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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Activities or Analytics?

If you don't measure it, you can't improve it.” Like a mantra, it's chanted over and over - but you must be measuring the right IT or you are just burning time.

For an artist, which is more important – the tack hammer or the paint brush? The brush is used to create the masterpiece; the tack hammer is used to stretch the canvas in preparation.

Does canvas stretching contribute directly to the quality or success of the artwork? It is true that a taut canvas permits more precision in creating fine detail in the painting – so there is definitely some value added by proper stretching. Would knowing that short sides of a canvas have an average of five tacks and long sides have eight, add anything to masterpiece? Counting tacks all day long would have no impact on creating better paintings.

Years ago, as a result of a promotion, I received a detailed analytic report to senior management twice each month which was a quarter inch thick. I eagerly read the entire first copy and discovered only two items in it were useful to me and both were incorrect. I instructed the department to compile the report but stop publishing it and not notify any recipients. After two months without any comment about the absence of this report, I canceled it.

A new devotee to website analytics ran the analysis on her site and the Leadership Breakfast of Maryland's site She showed me a chart and offered her interpretation that the LBMD website needed CPR. Our website has visitors from a restricted group who read the page about the meeting and then register to indicate they plan to attend – the activity is triggered by a monthly announcement of the coming meeting. Her site is an eCommerce site for internet sales and traffic is driven to it continuously by numerous sources.

The results merely show that sites with different purposes do not generate the same traffic pattern or flow. These comparative analytics are meaningless, since the goals of the sites are so different.

Analytics help us measure performance and other factors by direct, indirect, and comparative means. Comparative analytics compare statistics from your organization with those of other organizations, or view your statistics over time.

Metrics and analytics can be useful to set a baseline or measure progress – as long as they are chosen appropriately and recognized for the value they offer.

When all is said and done, analytics are like observing the wake of a boat underway – they provide feedback on how smooth the course has been, but say nothing about the progress toward the goal or destination. Planning and execution get us there.

Using a thermometer to take our temperature is useful in diagnosis, but does little toward the cure; having appropriate analytics is useful in tweaking a plan, but to apply our resources to achieve results – focus them on doing rather than curating.

Sales Lab’s Rainmaker 19, Foam Ball is 300 seconds of enlightenment at The Capital Technology Management Hub, 6:30 pm on Tuesday, April 9 at Teqcorner, 1616 Anderson Road, Third Floor, McLean, VA 22102. Rainmaker 19 Foam Ball will be immediately followed by the headliner Presentation, Tom Cooper, BrightHill Group, Are You Too Busy To Plan?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Intelligence and Analysis

Had a chance to attend an industry analysts’ working group. Stars from competing companies met in a special forum to get a better picture of where their profession is going.

First symptom is the explosion of casual data. Their customers see it all around them and want to know how it relates to the professional information they are buying. The short answer is, it doesn’t.

Data is not analysis. Analysis is verifying accuracy and providing context. Figuring out what to ignore is an important part of professional analysis.

But analysts are getting overwhelmed with random data, and anything a customer finds is more valuable to that customer than a professionally curated product.

One analyst tore a small corner off a sugar packet and dropped in the middle of a 16 by 6 foot conference table. “This table is what is publicly available, and this scrap of paper is what our processes allow us to analyze.”

One further comment was that scrap of paper should be cut into pieces representing the processes of the competing organizations.

Customers want their scraps validated, but they sure don’t want to do the work of validation. That’s what they are paying for, usually on a carefully predefined cost basis. ...and other duties as assigned is now desired in that same price. Open source scope creep.
So a first solution is to loosen the vetting procedure to allow significantly more throughput, perhaps using casual data in that process in some way.

A couple of days after the meeting, I remembered the the story of J. P. Morgan’s guidelines for purchasing services, “I don’t want a lawyer who tells me what I can’t do. I hire a lawyer to tell me how I can do what I want to do! ”

Perhaps a solution is bringing the customer behind the curtain, to better understand what they are buying and why.

Tips 4 The Big Chair – Perspective 2.0

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Leadership and Empathy

George Mason University and Arlington Economic Development presented a panel discussion on Empathy in Business. It focused on empathy as an asset and whether this is an element of what makes a leader great.

The panel composition: Jonathan Aberman, of Amplifier Ventures as moderator; Carly Florina, former CEO of HP; Dr. Angel Cabrera, president of George Mason University; Julie Rogers, president & CEO of Meyer Foundation; and Bill Drayton, CEO and Founder of Ashoka.

Empathy to an individual is like great art...they may know it when they see it, but it is hard to put describe in a clear and concise statement. The panel's treatment of empathy as a leadership asset was not woo-woo, feel-good fluff; it was seen as a powerful tool for change and engagement both inside and outside of the organization.

Key points offered by the panel:

  • Everyone has capacity for empathy, except for schizophrenics, narcissists, and psychopaths – most of us can be empathetic
  • True leaders will discipline themselves to listen first and declare later
  • Example: a situation gone bad and the leader is poised to righteously 'instruct' the errant person chapter and verse about how they screwed up (no empathy); instead the leader pauses to hear the person's view of what happened – then takes appropriate action (empathy)...this can result in better understanding by all parties, but even if no new information is garnered, the person's views were heard and is more receptive to learning from the error
  • Empathy is a diminishing trait in segments of today's youth – as a society we must 'teach' and developed it in the children or face virtually unsolvable problems as the kids age into adults.

So, we can be it, can use it, and teach it...on an applied basis – but what is it?

For a leader, empathy is an ability to understand others - a willingness to listen and consider what the other person has to offer. It is not giving insincere feedback to make the person right in a 'wrong' situation, nor is it to puff up their self esteem just to win a smile or a brief sunny outlook.

Can a leader be both empathetic and strategic in running the organization to meet the mission and yield results and 'profit'? Carly Fiorina repurposed a concept from the 1700's – enlightened self interest – to explain how individual input and financial results can coexist for superior outcome. This captures both aspects of the spectrum.

Being open to understanding others, hearing their ideas and offers, and responding with consistency empowers employees and managers to contribute ideas and be innovative, while truly engaging them in the success of the organization. The path is doing the right things and developing internal resources to produce better results.

In an open source environment, a person is invited to improve on what's been created by someone and share the new version with them and the community. Leading with empathy is about modeling permission for employees to find and share innovation and improvement in your organization.

As business structures change, organizations rely more on task teams formed internally (probably not at the same location) and entrepreneurs collaborate with one another to create teams with needed skills and experience for the project. For both, the old silos which restricted sharing are replaced with creative approaches derived from varied backgrounds and experience.

Being open, listening, and adopting the best ideas truly supports an open and collaborative environment Eric Schmidt of Google summed this up nicely: No one is as smart as all of us.

How to become wise in 5 minute increments – Rainmakers.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Today’s Contribution

Television news was showing how police were cracking down on DC cabbies who mischarged their riders, sirens screaming, tires squealing, “...gonna make an example!...” 

I laughed. I ride DC cabs and improvement by threat was only affecting the cameramen and the officials puffing up in front of them...and maybe the poor sap they were trying to hurt. They forget that cabbie is their customer. 

Peter Corbett had introduced the DC Tech community to Travis Kalanick, ceo of Uber, an app that enforced taxi compliance by giving cabbies an opportunity to earn more in return for being able to show within five minutes, keeping clean cars, taking credit cards, and maintaining their privilege by being publicly evaluated by their riders on social media. Travis told us how in city after city he had to vanquish the rentseekers, people who had fashioned niches, guarding broken systems, so they get paid for other people’s labor.

In Cambridge you have to call for a limo 8 hours before you want it. In NYC, taxi medallions are going for over a million dollars a copy. One entrayprenoor was selling medallions with duplicate numbers. Nobody cared.

In DC cabbies need to buy stickie signs for their cabs to show they’ve greased the city.

None of that has anything to do with moving me from point A to point B.

It’s just a collection of people who are carving their living out of a long ago contribution and/or bad regulation.

Over on Lifehacker, I was reading Why I Stopped Pirating And Started Paying For Media. The bottom line is once it became safe and convenient (made sense) people started to pay. All the noise about downloading is theft was an alternative to providing an acceptable way to pay. Those guys making their contribution by abusing their customers were avoiding solving the problem, and threatening force to cover their lack of mastery.

Last day of 2012, I was mailing a letter for a friend, had to get mailed that day. Walked up to a post office truck and asked the driver if he would take the letter from me. No, he was a postal professional, he didn’t take mail, but he was happy to give me erroneous directions to a post office five blocks away. Got there and that post office had closed early.

This is not directed at government, although government is all over DC and government has done the best job of holding back change. Consequently, their fixes will be the most wrenching.

This Sunday, I went into the Five Guys in DuPont Circle. Midday, the place was empty. The “manager” was sitting at a table, back to the door, nodding out. The guy at the cash register couldn’t hear my order because he had cranked the stereo so loud. I saw several groups walk in, turn around, and walk out to go somewhere less painful.

I do some Five Guys. This trip had the best fries ever from the cook, after I yelled at the financial professional to turn down the noise. The noise was so loud, it took three tries.

One time I was in a CVS. They had locked one of the exits during business hours, and the staff of three were exasperatedly yelling at the customers to use the automated checkout kiosks, which were down. There were fifteen people trying to get out of the store, and nobody bothering to operate the cash registers.

The lady behind me said, “They’re just not retail oriented.” Good line.

Many have changed business processes to take advantage of the economies of automation. Which is true...when they work. When the users are not able to make the systems work as imagined, often there is no understanding of the underlying mission of the business. The mission has changed from satisfying the customer to enabling automated processes.

The classic example is having to start over because you filled out a form incorrectly. I’m embarrassed filling out poorly designed forms that encourage errors. And you know, I’ve never had happen on Amazon. They always get their money.

Making an example of the “bad customer,” using force or coercion, is usually bad tactics for two reasons. First, paybacks are hell, and second, they highlight flawed operations.

Rentseeking, taking compensation to allow others’ efforts, is always ugly and with internet disintermediation there are fewer ways to hide it. What if the rule of thumb was to supply value commensurate with the value you take? “Well, we also have all these other things nobody in their right mind would pay for...” Rentseeking.

As for what to do about it, I think we might realize that this is a time of rapid change, and old problems may have new and different solutions. When you find yourself providing a solution that doesn’t help the guy with the problem, you probably need to try something else. 

Focus on figuring out Today’s Contribution every day. 

Sales Lab Resources –Don’t know where we’re going, but we’re making great time! Join us!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Real Criticism – Design Like DaVinci

Brian Sullivan’s Design like DaVinci was apparently one of the highlights of SXSW 2013, and came to me recommended by Slideshare. Brian’s presentation was excellent in so many ways, I recommend it as a must see.

Excellent criticism provides context and extends meaning. Design Like DaVinci is the jackpot.

Design Like DaVinci is about work and working better. It is about history, biography, culture, and innovation. It is also a demonstration of gifted presentation.

I’ve seen more useless slide shows than I can remember. I habitually avoid podcasts and webinars, having found I get more understanding in less than half the time from the transcript (if available), or even related writing if the subject interests me.

I am not an artist. I am graphically challenged, and work hard for the few graphics on my posts.

Design Like DaVinci is the best I’ve seen weaving slide show and podcast to create an extraordinary presentation. It’s an hour of magic. Turn on the slides, then turn on the podcast in another tab, strap yourself in, and take good notes. Design like DaVinci is an hour of learning, entertainment, and optimism.

Then by all means, go Design Like DaVinci.

Junior Academy – Excellence in Education

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Five Keys A Facilitator Brings

Solutions come from discussions. Strategic solutions develop from structured discussions.

For strategic planning, a facilitator is like the conductor of an orchestra – does not write the music or play the instruments, but does bring it all together for the desired result.

The facilitator is an asset to a critical planning session bringing their experience as a resource when wanted and keeping the session on track – here's the top five elements they contribute to the session:

  • Free up the Boss: No one can both participate and conduct the same event – this applies for the boss as well...with a facilitator, the leader of the organization is freed up to participate in the conversation, providing relevant information while hearing the views of others
  • Additional Experience: When asked, the facilitator can share their knowledge and experience about similar situations to stimulate discussion or clarify the concept or activity
  • Clarity of Contributions: The facilitator can probe the participants for more detail and expected outcome, aiding in the understanding of a concept without participants feeling they are being challenged or the contribution is being dismissed
  • Recording Intentions: By recording key points from the meeting on flip charts (or by comparable means) and reading these notes back later, the facilitator can engage the participants in focusing the important elements into goals and action statements as the outcome of the session
  • Managing Pace & Time: The facilitator must move the event along at an appropriate pace to remain on track and cover the material in the time allotted – like the clock-keeper in a basketball game.

A facilitator is responsible for running the meeting – executing it's operation and logistics – but the participants are responsible for results. A facilitator is not a direct participant in the content of the session, except when asked for information or outside experience.

Following a strategic planning session I recently facilitated – the CEO spoke about the day this way: Done well, a facilitator is a huge value-add to getting the best results from a critical planning session – including recording new goals and action items – and the participants feel their contributions are integral to the results.

Sales Lab Video Channel Learning with a smile

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Julie of the Web Managers Roundtable and I were discussing Spring Training and the Grapefruit League at her Mobile Event yesterday.

“Sales,” she said, “is like baseball...
“You pitch an offer...
“And catch a sale...
“Don’t ever try to pitch a just doesn’t work.
“That’s like throwing a bowling ball down the gutter.”

Tips 4 The Big Chair – Perspective 2.0

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Innovation – A Precious Asset

The Smith School of Business just held it's Annual Business Summit, a forum about the pressing topics of the time.

A thread throughout the sessions was the hodge-podge innovative change, rigorous adherence to the 'traditional' ways, rapid technological change, shifting global market advantage, and irrational attempts to maintain existing market conditions. This yields an unstable and confusing business environment.

Evolving are the vastly differing approaches of open source (share the code – use it & make it better) and enterprise (lock down the code - prohibit unauthorized modifications) – such as the Android and iPhone operating systems, or the Open Office and Microsoft Office application suites.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Rajshree Agarwal applied these radically different models to the 'care and feeding' of the innovative employee. In simple terms, innovation is finding a way to get better results for less cost.

The innovative employee is regarded as a valuable resource on one level, but organizations tend to adopt three different approaches to managing innovations: Bully; Ostrich; Empowering:

  • The Bully creates barriers and penalties around innovation – such as non-compete agreements and IP litigation for developed ideas and use of knowledge leading to the development of ideas – then pounds the trespassers;
  • The Ostrich has a laissez fare attitude about innovation until a situation develops, then it shifts to attack mode to protect the investment in the innovative product or service;
  • The Empowering approach encourages employees to come up with innovative approaches – even provides personal use of a portion of the workweek or access to company or department equipment to help development.

The unintended result for Bully and Ostrich organizations is less innovations and greater opportunistic turnover among innovative employees. Creativity is seen as not valued and a hassle, so even great ideas for innovative change or new development are not shared.

On the other hand, the Empowering approach produces innovation from simple changes to major new product/service lines, which are conceived, developed, and implemented to 'do it better'. Google's 20% Time has spawned G-mail, AdSense, and Google News among the Google products.

In an environment where computing power is doubling every 18 months or less, and technology is rapidly eliminating repetitive process 'paper-moving' tasks, innovation takes on a critical role of seeding the reinvention of operations and upgrading processes within the organization. How can the new be integrated with the old to improve the result at less cost. What can be eliminated completely and how can the newly freed time be spent for employees to master new skills and gain additional experience to help them remain a viable resource and contributor for the organization (and remain employed).

Instead of rusting-out or fighting for a piece of a shrinking pie, both the individual and the organization can morph as a viable provider of wanted/needed services and products. Creating and nurturing an atmosphere in which employees can create change which is welcomed by the organization or department is the modern version of the continuous improvement cycle and opens up the space for employees to get new experience and skills, thus remaining valuable in a changing world.

What's not to love about 'better for less' while developing the next new role?

Entertaining experience – watch the Sales Lab Video Channel

Monday, March 11, 2013

Kids’ Books

Right after I finished reading Pirate Cinema, the United States Congress passed the six strikes law to take people off the internet. I guess they hadn't read the book. 

I was looking for some reviews of the book because I wanted more context about the story. Good criticism is supposed to either explain more fully or supply context.

I read one derogatory post about Cory Doctorow’s books for children. Apparently that disappointed the reviewer, who wasn’t as concerned about what Cory had written as about what Cory should have written. That’s like taking a downwind position in a urinary olympiad against Wikipedia.

That review reminded me of a derogatory review about John Varley’s Red Thunder a couple of years ago, where that critic dismissively thought kids’ books were lightweight.

I remember Red Thunder as a potboiler adventure story, full of true love and high adventure. I also remember that the two kids had graduated high school in Florida and found out they hadn’t been taught anything that would allow them to make a living.

I remember they were cleaning hotel rooms around Cape Canaveral to satisfy their food addiction, and had built two laptops that would enable them to attend Internet University.

That sounded like truth to me, since I graduated high school and then college without learning much that was valuable.

One of my classmates wrote, “When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

I needed the reinforcement I read in that book that two people learning together often work better than one learning at IU. Jack and I are constantly feeding what we learn to each other, and piles of facts often lead to more highly developed ideas. Apparently that had slipped past the reviewer.

A third thing I liked about Red Thunder was how a couple of fellow members of the IU student body were blending life, high adventure, and education. Gave us a model we have slavishly imitated.

If you’re going to get a grip on the future, kids’ books like Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema, Little Brother, and John Varley’s Red Thunder, and Orson Scott Card’s Magic Street are instructive. Kids are the ones inventing the future.

I remember when I started reading Makers. Some of the my fellow IU students, Seth Godin and John Battelle recommended it. I started reading thinking, “Oh, this is a near future business fantasy.”

I got 50 pages in and realized this stuff was happening right then! What was different was the author’s perspective reporting the facts. Fantastical? Farfetched? No more than this morning’s 6 am news.

RainmakersCompetitive advantage five minutes at a time.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I started by “selling like an owner.” That’s not bad because owners of small businesses do most of the selling in the world. However, selling like an owner tends to be more effort and desperation than craft.

After I sold that business, I started working at a marketing firm, working with customers, writing copy, and “selling.” I read a couple of books, worked hard, and was enthusiastically generating more heat than light.

My boss, the owner, sent me to another site to work with one of the founders of the firm, his college roommate. He offered to sit with me in a sales presentation, which I did not want, but he must have been better at selling.

After we finished our meeting, he said, “I noticed you were really listening to the prospect.” I was proud to be recognized.

“As a matter of fact, you were listening so hard, sweat was dripping of your nose.” Well, effort counts.

“Do you mind if I ask, what were you listening for?” Wha? Never thought about that.

“How about listening for something you want to ask about after they stop talking? And once you write that down, lean back and relax.”

“Later, if they say something else or better that you want to discuss, write that down too, but after you get that first question or clarification, you’ve done your job. From that point on, you’re ahead.”

That was a really important technique for all kinds of communication, written, face-to-face; internal and external. It’s also why I carry my notebook.

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