One Less Voice

Using blogging as a marketing tool for a new business, I have put a lot of thought into the value of adding yet another voice to many that already exist online discussing a topic. The internet is not old, but to a great extent the though leaders for each discipline have already set up and staked their territory online. Some have used their credibility created offline and made a graceful translation online, while others have used this new medium to establish their thought leadership.

So what does this mean if you want to build your own audience in an established field?

With so many voices online and off, anyone with a casual interest in a topic is completely overwhelmed by the many opinions that are provided. One more voice can be very useful for deep discussion amoungst afficionados interested in the fine points of a topic, but only the most followed/respected in a field will get a large audience of the ‘casually interested’.

But there is an alternative to appeal to the mass audience: the digest.

The very challenge that faces the new blogger –the plethora of voices– can provide an opportunity. Those that don’t have the time to devote to a given topic, but still have an interest, can benefit greatly from the activity of a good online editor. One negative aspect of print publications was that they were barrier for writers and/or topics that didn’t fit with the editor’s goals. On the plus side, they did provide a service to the reader by selecting content that was relevant to the target audience, met editorial standards, and provided new knowledge to the readers. The same magazine or paper was unlikely to publish material that was poorly written, didn’t provide an opinion with supporting evidence, or repeated themes published in recent issues.

The online editor or ‘digester’ can still have great influence in a field by adding their own observations and by selection of content, but has to avoid misrepresenting content to avoid loss of credibility and authenticity, very significant keys to online success.

Consider becoming one less voice, and instead, an exceptional collector of content.

Attribution: I wanted to mention the article that triggered the idea for this post.  It was an article entitled “Lessons Learned from Seth Godin” by J.D. Meier. I realized that, while the article  provided some service for Godin afficionados –like myself–, it provided even greater value for those with a cursory interest in Seth’s areas of expertise, who would benefit from a very well done digest.

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Will Carriers Finally Get Their Piece of the Apple Pie?

“Better coverage… fastest network… fewest dropped calls…” Which mobile carrier am I talking about?

ALL OF THEM

There is a huge gap in the current capacity and the demand that is being created by new high-bandwidth mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, RIM smart-phones, Androids, Nokia Nxxx’s, MiFi/RocketStick 3.5G/4G devices used with laptops/netbooks, and Kindles. This capacity gap is inspiring another internet arms-race, just like the catastrophic that contributed to the ‘.com bubble burst’ of 2000/1. All of these competing wireless carriers are upgrading their wireless network capacity many-times over (10-100x+). The main difference –this time– is that demand exceeds supply… for now.

Dilbert.com

Right now, customers are very much choosing carriers based on the phones available, but this will soon change as cachet devices like the iPhone are made available on multiple networks. Then people will start switching from one to another because they are dissatisfied with the service (probably because a carrier is picking up high bandwidth users faster than their network engineers can deploy capacity). Then we will reach an equilibrium…

Then What?

Well, until recently, the answer would be –like any commodity market– a race to the bottom. The raging ‘red ocean’ of the wireless market would lead to the survival of the cost-cutting fittest. Just like pork-bellies, barrels of oil & even computer RAM, the winners will be those that produce a common unit for the lowest cost. The only people making real money (margin anyway) in this scenario will be those who can create differentiated products: handset makers & those that own the content (Apple and Apple respectively – I kid).

But then ‘net neutrality’ & the FCC got a big kick in the nuts courtesy of Comcast.

People who don’t care about FCC regulations (probably 99.99999% of you) may have missed the recent ruling in favour of Comcast on their ability to control how their customers use the internet (whether they were ‘neutral’ or could treat data from different sources differently).

Comcast, by challenging the FCC’s right to control neutrality, has now set a precedent that would allow carriers to be less ‘neutral’ when providing these over-the-top services (particularly those that make it hard to identify the source of all the bandwidth, like BitTorrent, etc.). This could potentially mean that they can have more control over the internet experience the user has. They could treat websites preferentially (higher speed) that agree to do revenue sharing, or block/restrict the bandwidth to those they don’t like.

The wireless and wireline carriers now have another way to differentiate from each other, aside from the “Better coverage… fastest network… fewest dropped calls…” mantra they all currently drone.

The internet experience could end up being VERY different from one carrier to the next, with an infinite combination of content/carrier/geography relationships possible. A very basic example would be a carrier winning business based on allowing BitTorrent traffic to your cell phone vs. one that does not allow it.

Things just got a whole lot more complicated… will carriers finally get a piece of the Apple pie?

OK, So What is With the Logo? –> ē

For my regular readers, you will notice my usual plea for ‘Support Wikipedia’ has been replaced by an ominous green ‘e’ with a bar over top. An explanation:

I have been busy. Since my departure from Nortel I have been working on my new consulting business called ‘Psychē’ and officially (according to the government) called ‘PSYCHE CONSULTING’ in the business of ‘ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT CONSULTING’.  Apparently the government likes yelling capital letters.

So why an ‘e’ instead of a ‘P’? ‘P’ logos look stupid IMHO. Except for the Philadelphia Flyers logo, which I only just now realized is also a ‘P’, and it’s already taken.

E stands for engineering, and in this case ‘Human Dynamics Engineering‘ (AKA ‘HDE’) a new term I am coining for what it is I am doing. E is also for ‘Engagement’ which is predominantly what the business is all about, engaging employees in their work environments, large and small. Also, the bar above the ‘e’ is “a macron, from the Greek μακρόv (makrón), meaning “long”, is a diacritic placed above a vowel” to indicate the ‘long e’ sound (‘eeee’ not ‘uh’). This is to distinguish the correct ‘psyche’ from the two possible interpretations:

(Courtesy Reference.Com)

1. The one I intend: psy·che [sahy-kee] -noun “Psychology, Psychoanalysis. the mental or psychological structure of a person, esp. as a motive force.”

2. The potentially unfortunate: psyche [sahyk] -informal verb “to intimidate or frighten psychologically, or make nervous (often fol. by out): to psych out the competition.”

And as a complete piece of trivia, ‘e’ is also the Proto-Semitic ‘H’ which is often used by people as my nickname, and has a symbol that looks like a person with his/her hands up.

Psychē LogoIf you would like to learn more about Psychē please drop by http://psycheconsulting.org. The site is rapidly evolving to become a resource for improving the workplace through ‘HDE’.

While I had always intended to use the ‘e’ with a macron above, the much-improved style of the final version is attributed to my friend and graphic designer Wendy Koch. I will provide a link to her fabulous graphic design website once it actually exists (Wendy: hint hint).

So why have I apparently gone insane, ditched the potentially lucrative field of telecommunications, and started a consulting firm?

In short, during my tenure in the Nortel MEN ESAT team as ‘Career Development Prime’ and then the overall Chair, I spent a lot of time thinking about the business impact of the level of engagement in the organization. I also found a passion for the topic which has led me to study the area ever since, amassing 4+ years of practical experience and research into the field. Based on this background, I have come up with an approach that I think would be very effective in any environment.

Now, off to work…

Oh, and support Wikipedia!!

P.S. I have been receiving a heart-warming quantity of well-wishes for my new endeavour. I am going to need some time to get back to you all, but I plan to do so!

TEDx 2: Ideas Worth CREATING

Just prior to attending my second TEDx event (this one in Waterloo), I got a lot of questions form friends and family:

  • What is the conference about?
  • What are you going to get out of it?
  • Who is going to be there?

I would just smile, and say “I’ll tell you when I get back.” I could have told them about TED’s tagline of ‘Ideas worth Spreading’, pointed them to the TED.com website, or have said ‘I am going to spend some time amongst other people –like me– that just love ideas’, but somehow those didn’t do a good job of explaining why I go. People are conditioned to want to know ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) or ‘what’s in it for you’ (WIIFY). I couldn’t explain TEDx in their ‘immediate payback’ terms.

Not being able to answer WIIFM would never stop me from doing something that I know is intuitively right, but for those that need to understand, I think I have figured it out: It helps ignite your brain and create ideas.

After two events –TEDx Ottawa and TEDx Waterloo– I have noticed that there is one thing I consistently get out of attending: The days after a TEDx event are filled with the relentless churning of my brain giving me ideas, so fast that I have trouble keeping track of them.

In brain science, there is an adage that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’. New neural pathways are created a lot in your youth during your brain’s hyper-plastic phases, but as people get older they –and their brain’s wiring– tend to get set in their ways. Your brain is designed to find the path of least resistance, so as you get older you try harder and harder to use those existing neural pathways to solve problems, relate to the world, and to other people, because it required less energy (literally!). You may start to surround yourself with like-minded people because it is less effort than to try and relate to those that have very different views than yours. Group-think ensues.

When you are at a TEDx conference (and I would venture to guess, a TED conference) you are presented such a plethora of big ideas, that come from all directions, it forces your brain to start creating new pathways between parts of your brain that perhaps never talked to each other before. In the following short summaries of each presenter, I will talk about the new ‘Oh Snap!’ moment that each presenter gave me; that moment where my brain found two previously unrelated concepts and slammed them together.

Disclaimer for other TEDx Waterloo participants: your brains are different than mine, your results will vary.  I would be very happy to hear your own epiphanies in the comments field below!!

Terry O’Reilly on Friction

My friend Gary kept asking me I had yet listened to ‘Age of Persuasion‘, and two days before TEDx I got around to listening.  I was happily impressed with the quality and content of the show, took some notes, and filed it away. I hadn’t paid much attention to who was presenting at TEDx Waterloo, since I knew one of the key organizers, and his reputation told me it was going to be some great content.  Then Terry O’Reilly walks up on stage… I look down at my notebook and see that I am still writing on the same pages as my notes from his radio show?!  Find this hard to believe? Have a look at the dates and content of my notebook:

Weird Coincidence

For those cynical bastards that choose to think that I had just looked up Terry because I was going to see him at TEDx: You are a cynical bastard.

So what was the O’Snap moment? FRICTION can create CREDIBILITY

Terry gave several examples in his talk about how people were not willing to believe in products that seemed too miraculous: antiseptics like Bactine that wouldn’t sell because they no longer caused pain, and hair products that were marketed as working in 30 minutes (instead of the actual 2) because it was more consistent with the salon experience. Because the new product was so far from the customer’s previous experience, it lacked credibility. That credibility was only created by adding some friction (alcohol back into the antiseptic to create pain, or a 30-minute wait before rinsing in the conditioner) to allow the customers to believe in the product.  For those of you who have seen my presentation on ‘Made to Stick‘ and/or read the book by Chip and Dan Heath you will remember how important credibility is to make a message sticky!

A quick chat with Terry after the presentation (another great perk of TEDx) also allowed me to conclude two things: 1) I like the guy and 2) I am now a Terry O’Reilly fan.

Philip Beesley on the  Hylozoic Ground

If I were putting on an event like this, I would start and finish with ‘sure things’; that is, presentations that will appeal and be understood by the whole audience (Terry and Amy were good choices!). Speaker #2 allows you to take risks with topics that might really challenge the audience to relate and understand.

Well, it was a challenge for me anyway. Philip’s current project is beautiful, shows great imagination, and I am really glad there are places in the world that nurture this kind of creativity. I hope some day to see his work in person, and that would allow me to have a greater link to the work he clearly has so much passion for.  While I found it hard to grasp, there were a couple of Oh Snaps! that got my brain churning:

In cities we stand on fragile ground, which is not a natural state for human beings. When you think about it, if you are standing in nature: on a beach, or on a mountain top, you are standing on solid earth that is (in human terms) immovable, solid and permanent. In cities, we stand on paved streets above the voids of sewers, subways or in buildings comprised of many layers of poured concrete hanging precariously in space. Does the human mind perceive this? Are we impacted buy it? I don’t know, but it certainly made me go hmmmm…

Almost contradictory to his previous point (but this assumes I understand it), using materials that are pushed to their structural limits, on the verge of collapse, leads to more sensitivity and a state of calm. This made me think of asian architecture where rooms are separated by paper walls and materials that seem engineered to be ‘just strong enough’ to fulfill their designed purpose. Does this actually have an impact on culture? Again, I don’t know… but it made me go hmmm…

Aimee Mullins on Dis-abled vs. En-Abled

TEDx organizers choose TED videos to be presented during the event that are consistent with the chosed TEDx theme. Being an avid TED video fan, I had seen Aimee’s (2nd) TED talk before, but TED videos are always best experienced in groups, so I was happy to see it again!

Oh Snap! moment: “That’s not fair!” With advances in science, people who in the past would have been viewed as ‘disabled’ could instead be viewed as almost super-human. For Star Trek TNG fans, you can think of Geordi La Forge, the blind officer who’s visual prosthetic allows him super-human vision. For a more recent example, you can look to the career of Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee ‘blade runner’, who’s gets banned from races because people think his carbon-fibre legs give him an unfair advantage! Aimee uses the example of how she can vary her height by 6″ depending on the pair of prosthetics she chooses. Imagine using this to your advantage in a business meeting where (unfortunately) height still translates into higher salaries and promotions!

Ray Laflamme on Quantum Computing

I have a degree in Engineering Physics, which required me to take courses in quantum mechanics. If I had a professor like Ray, I might still be passionate about that field instead of afraid of it!

Oh Snap!: I have been trying to understand the concepts behind the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment for years, and Ray explained it for me in 10 seconds… If a bullet can be in two places at once (quantum superposition theory), and cat is shot, the cat can be both alive and dead. While it begs the question of ‘What do physicists have against cats?’ it finally cemented this concept for me after 14 years of trying. Thanks Ray!

<BREAK where I got to chat with some cool participants and speakers>

Paul Saltzman on The Beatles

You ever met a person who is funny without even having to try? That’s Paul.

He tells a story about how he bumps into The Beatles while trying to learn how to meditate in India. The Beatles had secluded themselves from the world, and their meditations led to 48 songs being written during a 7 week period. Paul S. has a picture of The Beatles whilst composing their hit ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, and speaks of profound conversations with George Harrison in particular (for the pic, see David’s great summary of the event HERE).

Oh Snap!: Nothing Changes Until You Do. Much of our focus is placed on how we change OTHERs’ attitudes or behaviours. How much time and energy to we spend thinking about how we change ourselves? If  life isn’t about the fans, the money, the ‘success’ but love, health and peace inside, (as George Harrison said to Paul) isn’t the time best spent trying to understand how you can change yourself to meet these objectives? That said…I am off to the gym.

Caroline Disler on the ‘Western Civilization’ Misnomer

Caroline explains how the term ‘Western Civilization’ is a very polarizing term that down-plays the significant –if not dominant– influences of the whole world (and the middle east in particular) in the development of what is now called ‘Western Civilization’. For example, we often credit the Greek philosophers as the origin of many of our concepts, including scientific thought. Caroline illustrated that the Greeks credit much of their thought to the Egyptians and Indians, and their knowledge was only allowed to be passed on by the patronage of Persians (Iran) when they were persecuted by the Christians. Ironic huh? Also notable was how the very influential ‘western’ philosophy of Thomas Aquinas was in turn influenced by works of arab philosophers like Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali who he cited 31 times.

Oh Snap!: I am going to wait until the next summary.  Caroline’s talk was like a perfect setup and complement to the next presentation, a TED video of Wade Davis.

Wade Davis on Endangered Cultures

This guy should get a short film Oscar for colourful use of hyperbole! Lines like “to have that powder blown up your nose is rather like being shot out of a rifle barrel lined with Baroque paintings and landing on a sea of electricity” brought uproarious laughter from the crowd.

Oh Snap!: Different cultures create different realities. Wether it is an Inuit hunter fashioning a shiv out of his frozen feces to kill food, or a tribe from NE Ecuador where  54% of their mortality rate is from spearing each other to death (but could track specific animals from the smell of their urine), or a culture where the children see their first sunrise at the age of 18, they see the world in very importantly different ways than our own culture.  I used to think that the increasing hegemony of cultures was actually a good thing… perhaps a side-effect of my own colonialist culture that actually celebrates Ethnocide as a form of developing civilization. I thought that the more we understand each other, or even become like each other, the less conflict there will be in the world. But wait, remember that ‘group think’ comment form earlier? You avoid this and increase the richness in the world by ensuring that cultures are not eradicated. This was the first time that I really understood the Canadian perspective of ‘multiculturalism’ vs. the American ‘melting pot’ concept.

A very tangible example of different cultural realities creating great contributions to the world is the work of Vilayanur S. Ramachandran. VS is a neurologist who devised a means to alleviate phantom limb pain and fix limbs previously ‘locked in’ (paralyzed) by pain. In the book The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, he asserts that this cultural influence was key to Ramachandran’s discoveries:

In India, Ramachandran grew up in a world where many things that seem fantastic to Westerners were commonplace… the idea that living things change their forms was widely accepted; the power of the mind to influence the body was taken for granted, and illusion was seen as so fundamental a force that it was represented in the deity Maya, the goddess of illusion. He has transposed a sense of wonder from the streets of India to Western neurology, and his work inspires questions that mingle the two.

For me, the Davis/Disler double-whammy was the biggest Oh Shap! moment of TEDx Waterloo.

Madhur Anand on Restoration Ecology

This was a presentation that didn’t go clunk for me. I got the importance of Restoration Ecology, putting mined or logged environments back to their original state, not just ‘replanting’ or ‘filling in the hole’ but the link to poetry was lost.

Oh Snap!: I concluded that I have a really bad view of poetry.  As someone who loves how a few words can be very powerful in imparting a rich mental landscape, why do I dislike poetry so much? Did high school make me hate it? Perhaps I was just hung-over from The Davis/Disler Oh Snap!

Micheal Sacco on Horizontal Trade

For those of you who read my review on TEDx Ottawa or participated in the event, this talk reminded me a lot of Tracey Clarke’s talk about coffee. There was a common theme that treating coffee beans or cocoa purely as commodities removes a relationship with the growers and producers that actually is a net loss to consumers.

I spoke to Micheal after his talk, but his discussion continued to give me a crew cut as it went flying over my head. He gave me some great chocolate (thanks!) and I went on my way pondering the ‘so what’ of his message. Perhaps this ‘horizontal trade alternative to pure capitalism’ is something that has to be experienced to be understood. He kept reinforcing that the chocolate was just a symbol to remind us that other worlds were possible.

Oh Snap! Moment: It hasn’t happened yet, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t coming some time down the road.

<BREAK>

Darren Werschler on Imaginary Media

He did his talk on several types of ‘Imaginary Media’ and their impact on us:

  1. Untimely Media like the Babbage Difference Engine, that –while not completed until 153 years after its design(!)– still had a profound impact on our thinking and the emergence of computers.
  2. Conceptual Media that are not just prototypes, but indicative of major shifts in media (Lolz Schrödinger’s Catz?)
  3. Impossible Media that expresses our desire for ‘perfect’ communication like the Star Trek transporter.

Oh Snap!: It doesn’t have to actually work to get people’s imaginations going. The Babbage Difference Engine surprised me. I had always heard that Babbage was credited with the world’s first computer, but I had always assumed it actually worked! But then I started to remember how much science fiction was credited for actual inventions and even impact on media and culture. This reinforces Darren’s final point of his presentation: ‘ You must take the risk of trying.’

Matthew Childs on the 9 Life Lessons from Rock Climbing

Since you can go see the 9 life lessons by going to the TED.com website, I will focus on the Oh Snap! moment: Strength does not equal success (lesson #8) – Women often succeed where men fail because men too often focus on strength. Matthew gave the example of women rock climbers who are more consistent than their male counterparts because they have less ego tied to showing how strong they are; they find positions that leverage the natural strength of our legs. This collided with something else in my brain from a book I read called Born to Run where the author talked about how a much larger % of women complete the gruelling Leadville Ultra-marathon than men. Not sure what I am going to do with it, but an interesting observation.

Marty Avery on Nemaste

Westerners, and particularly men, grow up with the concept that strong people never show that they are vulnerable.

Oh Snap! moment: It takes great strength to be vulnerable. Marty gave the example of one of her high school teachers who –instead of being confrontational– appealed to her student (Marty) to help her with her inability to get key ideas across to her class. While a person in a position of authority –like her teacher– is loath to appear vulnerable to her subordinates, this teacher was able to create a bond with a key ally by being strong enough to show her vulnerability.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal on the 7 Notes of Life

Amy is a person that –much like Marty– exudes a large amount of positive energy. Amy loves the little coincidences you see in life, and has turned them into children’s books, books for adults, and viral internet videos. I had a quick look at one of her children’s books Duck! Rabbit! Have a quick look at the cover and see if you can get the theme of the book:

I’d bet that parents reading this book to their children get their own life lesson: how two people can look at the same thing, and see something completely different! You can also see the book performed HERE on Youtube.

Before I get to the ‘Oh Snap!’ moment, I want to summarize Amy’s 7-Notes on Life which I hope you will get as much out of as I did:

  • A – Always Trust Magic or ‘ATM’: embrace coincidences in life
  • B – Beckon The Lovely: what you look for is what you will see, why not look for the lovely?
  • C – Connected: we are all connected
  • D – Do: don’t talk about what you are going to do, it drains you… just do it!
  • E – Empty: choose to disconnect, get out of reaction mode and create
  • F – Figure it Out as You Go: you can’t plan it all out, get started
  • G – Go to It: ask not what the world needs, but what makes you come alive

If those are the 7 notes to life, it begs the questions: What key is it sung in, and What are the lyrics? Amy answered those questions as well. The Key to life is ‘You’ and the lyrics for the 7 notes are “MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME HERE”.

The Oh Snap! moment: When I heard notes D, E, F & G I immediately thought of a book I have *almost* completed Linchpinby Seth Godin. These notes resonate with many of the traits that Seth identifies with the indispensable ‘linchpin’. Linchpins ship (D & F), don’t spend time doing busy-work like checking Twitter responses and their page hits (E), and they do what they are passionate about (G). This is more supporting evidence for my endeavour to become a ‘linchpin’!

So for those of you who are struggling with how to generate new ideas in your organization here is an idea: Stop sending your people to ‘group-think’ trade shows, and send them to a TEDx event.  You won’t regret it!

I want to express my thanks to the whole TEDx Waterloo team for putting on an amazing show, that make it more than worthwhile for me to make the long trip from Ottawa, and a worthy sequel to TEDx Ottawa!

The Media Buffet – At One Reasonable Price

Early adopters experience new market opportunities before the rest of the market. By trying something new, they get the benefits of a new service or technology earlier than the rest, but they also experience the gaps that are inevitably created by the new thing.

We will soon have the iPad to add to the already large number of means to experience media that includes:

  • eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader
  • Digital audio players like the iPod and Zune
  • Smart phones (Blackberry, iPhone)
  • Desktop & laptop computers
  • Internet capable set-top boxes (AppleTV, PS3, XBOX, Wii)
  • Traditional print media

Here is the gap: I am sure many other early adopters are finding it useful –but expensive– to purchase all the various potential forms of a piece of work.  For example, I may purchase an audio-book to determine if I like the work (and it allows me to read it quickly), then purchase the eBook version on a Kindle because I want to be able to highlight the material and look at diagrams, and even purchase the printed copy of the book if I want to share it with others.

Hopefully there soon will be a time where a content publisher will offer the “One Price Media Buffet” where one price is paid to access to the media regardless of the desired format.  Alternatively, an initial price can be paid, with small incremental fees for alternate versions.

You might wonder what is in it for the content publisher? Unfortunately, the current attitude of many people towards DRM (digital rights management) is quite confrontational. Users don’t see the DRM as a way to protect the artists that produce the media, but rather a cash grab reminiscent of the music business who would release a new format every 5 years to get you to buy the Beatles White Album again. This confrontation allows people to rationalize making illegal copies of media. This is money lost for publishers and artists alike. There is no DRM that yet exists that can keep motivated hackers breaking it, and the internet makes it very easy for hack to be propagated to less-tech savvy users that feel enough frustration to make illegal copies.

Here is a new opportunity for content owners to develop a more positive relationship with their customers and their artists by offering new innovative solutions instead of more complexity and frustration.

Is it possible? I can see at least one company who could offer a very good start at this: Amazon. They already offer content via audio book, print and eBook (which includes access via PC & iPhone, and in the future likely the iPad & Mac).  The only reasons for them not to offer the ‘Buffet’ would be existing contracts with rights holders (good reason) and the opportunity to charge their customers multiple times for the same content (not so good).

Come on publishers, surprise we early adopters in a GOOD way for a change! There is a WIN-WIN scenario.

Success at NORTEL

Now there is two words you probably haven’t heard in a the same sentence for a while!

During a presentation to a large consulting firm on Chip & Dan Heath’s ‘Made to Stick’, things got rather casual/direct and I ended up presenting some of my challenges at moving forward with my next career (which we’ll call ‘management consulting’ for lack of a better term):

  1. How do I package the ‘Made to Stick’ principles for my purposes?
  2. How do I translate this information session into a consulting opportunity for me?
  3. And the biggie… How do I address the fact that the last 12 years of my career has been with a company the public associates more with management ineptitude, than an environment that could foster an effective ‘management consultant’?

One of the attendees said something which took the whole room aback: “Why don’t you use this ‘Sticky’ method to convince people that there was ‘Success at Nortel’?” After a pause, and about a minute of laughter from the room at what was clearly a joke, he says: “No, I’m serious, wouldn’t that prove your point?”

While others in the room suggested that the employee in question may be off some important medicine, I told him I really liked the idea, didn’t see a path to get there, but I would certainly give it more thought!

That challenge stuck in my mind until I had a lunch meeting with one of my previous Nortel managers (ironically).  I was discussing how my new venture was going to be focussed on a systematic process to increasing customer and employee engagement in organizations to boost productivity, boost profit and –in Seth Godin’s words– increase the level of humanity. He matter-of-factly said: “Wasn’t our network planning team exactly that [success via customer and employee engagement]?”

WHOA!

Some background: Network Planning is a function that exists in all companies that build telecom networks, but was rather unique at Nortel because we were a company that sold equipment to build telecom networks, and we offered this service for free. As a simple analogy, imagine an architect who works with you to help design your home for free, before you have have even committed to buy it.  Sounds like a bad business model doesn’t it?  Not so fast!

Vendor-provided network planning services started at Nortel (AFAIK) and became an industry table-stake over the years as clients clearly decided to do more and more business with companies that would help them design their networks, evaluate new technology and specify the equipment required. This was widely replicated by our competitors with all companies in our product segment –even the smallest startups– having this function in some way, shape or form.  Some will charge for it (a bad idea, but that is worthy of another post), others offer it as a free service.  I joined Nortel to become part of the planning team, stayed in it for 7 years, unable to find a more appealing job in the whole company.  Anyone who had experience in Nortel Network Planning will tell you how great a team it was, and most of its alumni have moved on to great success in roles such as PLM, market development, sales and planning leadership roles at other companies.

Gallup Research, in their fabulous book Human Sigma (little to do with Six Sigma by the way) identifies two hierarchical pyramids that characterizes what is required for customer and employee engagement to exist.  Gallup asserts, and I certainly concur, that companies that strive to engage customers and employees significantly improve business results. I am going to apply the elements of one of these two pyramids to Network Planning at Nortel to highlight why it was so successful:

Elements of the Customer Engagement Pyramid

  1. CONFIDENCE : Can I trust the company, and do they always deliver on their promises? The kind of business Nortel is in has long product lead-times and product cycles. It is often very hard to develop a rapport with key decision makers purely through standard interaction on products, especially since these decision makers are far removed from the products themselves (they may never actually see them). The planning function allowed for regular and deep discussions about what the customers problems were, allowing us to help them do their job.  By doing this with great competence, and to schedule, we could build trust and deliver on our promises in a parallel stream to our products. To perform this function needed great trust between the carrier and vendor, because we often had as much –or more– information on their network than they did to do our job well.
  2. INTEGRITY: Does this company treat me fairly? Again, planning was in a position to develop a rapport with decision makers that sales or operations could not.  Sometimes this was even taken to extremes: I can remember one case where the customer was under time pressure, and asked us to rework a network design over the Christmas break, which we did (it showed we had engaged employees!).  Reactions like this clearly showed the customer that we were committed to their business and –more importantly– to the individuals that were decision-makers.
  3. PRIDE: Am I proud to be their customer, do they treat me with respect? I think another company providing you with extremely bright and energetic people to help you do your work is a great sign of respect! The planning teams were often providing these clients with detailed network designs and studies which would in-turn be presented with great pride as their own work. In other cases, the planners themselves became an integral part of the customer’s team, even assigned their own office space in some cases.
  4. PASSION: This company is perfect for a person like me, I can’t imagine a world without this company. What more proof do you need of this than the customers hiring the planners to be their own employees? This happened in several occasions. Because the roles of the people we were interacting with were typically cost-centres (not revenue generating) they were often under-staffed and under-appreciated.  They were asked to evaluate many complex options of how their networks were to evolve, and had many potential vendors & products to consider.  Nortel would come in with great talented people and give them a helping hand, and make our customer contacts look like miracle workers with their own executives. If you had someone make you look like a star to your boss, could you imagine a world without them?

So according to Gallup, we had created a function that created a very high level of customer engagement!

Were the results of having the planning function directly measurable? Unfortunately not*, but here is a few data points:

  • The function still exists to this day. It would seem obvious that functions that do not directly contribute to revenue were great opportunities for trimming in a company with severe financial trouble, especially after >80-90% of the workforce has been cut! The function had such a reputation in the industry, and was so leveraged by other teams like market development, sales, R&D and PLM, that I don’t think it was ever considered for the chopping block, even while many other valuable functions were thrown over the side.
  • Alumni of this function were heavily recruited by established industry players and start-ups because of the relationships these people had made with customers, and their broad network & business perspective.
  • As already mentioned, planners were regularly imbedded as key members of the customer’s own organizations or even hired by our customers.
  • Many of the networks in existence today were designed by planners from Nortel with Nortel equipment (the latter was the big payoff).

If I need to make a case for ‘Success in Nortel’, I would have no trouble positioning the network planning function as a great success story that was about engaging people and not technology.  It built stronger relationships with our customers, allowed a deeper understanding of the customer’s challenges and requirements, and helped Nortel build better products while creating a large pool of Nortel employees who could speak the customer’s language.

So now I have the content of the presentation, now I just have to go put it together.

*I have since figured out a way to do this, but you will have to drop me a line for that advice.

Those That Get ‘It’ Don’t Need ‘It’

But that isn’t what this post is really about, that was just an attempt at a catchy tag-line. Also, this post is also not about those that don’t get ‘it’. But first, what is ‘it’?

‘It’ is the value of the knowledge and skill that you offer as a service.

Consider the following diagram:


On the left hand side of the diagram (around ‘A’) you have the people that really don’t get the value of what you are offering. They don’t get it because their experience has never told them that it might be important, or they have never seen it done successfully. Unfortunately those that really don’t get ‘it’ are often the ones that need ‘it’ the most.  Don’t let this make you think this is a valid use of your time to try and convince them directly*.

On the right hand side of the diagram (around ‘C’) you have the people that really get ‘it’.  These people only need you if you want to be another set of hands to implement their plans.  If they get ‘it’ they don’t need ‘it’.  You don’t consult for these people, you get a job with them (if that is what you want).  Your skills and talents will be leveraged daily.

You’ll notice that there is another variable plotted: The chance of success.

Imagine you are providing a consulting service to an organization that involves the organization actually changing what they are doing <GASP>.  [Note: If you are the kind of person that doesn’t care that your service actually has impact as long as you get paid, you can stop reading here… oh, and sometimes I wish I were you. -ed.] The chances of the initiative having success is directly related to how much the organization (top to bottom) is likely to get ‘it’.

At point ‘A’ they will never get ‘it’ and the chance of success is zero.  At ‘C’ they already get ‘it’ and it is probably already being done well by people in-house.

So, where should you focus your energy? Where do you add the most value?

You’ll notice we haven’t talked about point ‘B’ yet… the golden pentagon of ‘it’ opportunity.  Here there is enough get ‘it’ to ensure that the services offered will have some traction, but still enough need ‘it’ so that the organization needs your help to implement the goal of the service. And there is a reasonable probability of success, which leads to the *other way to get those that don’t get ‘it’ to realize that it might be important for them to do so:

Success breeds success, and it is one of the main things that diffuses ‘it’ (by word of mouth) from the few early adopters into the mass of the early majority.  Once those that don’t get ‘it’ start to see this success, they want to get some of that action. Some time after this point you write a book, get on Oprah, a million other consultants try and copy what you do, ‘it’ gets diluted and gets piled on the heap of discredited quick-fix fads. Why? Well, many of those that don’t get ‘it’ only try ‘it’ because they are desperate and/or have run out of ideas… but they still are unlikely to get ‘it’ and the chance for success stays low. [Hey, don’t complain, you got to meet Oprah. -ed.]

So the moral of the story: If you are developing ‘it’, and you want to be in business for yourself, the best return-on-investment comes from that golden pentagon of opportunity.  Ask yourself honestly, does your client (and their organization) stand a reasonable chance of getting ‘it’?

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