Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Competitive Insulation

Seth Godin blogs today, in Facts always win, right?, about something he calls competitive insulation that protects your business from commodification. It's made up of relationships and whatnot, and along with these points of emphasis, you add your story.

I think he's talking about building up a sub-culture around your product or service, which relates directly to how you might go about your brand-building. This competitive insulation is something referenced in part 4 of Cory Doctorow's (so far) excellent Makers, currently being serialized on Tor.com. The event starts in the fifth paragraph, the one that starts "Lester came back..." In it, the group has discovered their product is now being made by a competitor who's selling it for less than the group's cost to manufacture.

"How do we compete with that?" asks one member, and the answer he receives is "We don't...Now we do the next thing."

Then he goes on to explain that they will do something "even more capital intensive," and the implication here is that they are raising the barriers to entry a bit, and by moving on and coming up with something else very cool they are enhancing their story, building their brand. Cory Doctorow is the bomb-diggity.

And so is Seth Godin. I really like this term, competitive insulation.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Gushment Is Not Good Enough

Gushing is disgusting. In that respect it’s related to “spewing.” But the icky phenomenon to which I refer is sticky sweet.

I’m referring, of course, to “unsolicited” testimonials. You see them in non-fiction books where the writer is recalling the responses of former students exposed to her revelatory techniques.

“This changes everything!” they sometimes say, which is a fine thing to say – everyone does, from time to time, but it should not be presented as evidence of anything. It’s gushing, for pity’s sake, and for all the liquid biological connotations, it should be obvious that it’s involuntary, and not a considered response.

Advice to writers always includes things like, “Don’t tell the editor how much your sister likes your writing.” Duh. It’s a referral on 1) hand-picked dataverses, and 2) anecdotal evidence in general. We should pay attention.

We should not accept gushment as evidence.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Focus Sauce

Seeking to set measurable goals, people often forget what the term “measurable” actually means in this setting. It doesn’t mean “invent a new yard stick.”

It means that you pick a simple goal, one that can be spelled out piece by piece. One that can attract consensus because everyone knows what it will look like, a kind of communal vision or some sort of social contract, de facto style.

Successful visualization is the focus sauce for your project dish and prevents the dreaded feature creep.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Destroy Your Industry?

Seth Godin posts today about Singer and how they’ve been through a cycle, going from very prominent to not so prominent, and how this is simply a fact of life. Businesses have their season, and then the bloom is off the rose, so to speak, and the cycle completed (or moved on, at any rate).

Seth’s big point is that during Singer’s boom-time, cycles were decades long and outlasted the careers of most managers, so they could not (or did not have to) address the situation before retirement. Cycles are much faster now, even annual in some cases. He says that the best marketing strategy is to “destroy your industry before your competition does.”

What does this mean?

Does it refer to the shelf-life of markets? How is that any different from industries? (Industry = “the people or companies engaged in a particular kind of commercial enterprise”) (Market = “the customers for a particular product or service”) An industry is tied to a market – you have demographic markets, geographic markets, industrial markets – but you could re-orient yourself towards a new and different market, and re-orienting could involve getting the word out there in new and different ways (marketing), or tweaking the product (I guess you could tweak it for the same market).

If an industry is comprised of the players engaged in a particular kind of commercial enterprise, then enough tweaking would eventually change the particulars, and so the old industry is destroyed and a new one rises from its ashes. I think Seth is saying that we should tweak, innovate, iterate, hack, whatever, our industry constantly, even if it becomes something different, because everything is in constant flux, and the market won’t hold still anyway, so innovate faster than your competition and you might be fortunate enough to help steer the market, particularly if your innovations are somehow tracking the market.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Salsa vs. Chutney

What makes salsa be salsa? The Free Dictionary says it’s “a spicy sauce of chopped, usually uncooked vegetables or fruit… used as a condiment.” So what’s a condiment? Again, the Free Dictionary: “a substance, such as relish, vinegar, or spice, used to flavor or complement food.”

Chutney, on the other hand, seems to involve cooking. Foodgeeks calls it "a jam-like preserve consisting of fruits cooked down with vinegar, sugar, and spices." One of the definitions at the Free Dictionary seems to hold out the possibility of veggies: "a pickle of Indian origin, made from fruit, vinegar, spices, and sugar." That one doesn't mention cooking. Go figure.

So the other day I cut up a cucumber, a yellow squash, and I put them in vinegar and added some Splenda, which would be like the sugar. I called that a salsa.

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Try This: Map Goals to Strategy, and Action Plans to Tactics

I love the terms strategic and tactical. A strategy is a high-level, big-picture thing, while a tactic belongs to the more specific things pertaining to the strategy.

Strategies and tactics can sound like goals and plans just a bit. Goals are pretty high level, and the trouble I’ve gotten into in the past was an over-commit on goals – I want to set a goal for everything! – and no real plans for getting there with any of them. As I said above, what I’ve needed to do is get the emotion out of it, and have some nice, sensible steps to follow to actually achieve these things. That’s the tactical part.

It’s like you’re a contractor. You go out and get some business from a customer; they want you to do a project. That’s fantastic. You sign a contract to do such-and-such project by such-and-such date. Now you need to get your sub-contractors together to get the work done.

What if you never get around to signing contracts with the sub-contractors? You get shafted, that’s what. You haven’t done your job as a contractor, and you haven’t fulfilled the contract you signed with the customer.

Here’s the other thing. If you’ve got committed strategies with uncommitted tactics (that means goals with no firm plans), then you’d best not be committing on any new strategies until it’s taken care of. Fail on this part, and you will quickly find yourself overcommitted and overwhelmed.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rethinking the Process for Improvement

Over at the Reforming Project Management blog, Hal has reviewed Ric Merrifield's Time to Reth!nk Improvement.

Quote from book: “Never has there been a more important time to continually improve your company's efficiency and productivity. (F)or that to happen, they are going to have to avoid the ‘how’ trap, rethink and focus on their ‘whats,’ and become a collection of plug-and-play operations.”

Last year author Ric and co-authors Jack Calhoun and Dennis Stevens published a paper called “The Next Revolution in Productivity.” Hal boils the process down like this:

  • 1. Describe your operations in terms of desired outcomes (the whats, or “conditions of satisfaction” in Hal’s lingo – you know, what are we committing to deliver to the customer – or, what’s the goal in other parlance)
  • 2. Identify the activities supporting the desired outcomes (in other circles, this could be like the plan)
  • 3. Identify the capabilities supporting each of your activities (or the resources required for each step in the plan)
  • 4. Identify activities most critical to your project’s success (are these the drop-dead requirements? or critical path analysis?)
  • 5. Design a more efficient operating model (re-think!)

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