Do you know what B2B prospects are looking for in a supplier? Do you know what B2B prospects want to hear? Is there an opportunity for mid-size B2B companies to brand around messages that bigger players miss?

Recently McKinsey did some research on branding themes among major B2B companies and answered some of these questions. The purpose of the resarch was to determine how well branding messages of global B2B players matched up to the interests of B2B customers. Continue reading

The Hindenburg burnsLike most things the government does, its approach to “fixing” the auto industry/energy/environment problem is broken. Badly broken. Wrong-headed. Misguided. Appallingly stupid. And sad. It always amazes me that when we have an industry more-or-less crippled by poorly thought out government regulation, the answer to fixing it is in more government regulation. What a concept.

Recent polls show that only 26% of Americans think the government’s plan to bail out GM is a good idea, and only 42% of GM car owners are even “somewhat likely” to buy GM again. Clearly, most of us don’t think we’re on the right track for fixing this mess. But there are things that can be done, and the industry can survive and progress without massive government meddling, spending, and regulation.

So here’s my 7-step plan for addressing the auto industry/environment/energy situation. Amazingly, there’s not one single step that requires new regulation or money for the auto industry. Continue reading

I know when I’m beat. I know how to cut my losses and get out. There’s a lot to be said for perseverance, but even more for not throwing good money after bad. What am I talking about? My outsourcing attempts with My God, what a disaster.

After 2 1/2 months I had exactly one – that’s 1 – single success with GetFriday. Every other task I assigned was a miserable failure. Even after getting a replacement PA who was, supposedly, experienced in web search and basic web skills I could not get even marginally relevant results when I asked for search data on specific topics.

Worse, when it became clear to me that this wasn’t going to work out it took nearly an act of Congress to get them to cancel my account. The entire affair was a disaster.

What I learned is simple – if this is the best the Eur-Asian nations can offer then we are in no danger of being overrun by a low-wage workforce. They demonstrated a lack of understanding, competence, response, and adaptability that was hard to comprehend.

I went so far as to start running my task descriptions by two of my colleagues to try and ensure I was being both clear and reasonable in my requests. The results I got were still stunningly inept.

In fairness, most of my colleagues asked the very basic question, “Well, what did you expect?” I don’t know, maybe something a little above abject incompetence? How about someone with enough self awareness to recognize when they did not understand a task and ask for clarification until they did?

If you read my experience with BellSouth tech support from 2006 you’ll see my GetFriday experience is neither my first encounter with such incompetence, nor is it any real surprise. I suspect the cultural and language barriers between a third-world workforce and US-based expectations are just too great to overcome. Or maybe it is something else. I do not know.

What I do know is that from now on I will stick with North American (and possibly European) sources for anything I want done. Given my experiences I do not think there is any non-repetitive task requiring foresight, intuition, or judgment that can be effectively outsourced to a third-world workforce. It may well be that if you can 100% script an activity, and spend enough time to get the workforce to actually read the script, and have enough patience for them to practice and fail repeatedly until they get it right, that you might eventually have some success.

But as a small business my tasks are not repetitive. At least not now. And they do require thinking – which entails all those things mentioned above. The third-world is simply not the place to get these things done.

4_2dhourworkweekGot a new book over the holidays – “The 4-hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferris. One of my consulting colleagues recommended it a few weeks ago as being a good source for tips and ideas for some of the areas I’ve been investigating as a sideline the past few years. I love the book. I read most of it on a 2-hour flight from Atlanta to San Antonio, so it’s clearly a fast read. But it’s also a practical book, containing specific and usable ideas and recommendations in the areas of personal automation, personal outsourcing, product development, and removing yourself as a bottleneck.

This is what I call a “connector” or gap-filling book. I think you have to be at a certain point in your thinking on these areas in order for it to resonate with you. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit thinking about and poking around the edges of this stuff and made very little progress. I’ve read numerous books on time management and internet marketing and product development and PPC advertising and such. I’ve conducted a few of my own experiments. I’ve tried to find assistants and sources for doing tasks that are necessary but burdensome and low priority for me. But it just never worked like I wanted. There was never a serviceable “big picture” I could latch onto and I never got that mental “click” that happens when a concept gels in your mind and you can begin to make it your own. I don’t know why this is so hard in some things and so easy in others, but I’ve learned to keep striving for that “click” and I know it when I feel it.

“4-hour Workweek” was a constant stream of little connections and examples that fit together to form a proper big picture, such that things which previously seemed isolated and disconnected are now linked in an overall vision. This is important for me as I have no energy for pursuing small things, no matter their potential, when I can’t see a clear contribution to a the bigger goal.

I don’t have any interest in copying Ferris’ global vagabond lifestyle. But his approach to creating a low-pressure, low-risk, low-involvement business structure is compelling – especially if you have already been struggling to do many of the things he discusses. If you haven’t, Ferris’ claims may seem like just so much additional BS in a world already filled with it. But I don’t think they are. My goal for 2008 is to implement as many of Ferris’ strategies as possible, starting with the identification and outsourcing of my “boat-anchor” tasks and moving up to higher-level functions such as product design, marketing, etc. I will outsource as much of this as possible, and catalog my progress and failures here. It will be nice to have a theme for blog entries again.

The cover story for the May 3 issue of BusinessWeek was “World’s Most Innovative Companies” The big point was that the idea of running around as a multi-millionaire CEO chanting the word innovation as if it would magically alter your organization has now been recognized as another in the long line of stupid management fads.

[…] At the behest of an “ideation” consultant, he donned a blue superhero costume — cape, tights, and all — to put a little extra oomph behind the company’s innovation-boosting campaign. “I guess the thinking was that if you free people from the norm, you’ll unleash a torrent of creativity,” says Scott Anthony, president of Innosight, a consulting firm co-founded by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. Anthony refused to name the company because it was a client. “Innovation Man led to a lot of laughs,” he quips, “but it didn’t lead to a lot of innovation.”

The same might be said for many gimmicks that companies have tried over the past few years in their attempts to boost growth. Suddenly trendy, innovation took on the flavor of an elixir, as companies raced to hire “chief innovation officers” and build innovation centers complete with purple-painted walls and conference rooms with funny names. Ford Motor Co. (F) boasted in a press release about its new Innovation Acceleration Center in Dearborn, Mich.: “It’s amazing what a room filled with radio-controlled cars, a 3-ft. Statue of Liberty made of Legos, and some comfy couches can do to stir the imagination.” […]

According to the article many CEOs, having failed at turning their billion-dollar behemoths into innovation engines, are experiencing “innovation fatigue.” I am shocked! Shocked, I say. Shocked to learn that innovation is not a commodity that can be ordered up like Papa John’s Pizza. Shocked to learn that innovation doesn’t exist on its own like, say, cotton.

It turns out that innovation is actually a result – something that happens after you change every aspect of your stodgy, corrupt, inefficient, overbearing, outsourced, badly managed global corporation where everyone spends 80 percent of their time in meetings, 20 percent of their time doing reports, 10 percent of their time fixing stuff someone else did wrong, and 5 percent of their time doing something valuable that a customer will actually pay for. (I know, that’s 115%. That’s called increasing productivity. Guess which 15% gets dropped when your average, everyday human realizes they can only give 100% today.)

And this turns out to be very, very hard.

But there are a few innovative companies. And they’re innovative because, well, because they just are. Because they actually do the hard things most companies can’t, or won’t, do. Because they focus on things far more tangible than “being innovative.”  Things like finding and hiring talented employees and then not stomping on them or burning them out. Things like actually listening to employees with good ideas. And things like not letting the accountants and lawyers decide about what does and does not get done.

Mostly, innovators just seem to understand that innovation is a fundamental result, that comes from getting the fundamentals of running a business right. What a shocker.

John Robb, independent military analyst, futurist, and author of “Brave New War,” on Friday posted this interesting tidbit on Friday regarding the move by GlobalCos into the intelligence and security space:


By John Robb

A strong sign that the nation-state is in decay is the frequency we see announcements of companies that are replicating some of the most sensitive government services. The most recent mover is Walmart, which is in the process of putting together its own intelligence arm (it’s being built by a former CIA/FBI officer Kenneth Senser). For those unable to afford their own global intelligence unit, Blackwater’s Cofer Black is building one called Total Intelligence Solutions.

If you want to get up to speed quickly, the background for this is available in BNW.

This makes sense, of course. As these companies plan long-term deployments across the globe they can little afford not to know the risks involved. And the intelligence fiasco of Iraq WMDs showed how unreliable government intelligence can be. This looks, to me, like another area where oligopoly control of a market makes sense. I wonder how the potential for shared intelligence organizations, and perhaps shared risk, will alter the oligopoly landscape?