Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Missed Opportunity...

I remember the first time I really felt a sense of professional community – it was very early in my career when I was a sysadmin at a big engineering company here in Vancouver.  Being a sysadmin back then was a lonely job.  We were solitary creatures that lived amongst the wires in very cold rooms with nothing but the comfort of the steady green blink, blink, blink to assure us all was okay. The only connections we had came from usenet newsgroups like alt.sysadmin.recovery (look that one up :)) but these were tightly moderated by such impressive gurus that most of us didn’t dare post for fear of being  bashed with a LART (something else to look up)…so mostly, we just “lurked”.

Then a company called 3Com came along and changed everything.  They united us.  They brought us together at conferences so we could learn from each other, they created usergroups so we could connect with each other, they set up user generated newsletters so we could celebrate each other…and they did all of this without actually selling us anything… except a “concept”.  A concept that they knew was deeply important to us. This concept was called “interoperability”.  They took it as a personal mission to get ALL of our networking equipment working together seamlessly and harmoniously regardless of whose product it was… To us, this was quite a concept!

We came in droves from all over the globe to learn and share in the magic world they painted for us because to sysadmins, this concept created euphoria. The most interesting part of all of this was that we knew, REALLY knew, that their competitors’ products were just as good (if not better).  However, it was the “dream” we bought and we became loyal to them, and their products, to the core for years!

3Com as an organization has gone away but I still think about them every time I hear someone talk about building a community around a product.  Communities are not built around products; they are built around concepts, dreams and shared ideas or better yet…shared pain!

Why do I bring this up now? Well, the other night I was at a conference where a fabulous “concept” was discussed. A new organization was going to enable all mobile developers to write code once and have it seamlessly work across all carrier networks regardless of what product we were developing for, or which carrier our customers were on…this sounded very familiar and I was very excited!  All of the elements were there…a room full of people with a common goal, a shared pain for how things were and a shared dream of how things could be…but it fell short.

There were no introductions to help us get to know each other better. There was no discussion encouraged so we could share existing issues and points of pain. There was no “place” given to us to help us connect and learn together…just a sales pitch.  What a missed opportunity!

Sadly, this “concept” could be one of the most interesting advancements to hit the mobile development space since the “app store”.  But, I am afraid it is doomed because they missed the point.  You see, they need our help as a community to really get this going but, communities grow around shared concepts and dreams …not products.

Monday, January 18, 2010

In Business Today, Your Best Offence is a Strong Defense

I know, I know…you think because I am Canadian, everything comes down to hockey - but bear with me....

Something extraordinary happened at my 8 year old son’s recent hockey game. Winning this particular game was a sense of great pride for both his coach and his team. You see, the coach of the other team had trained my son’s coach and the kids all knew it. Well, one of our best forwards, and strongest overall players, suddenly volunteered to go back and play defense.  This young boy knew exactly where he could help the most, even though this meant he would probably not score any goals. I was amazed.

What my son’s coach had managed to do was teach these kids how valuable all positions on the team were to winning a game and that sometimes your best offence is a strong defense. I think this is doubly true in business today and a valuable lesson we leaders need to learn…Let me explain…

Imagine for a moment that your company is a hockey team; you are the coach, your forwards are sales, your defense is service and of course, the opposing team is your competition....I guess the goalies are PR/marketing but that is another blog…

Most business leaders (the coaches) that I have met, watched and worked with during my career, generally spend the majority of their time with the forwards (sales) - which makes sense since it’s the forwards that are making the goals and winning the game - right? Wrong.

In this age of hyper-connectivity and instant information, your defense (service) is contributing just as much as your forwards to winning the game in the long run. This is especially true when we look at the enormous influence of word-of-mouth.  There aren't any websites called "Great sales reps I have known" but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of sites called "Why this company's service sucks". But sadly, this is a lesson being missed by most coaches. In fact, defense isn't even in the change room when pep talk happens and game strategy is discussed!

Yes, there are some gifted forwards that can do a break-away, scoot up the ice all on their own, and score that first goal but in reality, these are few and far between. It is a strong defense that will keep the puck up at the other end of the ice so your forwards can consistently get you the second, third and fourth (which any board, VC or investor will tell you is much more valuable).

Coaching your defense along with your forwards will help the forwards learn what it takes to win the game rather than just score a goal. This style of coaching helps both lines learn to work with, not against, each other because this style of coaching builds a team.

BTW, we won the game.