Friday, September 30, 2005

25 ways to win with people: How to make other feel like a million bucks by John C Maxwell and Les Parrott, Ph.D.

25 ways to win with people: How to make other feel like a million bucks by John C Maxwell and Les Parrott, Ph.D. – Nelson Business, 184 p., ISBN 0-7853-6094-3 0785260943 Let’s just consider anchors on the title page. “25 ways to…” Many publishers believe that starting the title with a number helps. It feels like you get a choice and the topic is covered thoroughly – compare to “One Way to…”. It feels like something manageable – compare to “A Millions Ways to do…” It feels like something well defined and precise – compare to “Some Ways to…” “Win with People” is the key anchor for social status, power and influence. Actually, it’s a very nice anchor, wouldn’t you want to win with people? I would. In fact, it almost got me. The problem is that the anchor does not have to match the content. New York Time Best-Selling Author…” brings the social proof. "Ph.D." - nice touch. It's amazing how much we don't pay a sh*t about this stuff when facing a person, and how much we believe it when we see it in print. I can tell it from the first-hand experience - I have Ph.D., and that's why I don't mention it too often. Now about the content. Here is the quote from the beginning: “If you try to practice the “ways” of winning with people that you are about to learn in the following chapters before you give serious attention to how you can be a winner yourself, you’ll be sorely disappointed.” Here we are. Paraphrasing the authors, if you are not a winner already, why do you think this book will help you?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

To ship or not to ship?

Today, let’s consider an example of how two conflicting mind viruses may result in a thick emotional screen and an elaborate net of lies to ensure that they both survive. Imagine that you work on a new product. An ancient mind virus “I am what I do” – (Me, is, my product) – makes you to strive for good quality and design. Sounds like a fine idea, right? The problem is that it links your product to your identity. You cannot ship something inferior at the threat of feeling diminished, defective, unworthy of your place in the society. So, what’s the problem? Just do a superb job and be happy, right? Alas, it’s not always possible. You are allowed to have too few people, too small salary fund to hire the right people, too few resources to do the job, and too little time. In fact, from a business perspective it may make a lot of sense. But not from the perspective of your mind virus that forces you to strive for doing a better job. Now we have two mind viruses: (1) “Do a superb product” anchored in your personality and identity (pretty much a survival anchor) and carried in society on reciprocal basis starting from your parents telling you – no, not good grades yet – to eat your breakfast porridge until the plate is clean. (2) “Finish the product on time on budget” anchored in your job security, enforced by upper management and carried by the need to enforce the same imperative in the whole group. Now the time comes and the product is not ready. First, the deadline virus strikes, because there is no way you can really ship what you’ve got, and there is no way to fix it in time either. If this is a car, it still misses the wheels; if it is a software product, it has problems installing, not to mention doing something useful; if it is a plane, let’s not even go into it… But slipping the deadline is deadly, nobody wants that. So, you get the quality mind virus and talk to your boss, to your reports, and finally higher powers agree to move the deadline. After all, they have the same mind viruses and they have similar pressures that you do, if not from the upper management, then from their peers. Let’s see what happened. You slipped. You missed the deadline. Everybody knows that. Everybody does not speak about it. Everybody speaks about “the right decision”, “importance of good quality”, and “interests of a customer”. Mentioning that you slipped becomes socially improper behavior, like eating with hands or sneezing in public. Then the reality and market forces press and you have to ship something finally. You still don’t have the quality required by your personality mind virus. You cannot abandon the virus, so you have to convince yourself (and everybody around) that you are shipping something of a good quality; something that does not harm your identity; something that deserves your status in the society. At the same time, you have to ship the damn thing, no matter what its current condition is. If you don’t, there may be no company to work for and no product to ship whatsoever. Or, maybe, simply no job at the company where you work on the product. Now comes the time of the “quality” game. Suddenly, you don’t want zero defects, you just want zero defects that you know of. Actually, quite a reasonable idea except that you don’t want to know what you test team found. Then it becomes zero defects except those that you reviewed and decided that you can live with them. Guess what? You quickly find more and more defects that you are willing to live with. But, if you decide to fix something, that absolutely must be fixed! Your integrity would not stand for anything less. Of course, if another review will not reveal that you can live with it. And now the day comes. You are shipping the product. You are proud of its quality. After all, you fixed all the defects that “must” be fixed, right? And you are proud of delivering on time. Yeah, there were some reviews of schedule, it always happens, but you delivered right on the final schedule! Right? Of course, right. Two little mind viruses in your head would not settle for anything less. And neither would you. :-) The only little problem is that you did not ship on schedule and you left a lot of problems inside the product. Fortunately for you, everybody around (management, peers, your team) share the same mind viruses and wholeheartedly agree with you. They would not settle for anything less either! Well, almost everybody. Except those dissidents, that you got rid of in the process. Sounds familiar?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Presentation S.O.S.: From Perspiration to Persuasion in 9 Easy Steps by Mark Wiskup

Presentation S.O.S.: From Perspiration to Persuasion in 9 Easy Steps by Mark Wiskup – ISBN 0-446-69554-8, 181 p. The book is written by a renowned communications expert who speaks nationwide to many Fortune 500 companies. The main subject of the book is how to prepare and deliver powerful presentation that make people buy – speaking either figuratively or literally. What’s interesting is that his central piece of advice is a “Power Sound Bite”, a piece of reiterated information that glues the whole presentation together and represents the core idea you want people to remember and bring out of presentation. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (FDR), “I have a dream” (Martin Luther King, Jr.), “To be or not to be?” (William Shakespeare), “The tribe have spoken” are just few examples of Power Sound Bites. If you already read the draft of my book or followed the advice and checked one of the books in memetic bibliography, you already recognize PSBs as something very familiar – a meme. Even better, a meme with an anchor and carrier – a mind virus. Of course, he does not approach this from the memetic point of view, and hence the book has a few shortcomings. Here is an example of PSB, he believes is good:

When you support these goals for the direction of our marketing effort, you’ll be assuring a good, profitable year for the company, making your customers happy, and putting more money in your wallet.
Gees… What a bite of a corporate politically correct B.S. Marketing making customers happy? Although, I have to admit, it’s a lousy meme, but a good wrapper and delivery mechanism for a really strong meme expressed in the last five words: “more money in your wallet.” The rest of the message simply gets the guards off. People listen to the beginning of this sentence and immediately classify is at “managerese” mumbling leaving it to internal defenses to filter it out. But when it drop there, internal filters see “more money in your wallet”, and, wow! Your inner self gets interested. Let’s get a bit more formal, here is what this statement is in memetic notation:
(support me, is, extra money) (support me, is, happy customers) (support me, is, profitable year)
The long introductory part means simply “Support me”, because it does not carry any information about the “effort” or “goals” or “direction”. These terms are simply a bubble-talk to express simple “support me” directive. “Extra money in your wallet” = “More personal income” is the main anchor of the statement. The second two are auxiliary anchors in a case your audience has corporate profit or customer satisfaction metrics in the performance objectives.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Branding and positioning from the memetic point of view

As any marketing expert will tell you, in the XX century the dominant way to sell goods and services was based on branding and positioning. This is more questionable now, in XXI century, but we will talk about that separately. Just as a refresher, what is branding and positioning? Branding, in a nutshell, is linking a completely non-sensible logo or name to the category of a product or a service. Positioning is about positioning your own non-sensible logo or name relative to others in the same category, so that you still sell even if there is a lot of contenders. How does it all work memetically? By putting a meme into your mind. (Car rental, is, Hertz), (Soft drink, is, Coke), (Computer, is, IBM). Then once you need a car rental, soft drink or a computer you go to Hertz, Coca-Cola or IBM. Why? Let’s see how our brain make decisions. First, it gets a notion of what you need, like “Car”, “Week”. Then (Week, is, temporary) meme is applied and it gets “Car”, “Temporary”. Then (Temporary, use, rental) applies, so you get “Car, rental”. All this happens very fast, so you even don’t notice the process. In fact, you cannot notice the process, because it’s the same process as noticing something – that’s your thoughts. Then the branding meme strikes and you end up with “Hertz”. Simple enough, isn’t it? The idea of branding is to link a triggering need to the company, hence directing everybody who has this particular need to buy from a particular company rather than its competition. Introducing a meme that will make the link was the job of marketing. To the disappointment of marketing firms’ customers, this gave the initial result but then stopped working for most companies. (Computer, is, IBM) is fine, but what could you do if the customers are bombarded with competitive memes (Computer, is, Compaq), (Computer, is, Dell), (Computer, is, Hewlett-Packard), (Computer, is, Sony, Samsung, et al.) It was found that only the top two conflicting memes survive, the rest of them hit the dust with only marginal recognition. So, positioning become the king by trying to get a meme of a specific company in the top two slots, or invent a new category, where it can get into the top two slots. So, why do only the top two memes survive in branding and marketing? Let’s see again, how our mind works. First, we have a need. Then we use a meme with the needs on the right side with the left side of the same meme. (Car, week) -> (Car, temporary). Then we do that again with new matching memes, (Car, rental), and so on. Each time many memes match, but only the strongest is used. Once we get the solution, we may like it or not. Or we may just hit a dead end. In both cases, we rollback a step or two and apply the second strongest meme to get a different answer. If we hit a dead end or a solution that we don’t like, we go back again and try the third strongest meme or we may roll back a step or two more. Now, if you need a soft drink, how many times will you hit a dead end? Zero. And if you don’t like it, you get “the other cola” in an instance. When buying a commodity product, there is simply no way you can hit a dead end too many times. It’s not like you cannot go through the endless list of different “cola’s”; you can, but it would simply be a waste of time, and there is no reason why you would want that.