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.”
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”
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“Sloth makes all things difficult, industry all easy.”
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?
“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.
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: 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.
- 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.
Congratulations to owner/CEO Greg Garnich on the launch of his new & improved iproperty GregsLandscaping.com.
Gregs Landscaping is a full-service company that believes that no client/project is too small or too big. Communication of all that is Gregs Landscaping was one of the key challenges of this project. The good news was Greg is also an avid photographer and has plenty of image content. Solving how to address the 20+ services took a bit more analysis. After a number of detailed discussions we all eventually agreed on displaying the services in a layout inspired by a “tag cloud”. The added innovation was that the tiers for each service could be service specific. This custom build functionality was essential to giving the GL brand the depth and breadth it needed.
Finally, the third key component of this iproperty was that every page is designed to function as a free-standing landing page for that particular service. When a potential customer does a search and then lands on an “inner page” for a particular service all the essential content will be there on that page. Even when they scroll to the bottom of the page the request a quote button and phone number is there waiting for them.
All this came together to form an experience that accurately reflects the Gregs Landscaping brand—honest, thorough and always easy to do business with.
Highlights of Phase 1
—Gregs Landscaping is built on the content management system (CMS) platform ExpressionEngine (EE). It is EE’s robust functionality and highly regarded flexibility that allowed AU to build a website that could “deliver the right content at the right time.”
—For example, content can be targeted to services/pages. That is, each FAQ, gallery image, header image, link and testimonial can all be assigned to the service(s)/page(s) it supports. Each is entered only once and is then assigned to many services/pages.
—Aside from being able to configure the tiers for each service in the service “tag cloud”, Gregs also has the ability to display content based on month. For example, if Gregs Landscaping wanted the copy on the home page for Sept to March to be different from the copy for April to August that is possible. Once the content setting were configured EE would handle the rest. In fact, even the service cloud can be configured to be seasonal. Images, testimonials, etc. all have a month by month setting for defining when a particular slice of content should be displayed.
—The URL structure and page markup is best described as “SEO friendly.” AU also consulted GL on SEO best practices (e.g., giving image files relevant names).
—To make Gregs’ site social media and “Facebook friendly” the markup includes a handful of key Open Graph tags.
—Alchemy United is proud to say that this project was 100% AU. From project management, business needs analysis and wireframes, to design, HTML markup and CSS, and Expression Engine development, we made all the magic happen.
Once again, congratulations Greg. With your images and this full-power ExpressionEngine website we’re certain you’ll be converting more prospects to happy Gregs Landscaping customers.
We’ve all heard the stories. The twenty-first century equivalents of Daniel Boone, Paul Bunyon and Paul Revere. Amazing and larger than life.
First, there’s YouTube. Three former Pay Pal employees sketch out an idea on the back of a bar napkin (so to speak). They proceed to pursue the idea. Why? Because they can and they’re the types to do so. They launch quickly, continue to tweak, etc. and the site goes viral before the word was in the mainstream lexicon. As the story goes, less than two years later they sold to Google for well over a 1.5 billion dollars. Billion,
And then there’s Facebook, as “documented” in the film “The Social Network.” Mark Zuckerburg & Co whip together an idea, or stole it depending on who you ask. From there they rocket from stuffy East Coast Harvard to West Coast “swimming pools and movie stars” and onto billionaires and millionaires in less than two hours of running film time. With a little help from naiveté and Sean Parker, of course.
Both stories are impressive and inspiring. In that context, it doesn’t get much better.
Unfortunately, they are also both an exception to the rule. And not just small exceptions but are probably at the extreme edge of the exception scale. Winning the Power Ball lottery or dating a super-model is probably going to happen to you sooner than your idea becomes the next (me-to?) YouTube or Facebook. Yes, these thing can and do happen. I’m not here to squash dreams. But is looking to score the equivalent of back to back to back hat tricks in the World Cup a wise and realistic use of your energy?
Presuming you’re going to put some life-saving on the line, add stress to your life and your family (where before there was none), etc. perhaps there’s a better way? Perhaps, a business plan, or at least the draft of one?
Please note: I’m not a big fan of a business plan, as a plan per se. On the other had, the process of: collecting ideas; writing them down; organizing them so they make sense; flipping them upside down to look for holes; fully vetting your ideas; a draft a mission statement; assessing the size of the market and how you’re going to motivate and communicate with that market; defining goals and success and how those will be measured; sketching wireframes (if it involves a website) or the offline equivalent; formally and thoroughly analyzing the competition; reasonable and objective estimates of the resources required (i.e., time, talent and money); best case(s) and worst case(s); showing this collection of organized ideas to colleagues; and then stepping back yourself to see if the reward warrants the risk…
Well, there’s something to be said for a business plan forcing you to accomplish that.
The point of this exercise it’s only to prove yourself right, it’s to prove yourself wrong. You’re probably going to go forward anyway—as most entrepreneurs do—just make sure you know what you’re up against. The fact is, plenty of top flight squads have swaggered onto the pitch presuming victory over a less worthy opponent and gone home humbled and without the victory. Yes, over-thinking it can be dangerous. However, I’m willing to bet that the non-victorious under-think more than they over-think it. Do you believe there’s no scrapheap of failed YouTube, Facebook, etc. wannabes? Just because that heap isn’t good Hollywood material doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
That said, I’ll be the first to admit I have a soft-spot for spontaneity. I appreciate being quick to market. I embrace the agile mindset. When it’s time to run, I’m ready to go. Foolish! Hungry!! On the other hand, when it’s asked, “Nice. Which direction is this next YouTube/Facebook headed?” and “How are you going to get there?” the answer should be more than a couple pages of bullet points, most of which are the usual pages (e.g. About Us, Contact Us, etc.). Frankly, that type of swagger raises a red flag. Your opponent, the devil & his details, are probably smiling. The W is all but theirs.
The bottom line…Odds are you’re going to need to put the uber long-shot myths aside if you want Justin Timberlake in your “based on a true story” dream come true movie.
Finally, I’d like to end this with this thread from Quora.com:
Some serious food for thought in that one, yes?
Earlier today I had coffee with a respected colleague. We both have unique perspectives so it’s always refreshing to meet for some engaging banter. As it often does, the conversation turned to the economy (old vs. new), the internet (web 2.0 vs. web 3.0), and how such dynamic parameters impact companies/organizations in pursuit of growth.
Here is a non-all inclusive summary of our conversation in no particular order:
- Now more than ever, the parameter settings (so to speak) that grew a successful company to Tier X, is quite often not the same settings to get to Tier X+1, Tier X+2 and beyond.
- Early growth is like pounding a nail. However, at some point that nail turns into a screw. The brute force of a hammer that drove the nail is all but useless for turning screws. Simply pounding harder is not the answer. In fact, it’s a false assumption that is distracting and counter productive. Pounding even harder qualifies as insane.
- By definition, change (e.g., growth) requires change. In addition, more is more and better is better. Simply repeating more of yesterday’s this-works is probably not the formula for a better tomorrow. Believing otherwise can be dangerous.
- While culture starts with HR, it’s management’s role to set direction, motivate, maximize productivity and reinforce that culture. Culture doesn’t just happen. If the culture is failing it’s not the fault of staff.
- While few, some things have not changed. As in sports, victory is shared by the team. However, the responsibility for coming up short belongs to management/leadership.
- While certainly not a panacea, tool selection (i.e., technology) can be the deciding factor between getting to Tier X+2 and Tier X+4.
- Bureaucracy is not absolute, it is relative. In other words, what’s counter-productive for a Tier X company can be best practices and M&Ps for a company a tier or two up. The challenge is making the transition from controlled chaos to focused, efficient and low noise.
- Act like the company you want to be, not the company you used to be. In today’s environment, yesterday as an anchor is no longer a positive.
- As organizations grow what is required to sustain that growth evolves. For example, entrepreneurial leadership is often replaced with a more seasoned approach. Darwinism dictates that organisms that don’t evolve die.
- If growth were simply a matter of scaling up sales then there would be a glut of multi-million dollar companies. The difficulty of scaling marketing/sales aside, there’s more to sustainable growth than more sales. Higher volume increases noise. Therefore, noise reduction is also critical.
The bottom line…we both agreed that in spite of the macro-economic gloom and doom there continues to be opportunities for growth minded organizations willing to evolve.
“Services, Market Intelligence Are Best Buy’s Not-So-Secret Sauce” by Alan Wolf (TWICE.com, 7 November 2011).
Raise your hand if you think of Best Buy as a down & dirty in the details marketing/marketing intelligence company? What? No hands raised? That’s okay, I was in your camp too prior to this as well. There a couple things that caught my attention and my business imagination.
First, there’s Geek Squad. As I recall, Best Buy was the first (or at least one of the first) to roll out such a branded service. Mind you, I feel for the mom & pops it stepped on. But let’s face it, getting a PC or other consumer electronics fixed is like taking your car in for service—you just don’t know when you’re getting hoodwinked. Not only does Best Buy satisfy a need in the market with Geek Squad but it also uses that one-on-one customer contact as a key data collection point. Their commodity based retail is the razor. The after-mark service— differentiated and higher margin—is the razor blade. Who knew? Did you? Moi? I never drilled down on the thought that deep.
But here’s the kicker:
“Meanwhile, helping to discern market trends and consumer needs — often before shoppers are cognizant of them — is Best Buy’s customer insights unit (CIU), headed by former CIA intelligence officer Bill Hoffman. The operation uses surveys and focus groups, and monitors forums, social networks and other online commentary, to gauge customer satisfaction, understand brands, track the effectiveness of promotions, prepare for new launches, and develop insights and actionable strategies for the company’s various business units.”
Note: It’s not the use of surveys, focus groups, etc. that caught my eye. It’s the fact that the lead dog is former CIA. In other words, the value isn’t in collecting the data. It’s helpful but it’s relatively easy to do in this day and age. Who isn’t collecting something at this point? The value is in turning that data into useful information from which strategic business decision can be made. This end to end process takes three things: collecting the right data, parsing it and then analyzing it to make the right decisions.
Obviously Best Buy is pretty serious about all three, especially the deal breaker, step 3. You don’t call in the CIA just for kicks, right? By the way, I wouldn’t doubt it if Best Buy shares some of what it collects with its OEM partners. For a fee, of course. I guess you can add that to their list of razor blades as well.
Perhaps there are opportunities for you to sell more razor blades? Perhaps you are sitting on the data would lead you to making such an insight?
Every now and then an idea/project comes along that’s too good to pass up. Maybe the appeal is its off-beat nature. Maybe it’s the challenge. Maybe it’s the potential for fun. Maybe it’s the chance to shine. Maybe it’s the bragging rights. Maybe it’s more productive than Big Bang Theory reruns on TV. Our homegrown VT802.us is all of the above and then some.
Background: Some months ago, in the process of purchasing some other domain names, I grabbed VT802.us. Call it pennies for a rainy day if you will. But at the time I had no idea how I might spend that cash cow. It just seemed like a good idea. Oh! Let me explain: VT is for Vermont and 802 is the telephone area code up there. Yes, they only have one area code. Make sense so far?
Long story short, I passed on the idea of a bit.ly Pro account. That was too mundane and too obvious. I waited. Then approximately six months ago I came across YOURLS.org. YOURLS is an open source project—thanks Ozh!—for doing your own URL shortener. Before you could say bazinga, a brand was born.
VT802.us – The World’s First Vermont-centic URL shortener.
Key Features & Innovations:
- Submitted URLs that are already “shortened” will be unshortened and then reshortened with the VT802.us base domain name. This includes redirects. In other words, if a URL is a redirect to another URL, VT802.us will get to the end point and then shorten using the actual final destination URL.
- Along with the to-be-shortened URL a short message for sharing to social networks can also be entered. Once the shortened URL is returned, the Guest has the option to share to any service supported by AddThis.com. Shorten once, share many. Neither bit.ly nor TinyURL offer this feature.
- The AddThis code was heavily customized. In fact, in the process of trouble shooting a couple of bumps in the web development road even AddThis.com’s tech support admitted that the innovative configuring was an “unanticipated use” of their service.
- Contact form (icon in upper right) is AJAX and jQuery. The main form and the contact form also use the jQuery Validation plugin.
- Images are selected randomly on each page load from a pool of files and meta data managed via the admin config.
- The admin config has a number of fields for each image including: title, description, photographer and others.
- Top message bar is done with the free version of HelloBar.
- Banner ad is served with Google’s Doubleclick for Publishers. This feature enables us to analyze impressions, as well as allows advertisers to A/B test their banners. Pursuing advertisers is a Phase 3 pursuit. For now it was a matter of getting to play with Doubleclick again. That said, better to be ready sooner rather than later.
- Logo and website design is also by Alchemy United. The markup uses HTML5 and is best viewed in Firefox or Chrome.
- VT802.us also has its own Twitter account and Facebook Page. Please feel free to follow as well as Like. Thanks.
- And yes, of course, Google Analytics too.
In short, VT802.us is a full-service end-to-end project, envisioned and realized by Alchemy United. As short and simple as it might appear to be this project still entailed quite a bit of attention to detail as well as thoroughness across a number of disciplines. Please let us know what you think about our “little” work in progress. Thanks.
I would personally like to thank Burlington, VT photographer/photojournalist Seth Butler (SethButler.com, @SethButler) for embracing the VT802.us vision.
Not only was he the first volunteer shooter to license a couple of images to the project but it was also his idea for the longer more detailed descriptions for the images. As a result, not only does VT802.us promote the visual side of the Green Mountain State but there’s a bit of education/insight as well. He also inspired AU to add the Image & Photographer information “page” (icons in the upper left).
Well done. Thanks Seth!
In the course of doing some business yesterday, I stopped for a quick lunch. While I wasn’t intentionally trying to ease drop on the table next to me I heard one person say to the other, “…but we’re not a big company…” They all then proceeded to piss and moan about the symptoms of lack of process, lack of structure, wishy-washy management, etc.
I’m as agile and unstructured as the next guy/gal. On the other hand even I understand that there is a difference between the burdens of bureaucracy and adding value by working smart via appropriate process/structure. If a problem keeps bleeding, the answer is not to make excuses and let it keep bleeding. The answer is not to apply yet another temporary band-aid. The simple answer is to fix the problem. Yes, quite often that entails doing things you don’t normally like to do. But that’s why they call it work.
It’s easy to tell when something needs to be addressed or not. When the amount of time lost—note: time spent complaining is included here—exceeds the amount of time it would take to solve the problem, then you know you have a problem that needs to be solved sooner rather than later.
Naturally, you should also be willing to revisit that solution when necessary. In other words, yesterday’s best answer might not be the optimal answer for tomorrow. “That’s how we’ve always done things,” is not an acceptable answer.
The bottom line…
If you want to be a duck, then walk like one and talk like one.
The transformation follows the act(s), not the other way around.
In other words, successful small companies don’t become larger companies and then add the necessary bells & whistles. It’s actually quite the opposite. Successful small companies embrace the necessary bells & whistles as the means to becoming better (bigger) companies. Of course the bells & whistles are going to be a function of an organization’s culture, the personnel involved, etc. One size does not fit all all the time.
For starter, I want to acknowledge that this is not “Client-friendly SEO Guidelines – Part 3″. Yes, I had promised that next. However, I decided to push it back a week and slide this one in instead. Call it agile planning, if you will.
As the story goes, I had lunch with a colleague earlier in the week. JK—not his/her real name—is a fairly hardcore SEO aficionado. JK’s motto is: Tune it. Tweak it. Tighten it. Repeat. JK is also fond of: Mo’ traffic. Mo’ traffic. Mo’ traffic.
We got past the usual formalities, as well as rejoicing over the USA Women’s soccer victory over Brazil and then shifted into talking shop. JK had just started with a new client/project a few weeks back. It was for an e-commerce outfit. I had seen the site and it appeared then that it was going to be quite a challenge. I was curious and asked how it was going.
JK’s quick and boastfully proud reply was:
“Great. Traffic is increasing. Alexa ranking is improving. We’re adding pages to farm in more traffic. And thus far the impact of Google’s Panda update seems to be minimal.”
I wasn’t surprised. JK does good work. We talk SEO all the time. But then again we both knew there are a handful of standard tricks to grab the low hanging fruit. Not that there is anything wrong with that. You’ll understand my positioning here in a moment.
I toasted JK’s accomplishments, paused and then queried, “Mind if I ask some Guest-centric and business fundamentals questions?” JK smiled and firmly nodded affirmative. Here are some of the things that were discussed over the rest of the meal. Mind you for some of these it might be too early to tell. That is, there’s not enough data yet. Also, admittedly not all are JK’s area and/or role. None the less, we needed to discuss something and JK’s project was this afternoon’s feature.
- Churn rate: Up? Down? No change? What are the top reasons for churn? Are there particular keywords, PCC campaigns, etc. that are more prone to churn?
- The marketing sweet spot: Is price the sole driver? Might emphasizing value be a better play? Would value attract a less churn-ful buyer?
- Conversions: Was increasing traffic also increasing sales? Was the average size of sale increasing? Why? Why not?
- Cross-selling and up-selling? Does influencing the buyer’s profile of purchases reduce churn and/or increase a Guest’s value over time?
- The Guest Experience: What was being done to improve the UI, UX, design, service, etc.?
- Building the brand: Does more traffic, more customers and more sales equate to establishing and building an actual brand?
- Guest expectations: Were they being addressed? Can you have a brand in 2011 and not address Guest expectations?
- SE Old: Is the nature of SEO changing? Are not social networks becoming the “search” tool of choice? Then that?
- Exit Strategy: The ultimate question is, is anyone else willing to pay to acquire this business as it is currently modeled? Is the strategy sustainable?
After numerous volleys the conclusion was simple. It is a classic case of what I’m going to call a Sisyphean marketing strategy. In other words, X amount of traffic is going to convert; Y number are going to churn out; in order to meet growth goals Z, there is a simple minded (if not one dimensional) objective to just keep increasing traffic. The fact that there are quite a few other vectors that all intertwine didn’t matter. The best practices of great brands’ seemed to be nowhere in sight. Or should I said, in site?
Truth be told, JK said the client was comfortable with the Sisyphean marketing strategy. Said formula was what established them and they were convinced the formula was the key to future growth. The fact that just about every other parameter on the pitch had changed in that time frame didn’t seem to be a concern. In terms of doing their best, yes within the narrow context they defined they seemed to be doing their best. While I certainly do appreciate simplicity and focus I would think that those in similar historical circumstances probably have other lessons to teach. JK just mumbled something about mo’ traffic, mo’ traffic, mo’ traffic. The cheque came, we ponied up our credit cards and went back to working.
But there seems to be an alt-moral to this story. Sometimes doing your best isn’t good enough—that is, eventually it can become less and less appropriate. Sometimes doing what’s right, what needs to be done is what’s in order. Granted, that can be difficult because it means letting go of a “sure thing.” I also means taking up a new cause, a new learning curve and that too can be a bit frightening. Or in JK’s case it might actually mean less billable hours.
Being focused is great. However, it’s not always as simple as running full speed ahead with blinders on in the same direction. This type of determination can be dangerous for a business. Hopefully you’re thinking of the same VW car commercial that I’m thinking of right now. If not, pop over to YouTube and watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-Vdb9yON-E.
“Zen Management Makes Millions” by Lee Lusardi Connor (NYReport.com, 1 February 2011). Truth be told, I still do quite a bit of reading offline. I imagine my brain has been trained to consume more comfortably and completely when I’m not always nose to screen. Admittedly, I struggle with my lack of green-ness in this area. It’s Friday, so let’s not get too distracted.
I mention this because I wish you could see how much of this article I’ve circled, starred, drawn arrows to, etc. So rather than reiterate such a high percent of this interview I’ll just saay that if you and your organization are looking for a road map for the future that is both socially and environmentally conscious, and not just about dollar and cents, then invest some time in this article. I promise you won’t regret it.
Side note: While Applegate Farms’ Stephen McDonnell probably knows better than I do, I disagree with his presumption that the sales of natural and organic food is going to level off around 2018. To me that’s like saying that the need for all of us to eat and live healthy is going to level off. That doesn’t seem likely, does it?
“How to Restart Innovation” by CIO Executive Council (CIO.com, 14 December 2011). Great collection of ideas! But let’s be honest, this is not rocket science. That said, let’s also dig a bit deeper and harvest some additional gold from between the lines.
Starting with the Brent Hoag (VP and CIO of Diversey), there’s the famous, “If you can measure it, you can manage it.” Diversey didn’t just say, “Let’s be innovative.” Geez, anyone can do that. The key here, they made a particular team responsible for that business need. While it’s true the whole organization should play a part in innovation, by making it someone’s responsibility it’s more likely to happen. Thinking about it is easy. Talk is cheap. The key is actually making an effort, and actually making someone accountable for it too.
Next comes Allison Redecki (Senior VP and CIO of GS1 US) and, “Tear down the silos!” Which by the way also applies to Hoag’s team. What Redecki has done is to have her people not re-actively serve their clients but to be proactive and walk in the clients’ shoes. The goal is to strive to be in a position to add value, not just regurgitate. In some ways the requests for new ideas is actually a by-product. The by-product of IT having a better understanding of what the business is doing and what it’s trying to accomplish. Without that understanding there would be no new ideas to be offered. That said, in asking for ideas (and presumably rewarding them) IT is forced to become closer immersed in their clients’ world. Silos down. Everybody wins.
And finally there’s Mark Carbrey (CIO of Cross Country Automotive Services) and their focus on The Guest Experience. His team is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating. In addition, using volunteers for such efforts not only keeps everyone engaged beyond their focus (read: it keeps them looking beyond the silos) but it also excites them. Everyone across his team is continuously a part of something new.Funny how participation gets people to well…um…participate.
The bottom line…It’s alarming how many organizations put their employees in cubicles, ask them to focus a fixed target, measure them on that, and then those same organizations are shocked when, “Think outside the box,” doesn’t produce significant innovation. If you want your team to use The Force, then you have to also give them the opportunities and inspiration to feel The Force too. Or as Chevy Chase said in Caddyshack, “Be the ball Danny.”
Quite often business life is not much different than personal life—although it should be. When off the clock, cause & effect applied incorrectly is called superstition, myth, etc. Yet the same misdirected correlations between 9.00a and 5.00p is called a project, or worse still insight. Same use of illusion but a different belief in its legitimacy.
Let’s discuss an example. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been in two and a half conversations centered around e-commerce. Each conversation naturally touched upon shopping cart abandonment. Before I continue I want to state that I agree that shopping cart abandonment is an area online retail outfits should study and certainly be aware of. That said, some seem to pursue it like the holy grail. Unfortunately, in many cases obsessing on the myth means something else is probably not being addressed.
- Specifically, the checkout process is not rocket science. If the overall process is that complex then keep rehashing it until it’s concise. Good enough isn’t good enough. Yet somehow we all continue to wade through crummy checkouts.
- The truth is, regardless of venue/medium, people don’t buy everything they pick up. I believe they call it window shopping. Online it’s probably even worse. There’s no getting dressed and driving across town. It’s just a matter of clicks.
- The truth is, people will have to leave a site sooner later. Sure, if there’s a problem on a particular page it should be fixed. But staying indefinitely is not going to happen.
- Focusing on abandonment is only half the picture. What about all those who didn’t add anything at all? Granted, I’m more casual about my commitment to e-comm but in all my reading and meeting no one seems to discuss such a measurement.
- What if marketing is driving in leads with the wrong expectations? For example, “free shipping” is not free if there’s a handling charge. While the difference might be correct on a technical level, to most guests it probably qualifies as sticker shock or bait & switch. Yet there are sites that advertise “free” shipping. It’s certainly possible the targeting and/or message is wrong.
- What if the site just kinda sucks? (Yes, I purposely used kinda.) That is, once the visitor stays a while reality sets in. They don’t like the look. The don’t like the feel. The might not even like the product. Doubt (aka the sales killer) arises and the sale is lost. Let’s face it, abandonment is a function of commitment and some sites just aren’t worth committing to.
The truth (as opposed to the superstition) is that in the 2.5 cases mentioned The Guest Experience of each site is “loose”. The sites do not qualify as awful but they are not tight in a 2010 sense either. If a guest was determined or already comfortable with the brand/site then each are sufficient. One the other hand, it terms of an experience that might inspire someone to part with their money, all three fall under the average column.
Guests want an experience. They want a story. For many, buying online is still a special event. By that I mean when someone asks, “Where did you get that?”, they want to respond proudly and with something meaningful. Simply throwing some goods online might have worked 5 or 10 years ago. It’s not where expectations are today.
Believe what you want to believe. That is your right. However, if that belief does not bring about the necessary change (read: results) then it’s probably time to admit you’ve been on the short end of a superstition and/or a myth. Not to worry, the solution is to stop and look at the details of the challenge objectively. Don’t get sucked into the accepted and standard convention just because it’s convenient to do so. There are plenty of people and websites willing to sell superstition and myth (because it was what was sold to them).