How tech cycles and Microsoft launching tees relate

Dave Winer, the father of RSS [insert humble bow here], wrote a great post this week: Soon it will be time to start over, again. It is about the tech industry and how we get lost in our own complexity, and can’t break that direction easily. So younger folks — the ones who chose not to follow the current leaders — come in and re-write the tech in a simpler way, and thus begin a new tech cycle. These young folks will in 5-10 years be replaced by another group who don’t want to get mired in the spaghetti code of years past, and bring another level of innovation.

I only disagree with one point in Dave’s article, and I do so humbly. Dave attributes the complexity to engineers, and their love of complexity. I disagree. I think the problem is that humans suck at change, particularly when that change involves thinking differently and destroying what we built before. We have pride in what we thought and built for the most part. It is difficult to deconstruct that without blaming ourselves, so we try to improve on what we’ve done, rather than re-doing.

And of course, there is the fear of not being successful with the “new way”, and thus destroying the “old way” revenue in the process. So, I am not saying it is “simple”, just that it is not due to engineers liking complexity. Most engineers I know actually really appreciate simplicity. They crave it, and often see they aren’t achieving it, but don’t see the path to how to achieve it from where they are.

I believe this is one of the reasons that Apple continues to post wins. Imagine how Apple changed their thinking with the ipod. “We build Macs. We don’t build Walkmans — a lower life form.” I can hear it being said. Steve Jobs is one of those thinkers/learners with the credibility to back him up, that gives you a company that does evolve — and even he and Apple have had their challenges.

On how he does it, I believe one key aspect is self-criticism. If you accept that you will make some wrong decisions — despite how smart you are, and how much you work — then you can rethink in new ways. The focus becomes one of learning, and I see Steve Jobs as being great at that. One simple example, after MobileMe got panned, what was Steve Job’s response? A note to the entire company that said (quoted from a Heise Online article):

“It was a mistake to launch MobileMe at the same time as iPhone 3G, iPhone 2.0 software and the App Store. We all had more than enough to do, and MobileMe could have been delayed without consequence”.

Jobs wrote, in his self critical email, that the MobileMe problems showed that Apple needed to “learn more about Internet services. And learn we will.”

I don’t think this challenge in responding to new capabilities/technologies is true just of tech companies. I wish I could say that one of my fav companies, Southwest, has made a “cycle shift”, but they haven’t. P&G made a shift about 5 years ago to focus more on bringing outside innovation in and has posted incredible success with their program. I would use them as a great example of a company that can overcome “cycle shifts” in some of their many industries. I agree with Dave that Google hasn’t shown an ability to shift yet. What companies do you think are examples that can make “cycle shifts”?

And now back to the title, an example of a company that continues to try to make a shift, but it doesn’t seem to work. I know we all have our favorite MS blunder example: my personal ones are MS’s push into push technology and the fizzle of MS Live, because I was related to both of these launches and saw them more from the inside. New is that MS is lauching a t-shirt line, which I learned from Harry McCracken’s Technologizer: Microsoft’s Latest Innovation… T-Shirts!

My fav part: They are delivering it on December 15th, which is two weeks after the Christmas selling season starts — late on shipping even their t-shirts.

My fav shirt: I’m a fan of the greenscreen … it’s simple! 😉

Microsoft Softwear Greenscreen T-shirt

Microsoft has ridden many tech cycles and they are still a significant player in our industry, so you can be successful without riding the tech cycles, but you have to be big to do it. Now, I am not thinking Microsoft wants to become a t-shirt company. They clearly have seen that t-shirts are great for brand promotion. [Aside: I love that they get that!] However, to get the brand promotion, people have to love the shirts and wear them. Here Microsoft is not playing to their strengths, like Apple did with the ipod — there was a need for good design, simplicity in that market, and most important, their customers were the type that would use the product. Microsoft is not good at hip and stylish, and their customer group isn’t known for wearing t-shirts proudly. Partnering with a rapper doesn’t get you there, but rather it confuses people.

I might buy “I used to love her”, but I need to learn more about Common’s song and make sure that’s a message I can wear. Of course, I think I’ll wait until the after Christmas sale. 😉

So, what is a message I know I can wear on my shirt today?

For every dilemma, there is an epigram
For every epigram, there is a t-shirt

Inspired by this quote: “Somewhere in the world there is an epigram fro every dilemma”, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon.

For the more detail-oriented reader, my favorite definition of epigram is an epigram itself:

What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Adam says I'm dusty… and what a CEO should be doing

Adam’s right, it has been too long since I posted, so the blog is dusty. (Jenny, I cannot believe you haven’t nudged me too. Are you turning patient?) Speaking of what I’ve been doing, well, I’ll answer by covering the question that Om Malik asked me, when we were recently chatting in San Fran: “What should I be doing as a CEO anyway?”

If you don’t know Om, a talented and respected writer, a year or so ago struck out to start his own media group. He’s done well, even running out of ad inventory (go Om!). And he’s now not looking at himself and a handful of freelancers putting this together, but employees and larger responsibilities to partners and advertisers. Om knows well what CEO’s do, as he’s been talking with them and writing about them at Fortune and Business 2.0 for years, but the problem comes from the big grains (vision, principles, foundation) to the small grains (hours and minutes of time). Om was thinking more about the latter… whas he going the right things on the daily and hourly basis to meet his goals… and the big question… what was he missing?

Here’s my answer, based on my experience:

  • 30% should be about customers+prospective customers and their use of your product with your team.
  • 25% of your time should be with customers or key partners.
  • 10% should be spent coaching and mentoring your team.
  • 10% should be with your business’s numbers.
  • 25% should be spent working on tomorrow’s vision and innovation… which includes recruiting and org work!

This can flux a bit, but what’s important is evaluating yourself at the end of each week. How did you do? Where did you spend your time? Was it on your critical areas? What impact did you have in those areas?

I learned this approach to time management when I was working in sales. My brilliant husband taught me the principle of 1/3 of your time prospecting, 1/3 of your time moving deals through the pipeline, and 1/3 of your time closing. And yes, I need to practice it more myself!

What do you think of these time allotments? Think I’ve missed or underrepresented something?

Today, what is on my shirt:

       You have
(make each great)

Baby, it's cold outside: 3 things I bought while shivering

Last week, I got a nasty cold; and this week was freezing here on the East Coast. I thought I’d share a few things that helped me survive.

1. Halls Defense. With my sore and scratchy throat and cough last week, I was looking for relief. I bought several different cough drop products, and Halls Defense worked the best for me. While Halls product comparison does not have put their Defense line as the solution to my symptoms, I found them to work great without the medicine-y, menthol taste. They get my thumbs up! (Halls Bursts did not pass my tests. Too small and traditional cough drop-ish.)

2. Tetley Drawstring tea. I love tea, and while I’m not likely to abandon my fav brands of Revolution and Mighty Leaf, I appreciate this innovation from Tetley. I didn’t buy this, it was in my hotel room this weekend… but I would have bought it to try it out. What is so cool? Tetley’s taken care of a customer problem… you don’t always have a spoon to quickly squeeze the excess out of your tea bag. Their drawstring bag worked great, and I recommend it, if you enjoy tea. I’m also hoping that Revolution and Mighty Leaf will learn from Tetley. Kudos to the Tetley team for solving this problem elegantly!

3. Tati from YES Watch. While I was avoiding the elements outside, I remembered to look at YES watch to see if they had released a much anticipated “low profile” watch I’ve wanted. Let me explain… I’ve had a Cozmo YES watch for years, and I LOVE IT! It it is a great geek watch, showing you when the sun and moon rise and set. This is terrific for photography, deciding when to run, and a host of other reasons. The biggest problem for me has been its profile. It is a “male” watch… heavy and bulky… so I can’t wear it with evening wear. The dear folks at YES have now come out with a lower profile watch, the Tati. YIPPEE… mine’s on order now. 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this edition of three things!

What is on my shirt today? I’m actually wearing this one, as I had made it early. Today, I’ll wear it in honor of the Tetley team:

Walk in your customer’s shoes

Nature vs Nurture and the Art of Customer Service and Product Innovation

I’ve been silent for the last week because in my spare time rather than blogging, I’ve been banging my head against the Windows logo. Short version of the story… I started getting a Windows error (svchost for you geeks), which I was able to diagnose as an Auto Update issue. After some amount of playing around, I found a Knowledge Base article stating there was a hot fix, but it was only available from Microsoft support. They had an option for online chat support for $35, saying it would be faster than the email run around. I’m an optimist and went for it. The chat went about as you would expect… back and forth that wasn’t focused on my problem, but rather about them filling in their customer database. Then, the remarkable piece happened, the support agent came back to say, and I quote:

“That hot fix isn’t available any more. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

 Many responses came to my mind, as you can imagine, but the most important and immediate one:

“Oh, hmmmm, that’s too bad… well, in that case, maybe, at least, TRY TO FIX THE PROBLEM I JUST PAID YOU TO AT LEAST TRY TO FIX?!”

However, being more patient, I said, “Any other ideas?” After 30 more minutes (really), the chat hung up and I heard no more. Sigh.

Alas, I will fix my own problem, but it reminded me of an on-going discussion that I had with Scott Cook when I was at Intuit. The short title, “Can you train people to understand customers?” While some people are naturally good at seeing the hard to see, or being empathetic, I believe that people can be trained — or nurtured — to see. Continuing my optimistic tendencies, my top tips for nurturing listening, understanding, seeing and/or empathy… that fit for both customer service and product innovation:

  1. Slow down. The biggest limiter I’ve seen is jumping to conclusions. Take the time to pattern match at a more detailed level to get the true picture, not the general one that “everyone can see”.
  2. Work at disproving your theories. When you have a theory, many things you see will fit it because our minds work that way. If you actively work to find the holes, you’ll typically do a better job at proving them.
  3. Be there. For customer service, take the time to understand the full situation… not just what the customer is saying now. If you are in innovation, actually go and sit with your customers. I always say, “See around the problem.”
  4. Relive your time with customers. Reviewing what you think you’ve learned is important. What surprised you in the case or the visit? Surprises provide the biggest opportunities. (Caution: Surprises aren’t all good, but the ones there are… really are.)
  5. Go for the fun. While the obvious might make us feel like we solved a problem quickly, it usually isn’t fun. Let customers teach you… rather than you teaching them. This opens your mind and makes you think differently.

Do you think my MS rep would have benefited from these tips? I do. What are your experiences on nature vs nurture, and product innovation or customer service?

OK, I’ve already ordered this shirt. I’ll be wearing it often… 

T-shirts are user friendly
         (PCs are not)

P.S. Yes, I almost put “Computers are not”, but well, you know I tip my hat to Apple with that adjustment.

On my way to trying to be insightful, I bought three things

I’ve been flattered — and somewhat intimidated — that the most common word folks have used about my blog has been insightful. Yipes, that’s a high bar, and it feels like I have to think a lot. Today, I wanted to lean more towards cool and spontaneous, than pensive. So, how about listing stuff that excited me so much I actually bought them as soon as I saw them? Here’s my top three recent “cool” purchases:

  1. Moleskine’s small Japanese fold out pocket album. I found this when Fast Company profiled Scott Wilson, an up-and-coming designer. Unfortunately the online link doesn’t have the full picture of him that shows the accordian folded pages, which, as Scott said allows “a long thread of ideas… [seeing] how they progress.” (The middle Amazon close up pic does show this a bit.) I regularly have this problem that things flow, rather than jump to the next page in a notebook, and I’m looking forward to seeing if this works for me.
  2. SLEEPTRACKER watch. I must have been sleeping in 2005 when this won an amazing innovation designation from Time, and I can’t remember where I saw this recently, but as soon as I did, I ordered it. I have always believed there was something to waking up during the right sleep stage… some days you feel you were woken up in the middle of something. The idea that a watch can tell when I’m in the right stage and wake me up during the time range I set… I LOVE THAT.
  3. Remote control, inflatable Sumo wrestlers. The video on ThinkGeek is fun, but not near as fun as seeing these two guys in action. They are not easy to drive, as they like Weebles — bottom heavy. The sounds they make… you laugh just hearing them, period. Now, full disclosure… we’ve returned our first set because one of them had a mechanical failure within the first hour of play. I’ll tell you if the second set is also defective.

Now, after attempting to be cool, I have to admit an insecurity… I have a fear that “insightful” could be the new “interesting”? Are you folks trying to find a nice word to categorize my ramblings without telling me you fell sleep through them? Admitting that, on my shirt today would be…

Am I “interesting”?

P.S. With that said, I am on a personal crusade to wipe the bad smell off “interesting”. I use it all the time and really do mean it in the sense of intriguing, “you are teaching me something”, “it makes me go hmmmmm…”… in a good way! 😀

What is the least you could do?

In the Innovation Lab at Intuit, we came up with a concept of minimum viable to describe our goal for initial product/service releases… the least bit of functionality that’s actually viable in the market, i.e., something can get real-, using- customer feedback. Why the least? Why don’t you worry about WOW’ing the customer with nifty features?

Minimum keeps you and the customer focused on the core of the pain you are trying to solve for them… or core of the joy you are trying to deliver. I often use the example of tuning and fine tuning on product definition. This should be your tuning stage… can customers “hear” the music you are trying to produce? Are they seeing what you are trying to solve? Can people use it to solve that problem? Do they use it in the way you thought? Do they use it for anything else?

Viable means you have to have something that works, and can function “in market”. This isn’t a prototype; it is actually delivering value. It might only solve one core problem. For example, we did customer research for Intuit’s Easy Estimate. The pain we were trying to solve was estimates for contractors. What was viable for this wasn’t just the calculation about the estimate. Actually, what we learned was viable was a site walkthrough checklist, going to an estimate (a calculation), going to a proposal (a document), going to QuickBooks once accepted. So, this had our focus for viable… not the depth of what could be needed for calculations. Get the flow right… additional functionality on calculations could come later, after the was actually being used in their workflow.

So, what do you think? Do you have good minimum viable examples? Do you have other concepts that have worked for you in figuring out how and when to launch? Or leading people in launching new products, services, or companies?

Oh, and why did this come up today? Because I’m finally launching this blog, and… it isn’t where I want it to be. It isn’t where I feel it will “wow” you in the way I want, and I worry you won’t come back and give me a second chance when I get there. For example, the header is plain; the tag cloud breaks; trackbacks are being included in comments; recent posts aren’t showing on the home page; the associated t-shirt store isn’t set-up… some of these are pretty major. I realized though I wasn’t living minimal viable, a concept I truly, deeply believe in.

So, what is on my shirt today?

Practice what you preach

P.S. I’ve launched a new tag with this post dba. When I post something that is a core value to me, like minimum viable is, I’m going to tag it is as “dba”, as in “doing business as Jana”.