Tag Archives: Business and Economy

Learning And Doing

I’m in training now to expand my consulting practice. I’ll have more about what exactly that means in another week or so, once I’ve officially completed training and can begin working with clients. The training has been two or sometimes three 90-minute training sessions a day for the last week or so. It’s pretty intensive, and while much of it isn’t highly technical and involves some business knowledge that’s common to what I’ve learned working in other areas over the years, it’s still a lot. I’m enjoying it, in part because it’s been quite a while since I’ve had to absorb this much information about a topic that is totally new to me. Always good to get those old synapses firing, isn’t it?

One thing it’s reminded of is the difference between learning and doing. Maybe I should phrase that as knowing and doing, but they’re different. In any event, one is certainly not the other. I can explain to you the elements of a great golf swing and I can probably point out what in your swing is causing you problems. I know what a good swing looks like. Can I perform one myself? Oh hell no. I’m a great caddy – I can club you correctly and discuss strategy. Can I hit the shot I’m describing? Not consistently well.

That’s knowing vs. doing. Learning vs. doing is having the information as I now do about this new business area but really nothing more. I can tell you the rules, I can tell you the best practices, I can even tell you the mistakes you’re likely to make. What I can’t do is to give you any first-hand experience nor any nuance nor anything particularly insightful from that which you could get from anyone else. That last part is where any of us add value to what is, in essence, a textbook view of the world. A kid coming out of graduate school with an MBA (yes, 28-year-olds are now “kids” to me) has a ton of education and knows an awful lot but they have very little experience. The good ones that I’ve worked with know that and are anxious to add to their education by doing. The less good one think they already know it all thanks to their learning.

I know I can be effective in my expanded area right away although I’ll be even more effective as time passes and I learn the things one only learns by doing. Part of why we see some problems in the business world, particularly in the tech world, is that we have CEO’s who got to those jobs by being founders. They don’t have real-world experience because they’ve not done the series of jobs and learned from each that traditionally gets one into a CEO chair. Without a bunch of doing, a little learning can be a dangerous thing, don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Blockheaded?

This Foodie Friday we’re going to have a think about blockchain. If you’re thinking that “food” and “blockchain” don’t relate as well as, say, peanut butter and jelly, apparently you’re underinformed.

If you’re unfamiliar with blockchain, you probably ought to do something to learn about it since it’s weaving its way into everything these days. Basically, it’s a list of records called blocks which are linked to one another cryptographically in a publicly available ledger. It makes tracking things easy and it’s an extremely secure method for doing so.

Applying blockchain to food is happening. Think about a chicken you find at the market. What if you could scan the package and know everything about the contents? When the bird was born and where, what its diet was, if it’s GMO-free, etc., when and where it was processed, packed and shipped, ad infinitum. Cool, right? It’s also possible with food that routinely gets mislabeled as something else: fish. It makes everything traceable, which is a big help with respect to food safety.

I see two issues. One is the cost. Think about what’s happened in digital advertising. We’ve layered on technology to buy and sell ads and at the same time, we’ve added a huge layer of cost. Blockchain in the food area won’t be cheap, I’m sure. We’ve also made the entire industry less transparent, and while blockchain is just arriving in the ad world, it points to the fact that there are a lot of bad actors out there.

This points to the bigger issue which is an old, familiar one: GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Who is to say that the information in the system is accurate? The data may say one thing while the truth might be quite different. Criminals will learn how to cheat the blockchain just as they have learned how to game the ad business out of billions of dollars every year. While we will be able to trace food we won’t be able to tell if it’s been adulterated without a robust system of inspection.

Do I think this technology belongs in the food business? Probably – the benefits of things such as pinpointing shelf-life or finding the sources of bacterial outbreaks quickly are huge. I guess I wonder about the cost – at what price will this all happen? Will the benefits only accrue to those who can afford to pay for the food that’s blockchain certified? What do you think?

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Filed under food, What's Going On

Me And Mr. Jones

You might have read the news this morning that Apple has banned Alex Jones and Infowars from their podcasting platform. They join Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube in tossing this material off their distribution channels. Some of you will see this as a political move, stifling free speech. I don’t want to look at it that way today. Instead, I’d like us to focus on some business issues.

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Jones, he’s a conspiracy theorist who has claimed, among other things, that the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School were staged by paid actors and that the government is poisoning children to make them gay. Do you remember a guy walking into a pizzeria with a gun to free the children being held there as part of a sex ring? An Alex Jones listener, who heard that the Clintons were running the ring on Alex Jones’ program.

Following the ban, some folks are yelling about freedom of speech and the First Amendment. Sorry folks. Some speech is not protected. I can’t make things up about a product and knowingly advertise false information. I can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. The most relevant type of speech that’s not protected is this:

Government may prohibit the use of “fighting words,” which is speech that is used to inflame another and that will likely incite physical retaliation. Likewise, language that is meant to incite the masses toward lawless action is not protected. This can include speech that is intended to incite violence or to encourage the audience to commit illegal acts. The test for fighting words is whether an average citizen would view the language as being inherently likely to provoke a violent response.

That’s exactly why this material was banned. It violates the platforms’ terms of service. Frankly, it disappoints me that it’s taken so long and it raises a business point we all need to consider.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects platforms from liability when people publish on their platform. This prevents me from suing a platform when a third-party writes something completely false about me, and it’s a great idea. The problem is that too many platforms hide behind this, feeling as if they begin moderating the obviously false or hateful content that they might, in fact, become liable. In doing so, they open the platform up to become a megaphone for hate and disinformation. Most importantly, it damages their reputation and turns off users. Look at what has happened with Twitter. The word I hear most often when people describe it is “cesspool.” To their credit, Twitter management is acting to clean it up (finally) but a lot of damage has already been done.

Any of us in business need to do more to protect our brands and businesses than the minimum legally required amount. Being corporately responsible is proactive. Remember that there are other channels through which Mr. Jones or any other content provider can distribute their information. That doesn’t mean I have to allow him or anyone else into mine, just as you don’t need to permit anyone into your retail store who you find potentially troublesome – a suspected shoplifter, for example –  as long as it is not based on bias against a federally protected class of people. I need to be clear about that to my users (we don’t welcome hate speech or knowingly false information here in your terms of service, perhaps).  Most importantly, I need to be responsible and do the best I can to do the ethically correct thing. Not because I dislike what it is you have to say, but because it’s a hate-filled lie.

Your thoughts?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, What's Going On

Facebook Adds Friction

If you’ve been led to this post via my Facebook profile, welcome. It wasn’t as easy as usual to get you here and I’ll explain why in a moment. The circumstances for that raise a good business question, though, and that’s what I want us to think about today.

I received an email from WordPress the other day. The screed is published on the WordPress platform, as are thousands of other sites. When I write a new post, it appears on my site as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Those are decent sources of traffic for me and even if readers don’t click through to the source I can impart my thoughts via those other platforms to a certain extent.

Back to the email. WordPress notified me that as of today, August 1, 2018, a change to Facebook’s API means that third-party tools can no longer share posts automatically to Facebook Profiles. This includes Publicize, the tool that connects my site to major social media platforms like Facebook. Obviously, I can still do the posting to my own profile manually, as I’ve done today, but it’s certainly less convenient. Interestingly, they’ll still allow the tools to post to Facebook Pages, which tend to be used by businesses and groups. Of course, commercial entities such as pages have greatly reduced visibility in the News Feed unless you’re willing to pay to promote the post.

Why would Facebook do this? On the surface, it’s with good intention. They say it’s to prevent spam and nefarious actions on the site by making it harder to post across multiple profiles simultaneously. Some of the other changes they’re making that affect me less but some people a lot more are to protect user privacy. All laudable, right?

Maybe not. Here is what WordPress has to say:

While Facebook says it is introducing this change to improve their platform and prevent the misuse of personal profiles, we believe that eliminating cross-posting from WordPress is another step back in Facebook’s support of the open web, especially since it affects people’s ability to interact with their network (unless they’re willing to pay for visibility).

What if the moves are just to further insulate the Facebook platform from external content and/or actions? What if it actually is about solidifying their monopoly in the social media space? I won’t bore you with all of the API changes but some are pretty significant, including restricting a lot of the data pages get. Can you pay for it? I’ll willing to bet you can.

I guess my business question to you all is about where any of us draw the line in protecting our business. We’re living in a world in which reducing friction – the choke points within our daily lives where things stop flowing smoothly – is becoming expected. Facebook just added friction to adding content to their platform, a platform that would become almost useless without users doing exactly that. I’ve got trust issues with Facebook based on their behavior over the last decade with respect to everything from data privacy to their openness about what they’re doing. When traffic my stuff drops off, will I even bother posting there?

Do I think Facebook is going to go out of business without the screed generating engagement for them? No. Might they if it becomes too much trouble for anyone with engaging content to post on the site? Could be. I’ll guess we’ll all stay tuned right?

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Filed under Huh?, digital media

What, Me Worry?

If you follow the TV business at all you’ve probably noticed a bunch of recent articles about the acceleration of the cord-cutting phenomenon. This article from Business Insider is typical, as are the results:

In a recent Business Insider survey of 104 teens nationwide, only 2% of Gen Zs said that cable is their most-used choice for video content. Nearly a third said YouTube is their most-used source for video content, and 62% say streaming excluding YouTube, including Netflix or Hulu, is their most-used.

What’s happening is that many younger folks who once purchased a cable TV subscription are no longer doing so, and the pace at which that’s happening is rising quickly. As one piece noted,  “roughly 5.4 million Americans are expected to cut the TV cord this year, thanks largely to the rise in cheaper, more flexible streaming TV alternatives.” Is that significant? Oh yes:

According to eMarketer’s latest figures, the number of cord-cutters—adults who have ever canceled pay-TV service and continue without it—will climb 32.8% this year to 33.0 million. That’s higher than the 22.0% growth rate (27.1 million) projected in July 2017.

That’s a lot of money leaving the building, and yet there doesn’t seem to be widespread panic among the cable providers. Why not? Because they people who are cutting the cable cord are locking themselves into the broadband cord, and that, dead readers, is an even better deal for the cable guys. Why? Well, think about your own situation. I’ve got two options for TV service here – one cable, one satellite. Neither is appreciably different. The satellite is a bit less expensive but service craps out in bad weather so although it has some unique content and 4K, it’s not perfect. If I decide to cut the cord and take some TV over the air and stream the rest, I have only ONE option to get true broadband service, and that’s how most US markets are as well.

How this came to be is laid out in this Techdirt piece and I won’t repeat what they have to say. The short answer is that natural monopolies have developed and they’re not going to go away. Even if some company tries to enter the market (as Google Fiber did), the time to build the service is lengthy. Laws have been passed to prevent municipalities from entering the market and providing competition as well.

Given my druthers, I’d rather be a broadband provider than a cable TV provider. Your programming costs are almost non-existent, you know a lot more about how your customer is using the service (your ISP knows all, your cable TV guy is just figuring out how to track you accurately), your margins are great, and you probably won’t have any competition despite lousy customer service and usage caps. Who are the big broadband providers? Yep, the same cable guys who are “suffering” from cord cutting. You think they’re worried?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Pay What You Want

There is a new kind of restaurant that’s opened here and it’s our topic this Foodie Friday. It’s called A Place at the Table and here is the concept as reported in the local newspaper:

A Place at the Table puts its mission at the counter, inviting patrons to pay what they can afford: the suggested donation, a little extra, pay for someone else’s meal or pay one’s way through volunteering. Volunteer jobs could include sweeping, wiping tables and bringing food to guests.

It’s not fancy and it’s only open for breakfast and lunch, which of course will have the effect of keeping the total bill down anyway. In my mind, that makes it less painful for those of us who can afford it to in essence overpay. It’s an interesting business model, don’t you think? Apparently, they’re doing pretty well as well as doing a lot of good. They’re not the only ones doing this, of course.

As far back as 2014, there were many of these restaurants in business around the world. Now you might think that most people would try to eat for free but the opposite is really true. Most people tend to pay at least the prices listed on the menu and many pay more. In addition, these businesses are often supplemented by grants, donations, and free labor to offset their costs.

The restaurant business isn’t the only one where the pay what you can model is in place. Music has become another one, with several artists releasing albums and asking the public to pay them what they think it’s worth although some folks distinguish between pay what you can and pay what you want. In my mind, anyone who is willing to offer their product up for judgment and to allow the user to asses the value is operating under the same model.

We see it in software and video games. It’s even expanding to fashion and amusement parks. So here is my question for you today. How much would your typical user pay you if they were setting the price? Is it enough to cover the cost of the product? Enough for you to make a profit? Or do they find less value in what it is your offering than you’re currently charging them? If you think the last response is closer to the truth, you had better look around because it won’t be long before a competitor figures that out as well and undercuts you. If you’re already competing on price and you’re still answering with the last response, you had better spend some time on figuring out how to add value so customers will gladly pay what you’re asking.

Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Finding The Black Swan

Many centuries ago, people were convinced that there were no such things as black swans. That thinking is so old, in fact, that there are references to it in Roman literature. That thinking was disproven around 1700 when a group of explorers sighted some black swans in Australia.

Since then, the term “black swan” is used to refer to something that, as Wikipedia states:

comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

If you’re in business, I’m sure you’re familiar with black swans even if you’ve never called them by that name. My team often used the Monty Python quote that “NO-body expects the Spanish Inquisition!” when something surprising would happen.

I don’t think of Black Swans as negatives, necessarily. In fact, it’s exactly the sort of rare bird we should be seeking in business on many levels. For example, you’ve read many times in this space about the need to understand your customer. If you’re approaching them with an open mind, what you might find can be surprising. You might find, say, that your ad that’s aspirational in nature might have the exact opposite effect on your audience – it reminds them of what they don’t have and makes them mad.

Where I find Black Swans particularly useful is in negotiating. It’s critical to understand the needs and wants of the person with whom you’re negotiating and to get on the same side of the desk as they are, meaning you’re not in an adversarial position. In the process of doing that discovery, you often find a Black Swan – something you didn’t know about them or about something that’s part of their bottom line for the negotiation. Every party in a negotiation has a bottom line – things they can’t or won’t give up – while other things are far more fungible. Unless and until you can understand what those things are, you’re wasting time. If you find a Black Swan in the process, it’s important that you incorporate it unless it crosses your bottom line.

Part of finding the Black Swan is keeping an open mind, whether it’s in negotiating or in reading data or even in a brainstorming session. Be open to possibilities even if they don’t match your current understanding of the world. The Black Seans are out there – find them!

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