Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Cluetrain Manifesto: the end of business as usual

This book is really the philosophical foundation on which the current explosion in social media technologies is based. This is not to say that the four men who wrote the book created this philosophy, only that they recognized some fundamental truths well ahead of the rest of us.

Published in 2000, written a full decade ago, the four authors speak in voices that are authentic, irreverent and as relevant today as the day this was written. The true classic is one that stands up to the test of time in its truths and this book has held up well. Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger worked collaboratively on this project, but each speaks in his own "voice" in distinct sections of the book.

When I teach social media classes, I read a section of this book aloud entitled "Networked Markets" (pg. 82) to set the stage for why the new social media platforms came into being. The new technologies have enabled global conversations among people that were interrupted for a time by industrialization, mass production, mass communication and broadcasting. The Internet opened up the possibilities of having one-on-one meaningful conversations between businesses and their customers, and for customers to connect with each other in a concept we call communities.

Having worked on Barack Obama's campaign last year, I can tell you that what he did was made possible by the fundamental truths illuminated in this book. At the end of the day, online platforms and mobile technologies will continue to change at greater and greater speeds, but the fundamental need for human beings to engage in meaningful conversations will never go away. The need to speak and be understood is what makes us human.

I highly recommend this book! I don't believe the advent of new social media technologies can be fully understood without first grasping the concepts in the book.

Monday, December 29, 2008

You Can't Order Change - Peter S. Cohan

Subtitled: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing. It was destiny that I ended up with this book. Or perhaps serendipity. Either way, the publisher did me a favor in sending it along.

The content in this book is excellent. I would describe the style as a case study and Cohan's writing as analytical. While his writing style did not resonate with me, the information is first rate! I filled the pages with post-it notes and have already passed it along to my favorite COO.

Cohan does an excellent job of drawing for us a picture of Boeing as McNerny inherited it. Then he goes back to look at what McNerney did at GE and 3M to show how his decisions about Boeing were influenced by his roles in other highly visible positions in those companies.

The book is driven by a highly structured format that lends itself to logical thinkers. Cohan has a great deal of statistics, lists, summaries and conclusions that help to link ideas to more concrete and measurable data. Keeping in mind that Cohan is a consultant primarily and not a writer, I adjusted my expectations as I worked my way through the book.

I do recommend this book for anyone interested in issues of leadership. Cohan does a wonderful job in showing us a portrait of Jim McNerney as a change agent in a difficult situation. This is a timely message for all companies struggling in these difficult times. Leadership does make all the difference!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Dream Manager - Matthew Kelly

This is quite a remarkable book that was recommended to me by someone I was working with recently in Charleston, SC. Lonnie Plaster and I have known each other for several years and I admire and respect him as a real estate manager, but have not really gotten to know him well. A chance conversation over dinner brought about this book recommendation.

Initially, my interest was from a management perspective - how do you help the people with whom you are working to realize their dreams? The concept is not new to me. The person I regularly refer to as my business coach, Dennis Bruce, uses this concept with his agents as well. He did a workshop for my staff in Home Service Connections on my last day in that position. He introduced the idea of first identifying dreams and then visualizing them. He didn't call it dream management which is the term coined by Matthew Kelly in this book, but that's what it is.

I suppose because I am so focused on how Dennis helps me with my business goals, that I didn't consider that what I am working toward every day is more than just business related. He's really been a "Dream Manager" in the sense that this book is focused on - how our work relates to the dreams we have for ourselves. The author points out that there are several things that are universal to working people everywhere: to do meaningful work; to advance and make progress; and to be appreciated. That is what drives us more than any paycheck. But when an employer takes an active interest in helping their employees to identify their dreams (both short term and long term,) they are creating a culture where they are committed to doing as much for their people as they expect their people to do for the organization. In actively helping employees to identify and achieve their goals, the company benefits in decreased turnover and a more productive, engaged and loyal workforce.

Perhaps real estate sales managers recognize this more clearly because they are motivating, leading and inspiring independent contractors - which is vastly different than managing employees. When a regular paycheck is not the automatic result of simply showing up, it requires a great deal more skill to keep people focused and motivated. It makes sense that keeping them focused on their own dreams is the best way to keep them highly motivated. But that's just as true for employees, and yet few employers I know seem to have even the vaguest idea of this fact.

The book was an epiphany for me on two fronts: First was the realization that I am fortunate to have a Dream Manager who volunteered for the job and has stuck with it despite my unbelievable and baffling resistance to much of his advice; and secondly that I have settled for far too long in working for an organization with little interest in what they can do for me. I don't know why I have so stubbornly persisted in the face of such long term and evident indifference, but recognizing it for what it is has given me permission not to settle for it anymore. I don't have to settle for it.

I think this is an awesome book and whether it was luck or it was fate, it has given me an entirely new outlook in how to pursue my own dreams. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tribes - Seth Godin

Subtitled: We Need You to Lead Us. What an awesome book! I confess I'm a big fan of Seth Godin's books and his blog, so it's not so surprising that I think his latest effort is right on target.

Where to start? Well, I teach classes on social media technologies to real estate agents. Getting them to shift their paradigm when it comes to marketing is difficult for those who came to the industry when "marketing" meant "advertising." Marketing is now a lot more interactive than passive, and it's more about pull than push. We need to engage people - to interact with them on an authentic and genuine level. This is particularly true in the professional services industry where consumers are not buying a product, they are buying expertise wrapped up in a person.

The focus for many tends to be on the technology tools, but Godin points out it's not about technology (those tools will continue to change), it's about relationships. It's always been about relationships, but today's technologies allow us to reach more people outside our own "in person" local networks. And we can reach them quickly, effectively and at no cost. The tools are revolutionary but the concept of tribes is as old as cavemen. We have a need to be connected to other people. Using modern technology we can be connected to many tribes in "real time" - on a daily basis through sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and email. Those tribes might include our extended family, our professional associates, our political party or religious group, the company we work for, people who share our interest in certain hobbies or collecting, or a charity or civic organization.

The strength of a tribe is not so much in it's size; it's about creating a movement. There are two essential elements to a movement - leadership and communication. Godin argues the point that we are all potential leaders. We have the skills, technology has given us the means, and now we need to find our passion. He is a very passionate man himself, and he feels strongly that when we have something to contribute to the world, doing so is not just an opportunity, but an obligation. He sites many examples of how one single seemingly ordinary person has changed the world for the better.

I dog-eared and marked so many pages I'm afraid to loan the book out to anyone else, although Godin has specifically asked me to do that on the very last page of his book. This book is extremely important in understanding a new world order - how we will all sort ourselves out, and what it will take to communicate and connect with our fellow man. This is more than just a question of effective marketing, although that was certainly my specific interest in reading the book in the first place. It's about how to stay connected in a world that is moving faster, changing faster, and bombarding us with more information and communication than we can easily comprehend. The future will be about finding our place in our own tribes. I highly recommend the book as a way to jump start your participation.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Juicing the Orange - Pat Fallon and Fred Senn

Subtitled: How To Turn Creativity Into A Powerful Business Advantage. This is an interesting and engaging book that opens with a very clear and simple premise in Chapter One: "Imagination is the last legal means of gaining an unfair advantage over the competition." The final chapter closes with the additional observation: "Increasingly, it's the only means."

In the intervening chapters, we are taken on an odyssey of creativity that spans various industries across the globe and outlines the challenges of many companies seeking to make a comeback, launch a new product or re-define themselves for a new era. I found it fascinating and inspiring. Some of the things that the creative teams at Fallon Worldwide came up with just leave me awestruck. Like, "How did they ever think of that?" They were way ahead of everyone else in many ways, including the use of the Internet for engagement marketing. Their short films for BMW's launch of the Z3 were a first-of-its-kind made for the Internet mini-movie that garnered millions of hits and an award at the Cannes Film Festival. It also resulted in orders for the car that were more than double BMW's target. That was back in April 2001.

They helped to reinvigorate the tourist industry in the Bahama Islands by literally engaging all the people on those islands as part of the web based initiative to educate the world about the many experiences awaiting them there (2003.) And in Colorado, the entire concept of the launch of United Airline's low far subsidiary - TED - relied on a type of guerrilla marketing that had never been done before. Fallon created an unseen fictional character that ran around the city doing benevolent deeds for weeks leading right up to the roll out. That garnered a great deal of local and national press coverage, and when TED finally launched, tickets sold at an unprecedented rate that dramatically increased United's market share (2003.)

I could go on and on, but it's best to just read the book. A very nice extra is a "See the Work" section of the Juicing the Orange website where some of the work they did on video can be seen. That includes the award winning SuperBowl commercial for EDS, "Herding Cats." (2000)

The final chapter is probably one of my favorites because it talks about how they founded the company. They decided on a list of core values that is the foundation of Fallon Worldwide and over the last 25 years, they've stayed true to that even when it meant taking short term losses for the sake of staying true to their company's culture. It's a promise the founders made to themselves and their employees. That to me is very impressive and quite rare to find in corporate America today.

They also introduced a concept and term I like very much under a section called "Identify and Encourage the Culture Players."

It didn't take long to learn that if we truly valued our culture, then it wasn't enough to hire brains and talent. We had to cherish the people who best embodied our ideals. We call them culture players. If you took the person described by Ed Keller and Jon Barry in The Influentials - the person who knows in his heart he can make a difference - and crossed him with Malcolm Gladwell's "connectors" in The Tipping Point, you'd have a culture player.

I really like that concept and agree wholeheartedly that culture players are important in an organization to "manage the energy of the place." I also like the section immediately following that one entitled "Fire the Assholes." No explanation needed there.

The last three important points the authors make come with short explanations attached to each:
  1. Creativity will be an increasingly essential business tool.
  2. You can't buy creativity, but you can unlock it.
  3. Creativity is not an easy path to walk but the rewards are worth it.

I highly recommend this book. I absolutely loved it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Buy-ology - Martin Lindstrom

Subtitled: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. This is groundbreaking research in a new field called neuromarketing. Martin Lindstrom gave an interview to National Public Radio on the subject and how retailers are learning to tap into these findings in order to influence our buying habits.

The premise of neuromarketing is that what goes on in our subconscious influences what we buy. Figuring out how to measure subconscious response in relation to product design, marketing and advertising gives businesses a tool more effective than any they have now. Lindstrom quotes the behavioral economist George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University: "Most of the brain is dominated by automatic processes, rather than deliberate thinking. A lot of what happens in the brain is emotional, not cognitive."

In order to find out how different areas of the brain respond to certain stimuli such ads, logos, commercials, sounds and even smells, two different types of equipment were used: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and steady-state typography (SST). Both are non-invasive devices and left no damaging after affects on participants. The research was conducted on 2,000 volunteers in the US, UK, Germany, Japan and China over a period of several years.

Lindstrom's research produced some surprising results and confirmed certain other beliefs about what influences consumer buying behavior. The brain scans were matched against paper-and-pen questionnaire responses and often times how the brain responded did not match the opinions of the volunteer's "logical" mind. In one interesting research study with smokers, it was discovered that the warning label on cigarettes is not only a failure as a deterrent, but actually triggers a response in the reward center of the brain that controls the desire to smoke.

The book is a very engaging and easy read. It's full of interesting case studies, stories and anecdotal asides told with a great deal of humor. There is no question that this type of research will some day soon replace the more traditional consumer surveys and focus groups. These studies are more accurate in predicting future results based on an accurate assessment of the subconscious mind that influences buying behavior. Lindstrom predicts that as companies grow more interested in this type of consumer research, the technology will become more widely available and the research less expensive to conduct.

For the present, there are plenty of valuable take-aways from the book that can be effectively implemented by any business. The insights are practical and make sense when explained against the backdrop of the research results. For consumers, there are valuable lessons about what factors drive our choices that we are not consciously aware of. Being armed against the techniques and tactics being deployed every place from fast food restaurants to the shopping mall will slow many of us down as we bring our logical mind along to the party. I highly recommend the book and believe it is the first of many we will see in this emerging field of neuromarketing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Talent is Overrated - Geoff Colvin

Subtitled: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. The book is well researched and presents compelling data for the case against the concept of innate talent. Toward the end of the book Colvin addresses the possibility that there are genes for things like intrinsic motivation; but at its most basic level, his theory suggests that high achievers reach astonishing heights in whatever they do because they work very hard at it in a highly specific way.

Colvin looks at many disciplines including music, athletics, chess and business, and takes on case studies involving Mozart, Tiger Wood and Jerry Rice, The Polgar Sisters, and Jack Welch among many others. In each instance research debunks the myth that talent accounts for accomplishment, and that achievement is somehow effortless if "talent" is what you are born with. Instead, these studies show how "deliberate practice" - and a lot of it - makes the difference in developing extraordinary skills.

Careful research they conducted also illustrates how the amount of actual time spent in such deliberate practice creates a cumulative effect, for which there appears to be no real short cut. It takes an artist about 10 years of intensive training and practice to turn out something that is considered really good. It doesn't matter whether you start your training at the age of 3 or the age of 20, there is still a requisite amount of highly specific practice you must do to get beyond good to reach great.

The book does point out that as we get older we end up behind the curve in our efforts if we didn't begin early enough. Younger people are coming up who've put in the time and practice and we aren't going to "catch up" to them in the number of hours they've invested versus what we are now investing.

In the latter part of the book, Colvin talks about these principles in relationship to companies. He really looks quite closely at companies like GE and how they consistently turn out so many high performers in business. He concludes that some of it is the culture and how that culture lends itself to developing individual performance. In a chapter entitled "Where Does Passion Come From?" there is a section headed "How Organizations Blow It." Here is the first paragraph:

It must be noted that, on this subject, as with the other findings on great performance, most organizations seem to be managed brilliantly for preventing people from performing at high levels. Since intrinsic drives are strongest, people will work most passionately and effectively on projects they choose for themselves. How many companies allow that? A few do, as noted in the previous chapter, and those companies have produced outstanding results. Yet most other companies steadfastly refuse to learn from them. Executives may protest that they have a business to manage and can't let employees run around working on who-knows-what. Fine; but those executives mustn't complain when their company's ideas are no better than the competition's. Nor should they claim to be mystified when employees lack passion and engagement.

Amen to that. I found a brilliant solution to this dilemma myself: I simply quit my job, pursued my vision and passion, and now I sell what I have to offer back to the company that I left. It actually works out pretty well - although my own perception is that I give twice as much as I get. But I wouldn't settle for less than pursuing what I believe to be strategically important to the future of the real estate industry and the people in it. It's disappointing that there are people who regularly settle for less. In fact, quite a lot of them.

I loved this book and highly recommend it! There is no time like the present, and no better time than NOW to be the person we can still become. It's really a matter of working harder as well as smarter on the skills we need in order to be high performers in a world where "experience" gets outdated very quickly. It's worth taking the time to read this book. Being great at what we do is not out of our reach.