Changes we notice and changes we choose 

I suspect you are a mobile addict. You don’t have to be obsessed and have the device in arms reach at every moment to qualify. You merely have to rely on its always connected capabilities to keep you “plugged” in to your connections, and by default the world. 

The speed at which mobile technologies have been adopted has been unprecedented, and I am less interested in its occurrence, and more interested in unraveling its meaning and understanding what changes will unfold next. This post invites you to consciously evaluate the range of activities that tether you to this device, and the choices you can make next.

An overwhelming number of people check their device for “messages” within their first waking moments. In the not-too-distant past, messages waited to be picked up in the variety of places where they were left.

A missed caller could leave messages on answering systems, that replaced secretaries who made and pass a note. This task was automated by machines who accurately recorded the caller, and refrained from edits or shorthands. The machines soon became embedded into answering systems with retrieval now possible remotely.  You could call in to learn who had called.

Email, a desktop computer application, was faster than the post office, and quickly displaced the fax machines for sharing documents or lengthier detailed messages.  Cheaper computing, networks expanded Email from an office communications system to personal. Not only was it faster than regular mail, it was significantly cheaper than calling and more convenient. 

Now, all messaging systems are neatly available in your single mobile device, and your messaging interests and practices routine, if not obsessive.

How does this capability to be more on top of your communications make you feel?

Does this combination of access make you feel more effective, responsible, efficient  or something else? Are the experiences and emotions associated with interaction or the anticipation of the interaction? when and why does the experience become distracting or chaotic? 


I’m asking this questions, because I have a hypothesis that needs testing. I believe it’s the small stuff we change that leads us astray from our original purpose or focused intent.

Distractions come in many forms and largely occur when our attention wanders. Driving for example, our focus should be on the road, the vehicles and conditions. Instead , we’re typically multitasking while driving, Whether the division of our attention happens by listening to the radio, engaging in conversation with a passenger, or on the phone ,  or just the flow of other thoughts.

Diversion is candy to the brain. It’s how small stuff easily adds up. The sideways glance that misses what’s ahead robs our attention,  scatters our focus, can delay our progress and mar our effectiveness.

Any efficiency we built in to our process are quickly filled by the abundance of new opportunities, the change in process enables.

Here’s the rub, it’s at the moment of learned efficiency that we choose either to keep learning or we move on to a new domain.  In both cases, we have reached a level of effectiveness and masters keep moving up while the rest of us begin a steady ascent of decline.  This has been documented as the learning curve aka the efficiency curve, and it’s that pivot moment that interest me.

My hypothesis is that it’s in those moments of awareness of the pivot point that innovation begins.

Process changes: Innovation, Invention or Improvisation

I invite you to consider the value of anticipation, or the expected emotions that flow in a particular situation. For example, we want a celebration event to end on a happy note.  Likewise we want our decisions to also produce positive outcomes, but that’s the problem, not all of our behaviors result from conscious decisions.  When driven by habit, the small stuff that changes escapes our notice. That’s both good and bad.

For example,  no matter where you live on the planet, the time of sunrise and sunset changes daily and we generally don’t notice or feel those effects. We do experience the differences relatively over long periods of time, such as the longer days of one season vs. shorter days in another.

The same is true over the little changes we make every day in the use of our mobile device. Perhaps you have grown aware that you are using it differently than you did a year ago, but you don’t know exactly why or what you are doing differently.  Of course some of the changes have been controlled by the businesses who are using agile methodologies to constantly release improvements in the look, speed and functions available on the screen.  The more these businesses issue changes, so does your behavior.

So, have you taken the time to reflect and assess your own set of personal habits and processes?  Have you considered the cumulative effect on your employees of these external changes and its effect on their productivity, their effectiveness and your overall efficiency?

I did, and reflect on my processes pretty regularly. It’s the bane of being a consultant, I need to understand and tinker with things in order to keep up to date and provide relevant information to solve client’s business problems.

I always asked lots of questions, the biggest difference in my process happens to be the research process.  In the past, I was a very avid reader of the New York Times and dutifully ventured to my front door half asleep to pick up the paper and begin scanning the headlines.  Later I went to the Wall Street Journal and slowly opted to skip the chore of recycling the old newsprint, and read the headlines on my phone through the convenience of their respective apps, or use my desktop.  The thing is, the biggest change? Neither one of these newspapers remains my #one information source or morning view.  In fact, I stopped reading the New York Times entirely for a while, because as email habits led me to click open the inbox, other publications had more interesting headlines and their content became a more interesting set of sources.

Better still, the minute I opt to share an article with a colleague, I’m no longer in email but a new application that the team chose to use less to keep our inbox clear, but to insure we were finding and able to keep and organize the messages.  Naturally some of our remote global team members would notice I was online and would shout out to me via Google Chat.  Those who were using the proprietary platform we built, would post and the site would automatically trigger an email notification to encourage other members to respond.

I discovered that my own process, work habits and overall effectiveness ebbs and flows with the connected capabilities of the underlying platforms I find myself using.  I’m not suggesting that having one is a good idea, but I also know that it’s valuable to impose some discipline and standards for the teams in which I work.  It’s way too easy to be online, for example this post began as a voice transcription using my phone.  The longer it got, the sooner I had to move to a bigger screen and so I jumped to my desktop to continue.  Inevitably, there was a sync delay. Later, I  had to reconcile the two versions on the two separate devices.

I would welcome thoughts on if and when you personally, or your team revisits your work processes and to what extent efficiency or effectiveness plays a role.  Please share, and if you would be willing to be part of larger research drop me a line.



Create value by sticking to principles and collaborating

I’ve been reading and writing a lot about creating value.  Value creation is what sustains our spirits as well as insuring us a livelihood. It preserves quality in our relationships as well as justifying our existence.

Does creating “shared value” accomplish the same thing?  creating value

A recent headline in the Financial Times challenged the premise of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s ideas on creating shared values caught my attention.  Corporate Shared Value, (CSV) conceptually seeks to align social impact and company success.  A very noble goal, akin to what John Mackey, the CEO of whole foods describes as Conscious Capitalism.  Andrew Crane’s Financial Times article merely wishes the CSV theory found its way into execution and not corporate report window dressing and lip service.

15 years ago, Frederick F. Reichheld  and Thomas Teal working for Bain Capital discovered that too few growth strategies successfully drove profits and explained competitive advantage. Since the traditional profit drivers failed to explain the discrepancy in performance, they turned to study costs.  Their research delved into a firm’s relationship between customer duration and its cash flow  and found the relationship also differentiated advantage. As they had eliminated one metric after another their discovery proved that value starts with building loyalty, growth follows and then profits result. Dual loyalty, they explained isn’t merely the reciprocal relationship between a firm’s leadership and its customers.  The duality extends to employees and includes relationships with investors.The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value published in 2001, detailed this research.  For businesses to focus and sustain this value creation process, the authors recognized would require fundamental changes in business practices including new ownership structures.

Porter and Kramer’s CSV theory in part recognizes a similar fundamental shift in business practices.  Their focus seeks to compensate for the historic failure of accounting balance sheets to report and record shared value as an asset.  Is it an output, or is Shared Value part of a  larger social movement?

Mark Cheng, Director of Ashoka UK and Ashoka’s senior advisor on social finance  explains the challenges in this article that appeared in Forbes, How Philanthropists And Investors Can Work Together To Create Social Change. He suggests, that trying to build a social innovation isn’t a company but a social movement and that’s why it requires very different investments.

To change consumer behavior whether you plan to build a new market or a social movement requires organizations to earn people’s loyalty to principles.  Reichhold and Teal explain these learnings as necessary to properly differentiate between creating measurable value and creating profits.  Porter and Kramer hope businesses will value social progress, but this alone won’t re-legitimize a business. A verbal commitment to value can’t create the cost-benefit advantages necessary to sustain the firm.

Social forces of loyalty can and often do bind customers, employees and investors. Indeed they serve as measures of  cash flow and indicate a company’s ability to deliver superior value. The interlocking set of a firm’s operating principles creates both a cause and effect which satisfies, inspires and engages all stakeholders to sustain the firm.

Alternatively, a collective solution and collaborative mindset that aligns around a broader set of principles or values clearly stated presents an opportunity to create shared value. Because the concept of shared value offers people the means to take part with the resources of a firm, these mechanisms also share in, and contribute to, the success of the wider social movement.

Cheng explains that different funders should rightly have different roles.  A social business partnership between a business enterprise and an NGO doesn’t have to compromise or tradeoff its economic goals for the benefit of social good.  Using philanthropic funds to cover start-up costs for the shared venture and utilizing the distribution prowess of the corporate entity is one way to make win-win social impact possible.

Social progress is difficult to achieve by a single player, however a shared operating model based on sound principles can be adopted and replicated to spread the changes more widely.  The goal for the business may be self-interest,  where self-preservation will be a result of its underlying value creation principles and relationships.

Getting to the future


Everyone thinks about the future. The dreams of the Pilgrims  arriving in Massachusetts are no different from our individual aspirations for new possibilities and changing situations and circumstance. What new freedoms will be there,what will people be permitted to  think, wear, eat, live or DO?

My interests and passions to do what I can now to make things betters isn’t unusual.  The company I keep all agree in increasing possibilities and making changes that benefit more people, not just me and my family.  In the season of thanks giving, I’ve noticed the launch of a series of web sites  matching wishful doers with need serving organizations, and in the process create social impact.  The process used by these sites mimics many of the matching sites, whether its capital rich hedge funds seeking people needing to preserve and grow their capital, entrepreneurs on Kickstarter seeking funds to build their business or start their social impact match service. The technology itself minimizes the value of my personal network by making it possible for me to cast a wider net and build relationships that are not based on naturally limiting, real world contexts that form my identity, e.g. where I grew up or where I went to school, or my cultural, ethnic or religious ties. The stumble upon place or the sophisticated search to match my interests still rely upon individuals’ ability to influence others of the information’s value.  The  technology may be new but these resource matching problems are part of an ongoing cycle that doesn’t change, and the match solutions operate within the same system that create the resource gaps.


Where’s the change?

Snow appearing on the ground signals another recurring, predictable change, as does the falling price of the iPhone.  Outwardly, we show signs of adapting to this news.  Where you stand in the continuum of variation in response changes your understanding of the  most predictable of change’s magnitude.  It also explains why not everyone seeks to incorporate or welcome the change in their life.

When the obvious answer satisfies us, we ignore or suppress the possibilities that the change may be worth investigation. Changing temperatures or icy, snowy conditions difficult to miss and though we adapt and incorporate the obvious, we all adapt a little differently.  Our experience colors our understanding and response to the change.  Seekers go one step further.  They consider the choices others make and wonder if that too may be worthwhile for themselves.  They are curious about paths that open further possibilities or improve their status, conditions etc.

Seekers both experience and confirm their responses to transition moments by first learning and listening to others before sharing their own perceptions. Going beyond their  response to the change , they are conscious of the potential ripple effects.  Some look harder to find the likely path, similarly they may try to get out front and position themselves to catch the inevitable fall of the lined up dominoes. They don’t merely watch the event unfold, they try to connect what they see to a range of possible experiences and look for possible variations that happen beyond their immediate vicinity, situation or context.

Reporters,  when covering breaking news for example, share or retell what others experience in moments of change.  Often they are  hip or shoulder deep in the same experience as it unfolds, yet, they leverage and try to take advantage of their experience.  They try to reposition themselves for what will come next.  There’s an art to reporting.  It requires  piecing many different perspectives together to fill in what the participants, experts or contributors immersed in the experience overlook, misunderstand and maybe fail to identify.  Reporters are a special breed.  Their descriptive reporting shortens the distance between their audience’s detached experience and the actions and activity of their present surroundings.  Using their own senses to connect the meaning of other’s experiences they help their audience acquire a more complete, multifaceted view.

Multidimensional matters

Strategists and good consultants do this too. They leverage their experience while keeping one eye on the future.  They also help those stuck in the present to connect, hope and inspire an alternative set of prospects. Their job encourages explorations, cuts the distance between present circumstances, progress and a rosy future  for their client’s clients.  The lookout on the Mayflower merely let others know what was in sight before those on board could see it. No one would call these lookouts strategists, or leaders.  Lookouts can’t inspire people to acclimate, though they do warn them of what’s coming. Inspiration comes from a vision that transcends our fears and our expectations, not an easy task.

Today technology changes and innovations come at all of us faster than our ability to fully digest the last ones. Some of the effects cross connect, meaning that adoption of one makes it impossible to ignore the next.  Speed at which the connections happen make it simpler to stand by  and avoid participating.
No one is every fully ready for the future, but strategists can help in those moments of relentless change. their skills and experience naturally connect the dots, explore possibilities and overcome natural resistance.

Knowing your desires or dreaming about an idyllic world won’t get you to the future, though it is an interesting way to start. Regardless of what comfort level and satisfaction you feel with the changes as they occur in your midst, you need to take a wider view.  Challenge your experiences, raise your sensory awareness levels to uncover more possibilities.  Changing your perspective, point of view or the dimension in which you’ve come at the problem  guarantees your advantage as the future unfolds, and should increase the power of your risk assessment by virtue of your  wider stance.


Markets naturally close loops and collapse, can you keep them open?

The more the more

Concepts of interdependent interactions

The current theory about the nature of our universe describes an ever-expanding system.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey describes the three possibilities pictured on the right as follows.

  • Open, suggests that the universe will expand forever
  • Flat, the universe will also expand forever, but at a rate slowing to zero after an infinite amount of time.
  • Closed, the universe will eventually stop expanding and recollapse on itself,

These possibilities also apply to the concepts of markets, cultures and geography. Yes, I said geography and it is your sense of doubt that both interests me and is the subject of this post.

Life on the Frontier

Ongoing expansion, what I like to call the more the more can be difficult to see; principally because  we recognize boundaries before we understand the opportunity.  What we know doesn’t come to exhaust what’s knowable and often great opportunities present by pushing forward into the unknowable realm. For example, the concept of reproduction naturally creates many from one, ideas too, tend to generate more ideas, one event spawns multiple stories. So why does our mind resist the concept of the more the  more so earnestly?  You did, didn’t you?  In each example, your mind naturally generated the counter case or qualifications that challenge basic beliefs in loose conceptions such as the more the more. Don’t get me wrong, edges prove very useful. Knowing the beginning or that the end is at hand helps, and the more the more merely builds on that realization.

Inability to see an idea’s validity doesn’t preclude its existence.  New concepts find their way into our web of understanding; however more often they are quickly  buried by every day experiences that prove the contrary. Consider the construct, “the United States.” The idea finds expression in a variety of forms, separated by clear boundaries. Which popped for you?  Perhaps the United States appears in your thoughts as a very concrete physical representation such as part of the North American continent, or as an outline on a map. Neither of these describes the emotional representations conjured in the minds of a new citizen, a tourist or a terrorist.

Utility theory by contrast, attributes a root cause to the propagation phenomena that perpetuates an expectation of quid pro quo, Value for Value. I work in exchange for money that I can use to buy things. Economic principles and monetary theory captures much of the same concepts but is a poor substitute for a universal theory.

Specific, General or Generic

Our mind seamlessly associates specific, general and generic cases of a single construct into a curious looking web of meaning.  Some strands loosely connect on the periphery, while others layer more tightly together around a series of cores.  The meaning that first comes to mind, doesn’t negate the others but may need other distant cross-associations to remind us.Experience can obscure our reality

Let’s talk markets. Most of us spend a significant part of our day working, where we work, or what we do represents a market and our labor factors into the dynamics.  We also consume things, and the choices we make on which items, where and when represents our participation in other markets.  For example, urban societies prefer to cover their feet.  The look –structure and style of these coverings tend to vary by climate, activity and gender. Our mind recognizes the common linkage of the numerous names attached to the variations of these objects  that cover feet.  On this level of linkage, we may attach the same basic utility to all foot coverings. That utility takes on more definitions and attributes when we consider our attachment to our culture and desire to fit in. Do foot coverings in India equate to the usefulness of foot coverings in Brazil or New York City? I cheated just now, I interchanged usefulness with utility to help ease your mind.  To validate the more the more try suspending the first boundary you meet and search your memory banks and reach for greater understanding.

Do you feel ready to put that insight to work in your business?  To grow or better serve the marketplace, we often have to re-imagine the boundaries.

If there’s a dominant player in your market, how might redefining the market give you a bigger share?

Don’t let the edges or boundaries you see stop you from challenging the value of this  representation? You don’t have to challenge the sovereignty of the United States to recognize that there are ideas that transcend the concrete borders, and capitalizing on those may help you serve your existing  markets better and expand into new ones easily.


my big Data Donut

Two days in a row I managed to catch very different talks about big data, but came away with one big duh and several new insights.  In short, my prior training and experience using analytics to drive strategic decision-making placed me comfortably up the curve.  In return for my limited investment of time and attention, I gained a few new ideas, collected some cogent descriptors to share with clients and reawakened  elements in my strategic thinking process.

Big DATA , just a conjunction 

We all know Big because we know small. Everything classifies as one, when we decide it’s not the other. Big is also a euphemism for many.  Statistically, the bigger the sample, the greater it’s  significance. Bigness insures enough cases to draw general conclusions about a population.  Most of the time we don’t care about the population but we do care that a sample represents the population we care about.  An “Everyman” should be average and appear at the top of the bell curve, or normal distribution, right? Will being average, change the odds of being big or small? hold that thought.

We recognize data when we see it too. In excel, Big spreadsheets contain many rows and or many columns of stuff that we call data.

Changes in technology bring more data, we record and keep records of events that previously were not possible to record. More data gets created when instruments simplify its recording over ever smaller intervals.  For example, satellite data records and transmits continuously atmospheric particle movements,  Nike’s Fuel metrics measured by its band can provide streaming location data of people’s changing heart rate.

Put the Big together with Data along with the ease of access and you find yourself understanding Big Data coincident with the cultural shift  Big Data’s wider access produces.

If you build it they will come

In Big Data’s case, technology shifts made lots of data more accessible which increased people’s application in their decision-making.  At this hour, I can hear the helicopters hovering over the major highway junctions nearby to monitor traffic and issue the reports broadcast over radio and TV.  Everyone wants to avoid sitting in traffic, and their consumption of this information and decisions of when and which route they drive naturally impacts the pattern.  The widespread availability of GPS and map services rely on alternative information sources to generate traffic congestion maps , and influence consumer travel decisions as well.  Don’t you rely on one or more of these information sources? Why? few of us know the details behind the projection.  Instead,  we feel better with more information available, after all,  traffic information helps us avoid the inevitable–the likelihood of being stuck and delayed in rush hour.

Bottom line, consumption makes Big Data valuable. Its availability  raises questions, but we often skip the critical ones.  We ponder its use, before questioning its reliability as in what do I do with it? How can and should it impact my decisions?  


Humans’ daily actions rely on the process of cause and effect.  I turn on the faucet to make water come out.  I say “please,” you say “thank you.”  How many miles must I run to burn off the Fat calories I consumed eating a donut for breakfast?   Hmm, can I measure my fat burn rate? If I work for the donut producer, I may focus on the sales effects that result from posting this information.

These sets of  reactionary questions miss the opportunity set that Subway anticipated and took to the bank.  I don’t know the story behind Subway’s marketing strategy , haven’t looked into the chain’s profitability, but they clearly seized advantage of a trend fueling both  awareness and their revenue. They twisted the cause effect to create a successful Cause marketing campaign.

Worry about Bad not Big Data

In the second talk, Casey Winters, the head of digital marketing for a growing web-based start-up called Grub Hub spoke about the poor decisions being made using vanity metrics.  Traffic isn’t a new metric for retailers or commuters.  In business, Cost per Acquisition, Lifetime Value and Conversion rates represent a few key performance metrics that when properly calculated, effectively drive strategic investment decisions.

The challenge today isn’t their availability as much as their reliability.  More sources  of information reflect the ease with which some data can be measured.  For example, Google Analytics offers the basic traffic stats freely to any website who embeds their code.  Advertising agencies spent a decade redefining themselves to be digitally capable, and help their clients use these new tools to distribute their marketing dollars to physical and virtual locations.  The result, more data and Data Scientists emerging as guides through the complexity associated with Big Data.

STOP making Data into donuts

More data spread around doesn’t make anyone smarter, especially when not all available measurements of existing data prove trustworthy. Standards help a lot, but they may not  sufficiently help separate the noise from the signal. Don’t just use the data that’s available but be sure you understand its creation.  Take the case of the glazed donut comparisons shown above between Krispy Kreme’s Famous calculated calories to Dunkin’s Glazed donut figures.  The fact that they appear together in one chart doesn’t mean their calculations used the same computation process.  The information on its face lead to one conclusion, which may or may not support your own experience of these donuts.  Haven’t you already  put that experience to use and attributed  the observed differences’ cause to something other than the method of calculation?   In short, you used cause and effect favoring intuition over critical thinking.

When it comes to talking about strategy,  we often forget to ask the questions before we pull the data.  ROI may justify one investment choice over another and then again it may merely be used to confirm the value of your investment decisions after the fact.  Data should move you from insight to reality.  Remember a dot in one dimension is a line in another, the value of the era of big data increases our opportunity to capture more dimensions.  The challenge is using data to gain more perspective and beware of our biases.

Success–Are we there yet?

This perennial refrain seems to be cropping up everywhere.

There yet? The question implies trouble of being here, now.

Forgetting to experience or notice the journey can undermine the value of achievement. Stock market analysts know the difference between easy targets and more challenging ones that require more than luck to make happen.

Yes, results matter, but so does process. Every moment contributes to the resulting experience and offers learning opportunities which stick with us whether we remember them or not.

Great sports matches are often remembered by a pivotal play that resulted in subsequent win or loss.  Distance (here vs. there) and time (now vs. not now) can represent opportunity as well as additional risk to the end game.  They don’t merely differentiate success and failure.  They also color our perceptions of how cross-organization functions interact and their perspective role in three often confused activities: strategy, planning and execution.

If you are seeking to realize and sustain positive results, I suggest changing the playbook you use to compete, and recognize that of these activities two are necessary but only one sufficient to your larger purpose.

High  performing organizations both understand and differentiate themselves in strategy planning and execution. General Electric, known for six sigma, IDEO’s design thinking or Wal-Mart and its supply chain optimizations represent examples of learning institutionalized throughout an organization.  But in each of these organizations their culture and associated process orientation masks the underlying interplay of strategy , planning and execution that account for their ongoing success and growth.

If growth is the magic elixir that you and your organization crave, then I’d like to suggest you let go of certain associations that naturally arise when your team meets.

The linearity and suggested sequence implied in visual representations and schematics of value may block creativity and obstruct alternative points of view.  Sure, there’s a value chain associated with Roger Federer’s success in Tennis.  Wouldn’t be surprised to find a strategy pyramid in the offices of the top NFL teams.  But for everyday fans these would seem superfluous models and that’s my point.

Can you get in the zone?

Take your organization and re-imagine them as a dance troupe, or different departments as a basketball team who plays zone defense.

Got it?

OK, now we can begin to think about the role of parallel and coordinating actions and the interplay of strategy planning and execution.


For whom, why, when and where does what you do matter?   If you can answer that question, then you are on your way to understanding the role of strategy in your organization.

Strategy assesses capacity and capabilities  of your internal resources and then evaluates opportunities to capture market value relevant in the time and place you choose to operate.  Identifying what is worth your time, energy and materials implies that you have already evaluated the value of those things.

Economic value emerges where needs meet resources capable of satisfying them.  There’s some mystery or error in calculating value because:

1.  Not all needs and resources are known, let alone the strength of desire to satisfy them.

2.  Not all resource or needs recombination prove mutually satisfying.  Not much demand at the moment for three handled coffee cups, or expert photography chemists who can create and develop film.

3. Time and distance not easily controlled. Produce’s value varies by the timing of its freshness.


with purpose firmly established by strategy, planning focuses on effectiveness and coordination.  Planning commits and communicates resource allocations to insure timely coordination and delivery.  Using a sufficient plan, versus identifying a necessary set of steps, can lead to different levels of performance.  Leaving some fluidity in the process insures that the inevitable error or surprises that arise don’t stop the organization cold but merely result in delay.

Adaptive organizations keep their purpose in mind and may buy insurance but also include some wiggle room.  In short, they naturally permit on the spot adjustments.  Really great organizations communicate and share the learning throughout the organization.  Keeping track of the readjustments enable downstream teams to reposition and insure proper handoff, passing or maybe even bypass.

Deployment or execution.

Readiness and a focus on efficiency means the resources are both ready and able.  Trained, incentives and motivations well aligned, materials where they need to be, and  in the condition that fit the task.  This is the stage most closely associated with process and yet as the preceding steps specify, different types of process are creating value at different stages.

Let’s go back to the metaphor of the basketball team.  The General manager and coach may have generated the strategy that resulted in the assembled team that is now playing, but they are taking note of every play and to make adjustments.  Likewise, the planning that the coach and his practice schedule and offline support crew provide leads to the readiness of the players and their ability to adapt in real-time.

One more thing

Alternatively representing functional areas as a series of coordinated teams may be hard to depict. Jonathan Cagan and Craig Vogel have done a reasonable job  presenting an integrated new product development model (see Creating Breakthrough Products). But they stop short of the assumed responsibility for parallel tasks of Strategy, planning and execution  in every functional department. The willingness of an organization to realize that problem solving skills are not strictly aligned with a particular functional role.  These skills when nurtured and developed across the organization with accountability up and downstream offer enormous benefits.

Higher value emerges when diverse perspectives interact.  Given opportunities to share their capabilities and illuminate the blind spots in each other domains can lead to breakthroughs in performance, add functionality or develop new functionality and entirely new concepts.

Ever try to picture your ideal target customer?  Finance may provide their spending attributes. Marketing may share their demographic characteristics.  Design may describe how customers use the product or service. And Engineering may demonstrate the qualities customers find distinguishing.  Suddenly, a more holistic set of tangible representations emerge that allow more consistent evaluation of cost saving opportunities, or even better, help reconfigure functionality.

Valuing innovation and creativity throughout the organization and giving cross-organization communications higher priority, new value opportunities surface. This may seem unwieldy and impractical; but, once again think of coordinated zone defense or a dance troupe.  Sure, mistakes are bound to happen. When they do, your players will be more responsive and better position to support each other, pick up the slack and  more handily facilitate success.

Should every action be susceptible to questioning and revision?  Change procedures make sense, and are an appropriate part of planning. They insure that large changes and investment decisions are well-coordinated or strategy driven. The idea is to avoid making surprising changes during execution that ripple and produce more problems later.  Having an open line down and upstream in your process AND a line into planning makes it easy to resolve the situation, and arrange if, and when,to make the change.  Deployment may be downstream from planning but its voice must be actively part of upstream assessments by both planners and strategists.

So how are you integrating your strategy, planning and execution?  How effectively integrated are your organizational functions?  I’d love to hear of your experiences and what benefits if any you experienced.


Re-telling our story to see our blindspot


When we look over the reported numbers in a business, a narrative emerges.  The actions, decisions that made these results possible line up as persuasive evidence of our brilliance or frustration casts aspersions on outside forces beyond our control.

Unless you hold a marketing or sales role, the narrative may not extend to imagine what your customers thinking about your business and what it offers.  We prefer to find immediate causes for the results, and when we come up empty, we start over again.  This is especially true when the results have changed direction.

Scenario A, after struggling for weeks and months, the numbers are starting to go up.  That is revenue, where positive growth in the numbers matter. The cause and effect chain  validates  earlier decisions on investment, strategy, tactics especially efforts in marketing and sales.  All of your decisions, your process and approach are paying off.

Scenario B, after a streak of healthy profits, the numbers are deteriorating.  The supply chain costs are up and revenues are down.  You begin to second guess all of your past decisions, especially the most recent ones that affect your basic cost structure.  But what if you haven’t changed a thing?  What if there’s no cyclical Halloween effect in your business and you are in the middle of five-year contracts on everything?

In both scenarios, the internal self-examination that leads to either accolade or second guessing  doesn’t do justice to your business and its future.  This is part of the deal with metrics that matter, that are meaningful.

We look at numbers and we associate them with behavior we understand.  What we don’t always do is go the extra mile to understanding what the numbers really represent.  Because assumptions behind every reported number dictate what the measure means.

Paul Downs, a cabinet-maker has shared his experience using AdWords in the You’re’ the boss blog.  I can’t find the full story that appeared in yesterdays’ print edition entitled Mistake in a Pay-per Click Campaign, but I can share the link to his series.  Paul’s business was Scenario B and when he couldn’t find any specific thing different internally he began to complain very loosely about wider conditions and blamed them for impacting is business.  It took him months before he was willing to tackle head on the metrics problem .  I don’t want to steal his thunder but suffice to say, that sometimes you have to be sure that you fully understand how a number gets put together before you determine whether its direction means what you think.

Hopefully the Times will post in the online edition the full story, Mistake in a Pay-per Click Campaign soon.  But in the interim, here’s Paul Downs on Why I manage my own Ad Words campaign, and I’d love to hear what you think.  What might have helped him turn things around sooner? What advice would you share with other business owners or division heads?

The Doublesided Why: How do you get returns on your energy?



When was the last time you did a quick market reality check to test your assumptions about what you do that  keeps your customers in your corner?  No, I’m not suggesting a survey. I propose you try a much simpler approach, something that easily helps you  simultaneously help them.

Your why makes you memorable

Photo credit Connie Denton, Greenville fountain

Floating Value photo by Connie Denton

When you invite customers or employees to be curios or start a  conversation, do you ever  ask yourself why you took the time, or why you care about their reaction, whether their responses matter?  Do you ever assume the other role, think about why your customers would be interested in engaging with you?  What you do has two sides; and yet is it the same value on both sides?

If  you know your end game and how your efforts to engage customers gets you there, then measure and share that internally as widely as possible, and then begin to report it externally. You’ll discover the true meaning behind Peter Drucker‘s adage, that what gets measured, gets done.  So why not focus attention on the very elements that demonstrate purpose and create consistent value from all perspectives?

Start with Feedback

Whether you have a newsletter, use regular outbound communication, or just ask for comments or feedback  online, make sure the copy delivers on the answers you just gave to the double-sided why.   The questions are harder to answer than their simplicity suggests. Engagement is not the same as attention and revenue follows one and not the other.

The Harvard Business Review Blog published yesterday an obituary for the death of marketing. In this post, Bill Lee does a great job showing how challenging it is to communicate your meaning and he also identifies a series of corrective tactics, but none of them will help you if you can’t answer for yourself the double-sided why.

A better beginning, before you start additional strategic planning, or publish upcoming budget guidelines, I suggest using the remaining weeks of summer to conduct some simple experiments.

Take a few weeks to stop, look and listen. Learn what your employees are saying in the hallways,  the parking lot and the natural way they carry themselves, their changing energy in the course of the day. Similarly, notice your customer’s expression when they arrive and when they leave.  Connect the observations to their behavior. Try not to do it big brother style, maybe hire a sketch artist to sit at the entrance or main traffic corridor.

Spend a few weeks picking up the phone, or dropping a few personal notes, reaching out with no direct expectation to randomly selected customers and  employees.  Drop-in, notice the environment and feel the attitude as well as the climate, consider how the physical space controls behavior both positively and negatively. Collect information and then in a few weeks gather your senior team to review it objectively with no expectation other than surprise to discover what works, what comes back when, why and with what feedback.

3 Simple outreach tips

Here are three things that you can do today to provoke engagement with employees and/or customers.

1. Thank them. Thank them for being your customer and let them know that you appreciate their business. A thank you  reminds your customers you are there, ready, willing and able to serve their needs.

2.  Share some news that might interest them.  This means you have to know something about your customers, their interests, their aspirations and their concerns.

Its easy in light of a national tragedy like the senseless violence in Colorado to merely let them know how you, in your business contributed to ease the pain.  Perhaps you sent a donation to a charity that reminded you that actions make a difference.  The trick?  Connect your news to boost the spirits of  your customers,  let them know that they inspired you to take actions.

3.  Share a nice memory.  Nothing warms people more than when someone else shares something personal. The story or moment you describe and share by definition must be personal, something about you and your business that reminds them that you are human, that reveals a little more about what you value in life.

At the end of the day, we all want security but with inspiration we all do better.  Feel free to share that tag line.

Try it and share

Remember these are merely tips, designed to stir up your own thinking and I’m just as interested in hearing from you as you may be in learning about others.   Hope you will consider dropping a line or sharing what you are learning or the technique that you plan to try, you tried and what works and what doesn’t.

In the last few weeks,  I have followed my advice and the results are already surprising me.  I don’t wait to ask my clients or prospects, I’ve asked everyone  5 key questions.  I’ll be sharing those results in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for more tune-up tips.


Realized opportunity, value of real customer conversations

Stuart Elliot writing on advertising for  New York Times described the purpose behind Omnicom Group’s launch of a new ad agency, sparks & honey.  The Agency seeks to capitalize on the latest evolutionary shift in the relationship between consumers and marketers, “from a monologue to a conversation.”

Customer services

Customer services (Photo credit: gordon2208)

Really? Brands have accepted that talking with customers no longer means talking at.  But are they really ready for interactive conversation?  Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the move to a higher level of engagement.  I merely wonder how the brands benefit from advertising agencies occupying this intermediary ground, especially when the brands livelihoods increasingly depend on their ability to respond immediately.

Implicit in a conversation is receiving, or listening made clear in non-verbal posture and behavior as much as  words.

As Dave Carroll’s viral video demonstrated, brand reputation can suffer when listening isn’t followed by appropriate responses.  Brand management teams everywhere noticed how translating a bad customer service experience into song  boosted Taylor guitars‘ reputation while tarnishing that of United Airlines . What got Carroll’s goat was the lack of response by airline employees watching other employees  manhandle his precious guitar.  The colorful story in the hands of a capable songwriter also boosted, if not fired up, Carroll’s brand.

To relegate the story as an abject lesson in Customer services misses the wider opportunity listening to your customers affords.  Either way, how will hiring a savvy intermediary help resolve issues, deliver authentic feedback to product development or spawn key insights into the changing behavior of customers for helping a company adapt and ultimately survive?

Why would a company want to pass on the opportunities listening and responsive internal systems can foster?  There’s great value in using smart analytic systems to mine the exchange of key word morsels caught in dialogues with customer service, sales or technical support.

As Peter Shankman, steak lover, discovered one day last year when he had no time or energy to grab dinner out,  but longed for the simplicity and consistency of Morton’s reliably delicious meals. As he describes it, one tongue in cheek tweet before taking off for home resulted in the surprise service of a lifetime. One only Morton’s could coördinate and deliver because they were listening to one of their most loyal customers far from home!

So, yes it matters, what conversations you are trying to make happen.  Increasingly you need to collect the data.  This requires that you will need intelligence gathering or listening posts everywhere your customers are talking about you, including  the virtual conversations. Just because they seem less critical  than face to face exchanges, especially since the nature of the medium is slightly off sync, today no conversation can can be ignored. What customers say, how each of you share it,  and with whom makes them both dangerous and advantageous.  Machine learning systems, algorithms and human insights can  track “the emerging cultural waves”  and that’s how sparks and honey plans to find and then leverage them.  Their business model relies on  their ” proprietary next generation, real-time engagement engine to distribute culturally relevant brand content.”

In the era of big data, business intelligence software has been actively integrating the new feeds and applying similar processes.  The merging of collaboration, productivity  and newer intelligence tools that digest  input from a variety of listening posts shows great promise and opportunity. I haven’t seen Cognistreamer, one of a number of  collaborative and innovation platforms; but I understand it combines feeds from social media, customer service and internal correspondence to allow more fluid interaction across sources operating within and outside the enterprise. I’m sure IBM and Microsoft are busy at work bringing these capabilities to their platform suites as well, I’m just not sufficiently in the loop to know.

I applaud the move toward authentic conversation that can displace the reign of the focus group or on the spot pop-up survey whether it’s at the mall or online. But I’m not sure I buy that ad agencies, or even Dave Carroll’s newly launched Gripevine service, and clever communications can effectively close  the natural gap between producer and consumer.   If I’m looking for a custom fit, or personal response how can any agency deliver,  no matter how clever or deft at communications they may be, the goods and or service I’m seeking?

I wish sparks & honey luck, but I do hope that brands looking to capitalize on the rising consciousness of consumers are also thinking a little more about finding ways to share the responsibilities for insight and innovation across their enterprise.  Giving everyone equal opportunity to engage with customers and share insights that wider conversations make possible, is certainly a great start to creating an innovation pipeline.

American Airlines- power to return to the black

American Airlines

Image by millerm217 via Flickr

I’m saddened by the inevitability of American Airline’s (AMR) decision to file bankruptcy. In the last few years, the world has watched one industry leader after another lose its footing leading the pack.  Is the phenomenon  inevitable of the product life cycle curve at work?  My fear is the more we attribute this news as another sign of the structural weakness in the global economy, we may overlook an underlying ailment– withering resilience.

Leaders inspire followers

The recent move by American Airlines’ board signals the loss of faith in the capability of corporate leadership to restructure without the benefits bankruptcy protection affords. The boards’ decision places hope for the company’s future in what Stephen Lubben describes as the ability to restructure with speed.  (see American Won’t Be the Last Airline Bankruptcy).  Bankruptcy laws allow every contract to be opened for renegotiation.  Certainly in competition, speed matters. No one with fiduciary responsibilities should turn a blind eye to mounting losses or the clear discrepancy in the balance sheet between debt and assets plus cash–$.8billion in the case of American Airlines.  A comparison of financial results to forecast, or the simulations of alternative assumptions must have been clear earlier and should have raised questions, or at least challenged the executive team’s belief that the commitments they made would prove viable, right?

I urge readers to review either Sunday’s  New York Times   At American Airlines, a Departing C.E.O.’s Moral Stand –  The author, D. Michael Lindsay, and other sources continue to cite  competitive pressures that forced the board to succumb and  points out Gerald Arpey’s values commitment was distinct among a larger sample of CEOs.  His story may be noble, but I fail to see how his leadership echoed these values; and I am reluctant to herald him as a positive exemplar.

“It is not good thinking — either at the corporate level or at the personal level — to believe you can simply walk away from your circumstances.” 

In 2010 he held a similar position:

Gerald R. Arpey

“The path we have taken has created cost challenges for us. But I believe there is something misguided about how we measure success, if success is bankruptcy, giving pension obligations to taxpayers and not paying back creditors. By that measure, we have failed.”  (see interview Sept 2010).

Arpey’s quotes ring  hollow in the face of his years at the helm. As CEO, he could have led the charge to measure success in an alternative way.  Should we blame the board for the AMR structure , its inherent decisions and commitments? Similarly, decisions that impact the company should rely less on competitors’ values, assumptions and next moves.  Instead the strategy should  show  a keen commitment and understanding of value creation, not ongoing obligations as Arpey argued.  Did Arpey lack audacity, proper advisors and/or the  market intelligence necessary to lay out a plan that would have positioned AMR   uniquely  in the marketplace? Sadly, being the last legacy airline to file bankruptcy, even if he disagreed, suggests a lack of leadership, and specifically a lack of followship.

Sharing Values delivers $Value

Heroes are often industry disrupters.  They buck the trend and prove their firm’s value in the marketplace by brandishing an alternative paradigm.  When the value created extends from shared values, consumers, employees and the firm are mutually engaged in a win- win- win strategy.

In 2008,   Joe Nocera, writing for the New York Times The Sinatra of Southwest Feels the Love  contrasted Aprey to  Ken Kelleher, upon the latter’s  retirement as CEO from Southwest Airlines.  Clearly strategic choices, when rooted in shared principles that link to planning can and do lead to higher performance. Aprey had faith but offered little or no inspiration. Kelleher built Southwest, and in doing so, he created and fostered its culture.  AMR’s Arpey, the most recent CEO  was a product,not a force for change within American Airlines culture.  At the shareholder meeting in 2008, he acknowledged  both necessary and inevitable changes for  the airline industry; yet chose to renew his commitment to shareholders and asked that employees and customers lower their expectations.  In so doing, Wall Street pounded the stock, resulting in a significant loss of value.

Aprey’s  demonstration of  differentiated principles in the face of deteriorating conditions seems to have laid the course for American Airlines subsequent decline.  The labor negotiations for pilots was on both their minds.  Aprey failed to lay a course  or inspire his team to re-invent and ultimately lay the foundation for another, more promising alternative.  By contrast, Kelleher renewed his commitment to his people without guaranteeing anything  to the pilots.

The idea of Shared Values is often confused with value sharing. The former a more universal presumption about a set of beliefs and the latter a calculated measure of utility. In a service industry, delivering value to customers demands a highly evolved understanding of meeting needs and desires. For example, how well does an airline deliver on an individual’s hope to be with family on the holidays?  Can that same airline deliver on another individual’s hope to get to a distant meeting and back for another commitment?  Calculating the costs of delivering value is trivial by comparison, in that the components are concrete, not fuzzy. Southwest was able to gain market share over competitors  focusing on being the low-cost airline provider and inspiring employees to deliver on that shared value.  Every decision made at the corporate level hinges on that principle and the results are clear in their resilience in spite of the hostile economic climate and changing regulatory environment that daily challenges their operating costs

Power in creativity

Mavericks like Richard Branson, another airline mogul and Ken Kelleher place their faith in people to be naturally creative. They consistently live up to simple principles and obligations they make to  employees, create a culture and foster ideals for employees rooted in a higher sense of value that is also shared by customers.  Their sense of economy, scale and flexibility extend to people at every juncture in their process.  Rather than take or assume full control they partner with their customers to share responsibility.  No advance seating, no meals just on time service at a low price. The company takes action, by helping employees focus on the goal that propels their entire business.  In other words they deliver customers safely and reliably from one destination to another and executive management puts  complete faith and trust in all their employees to do what makes sense to best deliver on that simple goal.

By contrast, Aprey did not have that working on his side, the culture at American and  the board’s action focused on their obligations to investors and put the source of their revenue, customers needs and desires second with  employees taking the last position.

Aprey seemed to have a clear understanding of the  principles behind product cycles, and production experience costs showing the predictable relationships between unit costs and cumulative output.  Increasingly it’s not technical prowess, intelligence or even relationships that differentiate successful leaders and resilient companies, but their ability to inspire.  The problems in the airline industry are not unique. The path to restoring profitability has always depended on operating flexibility and financial strength,  and Aprey was right to believe that it  doesn’t have to come at the cost of reneging on earlier commitments.  Decisions to speed up the restructuring by reopening every contract for negotiation suggests leadership who lost their way in the face of unexpected forces or circumstances.  It also is evidence of an inability to inspire, believe and uphold universal shared values.

I’m betting there are plenty of unsung heroes inspiring creativity and bringing about change at speeds that don’t require bankruptcy.  If you know the story, please help me share and build the faith by posting them here.