Sunday, November 1, 2009

Google: Feeling Lucky?

United States vs Google. Is this an eye-catching headline to the average American? To elite thinkers who help US government shape policy? Given the long term economic value created by the massive innovation engine that is Google, the prospect of this scenario should be cause for alarm. Right now, the populist sentiment and policies of the Obama administration combined with a number of regulatory and antitrust related stories on Google, seem to have created an environment that may unwittingly facilitate such a case.

After establishing themselves as the dominant search engine, Google created a highly lucrative online advertising market that allowed the proverbial “little guy” to target and buy just the right amount of advertising they could afford. On the back of this resounding success, Google has re-invested much of their profit in technology innovation. And the benefit is immeasurable – enabling consumers and small businesses access to technology that makes them more informed and productive in the hyper-competitive, knowledge-driven, global economy.

However, these efforts have not been without controversy. One of the fiercest regulatory battles in the tech world today is Net Neutrality, pitting Google against some of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. And most recently, the FCC is investigating Google Voice to review allegations that the service has been refusing to connect some calls to rural areas.

One would hope Obama’s strategic orientation would help steer his administration from taking on Google. But with the law of unintended consequences, it’s not a stretch to see an ambitious Justice Department staffer try to make their name with a high profile case. And don’t forget politicians trying to get re-elected. After all, the link between how Google enables small business to create jobs requires a sophistication of thought that lawmakers might struggle to synthesize, their brains clouded by campaign contributions from the big businesses most threatened by Google’s innovation.

China and cash rich oil-producing countries build sovereign wealth funds to fortify their long-term economic prospects. In contrast, the US has innovators like Google who create products and services that enable a sustainable competitive position in the global economy. The US “sovereign innovation fund”, made up of the free market principles and balanced regulation that support it, is a concept that differentiates this country. It is an advantage we should be extremely careful not to cede.

*Note: Submitted this for the Washington Post Pundit Contest in Oct, 2009. Was one of the 4,790 entries not picked to make the top 10 finalists. Lost to some good competition....and enjoyed the process of pulling it together, including the challenge of getting under the 400 word limit.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Customer Satisfaction – The Driving Ethos for Success

This post is part of a series under the title “Developing People: Succeeding in Business in the Years Ahead”. For some brief background, the series is about the intense and ever-growing competition that is today’s global marketplace and how there are a number of critical, but difficult-to-quantify, characteristics that will differentiate the best business professionals from the rest. Over the course of the series, each of these characteristics will be further explored individually. The first of these characteristics is the topic of this post, Customer Satisfaction.

You may be thinking - what hasn’t already been written about customer satisfaction?! We’ve heard it all, right? Books, methodologies (“the customer-centric organization”), and easy-to-remember sayings (“the customer is always right”) have been coming at us for years…..can someone have an insightful or new twist on this seemingly obvious concept? In my attempts to provide such, there are two fundamental points introduced in this post: (1) Make customer satisfaction your personal driving ethos and (2) Immerse yourself in your customers’ business.

(1) Driving Ethos…. Whether your company is a product / thought leader (e.g. Apple), a lowest cost / value provider (e.g. WalMart), or is intimately focused around a particular industry or customer segment (e.g. Booz Allen), all of these traditional business models can benefit tremendously from having their workers put the customer at the center of its every move. When the driving ethos of a company and its people is its customer base, all of the typical business decisions and inherent long/short term conflicts become a little easier to reconcile. If you lead your competition, it will increase the chances of maintaining or extending that position. If you trail the competition, it is the single best way to catch and surpass them. And from a personal differentiation perspective, it gives you, the worker, a genuine opportunity to stand out in a crowded, highly qualified, often look-a-like marketplace of resources – by understanding your customer’s needs a little better than the next person.

(2) Immersion…. While saying that customer satisfaction is one’s driving ethos, doing it is another story. Immersion is not only a concept; it is also a technique. In its simplest form, it is about spending physical time with customers and really understanding them…..“walk a mile in your customers’ shoes”. It enables you to respond intelligently to many questions: What does your customer value? What are their major barriers to obtaining what they value? Why are those barriers in the way? How well do your offerings break through those barriers? What is the value your customer brings to their customers? How do they deliver that value? How do they market themselves? How is their business changing? What are they saying behind closed doors when making their wish list of things they want right now? Or down the road? Why are you, or your competitors, failing to provide these things? Are these needs something that your company can provide now? Or in the future? How do you better present your organization’s offerings? Too many folks in your own company likely don’t ask these questions or have enough information to answer them. Being able to answer, or at least take a position on, some or all of these questions will make you invaluable to your company….whether you are a senior exec, mid-level manager, junior employee, or anywhere on that spectrum. There are many ways to immerse, and we will explore them in greater detail in future posts. But the one simple way to do it is to spend time at your customer’s place of business with customers - before, during, and/or after the work day. Seems to me this doesn’t happen nearly enough in today’s digitally connected but physically remote business world to enable real understanding of your most important asset – your customers.

Customer satisfaction is tightly integrated with many of the other differentiating factors that will be further explored as part of this series of posts on “Developing People…”. Stay tuned. This won’t be the last you hear of positioning customer satisfaction as your driving ethos or the concept of immersion.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Developing People – Succeeding in Business in the years ahead

There are a number of areas that differentiate the best business professionals from the rest. And when I speak of business professionals, I am talking about anyone in the traditionally defined areas of businesses large and small: sales, marketing, finance, operations, product development, customer service, information technology, legal, executive management, etc. And when I speak of business, I am talking about every industry and all organizations that depend on generating revenue from a target group – so it includes non-profits too.

The reason for identifying and explaining these differentiators is that the game has changed considerably: the traditional educational degree programs, stove-piped job functions, and previously defined career paths no longer provide a framework for developing the skills and providing the experiences that shape the highest performers in business today. A different playbook is necessary to keep workers, and the businesses they are trying to build, ahead of the ever growing set of competitors in the market.

Below is a list of items that came to me while flying on a recent business trip. I am interested in getting these ideas written down and explained and am planning to write a blog post on each of them in some form or fashion. The plan is to explain what is meant by each item, why they are critically important to success in business over the next 5-15 years, and how they inter-relate to one another. I imagine that while writing this series, new ideas will present themselves..…and those ideas will be incorporated into the series as appropriate. And in case my kids, as they grow up, decide not to take advice from dad along the way, at least some others out there in the world might benefit from what this guy has to say about how to position oneself for success in business (or whatever they endeavor to do to put food on the table)

The initial list:

  1. Thee driving ethos – customer satisfaction, and immersing yourself in their business
  2. Managing direct and indirect customers – the new customer/supplier food chain
  3. Leadership – striking the right balance with a never-ending set of competing decision points
  4. Clarity of Purpose and Role within that Purpose – for both the team and the individual
  5. Emotional Intelligence - IQ is very important, almost as important as EQ
  6. Cross –disciplinary Skills vs traditional job definitions - “Top 10 jobs of 2015 don’t exist today” – business school ad for University of Denver
  7. Communication and Re-communication
  8. Asking questions as much as giving answers – the best question askers seem to make the best points
  9. Free Agent Economy, the lean corporation, and the multi-level sub-contracting structure
  10. Ambidextrous model / Creative destruction within the free market economy / Sharpening the saw
  11. Seeing a vision of the future state – and painting it for others
  12. Value system – that goes beyond the “simple” driving business ethos of customer satisfaction – e.g. God, Country, Family
  13. Questioning old assumptions – e.g. if we do x this way in this area of our organization, then we need to do it consistently in all other areas of our organization

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Facebook - Posting pictures of your kids?

In the last few months I have become completely interested in the social computing phenonmenon due to (a) the value to and potential impact on (b) both my personal AND work life given (c) the now *limited work effort* needed by participants like me in updating twitter and facebook. Perhaps I just teed up the theme for another blog posting b/c when I started to type this one, I meant to speak only to a recent debate with my wife about posting pix of our kids on my Facebook let me get back to that.

Many very rational adults with children (some friends of my wife and I) are worried about posting pics of their kids on the their Facebook account or other semi-public web outlets. Typically their reason is due to pedophiles being online and the risks associated with that. I happen to think this is a logical and sufficient answer and don't question anyone's judgment or philosophy around choosing to not put pics of their children on the web.

However, I am choosing a different path and think it makes sense to articulate the reasons. Perhaps after going back and reading this in a few weeks or months, I will change my position. I see a convalesence of 3 things that make me ok with posting pics of my children on my facebook account.

First, as mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, social networking (particularly Facebook and Twitter) has made it easy to post to the web.....even this blog is a little difficult for me to keep up b/c it has to be thought out and takes time, however in the fbook/twitter world, micro-blogging is the buzzword. Micro-blogging is all about very short updates (140 characters of text) and grainy pictures from your cell phone camera. In other words, there is no expectation of quality with posts to fbook and twitter.....its James Joyce meets the internet - stream of consciousness at its finest.

Second, if I had more time in my life, I would do a much better job at documenting my personal and family history. I would take the hours and hours of video tape I've bee taking since my first child was born in 2000 and put it on a computer so I could easily view it when interested. I would also like to take the documentation of some of my family history that I have been eliciting from my mother and father over the last few years and put it in a very accessible place, as opposed to buried in a Word document on the hard drive of my laptop. Point is, this is interesting to me. In this too-busy world of mine, I spend far too little time on this kind of activity and that is something I've wanted to change for a long time. Facebook, particularly the mobile photos, gives me a new and interesting way to document moments in our family that are some small part of our overall history. I am able to do this with no material investment of time, simply as part of the various activities done with my family each and every day. In other words, this aspect of social computing has allowed me to become closer to the family chronicler I've always wanted to be, within the constraints of my busy life.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, I am confident this generation of kids will live their lives in the open view of the internet on sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and who knows what's next. IMHO, privacy is dead in our world. This is unfortunate in many respects, but regardless, I believe it is a reality we all need to deal with at some point - on our own terms or the world's. Our kids will be out there on facebook and I hope they learn sooner rather than later, and without paying too harsh a price, that putting certain content in public view on the internet is not a good idea. Job recruiters have been talking for a while now that they immediately check out potential employees' facebook accounts prior to hiring. Our kids will need guidance from us in this, just as they need leadership and discipline from us in every other aspect of life. If my generation (approaching 40 quickly) doesn't use and truly understand what's going on in Facebook, how can we provide this guidance. Yes, I have pics of my kids on Facebook right now - my oldest will be 9 very soon. In a few short years, she will have her own Facebook account. My little girl and at some point all her siblings will be out there in the cold, cruel world that is the internet. My job is to prepare them for life and the internet will be a big part of it. I want to really know what is going on there and am immersing myself in the online world to do that.

Based on the pics of my kids on my facebook account and the other stuff I see on the 'net, it does not feel like I am creating risk, over and above what they face every day, of exposing them to pedophiles. And that risk does not outweigh the benefit of learning what goes on in Facebook and the similar online sites. If that changes, I will certainly re-think that position.

Part of the reason I haven't posted to my blog very much is the need I have to write something that will last and really think about it and didn't have the time to do all of that. However, I am starting to consider changing that. Previously, I would have really had to think about the post above and proof read it 5 times and shaped it over a few weeks. I'm done with that approach now.....the online world is moving too fast and I need to adapt to get my thoughts online. I have hit my time limit on how much I wanted to invest in this post. If something needs to change in this article, I will make the changes and re-post. Ha! the beauty of the online medium!!