Monthly Archives: March 2012

Taking Out The Garbage

At some point, the garbage can in the kitchen fills up.  Unless someone takes it out, it starts to smell.  We’ve all been there – a significant other asks us to take out the garbage and so we lug the smelly bag to the trash can or dumpster or incinerator chute (for you apartment livers).  Not a pleasant task but one I’m pretty sure nearly all of us do on a regular basis.  I don’t think any of us think “it’s not my job” or “I’m too good to be doing this.”  Something is starting to smell so we handle it.

store garbage bag #1574

(Photo credit: Nemo's great uncle)

I wonder, therefore, why that attitude doesn’t translate over into some managers’ thinking when they get to the office.  I’m always surprised when I hear tales of closed doors or having to make an appointment weeks in advance to see one’s supervisor.  I’ve also seen executives who won’t call their travel department, type their own memoranda, or get their own dry-cleaning.  They insist that their assistant does it.  These would be the first people to complain if their kids were snubbed in an autograph line by a truly famous person but who don’t understand that they are guilty of the same thing on a daily basis by snubbing their own employees.

“Don’t you know who I think I am?”

These are the folks who confuse who they are with what they do.  The reality is that those of us who were privileged enough to have supervised others had our positions defined by those folks.  We were there to help them accomplish the broader tasks of the business.  Sure, providing them with sound strategy and reasonable resources was part of it, but it also meant being available, supportive, inspirational, and honest.

If you’re too damn important to take out the garbage, you probably shouldn’t be allowed to manage others.  You’ll be more of a detriment than an asset.

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Under Pressure

It’s Foodie Friday so this morning I’m inspired by a lyric from Bowie and Queen:  “Pressure pushing down on me, Pressing down on you.”  I heard the song and wondered how many of you have ever cooked using a pressure cooker?  There was a good piece on them in Slate a week ago that you might want to check out.

English: Pressure cooker

Image via Wikipedia

Modern pressure cookers are easy and safe to use but older ones were frequently the subject of comedy.  Well, not the cookers themselves but their propensity to blow up.  We business folks can learn a lot from them and that’s my point today. Continue reading

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Detective Movies and Broadband

When I watch a thriller or detective movie, I find myself paying a lot of attention to minor things – a front desk clerk, a random event like what’s playing on a TV in a bar – because inevitably the end of the movie involves something that was hinted at earlier.  The key is usually something to which no one seems to be paying attention but would have been recognized as highly significant had they been.

I thought of that when I read a couple of articles over the last week and as I’m going through the reports of yesterday’s new iPad announcement.  Let’s see if the pieces – none of which is seen as a big deal – get you thinking about the ending as they do to me.

First off, there was the report from Nielsen that looks at cord-cutters – those homes that have abandoned cable TV and are using the Internet and over the air signals to watch the programming they previous got via cable:

Though less than 5 percent of TV households, homes with broadband Internet and free, broadcast TV are on the rise—growing 22.8 percent over last year. These households are also found to exhibit interesting video behaviors: they stream video twice as much as the general population and watch half as much TV.

Even among those who haven’t cut the cord, there is a shift to video and Internet provided by the telephone companies:

The number of homes subscribing to wired cable has decreased 4.1 percent in the past year at the same time that telephone company-provided and satellite TV have seen increases of 21.1 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively.

Maybe it’s in part due to higher bit-rates available from companies traditionally seen as ISP’s?  After all, access to broadband Internet is a big priority:

Demonstrating that consumers are increasingly making Internet connectivity a priority, 75.3 percent pay for broadband Internet (up from 70.9% last year); 90.4 percent pay for cable, telephone company-provided TV or satellite. Homes with both paid TV and broadband increased 5.5 percent since last year.

OK – that’s a few of the “minor” characters – nothing huge there.  Now add this:

Across Europe, the Web has surpassed TV as the primary platform for 18-to-35 viewers to watch their favorite sport, according to new research conducted by Havas Sport & Entertainment for the Global Sports Forum Barcelona.

And this:

Stateside, the evidence suggests that more sports nuts are choosing to forgo pay-TV services for Internet services. According to The NPD Group, iVOD users reduced the time they spent watching television shows, news and sports via pay-TV companies by 12% between August 2010 and August 2011.

Every major sports league has some sort of online pay package available, which is not new.  Now let’s add in the new iPad which is becoming the second screen of choice for a lot of people along with an improved AppleTV that makes putting streamed content on to your HD television a snap.  Suddenly, we might be looking at a milestone (and the end of the movie for some businesses).  Live sports is one of the (and I think THE) killer apps.  Up until recently it’s been hard (or illegal) to find your live sport of choice outside of pay TV available through a cable operator.  Suddenly, higher speed broadband married to better devices married to that content being available via your ISP and the ability to throw it on to your big screen TV with no loss of quality while marrying it to apps, data, and social interfaces might be a twist no one saw coming.  Except I think maybe now we can.

What do you think?

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Mess Effect

I don’t know if you’re a gamer (in the video game sense, not the hockey sense) but even if you’re not you might be aware that the latest installment in the Mass Effect video game series is out. It’s going to be one of the biggest releases of the year and the buzz has been good.  More importantly to Electronic Arts and Bioware (the developer), pre-sales were big.  It’s the third game in a series that has many passionate users who’ve been immersed in it for five years.

So why would I call this post “mess effect?”  Because despite all the success to date, EA and Bioware have created a release that’s precipitating a mess that has already alienated a substantial potion of their most loyal customers.  It serves as a reminder to us all.

In Mass Effect 1, gamers were given the option to create their own customized version of the main character, Commander Shepard.  Obviously, if a gamer made Shepard in their own image, they felt a bit closer to character.  At the end of the game, they could bring the character forward into Mass Effect 2, continuing the close attachment.  One might expect the folks who took the time to modify the character as well as to carry it forward to be hard-core.  Another name for that is “best customers” or “brand advocates.”

So here is ME3 (as it’s known) and although it’s a few months late, it’s met with great anticipation by those folks who’ve seen Shepard through many tough times, have helped save the Earth and have done so with an avatar that’s near and dear to them.  Except ME3 won’t import the previously created Shepard.  That’s right: for folks who are just entering the series now, it’s not an issue but for the folks who have been most loyal and brought their character with them, perhaps for five years, they have to start over.  Apparently, it’s almost impossible to replicate your existing Shepard on the new system, even from scratch.

Bioware says they’re working on a fix but will this take days?  Weeks?  Months?  Meanwhile, the gamer message boards are filling up with complaints about a peripheral issue and not with praise for the meat of the game play.  It’s a mess.  I know it probably won’t impact the overall success of the game, especially once it’s patched, but why would a company not take into consideration their best customers first?  Some of the folks who played ME1 and 2 used the defaults; others made tiny mods that are easy to replicate.  But the people who spent hours tweaking Shepard, the customers most immersed in your product, are screwed, at least for now.

As we’re implementing new versions of existing products – web sites, apps, new recipes, whatever – we need to start with those who’ve blessed us with their patronage before we worry a lot about attracting new customers.  After all, if the hard-core is happy, they’ll help spread the word.  If they’re not, no amount of marketing can totally overcome it.


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You, Everywhere

A study came out a couple of weeks ago and I made note of it to share with you all.  Entitled “Smart Devices: Evolution and Convergence,” it comes to us from the folks eMarketer (given yesterday’s post I guess I’m on a research roll this week…).  The findings aren’t particularly surprising but they do point to something that gets overlooked.

All of the fantastic technologies that have evolved over the last two decades are empty vessels for the most part.  Obviously most require software of some sort to operate.  In many cases, they require something else, as the study’s findings show:

Ereaders, connected game consoles, internet-enabled TVs and other connected gadgets have also become essential to a society that demands instant and constant access to digital media. And that digital media is the technologies’ raison d’être.

“Without movies, TV shows, games, photos, books, magazines, newspapers, video clips and music, few would care to own a tablet, a touchscreen smartphone, a connected console or an internet-enabled TV,” said Verna. “As consumers continue to gravitate toward digital media consumption, and as content owners and device manufacturers continue to find ways to meet the demand for it, more content will become available in the digital domain.”

In other words, make great content and they will come.  Given the changes in how search algorithms work, great content starts a virtuous circle of discovery, consumption, sharing, and further discovery.  “The platform” has become less of an issue although smart companies are tweaking their content to be platform appropriate.  If you’ve ever been on a mobile device and hit a site that’s not optimized for mobile, you know how the platform can actually get in the way.  Same issue if you’re only using Flash for video – kiss many audiences on tablets goodbye.

What you want, when you want it, and how you want it is the mantra.  Learn it today so you’ll be in business tomorrow.


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But enough about me…

We’ve all been to the party where someone is firmly ensconced in a corner or at the bar telling tales about their favorite subject:  themselves.  Sometimes, especially if we’ve never heard them before, these stories can be funny and interesting.  I don’t know how you feel but I always get a little weary of them after a while.  If you hang around long enough, inevitably the person senses a fresh audience and repeats the same old tales, always with themselves in a leading role.  Then again, given the ages of some of my friends (and your author), it’s quite possible to write the repetition off to having forgot that they’ve told the tale already!  Maybe by telling the same stories these folks give themselves the appearance of establishing intimacy while really doing nothing of the sort.  We’ll leave that to the psychologists.

I bring this up this morning because of a piece I read on how brands are using Facebook and how their behavior reminds me of the tale-tellers at the cocktail party.  The report was in eMarketer, and the gist is this:

In December 2011, consulting firm A.T. Kearney analyzed the conversations happening on Facebook between 50 of the world’s top brands and their fans, comparing their interactions to those in December 2010.

The study found that in 2011, 94% of the 50 top brands’ Facebook pages directed users to a one-way communication page, such as a tab or a closed Facebook wall that didn’t allow consumers to initiate a conversation. This was up from 91% of the top 50 brands’ pages in 2010. Additionally, 56% of those brands did not respond to a single customer comment on their Facebook page in 2011; the same percentage of nonresponses as in 2010.

I suspect that part of this is due to those brands not wanting to deal with issues such as moderation (how to look for and deal with offensive comments and language), or full-time support of social marketing efforts.  Too bad.  Like the person who speaks only about themselves, these companies might think they’re engaging with their audience while the reality is they’re turning them off.  I’m sure you’ve been on company pages that are nothing more than an endless stream of promotions.  I’ve taken more than a few of those out of my news feed and I gather from the research I’m not alone.

If we’re going to use the tools of modern marketing the way we used the older, non-interactive tools, we’re missing the point and wasting the advantages these newer forms of marketing can bring.  That’s what I think – what do you think?

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Making The Doh!

Friday at last, and we’ll do our usual Foodie thing this week with a focus on doh.  That’s not a typo – it’s doh in the Homer Simpson manner:  I want to review a few of the most common mistakes we make in the kitchen.  The inspiration was a recent piece in Cooking Light.  They cited 25 common errors – I’m going to lay out a few this week and maybe we’ll get to some others next week.  Of course, the lessons they teach won’t be restricted to the kitchen either…

Homer Simpson

Image via Wikipedia

The first one is something that I’ll cop to myself : you don’t taste as you go.  Old seasonings, a particularly pungent batch of herbs, how much natural sugar is in the food can all affect the taste of the dish and no recipe can account for all of these things.  You have to taste as you go and adjust.  Of course managers often make that same mistake in their offices – they don’t taste.  What I mean is that to get where they are, managers have followed some sort of recipe and generally have written (in their own minds, if not on paper)  other recipes for how they want things to run.  That’s great, but one has to taste too.  I’ve known bosses who lock themselves away in their offices and don’t wander about among their staff speaking, listening – tasting!

Another mistake:  you don’t read the entire recipe before you start cooking.  This is how you get 6 steps into a dish and realize you’re missing an ingredient or haven’t heated the oven or don’t have the right size pan.  Figuring out a dish takes an hour longer than you have won’t make whomever you’re feeding very happy.  In business, we make that mistake as well.  We agree to deals without getting into the fine points of a contract or we begin projects without really thinking through every step.  That sometimes results in work grinding to a halt as we hit issues that arise but were very predictable had we thought things through in-depth – had we read the whole recipe.

Finally today, we don’t know our oven’s quirks and idiosyncrasies.  Every oven has hot and cool spots.  Baking or roasting without taking those zones into account can result in uneven cooking or over/under done results.  The same is true of your staff.  If we treat each team member’s work habits as the same we get projects done piecemeal or qualitatively unevenly.  Some folks need careful instruction; others need only to be told the basics.  We need to make sure we know how often to check on the progress and adjust based on how things are moving along.

Funny how a kitchen is like an office, even when you’re not a cook!  Better that we stick to making dough and not making DOH!

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