Sunday, June 29, 2008

Received Wisdom - how the memory works

A recent article in the New York Times summarized how we now know that memory works and why there are so many incorrect pre-conceptions in peoples' minds. Apparently, when we hear a fact, whether it is of the type that "the earth revolves around the sun," or "Barack Obama is not a Muslim," we put the concept, without distinguishing between "not" and "is"or whether it is false or true in a compartment of the brain, and use knowledge of context to qualify it. Over time, it is transeferrd in pieces to another part of the brian, but context can become separated. So some people become convinced that the sun revolves around the earth,

This means that whatever we do, misconceptions will arise. Furthermore, it will be very difficult to correct those misconceptions. So to tell someone who believes that Barack Obama is a Muslim, that he is, in fact, not, becomes an uphill battle. The same applies to misconceptions about products and services.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Ever since the creation of PowerPoint, we see that documents and presentations continue to get longer. It is so easy to create a visually attractive presentation, but reduce the number of coherent words. The discipline of writing down your thoughts in a sequence of sentences is becoming rarer. Where would we be if Shakespeare had used PowerPoint, or Ernest Hemingway? Yet, were they poor communicators? Probably not. So while PowerPoint is a powerful tool, it can be used as crutch to attempt to disguise the weakness of the thinking. We need to avoid this or we will see a deterioration in communications rather than an improvement.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Do kids know what their fathers do?

The other day I got involved in a conversation with my daughter, who has just graduated from high school about what her friends' parents do. I was interested when she told me that most of her friends have no idea what they do. Having grown up very close to what my father did, and having had my kids in to my offices on numerous occasions, I was surprised. Her response was that as long as the money kept on coming in, what they did was not very important. I wonder what effect this will have on the kids' own career choices. I see that kids in the US and other Western countries are reluctant to take on tough academic challenges, and I wonder if this is because earning money is not associated with hard work.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Today I drove past Glendinning Place

In 1959 Ralph Glendinning, an ex-P&G marketer founded Glendinning Associates in Westport, CT. By the late 1960s the company had re-created sales promotion with its scratch off gas company promotions and invented Marketing Consulting. It spawned many spin-off companies, and many imitators. It grew strong and powerful as a consulting firm. It had offices in several countries and a reputation as a repository of some of the smartest brains in business. One of its spin-offs, Marketing Corporation of America waxed strong as Glendinning waned. During the 1980s it dominated marketing advice to many Fortune 1000 corporations. Yet, it too faded into the past, although alumni of both can be found in many places.

So too do businesses grow and fade unless they are very careful and disciplined. These two companies, made up of many very smart people did not survive.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In defence of self-doubt

People who have no self-doubt have the makings of dictators, religious zealots, and persecutors. On the other hand, a measure of self-doubt allows people to learn, to adapt and change. Hamlet is seen as weak because of his indecision, but the intelligent person does consider all options. Self-doubt is a powerful tool to enable growth and progress.

Monday, June 16, 2008

New York & Company - why so far ahead of other cities?

The city of New York is prospering in terms of visitors and even jobs. It is also one of the very few cities in the US which has a unified marketing arm. Since this was established over a year ago, it has continued to demonstrate that it works. Yet other cities such as Los Angeles or Houston continue to put internal politics ahead of the city's success.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Businesses rarely re-invent the market, even though this is the best way to prosper

Companies are prisoners of received wisdom. It is very difficult for them to have an open enough structure and mind to really look at any business in a different way. It took Starbucks and Peets to reinvent how consumers drink coffee, not Folgers or Maxwell House. Apple reinvented the way consumers listen to music, not Sony. Companies have to be able to let go of pre-conceptions, and few can.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Perspective on changes in society - from Organization man to Plural marriage

In 1960, middle class life was ostensibly cheerful, energetic, and while men strove to succeed at work, their wives took care of home and children. As the 60s moved on, young people questioned everything, from segregation to sexual repression, from the Vietnam war to opportunities at work. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, Kinsey to Hugh Hefner, all influenced society - not just in the US. As society has slowly liberalized in some ways, in others it continues to be conservative, not always consistently. The death penalty continues to be applied in the US, along with passionate devotion to freedom speech, but less to other civil liberties, yet with same-sex marriage clearly on its way. In all probability this consistency will continue, with some issues changing and others not. In the next 25 years we will look back and be amazed at how important conservation has become, how routine universal health care is, and how common plural marriage, whether polygamy or polyandry has become!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Shopping cart distribution in parking lots prove the law of the commons

Every time I go to the store, I see shopping carts spread around, many only a few steps from a cart return. Are people that lazy? That inconsiderate? Sadly, the law of the commons has struck again. When everyone shares the responsibility of ownership, no-one does. This means that no-one feels responsible for the carts even though they can roll and damage cars, and that employees of the store are put to extra trouble rounding up stray carts. It seems that the only way to make people feel responsible is to give them some individuals "ownership."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Do not ascribe to malice that which can be explained by ignorance

When people have to work together or socialize together, we increasingly rely on email. This allows for more errors to be made in any kind of interpersonal relationship. Sadly, we make mistakes. All too often others interpret this as motivated by malice, when in most cases it is out of ignorance or thoughtlessness. This is a loss to all. So when you think you have been insulted, imagine how this could have been simply a clumsy communication. If you do this, it is certain that you will discover many improved or more effective relationships.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Tax the Rich even more, say the majority!

According to an FT/Harris poll well over 60% of Americans believe that the rich should be taxed more. This is actually higher than the proportion of Chinese, Italians, Britons or French. It suggests that US business has failed to convince the majority of the electorate that top executives really justify their compensation. This is an attitude which eventually politicians will take into account.

It is an absolute need that executives share their achievements as openly as they are increasingly having to share compensation packages. Yet, this is something which business has not yet absorbed, in particular such industries as health-care and private equity.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Today the funeral of Yves St. Laurent was attended by the President of France

I suspect that it is unlikely that a President of the United States would attend the funeral of a fashion designer whom he did not personally know. Yet, in France it seems unremarkable. Perhaps this is yet another difference which illustrates that countries do think differently about the priorities of life.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Do politics have much in common with business?

In some countries people move seamlessly between government, politics and business. This happens less in the US or other English speaking countries than in many others. The fact is that it rarely works as well as expected. In any sphere of influence there is learning and outsiders rarely appreciate it. Anyone's job looks easy to someone who has no idea how to do it.

It is nevertheless interesting that Carly Fiorina is playing such an active and visible position in John McCain's election bid. I suspect that it takes someone without much self-doubt or introspection to think that they can move seamlessly from business to politics.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The RFP process rarely ends up with the best product or service

So many companies think that it is more professional or scientific to use an RFP process. This is only true when dealing with commodities or quantifiably similar products. Yet, in many cases the products or services being compared are not identical, and if variable, an RFP process will discourage a potential supplier from quoting for the best and possibly most expensive product. So an RFP process encourages the success of undistinguished products. How do you compare two products which have very different features. It is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges.

Why does Global Brand Harmonization make sense?

I can plead guilty to participating in global brand harmonization as long ago as 1972 with Crest toothpaste in the UK, and leading it with Uncle Ben's rice in 1980. Since then, I have carried it out many times for many companies, and it has always resulted in improved results. Brand Harmonization does not mean making brands and products identical in all countries, but it does mean developing a common "meta-meaning," which allows for greater efficiency and greater effectiveness.

I have been surprised at how some well-regarded marketing companies do a poor job of this. I suspect that it is because few have a real global world-view. They neither have the information, nor the mindset, since few, if any, CEOs and CMOs are truly world citizens. I suspect that this will not change as perhaps to be a world citizen you have to largely abandon the idea of nationality, and that is very difficult to do.