Who Hasn’t Seen the ‘Last Lecture’?

Randy Pausch’s last lecture has come up in several recent conversations I have had, and I am always surprised to find people who haven’t seen it. I mean, the guy was on Oprah, everybody must have heard of this guy or his book by now!

We are coming up on the two year anniversary of Randy’s last public post to his blog (June 26th, 2008) before his death on July 25th 2008 of pancreatic cancer, so it might be a good time to remind the world (well my small world anyway) about his gift to the world: His Last Lecture.

If you still don’t know if you want to invest 70 minutes of your life on this, watch the 10-minute version that was on Oprah. But I challenge you to watch this, then not watch the 80 minute version; so pick… 80 minutes or 90 minutes.  😉

Apparently, Banner Ads Don’t Have to be Crap!

I can’t believe it, I actually saw a banner ad today that I wanted to click on! This was the first such banner ad, after perhaps the millions I have seen, and it looked like this:

Unfortunately, there is no direct link to this ad for you to try it yourself (if you find it, please let me know!), I can only hope that you find it the same place I did at: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6573FD20100614?type=politicsNews I just tried again and another ad popped up, so all I can suggest is to keep trying!

Why is this ad so awesome? Clearly I fit the demographic they are targeting (people who like nice cars) but I have skipped over many such ads by Audi and others many times. I think it was because the ad challenged me to try something where I would not be certain of the result. This leveraged the ‘gap theory’ of curiosity, where the ad created an information gap that I wanted to fill. Once I saw my cursor slide and crash, I noticed the toggle at the top left that allowed me to turn on ‘quattro’ (Audi’s super-grippy 4WD system), which created another information gap: What would this do?

With the quattro system engaged, my cursor slices through the water no problem.

I have never seen such a good example of an ad being able to draw me in, and stay so core to their message (safety = traction = Audi quattro). Also impressive is the TV spot with the ‘downhill skiing’ theme in San Fran (see at end of post).

Kudos to the Audi marketing team for creating the first banner ad that has ever worked on me!!

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.

Are the Meat & Dairy Industries the Next ‘Big Tobacco’?

I have heard too many studies on nutrition to take any of them seriously. One study says X is bad, the next says X is good. Too much noise, and I have been filtered it out for a long time. I figured, eat everything in moderation and exercise will lead to good health.

You can have your cake, and eat your steak too (which is great, because I love steak!).

For the first time, I have come across research that seems to go ‘thunk’ with me, something that is actually changing my behaviour. I read the book ‘The China Study‘, and it has so much compelling detail that I just can’t ignore it. Here is a good video summary by the author… you’ll note that this guy does not sound like some kind of Atkins quack.

Conclusion… the biggest competitor to the pharmaceutical industry, and the solution to the NA health care disaster, is likely a whole-foods plant-based diet.

Ironically our ‘low-fat’ health kick is actually INCREASING the amount of animal protein we are eating, which is exactly the wrong way to go.

Oh, crap…

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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