Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Book Review: Here Comes Everybody

“Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies–it happens when society adopts new behaviors.” Clay Shirky, author of the book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, provides an eye-opening look at how technology is changing the way we think, work and live. The book helped me understand more clearly how the Internet has changed the way we interact and get information. Here are several ideas I found incredibly insightful:

  • “The tools that a society uses to create and maintain itself are as central to human life as a hive is to bee life.”
  • “The basic capabilities of tools like Flickr reverse the old order of group activity, transforming ‘gather, then share’ to ‘share, then gather.'”
  • The Internet is allowing amazing things to happen: “Large decreases in transaction costs create activities that can’t be taken on by businesses, or indeed by any institution, because no matter how cheap it becomes to perform a particular activity, there isn’t enough payoff to support the cost incurred by being an institution in the first place.”
  • “The Web didn’t introduce a new competitor into the old ecosystem, the Web created a new ecosystem.”
  • “In the same way you do not have to be a professional driver to drive, you no longer have to be a professional publisher to publish. Mass amateurization is a result of the radical spread of expressive capabilities, and the most obvious precedent is the one that gave birth to the modern world: the spread of the printing press five centuries ago.”
  • Regarding Wikipedia: “If even only a few people care about a wiki, it becomes harder to harm it than to heal it.”
  • On forming groups: “The net effect is that it’s easier to like people who are odd in the same ways you are odd, but it’s harder to find them.”
  • “The most profound effects of social tools lag their invention by years, because it isn’t until they have a critical mass of adopters, adopters who take these tools for granted, that their real effects begin to appear.”
  • “What is likely to happen to society as a whole with the spread of ridiculously easy group-forming? The most obvious change is that we are going to get more groups, many more groups, than have ever existed before.”
  • “The dramatic improvement in our social tools, by contrast, means that our control over those tools is much more like steering a kayak. We are being pushed rapidly down a route largely determined by the technological environment.”
  • “Anything that raises the cost of doing something reduces what gets done.”

Changes are happening at a breakneck pace; we can either embrace them and use them to our advantage, or ignore them to our peril. If you want to gain a much deeper understanding about how society adopts new behaviors, Here Comes Everybody is a must-read.

The Product Management Perspective: What can you say when your boss walks in and throws a new book on your desk? My answer was something like “sure, I’ll read it when I have some time.” And soon after I started, I found the time. Shirky’s book is an excellent read for product managers. He challenges assumptions such as how you make money on products: “If a large enough population of users is trying things, then the happy accidents have a much higher chance of being discovered.” He causes you to dig a lot deeper to find answers to your perplexing product problems: “In business, the investment cost of producing anything can create a bias toward accepting the substandard.” He tells us (something we already know of course) about our product: “it must be designed to fit the job being done, and it must help people do something they actually want to do.”

This last quote sums up nicely the role of product manager: “Because of transaction costs, organizations cannot afford to hire employees who only make one important contribution–they need to hire people who have good ideas day after day.” That’s our job…good ideas day after day.

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Social media summit

This past week I had the pleasure of attending a social media summit. This half-day event included three speakers: Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation and Julien Smith and Chris Brogan, co-authors of Trust Agents. The presentations were excellent. I had the privilege of spending a few minutes talking with Chris; he was an absolute gentleman. Though the talks were fast and furious, I wrote as fast as I could on Twitter and wanted to share some of my thoughts with you:

From Chris’ talk:

  • @chrisbrogan giving a new presentation: mindset (babymind), business, currencies, trust
  • People who grew up on the “will click anything” web are poised for success – they’re not afraid of breaking things
  • most of us are in relationship businesses but we don’t know it
  • @chrisbrogan “community is my favorite business tool”
  • tell stories, use human interaction to get your message out
  • “stories sell things in a way your stupid copyright never will”
  • @chrisbrogan promotes others twelve times more than he promotes himself; when he needs help from others it comes immediately
  • blogging is @chrisbrogan ‘s way of letting people get into his head
  • One of the biggest mistakes we make on the web is we forget to ask about the ‘other person’
  • from @chrisbrogan “small, private communities are where some really cool things are going to happen in the next few years”
  • The real opportunity is to switch from “recipes” to “restaurants” – take the info you’re learning and put it to work to gain
  • 3 things to pay attention to: 1) mobile (not just a “Foursquare” checkin)
  • 3 things to pay attention to: 2) private networks/communities (cermo, others) – not Farmville
  • 3 things to pay attention to: 3) Social CRM – a real opportunity to get closer to both the dollar and the customer
  • a question to ask yourself: “how can I be helpful faster” @chrisbrogan
From Julien’s talk:
  • Quotes from @julien “The channel is forever” “controlling you future means controlling the channel”
  • “Build a network *before* you need it” “A network doesn’t just help you with jobs, it makes you happy”
  • Networks dissipate over time; you need to be consistently working to improve them over time
  • “Building a tribe is critical” you need to offer people a place where people gather and care – @julien
  • “pattern breaking” every time you create an emotional response people remember you
  • the Internet is the best (only?) place where you can convert social capital to monetary capital … @julien
  • @julien recommends the book Connected – http://amzn.to/aFCKU7
  • More from @julien: “be the lead goose” if you become the lead goose, everyone will follow you; you will help your network #leadership
Unfortunately I didn’t start taking notes during Mitch’s talk (he went first).

My #1 takeaway from the conference was this: the more you give to others and look out for their best interests, the more you’ll get back in return.

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Real-world examples of customer service

customer-serviceWorking as a product manager has at least one interesting side effect: you become keenly aware of customer service in nearly every aspect of your day-to-day activities. At the end of the day, happy customers spread the word about your products and services and you get more happy customers. So when you go into a store you can’t help but gauge the level of customer support you receive. It’s a blessing and a curse.

Last month my family had an experience that tested the level of customer service at several companies. More than six months ago we booked a trip to Orlando to have a long overdue family vacation. We had the flights, the hotels (yes, plural…I’ll come back to that) and six days of fun planned at Universal Studios and several other theme parks. The winter had drawn on and the weather in Orlando was looking great. Then, four days before we were going to leave, my son — who was at his first baseball practice of the season — was struck on the bridge of his nose with a baseball. A few hours and an X-ray later we learned that he had broken his nose in three places. The prognosis: surgery on Friday, the day before we were to fly to Orlando.

Without holding too much expectation for positive results, I started calling the different companies through whom we had booked our trip. The first was the company who months earlier had called us and convinced us to take a “fully paid” 4-day, 3-night vacation in Orlando — Hilton Grand Vacations. After having already paid around a $100 to get a room big enough to hold my family, they wanted to stick me with a cancellation fee. After talking to people at several different levels they finally agreed to only charge me $20 to cancel. “But,” they said (with a smile I’m sure), “when you’re ready to rebook, just call us and we will get you back into the [third-tier] hotel and we will reschedule your appointment to sit through our painful presentation on why you should spend a lot of money and buy into our resort” (my emphasis added).

Next I called the Marriott hotel. We had booked four nights with them and by the time I called them we were about two hours past the “no cancellation” deadline. When I explained the situation to the customer service agent, she immediately called another person who, without any questions beyond what was necessary to understand our situation, immediately approved the full refund of our points with no obligation to rebook with them. Two days later, all the points were back on my account.

I then called Delta Airlines to cancel our flights. I spoke to a guy who said that if we could get a letter from our son’s doctor stating that he cannot fly because of his injury, they would refund our tickets. What surprised me even more was that they agreed to refund money when I had paid for the tickets with miles. He told me it would take about a month. I called them two weeks ago to see how things were progressing and found out the first guy I talked with had not sent request through to the refund department. The lady I spoke with was very kind and told me to fax the ticket numbers and a copy of the email I received confirming the refund and they would take care of it. About a week later I received an email from another customer care agent saying he regretted to inform me that Delta would not send me a refund as refunds for the type of tickets I had purchased are only offered in the case of “death or imminent death of an immediate family member.” However, for this one time, he said, Delta will give us a credit towards another flight. I called today and confirmed I can rebook an equal or lesser fare at no charge. Not bad.

Finally, when my wife called Universal Studios to tell them about our change in plans, they were very accommodating. They asked her if we were planning to come later in the year; when she told them that was the plan they said we could use the tickets later with no fees. They reimbursed us for all the date-specific upgrades we had purchased. They have simply made me a happy customer.

When I called today to rebook our trip, which hotel do you think I called? You guessed right: Marriott. The service agent took extra steps to make sure I was able to get the room I wanted. It was so easy! Seven nights at the Marriott; no third-rate Hilton and definitely no painful presentation.

My experiences with these companies highlight the importance of having solid customer service. They illustrate the significance of showing leadership in improving customer service. I have highlighted specific examples of how companies treat their customers — for the whole world to read no less! And I’ve seen many other bloggers do the same.

In today’s social media driven world, it’s more important than ever to treat your customers well and provide excellent service. If you do not, a negative message will get circulated and it will hurt your business.

So no matter whether your customers are looking for four star hotels in Niagara Falls or a resort in Orlando, the experiences people have with the brand through various touch points such as advertising and most importantly the people working for the brand effects the perception and emotional feeling of your customers.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers have many customers, both internal and external. You can’t please them all; however, if you will be diligent in communicating openly and honestly with them you will find they trust you, and even though you may not put that key feature they need in the next version of your product, they will stick with you. It’s one of those intangibles in the business world that’s difficult to describe but easy to see. The more you genuinely strive to serve your customers, the more they will buy from you.

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The future of social media

When I hear the words “social media” I think of sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. Each has gained notoriety that comes with a huge following.

My view of the future of social media was changed yesterday afternoon. I am at the Von.x conference in San Jose this week and attended a panel discussion about the future of social media. With Jeff Pulver, founder of Von.x as the moderator, the panel discussed their views of where social media is headed. The panel members included Robert Scoble, one of the foremost bloggers who is now running FastCompany.tv. He recorded the entire panel discussion on his video phone and streamed it live to qik.com.

The part that fascinated me the most about the discussion was watching them record live video that was streaming live to a blog, and they were receiving live chat / feedback during the presentation. They talked about showing things their kids were doing live to family all around the country. Seeing them record video, and get feedback, all in real-time was impressive. You can watch the panel discussion from Scoble’s perspective to get a feel for what I’m talking about.

In some ways the new social media scares me (I know people put bad things online every day that I don’t want my kids to see). However, these changes are happening whether we like it or not, so my take is we embrace them and use them to do great (responsible, upright, productive, etc.) things.

What trends do you see in social media?