An interesting presentation at TED by the evangelist-founder of Twitter. I came across this one as I was doing some research on existing analyses of the phenomenon and in particular the types of use cases that were "invented" by users who made extremely creative use of the minimalism of Twitter's design. To me it's an example of chaos, flow and emergence that I think will be a necessary ingredient in any initiative of the future.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Having spent the best part of the past twelve years operating on the treaterous frontier of progress defined by the combination 'business + innovation + technology' the phenomenon of stubbornly odd pursuits of generally accepted truths makes me wonder sometimes. It does seem to remain valid with each wave of innovation imposing fads as reality for as long as it takes for deception to sink in thus leaving room for people who actually deal with the nuts and bolts of new practices to create forms that can be adopted. In this article we'll identify what I consider to be the top 5 fallacious propositions in today's social media environment.
A couple of stories with 5 major and often iritating common points:
story# 2: a couple of weeks ago, someone I've known for years, an alumni of my B-School told me very seriously: "I've created my profile on this great professional networking tool... you know? It's called LinkedIn. Now I need to get past the 250 contacts mark because I've been told it's what you need to be in the big league in this space. I'm glad we're speaking about it so I can add you too..."
story# 3: early 2008 a friend of mine who's running a training and human development company told me about the latest disaster that had struck them as a highly creative chap recast their website, but forgot to make necessary redirects and pages to provide for continuity in search positonning and PageRank. The complaint was that the site no longer showed up in the so-called "golden triangle" and the traffic had gone down. So they went on to use an SEO company that promised lots of traffic and a return to the top spots of page 1 of search results
So what's are the common points in those stories:
- the fallacy of 500+ contacts in platforms like Facebook, which are primarily for personal use, consumer to consumer and business to consumer interactions... which leads me to wonder how many of those contacts are actually active, alive, vibrant and what the point of having 300, 500 or 700 contacts is beyond inflating already bloated egoes
- the pseudo-scientific prescriptions behind very precise quantitative limits like my friend's 250 contacts on LinkedIn, which makes me wonder what the point is with having contacts with people one has met only once or one is "rediscovering" after years of absence (e.g. university alumni lost from the radar since graduation)? At the end of the day, some of the most intense and productive business contacts some of us have are not at all on LinkedIn and make a point of not being there, although they are present in more secretive circles and directories accessible by invitation only
- the illusion of power, of being able to drive quantifiable results when in fact whatever emerges emerges as a result of substance which someone is working on. I mean, I've been doing work for companies and people in different places and despite the fact that I'm based in Brussels my network statistics on LinkedIn show strong bias for regions like California, New York, India... and of course part of it can be explained by the earlier or stronger adoption of the tool in those areas compared to Belgium, Luxembourg and France
- a confusion of ends and means: being positioned on a search engine or having an online network or Twitter following of a given size is not an end in itself, but rather a consequence of something else one is doing, like for example exchanging useful tips and data with other people on Twitter, now a major source of intelligence for me. Under very specific circumstances, the network that emerges may become a means like for example when someone had the brilliant idea of launching the Twestival, however that does not mean that social media can be used for justa bout anything and that's a word of caution to marketers whose professional world is abuzz with the "social media opportunity". So far, I understand that purely commercial or sales initiatives are not very well received because social media are not transactional and because people want to keep some control over their attention
- something necessary is not always sufficient: being positioned ona search engine is nice and having "lots of traffic" as some SEO companies promise is whatever you want it to be, but at the end of the day optimizing a site for search is only a necessary step and not necessarily a sufficient step because content is increasingly important and a longer term bet. What's the use of having a boost in traffic and an increase in the bounce rate? What's the point in having traffic even with a "reasonable" bounce rate (whatever that is for your line of business) if that does not translate into actual profitable business? This comes back to what we were doing in math classes when learning about the subbtle distinctions between logical implications and logical equivalence...
I'm quite certain you have your own stories that resonate with the five points above. We need to speak some basic no-nonsense truths in this space, else bubbles inflate and explode in often painful way.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
In these challenging times several of my customers are looking at expanding their salesforce, which may seem paradoxical but in fact is not. This morning I came across a good piece by Inc on what makes a good salesperson (see link below). My top three attributes
- great listening skills because very often the customer is actually stating needs behind questions or the expression of wants
- ability to open doors and develop the relational capital
- ability to profitably close deals
Posted using ShareThis
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Humberto Maturana - Interview 1985.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Over the past few weeks I've been doing some research work around the financial system because I have an idea that I might pursue as an entrepreneurial venture aimed at making a difference in the following areas:
- funding for privately owned European SMB companies
- the way investors (LPs) structure their deals with fund managers
- how relationships are (not) created between LPs and companies in which a fund invests
- the degree of transparency allowed into the system for various stakeholders
- the way investment performance is measured to account for environmental, social and human cost of decisions taken by companies and by the financiers to pursue growth (and wealth)
- how companies share the benefits of their success with all stakeholders not just between shareholders
I still need to do some work, but the thing is taking a nice shape, especially after a sudden satori I had over the weekend... It now seems so obvious I am in bewildered wonder at the idea that something so evident that was right before my eyes could have escaped my attention even as I was working on stumbling blocks that it helps remove! Anyway, more in a future post. For now, I'd be grateful if you could help me by voting on a question I have: how would you go about salvaging the financial system? To answer on LinkedIn, please click here.
|Are You Going To Finish Strong?|
Awesome video! If you watch only one video today make sure it is this one! Nick Vujicic has no limbs but he leads an incredible life!
An interesting piece covering the "tribalization" of business, which shows that:
- communities are about delivering significant transformational dynamics in any competitive game
- the role of CMO needs to become more "networked" and start dealing actively with community management. Companies may need a Chief Community Officer although with my previous posts you must have guessed that I hold the CxO roles as nothing more than participants in a business and organizational network: they have no particular significance especially if they try to do the job ib a traditional deterministic way in a world that is increasingly chaotic
- companies need new approaches to management in order to include community dynamics in the way the business is managed, which means that it's more about managing networks of talent than about tweaking the rigid hierarchical pyramid to coexist with the community. In fact there are important implications to this especially when it comes to leaderhip, measuring performance and solving conflicts
Here's the presentation, which is heavily marketing & communications oriented, but I think has implications well beyond those areas.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
This interview on the future of work as shaped by modern infotech and social media is extremely interesting not only because of the implications for social infotech tools in business, but also because it suggests an evolution of business and the enterprise into more flexible and adaptive systems. Are we going towards a less deterministic way of running business? One combining chaos and order, considering the enterprise as a chaordic system... that would be much, much better than enterprise 2.0: should we call it enterprise x.0?
Actually it's quite interesting to see that in different fields the chaordic vision is emerging as the next generation way of doing things, which is one of the reasons why I try to remain involved in several areas where I see those patterns:
- the Internet as an enabler of radically transformed patterns of interaction and transaction, where small is the new big as Seth Godin puts it
- online and interactive marketing especially when involving individuals as more than mere consumer or "target segments"
- marketing micro-segmentation and analytics
- agile methods in IT development (I especially enjoy Scrum both as Scrum Master and as Product Owner)
- social media
- Spiral Dynamics and Ken Wilber's incredible work
- environmental crisis as an opportunity to enable "strange attractors" in business and society
- financial crisis as an opportunity to review the monolithic system pyramidal of mega-corporations
These are just such exciting times. We're in a world that is engaged in more than a mere transition or paradigm shift. This is complete mutation and our challenge as individuals is to become mutants firstly by way of introspection and change within because that's where the way of approaching the world changes. We need to abandon the child's illusion of power: each is powerless, yet completely necessary no matter how "small", for the entire system to morph itself into the most relevant shape given circumstances.
Some of the implications:
- the rules will need to have some quality of emergence and flexibility
- only necessary rules should be enforced and we need to stop looking at institutions as parental figures that will do for us what we are not prepared to do for ourselves
- individual responsibility, creativity and commitment become paramount
- inner peace of each is a pre-requisite for solving the different types of social neurosis that we're seeing nowadays in many places of the so-called "developed" world
- education models have to evolve because the education system was built to educate the masses during the industrial revolution and we've moved to a world of constant evolution, exploration and learning, which is one of the reasons why I like so much Montessori (a radicla innovator), Freinet, De Bono, Decroly, Françoise Dolto...
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Earlier today I had a quick personal thinking session as to what could well define business organizations of the future in a world of constant (and radical?) change, requiring permanent morphing to adapt and adopt the most relevant form for ever more unpredictable (and improbable?) events. The thinking was prompted by a question someone asked me "what's a 2-tier business?", 2-tier referring to the concepts of Spiral Dynamics. Here's my take in 17 + 1 bonus points.
- Ask 5 whys like the kids to get down to the deep meaning of what you spend your time doing
- Give where it makes sense and you will receive in a non-transactional as well as in a transactional manner
- Transparency, transparency, transparency: no member of the system is negligible, all need to know, all can make a damn difference
- "Be the change you want to see in the world" = agile methods, agile management, agile business, agile development, scrum, xp...
- Compassion, coherence, "getting yourself out of the way", expressing meaning, caring for something larger than your little person / team / company / industry / city / country and hope as key drivers of non-intrusive, non-directive, non-centralizing,... leadership
- Treating people like adults not like kids or parents
- "An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching" = just do it, lead by example, follow with passion, learn by doing...
- "Success is a journey, not a destination" = continuous mutation, adaptation and improvement
- Listening = watching = sensing = 2-3-4-8-10 x speaking, doing, acting, "running around like headless chicken"
- Feedback, feedback, feedback + adjust, adjust, adjust
- Alignment between what you think, what you say and what you do - always, no compromise, total commitment, passion, common sense
- Thinking, feeling, expressing and acting with your whole being not just your brain
- No more rules than strictly required by the best form for the conditions of the moment
- Do things your way, not the academic way
- Cede control to the "edges" of the organization, to people who face and serve customers all day long, to people who have their fingers on the keyboard, not to the people who chit-chat socially while playing golf
- Participation, participation, participation
- Fun, fun, fun
Late January at Digital Life Design in Munich, there was an interesting panel with Nasim Taleb (always insightful and full of common sense | his site) and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman (always fascinating pioneer of psychology applied to finance and the economy | his Nobel profile ). Taleb has a realistic approach by saying that what he basically want is not to improve forecasts but rather to review the way the world is working in order to make it resistant to forecastign errors. Like Roubini he advocates the nationalization of banks. I suspect he means the "utility" part, not the "casino" part of the banking system (for a view of utility vs casino listen to the podcast at the end of this post). Kahneman shows how human psychology is a key driving force for understanding organizations, companies, the economy and markets because, as he very correctly points out, these entities do not exist in any other way than through human behavior.
Video and comments below.
Kahneman shares fascinating insights taken from experiement in
psychology showing how ill prepared we are by education to deal with
the unexpected and with uncharted territories.If you're interested in Kahneman's work, reading the Tsversky-Kahneman paper of 1974 on Judgment under Uncertainty.
that paper the authors discuss in a remarkable and most interesting
manner the importance of prejudice, pre-conceived truths, integration
of past-patterns and beliefs affect human judgment and decision making
regarding uncertain events. It's a most recommended read for anyone
active in a highly unstable environment although like all good
scientific papers it does not provide ready-made recipes: you'll have
to do your own introspection and adapt what you learn to your own
situation. In this discussion Kahneman makes a strong point showing how the mismatch between the time-scale of the individual and the time-scale of society is a key factor to take into account if there's any serious intent to reform the financial system. He also makes a great point about the fact that the situation we have now did not happen simply because of incompetent, arrogant, self-serving, greeding and dishonest financiers (and not all financiers are such animals; I have the privilege of knowing more than a few very decent and brilliant finance professionals who will be part of the solution). Kahneman rightly suggests that every participant in the economy has a share of responsibility because each one of them accepted the system, indulged into the benefits he or she could extract from the system regardless of the relevance or economic sense of gaining those benefits.
Taleb develops his views of the roots of the crisis, blasting the CFA and business schools for teaching portfolio theory in the process, what should be done now and why it's important to get down to what the exact situation is no matter how bleak so as to be able to resume work from a known starting point instead of being in a constant slump. Nasim Taleb has been focusing on how "ideas" and beliefs actually fool us. I'm currently reading Fooled by Randomness, which I recommend. Listening to Taleb in this video and reading his materials you will see why a deterministic approach to economics, finance and business management is simply an illusion, an abstract construct of the mind. The world is chaotic and the order we're trying to build in it is emergent as opposed to pre-determined. Taleb speaks of a complex world and highlights inconsistencies of economic agents who insure their cars but don't insure multi-million dollar portfolios because that would harm returns.
His take is that the current financial crisis is largely due to the underestimation of extremely rare events by financial experts and the quants who built sophisticated financial models for funds. That's one part of the problem, the other being that:
- the international financial system as structured by the Basel II regulations has generous intents, but eventually leads to distorsions in capital allocation in favor of large institutions and rich nations... (and eventually we end up saying that some banks are too big to fail and we support them with public money when part of the problem was that we facilitated their becoming too large to fail)
- the mark-to-market extremism, based on the idea that the market is good at estimating risk and setting prices, which in fact amplifies the instability of the entire financial system especially when software used by funds is built to automatically trigger transactions in the event of "larger than normal" fluctuations
- the established practices of developing nations lending to developed ones at a price of money lower than they themselves borrow for their own development
Below is a podcast of a recent program of the BBC in which you can listen to former President Clinton's economic adviser discussing the current economic situation and sharing a way of looking at the financial system as being a "utility attached to a casino", the utility being the payments system and the lending system for individuals and companies. The utility is too serious a part of finance to be left in the hands of bankers. Taleb is 1000% correct when he says that the "utility" part should be controlled by government and the hedge funds should be left alone to do what they want and never be bailed out by government.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Senior executives are supposed to be dealing with strategic matters most of the time or at least supposed to be exerting major influence on a company's long term. Yet their compensations are structured to reward short term thinking and short term action. In particular bonuses and stock option schemes tend to be attributed and vest much earlier than the time horizon when the results of the execs' work become apparent. How can there be more consistency without additional legislation, regulations and authorities of control? We know none of the really works.
There's clearly something that is profoundly inconsistent in the way executive pay is currently organized and monitored. This needs to be fixed and I don't think it can be achieve through massive regulation and the associated administrative costs. Executives are to blame because they knew, they could not have missed the inconsistencies of the systems and yet they chose to close their eyes, shut their ears and seal their lips, in keeping with the long tradition of their predecessors who got rich by shutting up and maintaining a system broken and corrupted beyond belief.
Of course ultimate responsibility for the situation lies with shareholders since they are the ones who demand constantly "stretch" financial performance, irrespective of economic cycle and investment strategy of the company. This translates into an ever shortening average tenure for CEOs and other execs who are kicked out with crazy golden parachutes... Does anyone seriously believe that this can continue?
To be consistent, from the assertion that executives receive bonuses before the "benefits" of their work can really be appraised, we should also draw the conclusion that the bonuses paid to senior execs of banking corporations over the past decade essentially rewarded the actions and decisions that made the current mess possible. Therefore, they should now be required to return the sums they were given back then as bonuses, not merely be asked to refrain from attributing bonuses and pay increases in the future. There's even a group on Facebook to ask for a clawback of past bonuses; it's led by Roubini and Taleb... In fact, these guys should no longer be in charge of financial institutions. As was rightly pointed out in this program on the BBC World Service on 12-FEB, we need to build a wall between the casino (exotic finance, hedge funds...) and the utility in order to safeguard the common resources used by the entire economy (payment system, credit system...)
So what should we do?
- make all compensations and benefits public and accessible by anyone for all companies that are quoted on a stock exchange
- change the structure of senior executives' compensation packages so as to let them receive bonuses for their work on any given year predominantly on the basis of their company's performance 5-7 years down the line
- make it mandatory for senior executives to be reporting the changes in their personal and family assets every year in a much more extensive manner than they are currently required to release information on their financial situation
- give power to the people by allowing shareholders to scrutinize and question compensation decisions and other key policies and practices of all companies quoted on an exchange. In fact, I would go for tougher requirements of disclosure of management information to all shareholders and stakeholders in a business or other organization
- expand the scope of assessment of a company's performance to include the impacts of its decisions on the environment, local communities, key stakeholder groups and other groups directly or indirectly influenced by the company's decisions
Thursday, February 12, 2009
That's a worthy cause. Copyright extension is perfectly useless for people who create new stuff and only a means to securing the dominance of organizations that are increasingly made irrelevant by the radical changes in the media distribution landscape. We don't need our legislators spending time, energy and money on building perpetual streams of income for antiquated forms of content usage. Perhaps they'd be much better inspired to consider enforcing Creative Commons as the official copyright management system.
Watch this and sign the petition on the site of Sound Copyright.
Becky Hogge: Speech at Sound Copyright conference in the EU Parliament 27.01.09 from Open Rights Group on Vimeo
A few short months ago there were worries about marketing budgets being cut but most professionals were sounding reassuring in saying that the bulk of marketing budgets would be transferred to online and interactive initiatives. The theory went that brands would want to keep taking initiatives and would continue the same intensity of communication by shifting their marketing dollars to more affordable channels like the Internet.
Even then this thesis did not seem to hold against careful analysis and discussions with senior decision makers even back then. Recent news seem to confirm the pain to come for agencies and marketing professionals, irrespective of the nature of their business, with an exception that is not what most people seemed to think, but makes economic sense.
A recent survey carried out by the ANA (see clipping at the end of this post) shows a bleak outlook for big classes of marketing spending and therefore for agencies and professionals offering services in those fields. I think this is particularly relevant for the European market because it’s only a matter of time before we see a similar contraction in Europe and because, with just a few exceptions, European decision makers tend to be even more reluctant to any spending in hard times (it’s a sort of all-or-nothing approach to marketing budgets). More specifically here are a few points worth considering:
- there will be painful budget cuts across the board and cuts are a priority of senior management that will not be adequately addressed by a mere shift of money to online and interactive marketing.
- the nature of initiatives taken will be seriously and increasingly scrutinized to make sure they are compatible with the mood of our times. No advertiser can afford to seem completely oblivious to the hardship suffered by the market. The survey shows quite clearly that the focus will be on initiatives that address the increased price sensitivity of buyers.
- the survey shows the top five areas where marketers plan to reduce costs or expenses in marketing and advertising and looking at them carefully we see that four out of the top five are areas which will affect “creative” initiatives with important investments in media and event / interaction management. So much for the idea that there would be some sort of magical immunity for online and interactive marketing.
The main implications of the way things pan out are:
- of the six competencies identified by the Media Management Center (see their excellent post here), there’s ony one that seems 100% essential and critical in this environment and that’s the Data Miner.
- because key decision makers are still largely professionals that in most cases have only a very limited vision of the benefits they could get out of the web and interactive technologies, the marketing dollars will go to very basic, simple, no-nonsense, zero-risk initiatives for which there’s a clear case for the return on investment.
- this is the golden opportunity to set standards to make absolutely all initiatives traceable and measurable, which means that one can feel positive about anyone involved in providing enabling technologies for tracing the performance of marketing initiatives like promotions and direct marketing.
It does seem that the crazivity of the past couple of years is going to be out of question for some time…
What’s crazivity? It’s initiatives that are primarily crazy and yet presented as creative: in this business the crazier something is the more creative it’s called even though it’s not always so and that often comes at the expense of relevance of an initiative with respect to the brand’s goals.
Marketers are cutting costs, putting pressure on agencies to do more with less, and reducing budgets much more than they were six months ago
37% of respondents today plan to reduce budgets by more than 20%, up substantially from the 21% in the first survey.
- Departmental travel and expense restrictions (87% vs. 63% in the previous survey)
- Reducing advertising campaign media budgets (77% vs. 69%)
- Reducing advertising campaign production budgets (72% vs. 63%)
- Challenging agencies to reduce internal expenses and/or identify cost reductions (68% vs. 63%)
- Eliminating or delaying new projects (58% vs. 61%)
“In the current economic environment, there’s a need for brand building that’s right for the times - that acknowledges consumers’ financial circumstances
For some marketers, that will mean skewing their media mix toward promotional spending and direct marketing. For others it will mean framing a new, relevant and timely brand message.
Skype seems to be showing signs of sustainable growth not only in terms of new accounts but also in terms of turnover and profitability. What's the impact of VoIP adoption overall and how good an investment has Skype been for eBay? Follow the link below the clipping for more on these questions.
Skype's apparent success is good for Skype, but the real long term relevance of Skype's performance is how it's going to translate in the economy. And it's not Skype specific, but that company is iconic when it comes to adoption of VoIP and new practices of global communications. Skype's performance, especially the 2.6 billion minutes sold, make me wonder whether there are going to be larger benefits for sustainable development of the economy, e.g. in the forms of:
- better, faster, cheaper way of running businesses
- public services, less and better travel for meetings
- better service in e-commerce contexts
- more productive interactions between people
Let's get back to Skype because for an investment to be really relevant and really meaningful, it should benefit all stakeholders. That's increasingly going to be the case in the economy of the 21st century (which also means that the way we measure performance is going to have to evolve). In Skype's case, eBay is obviously a key stakeholder. The $45 million in quarterly profit posted for Q4/2008 is nowhere near the kind of amounts that would justify the price paid by eBay to acquire Skype in September 2005 ($2.6 billion - an interesting report report here). In fact, with a quarterly corporate profit of $45 million, assuming it's sustained through 2009, the pre-tax profit could be in the $200 million ballpark. In fact that would mean a return on investment of just 3.95% for eBay...Not that good a financial deal for eBay although it may have strategic value that has yet to translate financially.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Here's an interesting take on the Geithner plan for shoring up the banks' financial situation. The article makes a compelling argument as to why the plan is not really a great deal for would-be investors and definitely a loosing proposition for taxpayers. So is the Treasury's plan destined to fail? Are the core causes of this mess addressed?
With my training in business management and finance I can see the validity of the issue raised here. In fact, I'd be in greater agreement with Nouriel Roubini's recent position that the banking system should be nationalized; with the understanding of course that only the payments and credit system for businesses and individuals would come under the government's fold.
All this makes me realize how wise the Belgian legislation is when it mandates that each company's and citizen's debt be centralized and monitored so as to remain within reasonable limits with respect to that entity's revenues. At the end of the day we should not forget that this whole mess comes because of:
- excessive debt given to US consumers
- extreme reliance of value creation in the economy on private over-consumption
- speculation and valuation levels completely disconnected from economic reality
- finance being the master when it should be the servant of the economy
- a world financial system in which the poorer nations lend to the richer ones whose consumption exceeds value created
- a serious problem in the way we measure value creation and performance right from individual level and up to macroeconomic reality
- key economic mechanisms based on fear and greed leading to inappropriate levels of transparency, inadequate involvement of key stakeholder and dysfunctional corporate governance
These issues will not be addressed by the Treasury’s plan, but I hope we get down to tackling them rather sooner than later because doing more of the same will produce more of the kind of mess we’re seeing these days.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I paid a very short visit to FOSDEM yesterday. A bit too technical for me, but still some very good vibes of a beautifully creative crowd and an excellent opportunity to answer an existential question with WideTag's WideNoise. Watch and don't take my "scientific" conclusions too seriously.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
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