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Posts Tagged ‘seth godin’

Seth Godin and One Thing

Posted by iammarchhare on 8 July 2009

Seth Godin had a couple of good posts last month that are worth a read.  Both are about concentrating on one or two things that make a difference.   First, you must identify the key thing you should be focused on.  Second, you must ensure you aren’t spreading yourself too thin.  The second is particularly relevant for job seekers in this economy, but there is a larger principle as well.

One post was “Ruby slippers”.  Do you know what the one thing even is that you should be concentrating on?

If you could make one thing come true that would change everything for your project, do you know what the one thing would be?

There are a lot of companies that don’t know what they want, so they inevitably fail.  Been there, done that, and it ain’t no fun!

The other post is a little longer and is about “How big is your farm?”  This one particularly hit home because of all of the “experts” that want you to get out and network here, network there, be on this social site, be on that social site and run yourself ragged for some pretty iffy payback.  Double that if you are looking for full time employment and not consulting gigs.

The number of media channels available to you keeps growing. The number of places you can spend time and money is almost endless. Yet your budget isn’t. Your time certainly isn’t.

Some people would have you spend a little time on each social network, run ads in ten or fifteen media, focus on one hundred major markets and spend time on PR and publicity in every publication willing to listen to you.

You know, it never ceases to amaze me how people react when I give them simple answers to what they perceive to be complex questions.  They are making it hard.  What do you do when customer Z wants something, but you are working on customer A’s project?  That’s easy!  Which one has the priority?  Pick one and do your best on that endeavor.  You cannot do your best work by juggling 26 different projects.  You cannot even do acceptable work by juggling 26 different projects.

I used to have a product manager that had the philosophy that you should not be afraid to fire a customer.  If the customer required too many resources, made unreasonable demands or just wasn’t living up the ROI, it’s probably time to fire that customer.  Spend your time and your money on the customers that matter.  Make sure catering to that customer brings you something you need.

Usually, it’s about this time that people get flustered and start on, “Well, how do you choose which customers don’t get what they want?”  When I respond with, “Well, what is your business strategy?”, about 90% of the time it turns out they don’t really have one.  They don’t know the ROI because they don’t know what R they want for their I.  Is it prestige?  Cash?  Other goods and services?  What return do you really need from this customer to keep from firing them?

Each of us has 24 hours in a day.  The rich don’t get more, and the poor don’t get less.  How you spend that time says a lot about your priorities.  What are your priorities?  Do you know?  Are you following through on them?

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Posted in Business Strategy, Leadership | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Google’s Example of Being the Best

Posted by iammarchhare on 24 April 2009

What does it mean to be the best?  According to Seth Godin in The Dip, it doesn’t mean being just a little bit ahead of everyone else.  Many of his examples show that market leaders are often 3 times or more ahead of their competition.

Did you know that Google in August 2008 owned 70.77% of the US search market?  On Mashable: The Social Media Guide, Don Reisinger says “Google Understands What Other Search Engines Don’t”.

Market leaders do understand what others do not about their markets, which is why they are the market leaders.

Reisinger goes on to ponder, “Where are the growing startups like Wikia or Quintura?  Why haven’t Microsoft or Yahoo gained any ground on Google in the US?”  While he states a few hypotheses as to why, according to Godin this is normal if a company is going to remain the market leader.

Project Management Professionals (PMPs) are credentialed because they are the best.  They are required to have a mix of education and experience before they can even take the test.  They are the pack leaders.

However, you cannot stop there.  Once you are among the best, you must differentiate yourself as the best of the best.

Posted in Economy, PMP, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Book Review: The Dip by Seth Godin

Posted by iammarchhare on 17 April 2009

The opening of The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin goes like this:

I feel like giving up.

Almost every day, in fact.  Not all day, of course, but there are moments.

~ p 3

Thus, I was immediately drawn in.

For a high-level philosophical viewpoint, I think Godin gets his point across quite well.  For a low-level practical standpoint, though, I’m not so sure.

However, since it is a high-level look, it can apply in so many areas.  It can apply personally or corporately.  It can apply to marketing, general management, IT, or any area where you might have a goal.  It can apply to a corporate strategy or a career path.

Types of Obstacles

Godin outlines 3 types of obstacles:

  1. The dip.  This is what separates the experts from the amateurs.  It takes resources to cross the dip, to get back up the hill and succeed.
  2. The cul-de-sac.  This can also be called the “dead end”.  No amount of effort is going to get you where you want in this space.
  3. The cliff.  You climb up and up, but then you suddenly crash.  A disaster is the result.

I think we can all think of examples of these.  Godin gives the example of passing organic chemistry as the dip for pre-med students.  Getting past HR might be a dip for a job seeker.  A dead-end job is a cul-de-sac.  Cigarette smoking is a cliff.  You puff along and puff along, and all of a sudden you’re dealing with a life debilitating disease like emphysema.

Basically, his advice seems to be that as long as it is worth doing, it is a dip.  If it is not worth doing, then it is a cul-de-sac.  If it is a dip, keep persevering.  However, one should be more than willing to quit for cul-de-sacs and cliffs.

It’s easy enough to say that one should quit if it is a dead-end.  Godin tells of people who quit because they did not cross a dip, though.  Instead of quitting a cul-de-sac, they quit in a dip.  I’m just not convinced that he gave clear enough guidelines to distinguish the 2 in a practical situation.

Woodpeckers and Diversification

Throughout the book, Godin argues that diversification takes away energy from other pursuits.  It takes resources away from the energy that’s needed to overcome the dip.

A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy.  Or he can tap twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner.

~ p 29

This analogy breaks, though.  What if there is no dinner to be found in that tree?  The woodpecker starves as much by trying too little in a thousand trees.  I think he tries to address that later on by stating that you should write down the circumstances in which you’ll quit, but this question just screamed out at me when I was reading the book.

The other problem, of course, is that especially in the IT world, you have so many options that it can be hard to narrow them down.  Sometimes you really do have to experiment with different things and ideas before you find something that works and works well.

Cul-de-sacs and Space Shuttles

Godin argues that the space shuttle is a cul-de-sac and not a dip.  It exists because “no one has the guts to cancel it”.

Perhaps he is right.  After all, what is the goal of the space shuttle?  What are we trying to accomplish?  I mean, NASA had a goal when it was trying to be 1st to the moon.  Those were exciting times.  From what I understand, even the space station is likely to be abandoned in the near future, so what should we be trying to do with space?

Does that make it a cul-de-sac, then?  It does seem pretty dead end if you don’t have a goal.  However, if there still were a goal, would it still be a cul-de-sac?  That part isn’t clear to me.

Flexible Dips

To me, it gets even more confusing then, as Godin presents dips as not being concrete objects.  They are subject to change.

Microsoft, for example, was able to create a dip by becoming the standard.  They themselves overcame dips by persevering with Windows, Word, Excel, etc.  They failed a few times before they won.  Now, the dip has become much larger for those who follow.

Yet, what might appear as a cul-de-sac really is a dip.  Microsoft products run on Microsoft platforms.  Google is now a challenger because their products are online.  In other words, Google is competing on a different platform.

His point is that to overcome a dip, you must act.  It isn’t something you ride out.  You must engage it.

Then, he states that quitting in the dip is a mistake usually based upon short-term concerns.  Here I think, then, is what probably is the key to dip vs. cul-de-sac.  One is a short-term problem that can be overcome and even changed with effort and insight.  The other is long-term and immovable.  I really think not stating this concretely and earlier in the book is the book’s biggest weakness.

Sunk Costs

Godin presents a Harvard Medical Degree as an example of sunk-cost.  Someone who is studying medicine but cannot stand to cut someone open is probably not going to make a great surgeon.

I actually think he could have emphasized this even more.  I’ve been thinking about sunk-costs since reading a post about the sunk-cost fallacy on the blog Get Rich Slowly.  It’s surprising how much it motivates our decision-making.  The problem with it, though, is that it can lead to “throwing good money after bad” instead of knowing when to quit.

How many IT managers have been afraid to shut down a project because some executive wanted it?  How many executives have been afraid to stop a bleeding project because they perceived that was what the customer wanted (when in fact it might not be what they need at all)?

Before You Quit and Before You Start

Perhaps the most practical sections of the book are “Three Questions to Ask Before Quitting” and the one immediately following called “Quitting Before You Start”.

The 3 questions:

  1. Am I panicking? — don’t decide things when panicked
  2. Who am I trying to influence? — markets vs individuals
  3. What sort of measurable progress am I making? — sticking with a situation in spite of forward progress is a waste

He then spends some time on tactics vs strategy.  Quitting a job is not giving up on making a living, for example.  A job is a tactic.  It gets you to where you want to go.  If it doesn’t, then it is time to quit.  Again, I have to believe the difference is short-term vs long-term here.

To me, though, the most valuable part of the book is to write down the circumstances in which you will quit.  This really seems to differentiate the dips from the cul-de-sacs.  An athlete isn’t going to quit because of a bruised knee.  A congenital heart condition might be a good reason to quit, though.

This points out why I say it is more of a philosophical book than a practical book.  The specifics are going to depend upon you or your team as well as your environment.  In the end, it seems to me only you can truly distinguish the cul-de-sac from the dip.  In addition, there are sections of the book that speak of creating your own dips.  In theory, then, even a cul-de-sac might really be a dip in a different market.  Thus, if you can create your own market, you have a distinct advantage.  It just isn’t cut and dried.

In project management, a team really needs to decide upfront what constitutes a failed project and how to pull the plug on it before more money goes down the toilet.

Wrapping It Up

It seems appropriate that there isn’t a neat bow to tidy things up at the end of the book.  Rather, it ends with a lot of questions.  These questions should guide you to further thinking on the subject.  I’ll let you read the book and answer them yourself.

Posted in Book Review, PM Basics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

IT: “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Marketing!”

Posted by iammarchhare on 10 April 2009

What are your more overlooked soft skills?

On 5 April, Seth Godin blogged in “The power of a tiny picture (how to improve your social network brand)“:

In the social group I run, part of my job is to pick the featured members. As a result, I spend a lot of time looking at little pictures. Here’s one person’s take on the things you can do to avoid wrecking that first impression:

…4. If you are wearing a hat, you better have both a good reason and a good hat.

Well, if you’ve looked at my profile, you can imagine how that got my attention!  What can I say, Seth?  I don’t have a good hat, I have several!  Well, I was up late anyhow, and a little punch-drunk, so we ended up with a short tongue-in-cheek email exchange.  To be honest, I really didn’t expect him to answer me.  He probably gets a lot of email, and he probably gets a lot of cranky email.  I hoped I wasn’t coming across as cranky (it’s hard to tell at 2 am).  Thankfully, he replied with an amusing email, so all is well in bloggerland.

You might be wondering why I reference a marketing blog so often.  Granted, Seth Godin has a “good” marketing blog (IMNSHO), but it is still “marketing”.  In many IT circles, “Marketing” is treated like the enemy.   HR?  Fine.  Customer support.  Great!  Payroll.  Even better!  But, Marketing?  About the only department that gets worse press than Marketing might be Sales, if you work somewhere large enough to warrant separate departments.

Let’s strip away the animosity, OK?  Sales people go out to sell a product.  If those products do not sell, then money stops coming in.  The money stops coming in, people get let go, contractors and full time alike.  However, sales people cannot sell something unless there is a perceived need.  That’s where marketing comes in.  They use various techniques to convince the potential customer they need a product.  Sales and marketing are pretty much 2 sides to the same coin (IMO, of course).

“OK, John,” I imagine you saying right now, “they are a necessary evil.”  Really?  Are you a “manager” (yes, project managers are managers)?  Then, go look in the mirror!  Say out loud, “My position is a necessary evil.”

Have you ever had to do any of these?

  1. “Sell” an idea to a customer or a project team.
  2. “Negotiate” scope on a project?
  3. “Entice” a potential user or customer that they need a specific solution?
  4. “Sell” a project to an executive board, change board or even to your own boss?
  5. “Present”, i.e., put on a dog and pony show, in order to inform and rally  company directors and managers to get behind an idea?
  6. “Negotiate” with a vendor over price, length of service or warranty?
  7. “Incent” a project team to desire a particular result?
  8. “Provide a vision” to a project team of how grand everything will be once the project is complete and the sponsor is happy.

I really could keep going, but I think you get the point.  You are a marketer and sales person both if you are a manager.

I’m not done yet!  We are all marketers these days, even if we are not managers!  We can no longer depend upon 20 years service and a gold watch at the end!  We are all contractors, even if we are working full time for a company.  We need to sharpen our skills to market ourselves for if/when we are faced with losing our current job.

Do you have an online resume?  That’s marketing.  Do you have a LinkedIn account (and if not, why not?)?  That’s “networking”, which is really another form of marketing.  Do you have a blog or website?  Marketing.  Do you really think potential (and sometimes current!) employers don’t check these things?  In short, you are marketing your most important product — You!

OK, this more or less wraps up a lot of what I wanted to say about soft skills.  Never forget that they are your most important skills.  I’m sure in the economic environment we are in, the need will arise to post more about them, but this is an IT blog, after all.

If you are in IT leadership, no doubt you can read a book or peruse a blog and become a technical expert in short order, but learning and improving soft skills are a little different.  What may work in one instance might not work in another.  Keep them sharp and honed, though, and you’ll be better able to handle the crisis situations as they occur.

I believe the saying is true that it is easier to learn the needed technical skills.  If someone doesn’t have interpersonal skills and cannot be a team player, then projects will suffer regardless.  In a similar vein, if IT leadership (or any business leadership for that matter) cannot sell their vision and their ideas, the staff will be going in conflicting directions.  Individuals must be team players, but leaders must be team builders.

Posted in PM Basics, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Don’t Try to Get a Job

Posted by iammarchhare on 2 April 2009

I got a pointer that Seth Godin was guest posting on another blog, so it was with considerable interest that I read his post on the What Would Day Say blog.  He argues don’t try to get a job.

There are a few philosophical reasons, of course, but one that really hits home is that the opportunity costs are the lowest they will ever be.

You know, it’s funny because just yesterday before reading it, I was talking to someone who started their own business.  He said he started when the economy wasn’t so hot either, although it certainly wasn’t at bad as it is now.  What he found is that you start out stronger because you have solid coworkers and solid clients.  If he had started prior to the Dot Com Bubble, then he easily could have been one of those who had the carpet yanked out from under them.

IT project managers are usually an independent lot anyhow.  We’ve had to endure higher executives who didn’t understand what we did or what value we added.  We’ve had to run against the stream occasionally when a team went dysfunctional and developed the herd mentality while running full speed towards the cliff.  We’ve been unpopular when we said, “You can have it quickly, or you can have it work.  Which do you want?”  Let’s face it: You cannot be a successful PM and be a pushover.

Many PMs are contractors already, I’ve noticed.  It probably has a lot to do with layoffs, either to Dot Com-type situations, outsourcing or just plain businesses going belly-up.  Perhaps it is easier to hang up a contractor shingle than deal with the full-time routine.

Someone not long ago stated something very wise, I thought.  “No job is stable.  We are employed at the whim of our employer, and they can let us go at any time for any reason.  Let’s face it, we are all contractors.  The days of doing 20 years somewhere and getting a gold watch is long gone.”

Posted in Economy, Employment | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »