No, thank YOU!

As part of my yearly resolutions I decided that I should try to read more – at least a book per month.  And I intend to do it.  It won’t always be a “work” related book, but it keeps me in the habit.

A couple of months ago, I heard about Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book ‘The Thank You Economy”. The book is essentially a call to arms to all businesses to join and use social networks/social media to promote and sell.  It goes through the caring & commitment needed, tips, ideas, case studies and statistics about doing so.  It’s the only way to re-humanise business.  We have moved too far from local community shops where everyone knows everyone, to a time where companies are faceless; where your relationship with your local shops only extends to a ‘Hello’ or ‘Goodbye’.

I’ve always been quite interested in SM and Gary is an infectious speaker; full of energy and passion (see this video).  I decided that I would give it a go. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Vaynerchuk defines TYE as (essentially) a throwback to the 50s, where businesses knew their customers personally, knew their needs intimately and delivered diligently. They knew that if they didn’t people would go elsewhere.  He believes social media gives us the opportunity to create that one-to-one relationship enjoyed by our elders.

He takes us through a brief history of how we have come full circle to a place where customers demand individuality, appreciation and authenticity from the people they do business with.

He goes through objections to social media (and provides arguments to counteract them) and what businesses need to be aware of/need in order to make the most of this opportunity. He also notes the biggest mistakes companies make with Social Media:

  • using tactics instead of strategy
  • using it just to put out fires
  • using it to brag
  • using it as a one way communication vehicle
  • just retweeting other people’s content
  • only pushing product
  • expecting quick results

Lastly, and this is where the book gets really interesting, he goes through several case studies where people have used social media to good effect for their business – in a variety of sizes and a variety of industries.

Do I believe in it all? Not all of it, but a large extent.  I think bigger, more established companies will always struggle more to ‘get with the times’ &  make it work simply because of the bureaucracy and hurdles involved in making things happen in such monolithic organisations.

Nevertheless, all in all, this was a really enjoyable book with many valid points, perspectives and arguments. I think anyone involved in social media would benefit from reading it – especially if only just starting their business and looking for a cheap (but time consuming) way of promoting it or companies who are just starting to dip their toes in the water.

Below are some quotes from the book (some salient to social media, others just amusing) as well as an illustrated version of the book (courtesy of Ogilvynotes).

Real business isn’t done in board meetings; it’s done over a half-eaten plate of buffalo wings at the sports bar…

In 1984, you’d get stuffed in your locker for gloating over your new Apple Macintosh; in 2007 you could score a hot date by showing off your new iPhone.

There’s only so low you can go on price. There’s only so excellent you can make your product or service.  There’s only so far you can stretch your marketing budget.  Your heart, though – that’s boundless.

Everybody counts, and gets the best I have to give.

But they’re not going to give me that chance unless the other guy slips up.  And even then they’d probably give him a second chance, because forgiveness is the hallmark of a good relationship.

..if you wait until social media is able to prove itself to you before deciding to engage with your customers one–on-one, you’ll have missed your greatest window of opportunity to move ahead of your competitors.

The customer you should be scared of is the one who has a bad experience, doesn’t say a word, and never returns.

It remembered that behind every B2B transaction, there’s a C.


Are we surprised kids dislike reading?

The education secretary believes children should be reading up to 50 books a year. I thought back to how I viewed reading and books when I was learning and what kind of education I see my kids having.

The way I see it there are a few issues with this ‘hope’.

Firstly, it is unrealistic and insensitive (or just plain crazy) to expect already overworked children with way too much homework to then read. I feel the homework is compensating for the lack of meaningful exams until kids are 16. So, kids don’t really have the time, nor the mind capacity or attention span to do all this.  I only manage to read about 3-4 books a year, so how will they when they have so much more to do?

Secondly, the books in the curriculum are bloody boring.  Looking at the list, it seems that within a generation is only about 5-10% of titles have changes.  The problem with this is that the books don’t reflect society and the kids’ lives today so they do not feel any affinity for it. The ‘classics’ are still the same and they are as dull as they were in my time.

Thirdly, what are we actually trying to teach them? Is the aim to teach them whether they understand context, plot, character traits or morals and can articulate it?  Or is the aim to teach them what someone’s interpretation of a specific book is?  The former is more appealing, more personal and more relevant.  The latter is more egotistical and does not allow kids to develop their thought processing skills.

Lastly, it’s making it work, not fun… I never enjoyed books (of any kind) until I did it because I wanted to and not because I was forced to. Especially when they have consoles, mobile phones and social networking as alternatives.

So what is the solution?

I think there should be an element of self-selection – i.e. kids choose the books they wish to read (teachers / parents agree as to the suitability of the title).  They then perform the same task (for example, writing an essay on the moral of the story) irrespective of the book they are reading. They are marked on their ability to articulate and write their arguments not how well they regurgitate what their teacher told them.

I think this will deal with most of the points I made above; the books they select reflect their world (at least in their eyes); they will find them more appealing (and therefore not work – or not as much work) and we are teaching them to think for themselves and valuing their thoughts and perspective.

Whilst I don’t believe 50 books a year will ever happen, I think the idea above might just get kids reading a little bit more. And then we’re making progress.

Complex simplicity

“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful”John Maeda

I don’t know about you, but I yearn for the day when I’m not faced by a restaurant sized menu when I go to a coffee shop.  Actually, I yearn more for a day when Costa/Starbucks et al can actually make a decent coffee and not burn the beans, but that’s something for another day.

We now live in a time when personalisation of everything is the norm, meaning business must cater for thousands of variations.

This got me thinking about simplicity and the fact that with immense choice come immense possibilities and therefore decisions – sometimes to the point of paralysis and inertia.  Do you remember Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous line “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”? This is a great example of complicating a simple phrase – ‘There are things we know and there are things we don’t”.  This, I think is the result of our perception that more is better or more insightful or more complete.

Businesses believe that customers value this essence of ‘more’ meaning that if a product has 100 features, your next iteration better have 101 features otherwise it will fail.  So more and more complicated products are created with more and more features that will never be used (for example, how many times have I used the compass on my iPhone?  A grand total of zero.).  Very few things are about making things simpler – the iPod and Google being two of a small number of exceptions.

The worry is that this focus on something bigger and better means we sometime lose sight of what the real issue to tackle is and how simple a solution may be.

Take for example some of the work that Vodafone have done in Africa. With its remote regions and regular outbreaks of diseases such as malaria, etc. Now, faced with this problem most companies would have created a complicated database with various communication points.  What Vodafone did was allow remote areas to update their stock levels of medicine using SMS, meaning that if there was an outbreak in a certain area, overstocked areas could then help.  This has significantly reduced the number of outbreaks and saved thousands of lives.  And all without re-inventing the wheel.

But simplicity doesn’t have to mean simple.  Simplicity is merely the perception that something’s simple from a user perspective.  This talk from David McCandless illustrates this point beautifully.

The more complex the thing you turn into something simple the more valuable it becomes. I’m currently reading John Maeda’s Laws of Simplicity in an effort try to understand when and how you should deconstruct something to make it simple… whilst drinking my double expresso.

How you get ideas

Marilyn Von Savant said “A good idea will keep you awake during the morning, but a great idea will keep you awake during the night.” I’m sure we’ve all had a time when we woke up at night with a great idea about a project we were working on, a blog entry we were writing or a surprise for a loved one.

But where do these ideas come from?  How do you get them?  And is there anything you can do to increase your chances of having these nuctural rays of light?

Way back in the day, I read a book by James Webb Young (A Technique for Producing Ideas) who believed you could train yourself in 5 steps:

  1. arm yourself with information – both specific to the topic at hand and generic (i.e. anything you find interesting and that doesn’t relate to the specific ‘thing’ you are trying to address)
  2. start to form relationships – mull over the findings in your head and start to sketch out ideas by looking at the information in different ways, trying to ascertain relationships between different elements
  3. drop it – stop thinking about the problem, move onto something else and let it set in your subconscious
  4. now you’ve got it – when you least expect it, it will suddenly come to you and you have your Eureka! moment
  5. mould the idea – no idea is ever perfect from the start, so this is where the hard work begins.  Now you’re ready to start developing the idea into a worthwhile proposition to partners, customers, etc

More recently, Steven Johnson wrote a book ‘Where good ideas come from‘ about this subject and created the following short film.

My key take-out from both of these is that ideas are born out of everything and everyone around us, so we should never stop questioning, stop learning or stop trying – you learn more from doing something wrong than from doing nothing at all.