Striving to Be Simple-minded

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Da Vinci

Somewhere in the complexity of Chicago traffic today, I began to wonder when such a great term became a pejorative.

This term – which should be a positive – has so many negative connotations that I want you to suspend your disbelief at its current definition to walk with me for a moment.

What do our customers want from us?  The ability to say “that was simple.”

What do we want for ourselves every day?  A little more simplicity, a little bit of ease in getting the myriad tasks we have before us completed.

What do suppliers and vendors want?  A faster and less complex path to getting us the things we need.

So “simple” is a good thing.  A thing we should strive for.  To me, being simple-minded means that you fight against unnecessary complexity.  That you take processes and make them easier and more friendly to use.  That you relentlessly employ your “bullshit meter” when someone says something must be so difficult.  It’s a lie. Lots of people do lots of things to protect the status quo, their span of control or their understanding of the truth until proven wrong (and even well after that, especially if its political).  Don’t accept no until you see no other way forward.

I offer you a few ways to be more simple-minded:

  1. Take a process (preferably one you’ve documented), cross out two boxes – any two actually – and figure out how that process would exist without them.  Approvals and reviews very often are nice to have, not necessary.  If something almost always gets rubber-stamped through an approval, consider if it’s really adding value.
  2. Find two things that really delight your customers and find the shortest path to delivering them.  Don’t accept the words “no” or it can’t be done.  If it’s important to your customers, it’s worth making it simple for them to obtain.
  3. Look at your vendors and ask:  who is hard to work with?  Unless they are bringing you something your business can’t live without, replace them.  This is not saying get rid of the most expensive vendor.  If they’re simple to deal with and deliver value, you likely want to keep them.  If they make your staff happy and productive, they get to stay.  However, championing getting rid of the vendors who make your life harder, that’s being simple-minded.
  4. Consider your customer service procedures (including the ones that happen at retail locations, branches, call centers and in the field), ask what can make the process go faster, more accurately and more smoothly.  Get rid of anything that doesn’t surprise and delight the deliverer and the person receiving the messages or good you strive to send.
  5. In scheduling meetings, invite people who meet one or more of two criteria:
    1. KNOWERS: They have information critical to solving the problem
    2. DOERS: They are empowered to make the solution happen

Everyone else can read the notes and use their hour to more productive ends.  That includes the approvers, who basically only want the recap, which is better handled when it can be simply delivered.

An organization who moves toward simplicity – say in their product portfolio – is able to reduce complexity across their entire organization.  Less protocol to support.  Fewer pricing plans and arrangements.  Easier accounting.  Less documentation internal and external to the organization to create.  Less customer facing education (and potentially fewer resources) needed.  Less complexity means more time to focus on big real problems and unravel those.

Those of you who know me know that I am extremely fond of “the kid with a box” analogy.  It also fits here.  A kid with a box is creative, entertaining, self-driven and focused.  And if that’s not simple-minded, I am not sure I know what else is.

Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz aka @hermione1

– cjgw

12 Days of Marketing Innovation, Day #6 – The Ivy League Education, for free

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” Will Durant

You’ve always said it was the cost – not your smarts that kept you out of an Ivy League school.  Not anymore – you can take a  whopping 2,000 courses including Advanced Strategy, Game Theory and Optimization.  While you can’t get the degree, you can get a certificate of completion from MIT, Harvard and Stanford.    Seriously, among the most prestigious universities in the nation if not the world now allow you to audit classes with some of the best professors in the world.

Let’s start with MIT – and their Sloan School of Management: MIT Sloan’s Teaching Innovation Resources offer you the opportunity to learn using the cases they’ve developed and published for Strategic Management and Leadership.  Free of charge.  The Systems Dynamic offers the richest content in terms of simulation, including dynamics of pricing and platform (which introduces network effects).

Here’s a place to look, you strategists, you:  Advanced Strategy – Examining Competitive Advantage.  And while you may think this is all about classes in sensors, and smart prototyping, I offer you this:  How to make anything– you too can be your own MacGyver.   More practically, there is also: NextLab I: Designing Mobile Technologies for the Next Billion Users.

And if you want to really geek out about optimizations that can drive how you contact customers and design marketing automation strategies, have at it with this… a class designed to help you understand how the algorithms all work.  If you’re up to the challenge, your satisfaction in understanding it may make it at least a little easier to explain to colleagues why they MUST stop overmailing the customer.

Over at Stanford, they went for podcasts – and offer you 13 courses and 50 sessions of thought leadership.    If you want, you can learn Machine Learning from Stanford for free on iTunes.  You can also take Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders.  You can learn from the best and brightest – so why wouldn’t you?

Not to be left out, Harvard has its Open Learning Initiative.  The best one for Marketers is this: Bits: The Computer Science of Digital Information, taught by Harry R. Lewis, PhD, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science, Harvard University.

Description:  This course focuses on information as quantity, resource, and property. We study the application of quantitative methods to understanding how information technologies inform issues of public policy, regulation, and law. How are music, images, and telephone conversations represented digitally, and how are they moved reliably from place to place through wires, glass fibers, and the air? Who owns information, who owns software, what forms of regulation and law restrict the communication and use of information, and does it matter? How can personal privacy be protected at the same time that society benefits from communicated or shared information?

After you’re shocked at the volume of content, you’ll be awed by how thorough and thoughtful it is.

We’re all enrolling in something – are you?

Cristene, Debbie and Kevin

@Hermione1, @zebbierebs, @cunningham_kev

Mash-up: Linked In Meets the Fortune 1000; (plus Sonar, what to do when you get there)

What if you were a B2B company who called on the Fortune 500? much like our company Covalent Marketing does
What if you do, as we do, and conduct Google/Linked In/Social Media scans on the people you were meeting with? because you want to be informed and eloquent about those who are granting you time

What if someone made it easy to see who you know and how close they are?  Someone did.  Another former IBMer Justin Raimo introduced me to an effort he’s been working on.  Smart use of metadata here is just the beginning in terms of slicing and dicing the list.  It’s the Linked In integration that really makes it sing because it allows you to trace a path through your connections to who you want to meet.  The strength of your LI-network just got a whole lot more valuable.

Here’s the Youtube video explaining the service.  Love this. Will use this.  Thanks Justin.

Now what if, when you got there, you wanted to know what was going on around you?  Or more importantly, who was going on around you.  Meet Sonar.  Sonar takes foursquare and mashes it with your Twitter and Facebook connections.  For instance, last Friday in Chicago, I was shocked to see how many I knew were actually having hotdogs and or pasta within a few feet of my office .  I have written before about the potential for online leading to offline friends and colleagues (such as my fabulous connection with Steven Permuy of Alterian – all because we were tweeps first).  This is one of the first applications that makes it singlehandedly easy to combine the two.

(These screens were graciously and without permission lifted from the foursquare blog.  If you want to see them in their glory, plus the blog post that accompanied them, please see here )

Hope you are inspired to discover and connect.  -c-

Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz aka Hermione1

Three management lessons (that will make you smile and cringe simultaneously)

A long long time ago in a land far away (New Jersey to be specific), I went to a training class – back in the days when companies really invested in the people, not simply the discrete tasks they would perform. I learned a few of the most valuable lessons I would ever have.

A recent unfortunate encounter reminded me of why I value them so much.  I share them with you in hopes they bring you tremendous value,  a willingness to overlook some small accidental injustice or simply remember that we make our days better.  (God, I sound like a Hallmark card, someone douse me with cold water and make me deal with economists for a whole day…)

“Win as Much as You Can.” – The most visceral collaboration exercise in which I ever participated.  When you ask a lot of questions about the rules in WAMAYC, they simply repeat the name of the game and refer you back to the rule sheet.  It’s not a hard game:  divide up into teams of 8, two people per subteam.  Each subteam has the opportunity to take one of three actions:  Act altruistically (in other words, run the very likely risk of screwing yourself), Go for a small win (in other words play the no, guts, no glory card) or Act as a cut throat (the one that makes sense based on the game and business).  Here’s what they don’t tell you.  In 3 of the 16 rounds, you will have to look your own colleagues (in my case, my production planner) in the face and say you will do something. Then, most likely, not do it.  In such close quarters it makes you queasy, your palms clammy.  And all to win a little game with the potential of a $100 or so in payout.  Hmmm…

As I watch client meetings where it looks like a lot of special interests all jockeying for their own approach, I am reminded that in WAMAYC, in the end, when they ADD the score of the 8 together, those who played as a team of 8 win.  There is a difference between optimal (effective) success and individual (efficient) success.

The Ultimatum Game – I first came across this in Clay Shirky’s books.  The game is simple, let’s say someone gives me $20, and tells me to share any amount I wish with another designated person.  However if he refuses my offer, no one gets to keep anything.  Principle would hold that any amount of additional money is more than you had a minute ago, so truly any offer should work, according to the economists. (And we know my opinion on economists, right?)  We tend to apply a doctrine of fairness.  In other words, if I split the reward with him roughly equally, 50-50, 60-40, we both win.  However, when I stray into that land of 70-30 or less, it defies fairness and we both lose.  Even when any part of $20 is better than none of it, punishing someone for not playing fairly is about the fact that we want – in fact yearn – for relationships built on fairness.

Monkey See, Monkey Do – I will let Freek Vermeulen start it off for you: ( a prof at the London Business School, should tell the beginning, since he does it quite finely)

The experiment involved 5 monkeys, a cage, a banana, a ladder and, crucially, a water hose.  The 5 monkeys would be locked in a cage, after which a banana was hung from the ceiling with, fortunately for the monkeys (or so it seemed…), a ladder placed right underneath it.
Of course, immediately, one of the monkeys would race towards the ladder, intending to climb it and grab the banana. However, as soon as he would start to climb, the sadist (euphemistically called “scientist”) would spray the monkey with ice-cold water. In addition, however, he would also spray the other four monkeys…When a second monkey was about to climb the ladder, the sadist would, again, spray the monkey with ice-cold water, and apply the same treatment to its four fellow inmates; likewise for the third climber and, if they were particularly persistent (or dumb), the fourth one. Then they would have learned their lesson: they were not going to climb the ladder again – banana or no banana.

In order to gain further pleasure or, I guess, prolong the experiment, the sadist outside the cage would then replace one of the monkeys with a new one. As can be expected, the new guy would spot the banana, think “why don’t these idiots go get it?!” and start climbing the ladder. Then, however, it got interesting: the other four monkeys, familiar with the cold-water treatment, would run towards the new guy – and beat him up. The new guy, blissfully unaware of the cold-water history, would get the message: no climbing up the ladder in this cage – banana or no banana.

Simply put, eventually, one by one, the monkeys are replaced in the cage, until none of the original monkeys is there.  And yet, they still beat up the new guy, even when all the memory of the water torture is gone – all the monkeys are new.  So, that nasty, conformist behavior exists even when no one knows why – and no one knew the pre-existing condition.  “It’s how we do it,” is not an answer when so many things can change so rapidly in today’s business environment.  Don’t beat the snot out of someone for proposing or trying something new – because that which keeps anyone from moving forward may keep everyone from moving forward.  What parts of our behavior have been let sink in that would be better cast off?  Where have we beat up the person who was trying something new?

It’s still early in 2011 – maybe it’s not too late for us all to make another, more practical resolution to let go of some of our old perceptions and biases?  -c-

Creating Customer Intelligence: Chasm Crossing

We are in process of designing a new marketing dashboard for a client and it will feature only three categories of information:  campaigns, contacts and customers. I present these in order of things we know the most about to things we know the least about.  There, I said it, we currently know the least about the customer.  Why?  The other two are rather reasonable categoricals – counts, dates, programs, material types. Customer intelligence – which should be the basis of all contacts and all campaigns is often only given a quick slice and dice in the selection criteria, not the deep and abiding interest and perspective it should.  It isn’t even deeply addressed in the after the fact analysis – we focus on what we offer/sell, not what caused the customer to purchase it.  We develop knowledge about us – and not about them.  Seriously, they are far more interesting.  I promise.

But this client has it a little harder because they use – ahem – “a longitudinal approach of incremental measurement,” It means they won’t get to alignment because when everything has to count, nothing does.   There is an untold amount of time spent defining the impact of an ad impression, but not the specific customer it influences.  That creates a big hole in our understanding, a chasm.

So, instead, our joint teams will change the vantage point and offer a different message.  Our client team leader has decided to share with his sponsor the things in his immediate responsibility, but also offer a path forward – around the chasm -that shows how these all end up at Customer (capital intentional).  From there, we can begin to specify a better bridge.

This dashboard is not simply to be used to report the past, but also forecast and predict outcomes:  campaign response, contact optimization and customer retention/customers at risk…as the top of the iceberg. So the goal is how to design new outlooks that:

1.  Display performance and operations in a meaningful fashion.  In other words, showing them together.

2. Make it easy to see influences/dependencies, patterns and trends in the data; creating information.

3. Enhance customer intelligence by showing the decision options and tradeoffs.

All of this is not going to solve the problem straight away.  It is really simply going to help them see the environment clearly to enable better customer intelligence.  We simply have to address the psychology of presenting the data in a manner that helps make it clear, concise and knowable, and finally jumps across the chasm from campaigns and contacts to customers on the other side.  -c-

10 business models that rocked 2010 – from the Board of Innovation

I came across this content from a fellow IBMer who came across it from someone else, who… ah, the beauty of social media.  And it is highly unsurprising that the Board of Innovation – the Slideshare’s owners – used Social Media centric models.  Instead of me blabbing, I’ll let you get to the good stuff.  -c-

Extract from the upcoming whitepaper: The Path Forward

So, I received printed versions of the first of the five whitepapers in our 2009 CRM Leadership Study, The Path Forward:  New Models for Customer Focused Leadership.  I am really excited about it.

The first paper is what we have termed the Umbrella – the one that introduces you to all the concepts so that we can deep dive on respective topics in the subsequent four, which all launch on November 11, God willing.  At least now that we have the approach settled upon and the tenor and demeanour, things can move more quickly.

I left you with a flavor for what was in the study last time.  So let me pick up there.

As businesses take the first tentative steps forward after the recent global economic pressures, it is time for marketing, sales and service executives to confront the undeniable market forces exposed by the downturn. Consumers are fundamentally changed, the world is increasingly digital and business models are challenged to be viable. As CRM professionals seek to develop new paths forward, they must quickly focus on developing customer insight and digital channels leadership that will allow them to transform customer experience, open new markets and reduce organizational complexity.

As we said when I started this dialogue a few weeks ago, The Path Forward reveals that 80 percent of global CRM leaders believe they are prepared to handle the demands of the current economic environment.  And while there is a lingering doubt about the economy, most expect recovery to begin no later than mid-to-late 2010.  However, this desire to continue our worries about the economy will likely to impact business decisions and results for the foreseeable future.
The depth of the recession and the likely-to-linger residual effects leave behind significant questions about the viability of old ways of doing business. For example, are the tried and true business models – those that created the economic boom of the early part of this decade – still valid? If you read the last post, you know the answer is No, the old business approaches will not resolve the problems of today and tomorrow.  They do not reflect the way consumers want to engage with businesses.  Businesses also find themselves challenged to have the data when and in the format they need to create strategic insights that drive real growth.

Our observation across multiple industries and geographies shows new market forces that are emerging will likely drive a major transformation of business models and customer engagement functions over the next few years. Customer interactions will have to be reshaped to address the changing dynamics of how people make purchasing decisions and engage with companies.  They won’t be buying products – they will be selecting among solutions that work, which CONTAIN a product.  If you are still selling products, you may just find your revenue growth constrained.

At the forefront of change is the digital information explosion.  Consider, for example, that more data will be created in 2009 than in the past 5,000 years combined.  This lovely blog post from Andreas Weigend former chief scientist from Amazon makes the point eloquently.  It’s not about just search – it’s about context.  And with the world’s four billion cell phones, two billion Internet users, thirty-three billion RFID tags and many billions of transistors adding data
to the stream minute by minute, the information clutter is not going to abate anytime soon.  It’s going to get worse.  And companies are trapped in the middle of that – mostly without a differentiator in sight (or on site for that matter.)

It’s not just the consumer who is faced with too many options – companies are inundated with so much information that making sound decisions becomes exponentially more difficult.  The challenge becomes effectively mining the large mountains of data to find those bits of information and enable actions that add real customer value. Closing this gap – from insight to action across any and all channels – is the foundation of new paths to leadership. Today’s Marketing, Sales and Service leaders, regardless of industry, business model or geography must:
• Listen across a wide array of connected people and things
• Learn by collecting, connecting and reducing data into insight made faster by technology
• Engage the customer simply and directly, moving seamlessly from decision to action in the business processes that drive relevant experiences
• Harvest these interactions to continuously improve customer engagement through all channels, devices and people.

That sounds simple, right?  My colleague Steve Lavalle, in a new piece of research he is completing actually notes that organizations must take the data they collect and use it to challenge the status quo to create new opportunities, predict and prepare for the future by evaluating trade offs effectively and proactively and do something bold:  empowering employees to act.

Companies need to rapidly get good with big dirty noisy disparate data generated everywhere and by everybody.  They need to develop a greater ability to mine data, leverage analytics and create an effective communications platform.  Doing that opens the door for three categories of leaders to emerge by 2012:
• Customer Insight Leaders, who optimize myriad data, transform it into something useful and create measurable value;
• Digital Channel Leaders, who harness new methods of creating value through customer interactions and new products, services and business models in an always-on digital world;
• New Era Leaders, who incorporate the best practices of each.

Dimensions of Leaderhsip
Dimensions of Leaderhsip

Further, these three segments will be able to choose – based on the business conditions they face and the market positions they want to occupy – from among three distinct levers to increase their potential for differentiation:

Radical Cost and Complexity Reduction

Innovative Market Making

Strategic Service Delivery

Depending on the specific needs of the company, it may choose just one lever or combine elements from all three to craft a unique path forward.
Cost and Complexity Reduction entails taking costs out of business to make operations leaner, more flexible and more accessible to customers.

Innovative Market Making focuses on social business design to engage customers, partners and suppliers in creating value. It provides the opportunity – or
imperative – to cocreate solutions and products alongside customers, partners and vendors – even competitors.

Strategic Service Delivery uses all available channels to improve the customer experience. Whether the customer chooses to call the contact center, visit a retail outlet or branch, find the answer via the Web or engage through social tools such as microblogging, strategic service considers the customer’s goals
and enables customer success. It optimizes every channel to be responsive and engaging – however, whenever, wherever and why-ever the customer chooses. It also allows the customer to move seamlessly from channel to channel – for instance, moving from the Web to the contact center or to a retailer to purchase what he or she has found.

In the data-intensive, customer-friendly, digital age, leaders will be defined by how they develop and leverage insight to respond to ever-changing consumer demands. They will do this while embracing new digital communications for sales, service and marketing. Whether they focus on differentiating
themselves through Customer Insight, Digital Channels or both, they will recognize the benefits by taking quick, decisive action to pursue their path forward.

Why would you want to make the investment in doing this?  Because Leadership has its advantages according to the nearly 500 participants that we surveyed through the Economist Intelligence Unit:

The Lift of Leadership - up to 5x better performance
The Lift of Leadership - up to 5x better performance

We will dive more into this next time, as this post has gone on way too long already.  However, we hope to convince you not only that leadership has its privileges, but that you can get there…looking forward to it.


Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz