One of my favorite quotes comes from a jazz musician, Charles Mingus, and it concerns one of the things I work on with clients every day: simplification.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
That doesn’t mean dumbing things down. It means finding the big idea in everything we’re doing and relating each and every action to that big idea. If we’re selling air fresheners and someone thinks our cute logo would make great T-shirts, how do those ideas relate? If they don’t, maybe we need to move on.
Michelangelo captured this notion when he likened sculpture to simplifying the marble. He said that there was an angel inside a block and it was his job to set it free. There are statues inside every block, he said. His task was to remove the excess, to make the complex simple.
Many people in business make what they do unnecessarily complicated. Maybe it’s to prove their worth to themselves or to others. Maybe it’s because they’re distracted by every new idea or shiny object. As Mingus said, it’s commonplace. Take the complexities that surround you in business and make them simple. Find the big idea – the paragraph that explains the central tenets of whatever you’re doing – and use it as your roadmap. That is the tent pole that keeps everything else up and running. It’s the thing around which you build your business.
We’re getting close to the start of baseball season. It’s always felt like a time of renewal – Spring has arrived (despite snow on opening day from time to time) and that’s a very good thing in my book. I grew up playing the game and it’s always intrigued me how baseball metaphors run throughout life here in the US of A.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the baseball terms on my mind these days is “small ball.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a strategy of getting men on base and advancing them through a series of hits or walks rather than placing an emphasis on home runs or big plays. To me it’s a great business strategy these days and here is why. Business is filled with what I call “Rob Deers”.
In his prime, Rob Deer weighed about 210 and there were many seasons where he barely hit his weight. Nevertheless, he was a valuable member of 5 different major league teams because he hit home runs. A lot. In fact, he would often appear as a league leader in both home runs and strike outs. Go big or go home personified, I guess. A lot of businesses think like Rob Deer. They’re after the home run and while they might strike out a lot when they connect it’s a big win. The problem with that is that there are also a lot of lean times in between.
I prefer to do business more like Derek Jeter. Lead the league in hits and in runs scored. That’s small ball personified. Sure, hitting one over the wall is fun and almost everyone does that from time to time. But unlike baseball, in business one isn’t assured of another game tomorrow if we don’t produce today. Playing small ball in business isn’t heroic but it can be profitable. The notion that it’s just as difficult to land a small order as it is to land a big one might be true but I’ve found that there are far fewer opportunities and far more competition as the size of the deal grows.
Don’t think for a minute this is about lowering standards. It’s hard to play small ball well since it requires team work and a squad of folks who can hit the ball. Managing that activity well requires someone special. You?
Ah, technology! The faster we chase it, the faster it moves away. Very few businesses can move fast enough to keep up with how technology changes consumer behavior, and the 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report from the good folks at Marketing Sherpa shows us yet another example of that.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The shift to mobile from the desktop has been causing all sorts of disruption. According to an Econsultancy report, fewer than half of businesses (41%) are able to accurately measure the behavioral differences between mobile and desktop visitors. In fact, almost a fifth (18%) report that they have no clue (OK, that wasn’t exactly how they answered but you get that they’re operating in the dark).
There is an interesting correlation between that report and the aforementioned Marketing Sherpa email report. As reported by the eMarketer folks:
Just 42% said they were fully designing emails to render differently on mobile devices, despite the fact that many consumers rely heavily on tablets and smartphones for email access.
Hmm. I wonder if these are the same 41% as are able to measure how mobile makes things different? Coincidence? More importantly, why is mobile lagging behind? Three-quarters said their web and email efforts were integrated; more than half had integrated social and email; and 35% have even coordinated email and blogging. I think I know: time.
The commercial web is going on 20 years old and web-based activities such as social and blogging take place in that now ancient environment Mobile is the shiny new object and businesses don’t like to invest in those sorts of things until they know they’re mainstream. Of course, by that time there’s another new thing – I wonder how businesses are preparing to integrate with wearable tech?
My advice to clients is this: investing in and supporting the shiny new objects as they become mainstream means you’ll be late to the dance. It takes time and resources (neither of which anyone seems to have) to get up to speed in these new spaces and starting when they’re just starting to be buzzed about means you’ll be ready when you need to be. Sticking your head in the sand (what are the 18% thinking?) and hoping they’ll go away only increases the chances that your business will be the one vanishing.
Now, let’s get back to the race.
You might have read or heard about the Twitter brouhaha last week.
Image via CrunchBase
No, not another politician sending pictures of his undies. Twitter announced that they are going to restrict the use of their API and due to that a bunch of companies are going to have big problems. While I realize that this entire discussion might be a bit of inside baseball for you non-tech business folks, I think the decision Twitter made is instructive no matter what business you’re in.
Basically, Twitter announced a bunch of restrictions on the number of times an application can access the Twitter stream. You can read the details on Twitters developer blog but suffice it to say that anyone who makes a traditional Twitter client – Storify, Echofone, TweetBot, etc. – is going to have some issues. These folks compete with Twitter’s own app (both the regular Twitter client and TweetDeck, which they own) for ad dollars and part of what Twitter announced was the division of the Twitter world into four quadrants. One of those is “consumer engagement” and while Twitter is trying to encourage competition and business building for analytics and B2B, it wants to ” limit certain use cases that occupy the upper-right quadrant.” In other words, restrict anything that interferes with their ad-supported business model.
I understand why Twitter is doing this. After all, it’s their data (even if the users are creating the content). However, I think they’ve got it backwards. Rather than protecting themselves in a very difficult, competitive area (ad sales), maybe they should have focused their revenue efforts on the folks who are making money themselves (the analytics and other B2B guys). They’re saying they welcome development on their platform as long as it avoids their core revenue model, which is consumer experience enhanced with advertisements. In my mind, setting up a bigger toll booth in front of the folks who remarket the data for large fees makes more sense. It’s the Willie Sutton rule – go where the money is. Twitter has no competition when it comes to the folks using their data to drive their product while there is plenty of competition in the ad world – Twitter isn’t yet a “must” buy.
That sort of decision-making comes up in many businesses from time to time and I think a long look at what Twitter chose is instructive. What do you think?
If you’ve ever walked through the part of a big department store where they sell men’s shirts (and ties – remember them?), you might have noticed that there’s almost an infinite number of choices.
(Getty Images via @daylife)
At least it seems so to me. Collar styles, colors, patterns, and cuffs are all mixed up in a lot of variations. I suppose it’s the same in the dress department – an overwhelming number of possibilities. I bring this up because a project in which I’m involved has stumbled into a figurative department store. The technology is filled with possibilities. So many, in fact, that we’re at a point where we need to exclude some intriguing avenues just so we can get to the checkout with something in our carts.
Working with highly energized, very creative people has a downside. They tend to see so many possibilities – all the shirts and dresses – that they’re often running off in a hundred directions while not really advancing. To a certain extent, that sort of war gaming is critical. It’s a less formal type of decision tree analysis that many of us like to do. However, there comes a time when the branches of that tree with less potential or which don’t meet near term goals (and for new ventures that usually includes kicking off revenue pretty quickly) need to be trimmed off.
In this case, what we’re trying to do is to lay out all the possibilities, to look at the possible outcomes of making each choice, to assign values and probabilities to each branch of the tree and to make a decision based on our best guesses and whatever information we already have. In other words, buy a shirt. We’ve spent enough time trying things on and holding them up to the mirror. We need to get out of the store and get to work. And so do you!
Sometimes I’m convinced that the most successful businesses have no idea what they’re doing. Oh sure, if you asked an executive about their strategy, he or she would probably give you whatever is in their planning document verbatim, but I think that’s crap. I think they’re telling you what they believe to be the truth but in fact may only be accurate in their minds for that moment. Instead, I think the most successful companies are masters of dealing with the utter chaos of the business world and not being too anchored to any one detail of a plan. Yes, planning is important, but so is reality, and that often means dealing with something for which we had no plan. So why bother planning? Continue reading
Let’s play a little marketing game this morning. I’ll throw out a series of facts and you put on your marketing hat and decide if the facts make you want to target this group. The point I’m going to make is that the answers may surprise you, not because you will find them unbelievable but because I’m betting that you have some preconceptions which will skew your thinking. As we’ve discussed before, I think that is a huge problem in business (and in life and political thought as well!).
Ready? Let’s play! Continue reading