Friday, September 29, 2006

Corporate Reputation on Wikipedia

Wikipedia - The free enclyclopedia that anyone can edit. It is what brought the concept of wiki's to the mainstream. The long tail of content. A great example of a disruptive business model, that will likely kill most of the current encyclopedia companies. Not necessarily definititive or 100% correct, but most often close enought and at minimum an excellent place to start research on a topic due to the breadth of content. See the statistics.

In reading a blog article today, there was a link to a company website and beside the name there was hyperlink [company name] (wiki) in brackets. This link took me to the wikipedia page for the same company. Not out of the ordinary - I have came across many company pages before in specific searches but it struck me today in seeing this additional secondary link that wikipedia in addition to being an online encyclopedia, is now yet another marketing channel for a company, but in this case it is one that the community controls. As a company you may see this as good or bad, but nonetheless, if you are not already on top of this you need to be. So what should you do?

  • The first thing you will want to do is search your company name to see if there is an entry. If not, it probably makes good marketing to start thinking about creating one before someone else does. Unfortunately, no matter how closely your legal team scrutinizes the content, it could change tomorrow as the community seeks to keep items 'current' or 'correct'.
  • Assign at least one person to manage this new non traditional 'channel' to the consumer. Its not just about making sure there is appropriate and accurate content, you need someone that will immerse themselves in the wiki community and culture that they understand how it works, and can make appropriate recommendations to management when issues arrise. We are in a world of consumer generated and consumer controlled content, and every company needs to understand how to play in this environment.
  • If there is already an entry, you better review the content looking for innacuracies, and possible new content that could be added. Then start contributing and watching the article for changes and especially vandalism.
  • Understand how disputes can be resolved using the community.
  • Consider ways in which this channel can be used to better inform consumers about your company and what it has to offer. For example, what other topics in Wikipedia could or do currently reference your company, and take steps to make these changes.
  • Think about ways to not only watch when content has changed on your company page by external contributors, but what kinds of changes are being made, and what does this say about users perceptions about your company or the brand?
Other considerations or comments welcome!
By the way - this is just the begining of new media channels that companies will need to be aware of. Once you have a person primed in the wiki community, next comes Secondlife, which ads an entirely new dimension of culture and branding.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Innovative Education

The Yale School of Management is experimenting with an interesting new MBA program that hope to stimulate a new way of thinking for their students to be more effective in the new economy. Seeing a program like this almost makes me want to go back to school and accept the opportunity-cost of doing so. I think this is a powerful step forward to bringing innovative thinking out of our education system, but why wait until students are in an MBA program at an Ivy League school?

I believe the entire education system could use some innovative thinking in how it educates children to new ways of thinking especially in the area of innovation all the way back into elementary school. I read a paper published, that had some interesting stats, and although they didn’t reference the source, I still found them intriguing. The paper focused on growing entrepreneurial learning in schools. It stated that while 25% of children show a propensity for being an idea initiator (a person that can see an opportunity and translate that into an idea) in kindergarten, only 3% of students coming out of high school show the same trait. However in a recent poll by JA worldwide (Junior Achievement) more than 70% of teens are interested in starting their own business. The first statisic is concerning but at the same time these two statics together seem to present an exciting opportunity. We have a declining ability to come up with ideas as we age, but a very high desire to be an entrepreneur, so if we can find a way to keep the initiator ability that we have at the kindergarten level or even increase it as kids go through the education system, there is huge potential.

Small business and entrepreneurialism is the lifeblood of this country, so imagine what the economy could become if we didn’t let that ability slip away as children grow up, and even grow it. Somehow our education system is ‘teaching’ the creativity, entrepreneurialism and innovative nature out of our children. (See my previous post on thinking like a child.) I think part of this due to our focus on ‘just in case’ learning vs. 'just in time' learning. Although education has made great strides in coming up with different learning techniques to make just in case learning more fun, it is still sits essentially within the same basic educational framework. What we need is disruptive change to education – not tweaks to the existing system.

Some companies such as Intel have started programs to help prepare our youth for the future, as well as independant organizations such as JA, but I feel that this is just the beginning of what is needed. I think this is where entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinking can help. How can entrepreneurs take their thought patterns and work with forward thinking, entrepreneurial teachers and develop teaching techniques and tools that will evolve, grow, and nurture this innovative spirit and skill when children are young. I am convinced that the ability to be an idea initiator in not a trait you one is born with and all others are out of luck. It can be leaned and trained, and as with other skills can be much easier if started early. By the time you are an adult it is often too difficult to master, due to hardwiring that has been built up as you age and progress through the education system. (It’s not unlike my fruitless attempts to master a second language as an adult without direct immersion – ie just in time learning).

Just like young children can suck up languages without thinking, so too can they learn to be innovative, allowing an entrepreneurial passion to be realized. This is not a personality trait or a complex technical skill – it’s just the ability to 'see', and zero in on needs and not be opportunity blind.

Monday, September 25, 2006

New Media/Web 2.0 Consulting

The futurist Jim Carroll talks in a video clip about an austrailian study which stated that 65% of pre-school kids today will work in jobs that don't currently exist. That blows my mind when I think about what that means across many dimensions - prepareing/raising your kids for the world, keeping yourself nimble to adjust to this rapid change.

Its happening now and constantly - just think about new jobs people are coming up with all the time. One category that seems to be gaining momentum now is related to the new media, web 2.0 wave that is currently rising. No not just the technology and tools associated with it, but people popping up with titles of new media consultants (or some dirivation thereof... blog consultant, podcast consultant, SecondLife Consultant?). They are often technically savy people tired of their current job and looking to do something they are passionate about, and that free's them from their cube. (Don't we all!) I applaud their entrepreneurial spirit, but as will all things don't take the first opinion you get.

Passion does not always equal well thought out options, expertise or insightful information. Granted the space is evolving so quickly, it is hard to keep pace, but I recently listened to a podcast where there was a short discussion based on a caller question about the controlled taxonomy of iTunes category structure and how it was limiting the way in which content is serached/viewed or associated with a genre (music, podcast etc).

A valid problem and one that iTunes is not alone with, however after some passionate discussion about the problem the suggested solution was ultimately to create more detailed subcategories. At no time was the concept of user driven tagging, or folksonomies raised even as a discussion point, which would allow users (IE customers) of iTunes to tag music, podcasts etc. with their own terms of how they felt the music or content should be categorized. These tags could then be assimilated by software into artist tag clouds or a series of distilled user created keywords to help customers find songs by genre(s), and sorted across multiple categories to allow them to find content the way they view it through their lens - not how the iTunes designers, record industry, etc feel it should be categorized.

Now, its quite likely that with further discussion other options such as this might come out, but I feel that the job of a consultant is to present options and help guide clients the the right option for them. There is never just one option. By the way, if you don't quite understand this concept I described above, feel free to hire me - new media consultant:)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Podcasting - who owns it?

The New Oxford American dictionary declared podcasting as the 2005 word of the year defining the term as "a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player". POD, has been referenced as Portable on Demand, but also has some strong ties to the iPod brand. (for more history - see this and this) However Apple is again stepping up its efforts to stop other companies from using the term 'pod' as part of a company name. They say it causes confusion with consumers with respect to brand.

No understandably, Apple needs to protect its trademark, so that it doesn't go the way of Xerox, Kleenex, and Jello, thereby lowering the value of their brand. However Apple, being the innovative company that it is, should think about ways in which to take advantage of this type of press, as opposed sending cease and desist letters to other innovative companies. It is reminiscent of the way the music industry first reacted to music downloading. With terms like podcasting tied so closely with their player, it gives them great word-of-mouth marketing at no cost. As more and more people start to look at getting mp3 players for more than just music such as various business application, visually impaired services etc, this opens up a many new markets, and what player naturally comes to mind when you hear the word podcast? Why not try and partner with companies such as Podcast Ready or others in this space. Its a fine line, but at the risk of creating backlash from the consumer community, in the face of increased choice, lawsuits are probably not the solution.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Velocity of Change

Futurist Jim Carroll just had a great post about the massive rate of change occurring within every profession, industry and business model. He states that there are no longer product life cycles - there is just 'agility in time to market'

Jim suggests asking yourself the following questions to think about your need and ability to stay ahead of the innovation curve:

  • do you know the rate of change -- the velocity of change -- that impacts you, your industry, your products?
  • are you meeting the requirement for operational excellence that your customers, suppliers, business partners and everyone else expects of you?
  • are you properly positioned for velocity, in terms of your agility to do things at the pace required?
  • does your culture support high-velocity change, or are you almost keeling over from organizational sclerosis?
  • do you have the feedback and innovation mechanisms in place to deal with high-velocity change, and can you learn from them?
  • are you planning at the leading edge, or are you still reviewing what you were planning last week?
  • are you evolving markets/products at the pace required, or are your customers marching on because you are stuck in a slow time-to-market rut?
  • are you at the curve of expectations of customers needs -- do they think you've got the right stuff when it comes to velocity?
  • are you anticipating customer solutions before they know they need them?

Great questions, but if you answer 'No' to any of these what then? Most companies are seeing the increasing rate of commoditization and realizing that they must innovate or evaporate, but solutions are not as easy as the realization. The start up I am working on helps address some of these very questions, so seeing posts like this helps myself and my partners keep keep our motivation up as we 'bootstrap' along.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Process Owner Role - Making it Stick

Process management, and ownership often comes natural to members of the IT department. Even though you will have people in IT that hate the idea of documented process, (often resulting from efforts to increase the quality of the output by creating more steps and details) they in the end still understand its importance. Software development methodologies are evidence that without effective and somewhat repeatable processes, IT groups would have trouble delivering new systems and managing existing operations.

On the other hand, business operational departments often do not embrace process management and ownership, but why? The efficiencies gained, and the ability to manage the process outputs are just as important, and often are the same or more complex than IT processes. I have been in organizations where business departments embraced process management and ownership, which is a great advantage when trying to empower the organization, however for others, the same is not true. Yes, this situation is often chalked up to ‘culture’, but if the IT department still embraces it, what is the difference?

In the book, Levers of Organizational Design by Robert Simons uses a framework called the Span of Attention to ensure that organizational design fits an organizations strategy and goals:

  • Span of Control: What resources do I control to get my job done?
  • Span of Accountability: What measures will be used to evaluate my performance
  • Span of Influence: Who do I need to interact with and influence to achieve the goals for which I’m accountable for?
  • Span of Support: How much support can I expect when I reach out to others for help?

The 'Spans' are in alignment when there is an X formed by connecting Control to Support, and Accountability to influence. Lets apply this framework to our process ownership issue.

The top diagram represents the Span of Attention for the process owner in the business group. Designated process owners in this hypothetical organization are typically team leads/middle managers with moderate span of control. As process owners, they are not only accountable for successful execution of the processes they own, but the success of multiple interacting processes outside their span of control. Due to this interaction, there is high level of co-ordination across process domains as the work in progress moves between them indicating a wider span of Influence. Where things break down is in the span of support. The current org structure is highly silo’ed, and there is little incentive to understand or assist groups outside that which they are working in.

As you can see with the lower diagram which represents the IT Process Owner Span of Attention, the key difference is in the Span of Support. Even though the IT organization has a functional org structure, process owernship has much higher traction. One reason is the way that work is executed. Projects are created with members from different functional groups to execute end-to-end software development processes. The outcome of the project is more important than the outcome of a particular deliverable or component of work from a specific functional group (requirements, Project mgmt, development etc). This ‘levers’ the span of support to the right, bringing the spans into alignment and producing a successful environment for process owners to operate effectively. Other levers that aid in the success include sponsorship for process ownership/stewardship from IT leaders, cross functional work teams supporting continuous process improvement on methodologies, as well as an overall high level of knowledge around process concepts within members of the organization. Taking some of the basic concepts over into the business operations area would help shift the span of support to help individuals playing this role be more successful.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Focus On True User 'Needs'

In coming across this article today about feature creep on the Swiss Army Giant Knife, I was reminded of a great post on the Creating Passionate Users Blog entitled "Featuritus vs the Happy User Peak", that along with a great visual has some solid points about designing products for users. The following statement from that post is one that Wenger as well as many other companies should heed:

"continuing to pile on new features eventually leads to an endless downhill slide toward poor usability and maintenance. A negative spiral of incremental improvements. Fighting and clawing for market share by competing solely on features is an unhealthy, unsustainable, and unfun way to live"

Be the "I Rule" product, not the "This thing I bought does everything, but I suck!" product

Part of this is listening to your customers. Just look at some of the reader comments returned about it in the article in Outdoor life. Part of building great products is truely understanding the needs of the customer.

Portable Computing?

I recently completed my order for a new Dell laptop, in order to free me from using the less than modern device I have at my current client and the desktop I have at home. Yes, I am a little behind the times in purchasing a personal laptop, but until now, I wasn't able to justify one... The one I ordered is your standard laptop - 15.4 monitor, but somehow in my browsing I missed this beast. Definitely a niche audience for this device. Maybe this is Dell's answer to the long tail of laptops? Although this probably isn't the mobile device for most business folks out there, I would be willing to bet more than a few gamers will be eying this so they can have an 'at home' experience as they sit for hours in the local coffee shop playing Everquest or WoW. Hopefully they don't have to walk or bike around town... On the business end one probable group of folk that would have a real need for something like this might be mobile architects. Imagine showing up at the construction site with this 'little' gem.

In a world where technology continues to get smaller, this defies the trend, and is reminiscent of the cell phone bricks people use to carry around. However if you use this as a replacement for your Stereo, TV and home PC combined, then I guess the rule still applies.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Long Tail Snipits

This is one of the most thought provoking books I have read in a while. Here are a few tidbits that will make you think. (some are direct quotes while others are summarized points, but all are attributed to the author, or references within the book)

  • Broadcast is very good at bringing one show to millions of people with unmatched efficiency. But it cant do the opposite – bring a million shows to one person each. This is exactly what the Internet does so well.
  • Three main observations about the long tail:
    • the tail of availability is far longer than we realize
    • its now within reach economically
    • all those niches when aggregated can make up a significant market
  • The Long Tail is just culture unfiltered by economic scarcity.
  • 3 forces are creating the long tail:
    • Democratizing the tools of productions (eg PC) = more stuff available (lengthen the tail)
    • Cutting the cost of consumption by democratizing distribution (eg Internet) = more access to niches (fatten the tail)
    • Connecting Supply and Demand (eg Search) = Driving Business from Hits to Niches
  • The motives to create are not the same in the head as they are in the tail. One economic model does not fit all. You can think of the Long Tail starting as a traditional monetary economy at the head and ending in a non monetary economy in the tail.
  • The Long tail promises to become the crucible of creativity, a place where ideas form and grow before evolving into commercial form.
  • The traditional line between producers and consumers has blurred. Consumers are also producers.
  • We are entering an era of radical change for marketers. Faith in advertising and the institutions that pay for it is waning, while faith in individuals is on the rise. Peers trust peers. Top-down messaging is losing traction, while bottom up buzz is gaining power.
  • We are leaving the Information age and entering the recommendation age. Information gathering is no longer the issues – making smart decisions based on the information is now the trick.
  • The day when magazine, newspaper and TV editors decide what makes it to market and what doesn’t is fading. Soon everything will make it to market and the real opportunity will be sorting it all out.
  • We are seeing a shift from mass culture to massively parallel culture. Every one of us – no matter how mainstream we might think we are – actually goes super niche in some part of our lives.
  • The secret to creating a thriving long tail business can be summarized in two imperatives:
    • make everything available
    • help me find it
  • More information is better, but only when its presented in a way that helps order choice, not confuse it further.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Data Visualization Maps

Data visualization tools will take business intelligence to the masses. It takes a search concept and then shows related items in a visual map. Some of the first items on the web were focused on music. Companies such as Live Plasma started with music, and have now moved into movies as well as a recent partnership with CNet called The Big Picture mapping related news articles. It uses size and color to show relationships. Another player is Dimvision with their music map, that has actual cd images. Both Dimvision and Live Plasma utilize's database to build the maps. Now there is another tool out there that is doing the same for books. It is called amaznode, and also taps into Amazon's database.

Tag Clouds are also data visualization of key words used to describe or tag content. They are typically user driven, but can be aggregated to show trends on perception. There are becoming common place, with such companies as and tapping Google's information. TagClound (the company) will also build/maintain tag clouds for organizations. In addition there is opensource code available so that it can be pretty much integrated into any web application.

I think there is tremendous opportunity out there to expand this type of visualization into other companies and industries. What about tapping REI's database and doing visual mapping for sports/outdoor equipment purchases, or tapping a grocery chains customer database to build visual food maps. Beyond just the cool factor, there is real opportunity for money. As with music, and movies, people want to find items in their same niche interests. Amazon does it internally on their site with "Customers who bought this book also liked...", but the visual map has a much information. When using Live plasma, if offers links back into Amazon to buy the items found on the maps.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Think like a child...

I believe the key to creativity is thinking like a child. If we as adults could have the knowledge we have now, but be able to have the unconstrained mind of a child, imagine what ideas we could come up with.

Unfortunately, I think it is often our gain in knowledge of the world as we get older that often constrains our thinking. Here are 101 ways to brew up a new idea (which somehow were printed on a coffee mug). If you notice, many of the items are related to children's activities... Even if the activities on the list don't produce the next great idea for you, I think there is something to be said for keeping your mind malleable to new ways of thinking, which unfortunately, often seems to have a negative correlation with increased age. (see previous post on maintaining the status quo)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Anti-Blogger How-to

I have a few Google gadget items added to my Google search page. One of these puts up random 'how to's' from WikiHow. One that caught my attention this mornings was entitled: How to Dissuade Yourself From Becoming a Blogger. Here is an excerpt:

  • Find five completely random blogs, and read them daily for a month. After thirty days, you will absolutely dread your self-imposed requirement to read all that dreck. Any blog you create will most likely be on par with what you've been reading. Don't put anyone through that.

Among other things, it suggests that bloggers are often craving attention and validation... me - I'm just looking for a way to capture ideas, and thoughts. If no one reads them, its still helps me clarify my own thoughts. One suggestion they have which I have been contemplating for a while now is moving from a blog to an online wiki format - much more collaborative...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Framing The Ambiguous

I love frameworks.... Learning new ones, applying them, and creating ones in ambiguous territory. Frameworks are part of the toolkit that allows me to jump off a cliff, and make up the water on the way down, when taking on new challenges.

Frameworks help take concepts that appear cloudy and make them clear. I remember early in my consulting career having some colleagues that worked on organizational change management. I remember thinking that must have been a 'fuzzy' job, comforting employees through a change, but a couple years ago, I decided to expand my knowledge base in this area, and got certified with Prosci on their change management methodology. Wow! - a framework for helping people adjust to change! And it worked - it helped get a handle on what needed to be done and how to make it efficient. What makes frameworks great is that they aren't a recipe on how to do something (which is why some people don't like them), but it gives you a point of reference and then allows you to adjust for your needs and fill in the details.

I have started looking for modern frameworks around organizational design, business models and business strategy, in a knowledge based economy which are often hard to find, since it is a shift from traditional thinking on business strategy.

I have came across a great framework or ontology for business modeling recently by Alex Osterwalder, who has a consulting company called Business Model Design. I have found that the term 'business model' is often a loaded, and over-used term. People use it for many different things. Alex has a great summary of what a business model is and a framework for analyzing and creating business models. There is also an excellent case study of applying the framework to analyzing the Skype business model. His site also links to some interesting business modeling tools, which I am currently experimenting with.

With the technology startup I am working on, this discovery has came at the right time. I have been looking for a mechanism to describe our business model via a simple framework. As with many technology startups, the business model is often hard to describe to potential investors since they are operating in a non traditional space. (It would be much easier if we were selling running shoes.) I am attempting to utilize this model to not only clarify our model but also use it to compare against our competition and potentially complimentary models.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Guild Based Management

The Autumn issue of Booze Allen's Strategy+Business has a great biographical article about entrepreneur Joi Ito. Near the end of the article there is an interesting discussion about how his current obsession with World of Warcraft - a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game), is allowing him to experiment with new org design and team management techniques through his WoW guild. This guild is made up of (currently) 250 members from all backgrounds from around the globe including a "raid leader" who is an emergency room nurse, and another important player who is an unemployed bartender.

Mr Ito: "I'm playing with all different kinds of management ideas I've had for companies, with a bunch of people who are actually very dedicated. They will set their alarm clocks for 3 a.m. to run a raid of 40 people. They are committed to each other like people in a normal company wouldn't be committed to each other. So as a test bed for these ideas this is actually pretty amazing".

Personally I am not a member of this online gaming sub-culture, (my wife would kill me) but this concept of guild base management fascinates me. Developing that level of passion in work, and utilizing the concepts to manage, and collaborate has interesting possibilities, as we experience a shrinkage in workforce, globalization, virtual work, and managing people and teams with this level of efficiency.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Cyclic Creativity

I have found that creativity ebbs and flows like the waves on a beach. Wouldn’t it be great to be creative all the time, but probably even artists and musicians go through creative cycles.

My level of creativity often tends to be inversely correlated with the level of thinking I need to do at work. The more complex thinking I need to do on a topic at work, the less cycles I seem to have for creative ideas.

Airplanes however, are an anomaly for me, since this typically means I am traveling for work, putting in longer days and hours, but for some reason, when I read/think in the air I tend to get better idea flow than if I am reading at work or on my front porch at home – hence I tend to scribble many thoughts in the margins, on drink napkins or whatever I happen to have.

A friend of mine says that he has creative ‘seasons’ – times of the year when he tends to be more creative – typically in the spring and early summer for him. I haven’t been able to find if this is true for me. My creativity seems more sporadic, and is something that I just started to really tap into as I begin to covet entrepreneurialism but I also feel like it is something that can be honed, and improved.

It even seems to change day to day… My business partner often knows when my creative juices are flowing. On a high flow day, he may get half dozen ideas or thoughts emailed to him within the span of the morning. Usually if I get one or two – I get a bunch, by often playing off on previous streams of thought.

Cyclic creativity is a good reason for working on ideas collaboratively, since everyone isn’t always ‘up’ at the same time. When all parties are up, it is truly magic or chaotic, but since this is less likely to occur, collaboration can ensure that progress is still happening.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Status Quo...

We all know these folks - the ones who love the status quo and will try anything to keep it that way. Seth Godin has a great list ways people defend the status quo.