Tuesday, December 28, 2010


If you do anything with Final Cut or the Adobe Suite of products, you must follow Richard Harrington.

His tutorials are top-notch.

Disclaimer: He's a coworker of mine from the 90's. I still admire his work.


Monday, December 20, 2010


A side project has pulled me away from both this blog and all social media for the last three weeks. Something had to give.

But to make social media- and marketing in general- work, you have to be consistent. Blogging once a day, yes. Once a month, no.

So do as I say, not as I do.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cheap Or Frugal

Barry Ritholtz has an excellent example from his past of frugality that ends up costing the firm money.

I agree with his post completely. Watching the pennies is good, but being cheap towards your staff will only bite you in the end: opportunity costs, tough recruiting, lower productivity, and finally higher replacement costs.

Pinch pennies cautiously.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The best part of great customer service is that it is often transparent to the customer. They don't know how it happens, they just know it happens.

Like a great restaurant, there can be all chaos in the kitchen, but as long as everything is smooth int he front of the house the customer goes home happy.

This can require a lot of very unsexy work to build back end capacity that is well tested and engineered. The folks working "in the kitchen" have to be team players, willing to set their egos aside to ensure a quality experience for the customer.

It sounds so easy you would think everyone would do it- which is exactly why it is so rare. It is presumed to be both easy and free (or at least cheap), when it is quite hard and involves some amount of cash flow to be successful.

When margins get tight, you know exactly what gets cut first: the things the customer may not experience directly, but keep the whole thing moving forward. The result is a leaner operation that can do the job 80% of the time, and probably drive better numbers int he short run. But in the long term that 20% failure rate will chase away all of the customers who are discriminating enough to know the difference between what you used to give them and what you do now. Ironically, they are the customers you need the most.

But you increased margins for a couple of quarters. Bully for you.


Monday, November 1, 2010


I'm a heavy rss user, mostly through Google Reader. I find reader a very easy tool to use.

But it's missing one function: an easier way to "Mark as Read" everything that is unread across all of my rss feeds. There is an option to Mark As Read for each rss feed, and its has some function: items older than a day, items older than a week, etc., although I think that's too coarse.

What would really help me after a weekend off the grid or a couple of days at the office when I've been deep in the weeds would be a function to let me Mark As Read everything, globally, in one action, with finer degrees of choice: 12 hours, 24, 48, 72, etc.

Or just let me clear out every single feed in one click, so I can start with a clean slate.

I understand that much of the joy of Google products is in their simplicity, and that trying to add "one more feature" leads you to monstrosities like Office, but these doesn't seem like a slide too far down the slippery slope.


Update: Reader Mark points out that I am one big pile of FAIL.

If one views their feed under the "All Items" view, one can then has the same Mark As Read options one has on the individual feed level.

I never had a reason to use the All Items view- that has big benefits. Hat Tip to Mark.


Thursday, October 28, 2010


Mistakes get made. How a leader reacts to mistakes has a long term effect on her group.

An over reaction can suck all of the initiative out of a team in a mere moment- initiative and creativity you may have spent months or years trying to build up.

Before one reacts, assess what the appropriate response is. Then dial it back. You will probably get more from less.


Monday, October 18, 2010


My work mobile was recently switched to an iPhone. Can't comprehend why Apple is able to charge the premium they do? Usability.

It's a little detail like this: If you are listening to music on headphones and a call comes in, the music doesn't stop, it ramps down in volume. When you answer, it pauses, and once you have finished your call, restarts and slowly ramps up to the previous volume. They didn't have to build it that way. The audio could have just stopped and started.

Someone at Apple sat and thought about how a user would experience a transition like that, then asked for a few extra lines of code to make the transition seem more integrated, more designed, rather than just a transition between two functions.

The list of things the iPhone doesn't do is long. But the things is does do it does really, really well. Thus the difference in price.


Monday, October 11, 2010


Who decides what should be your priority- you or others?

Are the priorities focused on moving the organization forward, improving workflows, increasing value to the customer and the firm? Or just getting things done so you can move on the next thing to get it done?

When you manage by the crisis of the moment, everything starts to look like a crisis, and nobody is thinking about where the firm is going long term.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


There is nothing wrong with designing a workflow with multiple fail points if the fail points help create products with high margins.

But don't act surprised when the fail points eventually fail. They will. That's why they are called fail points.

You have two choices:

A: Tolerate the high failure rate and enjoy the high margins.
B: Lower the failure rate and accept lower margins.

You can't have both. They are usually diametrically opposed.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Being creatures of habit can limit our ability to think creatively.

If you are a part of a standing, regular meeting, try sitting in a different seat, preferably one normally occupied by someone else. Enjoy the awkwardness when that person enters.

If its your meeting, insist that everyone sit in a different chair each time. Don't let anyone get to comfortable with the status quo, in either the meeting or the office in general.

The status quo is your enemy.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The US government is proposing a streamlined fuel economy sticker for new cars which would include a big graphic grade of each specific model: A, B, C and D.

Auto marketers could easily use this grade in their ads, conveying so much information in a tiny visual space. Picture a Prius "wrapped" with an "A" sticker. place it in the corner of every print and TV ad. You get my drift.

There would also be a market for window stickers of the grade your car gets, mostly "A" stickers, the automotive equivalent of "My Kid is an Honor Student".

You could also do a brisk trade in "D" stickers for those who are proud of how much fuel they use. You know the type.

Two self-selecting groups of car buyers, easily labeled by letters.

Time to make some stickers.


Sunday, August 29, 2010


Everyone has had to work on a project that was a bad idea from the start. But since the Bad Idea was championed by Someone Important, the group had to spend time and money to prove it was a bad idea.

Perhaps there was a kernel of a good idea within it that could be sorted from he ashes of failure, but that's an expensive way to get to the Good Idea.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Good Idea that you are afraid to try because it hasn't "Gone Through Channels" or "Been Reviewed by the Idea Committee".

Do it anyway. Be your own champion. Even if it doesn't work out, you will be setting yourself apart as someone who is willing to take the right kind of risks, and they are the people who get promoted.


Thursday, August 26, 2010


The city recently repaved a section of street near my office. The revealing part of the process was what lies below the asphalt- century-old brick pavers, still solid and even. The asphalt above eventually fails due to weather and traffic, but the base remains solid, easily reused for another generation.

A good friend works in IT at a large insurance company, and he jokes that I could have lifetime employment if I was willing to work in the sub-basement writing COBOL. Despite decades of improvements in computers and the languages that run them, much of the guts of this company still operates in the language from the 60's. The decision was made long ago that it was cheaper to keep a half-dozen COBOL staff around to maintain the base system than to try to port the entire, now massive, system to something more modern.

Windows 7 still has bits of DOS under the hood.

My office life displays relics of earlier processes. I still have paper forms for some things. Some things are more convenient on physical paper than online. I still shoot video on tape because I find it much easier to archive than other formats.

But some of the systems I use need to go because the base isn't solid anymore. Nobody delivers a hand-drawn piece of artwork as a rough draft, or a script scribbled on a legal pad.

Metaphorically, we still structure many of our workflows for old methods. Do we still need seven layers of approval? Do we all need to meet in the same space for 40 hours a week? Would 20 be enough? 5? do our old titles still matter? Do we need titles? Is a formal chain of command still necessary?

Are you standing on pavers? or something else?


Monday, August 23, 2010


Have you backed up all of your current projects? Probably.

Do you save projects once they are completed? Odds are that your archiving routine is spotty or incomplete.

Right now I am rebuilding a project from six months ago because I didn't save a copy of the deliverables in a high quality format.  I am getting off easy, though, because I still have all of the elements lying around- but this is forcing me to reconsider how I have been doing things in the past, and form new habits moving forward.

Could you easily recreate a project from your past if asked? I suspect the cost of a robust archive is recouped in only a few "Hey- do you still have this?" requests.

Back to my rebuild.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lowered Expectations

Sometimes a company can impress you despite your first impression.

I buy shoes at this place. They have nice staff. They know what they are doing. They are considered experts locally. Their service is super.

But their website is like a flashback to 1994. Or rather, they built the website in '94 and have never done a redesign to bring it up to modern technological or aesthetic standards.

While a business that still rings up sales on an old cash register (Cha-Ching!) can appear quaint and nostalgic, an outdated website suggests cluelessness.

It lowered my expectations as a first time customer.

While the 'retro' website may be an in-joke for regular shoppers, how many potential sales are chased away?


Monday, August 16, 2010

Capital vs. Marketing

Marketing expense begins where capital expenses end.

You can buy an office chair at a Big Box store for $50. It will do the job.

You could buy an office chair with style and greater functionality for $500. It will probably do the job better.

The $500 chair will also give signals about how you view form, function, comfort, attention to detail, and so on.

The first $50 could be viewed as a capital expense. You needed a chair.

The next $450 could be viewed as a marketing expense. You intentionally spent extra to buy a chair that had better form, function, and so on.

A visitor can then expect that you care about form, function, and so on, and not just using the easiest, cheapest option.

What does your chair say about you?


Friday, August 13, 2010

Keeping Your Stars

A happy little thought on a Friday: Your best staff are probably looking to leave.

The Great Recession has been tough on careers, assuming you have been able to maintain yours among the layoffs. There is pent-up 'departure demand', workers who have delayed advancing in their fields either by choice or by circumstances.

In other words, your best staff are probably working on exit strategies. The moment the job climate improves and they see an opportunity, they are going to take it.

Are your going to save your response until your most talented staff starts to defect, or are things you can do preemptively to keep the wanderlust to a minimum?

Will increased present costs (if any), save you costs, both financial and opportunity, in the future?


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bad Concepts

Everything John talks about in this post is spot on. Too little time is spent up front thinking about the point of what you are doing, and whether its worth watching.

If nothing else, follow the link to the Windows Launch Party. Painfully forced and bad.


Off The Grid

I just returned from a short Holiday "off the grid". Nothing too drastic, but a few days in a place without cell phones, Internet and cable TV resets one's sensibilities.

I'm always surprised how quickly I don't miss being connected.

My brain wanders around when I step away from the daily panic, too. It looks past its normal three-day time horizon and starts asking bigger questions. It considers new paths, new workflows, new content. I enjoy the ride.

At times I wish I could fully shut the office out of my head, but at the same time I am reassured that it is peculating on my mental back burner. I often return to work with a page full of notes and questions, which I then annoy my co-workers with for a few days. 

"Why do we do it this way?"

"Have we tried this?"

"What about....."

While I may unplug technologically, I guess I never completely disconnect.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Brilliant Marketing

This is great stuff.

It works on so many levels, too.

(Design Fetish is one of my favorite sites, also.)


Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Once your project is up and rolling, a serious landmine is "mission creep". Increasing the scope of a project from what was originally planned can wreak havoc on both the calendar and the budget.

The hardest part of managing changes in scope is recognizing what requests can be accommodated-  changing the color of the GUI shouldn't be a big deal, changing the GUI itself is- and which ones are deal breakers.

Defining the limits of the project to all the stakeholders at the beginning can go a long way in producing a project that everyone is happy with.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Seldom Too Much Planning

My current project is suffering from too little planing on the front end, which is making it expensive on the back end.

I am amazed at how often this happens.

The cheapest part of the project is the planning phase. It involves a limited number of people and hardly any materials, so the cash costs are few, yet most projects spend too little time in this phase. For some reason it doesn't feel like real work, or something that is to be endured rather than as a crucible to refine the project before the first egg is broken.

You wouldn't begin building a house without first knowing exactly what each room is going to look like, yet jobs routinely begin with at only a napkin sketch of the finished product. While this can be successful, the odds of big cash costs and emotional trauma are large.

In short, I'm not sure I have ever worked on a project that was over-planned. I definitely willing to find out.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Another solid business book from my library is Jim Collins' "From Good to Great". I'm hardly the first to write about it, but for me the success or failure of feedback loops comes down to one thing: The feedback.

I've found organizations have tremendous difficulty evaluating their work and deciding how to improve it. The crux of the problem is that it can be hard to deliver criticism, even when correct and deserved, without it becoming personal. It is hard to pass judgment on work without our feelings about the person or department coloring the comments, thus making it personal criticism. Yet we often equate our jobs and our work with our self-worth, so when our work is criticized, we internalize the criticism. The coin has two sides.

But honest feedback is the beginning of improvement, if the individual and the group are able and willing to move forward. Placing blame must be avoided, and the focus must be directed on preventing the problem in the future. What caused the failure? A myriad of factors, including: Lack of training, resources, communication or direction. Any can create problems down the line, and must be ferreted out.

The inability or unwillingness to ask why something happened ensures that a similar problem will occur again. Every organization can be great, but most lack the intestinal fortitude to take the first step, break some eggs, and be honest with everyone involved.


Monday, July 5, 2010


One of the bloggers I follow asked what business books his readers found important. My first choice is Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. Yes, it's a book about running a baseball team, but its also a book about business.

What Moneyball really focuses on is the value that individuals bring to their organization. Lots of talented people are undervalued by their organizations because they are not flashy or do the high profile work, but their efforts bring greater value to the company, dollar for dollar, hour for hour, that the best paid staff.

Your organization is probably overpaying for the flashy help, too. Dump them and cherry pick two undervalued staff from the shop down the street.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fail Points

Every system has Fail Points- they are unavoidable. Nobody, from the corner malt shop to NASA, can afford to engineer every single fail point out of a system. The key is to put them in places they are least likely to do damage, and are easily monitored and accounted for.

I recently visited an organization that had inexperienced, just-above-minimum-wage staff at the beginning of their process. The green staff was then tasked with generating product at a very aggressive rate. While management loved the margins on their products, as labor costs were very low, they couldn't understand their big variance in quality. The front-line workers also struggled to keep to the schedule, costing the company both cash costs in overtime and opportunity costs in production delays.

A giant Fail Point had been placed at the front of the production line- the process clearly exceeded the staff's ability to produce a quality product. The result was that high skill (and high-wage) staff further down the production chain spent time fixing the quality issues that were initiated by the cheap, inexperienced staff. But in a classic "garbage in-garbage out" example, not all of the issues can be fixed down the line. The garbage is baked in.

Customers notice the varying quality of the final product. These inconsistencies will always limit the products potential in the marketplace, especially compared to its peers. The long-term growth of the company is hindered, too.

But the product delivers a fat margin, so everything is fine, right?



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Theater of Work

Airlines sometimes refer to staff as either "Front-Stage" or "Back-Stage" personnel.

Translation: Some personnel the customers see and interact with, some do the behind-the-scenes work that make flying the experience what it is. (Please save your jokes for the comments)

Perhaps our experiences with the service world would be different if everyone viewed their work not as a transaction but as a show, a performance, a bit of theater.

Perhaps your workday would be different if you approached it as entertainment others sought out.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Managers often confuse "Lean" and "Agile". In athletics they are often similar. In business, they are opposites.

A lean business does one thing really, really well, with steady volume. There is no extra staff, facility or capital. A hot dog stand is lean: One guy and a cart. He can make money as fast as he can complete an order and exchange cash. If 12 people show up at once, Hot Dog Man can still only complete one transaction at a time, so 11 customers wait.

An agile business is the opposite- it actually has extra capacity this is sometimes unused. Restaurants don't use all of their capacity in the afternoons, but that's when staff are prepping materials for the evening rush, washing dishes, wrapping silverware,etc. When customers start arriving the staff moves from prep to driving revenue. When customer traffic slows later in the evening its back to the "non-revenue" activities that have to be done to later drive revenue.

But just as Hot Dog Man can't serve 12 people at once, the restaurant can't approach the degree of lean Hot Dog Man enjoys. Each has accepted it's trade off: flexibility or simplicity. High fixed and variable expenses vs. low.

You can't do both. The expectations of your customer will define which way you need to set up your plant.

Or rather, the kind of customer you wish to attract will determine if you need to be lean or agile.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Of all the things you do in your work life what do you think you are best at?

What do you think you are worst at?

Does your thinking match what your boss thinks? Your coworkers? Your vendors?

Ask them. You might be surprised what you hear.

Then get busy maximizing your strengths and fixing your weaknesses.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Viral Video

Successful viral video has some entertainment value. If you can wrap your message or marketing pitch around it, all the better.

This has high viral potential.

Heck, the only reason I found it was a friend posted it on his Facebook feed.

OK Go may have sold an album to me. Mission Accomplished.

Its an idea that should be at the core of everything we do- entertainment first, message second. Otherwise, nobody is going to watch, or read, or listen.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010


My takeaway from the Toyota situation is the trap that infallibility can be.

For a couple of decades Toyota has been praised for the results of its engineering and production systems. Writers, analysts and  business leaders of all stripes have examined Toyota's processes and philosophy in the hope of achieving similar results in their organization. Most fail.

But that amount of positive feedback can build a sense of being infallible, that ones engineering is failure-free, that your systems will detect every problem before it is a problem. It can breed a culture that has a hard time accepting that the process might be generating errors.

This is not to defend Toyota, as it is clear that they have some engineering issues to work out. There are allegations that choices were made that were good from the financial view, but not the best from the view of the customer or the public at large.

Toyota finds itself at a rare moment. It can open itself to close scrutiny not only by the public, the press and government, but also to itself. Every step in the process of design and manufacturing should be open to change, to work out problems. Where in the system do problems rise? Can anyone, regardless of rank, point out a problem, or must it "go through channels"? How quickly are problems declared problems, and are they solved?

We all have processes, and we all regrettably produce errors. How quick are you to identify the source of an error? How quickly is it fixed?

Stay busy.


Sunday, February 7, 2010


I have had a run of projects that have a surprising number of questions unanswered at the start- things that would become expensive changes down the line.

Every industry has it complexity, but there is just a dizzying number of options in a video edit. With the news that using a checklist cuts down on surgical deaths, I imagine that using a similar, standardized format can reduce confusion, delays, overruns, and most importantly, looking like you don't know what you are doing in front of the client.

A checklist would be doubly beneficial for the sales department, who are usually long on enthusiasm but short on technical knowledge. In the excitement of a new sale, it would be very easy to not ask the important questions that the technical staff will need to know. What format is the project being shot on? By who? What are the deliverables? When are they due? Who gives final approval?

This doesn't have to be a twenty page legally binding document- projects always change a bit from beginning to end. A simple one or two sheet summary of the important details will answer 95% of the questions, and will hopefully cut down on the email loops one gets sucked in to.

What would you put on your checklist?


Thursday, January 21, 2010


Today's SCOTUS ruling that corporations and unions can inject as much money into political campaigns as they want has an upside for our industry: lots more political TV ads will be made, and millions more political TV spots will be purchased.

Since business has deep pockets and an ongoing interest in pending legislation, perhaps the "political cycle" income at TV stations will flatten as ads are bought year round and in non-election years, too.

I expect to see plenty of "Paid For By The Chamber Of Commerce" taglines in my future.


Sunday, January 17, 2010


The client doesn't care about how hard you or I might find the jobs they give us.

They do care if they have asked us to do something that is expensive or time consuming, especially when there is a cheap or fast equivalent.

If you and your client have a good long-term relationship, you will tell them of the cheaper, faster alternative, and even if they don't choose it, telling them will cement your partnership.

If you have a bad relationship with the client, or view each job as an opportunity to squeeze as many dollars out of the client, you build up the easy and cheap to appear hard and expensive. You view the truly hard and expensive not as the opportunity to develop a new skill or be a hero to your client, but as another boat payment.

In business, bad relationships don't last long. If most of your relationships with clients are bad, neither will you.


Thursday, January 14, 2010


I am forever in awe of those who bring us images like this.

My work today seems unimportant in comparison.


Monday, January 11, 2010


Personally, I'm surprised The Prime Time Leno Experiment failed.

My assumption was that an hour of Leno was so much cheaper to produce than an hour of anything else, the total profit would be higher even if nobody watched it. I didn't factor in a station revolt.

The Leno Fail is good for everyone working in TV. It's a reminder that you can't just roll out anything and expect people to watch, and there is still demand for the scripted series- which means many more people will have work compared to a talk show.

I hear the laptops clacking away.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Maximum Annoyance

One of my local broadcast stations is in a retransmission fight with the local cable company. (I get my locals off of satellite, so I don't have a dog in this fight.) I was watching a football game in HD when I got a rude surprise.

The local station ran its crawl reminding us that if you were watching this program through cable, you might be losing access in a few days. Fine- that's their best weapon in this public war. But how they did it stunned me.

To run the crawl, master control had to switch the HD feed to SD. Every time. For 2 of every 10 minutes or so. In other words, A LOT.

That's where these public fights go bad- the collateral damage like me. Because I, an innocent bystander, got drug into the fight, I now think the station owners are:

A. Jerks.
B. Technical dorks for not having an HD crawl
C. Surprised that they haven't set up a direct feed to the cable company so they could isolate who sees the crawl.

This is customer service at its worst- making your user experience as bad as possible as leverage in bargaining.

The station will win this battle, they always do.

But they are losing the war for viewers with tactics like this.