So Many Miss the Point

With the passing of Steve Jobs this week juxtaposed against the announcement and release of the new iPhone 4S, the technology media have been atwitter with their views of Apple's success or failure to continue their recent successes. In reading a wide range of such writing, it strikes me that most miss the point entirely. The reason is ironically the same reason that Apple is so successful: it's really difficult to understand people and what they want. Over the past few years I have spent substantial time studying direct response marketing (such as the marketing done by companies who take out those one-page ads for subglasses or the Internet marketing that offers you a free report for handing over your email address). One of the primary tenants of direct response marketing is this: it doesn't matter what you want or what you think about those who make up your market. All the matters is what they actually want. Figure that out and you'll be successful. In fact, your success will be in direct proportion to the accuracy of your understanding. Most technology writers and those who live their lives consumed with technology miss entirely the preferences of the vast majority of people. That's why Apple is successful. It's also why I have migrated exclusively to Apple products.

The bottom line: most people just want stuff that works. They don't want to customize it more than putting their own wallpaper on the screen. They don't want to hack into it or understand how it works. They want to use it, get their activities done, and keep living their lives.

Apple products do this really well. In fact, Siri---the new Apple iPhone 4S's mechanism for voice interaction---is the opposite of what most geeks say is needed: it will create less interaction with the screen rather than more.

Today, John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote an article specifically about the iPhone 4S and everything the pundits are saying Apple got wrong. I agree 100% with what he says. I expect the iPhone 4S to be the most popular iPhone ever much to the shock of those who think the screen needs to be bigger or that it needs to have a replaceable battery or LTE networking.

It doesn't. It's a great upgrade. I'll have mine in a week and will be sure to let you know what I think after I've had some time with it.

What do you think?

All Clouds are Not Created Equal

After I read about another Google customer losing all of his Google data when Google decided to delete (or at least suspend) his account, I got to thinking about all of the times that Google has made a mistake and deleted user accounts or deleted email for Gmail users, I thought about how the different approaches of the key players in the emerging world require you to make some choices, some of which may be untenable. So, I thought I'd lay them out in clearer form than you will get from the hard-core technical blogs or the companies themselves. At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this year (WWDC 2011), Steve Jobs and the Apple executive team introduced iOS 5 and iCloud. During his iCloud introduction, Jobs said this: "We are going to demote the PC to just be a device. We are going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud." This is Apple's philosophy: the iCloud is the sync-master for  your digital life. It provides the axle to your devices that are the spokes. However (and this is a vital distinction!), your digital content lives on your devices when you are using it. The iCloud, then, is the master copy, but Apple expects you to have copies on one or more of your devices.

This is in sharp contrast to Google. In Google's world, the cloud is the only place where your data resides. You'll use your browsers (on your PC, your tablet, or your phone) to access, manipulate, create, and use your content. You may even cache some of it locally for performance reasons (for example, caching the first part of a video so you can watch it without "stutters"). However, the content is in the cloud and your devices are simply windows into it from Google's perspective.

...and then there's Microsoft. They want to get in on "this cloud thing," too, but they really aren't sure how to do it. Their business is Windows and Office, so how can they use the cloud and keep those lines humming? What they are doing now is having the cloud be a glorified backup service with some of the capabilities of their apps. The best experience, however, is to use their native apps on a PC and hook them into the cloud for backup and collaboration. This means that Microsoft Office 365 is a different perspective than iCloud (which is personal) and Google (which is all about the data being in the cloud only). It's effectively a hybrid of the two.

Regardless, you will want to make a choice based on these distinctions, because to the cloud you will go, one way or the other.

Do You Feel Valued?

Three weeks ago, I took a drive to the mountains. I love the mountains and always enjoy any opportunity to get up to the thinner and cleaner air. This time, though, I exited I-70 earlier than usual and pulled into downtown Idaho Springs. Idaho Springs is an old gold mining town nestled in a valley along I-70. You can see the old gold mine from the highway, and stopping for a tour is a common summer activity. The town also sits at the foot of Mount Evans, one of Colorado's glorious 14ers (mountains with summits over 14,000' in elevation), and is a starting point for hiking and mountain biking.

This day, though, I was there to visit with a new client; a small business with a broad reach worldwide. I love their offices! You turn into one of the storefront doors along Miner Street (effectively Main Street) and a broad, beautiful stairway opens before you. Upstairs, their offices have high ceilings and the feel of 100 years ago. The energy is productive and there is a lot of work getting done. The office dogs and owners greeted me as I ascended. We smiled at one another and caught up. Then, we got to work.

Whenever I work with them, speak with them, give them my best counsel for their business, or simply exchange a few emails, I feel valued. I know that they care about me and appreciate the expertise and value I am bringing to them and their business. And you know what? As a result, their business is going to improve. We're going to find ways to grow their customer base, to improve their office efficiency, and to increase their profits.

I'm sure that you can tell me similar stories about businesses you have visited as a customer, placed you have worked, and other companies you have contacted.

I'd be willing to bet that you also have stories about companies where you didn't feel valued. Companies who, although you are paying for their products or services, seemed intent upon making it clear that they couldn't be bothered helping you and, in fact, you were simply interrupting their day by being there.

Do you feel valued?

It's a good question, and one that's worth more than a conversation. It's worth finding out which organizations value people--and which organizations don't.

This idea came to friends at Newmeasures, an organization dedicated to improving organizational culture. A couple of weeks ago, they launched ifeelvalued.com to find out which companies value people. It's a great idea. Let's find out which organizations do a great job of valuing people... and which don't. Go visit ifeelvalued.com and put in your thoughts on companies you appreciate... and those you think need to be known as places to avoid.

And let me know what you think in the comments...

How You Can Change the World

It's been beautiful here in Boulder for the past week. Cool in the evenings, sunny during the day, with the occasional thunderstorm to brighten up the afternoon. During this week, I've had a great exchange with Stephanie George, my brilliant friend who helps businesses to see their current business situation through objective eyes, offering business development and strategic consulting. One of her emails to me yesterday was so perceptive that I'll share it with you in its entirety in this post. Her insights are right on. The rest of this post (with minor edits for the change of medium) is from her:

I think that we also need leadership. The two quotes were right on and - they came from leaders. Leaders do not have to be the President alone, Leaders emerge at all levels. I think it would be refreshing for a bold, non-partisan heavy hitter to enroll some outstanding legislative leaders, the President, and the media to stop cramming fear and uncertainty down the public's throat.

Bad news sells better than good news, so the media may be challenging to enroll on a wholesale basis. Also, I don't think a pollyanna outlook would sell well.

It's not just a policy or a budget patch that we need to crank the engine and that's all that I've heard proposed from our legislative and executive branches so far (red or blue). There is no Unity. Remember "Together we stand, divided we fall"? That's what's missing. There is too much interest and money to be made in dividing up the sentiment and no one working to unify it.

A mortgage broker actually told me once that he didn't care if the market went up or down, as long as there was some sort of change, he would make money. His interest was not in seeing an overall rising of the tide or in others successes, but in keeping things off balance, because it kept creating opportunities for him to make money.

I think that Bush actually tried to connect everyone on the war - it worked immediately following 9/11 and in WWII, but when there is dishonesty as the foundation (WMDs anyone? then one after another different reason for making war was brought forth, none of them more substantial than 4th grade retribution), the rest of the construct falls apart. And when our leadership cannot be trusted, people lose confidence. As long as our bodies of leadership snipe at one another endlessly, it firstly, seems utterly arrogant and self-righteous, and secondly, does not engender faith in their ability as a corporate body to get on the same page.

I know that I have simplified foreign, economic and political policy in there. It's not a simple problem. However, on confidence:

I don't stand on there being THE ONE omniscient leader; all of our elected officials have the freedom be the leader that we need. However, they would need to give up personal hubris.

So, that's top-down confidence.

How about bottom-up confidence? Enroll and empower everyone to develop their own confidence. Probably creates a bigger tide than waiting for the top-down to get it done.

Educating everyone we meet that who they are is bigger than their circumstances; they are not defined as a possibility in the world by their checkbook balance or net worth or job or their diploma. Joy, confidence and happiness are not a function of any material detritus they manage to assemble in their lifetimes. Acknowledging one's own true personal power is at the source of confidence. It is not someone or some thing outside of us, it is in each of us. (Cue Marianne Williamson quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”)

Maybe we should bring back that old Skin Bracer commercial with Jack Palance telling us all that Confidence is sexy. That's it! We need a new marketing campaign for Confidence! Confidence is Sexy. (Editor: As I mentioned to Stephanie in a follow-up email, Palance had it right in City Slickers, too.)

I went through the Harn Museum of Art a week ago and they have on display a series of public propaganda posters from around 1924 - 1936. How about some National Confidence propaganda - lots of it - that is not one diva or guru's pocket lining? That's not tied to some partisan agenda? That doesn't come out of Obama's mouth or John Boehner's mouth?

What Should the Government Do?

This morning, one of my good friends--a brilliant and insightful business analyst you should know--asked me what I thought about the latest McKinsey Quarterly newsletter article entitled, "Where are the jobs." Given the questions that I have had on this, I'll share my thoughts that came from my response to her: he key job growth will come from small businesses, including innovations in retail (did you see this article about 4Food?). And the only way to get businesses in those sectors to grow is to free up money that is not being used to pay them right now: consumer's money and larger businesses' money that is used to buy products and services from these smaller businesses.

What is going to free those funds? Confidence.

Yeah, I know it's not the whiz-bang idea that everyone thinks we need, but it really is what we need. Confidence. It was the key difference between two speeches from a generation ago:

"The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

"As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning." (that was Jimmy Carter's infamous speech, that entirety of which is here... how familiar does that sound and how true (again) today?)

Compare it to this:

"If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.

"It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope."

That, of course, was Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address, and it's no less true today.

After that speech, the country went on a tear that lasted a couple of decades.

The facts are that creativity fuels innovation and innovation fuels the economy. Without confidence, there is no creativity.

What can the government do? Stop the spending, drop the taxes, create a predictable environment for innovation to be free to develop. Otherwise, the innovation gets spent trying to get around governmental interference.

What do you think?

The Value of Decisiveness

Earlier this past week I was in my home office working on a new iPhone app for a client when my phone rang. On the other end of the line was a northeastern accent that I recognized right away. Last winter, this friend and I had spent the better part of a day skiing around Copper Mountain. He and his family were visiting from New Hampshire, and I had the joy of showing he and his two boys some of my favorite secret stashes on a day that still had some powder to be found. As I answered the phone, he asked me how I was doing, and I mentioned to him the wonderful Colorado weather. "Yes," he said with a wistful longing in his voice, "the boys still talk about that day with you at Copper. That was a great day!"

Yes, it was. But, that's not why he called. You see, he's a Vice President of Marketing at a major corporation and he was calling to find out if I'd have time to take on a small project for him. We chatted for a few minutes so I could get a basic understanding of what he needed. "Yes," I said, "that's something that is a good fit for me, and I'd really like to work on it with you."

...and like that, it was a done deal.

We had our kick-off call the next day, and I'll be working with him over the next few weeks to build content for marketing one of their product lines as they launch a new set of communications.

Decisiveness.

It can really make a difference for you and your business. It's going to help him with their process, we'll get a lot done, and their customers will get some great insights into their products.

Your decisions are best in this order:

  1. The "right" decision
  2. The "wrong" decision
  3. No decision

Today more than ever the adage applies: You can't steer a ship that isn't moving. Make a choice. Get moving. And adjust as you go along.