August 18th, 2015 by dewprocess.
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The Facebook brand risks suffering from the multiple personality disorder that plagues companies that make too many acquisitions and market launches, without clarifying the nature of the independent parts, and how the aggregate merits augmented consideration. With the launch of Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google has clarified that its strategic brand is much akin to the old Idealabs: a parent holding entity that creates and nurtures businesses that are each destined to form their own ecosystems of sustainable operation. The aggregate value is early on, when the nascent entities may benefit from the mentorship of Alphabet corporate resource providers, and the collaboration of other companies in the family.
Facebook, meanwhile, keeps adding arms to its body, without clarifying anything. When their Messaging app launched, they took pains to give it its own functional space, thereby keeping the core Facebook clean (or relatively so, considering we’re talking about engineers here, who love to tinker, patch, repatch, and otherwise refine Frankenstein’s monster as an iterative process, rather than design and create Michelangelo’s David as a fluid act of final artistry). When they updated their Photos section, it wasn’t so dramatic that people began to seriously consider leaving 500px. However, Facebook’s latest iterative improvement is big enough to begin to strain against the bonds of the core Facebook brand proposition. The embedded Video update caused consternation, but the integrated Notes update is causing confusion.
Facebook Notes has long been “just another OK feature” amidst a wealth of tab features available to users seeking to enrich their personal brand value, whilst also engaging with their communities, both online and off. Facebook was a “connectivity facilitator”: not so much a platform, as a conduit. As users began to discover their voices, they might gravitate their expression to another brand that represented a richer immersion in to a particular form: 500px for the photographers, Medium or Tumblr for the essayists, YouTube for the video diarists. They continued to rely on Facebook for social community, whilst delving in to the new realms as channels of more specialized expression and exploration.
Now, however, Facebook has made it clear that they want all those voices to remain in their castle, and I fear this may prove counterproductive in the long run. Had the Facebook Video platform been launched as a standalone adjunct to the core Facebook brand (as was Messaging), I might have seen some potential in the move, so long as the UI and UX were consistently and intuitively improved. But Facebook wants it all to stay in the room…a room that becomes more and more crowded every day. We all know what happened to the Tower of Babel.
The latest update is to Facebook Notes, and makes the tab a direct competitor to Medium, but without giving itself room to breathe and spread its wings. Admittedly, the improvement is attractive, on its own merits. Maybe what we are witnessing are the latest growing pains of Facebook, experiencing a form of metamorphosis: once complete, the new entity will be more beautiful, more functional, more elegantly obvious than ever before. For now, it becomes more unwieldy and cumbersome, and risks losing its shape and functional value.
A single body, made up of increasingly disparate parts, has historically proven to make for a great story, and a range of mediocre film adaptations. It has rarely functioned as a cohesive unit. However, if the organically solid parts are allowed to find relevant combinatorial sums that best express the identity of each individual Facebook user…
If Facebook builds out their tab improvements as standalone entities, a la “Messaging”, but with a design and structure sensibility that gives users the ability to connect the pieces together to better express their individual brand identities. Now, that might be an exciting proposition. If Facebook controls the clutter (so it doesn’t become another MySpace V1), but allows each user’s Facebook presence to become their de facto website, tailored toward their unique preferred mode of expression, that would be a truly revolutionary manifestation of the Web.
August 12th, 2015 by dewprocess.
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I love productivity and efficiency. I preach it, I evangelize on its behalf. I campaign for its adoption across every enterprise and initiative that seeks my advice and counsel. There is a line between Utility and Assistance, however, which cannot yet be crossed – no matter how many startups try valiantly to ignore the prevailing reality. Utility is a largely passive operation, which must be activated and managed by the user to fulfill its potential. It’s a useful tool such as Prompt.ly, OneNote, or Wunderlist. Assistance is an active function that manifests itself independently, and must anticipate and manage multifarious unqualified scenarios to be truly effective.
The list of Virtual Assistant startups grows daily. It’s the present fad. For every variation that promises to reinvent the VA space yet flames out (Zirtual), another two replace it with air-dancing artificial plums (e.g.: Genee, x.ai). The new holy grail of tech startups is AI virtual assistant apps. For the next 6 months or so, all the early adopters will fall over each other, just to be able to claim they had “Amy”, “Genee”, “Cortana”, “Siri 2.0”, et al, before everyone else. What you won’t hear much about is the fact that all these AI solutions fall far short of useful. Virtual assistants have existed for years, and work with varying degrees of success. Productivity apps have been around for a long time as well, exhibiting capricious achievement in their own right (yet but few pretentions to actually *replace* staff). Zirtual did not fail to provide the services they promised to clients. The company failed because, like so many startups today, it was encouraged to grow too fast, in an unsustainable quest for lightning ROI. The likely result was an inability to meet financial covenants, founders and investors working at cross-purposes, and lack of transparency between stakeholders seeking markedly different objectives. Whoever takes over the operations, such as they are after this negative brand impact, will assuredly restructure for more realistic growth metrics, if any future is to be realized for the employees and their clients.
I have no doubt that after various highly overvalued iterations churn through talented developers, employees, and investors, the chasm between AI VA concept and reality will begin to narrow, such that solutions that provide useful value finally establish themselves on semi-solid footing, and scale sustainably. Until then, you will have to contend with one offering that has access to your calendar, but not the other party’s calendar; another unable to process plain language text or speech; and probably none that take “drive time”, “weather”, or “distance” in to consideration when booking meetings back-to-back, not to mention the probability of client A being notoriously late, or client B correspondingly early, by habit. In short, none will be able to do what a proficient human assistant can do.
Sometime in the future, our human administrators may well be replaced by competent digital, or even robotic, facsimiles. However, the truest measure of a great assistant is their ability to adapt to and accommodate the unexpected scenarios, and no algorithm can proactively absorb this aspect of the job, yet. Artificial Intelligence learns, and improves with use, but most companies and executives who require assistants cannot afford to patiently wade through failure, in an iterative quest for efficiency and reliability. If the day comes that Artificial Intelligence Apps crowdsource their refinements, machine learning will accelerate exponentially, and I’m frankly not sure how comfortable I’d be with an employee who mathematically assures me they know what’s best for me, simply because they know more than me.
August 11th, 2015 by dewprocess.
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For the past 7 years I have been aggressively promoting the notion of sustainable business development, and campaigning against the fad of Venture Capital infused vaporware growth. Valuations based on nothing but ideas and Powerpoint (or Prezi) presentations might lead to a successful lightning IPO or other lucrative short term result, but the Piper must be paid, else the music stops. Those left holding the bag at the end of the short dance are left with little but debt and shattered dreams. This is not the way to build and sustain long-term innovation pipelines, or quality workforces, let alone support the dreams and aspirations of sincere emerging entrepreneurs. The terms “serial entrepreneur” and “unicorn venture” just piss me off.
So many businesses have been encouraged to scale super fast, disregarding the absence of solid structural, brand, and product foundations. Their Towers of Babel have been raised with alarming speed, designed to look impressive, and promising extraordinary views and world-class functionality, yet delivering very little of substance. Investors have repeatedly relied upon the advice of brokers whose only interest has been swift maximization of returns, and nobody seems to have spent much time worrying about employees, product sustainability, solution viability, brand audits, or anything else that would underpin a business proposition designed to last beyond year 3.
This is why I decided 7 years ago, to stop working with clients seeking aggressive short term returns, instead of measurable and sustainable growth milestones. This is why I no longer invest in flashy business propositions, but instead in people. This is why I only mentor businesses willing to invest in their long term narrative, as opposed to the short term climactic scenes to which so many startups and larger organizations seem to still be aspiring.
When the State of Oregon recruited me last year to set up a business ecosystem supporting Digital Storytelling startups, some members of my new Board wanted to replicated “conventional” VC incubator and accelerator models. I resisted, and was thrilled that enough members of the Board accepted my vision, as well as my alternative business plan. As a result, we were able to help launch and build twice as many companies as had been required by the government, and nearly all of them continue to exist and grow today. The growth is at a rate that permits adaptation and management of both expected and unexpected challenges and opportunities, whilst protecting the people and assets around which the businesses operate. It saddens me when I hear of talented people or great ideas imploding under the weight of the overly ambitious aspirations of impatient investors. We cannot build sustainable new industries this way. I’m convinced that my model works. My proof is logic based, and has examples. I sincerely hope that the example set by companies such as Zirtual, Goodmail, Secret, Springpad, Outbox, Wahooly, and the hundreds of thousands of other companies that fail due to high churn, overly aggressive growth, and other errors in judgment, will soon set enough of a precedent that market practices will correct themselves, and more than a few of us will see the merits of more responsible investment, mentoring, and sustainable business development.
May 11th, 2015 by dewprocess.
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LinkedIn is not where we go to share family pics, Vine videos, or snopes-worthy rumors (unless someone has a Vine of Marissa Mayer replacing the whole Yahoo! senior executive team with members of her family, and definitive proof that nothing was doctored in post). LinkedIn is a business network, where we go to further our professional aspirations and relations. With this in mind, our actions on LinkedIn will inescapably reflect directly upon our brand proposition, both professional and personal.
So what’s with all the sales spam I keep getting from so many LinkedIn members? Do the senders not realize the damage they are doing to their brand value, not to mention that time they are wasting at my end?
I am not a fan of unsolicited emails from previously unknown parties. I admit to sending out one email missive at the end of each year to all my clients and business contacts, wishing them the best of the season, and good fortune in the year to come, and that’s about as far as I am prepared to go down the twisted path of Spamdom. My reasoning is not founded in knowledge borne of complex market studies, but rather the result of the icky feeling I get whenever I receive spam, and my own desire never to have my own brand associated with such negative feeling.
An unfortunately unsurprising number of LinkedIn accounts are fake accounts, created to front spam sales services that suffocate bona fide business members’ inboxes with a glut of irritating sales pitches, repeated ad nauseam by a rotating gallery of stock photo “bot babes”. The fact that these accounts almost always pretend to be attractive 20-something women is already insulting enough to the many enormously talented women on LinkedIn. I sincerely hope someone more qualified than I takes the time to examine and comment on why certain elements of our society still believe that predominantly young, seemingly vacuous, albeit attractive, women are the perfect sales tool. For my part, I’d like to restrict myself (for now) to the simple request that LinkedIn administrators take more proactive measures to pre-qualify the “real person” credentials of new registering members.
Fake accounts represent, however, only one side of the counterfeit currency that is Spam InMails. There remain a robust number of InMails that are sent by living breathing account reps who should know better.
I receive about 20 seemingly Spam InMails per day. Communications from existing contacts are addressed first, followed by correspondence from recognized or respected indirect contacts (2nd or 3rd degree contacts via individuals who I consider valid pre-qualifiers by dint of their own selective personality. I have a few contacts who accept LinkedIn connection requests from any and all accounts, in their ongoing quest to hit the mythical jackpot of “most LinkedIn contacts ever”. Their contacts and others with whom I’m not previously acquainted fall in to the “potential spammer” bucket.) Any InMail that begins with “I represent…” invariably ends up trashed without further thought, which leaves about 4 -6 daily InMails that may or may not have value to me. These I have to read, evaluate, and act upon – which means that as much as 10 minutes of my work day is spent managing LinkedIn Spam. That may not seem like much, but that represents more than an hour per week of repetitive clutter. I dutifully mark Spam InMails as spam, in the hope that LinkedIn staff are processing this feedback conscientiously. However, the health of communications within the LinkedIn community depends most on its members’ willingness to agree upon the nature of the community itself. If the majority of us see it as a virtual flea market where we can hawk our wares aggressively to as many members as possible, the value of this community will decline precipitously. We are all eager to make beneficial connections that will provide lasting professional value. I’ve yet to meet a LinkedIn member who joined in the hope that they would be sold “web development, expertise in Obj C (iPhone Apps), HTML/CSS, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Java, NodeJS, and Database development, all at affordable prices!”. Every individual or brand that thinks such solicitations are providing valuable ROI to their brand is doing themselves and our community a disservice.
I am eager to learn from and share knowledge with other professionals, and I have benefited greatly from LinkedIn in the past. The benefits are becoming obfuscated by the burdens, and there may come a point where the mathematical equation tips irreversibly from benefit to cost.
As more and more sales spam inundates our inboxes, the responsible parties will be stocking the flames of a Pyrrhic victory. I and other members of the LinkedIn community will likely discontinue our memberships, and seek other platforms and channels on which to conduct our professional business. LinkedIn will have lost revenue, and unsubscribing members will have lost a previously valuable business ecosystem. More importantly, the spammers will have lost their targets. Nobody will have won.
Dear Spammers: If you are trying to secure new customers on LinkedIn, do so by demonstrating your value through knowledge sharing, not unsolicited sales pitches. Write a post about the relative merits of various database development toolsets; join a group and share your insights on the challenges faced by mobile application developers; give a little of your time and expertise. The returns may not be as immediate as the few bucks you might secure from the one in 10,000,000 who is willing to respond to your spam InMail, but they will be far longer lasting and exponentially lucrative.
LinkedIn is a community garden, and the output will be directly correlative to the seeds we sow, and how we care for the ground upon which we work.
Voltaire’s’ famous phrase “il faut cultiver notre jardin” does not translate into a justification for selfish greed, but rather recommends a life of horticultural quietism. I personally don’t subscribe to the “calm acceptance of things as they are without attempts to resist or change them”, but we would do well to focus less on exploiting situations to our personal advantage, consequences be damned. There exists a middle ground, where we may actively influence our collective good fortunes, and I still believe platforms such as LinkedIn offer such an opportunity. It falls to the combined efforts of LinkedIn feature developers, designers, and members to protect and enrich that opportunity. Failing that, the selfish opportunists will destroy both their own, and this platform’s value.
May 5th, 2015 by dewprocess.
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We often bemoan the presence of trolls and fools in the Comments sections of online articles, and in many instances our complaints are well-founded. However, the merit of the Comments section remains undervalued, IMHO.
Media blurbs seem increasingly limited in their scope of value, restricted by brand relationships (read “sponsor” pressure), or other considerations. Whether limitations and omissions are the result of strategic relationship imperatives, journalistic myopia, or a publication’s limited knowledge of the sector about which it is prognosticating, the result is sometimes of VERY limited worth, such that a reader will often wonder why they just wasted 10 minutes reading said piece. This only serves to damage the brand value of a publication. Print publications have historically been able to get away with this practice, as they did not have to worry unduly about corrections or the humiliation of their readers knowing far more than they did. This leads one to a place of opportunity, rather than threat.
A media publication can only know as much as its writer and researchers are able to dredge up in the time window allowed before posting of article. This scenario can never compete with the knowledge of the crowd. Take, for example, this well-intentioned, well-written, but woefully inadequate article by WIRED on offline navigation apps. Market leaders such as HERE+, Maps Me, and City Mapper are conspicuously absent, and one wonders what the article is trying to accomplish. A growing stream of reader comments points out the omissions, putting the article itself in increasingly unfavorable light. Where the opportunity lies is in the fact that had the author of said article framed the piece as an exploratory introduction to the topic (in this case “offline navigation apps and their value to travelers worldwide”), and not a “know-it-all” guide, we would have been privy to the power of media as an aggregator of crowd thought leadership.
Imagine if a tech news site were to intelligently frame the landscape of wearable computing with an article exploring the history thereof, leading in to an overview of a few of the most visible brands in the space (fitbit, Microsoft band, Apple watch, et al), and concluding with a crystal clear invitation to readers to continue the exploration by contributing their opinions on the relative merits of these and other heretofore unmentioned offerings, past, present and future. The merit of the particular piece would now wrap itself around not only the originally published single-voice report, but the myriad opinions proffered by readers. If the publication integrated Quora-like upvote mechanisms, the most useful reader contributions would rise to the forefront, enriching the coverage, and invigorating further discussion. The result would be a work far more comprehensive, and thereby useful, than anything the lone author could ever have accomplished, and their inclusive and collaborative style would only serve to elevate their and the publication’s brand value.
January 9th, 2015 by admin.
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So often we find ourselves working incredibly hard to “fit” in to a mold we believe might position us better for success. This mold has more often than not been formed for us by someone else, be it a predecessor in our life (whether professional or personal), or an “expert” who apparently knows us better than we know ourselves. It takes one or two (or more) turns around the carousel of one’s career to realize one has been riding the wrong horse, and it takes a good degree of humility, introspection, and courage to reconnect with that confluence of what we do well, what we enjoy doing, and what might remunerate us to the level we aspire.
Sometimes people spend their whole careers doing what they think they were “meant” to do, only to realize upon retirement that they have been unwittingly untrue to their inner potential. As adults, we grow all too easily afraid of pursuing those dreams we so readily embraced as children; conditioned by our teachers, peers, and others to toss aside those childish fantasies as the fragile baubles of youth, insufficient to withstand the rigors and challenges of “the real world”. But it is those visions we construct in our hearts and minds when young that we eventually come to discover were far more robust than we were led to believe, and far more in tune with our true potential.
The form which the realization of our dream takes is not as important as the fact that the vision has been honestly expressed. Nobody will convince me that a ballet dancer is a “better” aspiration than a dance teacher, aerobics instructor, or occupational therapist: they each share their passion, in their own special way, for the power of the human body and how it operates. An intelligent and aggressively pursued related career strategy is just as apt to be financially rewarding as any quest for a leading contract with a premier ballet company. In fact, probably more so (with apologies to any readers currently applying to ABT, Paris Opera, or the Royal Ballet!).
I can’t recall who sent me the link to this video, so am sorry not to fairly tip my hat to them. That said, I think this is a fascinating piece, demonstrative not only of the impressive artistry of animators whose work we might otherwise blithely take for granted, but celebrating the unique and extraordinary talents and expression that lie within every artist, every creator…every person. These are but four people who have found a way to retain their individual vision, express it with unique eloquence, and meanwhile also apply that talent and commitment, sometimes with small compromises, to a larger whole that proves greater than the sum of each part they contribute.
If we could each pursue that goal within ourselves, we and the world we live in might be that much happier and fulfilled. To listen to and act upon the truth that lies within us, express it with integrity, and then find a place to marry it with other admirable and complementary talents…to balance our own personal integrity with the needs of a community …to recognize that the best collective result is ALWAYS attained when each individual voice is given the room to be fully heard…to find a way to celebrate and elevate the individual and the collective, at one and the same time…the best companies and communities achieve this union, and they do so by hiring and nurturing the best people.
December 10th, 2014 by admin.
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December 4th, 2014 by admin.
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There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
(Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167)
When we are confronted with something or someone influential or disruptive, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect that person or thing to completely, immediately, and profoundly change us. There is much within each of us that is already great and wonderful, so why must we transform, when a tweak might suffice? Nobody can rightly expect another to become a rabid evangelist for post-impressionist art, just because they saw and enjoyed Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”; one isn’t bound to become a born-again Christian by dint of the fact that one reads a verse of the Bible, and admires its social logic, inconsistent as it might be. Shakespeare’s quote above applies on so many levels, not least of which being how the largely Christian West and mostly Islamic Middle East view one another. How are we to build and maintain truly sustainable and meaningful business relations if we don’t believe that we can relate to one another, on a personal level?
The world within which we live is much larger than the world in which we might be each choosing to live. It’s high time we embraced the opportunity to explore and recognize the shared truths that thrive behind the facade of the “other”.
Chinese philosopher Laozi once wrote “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Tao Te Ching, chapter 64). I wonder how many blessings we might extract from this journey of a million smiles…
Next time you travel abroad, assume that the similarities between you and your counterpart are greater than the differences, and work outward from that core position. You may be surprised to find that the result is more profitable for all concerned.
October 23rd, 2014 by admin.
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I find it sadly fascinating how many consultants tout their credentials as nextgen connectors, supremely well-versed in the art of customer engagement and retention (by their own admission), and uniquely placed to counsel the rest of the business world on how to manage the relationship with our client and customer bases. My fascination stems not so much from the fact that there now seem to be more of these “experts” than there are scriptwriters in Hollywood, but from how unwilling these “gurus” are to include others in their “dialogue”. They publish prolifically, and have answers to every question posed, but god forbid someone else offer an insight or counterpoint. I follow many of these self-anointed “thought leaders” as many of my own partners and clients often ask me what I think of this speaker or that panelist (call me a glutton for punishment), and have regularly noted how they edit both the comment section and main body of their postings, to adapt to market changes as well as erase anything but adoring support and fawning interest. This is not engagement, it is Push marketing, a 20th century device that has limited appeal nowadays.
Three things may happen upon the publication of this post:
- Nobody reads it.
- Somebody reads it and leaves a favorable comment, useful link, or insightful addendum.
- Somebody reads it and leaves a less than favorable comment.
In the first scenario, which may well manifest, given the glut of opinion pieces on LinkedIn, Tumblr, and other online soapboxes (blogs such as this one included!), there is naught to do but soldier on.
In the second scenario, I will append a grateful thanks for their kind attention and contribution and, if relevant, add additional remarks of my own to keep the conversation going.
In the last scenario, it would be my obligation to remove the comment ONLY if said comment is downright rude or offensive, or completely irrelevant to the discussion. If the last of these was the case, I would give the individual the courtesy of a note explaining my action and the reasons therefor. If, however, the comment was simply a counterpoint to my observations, and respectfully put, I would welcome and respond to it. After all, isn’t that what engagement is all about?
So, to all you gurus, experts, and thought leaders out there in LinkedInLand, Tumblrtown, and Blogburgh: if you are among those who “trim” your postings and comment sections like a textual topiary bush, please stop. You do yourselves and your readers a disservice. Censorship should only be ever exercised with extreme caution, and only when no other option exists.