Archivo mensual: febrero 2009

Engagement y el Facebook effect

Buenas. Para hoy elegí la palabra que para mí es LA palabra del año: ENGAGEMENT.
Si en 2006 el personaje fue el Consumidor (ver consumer generated content, y algunos de sus medios: you tube, blogs, flogs, wikis, twitter, flickr, etc), creo que el protagonista del 2007 bien podría ser el “engagement” entre consumidor y marca… o bien, las empresas haciendo uso de estas nuevas aplicaciones para lograr eso que no facilmente se consigue en el mundo off line: engagement. Pero no entendido como “te entrego una pieza de marketing directo en tu casa, interesante, creativa, relevante, y ahora me queres mas”, o como “te mando una gacetilla por mail + un regalo caro y me publicas la nota”… sino entendido como esa relacion fruto de un movimiento del cliente /consumidor/ prospect hacia tu marca. Esa relacion mas de “entrañas” porque tu cliente llenó de sentido a la marca con vos… o mejor, el cliente se involucró para llenar de sentido tu marca. creo que el autor de los artículos que copio abajo lo resume muy bien: reading vs engaging
Varios son los ejemplos de esto, y como ya los mandé o seguramente ya los conocen, hoy les paso el de la seccion jeep experience, de la web de jeep.
Por úlitmo, van los dos artículos de hoy. Ambos sobre Facebook, por tres razones:
1- creo que tiene que ver con lo de engagement, y puede ser interesante replicar esa filosfia de “comunidad/red social” al mundillo del business; o usar ese modelo de plataforma para las nuevas estrategias de marca y de negocios.
2- creo que el dinamismo y el caracter de beta constante (nada cerrado, todo escalable a mejorar, nuevas aplicaciones para agregar constantemente) es genial para replicar en los desarrollos webs de paginas corporativas. Nosotros ahora en dietrich estamos usando DotNetNuke (an open source web application framework ideal for creating, deploying and managing interactive web, que te da justamente ese dinamismo).
3- si no comparten mis intereses, al menos que valga como una manera de usar facebook en la oficina sin sentirse con culpa.
The Facebook Effect                                      



For those not 24/7 web-savvy, I keep getting the question about what the big deal about Facebook is. The simple answer is that it’s not just Facebook, but rather, it’s the “Facebook Effect“. Facebook’s profiles have changed from a place where one can just read about someone to a place where people can engage in activities. This change [reading vs. engaging] is effective in generating traffic for Facebook, as well as for the companies creating user apps, and has been termed the Facebook Effect.   


The Facebook Effect when studied, identifies four to five top traffic drivers to the site, which includes Slide, Inc. , Video by Facebook, FunWall, and iLike, Inc. Turns out these apps, internally integrated within Facebook, are like sticky YouTube videos – users spend gobs of time with them. Nielsen caught on to this and the “effect” is now that Facebook is leading the way of the entire transformation of web metrics (e.g. the online system is now moving away from the CTR toward time spent with web properties)…..Facebook is leading the way for the user-engagement web metric.  


As brands move their creative strategies around online (finding the Long Tail of specific niche demographics) trying to acquire eyeballs back to their mother ship web properties, the engagement factor now becomes just as important as a CTR. Brands live for user engagement and Facebook’s application platform model could be just what they’re looking for to be emulated across the web, widgets included. Widgets have become the focus of companies and marketers as banner ads’ effectiveness is questioned. But have no doubt, display advertising online is alive and well.


As The Poly Post said:

  • “Marketers have limitless opportunities in using the Facebook platform. There is a large audience on the website, and information on their interests, geographical location, and age are widely available. This is information that advertising companies have taken years and spent countless dollars to gather; and Facebook has it all there without having had to spend a cent to get it.”
So, in other terms, Facebook is now being viewed as a strategic marketing application for brands. Companies can direct their ad campaigns towards specific groups, easily. Soon, marketers will fully seize upon widgets and Facebook apps and it’s possible the web will be transformed for marketers again. Widgets and Facebook apps will soon be recognized for what they are, as brand apps.  

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Archivado bajo Comunicación, Estrategia, PR

Marketing | bring the love back

Les paso este video, que esta muy bueno, y que quizas ya conocen, porque a mi me lo mostraron ya en varios cursos a los que fui. Para no ser menos, en las Jornadas de Publicidad Interactiva  2007  tambien lo pasaron… es sobre el actual NO conocimiento de las empresas sobre sus consumidores.
Al cierre de las Jornadas uno de los organizadores concluyó que las EMPRESAS habían sido las protagonistas a lo largo de los diferentes temas que se tocaron. Yo creo que el CONSUMIDOR fue el protagonista (y si quieren la empresa, pero en funcion del consumidor). Y lo es hoy -protagonista- si queremos entender el nuevo marketing, que a nivel mundial ya empezo en 2006 (ver en el wiki de australinos el artículo sobre Ad Age agency of the year).

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Salvar al periodismo en el mundo 2.0

Comparto este artículo que levanté a partir de una nota en el blog de Julián Gallo.
Habla sobre la forma de salvar el periodismo del siglo 21, y creo que puede aplicarse tambien a cómo salvar a las agencias de PR, que (creo yo) son medio flojas en lo que es el nuevo contexto.
Copio el link en caso de que alguien quiera leer los comentarios:
Rescato la frase”be a learner” (una muy buena actitud para todo, nunca lo supe expresar mejor) 
Rescato el link al libro de Mark Briggs, Journalism 2.0:

Twelve things journalists can do to save journalism

Begin with this premise: Newspaper journalism is structured around the packaged goods nature of news on print.

We have developed “news judgement” (how important a story is) based on our need to order news within the confines of a certain package size and design.

We developed inverted pyramids both to fit wire service needs and because the nature of the print package sometimes required stories to jump, so we wanted to get the news up top.

We developed certain professional standards related to the content of the story because with mass production, we essentially had only one chance to get the story right. We had to put a premium on accuracy and fair mindedness.

Because we had to reproduce the same package every day at a specific time, we developed highly structured organizations full of rules and rulers.

Because our product was write once, read everywhere, it was essential for us to acquire mass appeal, meaning we had to determine what the news was with little input from individual readers. Editors made decisions based on training and experience with the goal of producing a package that appealed to as many people as possible at one time.
Digital, distributed media, of course, changes all that. The new rules of the game are:

  • The user is in control. They decided what, when, why, where and how to consume media.
  • Users aren’t interested in our deadlines and desire to make sure we have the full story before publishing what we know. They want to know what we know when we know it. They want their news now.
  • People want to participate. They want to talk back. They want to add to our stories, correct us and just spout off as need be with their own opinions.

We have decades and decades invested in doing things based on old rules. Now, the rules have changed, and newsrooms need to change as well. We need new attitudes and new cultures. This will only happen if individual journalists put forward the effort to change their minds about what their jobs are and how they do them

Here are twelve things journalist can do to help us recreate journalism for the 21st Century.

  • Become a blogger. By this, I don’t necessarily mean “start a blog,” but that is never a bad idea. More importantly, become an avid blog reader. Blogs should be a daily routine for every dedicated journalist. They should read every blog related to their beats. They should read blogs about their own interests and hobbies. They should read blogs about their profession. To get blogging is to get how things have changed.
  • Become a producer. Pick up a digital recorder, a point-and-shoot camera or a video camera and start producing content beyond text. Do this as part of your job, fine, or do it on your personal time. The goal is to understand DIY. Post stuff on YouTube, Flickr or any number of other UGC sites.
  • Participate. As you read blogs, leave comments. If your has comments on stories, read the comments and add your own. Become known as somebody who converses on the Internet.
  • Build a web site. It will greatly expand your mind about how the web works if you go a bit beyond just setting up an account on Blogger or WordPress. Learn a little HTML. Better yet, learn some PHP, Cold Fusion, JavaScript or other web development language. You should own your own domain, anyway.
  • Become web literate. You should know what Flash is, and how it differs from AJAX. You should know the meaning of things like HTML, RSS, XML, IP, HTTP and FTP. You should understand at least how people use applications and tools to build web sites. You should know the potential and the limitations of each.
  • Use RSS. You need an RSS reader and lots of RSS feeds to consume. This will help you better grok distributed media.
  • Shop online. Part of your goal is to become immersed in the digital lifestyle. You will learn stuff about the digital life if you shop on Amazon, Ebay and other ecommerce sites. As you do, think about how these sites work and why they’re set up as they are.
  • Buy mobile devices. Get a video iPod. Get a smart phone (an iPhone, Treo, Helio Ocean or Nokia N-series are all good places to start). Learn about distributed, take-it with-you-anywhere content. Buy a laptop and tap into some free wi-fi while you’re out and about. Learn what digital life is like when you’re not shackled to a desktop machine.
  • Become an avid consumer of digital content. Watch videos on YouTube. Download video and audio podcasts (take them with you on your iPod). Visit the best newspaper sites in the world and watch what they’re doing. Turn on your TV less and your computer more.
  • Be a learner. Technology and culture is changing fast. You can’t keep up unless you’re dedicated to learning. I love this quote from Eric Hoffer because it is so appropriate to what our industry is going through now: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves beautifully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
  • Talk about what you’re learning with your co-workers. Be a change agent. Get other journalists excited about the new digital communication/media tools.
  • Finally, read Journalism 2.0 (PDF) by Mark Briggs. You’ll learn about the stuff covered above and how it is changing modern journalism. Brigg’s book is the best primer on the topic you will find.

Quality journalism, and the news organizations that finance it, needs individual journalists to become personally responsible for their own role in changing newsroom cultures and practices. The smartest publishers with the greatest strategic plans (even if they had bottomless buckets of cash to execute on all the best ideas) can’t save news organizations without the concerted support of individual journalists.

One last bit of advice: Don’t wait for a boss to tell you to become a learner and an explorer. Your job is just where you collect your paycheck. You career is what you do. Your boss isn’t responsible for your career. You are. Solely. Don’t wait on others to make changes. Start making changes now for your own benefit. It’s great if your employer benefits from your growth, but you will benefit more.

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Estrategia – razones de fracaso

Les iba a pasar un articulo de Michael Porter sobre errores a la hora de diseñar estrategias de negocios (por ejemplo, que no hay pensar constantemente en la competencia). Pero me parecio mas interesante éste que adjunto:

three_reasons_why_good_strategies_fail, sobre cómo llevar adelante una estrategia… les debe haber pasado, a veces es mas facil diseñar una estrategia que ejecutarla.

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Ventas | consejos para vender servicios

Comparto un e-book muy corto y que me apreció interesante.
“The one piece of advice you can’t sell without” (from 11 experts on selling professional services)
El año pasado algunos australinos habían propuesto hacer una de las charlas de café con café verdadero (reuniones, after office, que retomaremos en 2008) sobre este tema del cual trata el libro en cuestion. Incluso unos años antes ya había surgido un debate en Australinos sobre cómo presentarte mediante una carta o un ppt, folleto o lo que fuera.
Sería atencion de cuentas pero aplicado a la venta de servicios profesionales. Cómo presentarte en una empresa, cómo ganar un prospect. Qué incluir y qué no en la carpeta de presentacion….
Sin café compartido de por medio, van las respuestas de algunos referentes de opinion en la materia. Resalto dos artículos que me parecieron muy buenos:
- If you are talking about a price, you’ve lost control of the discussion, by Alan Weiss.
- You must have a controversial opinion and tell the people, by Frank Stasiowski.
Además, agrego mi piece of advice… sin ser experta. Si de algo vale… algunos dicen que la opinión que más cuenta es la del kioskero de barrio o tachero de calle. Sin tener yo mucha calle, pero sí diarias propuestas en calidad de “prospect” que soy para varios.
- Be learners. Después informen a la gente que lo son, escriban sobre los temas que dominan, organicen eventos, métanse en grupos, foros, lo que fuera. Conviertanse en referentes de opinion en cierto tema y sus servicios se van a vender solos. Sería como un mix de gordito o enano chanta (les copa habalr y opinar de todo, y siempre tienen público atento, de eso no hay duda) con una buena base para fundamentar las opiniones y no parecer opinólogos (con el “chanta” al lado si resultaste nacer gordito o enano). Quiero decir, yo a mi gurú Seth Godin le compraría hasta un buzón si quisiera vendérmelo.
Por último, para quienes aún no abrieron el adjunto, van algunas frases que me gustaron del libro:
- Focus on making a difference, not making a sale
- Logic makes people think, but emotion makes them act (esta es genial)
- Behind every corporate and business objective is a personal objective (esta es tan reaaaal)
- Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity
- Ask. Ask. Ask. Answer. Answer. Answer. At the end of the conversation, the new client really feels that they have participated in the solution. They view me as a trusted advisor not someone who is going to cram hard choices down their throat.

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Blog fiascos | caso wal mart

Wal-Mart y el viajero Jim: cronica de otro blog inventado por una agencia de relaciones publicas

El caso es interesante: una familia decide viajar por todo Estados Unidos en su casa rodante, y pasarán las noches en los estacionamientos de la cadena de supermercados Wal-Mart. El que relata el viaje se presenta como “Jim”, que es acompañado por su esposa “Laura”. Sus historias se publicaban el blog Wal-Marting across America. El sitio era apoyado por Working Families for Wal-Mart, una organización pro Wal-Mart, que busca promocionar los “aportes positivos” sobre la economía estadounidense. Los relatos destacaban experiencias positivas de Wal-Mart y de sus empleados. Si todo esto ya les parece sospechoso, no se equivocan. El sitio era escrito en realidad por James Thresher, un fotógrafo del diario estadounidense The Washington Post, y no por el “viajero Jim”. Y el sitio había sido organizado por Edelman, la agencia de relaciones públicas de Wal-Mart. No es la primera vez que aparecen blogs de agencias de PR que se presentan como realizadas por “usuarios comunes”, pero este tema ha recibido mucha cobertura en la prensa estadounidense. La semana pasada The Washington Post obligó a Thresher a devolver el dinero a Working Families for Wal-Mart, ya que este trabajo freelance no era aceptable para el diario.

La noticia es una muestra de como las agencias de relaciones públicas siguen teniendo muchos problemas en lograr usar a su favor el esquema de “conversaciones” de los blogs. Y sorprendentemente, este grave error proviene de Edelman, una firma que se ha mostrado muy interesada en los blogs, y de quien se esperaría que no cometiera errores tan estúpidos a la hora de “comunicar” las estrategias de sus empresas clientes. Todavía no han logrado cooptar la circulación de la información en Internet, aunque evidentemente están haciendo esfuerzos para hacerlo. El resultado de esta “acción” es desastroso: una simple búsqueda en Google por Wal-Marting Across America muestra enlaces a muchos sitios que ponen al descubierto todo el tema del “blog falso”, pero hay que pasar un buen número de resultados para encontrar un link al sitio original. En segundo lugar, para empeorar las cosas, hay un enlace a la página de Technorati que muestra la gran cantidad de blogs que hablan del tema, por lo general con un tono muy crítico hacia Edelman.Y en una interesante muestra de total falta de reflejos, la agencia de relaciones públicas ni siquiera menciona el tema en su página de noticias. ¿Y el tema de manejar la información en situaciones de crisis donde quedó? Y en el blog que desató todo este tema tampoco hay menciones sobre el escándalo. Por un lado, es notable el error de querer llevar adelante un proyecto tan estúpido. Pero no querer hacerse cargo del error y permanecer en silencio es una política desastrosa.

Pero claro: seguramente el presupuesto de marketing de Wal-Mart es enorme. Pero ni aún así se logran librar de que aquí y allá se publiquen artículos que analicen las políticas laborales de la empresa. En una nota publicada este domingo en el diario argentino Clarín, el economista Paul Krugman analiza como esta cadena de supermercados está llevando al límite su política de pagar los salarios más bajos que pueda. Por ejemplo, el 46% de los hijos de empleados de Wal-Mart en Estados Unidos depende de la ayuda del Estado para tener acceso a seguro médico. Y a pesar de eso, la firma quiere tener que asumir menos costos al respecto, y ahora quiere alentar de manera muy clara que los empleados se vayan de la compañía tras pocos años de trabajo, para evitar que por antiguedad logren tener más beneficios sociales. Vale la pena leer el artículo completo, porque no siempre se encuentran esas cosas en los medios masivos.

El caso de “Jim y Laura” es otro claro fracaso a la hora de crear blogs falsos y de querer llevar adelante políticas de comunicación basadas en el engaño y el ocultamiento de la información. Lo que es una movida de marketing debe presentarse como tal. O, simplemente, terminará perjudicando la estrategia de la marca, aunque en el caso de Wal-Mart, eso no deja de ser una buena noticia. ¿No sería una mejor acción de marketing pagar mejores salarios? Supongo que en Wall Street lo tomarían muy mal…

Algunos artículos interesantes sobre el tema en otros blogs (todos en inglés): Edelman, Wal-Mart and the Loss of Control in Media; Three Questions re: the Edelman/Wal-Mart Flap; The Wal Mart / Edelman Affair: Hardly a Crime…; más una interesante nota publicada por Business Week.


2 Comentarios to “Wal-Mart y el viajero Jim: cronica de otro blog inventado por una agencia de relaciones publicas”

  1. José


    Un caso parecido, aunque por otra causa, es el de la campaña Levántate ZP en España.

    Un falso blog presentaba un vídeo “amateur” donde unos supuestos activistas robaban el sillón del presidente del gobierno, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, del Cogreso de los Diputados. Levántate alude a la campaña “Levántate contra la pobreza” actualmente en marcha y ZP (Zapatero Presidente) fue el lema de la campaña electoral que ganó Zapatero en 2004.

    Enlaces relacionados:

    El blog de Levántate ZP

    Artículo en el diario El País sobre el tema.

    Says:Octubre 16th, 2006 el 8:53 pm

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Sobrevivir no es suficiente

De Charles Darwin a Seth Godin: Sobrevivir no es suficiente
Autor: Silvia Chaubin
Gestión del cambio
7 de mayo de 2008
Los seres humanos en general tenemos cierta adversión al cambio, una vez que construimos un estado de cosas que nos resultan satisfactorias nos negamos a cambiarlas contra viento y marea.

Siempre lo hicimos así ¿le resulta familiar? Si bien es verdad que no es necesario, ni conveniente, inventar la rueda cada vez, tambien es cierto que lo que ayer resultaba exitoso no garantiza que mañana lo sea y que es imprescindible mantenernos alertas al respecto.

No hay que ser muy visionario para darnos cuenta que los cambios y turbulencias sociales se reflejan cotidianamente en el mundo de los negocios. La mayoría de las/os empresarias/os visualizan la situación como de gran inestabilidad y tienen como meta buscar la forma de “pilotear” la tormenta para sobrevivir. Seth Godin, el creador del marketing viral, nos dice en su nuevo libro que “Sobrevivir no es suficiente” (Survival is not enough), las empresas deben transladar el concepto darwiniano de evolución de las especies al mundo de los negocios.
Las empresas, segun Godin, son organismos vivos y, como tales, nacen, respiran, viven, sufren mutaciones, se relacionan e interactúan con cientos de otros organismos vivos y se adaptan o mueren.
Un poco de biología
Los seres vivos evolucionamos a través de las mutaciones, errores o acontecimientos aleatorios que ocurren en nuestros genes y que se transmiten a lo largo de numerosas generaciones.Si la mutación es positiva, o sea ayuda al individuo a adaptarse mejor al medio, esta se transmite a la especie y la misma evoluciona.
En el mundo empresarial las empresas nuevas, generalmente chicas, son muy innovadoras y tienden a adecuarse a las cambiantes demandas del mercado; pero cuando la empresa se consolida y alcanza el éxito, parece que su gerencia se “congela” y no sólo no alienta la innovación, sino que, aunque la proclame, en los hechos trata de impedirla a toda costa. Dicho de otra manera, se constituyen en verdaderas barreras a la evolución.
En “El dilema de los innovadores” Clayton Christensen (profesor asociado de administración de empresas en la Harvard Business School) estudia el fenómeno de la industria de las unidades de almacenamiento de información (discos duros) en las computadoras. Este caso constituye un ejemplo de “historia rápida” ya que en muy pocos años las compañías y las tecnologías han emergido, madurado y declinado.
En resumen: empresas líderes, que prestan atención a sus clientes, invierten en nuevas tecnologías, tienen las “antenas competitivas” bien desplegadas, o sea, lo hacen todo bien, pierden su liderazgo en el mercado cuando se deben enfrentar a cambios abruptos.
la inevitabilidad de la evolución
Negar la evolución es un error que las empresas pagan con la desaparición.Si el cambio constante es un concepto difícil de deglutir, más aún lo es de gerenciar. Godin propone entrenar a las personas a alterar pequeñas cosas día a día.
A lo largo de todo el libro Godin demuestra como desatar todo el potencial de la evolución en la empresa. El primer paso es desterrar el reflejo “anti cambio” que todos llevamos en nuestros genes. Una vez que una compañía ha aprendido a hacer “zoom” (abrazar el cambio sin dolor) está librado su camino hacia la evolución.Y una empresa que evoluciona tiene más posibilidades de volverse rentable y menos estresante.
No importa si el mercado está en una fase positiva o negativa, si la tecnología es apropiada o no, en todas las industrias, desde la venta minorista hasta los restaurantes, el planteo orgánico le va a ayudar a superar a su competencia.
La dirección del cambio y el ADN de las empresas
El cambio comienza desde abajo, en cada empleado de la compañía. La gente es el elemento clave en la evolución de cualquier empresa. Constituyen su código genético y determinan la dirección que la empresa tome.Pero cuidado, no crea que sumir la empresa en un caos interno colaborará a su evolución. Mientras que en la naturaleza no parece haber una mano conductora, su empresa ciertamente necesitará de un liderazgo con inteligencia.
Godin explica que hay 4 formas de guiar a la compañía a través del cambio sin caer en el caos.Mantenga los proyectos económicos: los experimentos son esenciales, pero si no les insume demasiado dinero, podrá hacer más con el mismo presupuesto. Además, la economía tiene un ingrediente extra: la rapidez. Los proyectos de bajo presupuesto suelen ser rápidos de implementar.
Las principales ideas del libro: Survival is not enough
  • El cambio es el nuevo paradigma. En vez de pensar en el trabajo como una serie de tiempos estables interrumpidos por momentos de cambio, las empresas deben reconocer el trabajo como una serie de cambios con momentos ocasionales de estabilidad.
  • Si usted y su compañía no sacan ventaja del cambio, el cambio los vencerá.
  • La estabilidad es una mala noticia para esta clase de compañías. Necesitan del cambio para sobrevivir.
  • El cambio presenta nuevas oportunidades para conseguir otros mercados. También representa oportunidades para que los individuos avancen en sus carreras.
  • Las compañías que introducen productos y servicios que representan cambios significativos, encuentran rápido éxito.
  • Las empresas que gustan del cambio atraen personal que también gusta de este. Las que temen al cambio, atraen a su vez a gente con la misma actitud.
  • Mucha gente teme el cambio. El temor al cambio es absolutamente racional, pero el no querer cambiar nos puede conducir a situaciones peores.
  • Redefiniendo el significado del cambio, muchas compañías pueden cambiar la dinámica de “el cambio equivale a la muerte”, por “el cambio equivale a oportunidad”.
  • La forma en que las especies se amoldan al cambio es evolucionando.
  • La compañías pueden evolucionar si la gerencia lo permite.
  • Una vez que una empresa evoluciona regularmente y sin esfuerzo, el cambio ya no es percibido como una amenaza sino como un activio, ya que determina al extinción de la competencia.
  • Un éxito fulminante ocurre cuando un feedback positivo refuerza un éxito anterior.
  • Estos feedback le enseñan lo que está funcionando y lo que es más importante aún, le permite cambiar lo que no está funcionando.
  • Cualquiera en la empresa puede reinventar lo que usted hace en paralelo, aumentando en forma dramática la velocidad de innovación dentro de la empresa.
  • Bajo presupuesto, bajo riesgo, y test reales son lo que nos dan las mejores posibilidades de un alto retorno de nuestra inversión.
  • La actitud de su empresa con respecto al proceso de cambio es mucho más importante que los cambios actuales que esté experimentando.
  • Si tiene personal que no abraza esta postura, le harán perder velocidad y posiblemente le harán tomar malas decisiones.




En una técnica que denomina zooming. Hasta desarrolló todo un site para explicar el concepto de zooming y, además tiene un test online muy divertido.


Esos “errores” constituyen pues, el motor de la evolución de las especies.



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Agente de cambio

Change Agent

In My Humble Opinion: Why is it that the really obvious chances to improve our businesses and careers almost always pass us by?
By Seth Godin
Hi. my name is Seth, and I have a problem: I’m a change junkie. If the world around me isn’t changing, I get bored and become inefficient.
On second thought, that’s not really my problem. My problem is that while I’m busy advocating change, insisting on change, and teaching change, deep down inside, I hate change. Change is inconvenient, painful, and frightening.
I should know: In the past year, I’ve moved twice, I’ve sold two businesses, and I’ve gladly gone from having 30 employees to having more than 70 — before going all the way down to zero employees. It’s been one hell of a ride, but frankly, there were times when all of that changing gave me a real headache. I guess you need to be careful about what you wish for — because you just might get it.
Quite a paradox, no? I love change! I hate change! So how do people like me manage to rationalize those extremes? On the one hand, it’s obvious that if you don’t move quickly, you’re dead. On the other hand, it’s obvious that changing to keep up with the new realities of work is painful and exhausting. Question one: Are we doomed to lives marked by ever-increasing pain, as the ever-faster world of business damns us to becoming digital nomads?
A few years ago, I found myself eating lunch at an outdoor café in Vienna, Virginia. It was 1994 — just about the time when America Online was beginning to show up on people’s radar — and I was having lunch with Steve Case and the three other top people at AOL. I went home feeling enthusiastic about AOL’s prospects, but I stuck to a rule that I have against taking money out of my IRA to buy stock. I think AOL was trading at about $7 per share at the time. It has since gone as high as $125. Needless to say, my IRA hasn’t had nearly the return that AOL stock has had since 1994. Question two: Why was I unwilling to make that investment?
Five years later, I’m lucky enough to work with David Filo and Jerry Yang, the two visionaries who created Yahoo! At about the same time that they were launching Yahoo!, I was thinking about precisely the same opportunity. But instead of starting a company that would eventually be worth more than $30 billion, I wrote a book called The Smiley Dictionary: Cool Things to Do With Your Keyboard. Total royalty earnings to date: $9,000.
Question three: Why a book and not a Web site? Here’s one answer: I was running a book business, and every opportunity that I saw looked like a book opportunity. David and Jerry, on the other hand, had no preexisting framework, no installed base. So, when they saw that opportunity, they viewed it for what it could be, rather than tailoring it to what they already were.
Which raises question four: Why is it that the big opportunities, the really obvious chances that we get to improve our businesses and our careers, almost always pass us by? Go back to what I said about change: Big opportunities bring change, and change is painful. As long as opportunity means “change,” and as long as change means “pain,” we will continue to miss our chances.
So I have a very simple proposition for all of us change-addicted, change-conflicted new-economy warriors: Instead of embracing and celebrating change — or lying about it and pretending to embrace it — I think we ought to stop talking about change altogether. Let’s ignore it, avoid it, and sidestep it. Instead of spending time thinking about change, let’s all sign up for zooming lessons.
“Zooming” is about stretching your limits without threatening your foundation. It’s about handling new ideas, new opportunities, and new challenges without triggering the change-avoidance reflex. You already zoom every day: Whenever you buy a new CD or read a new issue of the New York Times, you don’t have to contend with all of the emotions that we associate with “change.” You’re zooming — doing the same thing as usual, only different.
Eating at a different Thai restaurant, trying a new airline — for most of us, none of these things represent “change.” This is the stuff of exploration; it’s the kind of thing that we’re eager to do. That’s why the guidebook business is booming, and why adventure travel is a growth industry. These products and services offer safe adventure — the chance to do the same thing as usual, only different.
There are all kinds of zoomers, and all kinds of categories in which you can learn to zoom. The late John Hammond was a world-class zoomer. Hammond was the guy at Columbia Records who discovered Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. What made him a zoomer? He defined “the same thing as usual, only different” pretty broadly. He didn’t spend his days trying to find folk singers, jazz singers, or AOR-crossover funky white singers. No, Hammond just looked for singers.
By choosing to zoom across such a large area, he was able to listen to anyone, anytime, without getting stressed out. He didn’t plague himself with rigid rules and standards; he just wanted to find something great. Hammond had broad “zoomwidth.” I’m betting that if you had asked him whether finding all of those different kinds of singers meant that he had to “change” every day, he would have said no. He viewed each day not as a high-stress, change-filled event but as part of his zooming continuum.
Compare Hammond’s zoomwidth with your own. Or compare it with your company’s zoomwidth. Martha Stewart, for example, had no trouble turning her book-writing business into a $100 million media empire — without compromising what she stands for. But the folks at Rolling Stone were too entrenched in the magazine paradigm to see that they could have been MTV — without having to change their foundation. The people at Omaha Steaks realized that however they sold their steaks — by phone, by mail, or on the Net — it was all the same thing, only different. By contrast, it took Lands’ End years to sell products online.
I grew up during the glory days of franchised restaurants — McDonald’s, Basin-Robbins, Caravel, Pizza Hut. None of them had any zoomwidth at all. The structure of these organizations made any sort of adjustment seem like a major threat, rather than an opportunity to zoom. Today, as the population changes and as people’s needs change, many of these chains are facing a major crisis. Kentucky Fried Chicken even had to change its name to KFC — so that it could start selling nonfried foods!
Compare this mentality with that of the Limited Inc., a company that gladly zooms its merchandise at every single store at least once a month — whether it needs to or not. At Limited stores, introducing a new clothing style is easy: Managers don’t have to go very far up in the organization to get approval. They just zoom — and it happens.
Question five: Why is there so much pain in the business world? One reason is that most companies are now stretched beyond their zoomwidth. Everything is seen as a threat; nothing as an opportunity. Instead of changing, companies need to zoom. By increasing its zoomwidth — by hiring people who love to zoom — a company can grow, adapt, and maybe even transform itself.
Here is my handy, five-step zoom starter kit — a list of five simple things that you can do to practice zooming.
1. For dinner tonight, eat a food that you’ve never tasted. Then try another one tomorrow night.
2. On your way to work tomorrow, listen to a CD from a musical genre that you hate or that’s new to you.
3. Every week, read a magazine that you’ve never read before.
4. Once a week, meet with someone from outside your area of expertise. Go to a trade show on a topic in which you have no interest whatsoever.
5. Change the layout of your office.
Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Like a bad self-improvement book. But if you can master these five steps, you’ll discover that the art of zooming makes it easier for you to view everything as an opportunity. In other words, you’ll find that it’s easier to sign Bob Dylan when you think you’re looking for Count Basie.
Question six: Isn’t all of this just a lot of semantic maneuvering? Why waste time on a word or two? The zoomer’s answer: Words are important. They give you a lens through which you can see why you (and your company) are finding it so hard to move as quickly as you’d like.
The next time your company is looking at a big, life-threatening change, stop! Ignore the big, life-or-death, change-or-die issue. Ask yourself question seven: How much room do you have to zoom? After all, a company with an appetite for zooming will always be quicker, nimbler, and more fun than one that’s doomed never to zoom.

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Archivado bajo Estrategia, Management, Work Life

Ser competente

by Seth Godin
Horror stories used to start with “It was a dark and stormy night”. No longer. Now they start with “My wife and I decided to add a couple of rooms onto our house”.
My wife and I  recently decided to enter the house of horrors. But we were determined to avoid disaster. So we took our time and found a competent architect. That was our first mistake.
Then we searched until we found a competent contractor. Great references, solid reputation. That was our second mistake.
Our criteria for the project were, in order, “fast”, “good”, and “cheap”. We were clear about our goal. We set specific dates, and we delivered our objectives in writing.
Unfortunately, our contractor and our architect had both built their reputations, the center of their competency, around “good”. “fast” was not a concept that they really understood. Try as we might, argue as we did, nothing would change their focus. Order windows before the building permit comes through? Too radical. Have two teams working on the project at the same time –one up-stairs, the order in the basement? “Well, I guess some might do it that way, but you hired us for our reputation. So you’ve got to trust that our way is the best way”.
Hey, if these guys were building a skyscraper, it would take them forty years to complete it.
Every situation has a silver lining, and mine was that I got a big insight into what competence is. Competent people have a predictable, reliable process for solving a particular set of problems. The solve a problem the same way, every time. That’s what makes them reliable. That’s what makes them competent.
Competent people are quite proud of the status and success that they get out of being competent. They like being competent. They guard their competence, and their work hard to maintain it.
Bob Dylan, on the other hand, is an incompetent musician. From year to year, from concert to concert, there’s just no way to be sure that he’ll deliver exactly what you’re expecting. Sometimes he blows the world away with his insight, his energy, and his performance. Other times , he’s just so-so. And unlike a truly competent musician, Dylan never delivers a song the same way twice. Remember Dylan’s Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind album? About the only thing you can be sure of is that when he plays a song from that album in concert, it won’t sound anything like the studio version. No, Dylan isn’t competent. But hi is brilliant.
Over the past twenty to thirty years, we’ve witnessed an amazing shift in American businesses. Not so long ago, companies were filled with workers who couldn’t do their jobs. If you bought a Pacer from American Motors, it wasn’t all that surprising to find a tool hidden in a door panel of your new car. Or, when you were trying to put together that shiny red bicycle late on Christmas Eve, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to discover that not all the parts were inside the box. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for shipped products to be dead on arrival. Everyone from lawyers to senior executives to receptionists was dropping the ball on a regular basis.
Then we got sideswiped by global competition, discovered a whole new approach to working, and found religion. We bought into not one but a whole series of revolutions. We reengineered. We bought computers. We adopted Six Sigma quality-management systems that ensured that every process would be robust enough to turn whoever was involved in it into a competent automaton.
Now the receptionist can’t lose your messages, because they go straight into a voice mail. The assemble line worker can’t drop a tool, because it’s attached to a machine. The telemarketer who interrupts your dinner is unlikely to over promise, because the pitch is carefully scripted on paper.
Today, it’s much harder to make a bad car, because robots measure everything. It’s much harder to be a lousy directory assistance operator, because computers are handling so much of the work.
Oh, there’s one other thing: As we’ve turned human beings into competent components of the giant network known as American business, we’ve also erected huge barriers to change.
In fact, competence is the enemy of change!
Competent people resist to change. Why? Because change threatens to make them less competent. And competent people like being competent. That’s who they are, and sometimes that’s all they’ve got. No wonder they’re not in a hurry to rock the boat.
Just think of the risks that come with embracing anything other than competence. What would mean to my contractor? A fresh approach to project management –one that could save me from having snow blow in through that hole in the wall where the window should be –would expose his team to all sorts of risks. It would mean that his reputation as a competent builder would be threatened. Of course, it might also mean a fresh perspective on building, a chance to invent a new, time-sensitive approach to construction, even the possibility of revolutionizing an industry with a reputation for making customers unhappy. But the risks of jeopardizing that Good Housekeeping label of competence are just too high.
Do you work for a competent company? A company in which people are hired because they’ve done a certain job before in which the upward path is slow and the sideways path is nonexistent? Such companies are specially frustrating to the internal (or the external) change agent. Sadly, Wall Street has traditionally  rewarded companies for being competent.
Charlie Trotter’s, in Chicago –one of my favorite restaurants- has an incompetent che. Every night, he offers a different menu of innovative dishes. And sometimes those dishes fail: the beet-kumquat-chocolate soufflé is not worth the calories, and the blood oranges really don’t add anything to the poblano mousse –you get the idea. But I’d much rather let this gifted, incompetent chef cook for me than go back to the restaurant that I ate at yesterday in Boston. Staff members at this restaurant will happily take you a banana-orange juice, and they’ll gladly offer you a carrot-spinach juice. But they’ll refuse, with total amazement at the request, to make you a banana-carrot juice. For just one moment yesterday, I had a flashback to that scene in Five Easy Pieces when Jack Nicholson tries to get the maddeningly competent waitress at the frustratingly competent restaurant to bring him some wheat toast.
In the face of change, the competent are helpless. Change means a temporary or permanent threat to their competence. But among the competent, the smart ones realize the change is inevitable –and that they are doomed. Hence the tremendous discomfort among our happily competent population.
In the face of change, some of us are becoming competent at zooming: our skill set includes the ability to move from opportunity to opportunity doing the same thing, only differently. It’s the new breed of competents, of people who in another age might be labeled incompetent, who are going to lead us through the changes that we encounter. Whom should we hire to become zoomers? Which people, and which companies, can take on new challenges, new opportunities?
Here’s the weird thing: I think the incompetent among us are stars in the making. Not the folks who are incompetent because they can’t do any better. No, I mean the folks who have the option to become competent but choose to try something new.
The next time you review résumés, try ignoring all of the perfectly qualified applicants. In fact, disqualify everyone who is clearly competent to do the job at hand. Do what Southwest Airlines does: don’t hire people with experience at another airline unless you’re sure that they can unlearn what they’ve learned there. “competence” is too often another word for “bad attitude”. Instead, find  the serial incompetents –the folks who are quick enough to master a task and restless enough to try something new. The zoomers.
It’s not very surprising that so many new companies that are creating wealth today are run and staffed by very young people. Because they have very little work history, these people haven’t fallen prey to becoming competent. They don’t have to unlearn bad habits. They’re not interested in maintaining their competencies –because, frankly, they don’t have any.
But this reliance on the young is dangerous. Why? Because as these new companies get locked into a successful business model, they create a layer of very successful, very young, and in some cases very arrogant managers. And these managers are the most dangerous competents of al: the ones who will do everything in their power to fight the next round of necessary changes, because they’re in love with their newfound competence.
Some of the companies that have radically redefined their industries are already seeing rough times. Netscape lost its way and blew its huge lead, not because of Microsoft but because Netscape’s own rapid success caused the company to stop innovating. Netscape did a totally competent job of working to leverage its lead –but competence was exactly what brought the company down.
The newly competent in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are guilty of another common mistake: they confuse speed with velocity. The culture of these revolutionary companies is to sprint as fast as possible –all the time. Cars fill the parking lots at these companies on weekends. Want to reach someone in an office cubicle? Call at 10.00 pm. One woman I met last week lists seven different ways to contact her on her business card!
But this embrace of hard work and moving fast for fast’s sake misses the point. It doesn’t take a lot of time to change your business plan radically, to reinvent your marketing proposition totally, or to redesign the way you deal with consumers completely. The will to take a risk. The will to become incompetent –at least for a while.
Velocity is a company’s ability to zig and zag and zoom –to make significant changes when significant changes are necessary. And you can have velocity without speed: driving around in circles may make your speed meter look impressive, but it won’t get you across the country very fast.

Give me five serially incompetent nine-to-five executives with a focus on velocity, and I can change the world –over and over again. I may even get addition on my house finished.

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Archivado bajo Notas de Australinos

Business ideas | Pronosticar eficazmente

The goal of forecasting is not to predict the future but to tell you what you need to know to take meaningful action in the present.
 Seis reglas para pronosticar eficazmente
Autores: Paul Saffo

Localización: Harvard Business Review


El objetivo primario de los pronósticos es identificar el rango completo de posibilidades que enfrenta una empresa, la sociedad o el mundo en general. En este artículo, Saffo desmitifica el proceso de pronosticación para que lo ejecutivos puedan convertirse en consumidores más sofisticados y participativos de pronósticos, en lugar de ser meros receptores pasivos. Explica cómo utilizar los pronósticos para entender más cabalmente las posibilidades y, a la vez, reducir el espacio de decisión dentro del cual uno debe ejercer la intuición. Los eventos del 9/11, por ejemplo, fueron una sorpresa mucho mayor de lo que debieron ser. Después de todo, los aviones comerciales dirigidos contra monumentos eran el material de las novelas de Tom Clancy en los 90, y todo el mundo sabía que los terroristas tenían una antipatía muy personal hacia el World Trade Center. ¿Por qué, entonces, el 9/11 fue una sorpresa tan grande? ¿Qué pueden hacer los ejecutivos para evitar el desconcierto generado por otros imponderables, desde cambios radicales en los mercados hasta la aparentemente súbita aparición de las tecnologías disruptivas? En su descripción de lo que los pronosticadores intentan hacer, Saffo ofrece seis reglas simples y de sentido común que los ejecutivos inteligentes deberían usar para embarcarse en un viaje de descubrimiento con los pronosticadores profesionales.
Saffo recomienda trazar un mapa del cono de incertidumbre, buscar la curva en S, aceptar lo que no encaja, sostener opiniones fuertes con debilidad, mirar hacia atrás el doble de lejos de lo que mira hacia delante, y saber cuándo no pronosticar.
Six Rules for Effective Forecasting
The goal of forecasting is not to predict the future but to tell you what you need to know to take meaningful action in the present.
People at cocktail parties are always asking me for stock tips, and then they want to know how my predictions have turned out. Their requests reveal the common but fundamentally erroneous perception that forecasters make predictions. We don’t, of course: Prediction is possible only in a world in which events are preordained and no amount of action in the present can influence future outcomes. That world is the stuff of myth and superstition. The one we inhabit is quite different—little is certain, nothing is preordained, and what we do in the present affects how events unfold, often in significant, unexpected ways.
The role of the forecaster in the real world is quite different from that of the mythical seer. Prediction is concerned with future certainty; forecasting looks at how hidden currents in the present signal possible changes in direction for companies, societies, or the world at large. Thus, the primary goal of forecasting is to identify the full range of possibilities, not a limited set of illusory certainties. Whether a specific forecast actually turns out to be accurate is only part of the picture—even a broken clock is right twice a day. Above all, the forecaster’s task is to map uncertainty, for in a world where our actions in the present influence the future, uncertainty is opportunity.
Unlike a prediction, a forecast must have a logic to it. That’s what lifts forecasting out of the dark realm of superstition. The forecaster must be able to articulate and defend that logic. Moreover, the consumer of the forecast must understand enough of the forecast process and logic to make an independent assessment of its quality—and to properly account for the opportunities and risks it presents. The wise consumer of a forecast is not a trusting bystander but a participant and, above all, a critic.
Even after you have sorted out your forecasters from the seers and prophets, you still face the task of distinguishing good forecasts from bad, and that’s where this article comes in. In the following pages, I try to demythologize the forecasting process so that you can become a more sophisticated and participative consumer of forecasts, rather than a passive absorber. I offer a set of simple, commonsense rules that you can use as you embark on a voyage of discovery with professional forecasters. Most important, I hope to give you the tools to evaluate forecasts for yourself.
Rule 1: Define a Cone of Uncertainty
As a decision maker, you ultimately have to rely on your intuition and judgment. There’s no getting around that in a world of uncertainty. But effective forecasting provides essential context that informs your intuition. It broadens your understanding by revealing overlooked possibilities and exposing unexamined assumptions regarding hoped-for outcomes. At the same time, it narrows the decision space within which you must exercise your intuition.
I visualize this process as mapping a cone of uncertainty, a tool I use to delineate possibilities that extend out from a particular moment or event. The forecaster’s job is to define the cone in a manner that helps the decision maker exercise strategic judgment. Many factors go into delineating the cone of uncertainty, but the most important is defining its breadth, which is a measure of overall uncertainty. Other factors—relationships among elements, for example, and the ranking of possible outcomes—must also be considered in developing a forecast, but determining the cone’s breadth is the crucial first step. Imagine it is 1997, the Toyota Prius has just gone on sale in Japan, and you are forecasting the future of the market for hybrid cars in the United States. External factors to consider would be oil price trends and consumer attitudes regarding the environment, as well as more general factors such as economic trends. Inside the cone would be factors such as the possible emergence of competing technologies (for instance, fuel cells) and an increased consumer preference for small cars (such as the Mini). At the edge of the cone would be wild cards like a terrorist attack or a war in the Middle East. These are just a very few representative examples. (See the exhibit “Mapping the Cone of Uncertainty” for more on the process.)
Drawing a cone too narrowly is worse than drawing it too broadly. A broad cone leaves you with a lot of uncertainty, but uncertainty is a friend, for its bedfellow is opportunity—as any good underwriter knows. The cone can be narrowed in subsequent refinements. Indeed, good forecasting is always an iterative process. Defining the cone broadly at the start maximizes your capacity to generate hypotheses about outcomes and eventual responses. A cone that is too narrow, by contrast, leaves you open to avoidable unpleasant surprises. Worse, it may cause you to miss the most important opportunities on your horizon.
The art of defining the cone’s edge lies in carefully distinguishing between the highly improbable and the wildly impossible. Outliers—variously, wild cards or surprises—are what define this edge. A good boundary is one made up of elements lying on the ragged edge of plausibility. They are outcomes that might conceivably happen but make one uncomfortable even to contemplate.
The most commonly considered outliers are wild cards. These are trends or events that have low probabilities of occurrence (under 10%) or probabilities you simply cannot quantify but that, if the events were to occur, would have a disproportionately large impact. My favorite example of a wild card, because its probability is so uncertain and its impact so great, is finding radio evidence of intelligent life somewhere else in the universe. Nobody knows if we will ever receive a message (radio astronomers have been listening since the late 1950s), but if we did, it would send a vast and unpredictable tremor through the zeitgeist. One-third of the world’s population would probably worship the remote intelligences, one-third would want to conquer them, and the final third (the readers of this magazine) would want to do some extraterrestrial market research and sell them something.
The tricky part about wild cards is that it is difficult to acknowledge sufficiently outlandish possibilities without losing your audience. The problem—and the essence of what makes forecasting hard—is that human nature is hardwired to abhor uncertainty. We are fascinated by change, but in our effort to avoid uncertainty we either dismiss outliers entirely or attempt to turn them into certainties that they are not. This is what happened with the Y2K problem in the final years before January 1, 2000. Opinions clustered at the extremes, with one group dismissing the predictions of calamity and another stocking up on survival supplies. The correct posture toward Y2K was that it was a wild card—an event with high potential impact but very low likelihood of occurrence, thanks to years of hard work by legions of programmers fixing old code.
The result of the Y2K nonevent was that many people concluded they had been the victims of someone crying Y2K wolf, and they subsequently rejected the possibility of other wild cards ever coming to pass. Consideration of anything unlikely became unfashionable, and as a result, 9/11 was a much bigger surprise than it should have been. After all, airliners flown into monuments were the stuff of Tom Clancy novels in the 1990s (inspired by Clancy, I helped write a scenario for the U.S. Air Force in 1997 that opened with a plane being flown into the Pentagon), and it was widely known that the terrorists had a very personal antipathy toward the World Trade Center. Yet the few people who took this wild card seriously were all but dismissed by those who should have been paying close attention.
Human nature being what it is, we are just as likely to overreact to an unexpected wild card by seeing new wild cards everywhere. That’s a danger because it can lead you to draw a hollow cone—one that is cluttered with distracting outliers at the edge and neglected probabilities at the center. So don’t focus on the edge to the exclusion of the center, or you will be surprised by an overlooked certainty. Above all, ask hard questions about whether a seeming wild card in fact deserves to be moved closer to the center.
Rule 2: Look for the S Curve
Change rarely unfolds in a straight line. The most important developments typically follow the S-curve shape of a power law: Change starts slowly and incrementally, putters along quietly, and then suddenly explodes, eventually tapering off and even dropping back down.
The mother of all S curves of the past 50 years is the curve of Moore’s Law, the name given to Gordon Moore’s brilliant 1965 conjecture that the density of circuits on a silicon wafer doubles every 18 months. We can all feel the consequences of Moore’s Law in the extravagant surprises served up by the digital revolution swirling around us. Of course, the curve of Moore’s Law is still unfolding—it is still a “J”—with the top of the “S” nowhere in sight. But it will flatten eventually, certainly with regard to silicon circuit density. Even here, though, engineers are sure to substitute denser circuit-carrying materials (like nanoscale and biological materials) as each successive material reaches saturation, so the broadest form of the Moore’s Law curve (density regardless of the material) will keep climbing for some time to come. This distinction reveals another important feature of S curves, which is that they are fractal in nature. Very large, broadly defined curves are composed of small, precisely defined and linked S curves. For a forecaster, the discovery of an emergent S curve should lead you to suspect a larger, more important curve lurking in the background. Miss the larger curve and your strategy may amount to standing on a whale, fishing for minnows.
The art of forecasting is to identify an S-curve pattern as it begins to emerge, well ahead of the inflection point. The tricky part of S curves is that they inevitably invite us to focus on the inflection point, that dramatic moment of takeoff when fortunes are made and revolutions launched. But the wise forecaster will look to the left of the curve in hopes of identifying the inflection point’s inevitable precursors. Consider Columbus’s 1492 voyage. His discovery falls at the inflection point of Western exploration. Columbus was not the first fifteenth-century explorer to go to the New World—he was the first to make it back, and he did so at a moment when his discovery would land like a spark in the economic tinder of a newly emergent Europe and launch thousands upon thousands of voyages westward. Noting the earlier, less successful voyages, a good forecaster would have seen that the moment was ripe for an inflection point and could have advised the Portuguese that it would be unwise to turn down Columbus’s request.
Ironically, forecasters can do worse than ordinary observers when it comes to anticipating inflection points. Ordinary folks are simply surprised when an inflection point arrives seemingly out of nowhere, but innovators and would-be forecasters who glimpse the flat-line beginnings of the S curve often miscalculate the speed at which the inflection point will arrive. As futurist Roy Amara pointed out to me three decades ago, there is a tendency to overestimate the short term and underestimate the long term. Our hopes cause us to conclude that the revolution will arrive overnight. Then, when cold reality fails to conform to our inflated expectations, our disappointment leads us to conclude that the hoped-for revolution will never arrive at all—right before it does.
One reason for the miscalculations is that the left-hand part of the S curve is much longer than most people imagine. Television took 20 years, plus time out for a war, to go from invention in the 1930s to takeoff in the early 1950s. Even in that hotbed of rapid change, Silicon Valley, most ideas take 20 years to become an overnight success. The Internet was almost 20 years old in 1988, the year that it began its dramatic run-up to the 1990s dot-com eruption. So having identified the origins and shape of the left-hand side of the S curve, you are always safer betting that events will unfold slowly than concluding that a sudden shift is in the wind. The best advice ever given to me was by a rancher who reminded me of an old bit of folk wisdom: “Son, never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”
Once an inflection point arrives, people commonly underestimate the speed with which change will occur. The fact is, we are all by nature linear thinkers, and phenomena governed by the sudden, exponential growth of power laws catch us by surprise again and again. Even if we notice the beginning of a change, we instinctively draw a straight line diagonally through the S curve, and although we eventually arrive in the same spot, we miss both the lag at the start and the explosive growth in the middle. Timing, of course, is everything, and Silicon Valley is littered with the corpses of companies who mistook a clear view for a short distance and others who misjudged the magnitude of the S curve they happened upon.
Also expect the opportunities to be very different from those the majority predicts, for even the most expected futures tend to arrive in utterly unexpected ways. In the early 1980s, for example, PC makers predicted that every home would shortly have a PC on which people would do word processing and use spreadsheets or, later, read encyclopedias on CDs. But when home PC use did finally come about, it was driven by entertainment, not work, and when people finally consulted encyclopedias on-screen a decade after the PC makers said they would, the encyclopedias were online. The established companies selling their encyclopedias only on CD quickly went out of business.
Rule 3: Embrace the Things That Don’t Fit
The novelist William Gibson once observed: “The future’s already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” The leading-edge line of an emerging S curve is like a string hanging down from the future, and the odd event you can’t get out of your mind could be a weak signal of a distant industry-disrupting S curve just starting to gain momentum.
The entire portion of the S curve to the left of the inflection point is paved with indicators—subtle pointers that when aggregated become powerful hints of things to come. The best way for forecasters to spot an emerging S curve is to become attuned to things that don’t fit, things people can’t classify or will even reject. Because of our dislike of uncertainty and our preoccupation with the present, we tend to ignore indicators that don’t fit into familiar boxes. But by definition anything that is truly new won’t fit into a category that already exists.
A classic example is the first sales of characters and in-game objects from the online game EverQuest on eBay in the late 1990s. Though eBay banned these sales in 2001, they anticipated the recent explosive growth of commerce in Second Life, Linden Lab’s virtual world in which members create 3-D avatars (digital alter egos). Through the avatars, members engage in social activities, including the creation and sale of in-world objects in a currency (Linden dollars) that can be exchanged for real dollars through various means. Today there are approximately 12 million subscribers participating in virtual world simulations like Second Life, and they’re having an impact measurable in actual dollars. Real transactions connected with Second Life and other online simulations now are (conservatively) estimated at more than $1 billion annually. Where it ends is still uncertain, but it is unquestionably a very large S curve.
More often than not, indicators look like mere oddball curiosities or, worse, failures, and just as we dislike uncertainty, we shy away from failures and anomalies. But if you want to look for the thing that’s going to come whistling in out of nowhere in the next years and change your business, look for interesting failures—smart ideas that seem to have gone nowhere.
Let’s go back to Second Life. Its earliest graphical antecedent was Habitat, an online environment developed by Lucasfilm Games in 1985. Though nongraphical MUDs (multiple user dimensions) were a cultish niche success at the time, Habitat quickly disappeared, as did a string of other graphical MUDs developed in the 1980s and 1990s. Then the tide turned in the late 1990s, when multiplayer online games like EverQuest and Ultima started to take off. It was just a matter of time before the S curve that had begun with Habitat would spike for social environments as well as for games. Linden Lab’s founders arrived on the scene with Second Life at the right time and with the right vision—that property ownership was the secret to success. (Sony missed this crucial point and insisted that everything in EverQuest, including user-created objects, was Sony’s property, thus cutting EverQuest out of the wild sales-driven growth of virtual world simulations.) So although the explosive success of Second Life came as a considerable surprise to many people, from a forecasting perspective it arrived just about on time, almost 20 years after Habitat briefly appeared and expired.
As the Second Life example illustrates, indicators come in clusters. Here’s another good example. Some readers will recall the flurry of news around the first two DARPA Grand Challenges, in which inventors and researchers were invited by the U.S. Department of Defense to design robots that could compete in a 100-mile-plus race across the Mojave Desert. The first Grand Challenge, which offered a $1 million prize, was held in March 2004. Most of the robots died in sight of the starting line, and only one robot got more than seven miles into the course. The Challenge’s ambitious goal looked as remote as the summit of Everest. But just 19 months later, at the second Grand Challenge, five robots completed the course. Significantly, 19 months is approximately one doubling period under Moore’s Law.
Around the same time I noticed a sudden new robot minicraze popping up that many people dismissed as just another passing fad. At the center of the craze was the Roomba, an inexpensive ($200 to $300) “smart” vacuum cleaner the size of a pizza pan. What was odd was that my friends with Roombas were as wildly enthusiastic about these machines as they had been about their original 128K Macs—and being engineers, they had never before shown any interest in owning, much less been excited by, a vacuum cleaner. Stranger yet, they gave their Roombas names, and when I checked with Roomba’s maker, iRobot, I learned that in fact two-thirds of Roomba owners named their Roombas and one-third confessed to having taken their Roombas on vacation with them or over to friends houses to show them off.
Alone, this is just a curious story, but considered with the Grand Challenge success, it is another compelling indicator that a robotics inflection point lies in the not-too-distant future. What form this approaching robot revolution will take is still too uncertain to call, but I’ll bet that it will be greeted with the same wild-eyed surprise and enthusiasm that greeted the rise of the PC in the early 1980s and the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s. Oh, and don’t look for these robots to be the multitasking intelligent machines of science fiction. More likely, they’ll be like the Roomba, more modest devices that do one or two tasks well or are simply cute and cuddly objects of affection. One indicator: Roomba owners today can even buy costumes for their robots!
Rule 4: Hold Strong Opinions Weakly
One of the biggest mistakes a forecaster—or a decision maker—can make is to overrely on one piece of seemingly strong information because it happens to reinforce the conclusion he or she has already reached. This lesson was tragically underscored when nine U.S. destroyers ran aground on the shores of central California on the fog-shrouded evening of September 8, 1923.
The lost ships were part of DesRon 11, a 14-ship squadron steaming from San Francisco to San Diego. Misled largely by overreliance on the commander’s dead-reckoning navigation, the squadron undershot the turn into the Santa Barbara Channel and instead ended up on the rocks at Point Pedernales, several miles to the northwest.
The squadron had navigated by dead reckoning for most of the trip, but as the ships approached the channel, the squadron’s commander obtained bearings from a radio direction station at Point Arguello. The bearing placed his ship, the Delphy, north of its dead reckoning position. Convinced that his dead reckoning was accurate, the commander reinterpreted the bearing data in a way that confirmed his erroneous position and ordered a sharp course change towards the rapidly approaching coast. Nine ships followed the disastrous course.
Meanwhile, the deck officers on the Kennedy, the 11th boat in the formation, had concluded from their dead reckoning that they in fact were farther north and closer to shore than the position given by the Delphy. The skipper was skeptical, but the doubt the deck officers raised was sufficient for him to hedge his bets; an hour before the fateful turn he ordered a course change that placed his ship several hundred yards to the west of the ships in front of them, allowing the Kennedy and the three trailing destroyers to avert disaster.
The essential difference between the two skippers’ responses was that the Delphy’s skipper ignored evidence that invalidated his dead-reckoning information and narrowed his cone of uncertainty at the very moment when the data was screaming out to broaden it. In contrast, the Kennedy’s skipper listened to the multiple sources of conflicting weak information and concluded that his ship’s position was much less certain than assumed. He hedged their bets and, therefore, saved the ship.
In forecasting, as in navigation, lots of interlocking weak information is vastly more trustworthy than a point or two of strong information. The problem is that traditional research habits are based on collecting strong information. And once researchers have gone through the long process of developing a beautiful hypothesis, they have a tendency to ignore any evidence that contradicts their conclusion. This inevitable resistance to contradictory information is responsible in no small part for the nonlinear process of paradigm shifts identified by Thomas Kuhn in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Once a theory gains wide acceptance, there follows a long stable period in which the theory remains accepted wisdom. All the while, however, contradictory evidence is quietly building that eventually results in a sudden shift.
Good forecasting is the reverse: It is a process of strong opinions, weakly held. If you must forecast, then forecast often—and be the first one to prove yourself wrong. The way to do this is to form a forecast as quickly as possible and then set out to discredit it with new data. Let’s say you are looking at the future cost of oil and its impact on the economy. Early on, you conclude that above a certain price point, say $80 a barrel, U.S. consumers will respond the way they did during the Carter administration, by putting on cardigans and conserving energy. Your next step is to try to find out why this might not happen. (So far it hasn’t—perhaps because Americans are wealthier today, and, as evidenced by the past decade’s strong SUV sales, they may not care deeply enough to change their habits on the basis of cost alone until the oil price is much higher.) By formulating a sequence of failed forecasts as rapidly as possible, you can steadily refine the cone of uncertainty to a point where you can comfortably base a strategic response on the forecast contained within its boundaries. Having strong opinions gives you the capacity to reach conclusions quickly, but holding them weakly allows you to discard them the moment you encounter conflicting evidence.
Rule 5: Look Back Twice as Far as You Look Forward
Marshall McLuhan once observed that too often people steer their way into the future while staring into the rearview mirror because the past is so much more comforting than the present. McLuhan was right, but used properly, our historical rearview mirror is an extraordinarily powerful forecasting tool. The texture of past events can be used to connect the dots of present indicators and thus reliably map the future’s trajectory—provided one looks back far enough.
Consider the uncertainty generated by the post-bubble swirl of the Web, as incumbents like Google and Yahoo, emergent players, and declining traditional TV and print media players jockey for position. It all seems to defy categorization, much less prediction, until one looks back five decades to the emergence in the early 1950s of TV and the subsequent mass-media order it helped catalyze. The present moment has eerie parallels to that era, and inspection of those similarities quickly brings today’s landscape into sharp focus: We are in a moment when the old mass-media order is being replaced by a new personal-media order, and it’s not just the traditional media players that are struggling to adjust. The cutting-edge players of the information revolution, from Microsoft to Google, are pedaling every bit as hard.
The problem with history is that our love of certainty and continuity often causes us to draw the wrong conclusions. The recent past is rarely a reliable indicator of the future—if it were, one could successfully predict the next 12 months of the Dow or Nasdaq by laying a ruler along the past 12 months and extending the line forward. But the Dow doesn’t behave that way, and neither does any other trend. You must look for the turns, not the straightaways, and thus you must peer far enough into the past to identify patterns. It’s been written that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes.” The effective forecaster looks to history to find the rhymes, not the identical events.
So when you look back for parallels, always look back at least twice as far as you are looking forward. Search for similar patterns, keeping in mind that history—especially recent history—rarely repeats itself directly. And don’t be afraid to keep looking further back if the double interval is not enough to trigger your forecaster’s informed intuition.
The hardest part of looking back is to know when history doesn’t fit. The temptation is to use history (as the old analogy goes) the way a drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination. That’s the single worst mistake a forecaster can make, and examples, unfortunately, abound. Jerry Levin, for instance, sold Time Warner to AOL in the mistaken belief that he could use mergers and acquisitions to shoulder his company into digital media the way he did so successfully with cable and movies. He ended up closing the deal just when AOL’s decade-old model was being wiped out by new challengers with models allowing them to offer e-mail free of charge. Another case in point: A dark joke at the Pentagon is that the U.S. military is always fighting the last war, and indeed it is evident that in the case of the Iraq conflict, planners in certain areas simultaneously assumed that Iraq II would unfold like Iraq I and dismissed Vietnam as a source of insight because the U.S. had “lost that war.”
Rule 6: Know When Not to Make a Forecast
It is a peculiar human quality that we are at once fearful of—and fascinated by—change. It is embedded in our social vocabulary, as we often greet a friend with the simple salutation, “What’s new?” Yet it is a liability for forecasters to have too strong a proclivity to see change, for the simple fact is that even in periods of dramatic, rapid transformation, there are vastly more elements that do not change than new things that emerge.
Consider again that whirling vortex of the 1990s, the dot-com bubble. Plenty new was happening, but underlying the revolution were deep, unchanging consumer desires and ultimately, to the sorrow of many a start-up, unchanging laws of economics. By focusing on the novelties, many missed the fact that consumers were using their new broadband links to buy very traditional items like books and engage in old human activities like gossip, entertainment, and pornography. And though the future-lookers pronounced it to be a time when the old rules no longer applied, the old economic imperatives applied with a vengeance and the dot-com bubble burst just like every other bubble before it. Anyone who had taken the time to examine the history of economic bubbles would have seen it coming.
Against this backdrop, it is important to note that there are moments when forecasting is comparatively easy—and other moments when it is impossible. The cone of uncertainty is not static; it expands and contracts as the present rolls into the future and certain possibilities come to pass while others are closed off. There are thus moments of unprecedented uncertainty when the cone broadens to a point at which the wise forecaster will demur and refrain from making a forecast at all. But even in such a moment, one can take comfort in the knowledge that things will soon settle down, and with the careful exercise of intuition, it will once again be possible to make a good forecast.
Consider the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall. In January 1989, the East German leader, Erich Honecker, declared that the wall would stand for “a hundred more years,” and indeed Western governments built all their plans around this assumption. The signs of internal collapse are obvious in hindsight, but at the time, the world seemed locked in a bipolar superpower order that despite its nuclear fearfulness was remarkably stable. The cone of uncertainty, therefore, was relatively narrow, and within its boundaries there were a number of easily imaginable outcomes, including the horror of mutual destruction. Uncertainties popped up only where the two superpowers’ spheres of influence touched and overlapped. But even here, there was a hierarchy of uncertainty: When change eventually came, it would likely unfold first in South Asia or restive Poland rather than in Berlin, safely encircled by its wall.
But the Berlin Wall came crashing down in the fall of 1989, and with it crumbled the certainty of a forecast rooted in the assumption of a world dominated by two superpowers. A comfortably narrow cone dilated to 180 degrees, and at that moment the wise forecaster would have refrained from jumping to conclusions and instead would have quietly looked for indicators of what would emerge from the geopolitical rubble—both overlooked indicators leading up to the wall’s collapse and new ones emerging from its geopolitical detritus.
Indeed, the new order revealed itself within 12 months, and the indicator was Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Before the collapse of the USSR, such an action would have triggered a Cuban Missile Crisis–like conflict between the two superpowers, but without a strong Soviet Union either to restrain Saddam or saber-rattle back, the outcome was very different. And with it, the new geopolitical order was obvious: The cone of uncertainty had narrowed to encompass a world where the myriad players once arrayed in the orderly force field of one superpower or another now were all going in their own directions. All the uncertainty shifted to center on whether the single surviving superpower could remain one at all. Iraq II of course has provided the answer to that question: A unipolar superpower order is not possible. As others have observed, we live in a world where the sole remaining superpower is too powerful to ignore but too weak to make a difference.
Bottom line? Be skeptical about apparent changes, and avoid making an immediate forecast—or at least don’t take any one forecast too seriously. The incoming future will wash up plenty more indicators on your beach, sooner than you think.
• • •
Professional forecasters are developing ever more complex and subtle tools for peering ahead—futures markets, online expert aggregations, sophisticated computer-based simulations and even, horizon-scanning software that crawls the Web looking for surprises. That is why it is essential for executives to become sophisticated and participative consumers of forecasts. That doesn’t mean you must learn nonlinear algebra or become a forecasting expert in your own right. At the end of the day, forecasting is nothing more (nor less) than the systematic and disciplined application of common sense. It is the exercise of your own common sense that will allow you to assess the quality of the forecasts given to you—and to properly identify the opportunities and risks they present. But don’t stop there. The best way to make sense of what lies ahead is to forecast for yourself.

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