If your team isn’t on-track, try this

bored-teamThe most concise, truly beautiful definition of leadership I’ve heard is “having others WANT to follow you.” This definition means two things 1) that you’re actually moving somewhere, not standing still and 2) that others are convinced, not coerced, into going along.

There are so many leadership books out there, some talking about vision, some about audacity, some about authenticity. Advice is often mysterious and convoluted — we hear of “executive maturity” (perfectly ambiguous excuse to keep the outsiders away) and of “situational leadership” (sorry, there are no best practices … every situation is different). Continue reading

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Your team just screwed up badly — here’s what you do next

disasterYou’ve been there. Someone on your team just screwed it up. Your production website went down in the middle of the night, it took hours to bring it back up. It’s 10am the next day, you’re at your daily standup, and the culprit is looking down, ashamed and quiet; the team is noticeably uncomfortable and is expecting you, their leader, to scream and shout about business impact and accountability and how bad this all is.

You’re upset. The outage already cost your group some reputation — you’re seeing tweets and a message from the investor, and you have no idea how something this dumb could have been overlooked.

You can allow your emotions to take over. You can do the screaming, you can shame the perpetrator, who will undoubtedly remember this occasion and probably won’t make a mistake of this kind again. You will scare others at the standup enough for them to be afraid of their own shadow for the next week.

Or you can take a breath.

And ask yourself. Continue reading

Machine Learning and Digital Marketing: Melding Human and Machine

In digital, you can easily spot two opposing camps — the artists and the quants.

Artists are folks like the New York Times: Pulitzer prize-winning journalists use their intuition and skill — their unique talents — to create one-of-a-kind stories, and the judgment of the Chief Editor is pure gold. Artists create incredible brand value; true loyalty — lifelong fans.

human-man-and-machineshutterstock_250853188-620x615Quants are folks like eHow.com. They use Wall Street-style algorithms to identify long-tail Google queries that have weak competition, and pay amateur writers $5 to create short posts that address those queries. Queries like “how to remove gum from clothing.” Their quant models tell them that stories like this will make $7 on ads in the next year, so they pump out millions of such stories.

Both approaches have problems. If a New York Times writer gets hit by a bus, there’s no replacing them. Their talent dependency is not scalable. eHow stories — millions of them — inspire no loyalty, create no brand value. Let’s face it, it’s crappy content. No wonder Google did everything in its power to kill it. Continue reading

Paid Apps Model Revisited

don27tmakeyour0acustomers0ahesitate0a0a600a28fenshui29-defaultHow many times have you hesitated before buying a 99-cent app?

You’re staring at the reviews. Looking for a Lite version to try out first. Catching yourself at the thought: “I’ve spent more time thinking about buying this thing than the 99 cents that it’s worth.”

What if I don’t like that game?.. What if it doesn’t work on my phone? I sure don’t want to call customer service to ask for a one dollar refund, that would make me feel even more dumb..

There’s a grand canyon of friction between free and 99 cents. An ocean between free and a $4.99 game that everyone is talking about. All of these are symptoms of friction. Friction that App Store tzars have created and are oblivious to.

What if, instead of asking you to think, causing you the angst of making a decision, Apple and Google learned from Xerox?

In the early 1960s, Xerox was a pioneer in the copier space. They had a significant issue, however: a large, expensive machine wasn’t an easy sale, and decision-makers would hesitate before making a purchase. Do we really need one? Will the office workers use this? Returning it would be such a hassle…

So Xerox leadership invented a stratagem. Their salesperson would bring the fancy copier to the office for free and just leave it there. Play with it, they’d say. It’s free, no obligations whatsoever. I’ll pick it up in a month.

Guess what – nobody wanted to give it up in a month. It was a great product and sales went up tremendously as a result of this move. We now know this move as a “free trial” – lots of SaaS and shrink-wrap software is sold this way.

Why aren’t app stores facilitating this type of transaction, though? Apple, Google – how about giving each paid app out for free, and only charging the consumer if that app is still installed on their phone a day later?

Of course, there are one-and-done apps that offer a single-use value proposition: museum tours, cheat codes, contact sync apps. These and similar apps should be able to opt out of this scenario. But for the vast majority of apps – apps that aim to deliver value over multiple sessions – this would be a huge net gain.

Just imagine: no need to develop and maintain a separate Lite version. No buyers’ remorse. No fear or hesitation when buying an app.

Whether you’re an app developer or an avid app user, let me know what you think about this concept in the comments.

Are Your Company Values Just Empty Words?

values45463675I had a chance to interact with two companies recently: Homegrown and City of Bellevue Utilities. These two companies helped me crystallize the difference between “value statement on the wall” and “values that are coming through to customers.”

Homegrown’s tagline is “sustainable sandwich shop.” Their About Us page has the word “organic” mentioned 22 times. It says that “stores are designed to be as low-impact as possible… [using] reclaimed, recycled … building materials.” Their napkin dispenser asks you to think about the environment and only take as many napkins as you will use. They have metallic cutlery at every table. Clearly, owners at Homegrown are trying to project an identity that stands for sustainability and environmental awareness.homegrown-logo

Yet, when you order a salad “for here,” you get a single-use plastic container with a salad inside.

Continue reading

Full Price is for the Lazy, or Stop Financing Their Marketing

hard-work-pays-offIn life as in business, if you are willing to invest effort into something, you will do better – a lot better – than average. Today’s story is about a real-estate purchase – and how doing your homework makes a 10x price difference for services.

Did you notice that you just paid your agent $1000/hour?

Basic dynamics of a real-estate transaction: when you buy a $500k home, 3% of the purchase price goes to the sellers’ agent; 3%, or $15k, goes to your (buyer’s) agent. What exactly are you paying for?  Continue reading