Friday, December 29, 2006

Blog Maturity

As the year draws to a close, I thought I would post some thoughts on my foray into blogging this year. For me blogging is a way to keep my thinking sharp and creative.

  • I can capture and flesh out thoughts. The very act of writing something down in a succinct way for a blog post helps you refine concepts and cements them better into your thoughts.
  • It helps me become a better writer. I have heard it said that if you cannot write well you should stay away from blogging. I say “If you want to get better at writing – start a blog”
  • It allows me to expand my thinking on topics by joining and starting conversations with other people that have very valuable insights. It has helped me connect with people locally as well as others around the world.

Daniel Scocco (author of Innovation Zen Blog) started daily blogging tips this year. He recently posted about writing timeless content, and in this post what I feel is the key tip was writing content that adds value. I have been thinking about this and came up with this visual around blog maturity. There is a positive correlation between content value and conversation potential which together produced a high value blog. I grouped maturity into 4 categories.

Aggregators: These are blogs that just link to other blogs. They help you find topical content, but there is limited to no potential for conversation.

Content Delivery: These are blogs that generate content, but the value of the content is often highly variable. There is some potential for conversation, but the content is sometimes marginally interesting or just a transfer from another source. (creator often has limited ability to add to his/her own conversation)

Derivative Thought: These are blogs that take an existing conversation and add their own spin or thought to expand the conversation or take it in a different direction.

Original Thought: These are blogs that take a concept (new or existing) and start conversations by infusing a new thought.

The great thing about this model is that you don’t have to start at the bottom. You can start at any place. Your position in the model is dependant on the creativity of your thought, not on your tenure. Think about how blogs can help the thinking in your business or for yourself.

Gartner is predicting that rate of blogging will slow, but I think all that this means is that the lower quality and lower maturity blogs will start to drop off. Business blogs will increase, and blogs in general will get better as people understand the medium. In general I think the overall blogsphere will likely see an increase in maturity even with a slowdown.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Game Mechanics In Your Business

A while back I blogged about how Joi Ito is experimenting with new management techniques inside of WOW. Here is a great slide show from Shufflebrain about using game mechanics in the context of social software to create applications that are fun, compelling and addictive. One of the keys to social software is giving people a reason to come back after their first visit. Social software needs to do something, or people won't stay. The mechanics presented are the following:

  1. Collecting
  2. Points
  3. Feedback
  4. Exchanges
  5. Customization

In addition to building software, I also feel that these constructs are just as applicable to building a successful business and culture. The wisdom of crowds talks about the success of internal prediction markets which uses game mechanics to engage employees to think collectively. No matter where you are, people love games. Think about the creative ways that these game mechanics could be utilized in your business to improve moral, culture, or delivered business value.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Growth Comes from the Edges

As I start to get my head back into blogging after Christmas, I came across this quote from a Seth Godin Post on Dec 25. His discussion centers around companies who try and emulate extremely successful competitors, and why this is not a great strategy.

I recently did some work with a large grocery store chain, and in one meeting I was in someone made the comment that we should be like Walmart. Seth's post states the issue with this type of thinking:

  • they already did what you are setting out to do (no reason for people to switch)
  • these companies were cutting edge when they first introduced their business model (and hence why they became successful)
Taking best practices from successful competitors is one thing, but you need to bring your own value-add to the market place. Just like great music or movies often come from the fringe, so do great ideas, and this is what will drive growth. Emulating your competitors to create growth is a failed red-ocean strategy. Ideas and growth from the edge is blue ocean.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


With the holiday season in full swing, think about this old quote from Alan Kay:

"Technology is anything that wasn't around when you were born."

As children and young family members open gifts - many of these gifts will be 'technology' items - mp3 players, cell phones, gaming systems, laptops etc. This quote is more relevant than ever now. What most people in business consider technology, many customers consider it just another everyday item.

Photo Credit: Macadamia Blog

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mild Hunger Increases Cognition

Ever notice how productivity drops around the holidays. People begin to mentally check out, as they begin to think about time with family, and holiday festivities. In addition the workplace is usually filled with goodies, and holiday snacks. Well as it turns out having a full stomach may be partially to blame for a lower ability to think, and not just around the holidays. According to researchers at the Yale medical school the stimulation of hunger can make you smarter.

A team led by Tamas Horvath, chairman of Yale’s comparative medicine program, had been analyzing the pathways followed in mouse brains by ghrelin, a hormone produced by the stomach lining, when the stomach is empty. To the scientists’ surprise, they found that ghrelin was binding to cells not just in the primitive part of the brain that registers hunger (the hypothalamus) but also in the region that plays a role in learning, memory and spatial analysis (the hippocampus).

The researchers then put mice injected with ghrelin and control mice through a maze and other intelligence tests. In each case, the biochemically “hungry” mice — mice infused with ghrelin — performed notably better than those with normal levels of the hormone.

They conclude that this is likely true for humans as well. Going mildly hungry and snacking can maintain an edgy state. So bringing in those donuts or holiday treats for you team, might not be the best idea if you want to keep innovation levels high and thinking sharp!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Our Mental Hard Drive

This is a great visual about information, and how much of it we see every day. Think about what this means - We see 1MB of information every second. This is only going to increase. What is the capacity for your mental hard drive? What is it for your customers? How do you make the best use of their limited capacity. Although this may seem dismal to marketers, In some ways I feel that the increased volume of content, is allowing the human brain to reach a great potential for information consumption. And now, as we develop new and better external tools to help us categorize and filter, it also allows our own hard drives to re-configure how it remembers things.

By the way check out lynetters other visual quotation images on Flickr - Just like this image, they will likely make you re-think your business.

Agile 'Pit Crew' Process

For all the big company focus on process improvements, it now seems that the term process is somewhat of a dirty word in small companies or startups who are focused on speed to market. Process, like everything, if it is overdone, it can be harmful and actually impede the very thing it was meant to improve. Too much and you become buried in trying to follow a set of steps, and checklists instead of accomplishing goals and fulfilling customer needs. Too little and you stagnate in chaos. Both lead to unhappy endings.

This got me thinking about the right amount of process in small company or start up (or perhaps any company for that matter). The analogy that came to mind was that of a formula 1 or Nascar pit crew. Pit crews have a series of tasks that must be carried out and others that are option depending on the condition of the car when it arrives. All have to be done quickly. Although it seems chaotic, there is process there, and great pit crews work like a finely tuned orchestra. Process is why the car doesn't get dropped without the wheel nuts on.

So even with a start up - some process is important. We have come to know this as Agile. Unfortunately some people thing that Agile is a throwback to to uncontrolled chaos before there was any process. Agile process at its best is finely tuned chaos that produces beautiful music. The key to fast process is to think not about documented steps and checklists, but about 3 things. The first two are frameworks and guidelines. The third and primary ingredient is skilled team members. Just like most of us would kill the process of a pit crew - so can ineffective members on any team. These 3 things supported by the right mindset, can allow process to become a powerful asset no matter how small (or big) you are if used appropriately.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

YOU Rule

Today Time anounced its person of the year. If you haven't heard of who it is go look in the mirror. That's right - its you. I have seen a number of posts already come across my RSS reader talking about it today. Most are treating this as validation that user controlled content is not a fad. Time has been picking its 'Person of the Year' since 1927 and the aim has always been to pick "the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or for ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse."

This also should be a signal to businesses ... if you are unaware of what the long tail is, you don't understand blogging or think that blogging is just a fad, you think that online communities are just another channel to sell your products, and web 2.0 doesn't have a place in the corporate world, Time's person of the year will likely be very confusing to you...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Innovation Coverage of All Customer Needs

John Caddell posted this week about an alternative approach to product innovation. He discusses an HBR article written by Professor Robert Verganti about the Lombardy design cluster utilized for design innovation that uses a small community of diverse professionals...

'a free-floating community of architects, suppliers, photographers, critics, curators, publishers, and craftsmen, among many other categories of professionals, as well as the expected artists and designers. The members of the community are prized as much for their immersion in a discourse as for their originality.'

John starts off by asking 'tired of hearing about open innovation'. This comes from a a growing movement today towards talking to your employees, customers, and suppliers for better innovation. I am a proponent of talking to your customers, I believe in the wisdom of crowds, but I can see that there are areas of innovation where customers can't always be the source for all innovation.

This got me thinking about Innovation coverage. To be a truly effective innovator, I think a company needs to have a suite of innovation options depending on the needs. Think about the Kano Model used in Process Engineering. It talks about 3 different types of requirements that are produced.

  1. Disatisfiers: aspects of a product/service that will cause dissatisfaction if not present. (eg. - brakes on a car)
  2. Satisfiers: aspects of a product where more is better. (gas mileage - the better gas mileage your car gets, the happier you are)
  3. Delighters: these are aspects of a product that the customer didn't expect, but when they are their, the customer is delighted. This is often the purple cows that Seth Godin talks about. (eg. - A sunroof in a car... when it first came out at least, or a chocolate on your pillow at the hotel)
The problem with Delighters, is that customers can't often envision these types of innovations, so if you business is built primarily on producing delighters, this design cluster model described above is likely a better option for coming up with ideas in this industry.

However, in reality, innovation can and should happen in all three levels of the Kano Model. Unfortunately today most companies don't utilize all tools at their disposal. Just like building a house, a hammer won't work for all tasks. Today many companies take the hammer approach to innovation. Most often the hammer is an internal R&D department. What companies need to do is develop an innovation tool belt where they can tap your customers, expert communities, internal and external R&D experts well as the wisdom of crowds based on the need. The second step is knowing when to best utilize the different tools during the innovation life cycle and for what tasks, and what products or services they should be used for to give you the highest innovation efficiency. Having a full set of tools along with the knowledge of when and how to use them, will set a company up better to approach their innovation imperative.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Real Estate Agent Industry Disruption Continues

Most of us know that it is only a matter of time before real estate agents follow the same downward path as travel agents as the Internet allows information to flow more freely and new tools empower consumers to almost complete transactions themselves. real estate agents, like travel agents will continue to exist for complicated transactions, but the lucrative days for the typical agent are coming to an end. New tools such as Zillow will continue to disrupt the real estate world. They have just released new functionality called Make Me Move, which targets home owners who may have no intention of moving, but probably would for the right price. As a homeowner I can post a make me move price without exposing any personal information. Zillow then enables interested buyers to contact the owner anonymously. Of course the service is free for all home owners and realtors.

Now I am sure this service will be highly used by real estate agents as much or more than by home buyers, but as consumers become more savvy with these types of tools, it paves the way to remove the middleman altogether for all but the most complicated transactions. Current conventional wisdom now says: 'Why book a flight with a travel agent who will essentially use the same online tools as you have access too'. Soon, the same will be true for home buying. Real estate agents are just coming off the largest boom in housing history - time to think about how this industry will morph to survive as we move forward in the new economy.

information tip: Zillow on Tech Crunch

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Tim Hortons - Modernize Your Thinking

My blogging will be lighter over the next two weeks as I am back home in Ontario Canada visiting my family, but I will post as I can. Being back here, I got to thinking about an interesting retail phenomenon in Canada - Tim Hortons, which has almost a cult like following here. They started out as great coffee and donuts at an unbeatable price, but have moved into having a great lunch menu with soups and sandwiches too. All of this coupled with extremely friendly service, in a spotless environment. They offer unbeatable consistency - you know exactly what you are getting when you go in there, and are a staple of both rural and urban life. However some of the companies policies feel a little like stepping back in time.

The first is that they do not accept any form of payment except cash. I am sure they have some great arguments as to why this is a good business practice (low transaction amounts and speed of checkout) but whatever they are it seems that this came out of status-quo thinking. Not only is the policy not well signed (people can get all the way to ordering only to find out about the cash only policy), but they don't even offer alternatives (in-store cash machines). This policy feels like an un-innovative solution to the wrong problem.

A second interesting fact is that they appear to have no interest in building a relationship with their customers beyond that of a sales transaction. Somehow their own success has duped them into thinking that they know better than their own customers. On their web site under the FAQ section I found the following response to the question of "I would like to submit an idea to Tim Hortons":

"Tim Hortons is approached about many ideas, suggestions and new product concepts. Unfortunately, we are unable to accept unsolicited ideas. We rely entirely on our own advertising, research, marketing and product planning departments for the generation and development of new concepts. We thank you for thinking of us, but must decline to avoid the possibility of future misunderstandings"

Come on guys - do you honestly believe that you know better about what your customers want then they do? The Tim Hortons myspace page makes it obvious that the advertising/ marketing team needs a serious lesson in new economy marketing...

Tim Hortons is definitely a retail success and has found a way to build a loyal customer following, through good products and services. The will continue to grow as they expand into new territory, but I question if they are somehow limiting themselves with decision making that is so obviously not focused on building better relationships with their customers. They already have what many companies yearn for - loyal customers. By modernizing their thinking they could capitalize on their most underutilized asset -their customer.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Community Immunity - Will Social Networks Tip?

I recently listed to the audio version of the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He has a more recent update to the end of the book where he talks about the concept of immunity and social epidemics.

He introduced the concept of the “fax effect” originally proposed by Kevin Kelly. If you are unfamiliar it goes like this: The first fax machine cost millions of R&D dollars, and retailed for a few thousand dollars, but was relatively useless since there were no other machines to communicate with. Each successive fax machine purchased made all the previous machines more valuable. When you bought a fax machine, you were buying access to the network which is much more valuable than the machine itself. This is referred to as the law of plentitude. Cell companies use a similar concept to market and sell their products and services. The logic of the network is that power and value come from abundance.

Gladwell continues to explain that this is why email is supposed to be so powerful, but is this true? Just like the phone network has grown so large that users have built up ‘immunity’ (answering machines, caller ID, and other filtering mechanisms), so too is this starting to happen with email. When you first got email, and had your first few members of the network, you spent much time and effort crafting well thought out messages. Now we get 1000 (hopefully filtered) spam emails, and often 10’s or hundreds of messages from people. Most email users are now creating shorter responses, being more selective and delayed in response. Gladwell argues that these are all symptoms of immunity, and that large network communication channels have, and will continue to suffer growth tipping points creating immunity, similar to how virus’s spread and eventually die once enough users become immune.

My question is whether this will happen to social networking communities, and I think unfortunately it will. Think about MySpace. Who can really manage a hundreds or thousands of ‘friends’. Once the novelty wears off, when does this network just become like the hundreds of emails you get. Social networks could too reach an immunity tipping point, where they become so large that the very reason that they seemed so attractive, cause its own demise. In a members’ quest to become connected, they are starting to repeat what other networks have already succumbed to. Linkedin is also beginning to show signs of this, with ‘super connectors’ who will link with anyone and everyone. It seems like a great way to grow the network, but this is essentially the beginning of a possible immunity tipping point. Ultimately it comes down to the community members to keep the social network thriving, but not letting it get out of control to a point where community immunity kicks in.