Sunday, December 4, 2011

Moving On

This blog is now closed- you can find the musings of The Button Pusher at

Thanks for reading, and we'll see you on the other side.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


We're beginning a shift away from blogger and to Word Press, so we'll be on hiatus until the new site is up and running.  More details when we have them.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Goals That Match

This post at Startup Models is on point, especially the ideas of A. Paying commissions when the cash arrives, not when the deal is signed and B. Making sure the sales goals are in line with what is good for the company.

A story from a Supply Chain friend that is an example of B gone bad:

My friend gets hired by a fabric company to figure out what is wrong at a plant that takes in white cotton fabric at one end and ships out printed fabric from the other. The problem is that truckloads of fabric are rotting and molding in the Southern heat before the fabric can be brought into the plant for printing. Millions are being wasted annually.

But the printing plant is running 24/7. Supply Chain friend sees nothing wrong with the printing plant- it's at full capacity, using good workflows. The problem isn't there.

So my friend visits the plant up the road that makes the fabric which then rots in the parking lot of the printing plant. It, too is running 24/7, cranking out fabric as fast as it can. Fabric Weaving Manager is surprised that Printing Manager is having problems getting everything printed.

The problem? Fabric Weaving Manager was only evaluated on how much fabric went out his door. What happened to it down the line was none of his concern. He was being paid a giant bonus for weaving more fabric than the rest of the supply chain could manage. Waste of raw cotton, waste of fabric, waste of cash. The company thought it had the right incentives in place (High Output = Big Bonus), but the incentives had too narrow of a scope- the one plant. If Weaving Manager was paid based on output AND the profitability of the printing plant down the line, he would have incentive to weave the amount of fabric the printing plant could handle, rather than weave 24/7.

One well-intentioned goal resulted in expensive losses. Incentives need to have multiple factors to avoid unintended results.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I think the Netflix spinoff Quikster is an example of taking a business model too far. I understand the instinct to try and separate the business units, especially when one is growing long term (streaming) and the other will fade away (DVDs through the mail). But Qwikster is only going to confuse and tick of current customers. Netflix has done a brilliant job of making itself the go-to destination for entertainment, and users (like me) actually liked the deep catalog of content. I didn't really care if I had to wait a few days for a DVD to arrive if it was the only way of getting it. The wait was a fair tradeoff for the selection. Now I will have to go to a separate website for DVD content- giant pain. I realize businesses have incentives to chase off lower-margin customers, which DVD viewers surely are compared to streamers- but this is perverse. Consumers like the bundle. They don't care that the local cable company has TV, and internet, and phone- but they like one bill and one tech support number. Netflix is going the other way. While Qwikster makes sense on paper, it will hopefully be a disaster in reality. But given the lack of good alternatives, I will experience the Qwikster disaster first hand. At least I'll have much to blog about.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Some suggestions for the start of your week from Kneale Mann: I'm off to do suggestion #2.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


I shake my head every time someone is surprised that putting three layers of management between the client and the person doing the work leads to an outcome unlike what the client had imagined. Let the worker bees talk directly to the client. It's faster, reduces the conversation in general, and makes the client happier because things get done the first time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Failure As Normal

It is easy to grasp the idea of "Failing Quickly": to push yourself or your product into new places, which reveal the areas that need improvement. The hard part is dealing with the failure itself. It's no fun. Embracing something we instinctively avoid feels odd, awkward, strange. Yet it is necessary, as it peels back the veneer we place over everything we touch to get at the gooey messy middle. It's where the growth come from. But to stand over your failure and passively analyze it as a dispassionate observer takes tremendous courage, courage more easily directed at more trivial things. The good news is that careful study will lead a positive feedback loop, steady improvement, and less pain when examining the latest failure.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Some jobs require a degree from an institution that gives some hint at the work you are capable of. A lawyer from an Ivy will get a higher starting salary than similar lawyer from average public university in part because the Ivy will be expected to generate more work, at a higher rate, than the average. That may or may not play out over time, but that's the theory. But many careers lack certifications. My career path long ago stopped being about where I went to undergrad and is now all about the work I've done, with whom, the revenue it has driven, etc. Many are crossing over from photography and print, using their unique skill sets to make the marketplace more varied and interesting. Few care if they went to an Ivy or are self-taught. Credentials are fine, but at the end of the day the question is: "Can you do the work?"

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


On some level we all improvise our way through our day- we make the little decisions that get tasks done and keep the organization moving forward. But that is improvisation on a micro scale.

To expect your group to improvise its way to success is madness. Point the way. Success doesn't just happen. Improvisation on the macro scale only leads to chaos.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Disaster Stories

The past weekend was fascinating for weather nerds not directly in the path of hurricane Irene. I enjoyed watching how the various news outlets covered the big story of the weekend, especially all the new toys that news divisions can deploy in situations like this.

I saw interesting live shots sent via cell phone. Tours of flooded neighborhoods from a moving truck. Reporters at one live shot having conversations with reporters at other live shots. Lots of newsgathering techniques that were not options a few years ago.

But I could see the times when the channels were in love with how they were delivering the news, but paying less attention to what they were saying. When the meteorologist is trying to show detail on a weather map, the viewer doesn't want a split-screen showing roaring surf or a flooded street- show the dang map. Don't get cute.

At the same time it appeared that most of the stories making it to air were the ones that could be told from the tether of the satellite truck. There were multiple crews scattered around Manhattan, each stationary, giving their tiny bit of the picture. It was both illuminating- live shots from the middle of the storm!- but also hard to get the big picture when all the network could do was cycle around from one live shot to another, waiting for each situation to change.

When new tools come on the scene it is easy to mistake telling the same old story more cheaply versus telling new stories, stories you couldn't really gather the old way.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Engineering Fun

This week's Flyover Effect podcast discussed an idea that is too often overlooked in the development of pretty much everything: Fun.

I often see a "lack of fun" in software- the program that was built to do a specific job well, but has an interface that is ugly, complicated, and hard to use. All of the build energy went into making the features work, but zero thought went into the person who has to use the thing.

A corollary: If users of your software have a bunch of sticky notes on their monitors to help them with their work, you need a redesign of the UI.

Fun design encourages a user to explore the software, not run from it as soon as the task is completed.

This carries forward into every product and service. If something is pleasant to deal with, people will do more with it, and thus spend more money. If something is hard, difficult and unpleasant, it will be avoided.

Too often businesses can't step out of their own shoes to view how the public interacts with them, and thus can't make the changes needed to up the "Fun" quotient. A lack of fun holds them back.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Client Types

This was written in 2006, but it still nails the difference in client types.

Your life will be easier the better you get at avoiding grinders in the first place.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Sometimes clients are best served by recycling their old content.

While those on the production side would prefer to create (and bill for) a spectacular new project involving helicopters, marching bands and a dozen different effect shots, that may not be in the client's best interest. They probably have something on the shelf that can be freshened up and reused.

Taking the long view, purposely create marketing content where the beginning and end is created for each new use, but the center- the heart of the message- is static and consistent for ever audience. Both parties win: The client gets value out of creating one great package, yet retains the flexibility to shape the message for each new audience, while the producer gets a steady stream of small updates as new uses are found.

Take the long view for both you and your client.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Design By Intent

I highly recommend this thought provoking read about Design By Intent.

The series of cards in the pdf each have examples of design that isn't simply nice to look at, but improves useability (in most cases).

Lots of things to chew on.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Website FAIL

I encountered a website today that was a double FAIL.

I had to dig around to find contact information, and discovered multiple 404 link errors- in the store of all places.

Despite professional design and technology, not having things buttoned up scared me away. Sale lost.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Order Of Work

There is a big difference between processes that happen concurrently and those that can only happen consecutively. Planning for events can often mistake the two, and scheduled get crushed as a result.

In simple terms, two people can butter bread and slice cheese at the same time (concurrent), but you can't cook the grilled cheese until all the parts are ready (consecutive).

Every project had points where things will slow down until a key point is passed. Plan for them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pay Status

There are a few clients who require special rules, based either on class or experience. Politicians and political parties are a very special case.

Due to the nature of campaigns- cash is tight, the demands are high and timelines short, and they tend to fold up shop the night of the election (if not sooner)- the wise ask for half up front and the balance before the product is handed over. This means literally holding a tape hostage until you have payment, ideally something that acts like cash.

An audio friend of mine once had to keep the podium mic at a live event turned off until he had cash in hand. The candidate was about 20 feet from the stage, about to speak to the crowd, before the envelope appeared. The mic was turned on, the event was great, the client was happy, and later apologized for the drama. Had my friend not held the line, odds were high that he would have been stiffed. Campaigns have little loyalty to their vendors.

I once spent a day shooting for a Presidential candidate who eventually stiffed my boss. The candidate dropped out of the race before our invoice got paid. That's a hard way to make a donation to a campaign, especially if you are not a supporter.

Trust most, but some just have to pay cash.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Archiving of assets from finished projects can be annoying and time consuming- but can save hours when a client asks you to rebuild something for an update, a new distribution channel, or just the need for another copy. Minutes spent archiving content can save literal hours in the future, let alone the cost of recreating something from scratch.

I've been reminded lately to be more dilligent in my archiving process. One missing tape is driving me batty.


Thursday, August 11, 2011


Cliches are cliches for a reason- there is a grain of truth to them, and they are used to reinforce users impressions of a group, place or experience.

But they are also insulting to both the viewer and those being portrayed.

My personal example: Every political event leading up to the Iowa caucus must involve some visual agricultural image: tractors, livestock, straw bales, cornfields, etc. All of them. Even when the imagery it is ridiculous.

I once witnessed straw bales trucked in for an event in downtown Des Moines to be strategically placed on the lawn of one of the world's largest financial services companies in order to reinforce what the campaign believed was everyone's image of Iowa and Iowans.

It was the equivalent to staging a hundred Mob Goons as background for a political event in New York. Or a hundred suits yelling into their Blackberries. Or 50 yellow cabs caught in a traffic jam. and so on.

Worst of all, cliches are lazy because the don't require any thought by the creator.

Don't be lazy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


We forget what a joy it is to work on a well-conceived project with the proper resources behind it, until we work on something half-baked with no budget.

I would love to see the video equivalent on Iron Chef, where participants are given 30 minutes of lousy footage, no script, and given a period of time to make something entertaining. The results would be varied, but the process fascinating.

You can't fully judge someone's work without knowing how far they had to carry it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Giving It Away

I'm old enough to remember when patrons would be hassled if they tried taking pictures at any kind of theatrical or musical performance- it was just universal.

Things have changed. There will still be shows that ban it- but today there is a much more enlightened thought process around recording of performances. A friend tweeted last night about taking a gazillioin pictures of a show at Disney with his new professional grade rig. Its the kind of camera that would have been confiscated ten years ago, but is now encouraged. Disney realizes that my friend is going to show his cool photos to all of his friends, and will be some of the best marketing they could buy. Their only "cost" is letting my friend's stills out into the world.

Granted, if my friend tries to make a buck of those stills the Disney lawyers will be all over them, as they should be. But both sides understand the value of letting users create and share content derived from your original performance, as it becomes win-win.

Let your users play and share.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Everyone's effort rises and falls, often to match the level of crisis that's in front of them. Big effort to get the project out the door needs to be rewarded.

But when big effort comes from within, because someone wanted to improve an already approved product, deliver ahead of schedule, or just to see if something could be done- effort like that needed to be celebrated in whatever way that person finds most rewarding.

To ignore big effort begins a negative feedback loop that lowers productivity, breeds cynicism, and increases turnover as your best people bail in search of an environment where they feel valued.

Who around you is giving big effort? Do they know you've noticed?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thinking About Design

I've become a big fan of "The Flyover Effect", a podcast hosted by the staff at BitMethod.

Their discussions of design, UI and the general usability of life are always enlightening.

Subscribe, and dig through the archive. Lots of good thinking in there.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Do The Work

What Drew Said.

Somethings you just have to do yourself.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

User Education

I noticed the lid to the jar of Natural Peanut Butter I ate last night had this little tidbit:

"Oil separation is normal. Just mix back together and enjoy!"

In other words: "It's not a mistake- it's how you know you're eating the good stuff".

If your product has an aspect that appears to be an error, but is really a feature, educating the user can move beyond eliminating a perceived mistake and move towards a signal of quality.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Second Life

Our new media environment allows for unprecedented recycling of content. With so many channels to fill, content can easily be used in multiple places without too much overlap of audience. This raises the stakes for making quality content rather than lowering it.

I hear too often the call do a project on the cheap because it's "only for the web", even though a successful web segment, if pushed to multiple channels, can have as much viewership as a high profile "non-web" project. Just because the viewership comes further down the Long Tail doesn't diminish the value of those views.

Because online content has multiple lives the effort should be raised because you never know where the content is going to show up down the line. What if by chance it does go viral? Do you want your best work out there, or something you just threw together?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Prima Donnas

Genius talent often carries baggage. Sometimes being really great requires mental wiring that is just different from the rest of the general population, but sometimes it comes from being coddled and pampered in order to continue the production of genius.

But the baggage can easily outweigh the benefits of the genius. At that point a negative reputation is formed, potential work is lost, and a career declines prematurely and for unnecessarily. Genius is wasted.

Everyone needs a jester on their life, the person who is always allowed to speak the unvarnished truth, and keep the genius in check. Without it, genius can become a burden rather than a blessing.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Tempation Of Cheap

I've worked on many projects where I had to overcome someone's decision to go the cheap way, yet when starting my own projects I'm tempted to go the cheap way.

The profit margins using cheap inputs can be enormous.

Yet those cheap inputs and methods create standards and expectations, which future clients and colleagues will measure you by.

This isn't about being expensive- its about being on the good side of the value equation between you and your client. Even if their budget is $50, you deliver (in their eyes) $51 of content. Going the cheap route too often delivers only $45 worth of goods- and eventually the client will figure it out.

In the long run, being known as "the guy/company/organization who does things on the cheap" will cut into future profits.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


If you really want to know what your organization thinks about you and your skills, give yourself a lousy self-review.

Your supervisor then has two choices- A) argue that, no, you are a great employee, or B) agree with your lousy assessment and leave it at that.

It may be one of the few times you get honest feedback from your review, even if you have to read between the lines.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Scale Of Enjoyment

I've long suspected that the pricing of books and music backwards.

Most books are only read once, yet are often priced north of $15, $25 for a hard cover. Books are a great value when you divide the cost by the hours of entertainment that book provides, but the initial cost can be steep.

Music, however, strikes me as absurdly cheap, even at $12-$15 for a full CD. If that CD turns into a favorite, you will play it dozens of times over its life. I have a few recordings that I am sure I have listened to over one hundred times. My marginal cost per listen is somewhere around ten cents.

If anything, the pricing should be reversed: cheap books, expensive music.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Death By Slide

No slides is infinitely more interesting that using bad slides.

There's a special place in hell for those who read bad slides to their audience.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Understanding Your Audience

The problem with having a stock presentation is that is doesn't take into account your the knowledge of your audience.

Beginning cooks are not going to enjoy a talk on the nuances between the differing genus of nutmeg. Professional cooks are going to walk out on your presentation on how to boil pasta.

If your audience already knows who your group is, move on to the problems that you see in the world and how you are trying to solve them.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


There's an old joke about a patient complaining to their doctor that they are not as happy as the people in the ads.

Making people feel insecure about their present choice is good in the short run, but I think bad in the long run. When your product doesn't deliver unending bliss to your customer, they are going to grow cynical about your next message.

Set reasonable expectations for your customer and the odds of them coming back go way up.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


An interesting post from an interesting guy: Innovation Occlusion.

Worth the read. Sometimes having too much cash leads to actions that are good in the short run, but bad in the long.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Removing Critics

We all have a layer of critics in our professional lives- those who stand between our art and the customer, the client, the end user, who try to tell us what the client wants, or what will be too scary for the client to accept.

It's a lot faster to go straight to the client and see what they think. You remove the filter and get their honest reaction. It's easier to explain what you hand in mind, what you think your art does for them, and they can tell you more honestly if they agree. The give-and-take is faster.

The product is probably better, too.

Monday, July 18, 2011


A friend of mine who is a doctor explained that medical school got a lot easier once he realized that medicine is about pattern recognition. Med school focuses so much on the small percentage of cases that are actually, seriously sick that those instances jump out at you in the real world. "Normal" is boring in its normalness. Once you are able to recognize the patterns, it becomes easier to focus on the needs of the patient and ignore the ordinary variability of life.

That why exceptional people and exceptional work jumps out to the trained eye- you see enough great work and you are able to separate the great from the mundane. The hard part is keeping your diet of high-quality whatever at a level that it keeps your senses sharp.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The Bit Method podcast The Flyover Effect has an excellent episode discussing craftsmanship.

I can only hope that the Bit Method crew would define me as a craftsman.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I've been reading "Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World of ESPN", and I've found it to be an interesting book, with some caveats.

The book is for insiders, as much of it focuses on the management who are invisible to viewers. Who made what decision and why is a heavy emphasis, so those looking for crazy Chris Berman stories will have to suffer through long stretches of dealmaking between anecdotes.

With a background in media and business (and as a very occasional freelancer for ESPN) I've picked up interesting bits all the way through. One is inescapable: ESPN is very good at making money on every project, which is something we can all learn from. Develop multiple revenue streams, price events properly, control costs, and market like crazy.

Example: The NBA subsidizes coverage of WNBA games because there is no viewer interest in them, thus no advertising interest. On the flip side, NCAA Women's basketball pays its way through advertising, because there is an audience, thus ads can be sold. Understand what your audience wants and doesn't want. Make everything work.

It also helps to have operations in a cheap town like Bristol, CT, where you can pay your staff less and they have fewer opportunities to jump to another job.

Doing everything you can to produce a quality product goes a long way, too.

Even a billion dollar operation like ESPN relies on the basics.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I have a busy back half of the year already on the calendar, so I'll be taking the next three weeks off from the blog to finish some long-delayed projects, get myself organized, and squeeze in some R&R.

In short, I saw a window of opportunity, and I'm taking it. If you have the chance to do the same, you should.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Know Your Presenter

Excuse the political message of this piece- watch for three things:

-Simplicity of message. A bunch of complicated ideas are boiled down to easily understood bits;
-A clarifying visual is used to illustrate each one;
-An understanding of who the presenter is, and what his strengths are.

"The Truth About The Economy in 2:15"

Robert Reich is 4' 10", but you have no hint of that in the video. The camera is below his eyeline, making him appear tall. The easel is at his height, keeping the perspectives right. He is well lit, and uses a mic so the audio is clear.

He also has art skills- which provides the visuals that move the piece along. The whole thing is well crafted.

Too often we allow our messages to be overwhelmed by the details. Step back, look at the big (possibly cartoon) picture, and simplify.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I'm working with a busy, talented vendor who does great work. The biggest drawback is they struggle with communication.

A work request goes on their To-Do list, but they can't or won't estimate when it will be finished. The work is brilliant when it comes in, and deadlines are met, but the awkward silence during the development process can be disconcerting. You have to decide whether the level of work is worth the silence.

If you do awesome work and your dance card is full, you can let customer service slide. Most of us don't have that option.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Time For Each Tool

We have a universe of communication tools at our fingertips, but I see little consistency in how they are used.

How I like to operate:

Twitter: Great for general broadcasts, but you can't be hung up on who will and will not see it. Too much is outside your control.

I hate trying to have a private conversation via Twitter DM. Too little space, too easy to broadcast the private to the public.

Email: Much better for specific information and thoughts longer than 140 characters. Odds of your email message being seen? Pretty high, especially if the person you are emailing wants to hear from you.

Phone: Gotta know something right now, or i know a two minute call will replace a twenty email chain. Get the answer already.

Skype: Better than physically traveling, but often just a phone call with pictures.

Facebook: Not for work communication. Between you and customers, sure, but not between you and vendors or colleagues.

For both of you who are trying to get a hold of me, you now have the ground rules. Your mileage may vary

Monday, June 13, 2011


We are all too close to our work, and things slide by.

I just noticed a typo on this blog that had been there for months. How embarrassing.

But I brought it on myself by not asking a friend who is good at that sort of thing to take a look at the blog and help me rid it of the mistakes. I assumed my work is solid.

Solid is not bulletproof. Get someone to ride shotgun with you.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Occasionally I start projects too quickly.

Just dive in, head first, let's get to the fun part of creating.

As a result, sometimes I go rushing past the important foundations the creative is built upon, and end up backtracking to make things right. Time and money are lost. I feel like a dork.

I see this on large projects, too. The group rushes to get things built without fully fleshing out what the end needs will be. Costly adjustments have to be made on the fly. Time and money are lost.

The concept of premortem is appropriate for situations like this. At the start, the team visualizes all the ways the project can fail, then attempts to mitigate the various risks. The chances of success rise as a result.

The end should always influence the beginning.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


I love sarcasm and snark in general. Guilty pleasure.

But it can also be a barrier to others, and I have to pick and choose when I roll it out. You have to understand whether those around you are going to get the joke the way you intend it.

Understanding sarcasm requires understanding the context behind it- without it, the joke is lost. Self-deprecating sarcasm can come across as arrogance, which will immediately separate one from their listeners.

If everyone is in on the joke, it can be wonderful. Anything else will be awful. Use sparingly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


It doesn't apply to every workflow, but there is tremendous advantage to doing work in batches.

My work often arrives in bunches, where I will have 10 individual projects within one big project. There are a variety of ways to attack the work.

Some would do Project A start to finish, then dive in on Project B. If each project is different or requires customization, that's the best way to go.

But if each of project is a variation on a theme, or 90% similar but get painted a different color, batch all the work except the painting. (I would paint all at the same sitting, too, but you see where I'm going.)

Even though I'm reasonably good at each of the steps in my workflow, I notice that I'm better at each step if I do all of the action in that step at once.

This can be expanded lots of work that we often do on an individual basis, especially if we generate content. I often write a week or two worth of blog posts in one sitting, and let the software ship a new one each morning. I scribble notes during the week, then sit down and write, often on Sunday night. I feel that my writing is better, and that I do it in less time. When I add more content streams to my professional life, I will develop a batch method to them, also.

I've also cooked multiple entrees on a Sunday afternoon, then reheated each night during the week. I cook when I have the time for it, reheat when I don't. One big kitchen mess beats five little ones.

Some things don't lend themselves to batch work- like mowing the lawn. Batching my writing and cooking lets me mow when the lawn needs it, not when it's convenient to me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Have you ever watched someone spend 20 minutes scrolling through the Netflix menu looking for something to watch? You can almost hear their brains freezing up at the options.

In this case the "cost" of making a bad choice- losing an hour to a film you don't like before giving up- is almost zero, yet the endless choices raise the perceived cost. With so many choices, the "perfect" bit of entertainment must be there, so anything less may be perceived as a failure.

The restaurant menu gives your options, but also your limits. We need the limits to begin to narrow our choices.


Monday, June 6, 2011


I'm assuming the term "Rolodex" has gone out of fashion, and thus we need a new term to use.

As in:

"Do you have a good accountant in your Rolodex?"

The question is both literal and symbolic. I need a name from you, but I trust your recommendation.

"Address book" and "contact list" doesn't have the same cache. Submissions please.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Off The Grid

It doesn't have to be "off the grid" in the literal sense, although it helps to divorce one from the electronic tether back to the office, but unplugging from the daily info stream is an important part of my mental processing.

I've found my productivity has bumped up a notch simply by turning off email notification. The steady "Ping" was enough to drag my workflow down during the day, while simply checking in once I've finished the task of the moment is quick enough to satisfy everyone on the other end of the email. One or two hours of steady focus is drives far more value than instant response to queries.

In a similar way, turning off the electronics for a day or two and doing anything else- a nice walk, a chapter of that 500 page book you've been working on, a chat with your spouse- brings more focus to the job wen you return on Monday than stringing it out mentally all weekend.

Summer is a good time to develop the unplugging habit. Start tonight.


Thursday, June 2, 2011


I'm the first to admit that there is too much to know today.

Too many software tricks to cram in. Software updates that come at you too quickly. Changes in tax law you must account for. A client list that needs constant nurturing. The new hot social media platform all the cool kids are talking about. The app that is turning heads. A Kindle full of interesting ebooks, a mailbox full of trades, an RSS feed with 500 updates a day.

Plus a family that wants to say hello on occasion.

Editing the list of demands becomes more important each day. Prioritize, delegate, lean on the specialists in your contact list. Hiring someone to do something in 2 hours that would take you 10 is probably money well spent.

Nothing insightful here- just a reminder that we all have reason to feel overwhelmed, and that it's okay not to know everything. You can't- but be sure to admit it.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Eating Frogs

There's a school of thought that if you do the thing you dread the most first thing in the day- like eating a frog- you get the dreaded thing off your plate and the rest of the day seems easy.

There's a good plan, but what if the thing you need to do first is something you actually like to do?

If you come in early because you are eager to start, is it still a frog?


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thank You Notes

It sounds like corny advice from your mother, but I have been reminded twice this past week on the power of saying thank you to those who you depend on.

It doesn't have to be big, elaborate, or expensive, but sincere and delivered in an appropriate time frame.

They carry more weight than we really ant to admit.

Start writing.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Top Shelf

Being really good at what you do has two advantages:

If you are in a crowded space, being the best grants you some separation from the commodities, and allows you a price premium.

If you are creating a space, you will automatically scare off competitors as they can only compete on price. Claiming the top end makes the whole category less attractive.

Being really good might be more work than being a commodity, but there are greater rewards in it.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Advantage Through HR Competency

Thirty years ago Michael Porter wrote about how companies can gain competitive advantage through every part of the company, including HR. Excellent HR starts with its ability to recruit and retain talent, and appearing to have your act together goes a long way.

In other words, don't send an email telling an applicant they have advanced to the next round on Friday, followed by a flush email on Monday. It doesn't leave the best impression, and makes an applicant question the competency of the whole operation.

Little things can carry enormous weight.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011


A friend sent me a link to a live video stream of a conference he had gotten on his corporate website. He was very proud of it, as it required changing many policies within IT, finding funding to pay for it, and convincing the conference operators that a live stream would be good for their event. The stream represented several firsts for his organization.

The stream also looked like streams I had worked on- back in the 90's.

There is often a gap between a first for your group and a first for the industry. My friend was making the mistake of promoting a first for his group as some kind of cutting edge service. Since his perceptions didn't match the perceptions of the market, he appears a bit clueless. The better message would have been to not mention that the stream was a first for your organization, but simple tell the interested that it was available- since they may have assumed it was anyway.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I spent some time at an expensive boutique hotel last weekend, and enjoyed both the stay and watching the place at work.

Waiting for a friend in a side lobby I was able to watch the staff tidy up after a social hour. This was more than the cursory pick-up-glasses-and-wipe-down-tables exercise. Each chair had an exact position to return to, as they were as much a part of the architecture as the windows and doors. Most were moved, then checked, adjusted, and checked again before moving to the next one. The staff took their work seriously, and they were meticulous.

This required two things: staff who were willing to be extraordinarily diligent, and the time to be diligent. You must have both.

The room only took about 15 minutes to fully reset to its perfect default, but could have been done in 5 if clean was the only goal. Some would think that's a poor use of manpower, taking three times as long to do everything as the minimum, building inefficiency into the system.

I suspect for that hotel, serious margins come mostly from those inefficiencies.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Follow Up

I followed a sponsored link to a product that I was interested in, looked around the site, and inquired through the provided link on the price.

Nothing. No follow-up. I was 80% sold, but now I will continue looking.

If you aren't prepared to follow up on leads, why advertise?


Friday, May 20, 2011


I wish there was a way to put college Freshmen in actual "This is what the job is like" situations to weed out those who aren't going to like the real job four or five years later.

If you don't like calling people up to ask them a bunch of questions, you should get out of journalism.

If you don't like heavy math, engineering or finance probably aren't for you.

Often finding a career you like involves learning what you hate, then eliminating related careers. Choose from the remaining options. Too many of us (including the author) learned these lessons well after college.


Thursday, May 19, 2011


I always chuckle when I hear local economic types are putting all of their chips on bringing in an office for a Fortune 50, with, say, 100 jobs.

Yet for the same effort and no travel, they could help 10 local companies add 100 jobs total, jobs that are hard to lure away with lower taxes or cheaper labor or other such carrots.

Businesses often put lots of effort into bringing in the new client, while taking their current clients for granted. The low hanging fruit can be harvested, or at least nurtured, with a phone call.

Start close, then work out.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Marginal Improvement

Every product category has several price points, and at each one you get an improvement in some factor: quality, design, useability, durability, prestige, etc.

Few of us have the budget to enjoy the best of everything. Instead, we pick and choose, sacrificing here to indulge there. Ramen noodles for dinner in exchange for expensive coffee in the morning.

I find I'm seldom disappointed in buying the higher quality product, and they have a lower cost of ownership over their useful lives than cheap things. The hard part is determining what items will really be of value to me long-term.

One yardstick is good design. I find that companies that put a lot of thought and effort into good design of the product and packaging have probably put the same thought and effort into everything. The odds of it being worth the cost go way up.

In a crowded market you have to eliminate options quickly. I start by pushing the ugly choices off the menu.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I'm all for keeping current updates on your home page, and pushing upcoming events where users can learn about them.

The key word is current.

A notice of an upcoming event that is 10 weeks old only tells me that you aren't really paying attention or you don't care.

Whatever bits of marketing you choose to do, do them all the way, or don't do them at all. A few things done well is far better than a bad scattershot approach.


Monday, May 16, 2011


If a member of your staff pulls something out of the proverbial fire, you should thank them.

If you are the one who started the fire on accident, you should buy that person lunch.

If you started the fire on purpose, committed a bit of workplace arson, and yet you don't have a flake of soot on you, well, we both know who now has the power in the relationship.



I understand the need for pre-roll ads before web videos. I know we'll need more of them as we move forward.

But the timer on the video player should play down, not up, while the ad runs. Knowing the length of the delay makes it far more bearable to our brains that to watch a running tally of how long the delay has been.

I suspect a test with each style of timer would result in a dramatic difference in bounce rates.

Make your site a pleasant experience in every way possible.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Trying to wring every last nickel out of every single deal may feel good in the moment, but is a long-term losing strategy.

At some point the person across the table will decide that regardless of how wonderful your widget is, the process is too painful to continue.

Pick a margin where you both win, then calculate the five year value of that relationship. That's the number you should be focused on.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


As humans, we don't like to change much. We relish our routines. Since we're prone to doing the same thing again and again, we self-justify why we make the choices we do.

If I eat lunch at the same place every Tuesday, I will quickly understand the range of deviation in my experience at The Tuesday Place. The more trips, the more I can explain away a bad lunch, because I have so many more positive lunches to balance against it.

In other words, it only takes two or three consistent experiences to lock in, for better or worse, where you will live in that customer's mind.


Monday, May 9, 2011


We all have those things that we happily pay a premium for.

The well designed product that does more than promised. The vendor that always pulls off your ridiculous request. The barista who asks "The usual, Pete?" when you get to the counter. You perceive value above the price premium you pay, and as long as you continue to find that value, you will happily continue paying extra.

The hard part is finding ways to deliver that level of value to others. It's often more complex than learning customer's names and regular orders.


Friday, May 6, 2011


A National Park Ranger once told me his biggest problem is hikers blazing their own trails. The new trails are not to explore unopened country, but rather to create shortcuts. Thousands of people go to great lengths of time, effort and money, only to make their hikes as short as possible.

There is a reason people cut corners- it's the shortest path in the near term, the less expensive, and involves the least amount of physical or emotional pain. We're wired to avoid the difficult and gravitate towards the easy.

But the easy is usually expensive in the long-term. Rework, replacement materials, being unprepared physically and emotionally, lacking the right tool for a job- all of these are symptoms of an earlier shortcut.

Resisting the shortcuts is sometimes the biggest success of your day because of the rewards they yield in the future.


Monday, May 2, 2011


You never have perfect information. In the end choices are educated guesses based on past experience and input from those you trust.

You weigh your options, then you go. In my book action is better than inaction, because you will at least learn something along the way.


Friday, April 29, 2011


Some things are bought because of what they are. Some things are bought because of what we think they will make us.

There's more margin in the latter.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Seeking vs. Finding

There is a difference between searching online booksellers for the best price on a particular book that was recommended to you, and walking into a bookstore not knowing what you will walk out with.

Most of our modern lives are built around the former, but many of the joys we experience come from allowing something interesting to find us.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Everyone has lulls in their workflows- periods where the volume slows down a bit. While its nice to stop and take a breath, its also a great opportunity to look at your back-burner projects.

Make some calls. Schedule some lunches. Take the online tutorials you've been meaning to learn.

The key is to always have things on the back-burner list, so when the opportunity presents itself you have lots of ideas other than "Cruise Facebook". You need a plan for the slow times, too.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Does your website have your email and phone number at the bottom of every single page?

Why not?

Yes, it will generate more calls and emails- from people who probably want to do business with you.

It may be worth your time.

To go even further- do you have an FAQ that's easy to find? Is your menu of services up to date? If visitors like your offerings, is it easy for them to download the paperwork they need or use your shopping cart mechanism?

It seems obvious, but almost daily I encounter someone who has made the buying process hard for no good reason.


Monday, April 25, 2011

The Soft Middle

Of the group who use your product or service, there is probably a sizable subgroup that doesn't choose you over the other guy as much as they allow others to choose you for them. It's why some marketers place such a heavy emphasis on "influencers". They drag many others along for the ride.

When you are on the good side of the influencers, things are dandy. Fail a few times with the influencers and you lose not only their business but those who pay close attention to the things they do. Much is at stake.

Do you know who the influencers are? Probably, but you can never know the full roster, especially those who are coming on the scene.

Its best to treat each customer as if they have a hundred future transactions in their pocket. You just never know.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Everything To Everyone

The Postal Service has painted itself into a corner by setting expectations too high.

For over a century they have delivered the mail to every home in America, six days a week, at extremely low cost.

But the drop in mail volume has resulted in deficits, so we, the taxpayers, have a choice to make.

- We can accept that daily mail delivery is something we believe adds value to the economy and our quality of life, and absorb the costs into the Federal Budget;

- We can insist that the USPS run itself like a business.

- A hybrid of the two.

Running the USPS like a business will mean some combination of the following:

- Mail delivery only a few days a week
- A surcharge, say $100/year, if you want home delivery. Picking up at a box would be free.
- Closing of thousands of post offices in Rural America
- The price of a stamp doubling or tripling
- An end of flat-rate postage. Every item will be priced by weight and distance.
- Extra fees if you want Saturday service of any kind.

I'm not advocating any of these ideas, and we will probably see some of the service cuts and surcharges rolled out, while deficits continue to be the norm. Deep down everyone likes the service USPS provides, but nobody really wants to pay for that level of service. But the USPS created this situation by being Everything to Everyone, and now none of their options are going to be popular.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Does the menu on your website match the menu in your store?

Think beyond food. Does your website say you do tax work, when you also do financial planning? Are the phone number and address current? Are they at the bottom of every single page?

Is it easy to find you, and know what you do and don't sell when i walk in the door? The customer who has researched you is probably in a buying mood when they walk in. Don't disappoint them by no longer selling something they saw on the website.

You do have a website, don't you?


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Two Sides Of Buying

Seth Godin suggests that big companies make the buying process "screamingly inefficient"- too many layers of approval, endless meetings, and so on. He believes that when you make a vendor an ally you both benefit.

Yet I've read multiple annual reports over the last five years where the purchasing department has been praised for beating up vendors and reducing overall costs. When everything you buy is viewed as a commodity, price is all that matters. But its not. Are you being sent the best quality product? Does it get shipped to you on time? Do you have to pay top price for service as a penalty for demanding a low unit price? Does the added time spent negotiating justify the discount?

It's easy to view negotiations as a zero-sum game, but not if you look past the deal you are negotiating today.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Short View

A friend was recently asked to sign a non-compete agreement by his employer. It insists he cannot do similar work for anyone else within a 50 mile radius.

This is short sighted on many levels.

First, my friend doesn't do work that would involve "trade secrets". He is unlikely to lure clients away if he moves to another local firm.

The real reason for the contract? The employer has a retention problem. Staff use his shop as a stepping stone to better opportunities. Hiring has become an expensive part of his business.

Its a problem a non-compete isn't going to solve, either. This retention problem is usually self-inflicted, yet there are no signs of a willingness to try and fix it. the shop will continue to struggle until it does decide to change.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Now Comes The Hard Part

Our digital age has unleashed boundless knowledge.

Virtually everything known to man can be found with a quick search for free or a nominal cost. It's all there for the taking.

Half the work- the gathering of knowledge- has been done for us. We no longer have the excuse of the Public Library being too far away or closed for the day.

But that leaves the hard part, the actual reading and digesting and applying of that knowledge, to us.

Fortunately most of the big excuses- distance, expense, and other barriers to entry- are gone. All you have left is "American Idol is on" or something equally lame.

Get busy. Your life will be richer on the other side.


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Tyranny Of Free

A friend recently complained that the online streaming music service was becoming unusable because of the ads they run to pay for it.

There is a simple solution to her "problem"- buy a subscription to the service. In her case it would cost $36. A year. Given the number of hours she uses the service, the per hour cost would be negligible. Yet she prefers to complain about the inconvenience of two minutes of ads per hour, which is about 10% of the ads on terrestrial radio.

With so much free content on the Internet, we have a hard time adjusting to the idea of paying for something we value, even if that cost is small. It's the great weakness of the freemium model- delivering enough value to open the checkbook in a world of free alternatives.

I've now subscribed to my friend's service because I think its a bargain.


Thursday, April 14, 2011


If you are a life-long GM buyer, its going to be really easy to sell you another GM, and really hard to sell you a Ford.

Its not just habit. Confirmation Bias selectively chooses the information that confirms what we already believe to be true, and ignores information to the contrary.

That doesn't mean you can't sell a Ford to the GM buyer, but its going to require an inordinate amount of resources to make the sale compared to a current Ford buyer.

Keeping your current fans happy should be your first priority.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Selling College

Colleges have to spend lots of money on amenities because they need something tangible to sell to students.

You can't really test drive a college or take home a sample. Comparing the quality of an education between two institutions is hard and highly subjective.

But if one school has shiny new dorms with fancy features, you draw some conclusions compared to the other school that hasn't modernized in thirty years. The comparisons may be unfair and incorrect, but you draw them anyway.

This explains why much of the spending on campus is going towards facilities not directly related to teaching. Its what sells the place.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Buffet

When you order an entree, the kitchen staff tries to put the best possible experience on that plate for the price you are paying. Your expectations are limited to what is on that plate.

At a buffet, the goal is to put out a lot of low to medium quality food, and your goal is to eat enough to feel you got your money's worth.

The value equation switches from quality to volume.

The same thing has happened in cell phones. Once, usage was billed by the minute, so competition was as much on quality and range as on price. Telcos has incentive to upgrade their networks to attract users.

Now with bulk pricing and essentially buffet data plans, we use as much bandwidth as we want, and the telcos give us the minimum level of service that will keep us renewing our contracts.

The buffet plan has won because we prefer to use our phones without having a meter running in our heads, but our level of service has probably dropped. That's exactly what we told the telcos we wanted, too.

Just good enough won.


Monday, April 11, 2011


I've been told I'm a good navigator for car trips because I give emphatic instructions at the right time.

But telling someone to turn the car is one thing. Its another to turn it yourself.


Friday, April 8, 2011


The biggest expectation signal in a restaurant comes from the menu. Is your entree going to cost you $10? $25? Is a price even listed? Your expectation will then rise or fall to meet the price given.

While an unmarked entree had better be amazing, deliver amazing and you can charge almost any price.


Thursday, April 7, 2011


I took one of those shuttle vans from La Guardia into Manhattan a few weeks ago, and noticed the oddest thing- the van didn't have an EZ Pass transmitter. It paid for its trip through the tunnel with cash.

I assume this van wasn't an occasional user of the tunnel, but rather that it went through a toll booth of one kind or another multiple times a day. Yet it wasn't using the tool to make the trip a tiny bit faster. Odd.

The message it sent to me was: We don't care about your experience with us. You chose the cheap route, we'll treat you like crap.

Sometimes the low end solution can get away with that.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


A friend once worked for a brilliant Big Picture Boss. BPB had a new genius idea every three days, and would excitedly explain it to the staff, expecting it to be implemented into the current product ASAP.

The result was near chaos. Initiatives were begun and quickly shelved to make room for The New Idea. Staff never knew which way they were headed, and never committed much effort to The New Idea, suspecting that it would be dropped before they got it up to speed.

Eventually BPB was managed out of the company because his product wasn't developing in the way management had expected. His lack of focus doomed his career.

Idea generation is great- but it must be contained. Limit the new projects to a Skunk Works within the group, and don't let the New Idea derail the products that pay the bills.

Most importantly, have a sense for which ideas will add value and which would just be nice to have.

Lack of focus can kill a vision.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dying Industries

This list of fading industries has been making the rounds, and the analysis has been interesting.

My take on three: Technology has effected them in ways you don't expect, as newspapers, video production and photo finishing have now become DIY jobs for all of us.

With newspapers, we have become our own editors, deciding what topics and what sources to gather from. We have one customer: ourselves.

With video and images, the tools have become so cheap as to be ubiquitous, and our expectations for DIY so low that most of what we do is "good enough". Some argue that a business owner doing his own video work is more "authentic" than having a team of professionals come in and make something that's broadcast quality.

I'm waiting for the chart of growth industries so I can look for corners that are in need of innovation.


Monday, April 4, 2011


Purchases are often succeed or fail for arbitrary reasons.

Perhaps the customer couldn't find a parking place they liked and moved on. Or they hated the clerk with the untucked shirt. Or they liked talking to the pretty girl at the counter. Or your store is next to their favorite lunch spot and they passed through on their way to their car. Or they expected a cheap commodity and found rare quality instead.

You can only worry about the factors you can control, and mitigate the risk of the things you can't. Focus your efforts.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Old School

Drew has a great post and slide share about the functionality of Yahoo Groups.

It has some advantages over the Google suite. I like the ability to create a mailing list for the group.

Sometimes the mature tool trumps the new tool.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Feedback Loop

The most important part of having feedback from a customer is the chance to learn if you are offering what they want. That's different from selling them what you have.

Almost every retail store asks at the checkout "Did you find what you were looking for today?" Sometimes they actually listen, sometimes they shrug. I suspect that stores that are successful over the long haul are the ones that listen and take notes.


Thursday, March 31, 2011


You will never be perfect. Neither will your work, your kids, your spouse.

So stop freaking out at every little error. Build systems that reduce errors, yes, but don't allow the fear of errors to draw your vision too far inward. We often use the first error as an excuse to throw up our hands and quit. "I can't be perfect so I shouldn't try". What a waste.

When running down a hill, looking at your feet, trying to place each step will almost guarantee a fall. Keep your head up and pick your path down the hill- your feet will amazingly take care of themselves and find a place to land. Will the Russian judge hate the aesthetics of your run? Yes. So? Your goal was to run down the hill.

You win.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Information Sets Expectations

One thing I miss from the analog days at the public library- the due date stamps in the front of books.

Besides telling you when your book was due, it also told you in direct terms how popular the book was in your community. This popularity information also set a certain expectation for the book- if everyone was reading it it must have value on some level, even if it is only entertainment. If the book was from a deep niche, it could confirm both the obscurity of the subject and also validation that a few others shared your love of that niche.

A nearly empty due date sheet hinted that you were freeing a seldom read book from the shelf, and whatever it held inside would remain, even after your reading of it, a closely held secret experience of a select few.

Knowing the Amazon rank of a book just isn't the same kind of information.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Leverage of Baggage

By charging for every checked bag, the airlines have changed the relationship with their customers in unexpected ways.

The game is now to avoid checking and getting as much into the cabin as possible, which has led to comical scenes of travelers like myself trying to change the laws of physics in the overhead bins.

But once the passenger carries a large bag through security, they have some leverage. It is in the airlines interest to get as many bags in the belly of the plane as possible. Often passengers can simply "gate check" their bags- as their boarding pass gets scanned a gate check tag is attached to their bag, which they leave at the end of the skyway before boarding. The bag goes in the belly with no money changing hands. Passenger wins.

On my last flight I witnessed the following exchange at the gate:

"I'll give you a drink coupon if we can check your bag."

(Clearly and experienced traveler) "I'll check it for two drinks and the snack box."


Coupons were exchanged, the bag was checked. Experienced Traveler then enjoyed two drinks and a box of random snacks while the his seatmates (including me) nibbled their peanuts and drank their sodas. E.T. used his leverage- a checkable bag- to increase the quality of his flight. Well played.

Changing the rules has unintended consequences. In this case turning gate agents into Monte Hall. Probably not why they got into the business.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Recomendation

I was given an eBook to review last week, and boy was it worth the time spent:

"How to Market A Business" gives you more information.

The book discusses the skills to look for in a marketer who will deliver results, and there the skills you need to develop to become one yourself.

I will be reading the book a couple more times and taking careful notes on the way. There is just too much good detail to ignore.

Buy it at the usual locations.


Friday, March 25, 2011


HBO subscribers can now view HBO content via broadband, including the archives (Yes, that includes the Sopranos). But only subscribers can sign up.

This is a smart and natural extension of the HBO brand, and should be the model for other premium services.

I'm not surprised that Showtime is not renewing its licensing deal with Netflix for legacy content- they feel it cannibalizes their other revenue streams.

But at some point your legacy content will have outlived its shelf life, and Netflix will be the last available revenue stream. Everyone who wants to own "The Larry Sanders Show" or "Band of Brothers" on DVD probably already has it.

The good news for content creators is that there is revenue all through the long tail. The hard part is finding the right delivery platform for each package, and pricing it fairly for all involved.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Joy Of The Moment

I was riding my bike through a park on Sunday when i came upon a father-son rocket launch. As rocketry favorite hobby of mine as a kid, I stopped to watch.

Dad held the switch and the son moved about 100 yards downwind for the recovery. WHOSH! The rocket jumped up about 200 feet, launched its parachute, and floated to the ground near the son.

Hours of labor went into construction, planning for launch day, and the event itself. Yet the flight was only 15 seconds, maximum. But the 15 seconds were so much fun that all the hours were justified.

It made me want to order a rocket kit and get my kids involved in the hobby. (Some of the models are still for sale 30 years later.)

Many of us have a similar experience at the office. The occasional moment of joy somehow justifies hours of the ordinary.

At least with rockets you know when the payoff is coming.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I've been using Kindle for Mac to read some eBooks that don't exist in print, and I have discovered a setting that I really like. I call it "Isolation Mode".

It's best described as Full Screen Mode, but it has some extra benefits for me: It blocks out everything else on the screen. No clock, no page numbers, nothing. Just you and what you are reading.

On of my weaknesses is that the competitive corner of my brain, once it is aware that I have finished two-thirds of a book, wants to crash through the remainder as if I am racing someone to the end. Comprehension doesn't matter, Being Done does.

Without page numbers, or the horizontal progress bar, or even the feedback a physical book can deliver keeps the competitive streak at bay, allowing me to focus on the ideas in the book. That's a huge bonus for me, but probably wasn't an intentional design consideration.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011


While on the road last week i passed through the Delta terminal at La Guardia. Much of the grief airlines receive is earned, but I did notice a bit of intelligent planning to meet traveler needs.

Amongst the ten gates that are clustered together is a kiosk with eight telephone receivers. The phones have no buttons- when you pick up, the phone dials an operator somewhere. Out of curiosity, I called.

(Side note: the kiosk also has a shelf and power strip on either end for the charging of your various electronic devices. I charged my cell phone while talking to the Delta rep. Smart.)

The Delta staff was very helpful, and answered my question about how many frequent flier miles I. The kiosk seems designed for when a flight gets canceled and a hundred people need to talk to a service rep right now. But that's the key- service capacity was put in place to be used only at moments of high demand. Its free and easy to use. No hunting for the 800 number on the Delta website. Just pick up the phone and call.

Its the same philosophy as putting your 800 number or email address on every single page of your website. Don't make your customers hunt for it- put it out front. They may never use it, but knowing they could builds a lot of trust in the transaction process.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I'm on the road to work with some fun people on something that hopefully is interesting. No posts for the rest of the week.

Do something great with the time saved.


Monday, March 14, 2011


Perhaps the hardest part of getting a customer to try a new product is getting them over their fear- fear of a bad experience, fear that someone will make fun of them, fear they will be ripped off.

There's a psychological reason why franchise businesses do so well. We all form a minimum expectation with each one, based on past experience, and they are designed to consistently reinforce that expectation. That's why the brilliant Mom-and-Pop may struggle next door to the mediocre chain. In most minds, the reward of a fantastic discovery does not exceed the perceived risk of a bad experience with the unknown.

So the mediocre chain survives and expands. Thus is the struggle of any new product or service.

The problem isn't being brilliant once a new customer in the door- it's getting them out of their comfort zone and through your door for the first time.


Friday, March 11, 2011


When the reality of your customer's situation falls below their expectations, you've got a problem.

Fortunately, if they choose to interact with you again, their expectations will be lowered as they come in the door. Perhaps you can meet them and try to cement the relationship.

If they come back in.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Single Size

Trying to speak with one voice has another down side: A One-Size-Fits-All message doesn't really fit anyone. The small group it does fit finds that its been so watered down as to be immaterial, so they ignore it.

Your carefully crafted generalist message has done nothing. Congrats!


Wednesday, March 9, 2011


When deciding how much to pay somebody, there is a fine line between fair and cheap.

Cheap is the right choice if the relationship is to be short term.

Fair gives you a much better shot at building a long-term relationship.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011


The explosion in ways to communicate electronically is both good and bad news.

The good news is that you now have dozens of ways to communicate with your consumers. The bad news is that those dozens of channels have to be filled. The days of printing a brochure, mailing it out, and waiting for the phone to ring are gone.

To further complicate things, each channel's message needs to have a different feel even if the overall message doesn't change. Your eNewsletter will be a different read than your Twitter stream.

Each customer will receive your message in the ways they prefer, too. The user on your email list may never go to your Twitter feed. Plenty of customers will still want to read a physical brochure before calling in.

You no longer have one audience, but dozens. Stop speaking with one voice.


Monday, March 7, 2011


Group dynamics are always fascinating in the first person. When everyone is interested in all viewpoints around the table, the task at hand can wander into some original and unconventional territory.

Its also helpful when the only comments given push the conversation along, and aren't just efforts to feel like part of the gang.

Moments like this require a careful dance by all involved. You want to find the creative solution without meandering into a sidebar that isn't relevant. Staying within arm's reach of the task is the challenge.

In many ways our work lives are vast stretches of ordinary with moments of collaborative alchemy sprinkled within. Those moments are something other than work.


Friday, March 4, 2011

The Scarcest Commodity

Clever elevates the ordinary. Exhibit A:

The top half is a good joke- but what's written on the tear off fingers is clever, and really makes the piece priceless.

Clever is exponential creativity.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Group Dynamics

I work in an industry that frequently uses ad hoc groups to get jobs done. Bring in a dozen freelancers, assign tasks, go.

I've noticed that group dynamics play a heavy role in the success of a project. The right mix of skills and personalities can elevate everyone's talent. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

But one bad attitude can ruin the mix. The job becomes drudgery because nobody wants to be there, and things get rushed so everyone can escape. The final product bears the scars.

Facilities and technology can have the same effect. The right tools in the right space have the same uplifting effect that positive attitudes have.

When I'm hiring freelancers, personality plays as big a role as skills. I have a low tolerance for the Genius Prima Donna, as the attitude is seldom worth it. Few things are more soul-sucking than working with a jerk.

Focusing on the team improves the chances of success more than focusing on the task.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Blind Spots

We all have blind spots. The daily minutia hides bigger issues, and it can be incredibly hard to see the big picture.

An outside pair of eyes that you can trust to give it to you straight is under rated.

Everyone thinks their baby is beautiful, but statistically they can't all be.

An outside view is not optional.


Monday, February 28, 2011


Every project should have a post-mortem, even if its brief.

What worked, what didn't, how can the process improve.

The key: actionable items, with names attached. Bring the action items to the next post-mortem.

Without attaching names to actions, things don't get done.


Friday, February 25, 2011

The Value Equation

Costco succeeds because it has chosen to provide a lousy shopping experience.

The store has zero ambiance- it's a warehouse.
The selection is horrid, often limited to one brand of a product, usually in one size.
You can only buy products in gigantic portions. A gallon of ketchup, anyone?
The checkout takes forever because they is only a skeleton crew.

But the prices are so cheap that you accept all of the limitations. Happily.

Businesses that succeed make a similar calculation of what their customer's priorities are. Costco shoppers will endure all of the downsides to save money. Neiman Marcus shoppers value quality goods and insane service over price.

What part of business is your company choosing to do badly in order to deliver great value in another?


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gaming The System

Whatever the rules, someone always, always tries to get around them. Its part of our DNA.

The challenge in setting up rules is balancing the accessibility of the majority that is willing to play along, while still making it difficult enough to prevent the determined from gaining too much unfairly.

A return policy that is too generous will result in returns of used junk, but returns that are too strict will breed more bad will than the "savings" can probably justify.

But you have to draw the line somewhere. I will always be too generous, too lenient, knowing that cracking down won't chase away the determined, but it may chase away the high-value customer.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Maximizing Customer Reach

Retailers long ago discovered that consumers will buy large volumes of staples if the discount is enough to justify the "warehousing costs" of having 120 rolls of toilet paper on hand.

And Institutional Size packaging has long been a standard. Think 55 gallon drums of Tide for hotels and the like.

The new growth area in packaging is in the very very small. Households in "Bottom of the Pyramid" economies (previously known as "Third World") don't have the cash to inventory a weeks worth of groceries, so you can't discount a twenty pound bag of rice enough to make a sale.

But if you can build a system to deliver single use amounts of products- one meal's worth of cooking oil, a single shot of shampoo and conditioner- billions of consumers can improve the quality of their daily life while you extend your brand into places it was unknown or too expensive since it only came in 16 oz bottles.

Rather than make a dollar on one transaction you will make a nickel fifty times.

Too often we look at the size of the budget, rather than the willingness to pay. Can you meet each budget that is willing to pay?


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Subscriptions vs Ads

In general terms, the price you pay for a subscription to a periodical covers the cost of getting it to your door, but not what's inside. The ads pay for the content.

The problem in that as periodicals reduce the cost of delivery by switching to electronic versions, the value of their ads drops too. While delivery becomes profit (no real cost of pushing data) revenue drops on the ad side.

The result is a revenue loss, thus upsetting the model.

Creating content that's compelling enough to subscribe to the electronic version is the Holy Grail.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Leading From The Pole

The secondary product in a space is more likely to use low context, data driven, us-compared-to-the-leader marketing to try to gain share.

The market leader can talk about the things their product brings (freedom, luxury, attention, healthy lifestyle, etc.) without mentioning the product's features.

Think iPhone vs Android phones, or Honda vs. Hyundai. Both brands are similar (phones and cars), but both have distinctively different marketing approaches.

The market leader also has more leeway in taking the market where it wants to go. A bold sideways move by #1 is viewed differently than the same move made by #2. Its human nature. Which means #2 has to play it safer than #1.

Clearly its more fun the be #1.


Friday, February 18, 2011

The Going Rate

We pay babysitters $1 or $2 per hour over the going rate, and usually round up to a whole hour. The difference on a typical evening out is an extra $5-$10, which in the total cost of the evening isn't much.

Not surprisingly, we can usually find a sitter in two phone calls, if not one. (Text messaging is a great advance in babysitter scheduling. I swear the process only averages 7 minutes regardless of the time of day.)

I try to treat vendors the same way. They are much more willing to help me out when I'm in a pinch if I've been nice to them.

Constantly grinding everyone for the lowest price and most favorable terms is smart in the long run, but I suspect its expensive in the long run. Its hard to find help when nobody wants to take your calls.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Planning To Be Ordinary

I had a conversation once with a manager of a fast-growing start-up. It had a self-service design, which required a fair amount of training and hand holding of customers at the beginning, but became mostly automated once the initial learning curve was climbed.

I asked how the follow-up interactions were going once a customer was up and running.

"We don't reach out once things get worked out."

"Why not?"

"Because if we reach out once a week now, when we are double our size six months from now we'll only be calling once a month at best, so the customer will perceive the quality of their service has gotten worse. We can't scale service like that, at least not while we're growing."

Translation: Said Manager was planning on interacting as little as possible with his clients to avoid the impression of quality service, which may be construed as the company caring about its customers. Wouldn't want that.

The Manager was unwilling to scale staff to maintain a level of service, because he was looking at an automated cash cow, and exceptional service in the form of additional staff would ruin the margins. Wouldn't want that, either.

The start-up probably isn't going to make it for a variety of reasons- but I suspect the Plan To Be Ordinary didn't help.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Expected Way

We generally wander around with shockingly low expectation of the quality of our interactions. If someone manages to serve us without messing up the order and is pleasant to be around, we will spend days bragging about our awesome experience.

There's a lot of opportunity for anyone willing to build a system that can exceed our expectation of doing things "The Usual Way".

Yes, it takes thought and effort. Yes, it may cost more to be slightly above average. Great is more expensive still.

But I expect the returns exceed the marginal cost difference between "Usual" and "Great".


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Free Lunch

I'm always fascinated with people are presented with a free lunch- they are usually surprisingly picky. And the more expensive the free lunch, they pickier.

"What? No arugula is the greens? Who ordered this? And where's the organic balsamic basil infused vinegar to go with the oil?" That sort of thing.

These moments are very revealing to me- generally the folks who complain about a free lunch are those I don't like spending time with. Double that if I have to work with them.

Bitching about a free lunch can be very costly.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Visual Cues

I love shops that have visual reminders of where each tool should live when its not being used.

I do the same thing on projects, especially when using placeholders. I make them really ugly and obnoxious, which makes them easy to find as you revise later on.

Even something simple like using italics can make it easy to find the text you need to clarify later. You scan the pages looking for italics, rather than reading for content.

Understanding how you work allows you to develop tricks to play to how your brain processes information. Leave mental breadcrumbs scattered in the project to flag things that need to be fixed.


Friday, February 11, 2011

One Is Not The Other

Strategy is not execution.

You can buy strategy by the bucket. Execution, done well, is your most valuable skill.

Sell the execution, and throw in strategy for free.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Old Thinking

An office that has unlimited free coffee but not unlimited free fountain drinks is in a generational hold.

The marginal cost of fountain drinks can't be much different from the marginal cost of decent coffee, yet coffee is almost always an option, seldom soda. While you might think "the kids" are into fancy $4 coffee drinks, for many the caffeine delivery vehicle of choice is cold, not hot.

How many other office policies are signaling to the youngins that management is out of touch?


Wednesday, February 9, 2011


A little patience is a good thing. It's easy to drop something if you don't see immediate results.

But too much patience is probably worse than too little. Stagnation, rot, and financial losses creep in where something is given too much time to develop and doesn't.

If something isn't working like you had hoped, sometimes you just need to rip the Band-Aid off and move on.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Creative Time

True creativity needs time to ferment. There are not many instant formulas.

A process that allows for experiments to be made, for false starts to happen, will produce the richest set of outcomes over time.

Given a short amount of time to come up with something, the first reasonable solution will be used. In an individual situation, the result may be fine. But over a longer period, short creative windows will result in ruts and repeats, a body of work that is far less interesting than the alternative.

If your business model is delivering the same product to diverse clients, then you are probably a commodity with little pricing power, so efficiency is your hammer. Use it.

But if your business model is to deliver unique results to varied and diverse clients, you are going to need time to generate all the ideas that don't work to discover the ideas that are genius.

That takes time. Fortunately its more lucrative than the commodity product.


Monday, February 7, 2011


We all have details in our work lives that can suck up all of our attention. We mentally go thorough our To Do list and can forget who is on the other end of our actions.

But viewing each thing we do from the perspective of the user flips our day on its head.

Approaching each action of each day as an opportunity to serve someone else, to bring a moment of joy or surprise or pleasure, recreates the relationship you have with your To Do list. The order of importance may change.

If you are not bringing joy or surprise or pleasure, you may not be economically relevant very long.


Friday, February 4, 2011


Our biggest anxieties live in the shadows of our fears. When our daily lives push us into the shadows- well, things start to break down.

They key is understanding each of our shadows, and managing whatever lies within. Its the opposite of ignoring them.

But you elevate yourself to another plane when you are able to help someone alleviate their shadows, especially when their fears are triggered by something that happens to be a strength of yours. Assist them and a problem is solved.

We don't do enough of that in our partnerships. Long term relationships are not built on zero-sum victories, but on win-win. It sounds simple, but becomes hard when the negotiations start.


Thursday, February 3, 2011


The success of a group is probably closely tied to their understanding of the mission they are on.

The key isn't just explaining which way the group is headed, but why, how, and what rewards are at the finish for the members of the group and the organization as a whole.

I've been on too many projects where details are shared, but none of the big picture items that give the details context. Buy in jumps when everyone understands what the common goal is. The destination is secondary to moving towards the destination.

We are all willing to give great effort when we feel the effort is worth the result. When we don't know the result, efforts will be mixed.

Don't keep the direction a secret. We're not psychic.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011


While you can scale the size and scope of your capabilities up and down to match the needs of your client, you can't really scale the quality of the work depending on the client. Trying to scale your effort has long term implications.

We all have that extra gear we jump into when The Important Project lands on our desk, and the result is hopefully our best possible work.

But then what is our "regular" work? Just "regular"? What percentage of your work is "Regular"?

The hardest part of doing your best work all the time is that you have to fight human nature- we are hard wired to give the effort we perceive each job deserves. While that skill has served us well in the past, it can color how you are perceived by coworkers and clients in ways that nobody likes.

Reduce the amount of regular in your day.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Do you want to do something with your life that's different from what you are doing today? What is it?

More importantly, what steps would you need to take to get there?

Which step can you take today?

Begin. Now.


Monday, January 31, 2011


The cheap solution is seldom the best solution, or at least a solution that can scale to solve future problems.

This should be self-explanatory, yet every day I encounter a cheap solution standing in the way of someone getting their work done.

If you do choose the cheap solution, at least have the decency to have low expectations.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Dreams Realized

Years ago I had a dream of having a cubicle job (I know....) where I could set up a little media center to assist me in my day.

It would play my favorite music as I chose to listen to it. Have a cable feed so I could monitor the news or a ballgame. A radio for the same. But here was the key: I would run all my sources through a mixer so I could just dial up what i wanted when i wanted it. And I would listen on headphones so I wouldn't bother anyone else with my odd tastes in music. (Beirut anyone? Fela Kuti? BR549? Holly Cole?)

Today I can, wirelessly, without all the hardware and unlimited choices, on my smartphone. It only takes a few apps to pull off, too.

Its easy to take all of our modern toys for granted. Sometimes I force myself to step back and remember what my pipe dreams were, and how things used to be.

What are you dreaming of today?


Thursday, January 27, 2011


The labor market is beginning to thaw. HR staff are processing more "voluntary resignations" than they have seen in months. Assume everyone is looking for advancements they have delayed during the Great Recession.

How do you retain the staff that is most valuable to you? Don't just throw cash. While cash always helps, it has the shortest shelf life as a reward. Think intrinsically. Does your staff feel valued? Important? Are their suggestions considered and sometimes implemented? Do they like their work environment and coworkers? Do they find their work rewarding and meaningful?

Improving the intrinsic factors are usually cheaper and have a greater impact on retention than cash alone. Buy everyone a nice, new office chair. Really nice. The chair you buy them is a daily reminder of what you think about them as a person and an employee. You can't spend too much.

Give everyone a training budget to spend as they wish. Online video series? Great. A pile of books? Enjoy. Out of town seminar? Be sure to get a nice dinner while you are away.

These kinds of initiatives should improve morale and productivity while reducing turnover. Your budget should be half of what it would cost you in both cash and opportunity to replace a star performer.

You're going to spend it one way or another, and its a better investment than a boat payment.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Contrary to your instincts, it is possible to have too much detail in planning. Life is not a stage play where you have control of every actor and element. You can't account for the randomness of life.

Your thought process needs to be a bit more in the "If-Then" structure, as opposed to the "A-B-C" sequence we gravitate towards. Every moment has a series of possible actions, some more appropriate than others. Choose the one that makes the most sense at that moment, see what happens, then make another choice.

Planning out every possible event response will drive you batty, plus prevent you from doing actual work.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Even though I argue a bit of the opposite yesterday, I believe the best plans are made in big, bold strokes.

Too much detail and subtlety gets in the way of people understanding the plan, and it slows implementation. Don't immediately start peeling the onion so everyone can marvel in your brilliance. Talk about the plan in big picture terms, let everyone get their arms around it, and later start discussing what it means to the front line.

Of course, this requires a healthy amount of trust in your staff to make reasonable decisions (notice I didn't use "right decisions"). If you have hired bright, resourceful and responsible staff, they should be capable of handling some latitude in the decision making processes of their jobs.

If they can't, either you need different staff or different processes. It really is that simple.


Monday, January 24, 2011


Conceptual physicists believe there is a Theory Of Everything- one nice neat way to tie together the universe, which works in opposite ways at the biggest and smallest scales.

That is a very human urge, and we're good at it: looking for simplicity in noisy environments, latching onto random bits of data as the explanation for larger events, or simply picking out evidence that supports what we want to be true.

Many grand plans, designed as simple solutions to problems, often fall apart during implementation as the dirty reality on the ground doesn't fall neatly into line. While the Grand Plan may act as a guide in daily decision making, their are simply too many details to shoehorn into neat policies.

Organizations who try to be too simplistic may feel good at the roll-out, but will struggle when human nature begins to weigh in.


Saturday, January 15, 2011


The most effective way to get attention, especially in the public sector, is to allow a situation to deteriorate until a disaster is imminent. The crisis forces action, and the result often exceeds what could have been achieved in slow steps.

You see this with buildings on college campuses. The University could ask for $100,000 per year to slowly preserve and modernize an old building over ten years, but that's a tough thing to squeeze into a budget or fundraise for. But if you do the bare minimum of maintainance for five years, eventually a crisis will arise (leaky roof, dead boiler, etc.). Suddenly the question is raised- fix or tear down?

Often the answer isn't just fix, but fundraise and fix. Bring in architects to propose new uses, historians to explain the building's value, and crank up a fundraising campaign.

Suddenly you have support for The Big Plan and $5 Million in donations to make it go, rather than begging for $500,000 over five years to continue the status quo.

I'm not suggesting that this is smart management, because it causes unnecessary stress and is more expensive in the long run. But it is a savvy use of human nature to achieve what might otherwise be unrealistic goals.


Monday, January 10, 2011


My judgment of leadership skills is often driven by performance when things fall apart.

Being well-prepared is fairly easy, and when things work success is usually achieved. But sometimes things just go bad- someone screws up, something stops working, a delivery is missed, etc. What happens next is what matters.

Some leaders freeze up. They just can't develop a plan on the fly, even in a just-get-through-the-next-moment way. This goes back to their original planning, as Plan A was dependent on everything working in the right way the first time. It's foolhardy to think that way, because something always goes wrong. It just does- accept it and develop plans that mitigate the damage that occurs.

This does not mean you must think through every possible option out twenty steps like some kind of multi-dimensional chess. That is bad leadership of another kind.

But when that moment happens you must rely on experience of what worked in the past and a quick judgment of your present options. Pick one. Observe how it plays out. React to it by making another step. Maybe you steer the whole thing back to Plan A, maybe not. But improvise a plan and roll with it. It will probably be fine.

If you and your team are really good, the folks paying the bill won't know anything went wrong.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I'm not the first to write this, but the biggest hurdles we have to clear personally and professional are usually self-erected.

Since your brain put them there, your brain can just as easily push them aside.

There. Now you have no excuses. Go.


Monday, January 3, 2011

The Capacity of Systems

New York recently received a near-record snowfall. It took several days to clear out, and I suspect much of the criticism directed towards the city is due to the public's underestimating the capabilities of systems.

Every system is designed for a "normal" job- a restaurant can serve 50 people an hour, a stretch of highway can allow 20 cars per minute, etc. Send 200 people or 100 cars at the same systems and they essentially freeze up.

New York could build a snow removal system capable of moving 20 inches of snow in 24 hours- but it would be so expensive New Yorkers would refuse to pay for it. They are willing to pay for a 6 inch system, and since that is a typical snowfall, it works most of the time. Residents are also conditioned to what "normal" feels like. When the response is longer than "normal", even though the demand is much larger than "normal", frustration sets in.

In the case of a 20 inch snowfall, the work isn't simply a linear increase (normal times 3) but probably exponential (normal squared or cubed).

Systems have their limits, which are usually budget-driven.


Sunday, January 2, 2011


I can see the value of a "Content Strategist" role in organizations, but the part of Scott Kubie's description that resonated with me is "Bulldog"; as in, someone who stays on people to get all the bits done on schedule.

Perhaps the image of a bulldog is a bit menacing, but tenacity is a handy skill in a project manager (to use a much less sexy job description- "Content Strategist" is so shiny and new!). There is a balance to be made between "just get something out the door" and "wait until everything is perfect", and having all of the parts be pretty good, or at least present.

In our new App World, users are accustomed to steady improvement of products, so go for incremental processes rather than all-or-nothing. Things get shipped.

Bring out some of your inner bulldog.