Confession Time

I have a confession to make- I am a release junky. A full fledged addict and it feels good to say it out loud.  Releasing new products/functionality/sites gets me out of bed in the morning.

The build up to the release date, hitting the go button, and then watching the feedback come in. I can’t get enough of it.

The first part of my career was spent in a service based web consultancy where I was working on 5 to 10 projects at any time. We were fast paced and never went  long without releasing something for our clients. Working in this environment for the first 6 years of my career probably explains where the addiction started.

The truth is there is nothing like finishing. Whether it’s the 100 metre sprint or the marathon- that sensation of crossing the finish line is amazing. You get there, you stop, you look around, sometimes you even want to throw up, but every time you pick yourself up, walk away, and start thinking about that next race while you swim in your own endorphins.

It’s so important to understand what makes you tick, where you find the inspiration and the motivation to keep going on those grey days.

I like the finish line and I am proud of it.

Behavioral Innovation

A fantastic talk by Umair Haque, Director of Havas Media Lab on Behavioral innovation and the Great Compression.

He gave this talk at the Brite (Brand Innovation and Technology) Conference.

Umair’s key message was that for business to survive they need to redefine how they treat  innovation. We have a global crisis where the economy underestimates costs and overstates benefits. A company wants to maximize profits by making consumers worse off. Consumers are being sold things they do not need. (e.g. mortgages)

He argues that the value businesses are creating today is inauthentic, brittle and unsustainable.  Many industries today are unable to survive the global crisis.

To get past this we must re-conceive value creation. Value creation is done through innovation.

Innovation is normally addressed with strategic output likes launching better products, shifting from products to services, redesigning value chain, managing resources more efficiently, profit centers etc…. all management innovation.

The problem with this is that it has companies acting strategically and strategic behavior does not spawn the type of innovation we need now. We need innovation that allows a company to reinvent itself yesterday for tomorrow’s challenges.

An example he provided was Google- they think beyond strategy and always have. He compared it to Microsoft where the strategy has made them very rich, but they are unable to grapple with challenge of re-invention required for today’s economy.

He suggests that we move away for strategic behavior (dominance, control, brand, differentiation) and use 5 paths of behavioral innovation to unlock new sources of advantage.

5 paths to Behavior Innovation

Stewardship

  • Is about not exploiting resources to point of depletion.
  • Think about advertising- it has been over done.  The cost to advertise got too high, there were too many ads and now consumers don’t want to see ads anymore. Now the media industry is struggling with reinvention.

Trusteeship

  • Is about the good, always playing on a level playing field.
  • Not manipulating people.

Guardianship

  • Is about the common good.
  • Nobody is looking for the common good when everyone behaving strategically.

Leadership

  • Is about challenge.
  • Having willingness to disrupt yourself.
  • Challenge the status quo in your company and industry.
  • Doing things in a different way.

Partnership

  • Is about outcomes.
  • Focuses on people’s outcomes.
  • Making people better off in some way. (e.g current food industry does not see people as partners- the obesity epidemic).

Definitely worth watching..

Umair Haque at BRITE ’09 conference from BRITE Conference on Vimeo.

We’re not a Family, we are a Pro Sports Team

Netflix’s reference guide to their business values and culture is fantastic.

One slide that resonated with me was slide 27  “We’re not a Family, we are a Pro Sports Team

Growing up I loved playing on sport teams. My favourite team was probably my middle school basketball team.

The school was made up of grade 8, 9 and 10.

Grade 8’s had their own team that almost everyone who wanted to play got to be on it. It was fun, not very competitive, and we were never any good. However, the school varsity team of grade 9s and 10s was a whole other story. They were good, really good and it was cut throat to be on it. You now had twice as many girls vying for the 15 positions and everyone wanted it.

I always knew I wanted to be on this team– it just meant so much to me and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so I trained, I trained a lot. The summer before grade 9 I played basketball as much as I could. Luckily, I had a basketball hoop at the end of my driveway where I would play my dad or brothers any time they would. I normally lost, but losing was okay as long as I was practicing.

I also went to basketball camp where I spent a week training harder then I ever had before. When I wasn’t  putting band-aids on my blisters, I was running lines, working on on my free throws, learning to do left handed layups and playing game after game.

What kept me going when every bone in my body hurt was the all consuming feeling that I wanted to make the team in September.  I knew I was at a disadvantage because the team the year before had been made up of primarily girls in grade 9, who would probably just float back into their position. This meant there were only a few open spots from the grade 10 girls who had moved onto high school.

This was cut throat, we now had the entire grade 8 team +  the returning grade 9s + anyone else who had failed to make the teams all wanting to play- every tryout was going to count.

Every day after school for 2 weeks we’d meet the coach in the gym where we would be taken through numerous skills tests, pick up games, and 2km time trial runs.

You’d go home every night exhausted with a pit of nerves in your stomach and every morning you walk up to the gym door to see if your name was still on the list.

For a 14 year old this was stress, this was passion.

I made the team and I had never been so excited and proud. Not only was it a testament to hard work and determination, but having gone through such a difficult trial process had set a tone for the team. Everyone wanted to be there and everyone wanted to be successful.

This made the season an incredible experience. We trained hard, we practiced hard, we supported each other, and we loved playing together. There was no room for indifference, apathy, or slackers.

Now back to Netlfix- absolutely, I think a company with a true sports team culture would be incredible. A team made of people with the same passion, commitment, and drive that I experienced  with a group of 14 and 15 years playing basketball.

Netflix Presentation

Culture

View more presentations from reed2001.

New Theme, New Day

I have spent the weekend at Word Camp NZ. The event was the first of its kind in New Zealand and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

As it turned out the event was excellent, so much so that I am now feeling inspired enough to start writing on my blog again.

I particularly enjoyed listening to WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg’s keynote. I love learning about the history of  businesses and how they and their products have evolved.

You can check out Matt’s presentation here.

The first step in my rejuvenated passion for this blog has come in the selection of  a new theme. Fresh look for a fresh approach.

The second step was updating my version of WordPress from 2.2 to 2.8.1. As always WordPress makes it so incredibly easy. The ease of installations, upgrades, theme creations, plugins etc.. are all a real testament to WordPress’s commitment to making everything as simple as possible for their users.

The third step was this post as you just have to jump back into it.

I hope the energy and enthusiasm that so often comes from being in conferences will last as this weekend is now coming to an end.

Word Camp NZ 2009

Word Camp NZ 2009, Photo: Jeff Wegesin

Detroit’s Decline

A step away from what I usually talk about, but I just came across Time’s photo essay
entitled- Detroit’s Beautiful, Horrible Decline.

United Artists Theater, Detroit

United Artists Theater, Detroit

It’s the type of imagery that we’re used to seeing in war torn cities where buildings have been riddled with gunshots and ravaged with bombs.

But in Detroit, it’s a different kind of war- an economic one. A war that begun with the demise of industries and its infinite ripple into the economy.

Plants shut down, people lost their jobs, more business closed, people moved, house prices fell, investment dried up and the city began to die.

It is true that cities are structures, building and geography, but their heart has always been the people. It’s a combination of societies, communities, cultures and their economies that keep cities alive and moves them forward.

As economies struggle in this current climate, it’s never been more important for societies, communities and cultures to work together to fight for their home, fight for their city. If they don’t, one day we’ll look back and see what once were beautiful, flourishing cities have now become ghost towns.

New York Times- Article Skimmer

The New York Times has released a prototype of a new way to access their articles: The Article Skimmer

Down the left hand side are the topics that you can choose from and on the right is the content with teasers for each article.

It definitely has a magazine feel and seeing the content laid out this way is a nice change.

The only thing obviously missing is the date the article was published, giving you an idea of how often content is recycled through.

The write up on the Article Skinner mirrors the experience of using it to “Sunday browsing”- laying out your paper on the coffee table to take in as much content as possible.

I wonder if this means that the Article Skimmer will only be used for Sunday’s edition?

Credit Crisis Visualised

A fantastic video explaining the Credit Crisis. What is a complex topic is explained clearly in an engaging narrative.

It was made by Jonathon Jarvis as part of his thesis for a media design program.

Check it out: The Crisis of Credit Visualized

Geeks are Creatives too

I was reading an article How to Manage Geeks. A friend sent it to me, probably because I work with a team of developers.

I am not sure how I feel about the word “geek”. As a kid, it was insult, but now it’s a term used widely about amongst the “geek” community to describe themselves. If used appropriately, it’s no longer derogatory. Times they sure have changed!

I don’t consider myself a geek, but I suspect to someone outside of the “IT world”, a product manager building online web applications is a pretty geeky profession! (The truth is that I love my job, so maybe I am a geek…)

Anyway I wasn’t sure what to expect reading the article, whether is was a joke or serious, but it was the real deal- a true “How To” on the dos and don’ts of managing a “geek”.

I am writing about this because one of these “How Tos” really stood out for me- #10 Remember that geeks are creative workers.

I think quite often in website or application development, it’s easily forgotten how much design is required by software engineers to give life to the specification documents and the designs that accompany them.

Whether you are creating something for the first time or extending an existing product- the engineer needs to think about the problem holistically and design a solution that meets the specifications and looks and works like the design while ensuring it’s a solid build with minimal bugs.

Through this design process they also need to feed back to the team any suggestions for revising the specifications or design based on technical constraints or suggestions for improvements.

This technical design phase is critical to the success of any project.

So I do agree- give the “geek” a creative environment to work and allow them the time and freedom to design their software as allowing for this will only result in better products, websites and applications.

What value do you bring?

I heard someone talking the other day about finding your personal value proposition.

Determining what skills you have to offer your employer, your clients/customers, your staff- every working relationship in your life.

While the world is experiencing the shaky economic climate, what can you do and what will you do to ride the wave and be successful?

If you don’t know what value you bring, how can you expect anyone to pay you for what you do?

Take a few minutes and ask yourself these questions- really think about it.

If you can’t find any value in your work, then brace yourself  because it’s only a matter of time before someone else notices!

Actually to be honest, they probably already have.

So what better time to see what you can change- find ways to work smarter, increase productivity, increase profit and stimulate your business in 2009.

Taking Inventory

Wow it’s been a long time since I posted anything on my blog. I am going to have to blame computer burn-out, which has subsequently been cured with a 4 week holiday only logging on for the occasional email. :-)

Anyway, a lot has been happening since the 5th of August as the world walks on egg shells waiting for the US government to approve the billion dollar bail out plan.

I have been particularly interested in the coverage relating the future of Web start-ups in this time of economic turmoil. Half the commentators are doom and gloom and others trying to  remain positive and offer advice on survival.

As unemployment rises, credit contracts and people need to tighten their spending, any business needs to take inventory of where they are at and evaluate the situation.

The first and most important question is- do we have the money we need to survive? Can we keep operating?

Ultimately, money should be coming from customers from a sound business model and good revenue streams. This is essential. You need this to survive and it’s required if you want someone to invest in you as you will need to demonstrate how they are going to make money out of their investment.

The second question is (are)– am I executing an awesome product and are we a great company with an awesome customer experience?

In a time when the economy is contracting there is no room for mediocrity. If I have to choose between a great product or a mediocre one, I will choose a great one. If I have to choose between a company with friendly customer care or one that doesn’t return my emails, I am going with the friendly crew. If my disposable income is shrinking I need to be selective on things I am going to pay for, so I want the best.

What does your inventory tell you:

  • Do you have money to survive?
  • Is your business model solid?
  • Are you building an amazing product?
  • Do you treat your customers well?