08 October, 2014

A lot of knowledge is a dangerous thing

“There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.” - US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, 2002
Gobbledygook or profound insight? I’m inclined to the latter. Boards and managers tend to manage the risks they think they know, not the ones they don’t. The quality of your own business processes. The quality of input, processes, outputs, logistics, channels - upstream and downstream from your business. The degree to which your business and brand is isolated from other people’s actions.

Chances are, you try to manage those elements which have a known impact in your value process. You know a lot about them. But what about something completely beyond your knowledge and control? What about a key supplier or customer going bust as a consequence of someone else going bust? How about a subcontractor running hidden, unacceptable practices elsewhere in the world? Someone using your product in new unintended dangerous applications? Or a logistic provider’s people subverting your process to run a scam, smuggle drugs, launder money?

At least on this, Rumsfeld had it right; but there’s no easy answer. Just be wary of what you think you know and don’t know. Assumptions are very dangerous. What are the things you take for granted in your business? And, given that you don’t know what disasters may sideswipe your business, what’s your generic crisis management process? When the organic fertilizer is sucked into the air conditioning system, how will you cope?

First posted  26 August 2009

18 September, 2014

Never deceive your customer

Do you get angry when you order a product or service, only to get stung by unexpected extra charges? Over-hyped product specifications? Deceptive project bids with swingeing prices for subsequent changes to requirements? Of course you get angry; everyone does.

Mark Di Somma wrote about an EU finding that half of all European airlines’ websites are guilty of misrepresentation, and many of actually breaking the law. Mark comments:

Perhaps these companies think they’re being clever behaving this way. Perhaps they think they have no option. They’re wrong on both counts.

Deceiving people isn’t just stupid, it makes no sense commercially, because all these airlines are doing is setting themselves up to disappoint their customers.

As for the no option argument, that’s equally dumb. If everyone else is behaving this way, simply following them is lemming behaviour. Instead, there’s an immediate and important opportunity to put distance between your brand and others, and to take the moral high ground by doing so

I totally agree. Most people I know would agree. Most businesses are not run by evil people. So what is going on? Why do some businesses (or rather, the people who work in those businesses) do it?
  • Either they don’t think their product and their price represents value for money; or they don’t know how to demonstrate that value.
  • They are looking for excuses as to why that is so.
  • They don’t know what to do about this problem; or they do, but can’t/won’t take the necessary steps.
  • They don’t personally face the consequences of their deceptive actions.
Anyone who thinks their product and price doesn’t represent value for money needs to either change their product, change their value proposition, or both, or get out of that business. Those are tough choices, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be made.

Many years ago, new in the CEO job, I heard a product manager say to me in front of a dozen people, “We have to pump our specs up - if we don’t, our products will look bad. But don’t worry - the competitors all lie about their products, too.” I realised straight away that my reaction to this would set the tone for my leadership. In a very firm and measured tone, I declared that we did not deceive our customers, and that anyone who set out to do so would have a very short tenure while I was in charge.

Here’s a simple set of principles:
  • Be proud of your product, price and value proposition.
  • Never deceive the customer (or yourself for that matter),

PS. The product manager left soon after. I never saw any evidence that the competitors lied. Fortunately, we had a great product, and we did find a better way of demonstrating its value.

First posted November 14th, 2007

05 August, 2014

So long, Suitey

On 20 August, I say goodbye to Click Suite after 6 1/2 years as independent chairman of the board.  It's been a real privilege to work with founders Emily Loughnan (@suitey)  and Rex McIntosh (@rexmac66).  As one of NZ's most innovative interactive media design studios, Click Suite has produced exciting work for both the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives & museums) and organisations wanting strong strategy- & brand-focused audience interaction (food & beverage, banking, energy, government). They've prided themselves on not doing the obvious, and on being early adopters of new interactive technologies & techniques.  Rarely, something didn't work - that's the risk when you're breaking new ground - but more often then not, it worked brilliantly.  A personal highlight for me was being part of a pitch to BBC Children's TV in London; we didn't get the work (the winner was Do Nothing) but we really impressed them.

But 6 years is long enough as chairman.  As Click Suite enters the next stage of its development, it's time for me to move on.  Thanks, Emily & Rex, it's been great.

So I am now open for other opportunities, should anyone have something substantial, interesting and with lots of potential.