Archive for September, 2008

Ho-Hum, Another Fire Drill

September 25, 2008


Am I the only denizen of Corporate America who finds the term ‘fire drill’ demotivating?

I don’t think it’s the term. I think it’s the way that it’s misused to describe an urgent activity that takes priority without warning.

A real fire drill is an important thing. It may not feel like it when it interrupts your workday, but it is. Ask anyone who’s ever managed Facilities and you’ll find it’s a very organized and purposeful affair. Do people respond quickly? Do they assemble at the right place? What’s the total time to get the building empty, and how do we know for sure that it is empty? Everyone participating in a fire drill has a real stake in the outcome: the ability of this group of people to quickly respond to an emergency in a way that keeps everyone safe and accounted for.

That’s not what’s meant in Corporate America when someone swings by and says “sorry, but we’ve got a fire drill today.” It’s rarely purposeful or organized. A senior exec has demanded information and analysis immediately. The exact need is often unclear. (Sometimes the demand could be boiled down to “give me something that will get the Board off my back.”) The only thing that’s clear is that this take priority over everything else.

So underlings scurry to push the urgency they feel to other underlings, who request immediate information from their peers and underlings. If the need wasn’t clearly articulated in the first place, imagine what happens as it turns into a massive game of ‘telephone’.

Let’s take the Egghead Marketing copter up so we can view it from the air. First, look at a real fire drill – organized groups of people moving purposefully in well-defined directions. Now look at a corporate fire drill from the air. It looks nothing like the real fire drill. It looks more like what happens when you drop a baseball on an anthill. Lots of activity, but none of it organized or purposeful.

In four difference Fortune 500 corporations I’ve seen my share of fire drills. It hasn’t been substantially different at any of them. A corporate fire drill typically produces a PowerPoint deck as the output. The length varies, but one thing that stays constant is an excessive ratio of ‘backup’ slide as a percentage of the total deck. I commonly see ‘fire drill’ decks where 90% of the slides are in backup. Don’t tell me ‘there was value in doing all those slides because that information was summarized in the main deck.’ I know the value of my time and the time of my peers and subordinates, and I know the cost of diverting that time from revenue-generating work. For every ten units of work expended, one unit of value was created.

It’s plain that I think ‘fire drill’ is the wrong metaphor. But I guess you can’t swing by someone’s cube and say ‘sorry, but someone dropped a baseball on the corporate anthill and I need you to scurry around frantically for a while.’

Is there a metaphor that would reflect the situation more honestly? Or, even better, one that would cause us to act more purposefully?

Photo by Sean Glenn


It’s The Glue

September 19, 2008

Months ago, I blogged about scientists gluing Wii remote parts to flying lemurs. (Yes, it was a real headline, and yes, it really was tied to Marketing).

Since then I get 20-30% of my hits per day from the keyword ‘glue’. I tried to figure out why – that blog post isn’t on the first ten pages of Google Web search results for ‘glue’.

Finally figured out that I’m #1 on Google Image Search for ‘glue’ because of the picture I used. (The picture of the glue bottle below, not the picture of Paris Hilton with a Wiimote embedded in her head.)

Moral of the story: in Marketing you have to try a lot of different things. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out which of them stick. But it’s worth trying to figure out, because then you can do more of them. Glue. Glue. Picture of glue bottle here. Sticky, clicky Elmer’s glue. C’mon Google, index me.

Glue, I said!

More Not Your Customer

September 19, 2008

I had some good offline & Twitter responses to my Not Your Customer post a couple weeks back. Some people got was I was saying, some didn’t. To summarize, I was trying to do two things:

  • Point out that ‘internal customer’ is a metaphor, not a true market-based customer relationship. Because of that it sometimes breaks down by diluting focus on working as a team to serve the actual (external paying) customer
  • Rip off Bob Dylan. He’s used a negative structure powerfully a couple times, notably in ‘All I Really Want to Do.’ Each verse is four varied lines of negatives – I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do that – followed by one positive affirmation. The contrast in the Dylan song makes the affirmation powerful. I was shooting for similar power in pointing out that, whatever else you may focus on, if you don’t have the external customer in mind you can quickly go astray

People who worked for large companies seemed to get it. They’ve dealt with cogs deep in the system who believe that, as long as they continue to mesh with the nearest cogs the same way they always have, they are adding value and their job is secure. People who worked for smaller companies didn’t always get it.  Some hadn’t heard the ‘internal customer’ metaphor (one asked if I thought employees should not be allowed to purchase from their own companies). Others, because their companies are small enough that the customer is always close, naturally practice the customer-focused teamwork that I advocate.

That was the intent and I’m glad it sparked some good conversations. Next up: Not Your Job.

Photo by Claudecf

The Most Potent Argument Ever For Joining Yet Another Social Network

September 15, 2008

Here’s a transcript of a short conversation in the workplace.

Me: “Hey, where’d you get that cake?”

Michael101: “If you were on Yammer, you’d know.”

OK…I’ve signed up. Stuff I like:

  • Ability to have a many-to-one or one-two-many conversation within the enterprise
  • Lotsa my friends are there since I hang out with Hooverites

Stuff I don’t like

  • Please let me use Twhirl. I want to be able to switch back and forth between Twitter and Yammer as I please. Otherwise I risk missing cake at a critical juncture

Will You Tweet Me When I’m Gone

September 15, 2008

The recent decision of a Rocky Mountain News reporter to report the funeral of a local three-year-old via Twitter has raised questions about whether it was an appropriate use of the microblogging tool. ABC News quotes a reporter as saying that this decision “…took the notion of Twitter to staggeringly low depths.” Other commentators, including Silicon Valley Insider, have followed suit.

Others – many on Twitter – didn’t see this as a big deal. @tawnypress points out that “we tweet births, weddings, engagement, deaths, why not funerals?” @benkunz asks “what’s the diff between Tweets and a CNN live feed?” Matthew Ingram reminds us that reporting bad news from uncomfortable situations is pretty much what reporters do every day, regardless of channel. All very good points.

My take on it? Remember Larry Ellison’s famous quote: “You have zero privacy already. Get over it.” Anything we do may be blogged or tweeted about, filmed on a cell phone and uploaded to Youtube, or visible on Google Streetview. The only real privacy exists for those of us who are so boring as to be un-Googleable. So you could expect me to take an unsympathetic “welcome to the fishbowl” attitude here.

On the other hand, much of that is peer- or self-inflicted visibility. If someone chooses to tweet during the birth of their baby, or their wedding, or their father’s funeral, I support that personal decision to make a personal moment public. If journalists are at a news event of some major significance, I expect them to tweet about it. In fact some of the best Hurricane Ike coverage I saw came over Twitter.

This situation is like none of those. It’s a tragic death of a three-year-old child in a senseless accident. This kind of thing that happens more often than we’d like to think – often enough that it’s newsworthy only on a local level. The only reason we are all discussing this family’s tragedy is because some local reporter decided to create controversy by tweeting about it. Without that decision this would have remained a local news item. Read the transcript of his tweets here and tell me what you think. I think it’s crappy journalism. If you don’t, submit it for a Pulitzer Prize, but don’t get your hopes up.

If you’re my friend or family, feel free to tweet during my funeral if that’s what you need to do. If a funeral is high visibility enough that the press would be there with cameras anyway, the press is welcome to live blog it too.

But if I were that grieving father, and and I knew that someone were creating national interest in my family’s local tragedy by live-blogging the funeral – I would accost that journalist. I would take their Blackberry, iPhone, or other device forcibly away from them. And I would place it where they would no longer be able to tweet without talking out of their ass.