Insights from Nebo

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September 24, 2010

During Harvest Season, You Work The Fields

A generation ago, my family were farmers. Farming can be a hard life, and my grandfather is the definition of tough. Not in a Clint Eastwood way; there were no mean looks or quick quips, instead my grandfather had what I refer to as "grit". He had the backbone and quiet fortitude to stick it out in tough times. He'd wake up at 4:00 am, even when he didn't feel like it.

Stephen Pressfield, in the book "The War of Art," referred to this as being a professional. He said the difference between an amateur and a professional is that the professional does his job even when he doesn't feel like it. Artists, like farmers, know the key to success is pushing through the difficult times even when it's the last thing in the world you want to do.

When it feels like the world is on your shoulders and you're at the breaking point. Just remember to keep it in perspective. Don't let being "busy" stress you out. Stay calm, keep your head down and work through it. During harvest season, you work the fields until you're done.

September 21, 2010

The Anna Karenina Principle of Business

The Anna Karenina principle was popularized by Jared Diamond. It comes from a line in the book Anna Karenina.

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own unique way."

This principle states that evolutionary success doesn't occur because of some particular positive trait, it is instead the absence of any serious negative traits that leads a species to thrive. If you were to apply this idea to business, it means a deficiency in any one core element will doom a company to extinction. However, a successful company somehow avoids each and every one of these potential failures as it grows and thrives.

The bigger question then becomes, what are the core traits that lead to business failure? In the case of domesticated animals, these traits are easy to identify (dietary needs, captive breeding, disposition, panic tendency, and social structure).

I propose the following, sure to be incomplete, list of positive traits required for a sustainable business:

  • Ability To Identify A Competitive Niche
  • Flexibility In Adopting Internal & External Innovation
  • Capability To Repeatedly Identify & Recruit Talent At Market Value
  • Ability To Sustain Periods of Frugality
  • Commitment To Organizational Learning

So what do you think? Did I leave anything off the list?

September 14, 2010

You Are Not Your Target Audience

When creating a brand, design, or campaign strategy, it's crucial to step out of your own head and remember: you are not your target audience.

It's easy to think, well, this is how I use Facebook and Google; it must be the way other people do, too. It's easy to create an entire business model based off of your values, and not your customers'. It's easy to think that everyone will love the new logo, because you think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.

But your customers have different aspirations, circumstances, and passions than you do. They don't notice the inconsistencies in the Love's truck stop logo. They don't know what a Twitter hashtag is or have the slightest concept of link bait. When they think advertising, they think Mad Men.

Now, these examples may be quite specific to us at the office, but the point holds true across industries. Plain and simple, if you're working in a marketing department or on a marketing project, your target audience is rarely, if ever, you.

September 8, 2010

Why You Don't Have Netflix Friends Anymore

Once upon a time, Netflix users had friends. Users could see how their friends rated movies, read their reviews, and see compatibility scores between current and potential friends. But, right before the Labor Day weekend, Netflix finalized a several month transition away from providing these features.

Why?

Well, when you find yourself becoming "The Facebook for Movies" (or the Facebook for anything), it's time to reconsider. The Netflix advantage is product innovation -- things like Instant Watch. Everything else is nice, but also distracting.

Moral of the story? Just because something (e.g. social media) is great, doesn't mean it's for everybody. If it's not going to keep people from switching to the competition, it's superfluous.

August 31, 2010

"Task Cohesion" is More Important Than "Group Pride"

Want to motivate a group of people to do something amazing? You don't need a group cheer, and you don't need to fly a flag. The individual members of your team don't even have to like each other (although that makes it a hell of a lot more fun).

Things like group cheers, crazy hats and other "tribal" identifiers are great at building social cohesion among like-minded individuals, and can be powerful tools. However, social cohesion is not a great predictor of a successful outcome.

If you want to succeed in a difficult task, the most important step you can take is to get everyone committed to it. In the military this is called "Task Cohesion", and studies have shown it's the most important factor in determining whether or not a difficult mission gets completed.

So, how do you create task cohesion? It's not easy, but it's relatively simple. The key aspects are:

  • Define the task in realistic and concrete terms. Make it memorable and inspiring.
  • Create a sense of significance. Allow them to understand the "why" behind the mission.
  • Encourage communication from the bottom up and leverage heterogenous skill sets.
  • Emphasize "getting the job done" above all else.

This isn't ground breaking advice, and you've probably heard a lot of it before. But, it's worth remembering. Work is about accomplishing what you set out to do. If you're leading a project team, the best thing you can do is set a clear goal and get everyone's buy in. It's great to have fun along the way, but if the mission fails. It won't matter.