Get it done...even if it ain't perfect

Summary: Optimization can be the enemy of getting things done.

Is optimization an enemy of getting things done? We have countless things that we want to do & sincerely believe that we are not procrastinating....but we want to combine that work with some other work (but we never get to do the combined thing because something else crept up).

For instance, I will open a stock account & start investing after I have researched the market & understood it well. But, I don't have time to go through the learning curve (& I am not smart enough to hire a financial advisor), so nothing gets done. While that does not mean that I should jump headfirst into investing without any research, but the result is status quo.

On the contrary, if I opened an account & maybe invested a minimal amount...ahh.. Now I am going to read up, learn, research etc. because now I am invested (as in committed). So, for now...I am having a productive day with just a very simple plan of writing stuff down with very basic priorities & doing whatever I can get done...It may be slow, time consuming & sometimes wasteful / expensive....but its getting done.


Its the people, stupid!

How many times have you encountered this?
"Yes, I know what you are saying, but I can't do that. I am not sure who should, but that is not my job."

I recently had this experience & was thinking about it. Here is my 2 cents worth for someone making a statement like this...
1. I (probably) understand what you are asking for, but I really do not care to get involved in it.
2. I work for an organization that does not care either or has failed to communicate / empower / train how an exception should be handled.
3. I am pretty happy with where I am in my career & have no interest in going anywhere (Or I am dating the CEO's relative, & this working hard / smart crap is not for me).

Notice how all the three start with "I".

It does not matter if it is a two person company or a Fortune 50, in the end, everything in a service or experience can boil down to the person you are interacting with.

Hire smart, train wisely, empower empathetically.

Its the people, stupid!

Beyond good enough...

My apologies for the silence. I was in the "get busy living" mode.

Anyway, my last two posts on this subject tried looking at the two sides of the fence. From an old school marketing perspective, one can say that good enough products are intended for the lower end of the customer segment in the western as well as emerging markets.

However, with that definition it is hard to visualize where does cheap chic fit in? Are the people shopping at IKEA just the lower / middle income groups? What about at Costco / Target / Kohls? Is an average Apple customer a very affluent person?

The point is that customer segments specifically from a price point are blurring, & that is diminishing the saleability of mediocre products. The sales number may not indicate that, but in the mind of the consumer, some of today's market leaders are loosing a battle.

McDonald's decision to eliminate trans fatty acids, Microsoft's change in life cycle policy to support XP till 2014 & shopping experience between Target & Walmart are all indicative of a more aware & assertive consumer. what does a business do? How do we get out of the mediocrity & into a segment where our business / product / services are beyond "good enough"?

I am not a marketing / strategy guru & some of this may sound fairly cliched, but it is surprising how few organizations have internalized it. Here is my "Do or Die" list...

1. "Design Or Die" for the user
Not for the press, not for the marketing guys, not for anyone else but for your user. Products, Services or whatever in between you have...make sure that "it just works" for the user, otherwise do us all & the environment a great favor & go out of business.

2. Differentiate Or Die
Read about the DHL layoffs...In a UPS / FEDEX world, I never did figure out what was DHL's unique selling proposition. They may be a little cheaper, but price is rarely a strategic differentiator. So, unless your cow is purple, "yer business is a knockin the pearly gates anytime".

3. Innovate Or Die
So you are in an economy that is not doing well & not sure what to do. Well, figure out a way to offer cheaper day care, help someone improve or enrich what they are trying to do...Innovate a service or a product to ride the price sensitive wave. For a while, price may be a pretty good tactical advantage. ;-). Unless you want a Chinese manufacturer to eat your lunch, Innovate, Patent, Sell & Repeat.

4. Passionate Or Die
In the "Only the paranoid survive" spirit, I think we all need to realize how easily replaceable our products & services have become. The truth is that more than ever, we all need to be passionate about what we do, & offer a zest & zeal that is not easily replicable, or be ready to get Outsourced.

I will end my thoughts here for now. Most of this is really what I have understood from reading Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, the Heath brothers & a lot of other thought provoking authors.


The contrarian Viewpoint...."Why Good enough is not.."

Trying to play devil's advocate here....

The companies I cite such as MSFT are doing incredibly well for their size. They have billion dollar blockbuster products such as Sharepoint.

The emerging markets such as China, India, Russia & Latin America probably represent a huge market where good enough products / services with affordable prices should really do well.

So, if the Wal Mart model of optimizing efficiencies, cutting costs & selling stuff still looks promising, then where exactly is the "good enough" segment shrinking?

Also, if you consider the "flying geese" model of Macroeconomics, we will never run short of markets for good enough products.

By the time, these emerging markets become picky about products & services, Africa will be developing as the next "emerging market".

So...Why is good enough not good enough? More thoughts in my next post.


Why good enough is not good enough?

So what is common between Microsoft & American Automobile manufacturers? Both of them command a significant percentage of market share but seem to be loosing ground in the minds of consumer (just my opinion...numbers could probably tell a whole different story).

The common factor is mediocrity. The overall experience of ownership or usage of these consumer products is mediocre or good enough. It's not the best, not the worst, just good enough. Office works pretty well for some, not so well for others, but it works somewhat. The same logic applies to the Taurus's of the world.

These products may not be the tops in efficiency or style or experience or usability, but they are all good enough. Well apparently, good enough is not good enough & the middle segment is shrinking. Why??

1. Technology - It turns out that a few years ago, you had to be a Linux guy to use it, but today with an "easy to install & use experience", Ubuntu is a compelling alternative to Windows (same for Open Office).

These type of products are creating a migration from the middle segment to the bottom layers (especially true for developing countries / price sensitive segments). On the other hand, Toyota Prius is creating a migration to the upper segment with superior technology (Yep, 20K + for a compact car)

2. Design - Is expanding the top & the bottom segments by making the products more appealing, usable & hip. No longer is design expensive (IKEA, Target, Toyota Scion) & thus a mediocre product or service experience is just not selling very well. No points for guessing Apple, but others include Volkswagen & Nissan.

3. Innovation - is another reason why the middle segment is shrinking. Products & services better suited for our needs command a premium way over the good enough category (Yep...$90 for a Braun Toothbrush..who would have guessed?). This limits the economic incentive to be in the mediocre products category (unless of course, you have very high exit barriers).

4. Too much crap - Straight out of the Dan Pinkerton world, Asia, Automation & Abundance have made some of us rethink about what do we need (& how much of it). Although, this mindset of not buying too much crap is expanding organically, but it is a segment which seems highly averse to buying mediocre products.

5. Changing Lifestyle - As the migration to cities gathers steam, we will have smaller spaces to ourselves, & thus would want less stuff (in which case, mediocre products are probably out). Same applies for multi tasking...Blackberry is a great example of this.

I am sure this list can go on & on with internet, wisdom of the crowds, better access to reviews & ownership experience etc., but the point is....

Good enough is not good enough.

In the next post, my thoughts on what can we do to get out of the "Good Enough" category.


Cool & Useful (Product Heuristics)

What do you do if your product or service is not loved by customers? What determines that the stuff you buy actually gets used? Where is the line between shelfware & wonderware (okay, I made this term up, but you get the idea).

Here is another one of the heuristics / rule of thumb (okay, rule of thumb & a finger) that came out of one of the rants on what can we make that folks would love.

Hope this makes sense.


The New Opportunities

After reading the businessweek's innovation section, Seth Godin, John Thackara, Paul Polak, Prahalad / Hamel & Porter, and after attending some really thought provoking conferences in the last few weeks, I wanted to clear my head & summarize all these thoughts.

After all, what should a business do about sustainability, design, innovation & such. How should their products, services or platforms map to these lines of thinking? Can we describe this in a way where it may make sense in a few minutes.

Here is my attempt with a thousand words...

In a perfect world, future wealth creation attempts will have to be firmly entrenched in all of these four quadrants to attain any kind of viable & long term competitive advantage.

However, since we live in an imperfect world, the economic inefficiencies of the market & other external factors will contain how far this competitive advantage / threat will go (& 'business as usual' will work just fine for some of us).

Disclaimer: As a high level diagram, this is intended to merely foster thoughts. It is not attempting to "be all, end all" (for that you may want to read some of the fine authors mentioned earlier).