I’ve been toying around with a new hypothesis. Here it is:
Formality in business is dying.
Now I am not talking about Blue Jeans Friday and Bring Your Pet to Work Day all of the sudden cropping up everywhere. I’ve seen very formally-run businesses where people showed up in jeans with their dogs or whatever. So much superficial informality.
What I’m talking about is a fundamental shift of business culture and management practices from formal to informal in many innovative companies. What do I mean? Let’s take a step back.
Here are two of the ways Merriam-Webster defines the word formal.
– relating to or involving the outward form, structure, relationships, or arrangement of elements rather than content
– having the appearance without the substance
That first definition of formality stands out for me as a perfect description of almost every formal business practice I have ever encountered. “Relating to or involving the outward form, structure, relationship of arrangement of elements rather than the content” (emphasis mine).
Organizational charts. Job titles. Performance reviews. Operational reviews. Strategic planning projects.
In your experience, do these things usually reflect the man-on-the-street reality of the business? Or are they an attempt to impose structure on things that do their best to defy it?
The irony is that, while most formal business practices are attempts to manage the complexity of business by defining structure, they usually fail miserably to capture the true complexity of business. They focus on the structure rather than the real content—and they usually don’t even get that right.
In my experience, most business practices that attempt to formalize structure are about as successful as attempts to construct buildings out of clouds. By the time we finish the plan, everything has already changed beyond recognition.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
In the classic book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Jack Trout and Al Ries, there is an ongoing thematic—the overwhelming value of being #1 in a market. The reasoning? It is extremely hard to dislodge the company that captures a position in the minds of target customers first.
Think about how long Coca-Cola has been the #1 cola (since the 19th century) or Hertz has been the #1 car rental company (since 1918) and you’ll get a sense for how difficult it is to displace the top brand in a market.
As we’ve learned in previous brand positioning tips, a key part of the brand positioning process involves deciding on the competitive frame of reference or references in which you’d like to position your company or brand. I emphasize references because one thing to consider is whether, in addition to positioning your brand in an existing market (where you may not be #1), you should be creating a new market in which you can be #1, because there is no one else in it yet.
Some leading business strategy thinkers refer to this as a “blue ocean strategy” where you choose to create or grow a new market rather than fighting in a competitive one that already exists (a “red ocean”).
From a brand positioning perspective, I often return to a similar principle I call the 1-2 punch.
The 1-2 punch is simple:
Punch 1: Grow the market
Punch 2: Lead the market you grow
Punch 1: You may compete in a frame of reference where you are not #1, but throwing punch 1 means putting your energy into creating or growing a different competitive frame of reference that didn’t exist in the minds of your audience before.
Punch 2: This is where you must really capitalize on the benefits of being an early mover in a market. If you throw punch one (grow the market), but do not effectively land punch 2 (lead the market you grow), you may find yourself in a world of hurt. Let’s look at a few examples:
When I was at Red Hat, I sometimes got questions from folks who wanted to know the secret to Red Hat’s brand success. First off, I’d always say you don’t grow a $1 billion technology company on brand alone. We sold great products. We treated our customers and developers well. We had a revolutionary business model. Those kinds of things are the bedrock of a successful brand.
But if I was to point to one “secret” thing I think had a big impact on the brand it would be a very simple one:
We said the same thing. Over and over. For years.
For me personally, sometimes I said things so many times I was just as sick of hearing myself as others were.
When people would come to me and ask if they could make a tan hat to give away at tradeshows rather than a red one, I would always repeat: “But we are Red Hat.” We brand folks would always be the ones to bring up the company mission, values, and culture. We’d steer conversations back toward the open source way when they went astray. When my colleagues and I would speak about the culture and brand in orientation, we’d tell the same stories, show the same videos of Bob Young and Matthew Szulik to new employees year after year after year.
When it comes to brand positioning, the biggest mistake you can make is to invest your time, money, and energy in discovering your optimal brand position… and then give up on it before it has a chance to do its magic. Building a great brand has to be done over time and, to paraphrase Jeff Bezos of Amazon, there are no shortcuts.
I’ve worked with a lot of creative types over the years, and most of them love to come up with new ideas. Heck we all do. But sometimes the thing that makes you stand out when everyone else is saying something new is to say something… well… old.
I love The New York Times, the best newspaper in the world. There is no greater pleasure than sitting out on the patio on a Sunday morning, reading The New York Times, and learning.
I stress the word learning because there are so few places left in our world where true discovery happens. Most of the time, marketers, computers, and even our friends are showing us more of what we already know we like, rather than introducing us to things we have never seen or heard of before.
In the pages of The New York Times, I can be introduced to people, places, events, ideas I would have never found on my own. Every day I read The Times I learn something new. The paper expands my understanding of the world rather than reflecting back to me the understanding I already have.
This is an incredibly valuable service. It is a service that very few media companies in the world still provide (my local paper, the Raleigh News and Observer, rarely does these days, sadly).
Yet, the ongoing conversation about how to solve the financial issues of The New York Times revolves around fixing the business model for newspapers. Most experts say the model is fundamentally broken, and a report released last week by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism doesn’t have a lot of good news for the future of journalism as a whole.
From my vantage point, the answer to fixing The New York Times will not come from exploring a revolutionary business model. It will come from a revolutionary brand, culture, and community model. Let me explain.
Last week, my friend Greg DeKoenigsberg posted an article about Jaron Lanier’s negative comments regarding open textbooks. At almost very same time, I happened to stumble upon an article Jaron wrote back in 2006 criticizing Wikipedia.
The common theme is Jaron taking issue with what he calls “online collectivism,” “the hive mind,” and even “digital Maoism” (ouch!). You might call this same concept “crowdsourcing” or “the wisdom of crowds.” It’s all in the eye of the beholder, but the guy clearly does not have much love for wikis or the works of collective wisdom they create.
So I had to ask myself: Why so negative, Jaron?
Is Jaron really a hater of free culture, as Greg claims in his article? Is he an enemy of the open source way? Or is he just a smart dude warning us about the risks of taking the wisdom-of-crowds concept too far?
Fortunately for us, Jaron published a book earlier this year entitled You Are Not A Gadget. So I took a few hours and read it last week to see if I could answer some of these questions.
At times, the book is scary smart, with precise analysis from a man who clearly questions everything, and is in a better intellectual position to do so than most (the section on social media and its redefinition of friendship is especially interesting).
At other times it read like a college philosophy term paper. And occassionally, especially toward then end, it devolved into nearly unintelligeble (at least by me) ravings about things like “postsymbolic communication” and “bachelardian neoteny” (Michael Agger’s review in Slate calls him out for this too).
But wait! Right near the beginning of the book, I found this paragraph:
“Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad, moblike behaviors.”
Hey… I kinda agree with that…
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
Last fall, a group of researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) released a study showing an abrupt leveling off in the number of editors and edits to Wikipedia, starting in about 2007.
There is a great summation of the findings in a set of posts by Dr. Ed H Chi, Lead Scientist at the PARC Augmented Social Cognition group here, here, here, and here.
I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about what might be causing the slowing rate of contributions, as have many others. I particularly liked Niel Robertson’s post last week on the Enterprise Irregulars site.
Niel’s thesis is that Wikipedia has failed to continue to develop innovative ways to motivate its community, falling behind as other communities and companies have implemented more creative new techniques. Niel goes on to identify seven types of motivation for crowdsourcing (yes, I still dislike that word) efforts, of which he says Wikipedia is only using a couple.
I think he is on to something. But Wikipedia is operating at a scale that dwarfs almost every other crowdsourcing effort in history. It takes a massive bureaucracy of editors and administrators to keep the whole thing going.
And if traditional bureaucracies (like those in governments and large companies) tend to stifle innovation, what happens in a bureaucracy where the bureaucrats aren’t getting paid and aren’t getting any recognition for their efforts?
From my point of view, this is Wikipedia’s next great challenge:
How does it convince the world to love and recognize its contributors?
[Read the rest of this article on opensource.com]
In the discussions around some of my previous articles, I’ve noticed a trend: we seem to be focusing on cultural changes that need to be made for the open source way to be effective in contexts beyond technology. One cultural context I think could really use some help is politics.
I read an interesting post last week by Morton Hansen (author of Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results) entitled Obama’s Five Collaboration Mistakes. In the comments below the post, some folks interpreted his words as an attack on the Obama administration. Me? I’d probably interpret Hansen’s words more broadly. Perhaps something like:
Politicians are pretty darned bad at collaborating a lot of the time.
I think many folks would agree with this statement no matter where they sit politically. No matter where they live around the world.
In fact, the word “political” has become almost synonymous with anti-collaborative behavior in many contexts. Certainly in the business world.
But there is a lot a stake here. The economic downturn has hurt our businesses badly. And this has affected many of us in even more personal ways. Jobs. Homes. Security.
We need innovation in the political world to help solve the problems of the business world. Which means we are going to need better collaboration across political boundaries, both inside and between our countries.
Could we open source folks help?
[Read the rest of this article on opensource.com]
It’s a good bet that the next generation of defining companies will have corporate cultures built the open source way– around openness and collaboration, while fostering community and culture that extend outside the company walls.
In fact many of the defining companies of the first decade of this century show these characteristics (with one very notable exception we discussed earlier).
It kind of makes you want to rush in and see if you can change your old style corporate culture and get in on the action. But try to change too fast and your efforts may backfire.
So here are three signs that your corporate culture may not quite be ready for the open source way– and some tips to help you move closer.
[Read the rest of this post over at opensource.com]
One nice thing about this new gig blogging over at opensource.com is it gives me some room to go back to my brand and culture roots here at Dark Matter Matters. So today we return again to my favorite subject: brand positioning.
Specifically, I want to cover one of the scariest brand positioning mistakes a company can make– abandoning the position that got them where they are before they’ve established a credible new position.
You’ve seen it before. You walk into a meeting with a new advertising agency or an overzealous marketing executive, and, with great dramatic effect, they say something akin to this: “We are not in the toilet paper business! We are in the cleansing and renewal business!” Then they pause and look around, waiting for the cheers and high fives to start as people salute genius.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe strongly in establishing a higher purpose for your brand. And I think it is fantastic when brands are aspirational. The mistake is not in extending your brand position– in fact, we’ve covered some good tips on how to do it responsibly in this post and this one.
The mistake is abandoning the position you already own in the customer’s mind before clearly establishing the new position– in their mind, not in yours.
I’ve shown this chart inspired by Kevin Keller (one of my brand positioning mentors) before, but it is directly relevant here.
One of the things I’m most excited about as I start my new job at New Kind is that I have the opportunity to continue to do work with Red Hat. Today, in the spirit of release early, release often, Red Hat opened the doors to a new website, opensource.com. In addition to my work here at Dark Matter Matters, I’ll also be writing for the Business channel of opensource.com.
It is the beginning of a conversation about how the world can apply the lessons of the open source way broadly– in business, in government, in education, in the law, and generally in our lives. Unlike most other open source sites, it is not just about software. From the site:
The term open source began as a way to describe software source code and the collaborative model for how it’s developed. Red Hat used this model for developing technology and built a business model around open source and its principles: Openness. Transparency. Collaboration. Diversity. Rapid prototyping… The open source way is more than a development model; it defines the characteristics of a culture.
Although this site was started by Red Hat, it is not intended to be a Red Hat site, but rather a site where the open source conversation is extended to all companies and organizations, even beyond the technology industry. Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst states it really well in his introductory post: