep and provocative that begs, “Share me! Share me please!” This eulogy (of sorts) of Ms. Red Burns, co-founder of the groundbreaking Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU, is one of those times.

I don’t want to babble on unnecessarily and distract you. But before I cut you loose I would like to make note of two things that make this speech unique:

1) Ms. Burns doesn’t use the word innovate / innovation.

2) Ms. Burns doesn’t use the word disrupt.

Now you’re even more intrigued, yes?

Read the full article on Wired.com here:

Let’s Stop Focusing on Shiny Gadgets and Start Using Tech to Empower People
By Margaret Stewart

From Red Burns’ Opening Remarks to New Students at NYU:

“What I want you to know:

That there is a difference between the mundane and the inspired.

That the biggest danger is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.

That any human organization must inevitably juggle internal contradictions — the imperatives of efficiency and the countervailing human trade-offs.

That the inherent preferences in organizations are efficiency, clarity, certainty, and perfection.

That human beings are ambiguous, uncertain, and imperfect.

That how you balance and integrate these contradictory characteristics is difficult.

That imagination, not calculation, is the ‘difference’ that makes the difference.

That there is constant juggling between the inherent contradictions of a management imperative of efficiency and the human reality of ambiguity and uncertainty.

That you are a new kind of professional — comfortable with analytical and creative modes of learning.

That there is a knowledge shift from static knowledge to a dynamic searching paradigm.

That creativity is not the game preserve of artists, but an intrinsic feature of all human activity.

That in any creative endeavor you will be discomfited and that is part of learning.

That there is a difference between long term success and short term flash.

That there is a complex connection between social and technological trends. It is virtually impossible to unravel except by hindsight.

That you ask yourself what you want and then you work backwards.

In order to problem solve and observe, you ought to know how to: analyze, probe, question, hypothesize, synthesize, select, measure, communicate, imagine, initiate, reason, create.

That organizations are really systems of cooperative activities and their coordination requires something intangible and personal that is largely a matter of relationships.

What I hope for you:

That you combine that edgy mixture of self-confidence and doubt.

That you have enough self-confidence to try new things.

That you have enough self doubt to question.

That you think of technology as a verb, not a noun; it is subtle but important difference.

That you remember the issues are usually not technical.

That you create opportunities to improvise.

That you provoke it. That you expect it.

That you make visible what, without you, might never have been seen.

That you communicate emotion.

That you create images that might take a writer ten pages to write.

That you observe, imagine and create.

That you look for the question, not the solution.

That you are not seduced by speed and power.

That you don’t see the world as a market, but rather a place that people live in — you are designing for people, not machines.

That you have a stake in magic and mystery and art.

That sometimes we fall back on Rousseau and separate mind from body.

That you understand the value of pictures, words, and critical thinking.

That poetry drives you, not hardware.

That you are willing to risk, make mistakes, and learn from failure.

That you develop a practice founded in critical reflection.

That you build a bridge between theory and practice.

That you embrace the unexpected.

That you value serendipity.

That you reinvent and re-imagine.

That you listen. That you ask questions. That you speculate and experiment.

That you play. That you are spontaneous. That you collaborate.

That you welcome students from other parts of the world and understand we don’t live in a monolithic world.

That each day is magic for you.

That you turn your thinking upside down.

That you make whole pieces out of disparate parts.

That you find what makes the difference.

That your curiosity knows no bounds.

That you understand what looks easy is hard.

That you imagine and re-imagine.

That you develop a moral compass.

That you welcome loners, cellists, and poets.

That you are flexible. That you are open.

That you can laugh at yourself. That you are kind.

That you consider why natural phenomena seduce us.

That you engage and have a wonderful time.

That this will be two years for you to expand — take advantage of it.”

 

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“In the end, it takes you.”

How about some quick post three day weekend inspiration to get you motivated today? This savory bit was pulled from the new (and free) mini-ebook “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey” by Mr. Brian Solis (http://www.BrianSolis.com).

“Innovation begins here. Innovation begins with you.
You are the change agent. You will help influence an uprising that overturns the prevailing
culture of management into that of leadership and innovation.
It’s not easy, but it’s within your ability and reach.
It takes courage to do what others will not.
It takes vision to see what others can’t.
It takes empathy to feel what others experience.
It takes persistence to overcome resistance.
It takes patience to allow the time necessary for your work to bloom.
In the end, it takes you.
Where you are and where you need to be is separated only by your vision and also
your actions and words.
Savor this moment. And then do something about it.”

Solis is also the author of “WTF [of Business]“, “The End of Business as Usual”, as well as “Engage!”. For more info and links to your favorite book provider: http://www.BrianSolis.com/books

Free Download: “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey”

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Online Marketers: The Most Important Article You’ll Read All Year

If you follow my online business writing you’ll already know I’m a dedicated disciple of the ideals of the Avinash Kaushik School of Analytics. Not only does he understand the data and how best to derive information from it, but he’s also spot on when it comes to broader business and business culture issues that compromise the promise that analytics can deliver.

His monthly-ish blog articles are consistently exceptional. This one rises to the top of that:

Eight Silly Data Myths Marketing People Believe That Get Them Fired.

Highly recommended for all marketers—online or offline.

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Who is Your Competition?

Recently I was a participant in a conversation / brainstorming session and someone else proclaimed, “If your competition is doing it, you have to do it too.” While my teeth slowly came down on my tongue I thought, “My Gawd, NO! Me-too isn’t a viable strategy. Follow the blind leading the blind? No way man. Where you should be is where your Guests expect you to be.”  However, that does raise the question: Who is your competition?

Back story: In the 90′s I owned an (offline) retail store that sold music (i.e., vinyl records and CDs), as well as clothing and some other things. The “prevailing wisdom” back then was that other businesses similar to Planet X (the name of the store) were the competition. In retrospect that perception was off-target. The competition was not my music retail peers as much as it was the other interests of my customers. For example, video games. When someone spent $50 on a video game then chances were good they didn’t have that $50 to spend on music (or clothing). The competition wasn’t another store in the next town but that the customer believe the best value for his/her buck was something other than what we offered.

Here are two articles that touch upon the new ideal of competition:

“A Winning Playbook” – Kim S. Nash and Lauren Brousell (CIO.com)

“Disrupt of Die” – Kim S. Nash (CIO.com)

With the internet that effect gets magnified, obviously. Pardon me to stating the obvious but at any given moment you are just a click away from losing the attention of your customers to someone or something else. Your competition is now everywhere, 24/7. Obviously, you can not—and should not—be everywhere. In addition, the people (i.e., The Guests) you are trying to reach have a finite amount of time and a finite amount of attention. The possibilities are endless. The answer is to redefine what competition means in decade two of the 21st century.

Here are the new rules for the new game:

  • Step 1: Abandon the myths of the 20th century, especially those that were never true to begin with.
  • Step 2: Think like your Guests. What are their expectations? What does their ideal experience look/feel like? Obsess over that, not the illusion of individual competitors.
  • Step 3: Spend some time in the mirror asking why and when you are your biggest enemy (read: competition). How are you preventing you from identifying and delivering the ideal experience?
  • Step 4: Repeat.

Ready? Set? Go!

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Stanford and Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders: Tim O’Reilly

Every now and then you come across something that begs to be shared. This podcast is one of those moments:

Standford’s Entrepreneurship Corner Thought Leaders Series presents Tim O’Reilly

Yes, that’s Mr. Web 2.0 of O’Reilly Publishing fame. While I trust you’ll take the time to listen to Tim, these are the ideas that intrigued me. (Note: Some are quotes, some simply paraphrased, and some are O’Reilly quoting others.)

 

  • Edwin Schlossberg: “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”
  • Implicit context
  • Embrace hardware as well as software
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • A system in the space between devices…not just a single application
  • The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits
  • Software is a commodity. Data is the new currency of value.
  • Rethink workflows and the experience
  • Think differently about human / machine symbiosis
  • We don’t have better algorithms. We just have more data.
  • It’s a fairly hard AI problem to pick a traffic light out of a video stream. It’s a trivial AI problem to figure out if it’s red or green if you already know that it’s there.
  • Reputation systems
  • Close the loop
  • What loops can you change? How can you make things smarter? And close the loop?
  • Enable an economy
  • Create more value than you capture
  • Make other people successful
  • Work on stuff that matters
  • Idealism is good for your business
  • Work on things that are hard. Find hard problems.
  • Look a little sideways
  • Code For America (http://CodeForAmerica.org)
  • O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (http://OATV.com)
  • It’s an ongoing process
  • Find interesting problems that are relevant locally
  • It’s about narrating your work in public
  • Sometimes it takes a long time, keep at it
  • Who do you want your customers to be
  • Subscription is an important business model
  • Sensors (hardware) are talking to software
  • The Maker Movement
  • Square enabled coffee shop

Share this! And listen to it again and gain. You’ll hear a little more each time.

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Daniel H. Pink and The Pixar Pitch

After randomly catching a couple intriguing interviews via podcast / radio (see below),  I picked up Daniel H. Pink’s (http://DanPink.com) latest book “To Sell Is Human (The Surprising Truth About Moving Others).” Perhaps you recognize Mr. Pink from one of his previous top-selling efforts, “Drive” or “A Whole New Mind”? To cut a short blog post even shorter, if you’re a fan of Mr. Malcolm Gladwell (http://Gladwell.com), you’ll enjoy Mr. Pink’s communication style.

NPR: Death Of The (Predatory) Salesman: These Days, It’s A Buyer’s Market

Spark (CBC Radio): 202: Selling, Thriving, Developing

Beyond that, I’m not making this effort to deliver an encompassing book review of Pink’s everyone-is-in-sales research-a-thon. There’s no need for that. I’m also not a critic. My intention is simple. I want to share my discovery of Chapter 7′s highlight, The Pixar Pitch.

The chapter begins by proposing that there are six successors to the classic 30 second elevator pitch. Evidently Pink saved the best for last because that’s when The Pixar Pitch is mentioned. Yes, in case you’re wondering, this Pixar is the Steve Jobs’ numberswiki.com

Pixar. Also, if you’re wondering about the other five hits of the post-elevator pitch era you’ll have to buy the book.

In any case, Pink’s proposition is that there are a half dozen optimal ways for making a (sales) pitch. The Pixar Pitch is the formula Pixar uses to craft the movies of its Oscar winning success.

The Pixar Pitch:

Once upon a time {fill in the blank}.

Every day {fill in the blank}.

One day {fill in the blank}.

Because of that {fill in the blank}.

Until finally {fill in the blank}.

Why do I think this simple exercise is brilliant?

As I see it, its potential goes well beyond Pink’s focus, the sales pitch. The Pixar Pitch is the basis for a press release. It’s the framework for brainstorming product development. It could guide the definition of the scope of a brand, website, WordPress plugin, etc. Admittedly, these too must be sold. I would just prefer to inject the Pixar approach further up stream. In other words, sooner rather than later.

The bottom line: The beauty of The Pixar Pitch is that its simple, focus and unavoidably highly effective. Done!

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The Best Super Bowl Commercial (That We Didn’t Get To See)

As is the American pop-media tradition, there has been plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking going on over the Super Bowl commercials. Did you, like me, think the VW commercial was going to be for tourism in Jamaica? Or what about the Ram truck commercial? Inspiring or too dark and murky? Or what about the general lack of appreciation for viewing context? That is, I would imagine a significant percentage of those watching can’t hear the audio. Yet there was not a single advent—that I saw—that functioned well with the volume off. Perhaps big time advertising / TV creative types don’t go to sports bars and/or Super Bowl parties? The answer is obvious, yes?

However, none of those were the marketing low point of the evening. That anti-crescendo happened prior to the kickoff. Most of you probably weren’t even watching yet and even those who were, I bet, have no idea what I’m talking about.

Since I like to eat my own dog food let me provide some of you less enthusiastic NFL fans some backstory (i.e., context). For starters, there’s the ongoing controversy over concussions. which even President Obama has hinted at. After player safety there’s player conduct. Let’s just say that the NFL would be happy if some players were better known for their performance on the field than off. Naturally, with the Baltimore Ravens being in the Super Bowl, (their linebacker) Ray Lewis’ murder indictments were back in the public consciousness.  Nice, right?

Which brings us to the Dallas Cowboy’s Jason Witten and the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. Please raise your hand if you’re drawing a blank.

Jason Witten - NFL Man of the Year 2013

OK then, let’s get to the bottom line…

In light of all the NFL’s image problems, would it really have been too much to devote 60 to 90 seconds to Mr. Witten at half time? Here is a family man the league should be proud of, but they blew it. All that was needed was a quick bit on Mr. Payton, his legacy and the tradition of the award (all of which would been helpful to many of the NFL “amateurs” who were watching), and then something on Witten’s work for stopping domestic violence. 60 seconds of video, plus 30 second of live award would have been 100% brilliant. Heck, put it dead smack in the middle of the Beyonce show and let her present the award to him. Talk about a photo op. Yes, make a big deal out of it. Why? Because it is a big and very positive deal.

Instead, this—dare I say—ceremony was during the pre-game and the segment was excessively short. If you got up to get another cold one, you might have missed it. Pretty sad, don’t you think?

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Design + Science = Design Science

Time flies when…well…um…time flies. I blink and “next week” somehow morphs into couple weeks behind me. Is it just me? It’s not just me, right? In short, too much work, too much to do, and not quite enough time to share quality content here with you. Sorry. I acknowledge my faults and promise you I’ve got processes running in the background to remedy this. Thanks for your understanding. Let’s move on.

About a month ago I picked up the book “Trillions” by Peter Lucas, Joe Ballay and Mickey McManus. I was inspired to read “Trillions” after attending a presentation followed by a book signing at Princeton University by Mr. McManus. You can read more about that event here: http://www.alchemyunited.com/2012/10/26/a-million-millions-is-trillions.

If you’re interested you can follow my “Trillions” chapter by chapter efforts here:
http://chiefalchemist.com/source/trillions-maya-design-lucas-ballay-mcmanus

Typically, as I’m consuming a book, I do a chapter by chapter “key takeaway” blurb (read: brief) on my Chief Alchemist “workstream” site / blog. That said, Chapter 6 (Design Science on Trillions Mountain) of “Trillions” has a number of insightful gems that demand to be shared.

  • Beyond Design Thinking To Design Science: [Buckminster] Fuller called his approach Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science.
  • Design Science rejects a purely relativist view of traditional design thinking. In Design Science we avoid notions such as “liking” a design for personal or superficially stylistic reasons. There will always be a variety of good designs—some better than others; bounded rationality and the sheer diversity of problem situations suffice to ensure that. But there are also wrong designs…But it is to say that, give a proper statement of goals and a sufficiently broad and careful consideration of the entire situation—technical, human, and market—it is possible to establish principled, professional, systematic techniques that rationally select some design over others.
  • The goal was to understand the whole ecology of people, places, documents, and information, and to model it early, before degrees of freedom had been used up in designing individual pieces of the system…Making—through, iterative, frequent, parallel prototyping—is a design method that turns indistinct dreams into tangible goals in record time.
  • Make The Right Thing: The Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 exposed the human weakness for celebrating what can be done with technology, with little thought about what should be done. We need to remind ourselves that even though we may have some prowess in making things right, we need to put equal emphasis on making the right things. What goals, processes, and guidelines will lead us to the right things—made right?
  • Action at the Interstices (by Pete): I like to visualize all human knowledge as a giant jigsaw puzzle, where each academic discipline is a puzzle piece. In some sense, there is only one picture, and the cuts that we made to the puzzle pieces are artificial and arbitrary…So, the interstices between disciplines are always where the action is. It is where the best practitioners go to invent the future.
  • If we are going to design for Trillions in a way that is human-literate, rather than forcing people to become ever more computer-literate, we need to keep the human at the center of the process. We need a vision of how we will come to understand not just people and their needs and desires, but also how they will be affected by the myriad devices that will become intimate parts of their everyday lives.
  • Studying one product in isolation, unconnected from its “social life,” will no longer suffice…To add to the challenge, the range of potential products that have become technically feasible is becoming nearly boundless…Sizing up the market to decide where to invest one’s efforts and capital has always been a core challenge of business, even when the range of possibilities was severely bounded. Now that so many of the bounds have been lifted, the challenge is that much greater. Remember the stuff in the Crystal Palace.
  • If “ship early, ship often” is interpreted as the willingness to expose not-quite-feature-complete but well-tested products to the healthy pressures of real users, everybody wins. But if it is used as an excuse for shipping half-baked, flaky products; using your customers as unpaid quality-assurance staff—and counting on ever-lowering expectations of quality in a slipshod marketplace numbed by crashing TVs and bug-filed software—it is another matter entirely.
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery suggested this way:”A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
  • What’s happened is that the complexity didn’t disappear. It shifted.
  • All of science is based on cycles of Hypothesis >> Model >> Test >> New Hypothesis, and Design Science is no exception.
  • Progress in science is paced not just by advances in theory, but also by advances in methodology. Design Science is no exception.
  • Our collective goal must be convergence toward a unified user experience. A common interaction physics is the golden path to this goal. Consistency builds confidence, and confidence provides feelings of control, security, and comfort…Our ability to build civilization itself would be called into question if everything were as plastic as most software products.
  • Informatin-Centric Interaction Design: It is possible to identify four distinct states in the evolution of human-computer interaction. Command-centric. Application-centric. Document-centric. Information-centric.
  • We are on the verge of building system unprecedented both in their scale and in their very nature. It is one thing to design a usable computer program. Is is quite another to design a usable environment when that environment compromises innumerable semiautonomous devices mediating an unbounded swirl of constantly flowing information. Usability, or the lack thereof, will be an emergent property of such a milieu.

You might also be interested in this on TheAtlantic.com:

MAYA Tames Complexity in the Age of Trillions

By Kathryn Hawkins

Yes! I agree, you should go buy the book already. Chapter 6 at double the price would still be a bargain.

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A million millions is…Trillions

The future is here, almost, and it looks nothing like the present and the past. Or so is the vision / prediction of Mickey McManus (CEO of MAYA Design, http://MAYA.com). Earlier this week to promote his new book, Mr. McManus spoke on the Princeton University campus as part of the Keller Center’s ongoing Events & Lectures series (http://commons.princeton.edu/kellercenter/2012/10/mickey-mcmanus-trillions.html). He, along with Peter Lucas and Joe Ballay (also from MAYA Design), are the authors of “Trillions—Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology”.

Yes of course, I bought the book (as well as had it signed). If you’re interested you can follow my chapter by chapter “key takeaways” here:
http://chiefalchemist.com/source/trillions-maya-design-lucas-ballay-mcmanus

This was not your typical mid-week late afternoon session sprinkled with takeaways of hard and fast (business) rules. Instead the focus was on ideas and concepts that were abstract and thought provoking, if not mind-expanding. I mention this now so you have the proper context for my notes below. Please adjust your expectations accordingly. Also, perhaps consider buying the book to fill in any blanks you might suddenly spawn.

  • Seconds, the measurement of time. 1 million seconds is ~1.5 weeks ago and 1 billion seconds goes back to the mid-70s. But 1 trillion seconds is 30,000 BC!
  • There are 50 to 100 trillions cells in the human body.
  • Malignant complexity
  • Five cloud services currently store most of humanity’s information.
  • Cascading failures
  • The mountain we’re on is nothing compared to the one that’s coming.
  • Nature is the ideal model (for managing complexity).
  • Beautiful complexity
  • Generativity (Ref: Wikipedia)
  • Conway’s Game of Life (Ref: Wikipedia)
  • Generativity + Human Centered Design + Parametic Model
  • Bill Joy (Sun Microsystems): “There are always more smart people working for someone else than working for you.”
  • There’s a bubble coming…
  • Luck is not a plan.
  • Become a student of what’s coming.
  • Count the cards. Learn the tricks. Learn the patterns.
  • A crisis of creativity (i.e., not enough of it).
  • We must pivot from making things right to making the right things.
  • Dream bigger.
  • Brands will become transparent whether they want to or not.
  • Patagonia (company) is a model for the future.
  • There are electrical codes. There are plumbing codes. There are no codes for computing and technology.

Wow. Right?

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“Figuring it out is the fulcrum,” said the man with the billion dollar smile

Luck favors the prepared, as well as those who keep their eyes and ears open for “opportunities”. (Colleagues who do the same is a big help too.) The truth be told I consider myself quite fortunate to have made time for Steve Papa’s appearance at Princeton University late yesterday afternoon. Aside from being a graduate of Princeton (1994), Papa was also one of the founders of Endeca Technologies. Less than a year ago Endeca was acquired by Oracle for around $1.1 billion.

Here are some of the highlights from my notes:

  • Rule #1 – Ignore the experts. When you’re doing something new there are people who just won’t get it.
  • Learn to succeed despite the odds. Have faith, it’s part of the process.
  • When financial times are tight, sell a painkiller (i.e., a product that increases revenue).
  • Recession, reinvention & re-organization.
  • Main lesson: Ideas <–> Figuring it out <–> Execution. There’s more to it than just ideas and execution. The fulcrum (that few talk about) is figuring it out.
  • “Survivorship bias”—Don’t let early customers over-influence your product / direction. The customer is always right, but not every customer is the right customer at the right time for your company.
  • Being entrepreneurial is the relentless pursuit of credibility.
  • Fact: Entrepreneurs don’t create risk, they mitigate it.
  • Be aware of macroeconomics
  • “It’s always a good time to innovate but there’s not always time for every innovation.”
  • You will hire people who will not do what is good and best for your company. This is particularly true of sales people.
  • With regards to hiring:
    - Repeaters vs creators
    - Doers vs leaders
    - Intellectually curious vs focused
    - Experience vs potential
    - Credibility vs talent, or both?
  • Where the company / product is in the development cycle will drive the specifics of your hiring needs.
  • Key to sales: Timing, territory & talent in that order. [Note: He made it a point to highlight that timing and territory come before talent.]

The two best gems came towards the end of the presentation:

  • Luck plays a bigger role than most will admit. But luck favors the prepared.
  • “I figured out the right approach by process of elimination.”

Needless to say, Steve knows his was around the playing field. Yet much like Jack Dorsey, there was a quiet confidence in Papa’s persona. No chest thumpin’ or other Thump-isms, just simple honest ideas, opinions and facts. Strictly business—humble, human and with a smile.

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Some thoughts from Jack Dorsey (The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, Sept 2012)

Yes, the Mr. Jack Dorsey—inventor of Twitter and founder of Square (the payment platform)—was on the Princeton University campus yesterday for a presentation + Q&A session sponsored by The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. In front of a full-house in McCosh 10, a casual but poised and polished Dorsey put his mega-success on pause to share some business wisdom with what was primarily tech-aware university students. Fortunately for my colleagues and I, many of the The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club events are open to the public. Apparently, the club doesn’t subscribe to the infamous stealth-mode philosophy.

Here are most of the highlights from my notes:

  • William Gibson: “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
  • Constantly! Reset. Rethink. Reorganize.
  • Try to structure your company in such a way that it allows for multiple founding moments.
  • Square’s motto: An idea that can change the course of the company can comes from anywhere.
  • New energy + new people = new ideas
  • Disruption is an undesirable approach. The ultimate objective is revolution.
  • “We need more confidence.”
  • “Square enables people to do what they love.”
  • A beautiful company will lead to a beautiful product (but not necessarily the other way around).
  • Recommended book: “The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership” by Bill Walsh.
  • In speaking about the Golden Gate Bridge, “Small groups of people can do epic things.”
  • Also about the GGB, Dorsey said it was an example of a brilliant combination of engineering, design and utility. He discussed the fact that most people who use the bridge probably don’t consider how magnificent it really is. He added that great things can (and sometimes should) be forgettable.
  • The DNA of the company is essential.
  • Come to meetings prepared.
  • Square has sit-down and stand-up tables. Dorsey drew laughs by adding that the meetings that use the stand-up tables tend to be shorter.
  • Naming the company is important. It sets the tone for everything. Square was finite and fitting, yet at the same time extendable.

Jack Dorsey was refreshing, humble and ego-less. It was often hard to believe that one of the 21st century’s business/technology heavy-weights could be so understated. There was no you’re so lucky I’m here. No, I have all the answers kids so listen to me. It was simply one very successful (young) man’s view of the world, and a sincere willingness to share it.

One of the key takeaways for me was what he didn’t say. He rarely used the word innovation (and dismissed the use of the start-up anthem of disruption). Aside from that, his next most important message was the emphasis on people. Finding the right people to work for his company so those people can develop beautiful products for people in the market who will be excited about its availability. The key was not technology but people. Surprise! Very old school, yes? None the less, Dorsey’s ideas shimmered with pure brilliance. Everything old could be new once again.

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What is your IAR (Ideas to Actions Ratio)?

I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done.

We come up with (what has the potential to be) a great idea and then we pat ourselves on the back because we think we’ve done something amazing. As if one idea in the massive and endless universe of all ideas is somehow instantly special. Really? Think about it, what are the odds? It can’t be that simple, can it? Actually, it’s not.

Over the last couple weeks I have apparently been serendipitously blessed with the inspiration and content for this article.  Two fortune cookies and a tweet from Mark Cuban. Yeah, I feel the same way, who knew?

There are no shortcuts to a place worth going.
“There are no shortcuts to a place worth going.”

Sloth makes all things difficult, industry all easy.
“Sloth makes all things difficult, industry all easy.”

Mark Cuban: Ideas are easy. The hard part is making a business.
Mark Cuban: “Ideas are easy I’ve never met a single person who didn’t think they had a world class idea. The hard part is making it a business.”

 

The bottom line…ideas are overrated. Without actions, without follow up, without persistence, without growth, without the glimmer of a plan,  ideas are about as valuables as dandelion seeds aimlessly floating in the wind. Or, as it’s rightfully said, “A penny for your thoughts.”

You’ve got a great idea? Super, you and a gazillion other people. The real question is, what are you ready, willing and able to do about it? What is your Ideas to Actions Ratio?

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10 Quick Tips to Better Email Marketing

To the point, this is my reply to a question posted on Quora (http://Quora.com):

How can one reduce the chances of their emails being ignored?

  1. Realign your expectations. While you might believe your messages are relevant and uber important, it’s the receiver who decides that. No isn’t no. It’s just not now, perhaps later.
  2. Consider yourself not an emailer but a content provider or at least a marketing machine. The power of your brand to draw attention is a function of the ongoing relevance of what you distribute. You’re not sending emails, you’re building a reputable brand.
  3. That being said, it’s not – nor should it be – always about you. That is, if the content you distribute is in the context of all about you all the time, instead of the readers’ context (i.e., info of value to them), then you are, over time, going to lose readership.
  4. Test. Test & Test some more. From subject lines to day of week + time of broadcast – look for sweet spots and (dead) dogs. There is no magic bullet.
  5. Integrate other media channels. For example, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Perhaps the combo of noticing a tweet + reading an email subject line will get you optimal results. It might (read: probably will) take multiple “touches” before you get an sort of reaction / interaction.
  6. Devote at least 10% of your budget to experimenting. Keep looking for the magic bullet (even if it doesn’t exist).
  7. Consider using a CRM. That is, those who reply (probably) expect a different ongoing conversation than those you are still trying to reach. A CRM – if used properly – should allow you to customize your relationships.
  8. Along the same lines, segment your list. Perhaps there are subtle or not so subtle difference in your target(s). For example, try different subject lines against different segments.
  9. Be mindful of the volume of information being forced upon the receivers. Far too many marketers believe theirs is the only brand in the information sea. Ha! Whether you believe it or not you are competing with the likes of soda adverts, car adverts, etc. The finite commodity is the receivers’ attention and in your case, the time / motivation to reply.
  10. Be creative. Given #9, perhaps the standard channels with the standard messages aren’t going to be enough. Send flowers. Send wine. Send a snail mail handwritten personal note. If you want to cut through the clutter – note: you are part of the clutter problem too – then you’re going to have to be creative.
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Lesson in marketing from pop singer Taylor Swift

Earlier this year, after watching the Grammys I wrote a posted titled: “Lessons in business from the soul singer Adele”. So after catching Taylor Swift on 60 Minutes this past Sunday I decided it was time for a similar follow up. Who knows, perhaps I’ll position these pop music inspirations as another series in the AU blogging lexicon. Time will tell.

Watch the video:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7411988n

Read the transcript:
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57451731/taylor-swift-a-young-singers-meteoric-rise

Note: Some of these thoughts might be slight repeats from the Adele article. To me this confirms that great minds think alike.

—It’s never too early to start. Ms. Swift has sold millions of downloads, tickets and CDs and she’s barely into her twenties. The 60 minutes piece goes back to her pre-teens. In short, she’s been working towards this for quite some time. How prepared are you and your brand for the long run?

—Be fearless and relentless. Ms. Swift had such a strong vision and belief in herself that she was willing to tell her record company to take a hike. It was they who needed her, not the other way around. Go Taylor! No one loves a wishy-washy brand with no character. On top of that, as a teen she played bars and other venues that were probably less receptive to her and he type of music. None the less, she played though and built strength and confidence. Lesson: The beaten path is for the beaten. A true champion isn’t afraid to build character, learn from that and then press on.

—Be true to yourself and authentic to the world. Rather than sing songs someone else wrote, Ms. Swift insisted she sing her own. How could she be herself if she was merely puppeting someone else? Perhaps this is a lesson Mitt Romney could stand to learn?

—Be engaged with your fans and followers. There are few pop-stars who are successful enough to hide behind the curtain of super-stardom. Clearly, Ms. Swift is one of them. But does she hide? Nope. Before, during and after shows she’s directly engaged with her fans. Are there times she would prefer not to? Of course. But successful brand building isn’t about doing what you want to do, it’s about doing what you need to do to get the job done. Shaking hands might suck but having no hands to shake sucks even more, eh?

—Be engaged with your own brand. Perhaps 60 Minutes was kind to her and edited out shades of control-freak, micro-manager, etc. I don’t think that was the case. Ms. Swift, despite her youth, embraces the fact that no one understands and defines her brand better than she does. She could certainly afford to outsource such things yet she takes the extra time and in turn reaps the benefits. I can think of quite a few adults I know who aren’t this wise on this matter.

—Quality still matters. If tired manufactured controversy sells best and mindless pop fodder is what the people want to hear, then someone please explain Ms. Swift (and Adele). Be wary of those who champion short cuts for they are probably doing so because they lack the wherewithal to stand alone at the top. Simply put, there are no short cuts to being the best. Gimmicks are like cigarettes, one by one they will shorten the life of your brand.

—Be humble. This one I know is a Adele repeat. Great as these two artists are you would never know it. They let their talent, accomplishments and their fans do the talking. There’s not need for excessive bravado and the usual PR cliches. While I don’t want to come across as sexist, I have to wonder if this is a natural advantage women have that testosterone types do not.

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Whatever happened to business common sense?

“Disruptive Innovation Made Easy” by Paul Michelman (Harvard Business Review, 7 June 2012). Since launching my work-streamy Chief Alchemist website (http://ChiefAlchemist.com) I’ve tried to reserve Alchemy United for more “original” proactive content, and less in-response-to content. This post actually started on CA but as it developed I decided its thoughts qualify as Alchemy United material. I hope you agree.

This is the comment I left on HBR:

“Each industry has practices that drive customers crazy,” write the authors of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies. Take technology providers’ technical support, with its long hold times “hopelessly complex interactions.” Is there something companies in your industry do that’s just as stupid? “Identify these types of practices, and wipe them out.”

With a fair amount of certainty I believe I can say we’re all in favor of innovation. With that being said, it’s still no substitute for good old fashion execution. Execution that meets Guest (aka customer) expectations. Forget “wow”, today I’m just shooting for “thanks, that’s great.”

Let me give you a perfect example. A couple days ago I was on the deals site Slick Deals (http://SlickDeals.net) and spotted a product at a particularly great price from Adorama (http://Adorama.com). For those who don’t know, Adorama is a well established retailer of (mostly) camera gear. I was so impressed with the price that I ordered ten—shipping was free.

In the end, they only shipped me one (out of ten) and for some reason they charged me for shipping. Other than the traditional “your order has shipped” email I received no out of the ordinary communications from Adorama with regards to my order. This morning I returned to the SlickDeals thread to find I wasn’t the only one who was short shipped as well as mistakenly charged. The short shipping is acceptable. Adorama elected to make more people (probably) less happy. I’m not selfish, I understand. (Note: Some others might not be so kind.)

On the other hand, clearly Adorma knows about the shipping charge glitch, or should know. My (read: everyone’s) expectation is simple…if you want me to want you, don’t make me take time to ask for something that you (the brand) should be proactive to acknowledge and provide. Surely HBR is not suggesting that such things require innovation? Would anyone like to bet that this was not the first time Adorama encountered an exception in their process? Yet, there’s nothing in place to catch that exception and resolve it? Really?

To top is off, I did notice that Adorama had taken liberties to start including me in their email blasts. Again, unacceptable. How about a “You should have received your order by now. Is everything alright? Is there something we can help you with?…” email first? I mention this because my company did just that when I owned a small (seven figures in revenue) e-comm company.  Every new customer got a follow up a day or two after they received their order. Note: That was something we did ten-plus years ago.

My point is, when business common sense is being passed off as innovative then we are all in a lot of trouble. Customers aren’t patting themselves on the back for clicking the Order Now button, or dialing a number on their smart phone. I think it’s time companies stop glorifying themselves about ideas and “innovations” that in 2012 should be as ubiquitous as air.

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Launch: Shanachie.com

Shanachie.comCongratulation to Shanachie Entertainment on the launch of their new & improved website Shanachie.com.

Full disclosure: The Shanachie project came to AU via Falco Design (http://FalcoDesign.com). FD worked with their client, created the design and was responsible for the (majority of the) front-end coding. AU’s responsibility was taking that input and making the CMS development magic happen with ExpressionEngine.

For some additional context,  you can read Shanachie’s press releases on Yahoo! News:

http://news.yahoo.com/celebrated-independent-record-label-shanachie-entertainment-relaunches-newly-110223373.html

Highlights of Phase 1

—Shanachie has full access and control of the website’s content. Text, images and video embeds are all managed with ExpressionEngine.

—Though the use of the EE add-on Playa (by Pixel & Tonic), different types of content can easily be related. For example, there is a Playa relationship between Artists and Tours. Once the relationship is established, the CMS (content management system) is coded to deliver the right content at the right time, as defined by the rules of the business.

—Entry categories are also utilized for suggesting appropriate content. For example, New Releases and Feature Releases can be quickly and easily defined by Shanachie by using ExpressionEngine’s categories.

—While SEO (search engine optimization) was not an emphasis of this phase, the site’s structure and URLs were architected to be “SEO friendly.”

AU’s Contribution

—ExpressionEngine web development.

—Extensive enhancement to a jquery plugin for list paging (e.g., the lower half of http://shanachie.com/videos/all-dvds). We were so pleased with the resulting plugin that we branded it ezPagination and will be launching a free-standing website (http://ezPagination) for it fairly soon.

Naturally, we’d like to thank Falco Design for choosing AU to handle the web development slice of this project.

As you can tell from the press release Shanachie is very happy. We are too.

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Innovation as an Ends is Highly Overrated

A couple weeks ago I attended TigerLaunch Startup Challenge 2012 at Princeton University, as hosted by The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club. The keynote speaker was Bill Taylor (Princeton ’81) the co-founder of the iconic Fast Company Magazine. Bill was also one of the judges in the competition. Thought the magic of YouTube, The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club has shared Bill’s keynote.

Bill Taylor keynote at TigerLaunch 2012 (Princeton University) Fast Company

Bill Taylor Keynote: TigerLaunch 2012 (Part 2/3)
Bill Taylor Keynote: TigerLaunch 2012 (Part 3/3)

Based on my now cryptic notes here are the highlights I gleaned from Bill Taylor’s keynote address at TigerLaunch 2012.

  • Be passionate. When someone say no just drive harder.
  • Luck and timing helps.
  • Business plans are written to reflect singles and doubles. The reality is there are strikeouts and home runs.
  • The business plan is a good exercise but it never goes as planned.
  • Be naive, be an outsider, it’s an advantage. Fresh eyes can be as important as experience and expertise.
  • Hire for attitude. Train for skill.
  • Customers!
  • Entrepreneurs must learn to manage emotions and emotional connections.
  • Be memorable.
  • Being smart isn’t enough.
  • Eat your own dog food.
  • “The only thing worse than failing is success.”
  • “Architecture of participation”
  • When crowdsourcing be exact about what you want. Ask for participation everywhere you go.

Good stuff, yes? But wait there’s more…

In total there were eight presentations—Bill Taylor plus seven start-ups. The start-ups were: Collections, Waiter d’, QualTraxx, nat|Aural, DUMA, Pasand and BeneTag. Obviously, there was a lot of creative entrepreneurial energy in the room. However, there was one thing that was (pleasantly) absent. That was the use of the word innovation. There was plenty of talk about customers, business models, technology, growth, etc. but no one seemed to be over-focused on innovation for innovation’s sake. Realistic and refreshing.

Conclusion? Innovation as an ends is highly overrated—as it should be.

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