Archive for March, 2009

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

March 28, 2009

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My all-time favorite album title is ‘No Guru, No Method, No Teacher’ by Van Morrison. Forget that it’s brilliant music by a world-class artist. The title alone rocks.

I’ve been thinking about it lately as I’ve considered discussion around the title ‘social media guru.’ Brand Dialogue suggests that you view anyone bearing this title skeptically. Jeremiah Owyang thinks that the tide of the recession will sweep the beach clear of many self-proclaimed gurus -and that this will be a good thing.

Others clearly view it differently. I just ran across yet another Craigslist job listing where a company was looking for a ‘social media guru’. I see the title used frequently without irony on Twitter and in profiles, and I hear it used as a compliment. And many people have deep expertise in the field – I’m lucky enough to have worked with a few and know a few more.

My own take is that I don’t like the term for a couple reasons. From a Geoffrey Moore perspective, we’re nowhere near all the way through the adoption curve on social media. Everything that you know today will change very shortly as the late adopters and laggards from Moore’s classic model start showing up. (Yes, the book was written in 1991 – peg me as a dinosaur if you like, but it’s the best model of technology adoption I know). I’m seeing this more and more on Facebook. The changes they’ve made to their interface are minor compared to the changes happening in the community as more aunts, grandpas and non-technophiles start SuperPoking each other – and me.

More than that, though, I don’t like the term ‘guru’ – for any field of endeavor. Okay, maybe Jesus and Buddha and a few others have truly earned it. But I don’t like the term applied to me. Really. And it’s more than just my Midwestern modesty.

I’ve been called ‘guru’ in several roles – sometimes around data analysis, sometimes around pricing and packaging, sometimes around product launch. All areas in which I’m proud to have some expertise. But the folks that called me ‘guru’ in any of those roles were rarely the greatest collaborators on the team. More often than not they wanted transactional discipleship – to get my expertise applied to their project or deal and to move on. Which is fine. We all have roles on the team, and I behave no differently when I need signoff from Legal or Finance on something. Except I don’t call them ‘gurus’, because I’m not there to learn from them – I’m there, openly, to get their expertise applied and move on.

I’ve spent the past half hour rewriting the paragraph above and trying to make it not sound cranky. I may have failed at that. But Van Morrison is famous for his crankiness. And he urged us to accept no guru, no method, no teacher. Some of us know more than others. We can and should learn from them whenever possible. But there’s more unknown than known, and we all have a lot to learn from each other.

“You can’t stay the same. If you’re a musician and a singer, you have to change, that’s the way it works.” – Van Morrison

Photo by oddsock

When Common Sense is a Startling Revelation

March 14, 2009

This afternoon I took in Tony Hsieh’s keynote at the South by Southwest Interactive festival. The room was packed and expectations were high. Marketing and social media heavy hitters – CEOs, CMOs, and execs from other companies – faithfully tweeted each bit of wisdom Tony passed out. Not bad for a guy who started selling pizza and, these days, sells shoes. (Maybe you’ve heard of Zappos.com).

In all seriousness it was a great speech and one that I expect will send out ripples of change for a long time. Tony came across as genuine and likeable – and, more importantly, both wicked smart and strongly principled. I took away three very wise points:

  • Company culture and brand are flip sides of the same thing. They’re so serious about this they’ll pay new employees to quit – if a $1,000 bonus is motivation to quit, you’re probably not committed enough to be part of that great culture
  • Every customer interaction is a marketing opportunity. Don’t try to reduce cost by outsourcing telephone support; recognize that one-to-one interaction as the priceless marketing (NOT upselling) opportunity to delight a customer that it is. A simple corollary to this: a dollar spent delighting a customer is FAR more effective than a dollar spent promising to delight a customer
  • Happiness matters. Happy employees create happy customers. “People may not remember what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

He left me with a lot to think about. If you were there, you probably had the same reaction – if you weren’t, email tony@zappos.com and he’ll send you a copy of the presentation.

What’s happened to our business climate that any of this comes across as a startling revelation? Zappos has used some ingenious approaches. But the principles are things we should already know. They sound like wisdom from a small-town merchant who recognizes that he’ll be dealing with the same town for a lifetime, instead a a P.T. Barnum ready to pull up the stakes and move on to the next town full of suckers.

We know these things. Then we go on accepting a goal of reducing average call time by 10%.  Instead of surprising customers with free fast shipping, we surprise them with hidden shipping charges. Years ago, the person inside Dell who championed going down to 90-day phone support as the base level with any other level of support an upsell was treated as a hero. (This is not speculation, I was there).

None of this is intended to take anything away from Tony’s speech – it was what we needed to hear. But as you think about some of the takeways, ask yourself: didn’t we already know these principles? And why aren’t our businesses built to practice them? Do we lack knowledge of the right thing to do? Or do we simply lack the courage and empowerment to do the right thing?

It’s Just Information

March 6, 2009

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A very wise friend and mentor always says “It’s just information.” That’s been useful to me.

  • When Sales doesn’t use the carefully crafted email signatures we spent money and time to create, I said “they’re being disrespectful and irresponsible.” My mentor countered, “It’s just information. What are they telling you?” Turns out they were telling me that the carefully crafted signatures didn’t meet their needs.
  • When negative comments on blogs spike after a change to support policies, I said “they’re griping about losing support they’re not willing to pay for.” My mentor countered, “It’s just information. What are they telling you?” Turns out they were telling me that they considered support an implicit part of the bargain and, if it wasn’t, I needed to let them know that up front.
  • When co-workers resisted new ideas, I said “they’re resistant to change and new ideas.” My mentor countered, “It’s just information. What are they telling you?” Turns out they were telling me I needed to demonstrate that I understood their concerns first. Stephen Covey 101: seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Maybe you respond to everything rationally instead of emotionally. If so, I envy you. Me, I don’t. So I treasure having a mentor to remind me “it’s just information.”

Photo by Calistobreeze

Googleprint

March 4, 2009

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Googleprint: the tail of  information that anyone with Google can easily see about you. It’s a concept Seth and others often discuss.

Is it fair that it follows you through life? Probably not. As a parallel, more attractive people earn more money. That’s not fair, either. But it’s true. So I deal with it. I dress nicely for work and job interviews. And I keep a blog, a nice LinkedIn profile, and some other stuff to dress up my Googleprint. You can call it “personal branding” or you can just file it under common sense.

None of which are new ideas. But the word is.

Googleprint. I claim coinage.

Photo by Mrs Magic