Archive for the ‘change management’ Category

More Talk on The Demise of Advertising…

Sunday, May 24th, 2009


It’s fun to talk about the death of advertising (or anything perceived to be old, unchanging and stodgy), and everybody seems to be doing it. It’s true that advertising faces serious challenges. And yet, advertising’s not going away any time soon, if at all, though it is going through pretty interesting changes. Some of these are driven by technology, and others driven by the changed habits of consumers… which may also be driven by technology. But isn’t everything right now? It would seem that creative destruction has been unleashed on a broad range of industries for a dizzying diverse number of reasons. A common and consistent reason for this, though, is forgetting who your customer is and what they want. This would be despite the array of incredible tools now at our disposal to make this an incredibly easy thing to do, to stay connected to our customers. This is doubly true for advertising, and the cartoon above from Hugh McLeod (a favorite of mine), sums this up rather nicely. Add to this the very interesting presentation below from :

View more from .

From the slides above, a prescient quote from Jim Stengal, Global Marketing Officer at P&G, from last year:

“Today’s marketing model is broken. We’re applying antiquated thinking and work systems to a new world of possibilities.”

Actually, , CEO of , just wrote a nice article for AdWeek, , that gets to the heart of this. In it, Tim says:

“There will, of course, continue to be times and places where iconic, one-way messaging make sense — like bringing out the fine china for a special meal. But these instances (e.g., the Super Bowl), are increasingly rare and increasingly expensive. The real challenge facing one-way, brand-centric, non-conversational advertising is its focus on making the perfect presentation. The perfection model benefitted from very limited media outlets. Advertisers essentially spent money to guarantee craft, which theoretically helped a message stand out amidst the clutter. That formula had limits. Until now, marketing tools have existed in just two dimensions — words and images — sometimes in motion, sometimes with audio, always focused in a singular direction at the consumer.

Then someone invented the Internet. And Search. Quite suddenly, brands were no longer solely in power. The audience is in control. Media fragments. Most important, words and images are joined by a third dimension — technology — and now the marketplace flows in two directions instead of one.”

I happen to know of more than a few marketing/advertising firms that understand the terrain on which they navigate. As a result they happen to be doing quite well.

Important, But Not Necessary…

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

That headline is a quote from a 14 year old girl asked her perspective on television from this really interesting video clip of interviews with a group of 14 year old girls. They provide us a brutally direct take on the future of television, and it’s not pretty. They are absolutely right, though, as broadcast television is going through incredible challenges, and what comes out the other end of navigating these challenges will be something completely different, and perhaps a business model that these 14 year old girls can get behind. Personally, I’m with them.

Found this clip at Fred Wilson’s blog .

Ten Laws of Constructive Capitalism

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I have watched Umair Haque’s presentation on at the Daytona Sessions three times in the last week. Since getting turned on to the thinking of Haque, it’s been a somewhat immersive exercise. I wrote about Haque’s Smart Growth Manifesto just a few days ago. His presentation on Constructive Capitalism, though, has kept me thinking and going back to watch it again. This is because Haque puts together a tight and compelling package that not only illustrates how we have arrived at current state (there’s plenty of that), but also illustrates some incredibly smart thinking on unwinding the challenges we now find ourselves in. I love that this is summed up succinctly in one of his first slides simply as:

The Ten Laws of Constructive Capitalism

  1. Strategy is a commodity
  2. Competition is obsolete
  3. There is nothing more asymmetrical than an ideal
  4. Tomorrow is today
  5. Connections not transactions
  6. People, not product
  7. Creativity, not productivity
  8. Outcomes not incomes
  9. Advantage is in the DNA
  10. The next revolution is institutional

He goes into detail on what is behind each of these, but I believe they are incredibly self-explanatory. Either way, you should definitely free up an hour to hear what Haque has to say on this, his presentation is excellent:

from on .

Which Way is Up? There is No Up.

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009


Ahhhh… Optimism! The Future is Shiny.

Siting a recent , at optimistically offers that we may be close to the “bottom” of this economic crisis, and that we should prepare for the upturn. The operative word there is “may”. Actually, he qualifies this by saying whether or not we are approaching bottom, now is the best time to begin planning for an eventual upturn:

“Living through a downturn is not a process of grinning and bearing it; it is a matter of working the objectives toward your goals as well as planning for the good times that will occur someday. And if your organization does succumb, you will have learned valuable lessons that can be applied to future leadership roles.”

John Baldoni

Bottom? There’s No Bottom.

Then there’s the harsh reality offered by , that in the best case is merely the opposite end of optimism. Soros proclaims that the global economic crisis we are immersed in likely has no “bottom”, and therefore no signpost for signaling a return to happy times, and that this crisis is actually more severe than that experienced during the Great Depression, and analogous to the demise of the Soviet Union. He also offers this cheer:

“We witnessed the collapse of the financial system. It was placed on life support, and it’s still on life support. There’s no sign that we are anywhere near a bottom.”

George Soros

Collapse 2.0

Soros went there, drawing a connection between our situation and the demise of the Soviet Union. In a massively interesting presentation from way back in 2006, “Closing The Collapse Gap”, tries to make the case that this is so, and recommends that we look to the unwinding of the Soviet Union for insights into the imminent collapse of the United States. Orlov’s perspective on this analogy:

“I anticipate that some people will react rather badly to having their country compared to the USSR. I would like to assure you that the Soviet people would have reacted similarly, had the United States collapsed first. Feelings aside, here are two 20th century superpowers, who wanted more or less the same things – things like technological progress, economic growth, full employment, and world domination – but they disagreed about the methods. And they obtained similar results – each had a good run, intimidated the whole planet, and kept the other scared. Each eventually went bankrupt.”

And this dark insight:

“Economic collapse is about the worst possible time for someone to suffer a nervous breakdown, yet this is what often happens. The people who are most at risk psychologically are successful middle-aged men. When their career is suddenly over, their savings are gone, and their property worthless, much of their sense of self-worth is gone as well. They tend to drink themselves to death and commit suicide in disproportionate numbers. Since they tend to be the most experienced and capable people, this is a staggering loss to society.”

Dmitry Orlov

Nothing like predictions of nervous breakdowns, rampant alcoholism, and mass suicide to instill confidence in us as we face these challenges. Given the range and diversity in opinions regarding the financial crisis I think it would be a safe bet to assume that everyone is both right, and wrong, and that nobody has a clear idea on how exactly to fix this mess. My advice?  Get busy and plan for both the bad and the good.

Thanks to @andrewkorf for pointing me to the Soros and Orlov articles.

Umair Haque’s Smart Growth Manifesto

Saturday, February 21st, 2009


Over the past couple weeks I’ve been pointed several times to check out the perspective of Umair Haque, pictured above, on his blog at (a big thanks to ). Umair is Director of the , as well as founder of , both worth checking out. He’s written several articles that are required reading, but it was his piece, , that was a kick in the head for me. This is because it wraps together so many of the changes we are seeing in our society, culture, economy, and business in ways that relate these changes to each other, and their relevance to our own business and the economy at large. Umair makes the point that the situation we confront today demands a rebooting of capitalism, and a departure from the now irrelevant capitalist growth principles of the post-WWII economy. He calls the post-WWII economy “capitalsim 1.0″, and you know where that’s gotten us.  So, we face a rebooting of capitalism, and this reboot is itself being driven by the reality that interaction, and subsequently community formation, has exploded in exponential ways and fundamentally changed the way we form institutions, and in the ways we exert influence and can inform growth. Despite the efforts of governments, companies, media, and everybody, there will not be a return to situation normal as we knew it before, to capitalism 1.0. Whether we know it or not we’ve just jumped off a cliff together, and some get this and others don’t. This is the chasm that now exists between relevancy and irrelevancy in the global economy today, explained simply as the difference between old ways of thinking and new ways of thinking. New principles have changed capitalism and how we compete, and are themselves formed from this revolution in interaction. Think about your own business, and how the concepts of strategy, competition, and creativity have altered the ways in which you work, compete, and engage. This has happened in a very short period of time. Haque refers to this change, to capitalism 2.0, as , and provides more detail in a talk he gave recently.

It’s from these principles we get Haque’s four pillars for smart growth, concepts that any company desiring relevancy in the modern marketplace should give serious consideration to (I edited down Haque’s explanations for each one, so please refer to his article for full text). Together, these are a paradigmatic shift in how we look at business:

  1. Outcomes, not Income: Dumb growth is about income. Smart growth is about people and how better or worse off they are. Smart growth measures people’s outcomes. Economics that measure financial numbers, we’ve learned the hard way, often fail to be meaningful, except to the quants among us. It is tangible human outcomes that are the arbiters of authentic value creation.
  2. Connections, not Transactions: Dumb growth looks at what’s flowing through the pipes of the global economy: the volume of trade. Smart growth looks at how pipes are formed, and why some pipes matter more than others: the quality of connections. The goal isn’t just to trade, but to co-create and collaborate.
  3. People, not product. Smart growth isn’t driven by pushing product, but by the skill, dedication, and creativity of people. People not product means a renewed focus on labor mobility, human capital investment, labor market standards, and labor market efficiency. Smart growth isn’t powered by capital dully seeking the lowest-cost labor — but by giving labor the power to seek the capital with they can create, invent, and innovate the most.
  4. Creativity, not productivity. Smart growth focuses on economic creativity – because creativity is what let us know that competition is creating new value, instead of just shifting old value around. What is economic creativity? How many new industries, markets, categories, and segments an economy can consistently create. Think China’s gonna save the world? Think again: it’s economically productive, but it’s far from economically creative. Smart growth is creative — not merely productive.

This is all pulled together quite well, touching on so many things we face as we think about the sustainability of our businesses and our relevance to the markets we operate in, by this quote from Haque:

“Smart economies are driven by smart growth. The four pillars of smart growth are design principles for next-generation economies. 20th century economies are limited to unsustainable, unfair, brittle, dumb growth. Smart growth is more sustainable, equitable, and resilient.

Capitalism 2.0 cannot be powered by growth.1.0: that’s why the race for smart growth is inevitable. The economic pressure — the potential for value creation, in a world being ripped apart by value destruction — is simply too great.”

Umair Haque

To Haque’s point, getting smart is indeed a preferred option to staying dumb.

Challenges to Ideas And Innovation

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

I was pointed to a pretty incredible survey, . It was conducted last March by the , a business intelligence and research group within the Economist, and it engaged 261 executives around the world with questions regarding their challenges in the adoption and execution of new ideas, and how they drive innovation in their organizations. You can get the full report . Here’s a few interesting insights from the survey:

  • 60% of respondents report a shortfall of ideas, but only 14% report that this is a challenging part of the innovation process.
  • There is much agreement on the need for a “culture of innovation” for innovation to succeed, but there was little agreement on what constitutes this culture.
  • North American executives were twice as likely to find employees resisting newly introduced tools and technology as those in Asia, where employees are generally considered more tech savvy.
  • 80% of executives surveyed believe their firms will be adversely affected by the economic crisis in the U.S., but 60% believe that increasing top-line growth and sales is more important than cutting costs.
  • The companies that innovate most successfully have made it a top corporate priority.
  • Successful companies use innovation to respond to trends that affect consumer behavior and buying patterns.
  • 52% report the biggest obstacle to innovation being the cultural resistance to change, while 36% see the biggest obstacle being shifting strategic priorities. 29% say that it is a lack of project ownership.
  • 64% said that leadership commitment is the most important element in creating a culture of innovation.
  • Those surveyed said they plan on significantly increasing their collaboration with research institutes and universities and reducing their teaming with consultants in the near future.


My Vote For Change

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

I will be voting for Barack Obama tomorrow. That’s because I believe he is the best choice for putting this nation back together. The best choice for ending the divisive partisan politics that have dominated the last eight years. The best choice for creating a future that is positive, inclusive, and in line with how this country really thinks about itself. The best choice for the change we need right now, in the face of real challenges and hardship, and the change that I believe my daughter’s generation requires of us for their future. I am optimistic that this change will make a difference, and that with Barack Obama’s leadership we can all feel good about being Americans. Again. Finally.

I am enormously encouraged by the number of historically republican voters that I know, both publicly and privately, who have voiced support for Barack Obama. This is because they understand what is at stake, and they are willing to set aside party allegiance for what we collectively believe is in the best interest of the entire nation. For all of us. This is a choice that they are making for the long term good of the nation, and I applaud the thoughtfulness and maturity that a decision of this nature requires.

This really is a pivotal moment for the United States. I am excited to be a part of it.

Getting Millennials Right. And Wrong.

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

The video above was shared with me by a colleague with whom I discussed this post, which I have been mulling over for about a month. The video is from a project by professor and 200 of his students at Kansas State University. A few weeks ago I attended a board meeting at which the president of a local university gave a presentation on “getting” generation Y, or . The board of directors is mostly comprised of individuals between the ages of 45-70 (and 90% male), I am by far the youngest person on the board being just outside that age range by a few years (and a gen X’er myself). As the presentation was announced there was a lot of murmuring, nodding of heads, and apparent agreement that this group definitely does not understand this new generation of young people, the generation that is beginning to and will fill the ranks of each of their companies. There is a lot of pressure on millennials. There are over 80 million baby boomers on the verge of retirement with only just over 40 million gen X’ers behind them. This reality is going to mean that the millennials, estimated at around 75 million, will need to step up and fill the very important talent and leadership void left by all the retiring boomers. What was presented by the university president made me very uncomfortable. This is because her presentation seemed to be incredibly general, and largely critical of this generation. She focused on broad, strange statements like:

  • Millennials do not read newspapers
  • They do not read books
  • They do not use libraries
  • They would rather communicate via instant message than in person
  • They cannot relate to older generations (????)
  • They do not understand the Cold War (????)
  • They grew up on video games
  • They like to be entertained (????)

I added the question marks above to emphasize my own bewilderment with those statements. All of these are actual points offered in the presentation. I was shocked as none of these statements is meaningful in creating an understanding of the millennial generation, or of anything. They seem to be observations made in the context of contrasting the observation against a different experience, as if that experience is qualitatively better, when in reality it is becoming increasingly irrelevant. With regards to the reading of books, magazines, and newspapers I believe it is true that everybody is reading the printed manifestations of these less and less, hence the ongoing demise of printing and publishing as industries. Excuse me as I speak from my own experience, that of a gen X’er, when I say that I cannot remember the last time I actually held a paper newspaper, and yet I subscribe to the RSS feeds and hit the websites of probably no less than 4-5 newspapers daily. Add to this the websites and blogs of magazines and that number jumps to 10-15 per day. I would consider myself a moderate user. The university president attempts to make the case that millennials do not read. I would counter that they read, and that they probably read more than previous generations. They’re not reading the formats that previous generations grew up with, they’re taking advantage of this new information technology called the “internet”. Yes, the internet offers exponential ways to entertain, but it is also an incredibly efficient connection to information and the world around us. Does that even need to be said anymore? The university president does not talk about how millennials are using technology like RSS feeds (I subscribe to over 200 sites presently via RSS), or how they strengthen their connections and networks with instant messaging, or how they have essentially grown up with incredible technologies as commonplace. I doubt that she actually knows what an RSS feed is, which is frightening because at some level this university president is informing the curriculum for her school, and determining how students are going to be activated through education at her institution. As I was listening to this presentation I could not help but think that the standard being communicated and on which this analysis of a generation was being made, was completely and totally baseless and irrelevant to reality, to modernity, and to the way things have changed. This is dangerous, and to paint a generation with critique based on experiences that pre-date the information age is useless to all of us, but especially to an entire generation that is connected to information in ways that were inconceivable a decade ago.

It might help for people like this university president to watch this video, also by Michael Wesch:

The Changing Landscape of Technology

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Georgia Institute of Technology Change in Technology Competitiveness 1993-2007

Click on the image above to enlarge the graph to make it more readable. It paints a picture that is probably not that surprising, but definitely attention grabbing. The United States faces a very different reality in the world today than it did toward the end of the 1990’s. Today we face a diverse spectrum of new players who are incredibly competitive, players who are in some cases much more disciplined, ambitious, and intensely focused on innovation. The elephant in the room is China which, again, is no surprise. China has been nothing but resurgent over the last decade and nothing tells that story as well as the graph above. China’s rise over the other 33 nations in the survey demonstrates a much changed world economic landscape in technology. Note also the ascendancy of Mexico, South Korea, India, Singapore, and Taiwan. We all owe of the NYT’s a small bit of deference on this matter.

The graph is the conducted bi-annually by the Georgia Institute of Technology that measures the technology standing of 33 countries based upon four key technology focused factors:

  1. National orientation toward technological competitiveness
  2. Socioeconomic infrastructure
  3. Technological infrastructure
  4. Productive capacity

From the intro to the Georgia Tech report on the study findings:

“…China may soon rival the United States as the principal driver of the world’s economy – a position the U.S. has held since the end of World War II. If that happens, it will mark the first time in nearly a century that two nations have competed for leadership as equals”

The Price of Oil

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

The price of oil from 1990-2008

The graph above and the recent editorial by intersect with some grim realities. The steadily rising price of oil has created petro-authoritarian states that no longer see the United States as a nexus of power in the world. In fact, they actively work to counter American interests globally, and do so fairly effectively right now. Huge amounts of money is flowing into states like Venezuela, Russia and Iran, and power and influence follow money. Energy and security expert testified to Congress last week and pointed out that as oil approaches $200 a barrel, OPEC will have amassed the wealth to:

“…potentially buy Bank of America in one month worth of production, Apple computers in a week and General Motors in just three days.”

Gal Luft

In his editorial, Thomas Friedman points out that the really startling issue here is that despite the confluence of so many negative catalysts around oil for our nation, and catalysts that will have long term socio-economic implications for us as individuals AND globally as a nation, we still do not have an effective energy policy in place that moves us past this desperate reliance on oil. What is it going to take?

Is Print Dead, Or Is It Just Really Sick?

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Gutenberg proofs the printed piece

The convergence of seemingly random events (the , this , by Charlene Li and Josh Bernhoff, and by Lynne d Johnson) has put the “Print is Dead” mantra in front of me several times in the last week. Oddly coincidental or representative of a growing sentiment, you decide. Obviously, print is still very much alive, but how we use print has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. Dramatically. The reality is that for some, print is in fact very dead. For others it is dying, and for a shrinking portion of the population… print is all there is. Print isn’t dead, but it is pretty ill and the prognosis is not good. You would be hard pressed to argue otherwise, that print is alive and well, as there is so much happening that clearly supports the hard reality that the ways in which we interact with information has quickly tilted to the digital.

Our mobile technology increasingly breaks down the usability barriers between where we are and the content we want. This is not just about convenience, either, it is very much about connectivity and the ease with which we can leverage diffuse networks to find what we want. How can the printed page compete with that? Print publishers are struggling with this reality, and working hard to figure out how to transition their content assets in a meaningful way to the array of digital channels before them. Some have pioneered great strategies for this, and benefit from not just increased audiences, but from the concept of content adoption. That’s what we do on the web, we adopt content and send it around. We point people to it. We fold it into how we navigate information, and personalize its place in our information networks. This is incredibly useful, and is the reason why I no longer subscribe to a physical newspaper and only a few printed magazines (that I subscribe to because I like them and there is not yet an online channel for that content). I don’t even hit most newspaper and periodical websites anymore as the content I want finds me through a myriad of personal technologies that do all of the work of searching for me. Popular and free technologies like RSS and Twitter. I have always been a reader, but I have never read as much as I have the last few years and I would say that close to 90% of what I read is online. wrote a somewhat related post about this a few weeks back, and in that post he passed on a line that is unforgettable to me from an article in the :

“If the news is important, it will find me.”

Print is the opposite of that.

The Changing World Around Us

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

You might remember the original video that made the rounds just over a year ago. It put forth some pretty startling information about the modern realities we face with regards to globalism, the internet, and the exponential rate of change in technology. I was recently sent this “updated” version that builds on some of the information put forth in the original. It’s well done, very interesting, and a little bit awe inspiring. We live in interesting times. The updated version above is from around June of 2007, meaning that much of the information is already outdated.

Five Principles of Effective Change

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Tomorrow Ain’t Promised Today

I am fascinated by change in organizations, by what drives it, what leads it, and what makes it happen. There are a number of businesses that are in a struggle right now, and this struggle is driven by their inability to previously anticipate market conditions and the realities within which they operate. Some are quickly and effectively reinventing themselves. This is exciting, and as business culture, irrespective of industry, can be prone to many legacy notions of practice, process and value creation, we know that through effective leadership and strategy legacy thinking can be overcome. Most of us would acknowledge that we can literally see change in business on a daily, if not hourly basis. How we work, and the markets within which we operate, are subject to exponentially increasing change as it relates to communications, globalism, competition, continuous improvement, consumer/client need, collaboration, user experience, teaming, talent… I could keep going, but imagine that you get the picture. I have posted about this a number of times, but I want to elaborate on some of the broader principles that I am beginning to consistently identify:

1. Nothing motivates change like the “near-death experience”

There was a great post back in October at that touched on this issue without really revealing any conclusive answer, but that got me really thinking. Why is this? Does it take a brush with disaster to shake people out of stasis? Is change fear based? My current observations are that this is often the case, though it does not need to be. However, people tend to be lazy and comfortable, and change is hard, dedicated work. Change is often also very entrepreneurial, entails risk, and not everyone is programmed to approach business in this way. But when the survival of the company is at stake, people suddenly perk up and pay attention. They become focused. This is an opportunity. Effective leadership seizes on this opportunity.

2. Leading change is clearly identifying what needs to happen, and then executing

We have all sat through too many meetings where somebody in leadership makes a compelling case for change, and then you never hear about it again. Change is war. Change requires thorough and well-thought-through strategy and the tactics to achieve that strategy. This is a fundamental rethinking of a business, of process, and of market relevance, and a fundamental reformulation of how a business navigates these successfully. This is then followed by action, by execution. There needs to not only be next steps, but next steps to the next steps, and the right people need to be in ownership of the direction and management of the business course in support of this direction. Otherwise, you just sat through another hour you will not get back.

3. Effective change leadership requires a strong connection to operational reality

Given a situation where an organization needs to undergo some fundamental reassessments of business model, practice, and market relevance, it is imperative that those leading such assessments be grounded in the contextual reality of the organization. You cannot set the bar impossibly high out of optimism. You need to set incremental targets that are reality based and mostly achievable with hard work and focus. I am a firm believer in the benefits of failing forward as a way to test concepts and ideas, but if the goal is an unattainable target you will do a better job demoralizing your team while also undermining the larger goal of moving the organization forward. Respect the need for action, but take the time to plan effectively. Base your assessments of problems, current conditions, and even future possibilities on hard data, when possible, and avoid the mistake of presenting baseless assumptions as actionable strategy. Manage goal setting very, very carefully and tie those goals directly to the expertise and resource required. Also, consider an exit strategy for goals insofar as your team understands that if Plan A is not successful, that Plan B very quickly goes into action. I think that the I Ching nails this with the idea of “wind over wind,” which presents the approach of “…gently overcoming any impasses that are in your way by being consistent and having well defined goals to focus on. This way changes and will have long-term and far-reaching effects.”

4. Passion can be an effective motivator of change, but you have to authentically show it

While it cannot be the sole catalyst for success, passion can certainly get you far in creating energy and impetus behind a strategy. However, it needs to be bolstered by awareness, connection to reality, and a deep knowledge base. Without passion, though, you face a much more challenging process. Let’s face it, change should be exciting for an organization, and it is an opportunity to bring everyone together for a unified purpose. This begins with passion for the power of an idea, for the importance of an effort coming from the top. Consistently. The more directly this passion is communicated, the more resolute your support for these efforts will be. Leaders need to tap this, the people that support them feed off of it. This is about as close to politics as leadership in business might come, but we’re talking charisma and energy here. Change that is mandated by a detached, disconnected, and aloof leader is doomed to failure. Change that is lead by an effective leader who is passionate, invested, and connected is a rallying point. We love leaders who work as hard, or harder, than we do.

5. With the right team, anything is possible, and effective change leadership demands the right team

There are few businesses where one or two people can achieve a successful transformation. We need the support of people who are better at some things than we are. Not necessarily a lot of people, depending on the organization, but certainly people who deepen the capabilities and potential of a change effort. In most business books about this topic some significant amount of content will be dedicated to effective teaming around and in support of a strategy. This is because they’re right. Teams need to be built for speed, steeped in commitment, with members chosen for both what they bring to the effort and a devotion to work with others to achieve success. Not everyone is cut out for this, and one person that is not operating from this place can sink the efforts of an entire team. Replace them. Test for acumen and energy. Profile for passion and thought leadership. Surround yourself with people who are not afraid to challenge convention and work to do things better than they have done before. This should be leadership team best practice. For truly successful companies, it most certainly is.

I would say that these five principles are very much a work in progress, but it seemed appropriate and compelling to begin to commit my thoughts to review by a broader audience. What I know is that there is no one magic process for effectively leading and managing change within an organization. Change is based on customization of approach, and that is borne out of a deep and thorough understanding of what challenges a company faces, and an intense investigation into how it might successfully overcome those challenges. The most important piece, though, is a cohesive commitment to action.

Dell Embraces Change. And Design.

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Dell Crystal Monitor

Those that know me well will be shocked by this post. Yes, I have been a Dell hater. My personal experiences with their products over the years have left me both very frustrated and disappointed. Then I went to in San Francisco in February of 2007, just about a year ago. It was a dense, terrific conference loosely themed around managing for the user experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing all of the speakers. One in particular, though, really caught my attention. It was , the manager of the then recently launched Experience Design Group at Dell. I would be nice saying that he had his work cut out for him in front of this obviously predominantly Apple loving crowd. I think he did a great job presenting. He owned Dell’s past mistakes regarding the user, and made a point to own why those mistakes had happened (despite these realities being inherited challenges). That alone was refreshing. He then outlined how Dell’s approach to product design and the user experience was in the process of being radically transformed. He was incredibly honest and open, and provided us a window into the course he and his team were setting for Dell.

The results of that direction are now evident. Though I have yet to interact with any of these products, it includes a range of , laptops and the above monitor (a refreshingly complete, if somewhat overwrought, departure from Dell’s design language) the photos for which made it to all the various gadget blogs late last fall. This is certainly a step in the right direction for design and user experience over at Dell, and these changes are beginning to surface not just within Dell’s product line, but with Dell’s entire customer engagement strategy and is evidence that Protzmann delivered on his promise to improve experience and interaction design for Dell customers. This is an exciting transformation to see, and it has been enough of a change for me, and many others, to take notice. What is even more impressive, and demands attention and acknowledgment, is how quickly Protzmann and his team were able to redirect Dell’s approach to interaction and product design, and ultimately redirect Dell’s culture and approach to their customers. It’s been less than a year since MX. That’s impressive. The big question, though, if it will be enough to truly transform Dell and market perception in the long term.

Update: Just saw another new product design leaked over at , a laptop, that definitely looks nice.

Design Direction at The Design Council

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

Sir Michael Bichard

has emerged from a period of serious introspection and reinvention. The results? New leadership and direction in the form of Chairman (pictured above with sleeves rolled up and ready to dig in and get to work), and sharper focus replete with a new tagline:

“Helping businesses become more successful, public services more efficient and designers more effective.”

Not so much catchy as vitally important in describing its direction, I suppose. The Design Council has long been a resource for the design industry, but has suffered mounting criticism in the last few years due to a predominance of product, industrial and graphic design focus in its efforts and events. This despite the reality that the Design Council has done much to show businesses all over the world the real value of design when applied to a diversity of industries.

Sir Michael Bichard’s recent appointment as chairman is in support of the refined Council mission of being the strategic body for design in the UK. The operative word now being “strategic.” Bichard has a long record as a successful public servant, leader in arts and education, and vocal supporter of the value of design. He received attention recently for his :

1. Great design can change the world and move people

2. If you think good design is expensive you should look at the real cost of bad design

3. Design, creativity and innovation are essential if we are to meet the global challenges of sustainable development

4. Design is not just about products and communications, it’s also increasingly in the services we receive or buy

5. To consume design is a creative act – and everyone can be creative!

I chuckle each time I read rule number two, as it is so, so true. These rules are important as the Council still finds itself embroiled in debate about exactly how design fits into the British, or global, economy. Despite their best efforts, the design community in the UK still finds itself somewhat adrift from the core of British industry and business. This is partly due to overconfidence, and partly due to the increasing irrelevancy of design education in the face of the realities of real world practice. These challenges are no different than those faced here in the United States, and amount to a massing of missed opportunities for design. Changing this begins, perhaps, with the importance of combining a deep understanding of business and business processes, of business thinking, with the methodologies and practices of design thinking, a concept getting much airplay in a diversity of business magazines as of late. It would seem that the British Design Council is going down this road, and most probably in a smart way, and as they are known for their quality publications and case studies I look forward to learning more about their new focus in the coming months.


Value vs. Commodity

Sunday, January 6th, 2008


We’re going through some very important exercises at work. The goal is a real and unflinching assessment of the state of our industry, architecture and design, and the role we play in that industry. The goal is to seriously challenge notions of status quo, and to question accepted practices. Hard questions are being asked. Tough answers are being put up on the white board. None of us disagree. But, what are we to do with this information, with these confirmations?

We are to change.

Actually, we have already been changing. We know that architecture has become a largely commoditized business, that the value provided by many architecture design firms has been slowly and consistently eroded in the United States over the last 20 to 30 years. Architects have allowed this to happen, and it has happened as issues of liability and responsibility have come to dominate project realities. But instead of embracing this and accepting the challenges, architecture has retreated behind drawings and plans and allowed others to step in and manage the process of building, of making. A long list of other trades were only too happy to step in and take on the historically traditional role of the architect, that of a master builder. Allowing this has effectively removed architecture from the value stream of building. Many, many firms now exist to produce drawings. They are production houses.

What we are finding is priority is the importance of reinserting ourselves into the making and effectively taking back the control of the value stream. We know that we must do what it takes to become the most relevant and influential force in building culture, this much is clear. What is unclear is exactly how we will get there, and I suspect we will continue to challenge and explode traditional notions of design and building. Embodied in this is the reinvention of our firm around core goals of design excellence, as we define it, and the reconnection of our design to implementation, to execution. Architecture is a strategic move, and that move will not be successful if architecture does not protect the value and integrity of the idea, the idea power, from inception through implementation.

While I have framed this discussion around my immediate industry, the reality is that it is powerfully meaningful for a diversity of creative professions who face very similar challenges.

What’s Left For Architects?

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Shark fin by John Isaac

That’s a good question, and one the answer for which is elusive. Architecture, as a profession, is changing. It is also being subjected to change. Architects and architecture firms have little, if any, control over this and fight to stay ahead of the change. This involves technology, liability, commoditization, and asymmetrical competition (among many, many other things). While the world has changed, architects have retreated behind flimsy ramparts with a “let’s just wait this whole mess out” mentality, a recurring theme on schneiderism. This evening I came across a post on , a Malaysian, studying in Australia, architecture student’s blog which I have been frequenting (great writing, great perspective), that was a full-on shot across the bow. It was the posting of a comment left by a person who did their work in understanding where the value stream lies in the built environment. Here’s the entire comment as it is worth the read:

“I’m not an architect/architecture student. I’m a cad monkey. I did not chose architecture but I chose building design because the course was only two years, vs 5-6 and a 5 digit HECS debt.

It wasn’t just that, though.

I called lots of architects and building designers and the continuous complaint I heard from both is “grad architects are useless, they don’t know anything about construction or costing.” Also, there was the fact that building designers (evil, soulless creatures that we are) get 85% of the design work out there – and the grad architects I spoke to were only making 35-40K a year. Looking at Job ads, I realized that a building designer with 5 years experience earns around the same as an architect with 5 yrs experience (85-100K)-and the building designer has no HECS debt.

From my contact with the building industry so far (very minimal) it seems that architects have gotten a bad rep for often being impractical with actual building and structural specifics.

Construction is at the heart of building design and architecture. Whichever is better, if you don’t know construction and are depending on others to provide it you’re wages will reflect this. It’s that sentence, “As per engineers specifications” – everytime you write that, what you’re saying is, “I’m not capable of working this out, I’m referring it to someone who can -” and that engineer will be better paid than you because his skills are more necessary. A long time ago architects did all this technical planning themselves. The only modern equivalent is Santiago Calatrava. He says, “As per MY specifications.”

The more divorced architects become from the origin of their profession the less necessary they will be to it, and they’ll be paid less.”

Now, this comment echoes the reality of the place that architects have created for themselves. The money issue is but one manifestation of this place. The real implications are that for a process that was once architect driven, managed and owned… architects now find themselves sometimes totally ancillary, and not necessarily useful.

Pioneer Innovation… Business at The Frontiers

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007


Just read a terrific that is absolutely right on and intersects perfectly with The Upside by Adrian Slywotsky, which we discussed here a few weeks back. If you’ve not read this book, do. And soon. Then, let’s chat. Both expand on the whole “Innovate or Die!” theme. The article starts with the assertion that we must learn to embrace the edges of our businesses, edges being the outer limits, the danger area, the unknown. Edges are the peripheries of the global business environment, the places where innovation potential is the highest. The article asserts that comfort with operating at the edge of your business and industry is the most expedient way to identify opportunity and advantage. More:

“Edges define and describe the borders of companies, markets, industries, geographies, intellectual disciplines, and generations. They are the places where unmet customer needs find unexpected solutions, where disruptive innovations and blue oceans get birthed, and where edge capabilities transform the core competencies of the corporation.”

This is important from the perspective of Slywotsky’s concept of strategic risk assessment. First, the edges are the frontiers, the limits, of what is known and accepted, of what has worked up to this point. It is beyond these frontiers where tremendous opportunity resides. Change is self-sustaining as the business environment continues to speed up with improved technologies, communications and time-to-market. And heats up with changing customer loyalties, expectations, and need. In this intense environment we see ideas constantly delivered by companies from the frontier (and quickly), and we also see this opportunity and innovation fundamentally change companies and markets with stupefying speed. We have been inundated by game changing innovation and change, so much so that we are sometimes jaded to it. But think about how business has changed in the last ten years. This change has not only been exponential, it has been paradigmatic. This has been driven by a diversity of catalysts, the most obvious being technology, communications, the internet, and globalization. Companies that harnessed these drivers found themselves in a very different place. Those that did not, most often, disappeared. Adrian Slywotsky’s ideas in The Upside really begins with the notion of surveying the frontiers for strategic risk. Slywotsky asserts that nothing can beat robust strategic risk assessment for both identifying and mitigating potential threats to a company’s health and well-being, but also for identifying what game changing opportunities for innovation might be highlighted as a result of that assessment. Both the article’s authors and Slywotsky agree that for companies to innovate they must understand what is happening at the edges of their business, and to innovate they must bring back from the edge ideas that challenge the status quo in products, markets and practices.

There Is No There At Sun Microsystems

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Underground carpark

Sun Microsystems is six years into a program that takes full advantage of their technology and is modernizing the way their employees work and adapt to a rapidly changing business environment. This Open Work program has met with tremendous success, and anticipates the type of radical change we are beginning to see more progressive companies embrace. At Sun, more than half of their employees do not have an assigned office space in a fixed location. Employees are allowed to work wherever and whenever it suits them, and Sun arms them with the best in mobile technologies to support this.

Why is Sun doing this? Because they can. The cost of maintaining a legacy notion of “office” is incompatible with the concept of an agile, adaptive, and flexible workforce… especially one that is determined to do business where their clients are. Are they saving money? Most definitely, and in the range of $250 million. This is radical, innovative and apparently effective. Sun is now in Open Work as a consulting sideline business to other companies. For those of us in the workplace design and innovation space… we should be taking note and work to balance this with our own efforts to effect change in workplace environments.

F**K Service…

Friday, October 26th, 2007

vive le revolution

I hope that you are seeing a theme developing here on schneiderism. If not, you’re either new to the blog, or an idiot. Either way, let me quickly recap:

- Creative enterprise of all sorts face a range of new strategic risks

- Business models and business practices demand investigation and innovation

- Many have lost the priority of the relationships between innovation, strategy, and execution

- We’re our own worst enemy, and actively devalue the work we perform

- Design is about value creation, not about providing a service

Last evening I received an article from a colleague who shares my perspective on the state of creative enterprise. Basically, we’re at war. We find ourselves embroiled in the challenges of navigating the mess, risks, and threats before us and orienting organizations in the proper direction. It’s exciting. The email with the article that he sent had this as the subject… “F**K Service…” Well, that definitely got my attention, so I thought it appropriate to headline this piece. But, what did he mean by that?

He meant that creative enterprise is not a service industry. It does not exist to service its clients. It exists to create value for its clients. The mindset of a service business is to operate at the whim of the client. This not only devalues our work, it prevents a creative business from having a relationship with clients that is truly compatible with effective design. You’re too busy reacting to be creative. You’re too busy producing. It is a rock you will never be able to push to the top of the hill. As a service provider you have inverted the value proposition. You may as well be a lawyer or an accountant (note that I have nothing against lawyers or accountants, I just don’t want to be one…).

The article sent is entitled Read it. It is from a few years ago but still meaningful.. which only means that we’ve been thinking and talking about this for a long time. And doing precious little about it. The article relates specifically to architecture design professional service firms and their inability to adapt and embrace change. Really, though, it could apply to any number of creative businesses. A terrific quote:

“Those who do not like change will like irrelevance even less.”

James P. Cramer

Cramer points out that design firms, and the environment in which they operate, are changing. Some are evolving. Some are specializing. Some are dominating their markets. Some are struggling with being relevant and are in decline. His article is a call for intervention. I would like to think that it is the clarion call of revolution for creative businesses, and we know that he is most definitely not a lone voice in this call. But what are we going to do about it?