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.