Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Saying no

" comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much..." - Steve Jobs
This quote is said so often that it starts to lose its meaning. So let me approach it from an angle that you may have never considered.

The greatest time management tool in the world is saying "no". We all want to do too much. We all want to say yes to our family, our friends, our boss or our customers. But every time we say "yes", we unintentionally say "no" to something else. And that something else is probably something that we already determined was important.

Figure out what's important. Schedule plenty of time - too much time - to get it done. After all, its important. And say no to anything that would take time from it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Make it easy for customers to give you their money

"Duh!", right? Well if it's that obvious, then why aren't you doing it?

My parents shop at a store that sells crafts. There's always a long line. There's always a long line because it takes for-freakin-forever to pay the store. I don't know what system they're using in that store, but I do know that their system doesn't work. I'd rather have my fingernails pulled out than shop in that store. It would take less time.

Have you ever bought anything in a furniture store? Have you ever financed your purchase? Heaven help you. You wander around for hours picking out the perfect sofa and then you sit around for hours trying to pay for it. And all the time you're thinking, "I want to give you $500, why won't you take it?"

How do you buy things from Apple?

Step one: You click the "buy" button.
Step two: (there is no step two).

Examine how your customers pay you. Reduce the process to the least number of steps possible. Then make of the steps as small as possible. Don't make it hard for your customers to give you their money. It's not polite and it's not smart.

Easier for me or easier for thee?

There's a hidden lesson is the following story:
Throughout the information age, the corporate I.T. department has stood at the chokepoint of office technology with a firm hand on what equipment and software employees use in the workplace. 
They are now in retreat. Employees are bringing in the technology they use at home and demanding the I.T. department accommodate them. The I.T. department often complies. 
Some companies have even surrendered to what is being called the consumerization of I.T. At Kraft Foods, the I.T. department’s involvement in choosing technology for employees is limited to handing out a stipend. Employees use the money to buy whatever laptop they want from Best Buy, or the local Apple store.
So, should you join the consumerization movement? Maybe. Should you should revise your I.T. polices? Almost certainly. Should you revile your I.T. department? That's a personal decision. But none of those is the lesson I'm shooting for.

What the above story should be telling you is that the biggest bottleneck to productivity in your company is It's not just the I.T. department that chokes employee productivity. The productivity of you and the business you're in depends upon the questions that you ask yourself every morning.

What's the difference between the beginning of the above story and the end? In the beginning of the story, the I.T. department was asking, "How can I make things easier for me?" At the end of the story, the I.T. department was asking, "How can I make things easier for my customers (the employees)?" And don't fool yourself. We're not just talking about the I.T department here. Every business branch, every employee, has a tendency to ask themselves, "How can I make things easier for me?"

One of the things I've always admired about Apple is how simple and easy their products are to use. Their products almost always work exactly the the way I think they should. What a gift.

Do you think that Apple creates those products by saying, "how can I make things easier for me?" No way. The question Apple asks is, "how can I make things easier for our customers?" They take responsibility for making our lives less complex. They take responsibility for making our lives easier. They make their lives more complex and they do all the hard work so that we can enjoy the simplicity and the ease of use that their products afford.

Be like Apple. Ask yourself, "how can I make things easier for others?"

Don't give your own presentations

Do you run your organization? Do you give your company's presentations? Do you think that's a good idea? Because it's probably not.

Steve Jobs was the CEO of the company he founded and during his tenure he presided over all of Apple's important events. But his being CEO is not why he gave Apple's presentations.
Steve Jobs didn’t run Apple’s keynotes because he was the company’s CEO; he ran them because he was the company’s best presenter.
Exactly. Don't have the CEO do the presentations. Have the best presenter do the presentations. If that person happens to be the CEO, so be it.

And by the way, that advice is just as germane to every aspect of your organization. Don't assign tasks strictly by title. Assign them by merit.

Write Right

Good writing is important. Maybe crucial. For an example of good communication, take a look at Steve Jobs' resignation letter, below:
To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community: I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come. 
I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee. 
As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple. 
I believe Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role. 
I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

Simple. Plain. Short. Expressive. Sincere. An easy to under message that flows from the top to bottom.

Now compare that with the following letter to Yahoo's employees from the Yahoo's management team,
What Yahoo! needs to do better — and we’ve talked about this — is accelerate innovation, reignite inspiration, and give our users what they want now — great content that is engaging and easy-to-use on any device and provides an experience in which they can participate and contribute.
Inspiring stuff, right? Makes you want to run through a brick wall for the company, right?
At this point, we cannot offer many specifics about the Board’s review; we’ve just gotten started.
If you can't provide any specifics, then why have you penned this long, long letter?
Our advisers are working with us to develop ideas that we will pursue proactively.
Pursue proactively? Did you think that we would assume that you were going to pursue things lethargically?
At the same time, they are fielding inquiries from multiple parties that have already expressed interest in a number of potential options. We will take the time we need to select and structure the best approach for the company, its shareholders and employees.
Translation: The company is up for sale.
You are instrumental to the success of our business — we can’t do it without you. While we will move with a sense of urgency, this process will take time. Months, not weeks. We know that’s a lot of potential distraction, but we believe it will be worth the wait.
Note the last half of the last sentence: "we believe it will be worth the wait." Not "it will be worth the wait (for you)." The management team is talking how waiting will benefit themselves, not the Yahoo employees.

If you are a glutton for punishment, you can read all three Yahoo letters here.

A couple of tips on clear writing. Drop the jargon. Drop the buzz words. Drop the acronyms. Take the time and make the effort to keep it short. Finally, writing, like most things, is a habit. If you use jargon, buzzwords and acronyms with your colleagues, you'll use them when you communicate with your clients and the public too. You can't write well some of the time. You have to learn how to write well all of the time.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We make money to make more movies

Walt Disney: “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”
Now substitute what you are truly passionate about for the word "movies". If you're not making money to make more "movies", then stop doing what you're doing and start doing that.

And here's the nice ironic twist. I guarantee you that if you make money to make more "movies" that you'll make more money. And you'll be happier, which is kind of nice too.

Why do people hate Apple?

Spoiler alert: I don't know the answer.

MacDailyNews published an amazing story today in which Apple's customer service team went way above and beyond the call of duty. I don't want to quote it here and steal their thunder. Click the title of this piece to link to the original story.

Back to our question: Why do people hate Apple?

- Apple provides excellent customer service.
- Apple products always have the highest user satisfaction ratings.
- Apple's innovations are literally life changing and always in a good way.
- Apple isn't a dictatorship. If you don't like their products, you're free to shop somewhere else.

I know that it's human nature for a certain portion of the population to rebel against whoever is on top. Even Apple may have benefitted from this tendency during the dark days when Microsoft seemed both omnipotent and omnipresent. But I still don't really understand the venom that spews from Apple's detractors.

As I said to start this post, I don't have an answer...yet. But I'm going to think on this and I suspect that, with some time and with some focused thought, an answer may come to me. If you think you have an answer now, please chime in. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Relentless Kaizen

Apple basically has 4 products (iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac). Their core competency is integrating hardware and software to create a great user experience. Apple spends most all of their time using their core competency to polish their products.

Amazon has millions of products. They are the exact opposite of Apple, right?

Wrong. Amazon's "product" is their web site. Their core competency is making online shopping easy. Amazon spends most all of their time using their core competency to polish their service.

What's your core competency? Are you constantly polishing your product or service?

Constant consistency

Here’s the thing about Apple’s “recent” success. 
It isn’t recent. 
The only thing that has changed are some numbers. Some big numbers: largest company in the world, second most profitable company in the world, most profitable retail stores in the world, best-selling smart phone, second best-selling smart phone, best-selling tablet computer, etc. 
Other numbers have not changed: customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, consumer ratings, etc.
Man oh man, is that analysis spot on.

Do you have a philosophy and a plan that will be just as good and just as relevant ten years from now as it is today?

Apple keeps its customers in line(s)

Once again, Apple draws huge crowds to their grand opening of China’s biggest Apple Retail Store in Shanghai. Click the link to see the pictures.

What can we learn from this?

I used to ask business owners if their customers were so loyal that they would tattoo the name of their company on their bodies. People laughed. Then I directed their attention to Harley Davidson. Now THAT's customer loyalty.

Today when I want to talk about customer loyalty, I point to Apple. They get huge lines for most everything they do. Who else draws lines most every time they debut a product or open a store? Wouldn't you kill for customers like that? Well here's how you get that kind of customer loyalty.

If you want your customers to be passionate about your goods or your services, then you have to be passionate about providing your customers with the ver best. If you want your customers to to be fanatically loyal to you then you need to be loyal to them in everything you do.

It's hard to do. It's crucial that you do it. Apple doesn't GET loyal and passionate customers, Apple earns them. Take a look at your customers. You always get the customers you deserve. If you don't like your customers, you need to stop blaming them and you need to start working on you.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Disruption is the name of the game

(Disney's) dismal efforts in gaming have been tied to expensive failures created for console games, particularly Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. Those titles require hundreds of programmers and take two to three years to finish, the company said.
Mobile games, on the other hand, can be created by teams of fewer than a dozen, and can be brought to market in about six months. 
The thing about a disruptive product is that you never know what it's going to hit next.  Predicting that the iPhone was going to change the phone industry and the carriers was easy. But a disruptive product is like throwing a large stone in a small pond. The waves just keep extending further and further and further.

Today's disrupted industry? Gaming.

Critics mocked initial observations that Apple's iPhone could possibly challenge dedicated mobile game devices like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP two years ago, but now the App Store is rivaling the online markets of the top game consoles, a remarkable turn of events given how new both the App Store and the iPad are, and particularly given how inexperienced and even resistant Apple has been when it comes to embracing gaming as a market. 
One of the signs of a disruptive produce is that the incumbents don't feel threatened. Microsoft's CEO famously laughed at the iPhone. Other CEOs were no more prescient than he was. The iPad was challenged at first because everyone thought it would fail.

Gaming is being disrupted today, in part, because they refused to believe that the iPhone and iPad could become a threat. If you don't want your company disrupted, be sure to look for trends, not willfully ignore them.

Make new customers, but keep the old...

A whopping 89 percent of iPhone owners have indicated they will stick with Apple for their next handset, dwarfing all other hardware makers, according to a new survey.
When I was a child, I learned the popular ditty:
Make new friends, but keep the old
One is silver, and the other gold.
The same can be said for customers. Experts say that acquiring new customers costs as much as 10 to 20 times more than retaining existing customers. And existing customers purchase 2 to 5 times more. Yet most business spend the vast majority of their time and resources on getting new business rather than retaining their existing base.

Make new customers, by all means. But don't forget your your existing customers either. They're easier to retain, they spend more money and its the right thing to do.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Make no promises you cannot keep

No one outside Apple’s top ranks knows whether the iPhone 5 (or whatever they’re going to call it — or them, if there are two new models, not just one) was planned for a fall release all along, or whether it slipped and was originally intended for a June/July release.
And they never will know. An in vogue business maxim is "under promise, over deliver". That's a great business policy. But even better is to make no promises at all. That translates into "seldom promise, over deliver. Not as clever or as pithy, for sure, but it certainly is utilitarian. Salesman and CEOs have an awfully hard time following this advice. They want to say something - ANYTHING - to assure their prospects or their prospective shareholders. But, as Abraham lincoln once said:

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

Yes, it's important to under promise and over deliver. But by all means, your first option should be to make no promises at all.

HP's long term thinking is stinking

Less than a year after hiring Léo Apotheker as its chief executive, Hewlett-Packard’s directors were meeting Wednesday to consider replacing him, according to several people with knowledge of the board’s actions. The leading candidate was Meg Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay, who was sought for her ability to run a large technology company, they said.
The surprise move revealed not only the confusion inside the company over its strategy, but also the directors’ difficulties in choosing the leadership of the company.
Honestly, what is wrong with that company? Or maybe the better question is what ISN'T wrong with that company?

About 15 months ago, HP had to get rid of their CEO due to a scandal. They brought in an Enterprise software guy who sat on his hands for a year. When he finally declared his intent to turn HP into a software company the board was taken by surprise? Say what? YOU HIRED THE GUY. Didn't you know what he was all about?

I admire that Apotheker made a bold move. I wish he had made it a year earlier. And I abhor the way he mad his move. He should have quietly put out feelers for selling webOS and HP's PC division and announced their sales simultaneously with announcing HP's change in strategy. But that's all water under the bridge now. If the HP board is truly looking for a new CEO then they're changing their strategy for the third time in less than a year and a half. It's like there's no one at the tiller in that company.

One of the things that I've always admired about Apple is that they are long term thinkers. They plan many, many years out and then bring that strategy back in order to dictate today's actions. Comparing them to master chess players is probably a pretty good analogy. They think 20 or so moves ahead. In contrast, many of their competitors seem to be simply reacting to the news of the day. To extend the analogy, while Apple is playing chess, Apple's competitors are playing checkers. And badly too.

HP isn't even playing checkers. They're just blowing in the wind. Hopefully HP's board will pick the right CEO this time. But based on their recent record, I'd say that it's the board, not the CEO, that's creating the problem.

Cannibalize yourself

Over the past four quarters, unit sales (of iPods) are down 12.5% from the prior year, while revenue has fallen by 6.2%. Sales of the IPod are in decline.
Or are they?

Have you met my little friends the iPod Touch, the iPhone and even the iPad? Are they all fully functioning iPods? Yes they are. And are their sales numbers? Yes they are.

Apple doesn't report iPod Touch sales but Apple has indicated that iPod Touches now account for more than half of all iPod sales. The iPhone and the iPad sold 20.3 and 9.2 million units respectively in the last quarter alone. If you count all of these devices as iPods - and you should - then iPod sales have not decreased - they've increased immeasurably in the past five years.

What's the lesson here? The iPod was the device that first saved Apple from obscurity then launched Apple to fame. Yet in ten short years the iPod went from being Apple's hottest product to being an afterthought.

Cannibalize yourself. Don't wait for your competition to do it. Apple's philosophy is that if anyone is going to steal market share from their products then that someone is going to be Apple. That should be your philosophy too.

Free is a trap, not a business strategy

Bing, Microsoft's two-year old search engine, is losing nearly a $1 billion a quarter, with no sign of letting up.
Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) has lost $5.5 billion on Bing since the search service launched in June 2009, but the company's search losses actually pre-date that. In fact, the software giant has never made money in its online services division. Since Microsoft began breaking out that unit's finances in 2007, the company has lost a total of $9 billion.
Sure Bing is bleeding red ink, but at least they're gaining lots of valuable market share, right?

Even the good news with Bing isn't so great. Microsoft proudly proclaims that it has gained search market share against Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) in each of the past 27 months. While that's true, it is not gaining search share from Google.
Bing currently maintains a 14.7% share of the search market, up from 8.4% when Bing launched, according to online data tracker comScore (SCOR). Google currently commands 64.8% of the market -- down just two-tenths of a percentage point from the 65% it held when Bing debuted.
More than half the share that Bing has gained has actually come from third-place Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500). The rest has come from search cellar-dwellers and AOL (AOL).
There's usually no such thing as "bad" market share growth, but Yahoo's search is powered by Bing. That means more than half of Microsoft's share growth has come from cannibalizing its search partner.


Dot.coms, start ups, Microsoft and Google are teaching us lessons that we should all unlearn. "Sophisticated" business mavens will tell you that you can make money by losing money. In some instances, that's true. But you can never make money by giving away your primary money making service or product for free.

Dot.coms and start ups are always losing money in order to gain market share declaring that once they have sufficient market share that they'll alter their business strategy and start to make money. Not going to happen. How many start ups have we seen gain market share and then fail once they tried to turn that market share into cash? The lucky ones get acquired by big companies that have an even less coherent business plan than they do. Market share does not automatically translate into profit share.

One of the poster children for the advocates of free is Amazon, which lost tons of money while it was establishing itself and its market share. But Amazon never lost money on its primary services - selling goods and merchandise. Those prices always remained competitive. Amazon lost money because it was building a huge infrastructure of software and delivery services that made it nearly competitor proof. If Amazon had gained its customer base by giving away its merchandise, those self-same customers would have melted away the moment Amazon raised its prices.

Microsoft? They have too damn much money. People say X-Box is a huge success. Success? Microsoft went 5 billion dollars in the hole with that project. X-Box is profitable now but who knows how many years of profit it will take for them to break even. And even when they finally go into the net black, their return on investment will always be paltry. They probably could have made more money by simply sticking that 5 billion dollars in treasury bonds.

Google? You'll notice that Google never gives its search services away for anything less than a profit. Google plays around with all sorts of services and sets up all kinds of "moats" around their search business. But they never give away their primary product for free.

One of the things I've always admired about Apple is that they never (to my recollection) lose money on a product. It's well known that Apple gives away content and services in order to sell hardware. First iTunes, then the App Store and now iCloud fall into that category. Of those three, only iCloud falls into the realm of unpaid for services. iTunes makes a profit as does the App store. Not much of a profit as far as Apple is concerned but far more profit that any other loss leader that I'm aware of.

Unlearn the lesson that you can make money from free. If you can't sell your loss leader for cost, then you're probably doing something wrong.

How Netflix Lost its Glamor and its Way 
A shrewder group of executives would have realized that streaming would become the future and never have provided it to DVD renters for free in the first place. If a thing has value, and it costs you money to obtain and deliver, you charge for it. Good CEOs know that. Customers who wanted streaming content would have a choice: pay for streaming or forego it. Instead, Netflix gave away something of value, acclimated the customers to an entitlement, then abruptly shocked them with the real costs. Compare that to Apple TV where, if you want something of value, good content without commercials, you pay for it.
Never give anything of value away for free. You'll find it almost impossible to sell it for a profit ever again.

So simple, a child can use it.

A survey commissioned by a security app developer that polled parents in the U.K. has revealed surprising attitudes about children and access to technology and the internet. The study focused on primary-school children (ages 5-10) and found that one in 10 kids under the age of 10 years old already owns their own iPhone. One in 20 have their own iPad...
Certainly the number of children who use iPhones and iPads is amazing. But the bigger story, in my opinion, is that so many children CAN use iPhones and iPads.

iPhones and iPads are sophisticated computers. They have far more computing power than the computers used ub the Apollo space flights. They allow one to communicate via text and FaceTime, surf the net, listen and view content and run a seemingly infinite number of powerful software applications. Oh yeah, the iPhone allows phone calls too.

Critics of modern computers would say that the fact that children can use iPhones and iPads is simply more proof that today's computers are "dumbed down". That "real" computing requires a "real" user interface. By "real" user interface, they seem to mean a "complicated, hard to use" interface.

If that's what "dumbed down" means, then I everything to be "dumbed down:. I don't want to think about how my car's engine runs, I just want to get where I'm going. I don't want to know how my microwave works, I just want to eat my food at the proper temperature. I don't understand how to access my hundreds of cable channels, use my DVR and navigate my remote control, I just want to watch my television programs.

The iPhone and the iPad aren't dumbing us down, they are freeing us. Freeing us from knowing how our computing devices work. Freeing us to focus on our tasks, not how we get those tasks done. Because despite what the technorrati thinks, we don't want to know how to use our computers. We just want to get things done.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The iPad Zen

The buzz that the iPad is generating is unbelievable. The skeptics diss the iPad for being a toy and not being a "real" computer, but the public doesn't view it that way. Even groups who are normally overly cautious about trying new technology - like education, business and government - are jumping on the iPad band wagon.

Despite its enormous success, all the critics want to change the iPad. "Sure," they say, "it's pretty good now but it would be REALLY great if they just made it more like a desktop computer! But isn't that what everyone said before the iPad made its appearance? And isn't that why all the tablets sold prior to the iPad failed?

Despite the iPad being a mega-hit and despite the fact that it's been on the market for 17 months, analysts, pundits and competitors still don't understand it. Customers seem to get it, but I think that they get it at a visceral level. I doubt that they could cogently articulate exactly why they like it.

I think this is the genius of Steve Jobs at work. No one else would have made the iPad because its shortcomings are so obvious and it's strengths are so subtle. Even now I struggle to explain why the iPad is such a success, yet Steve Jobs intuitively grasped why it would work. He knew then what we still fail to understand now.

The iPad's success reminds me more of the iPod than of the iPhone. Remember how everyone said that the iPod lacked features and remember how every competitive product that added those "missing" features - then failed and failed miserably?

People - especially the high priests of "open" - always talk about how choice is good. But is it always so? When it comes to government, choice is good because there is only one government and it has a monopoly on power. You can't pick and choose which government you want. You can't really choose to ignore government edicts. When you have a monolithic government with a monopoly on power. The power to vote - to choose one's government is good. Rights - which is the power to keep the government from imposing its will on certain aspects of one's life is good.

The free market is nothing like that. The advocates of "open" don't get it. In a free market you get to vote with your dollars on which products you like. You get a choice between products. The advocates of "open" believe that one should have "choices" within each company - that each company should provide an endless supply of different products for our consumption.

The iPod didn't provide us with choice, it restricted out choice. Choice comes at a price. For every new feature, for every new way of accessing those features, we pay a price. Things take a little longer. Things become a little more complex. The iPod worked because it walked that fine line between simplicity and complexity. It gave us some features and it empowered us. It removed some features and it empowered us. The ability to empower us by taking away features is a seeming paradox that baffles people even to this day.

The iPad is like the iPod. It has some great features but not so many features as we think we would like. But the features that the iPad has are uncompromised. They all run beautifully. And those features which could only be done by half, which would entail compromises, are eliminated.

Could a child use an iPad if it had a task manager? Could a senior citizen? Will the power that a Windows 8 tablet provide make up for it's complexity, it's loss of intuitiveness? The power user will say yes without hesitation. They are willing to put in the time and effort to learn a complex machine in order to do complex work. They don't see why everyone else would not be willing to do the same.

The iPad is not for the best of us - it's for the rest of us. As hard as it is for the technoratti to grasp, we don't want to work on our computers. We want our computers to work for us.

We want to write letters not learn how Word works. We want to surf the web not learn how our browser works. We want to watch videos not learn how downloads and codecs and file types work. We want computers to enhance our lives, not complicate our lives.

The iPad works, but it's far from perfect. Every time you have to think how to do something, that is a failure. Every time you pause before accomplishing a task, that is a failure. The iPad works when it allows you to do something once and you never have to think about HOW to do it again. Instead you can focus on WHAT you're doing.

The iPad is not a pyramid that you keep piling feature after feature upon. The iPad is a high wire act - a delicate balancing between complexity and simplicity

This is what people don't get about the iPad. They look at the added value of the features and say, "Why doesn't the ipad do that?" Apple looks at each feature and says, "Does it increase the overall user experience?" For non-Apple thinkers, every additional feature is inherently good. For Apple-thinkers, it's a balancing act -features are only useful if they're not outweighed by the burden imposed on the user.

Why do people in the Enterprise crave the iPad even though it can't do everything they want? Because they want everything they to be as easy to do, as the iPad is to use.