Archive for the ‘business evolution’ Category

The Root of All Evil?

July 15, 2009

moneyI have been thinking about this post for quite some time. I recently re-read “Francisco’s Money Speech” from “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. I have no idea why I had this neatly stapled printout laying around in my apartment, but I did. I read it, and it got me thinking. The money speech, if you aren’t familiar with it, it deals with our tension with money as a medium of exchange, the value of it, and the effect is has on people and events.

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Anconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them.” It amazes me how often we forget this simple truth. The natural human response to a lack of money is to be jealous of and blame people with money. Too often we jump to this response that’s driven by a “zero-sum” thinking about money and we focus on splitting up the pie into smaller pieces and taking each other’s pieces vs. increasing the pie. From a business perspective, it pays to grow a category and thus growing the brands within the category, more so than splitting up the category of the same size into more pieces or stealing share away from others, because brand-switchers will do just that: switch from brand A to brand B and back to brand A.

There’s nothing wrong with taking share away from competitors; all I am saying is that enduring long-term growth comes from continuously developing the category, as well as your brand. Whichever way you choose to grow sales, the only way to do so is by providing value continuously to your customers and consumers. Providing value sometimes takes upfront investment and delayed profits. And herein lies the problem: in our society that’s overly focused on short-term (especially as perpetuated by Wall Street), investing in the long-term is often unpopular. Focus on short-term, sometimes at the expense of creating real value, is what brought this economy (and subsequently the world economy) to its knees. Toxic mortgages were repackaged in a way that allowed to benefit in the short term and delay the discovery of the toxicity into the future. Short term and greed won out. Creating value and long term became unpopular. And now we are reaping the fruits of this behavior. I especially love this humorous primer on toxic assets.

When people and corporations act this way, profiting without creating value, they are building a house of cards. When they let greed rule them, with no regard for long-term benefit for customers, stakeholders and employees, money becomes “the root of all evil” and stops being a medium of exchange. When you start to exchange money for assets and products without value, the whole system will eventually crumble, and this is a guarantee. Turns out, it’s not money that’s the root of all evil – not the honest money anyway. It’s greed that’s the root of all evil.

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A more powerful and precise firehose

June 29, 2009

fire_hoseIt’s no secret that we are overloaded with information. Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook (especially with the new Facebook “wanna-be Twitter” home screen) remind me of a fire-hose. A very powerful fire-hose passing a whole lot of water each and every minute. Sometimes I think that I could literally watch my social streams 24 hours and not do anything else – that’s how much is out there. Obviously, no one does that. You tune into what’s relevant, and tune out the “noise”. Twitter search tools (web search, as well as search tools on Twitter clients) allow to extract necessary information, and not just from your own “network”, but from the entire Twitterverse. However, search and organization tools are still rudimentary. If I was an account manager handling AT&T in New York City, I would like to see AT&T mentions only in NYC. Right now, there is advanced search on search.twitter.com, but not via Twitter clients. What about people I follow? I may have a good reason to follow someone, but not want to read their every tweet. How do I find what’s relevant? I think fine-tuning search and contextualizing tweets is the natural next step. For example, if I follow John Smith, I only want to see John’s tweets about social media, and not about the food he ate today. As more and more people get on Twitter, we will follow more and more people, and will need a better fire-hose to extract valuable tidbits. Or risk losing a ton of valuable information.

friendfeed logoAre there tools now that attempt to do that? I think Friendfeed is positioned to do that. Friendfeed helps you aggregate your social media activity, to be tracked by your subscribers. Conversely, you can subscribed to others’ aggregated feeds. On the surface, Friendfeed is an even bigger fire-hose, if it aggregates Twitter and other tools (Twitter alone is enough). This is why I haven’t been an avid Friendfeed user – I simply do not want more stuff, I want better and more relevant stuff. However, if Friendfeed does it right, it will intelligently learn users I follow (based on their aggregate streams), at the same time as learning about me, and automatically curate what I see. For example, Friendfeed would know that I am interested in wine tasting, based on my tweets, videos and blogposts. Then it would extract relevant material from the streams of the people I follow and add it to my “Best of Day” section. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a tool like Friendfeed would also observe my activity outside of the social networks (with my permission, of course) – based on my Google searches, Twitter searches, etc? I think so! And I think this is where the social web will be heading next: a socially semantic web.

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Twitter and Otaku

June 14, 2009

I wrote about the state of otaku and the near-fanaticism that some products, brands and product categories inspire. Seems that my favorite tool Twitter (including applications within its ecosystem) had produced quite a bit of otaku within its lead users. Its most active users have traded in real names for  Twitter handles when referring each other, and when we go to a new place, we feel the need to “check-in” on location-based services apps like Foursquare and BrightKite (which may or may not be synched to Twitter). When we need to ask people a question, we go to Twitter to crowdsource, we support each other by retweeting good and relevant information, we share our thoughts, feelings, blogposts and whereabouts with the Twitterverse, and we feel lost without our Tweetdecks and Tweeties. Twitter is top of mind, part of life; and the community is strong.

At least this was the case before Twitter went mainstream. I feel that among the “bleeding edge” users, enthusiasm is starting to wane, as Twitter crosses over into the mainstream. Although it achieves the same purpose, I think part of the excitement of being first and “in the trenches” associated with being on Twitter is starting to wane. As Twitter crosses over into mainstream, the demographic of who is communicating with whom, as well as the dynamics of the conversation. Businesses and individuals start to tweet, not because they love the service, but because they feel like it’s the hot new thing, and they have to be on it, because everyone is. When this happens, a lot of authenticity is lost, and the medium is used in a gauche and ineffective manner (i.e. one-way broadcasts, spamming, autofollowing and auto-DM’ing. Moreover, as people start to follow more and more people, there will be more and more noise, and relevant information will have a higher chance of getting lost. A lot of this has already started to happen.

To counteract these effects, tools have to be put in place that allow to funnel, search semantically and display information contextually (this merits a whole new post, which has ben swirling in my mind for a while, so look for it). As Twitter goes from a quaint neighborhood to a large, noisy city, I do not think that it can maintain its strong cult-like status past the early adopters. This is just my view. What do you guys think?

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Importance of transparency

May 19, 2009

transparentCompanies can no longer afford to not communicate the reasons why they are doing / not doing something to their users, or to not communicate fast enough. Not to beat a dead horse, but this was very apparent in the Twitter @ replies episode from last week. Biz Stone of Twitter took the time to explain why the changes were put in place, but unfortunately it was too late. People had started talking about it, and before too long, tweittersphere had heated up to epic temperatures. Users were angry, and since they didn’t have information to help them understand what was happening and why, they took it upon themselves to fill in the blanks. Turns out that technical scalability issues, as well as reduction in noise were the primary reasons (you can read Biz’s view here).

Where Twitter went wrong, in my opinion, was the lack of communication to its end users on the reasons why this was happening. Twitter has successfully created this amazing communication platform, but in its first iteration it’s very much like drinking from a fire hose. Fine-tuning to reduce the noise and increase relevance is the natural next step, and I welcome it with open arms. Twitter is fine-tuning now by giving us options in which we can produce @ replies (to be seen by some or by all of our followers), as well as reducing the noise from the people we follow (by fine-tuning how much of each person’s @ reply stream we see – this feature I wanted since day 1!). But even though all of this is done for our (users’) benefit and with the long-term vision in mind, things can go very askew if you don’t take the time to educate and communicate upfront. Because of how virally sentiments spread on Twitter (especially when they are about Twitter), preemption and anticipation, in a very transparent way, are key to managing sentiment and expectations.

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small is the new black

April 20, 2009

Seeing the STREB show a couple of weekends ago, and discussing it several times with my friend Josephine, has got me thinking about the changing business models, and the reason they are changing. Let me explain.. What I forgot to mention in my previous post is that STREB is using an innovative platform of “10 second dance”. In exchange for a $10 donation, you get to co-produce a 10-minute dance, which will be presented at the next show. This does 4 things well, in my opinion:

  1. Creates a stronger community around STREB, giving all co-producers more “skin in the game”, and allowing them to be your ambassadors and telling all of their friends about it
  2. Allows everyone to participate by making the threshold so low ($10), illustrating the power of the “power in numbers” concept.
  3. Appeals to human vanity (oh c’mon, we all have it 🙂 – in my opinion, you need to be somewhat vain to want to put your life out there with social media like we all do, and imagine that others may and will care about it.
  4. Duh! raises money!

Seems that more and more things are getting processed in bite-sized pieces. There is microlending (Kiva.org, Prosper.com, Donorschoose.com) and of course, microblogging (Twitter and other platforms). Seems that small is the new black. Even the Web2.0 conference this year was themed “The Power of Less.”

I think this reach for “less” is happening due to a confluence of several events, caused by the evolution of our society.

Firstly, and more gradually, our society (online and offline) has gotten inundated. Offline store shelves are packed with brands and brand extensions, with each brand extension in several flavors, colors, smells, textures, etc. Most innovations that corporate America parades around, are actually not that innovative, but rather are updates to the same-ole-same-ole.

There is a lot of noise. Consumers are lost and overwhelmed, and manufacturers feel like they are drowning among noise.

Online, a similar thing is happening: with the “Web2.0” bubble, there are more websites than eyeballs (seems like, but please don’t quote me, I don’t have the actual statistics), and more and more are created each day. Unfortunately, most fail to differentiate themselves. A successful solution that can cut through this noise will have to successfully build around the user, wherever the user is (mobile + twitter + web), and not make the user go to its website (this is an entirely different topic that merits another post, so I will stop here).

Secondly, in addition to this overwhelming quality of online and offline “stuff”, the global economy crash is causing us all to rethink how we spend, how we save, what we value and how to course-correct the mistakes we have made so far. I think this process is a vital one, as it will separate the companies, processes and people who add value (education, where addition of skills downright changes lives) from those that don’t (repackaged toxic assets, where no value is created). Again, this is fodder for its own blogpost.

So because of this economy of “more”, followed by a downright economy crash, we seem to be embracing the concept of “less” and basking in simplicity and authenticity. Who knows, perhaps it’s this yearning for simplicity is what is propelling Susan Boyle to such astronomical heights of popularity.

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Do You STREB? You Should!

April 15, 2009

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of experiencing the most amazing show I have experienced in a while! I was lucky enough to win free tickets on my friend Mike Davis‘s blog. To enter the contest, all you had to do was sign up for Mike’s YouTube show – he will have more contests, so you should definitely join. Not to mention, Mike rocks!

I had never heard of STREB before, but I had read the description on the web, and was immediately fascinated. I didn’t know what to expect, but all I knew was that it looked like urban Cirque du Soleil. My friend Josephine had seen STREB shows before (Elizabeth Streb, by the way, is the choreographer who has given life to the PopAction genre), and had mentioned to me that it reminds her of a more powerful, and slightly more violent, version of Cirque du Soleil. Josephine had mentioned to me before the show that the dancers would be slamming into each other and into walls, which left me utterly confused. Elizabeth’s bio on the site states that PopAction  ” intertwines the disciplines of dance, athletics, boxing, rodeo, the circus, and Hollywood stunt-work. The result is a bristling, muscle-and-motion vocabulary that combines daring with strict precision in pursuit of the public display of “pure movement”, and I find this the most eloquent and terse description that fits perfectly, so that I couldn’t add anything further.

I find myself reaching for words to describe STREB accurately, because it’s something so extremely original and unprecedented. A group of extremely toned dancers with beautifully muscular bodies, present various dance numbers, in which they use their bodies to tell stories with top-level precision and power. The show starts with dancers slamming into a large plexi glass in the middle of the stage. It sounds bizarre, but looks amazing when two dancers slam into each other from two different sides and look like a mirror image of each other. Josephine and I discussed this number afterwards, and found it very symbolic of our time. We are wanting to make a difference, connect, but are frustrated with external (economic or otherwise) factors. Another favorite number of mine was the trapeze dance against the wall (pictured below), where dancers danced with their feet on the wall, strapped into harnesses.

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It was so beautifully synchronized, and required such precision (and freakishly strong ab muscles!) to pull off in a completely horizontal position.

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Another definite highlight was the “hamster wheel” (pictured below). It starts out with one dancer spinning inside the wheel, making it rotate by walking inside of it at a constant and controlled speed

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To my amazement, more dancers started hooking onto the wheel and doing various pirouettes inside, under, over and every which way.

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What a mind-blowing exhibit of synchronicity, extreme precision and control! One wrong move, and not only do you hurt yourself, but you also hurt your teammates! (none of the dancers were harnessed).

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The entire show was a true tour de force of a human body. In everyday life, perched behind our MacBooks, we forget of what a tremendous instrument we were given (for free!) and what our bodies are really capable of. Everytime that I see something so incredibly powerful and precise, I bow my head in respect and admiration. See below some more examples of the nimble amazingness that is STREB:

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When the show was over, Kim Cullen, the Producing Director of the show, reached out to Josephine and myself to chat about the show and social media. I was extremely happy to hear that STREB was considering integrating social media into their current marketing mix. I just love meeting people who “get it” and are open to these new channels of engaging new consumers, because they realize that this is really the future of communication. This type of performance really lends itself well to the virality of social media, because as each social-media-engaged viewer sees the performance, he / she is going to share it with Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, write and comment on blogposts, post pictures to Flickr, videos to YouTube. Through the power of narrative and experience sharing, the word spreads; and this really was an experience worth spreading. I will definitely be going back to take pictures with my good DSLR camera (Nikon D60), and hopefully a video device (anyone care to lend an HD Flip?) – these iPhone pics, although a good start, do not do it justice

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You can see the rest of my photographs (apologies about the quality; iPhone is not the best at capturing motion) – http://bit.ly/streb

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