Is technological complexity just covering up your other business problems?

Complexity has been a theme through many posts on {grow}, most typically connected with the word “STRESS!”

I had a fascinating discussion with one of my ex-professors about technological complexity and why it is often making business life more difficult, instead of easier. A fundamental idea we explored was that often, technological systems are implemented to try to make up for a loss of business experience.  Let’s see what you think.  Here’s an example, comparing two real companies I have worked with:

The case for experience

Company A is a mid-sized tech firm whose newest senior manager joined the company eight years ago. Most of the top executives have been in the same company, in the same market, for 20 years or more. Even during the recession, they have made it a priority to retain experienced managers.

Company A has a simple CRM system to keep their sales pipeline straight but for the most part rely on their cumulative industry experience and intimate customer knowledge to serve their market and respond quickly to opportunities. Do they rely on Twitter and social media monitoring to “listen” to their customers? No. They KNOW what’s happening because of their deep personal relationships.  Their customers typically pay more for their services and demonstrate incredible loyalty due to these long-term bonds.

Now let’s turn to Company B.  Over the past decade, this company has rapidly replaced people who fail in a job. So even an experienced “superstar” who goes into a new job and doesn’t knock the lights out right away is replaced by an outsider who has zero experience in the company and probably zero experience in the industry. Within a few years, only one out of their 12 most senior executives was “home-grown.”

Implications of tech versus experience

To make up for the rapid experience and knowledge drain, many of the new executives instituted their own management systems, often carrying over a familiar application from their previous company.  Workers at Company B are almost constantly learning a new “process.”  To make matters worse, if a rumor begins that an executive is on the way out, all progress comes to a halt because they know that the replacement manager is just going to change direction on technology again any way.

When Company B was faced with a contract negotiation with its largest customer, all of the managers who knew the customer and had been part of previous negotiations were gone.  So they hired a consultant to build a computer model that considered supply, demand, competitor capacity, pricing scenarios and every possible angle to produce a can’t miss negotiation strategy.  The result?  Company B lost the customer entirely, an event the computer model predicted could not possibly happen. The computer couldn’t account for trust and business relationships.

Now I know there are a LOT of managerial problems with the Company B scenario I’m presenting, and obviously some level of complexity is inherent in any business.  But the point is, too often we …

  • Rely on software to mask over deeper management problems.
  • Focus on data instead of information.
  • Take comfort in analytics instead of common sense.
  • Minimize the value of real business wisdom and (gasp!) intuition because we feel the latest tech hype must be infallible.

Most likely, relying on software in place of real business experience results in personal stress, bloated costs, wasted resources, and excessive complexity.

As you try to stay ahead of the mounting technological tsunami, perhaps it is time to pause and consider whether there is a true business case for that new app or if this is just an attempted quick fix to bigger problems.

What do you think? Does this idea about complexity make sense in your company and your life?

Why politics may drive the social web

While President Obama’s use of the social web to connect with voters and raise funds has been well-documented, it may be Scott Brown’s impossible 2010 senatorial win that cements the social web’s role in politics — and perhaps sets it at the forefront of social web innovation.

To set the stage, this was one of the most important state elections in American history.  Healthcare reform was the centerpiece of the Democratic platform and its success hinged on the simple fact that the party held 60 seats in the U.S. Senate, the majority needed to overcome procedural tactics from the opposition that could prevent a vote. That tenuous balance of power shifted when Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts died of cancer last August. The future of healthcare reform and the political makeup of the Senate apparently would be determined by a special election in that state.

This Massachusetts senatorial seat has had a Democratic incumbent for 57 consecutive years and Martha Coakley, the state’s well-funded attorney general, was considered a prohibitive favorite to continue that trend.  Yet the victory went to Brown, a little-known Republican state senator, who surged in the final two weeks of the campaign and overcame a 30-point deficit in just over two months.

What could have caused this amazing turn of events?  While his election was certainly aided by growing concern over Democratic policies, tireless campaigning, and some timely Republican funding, his use of the social web, as documented by a new study, may be the tactic that will imprint state and local elections forever.

According to  research conducted by the Emerging Media Research Council, Brown’s effective use of social networking tools including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. could have been a factor in his surge.  Here were his numbers as of election day:

Facebook Fans:  Brown (70,800), Coakley (13,529) He received 10 times more Facebook interactions than his opponent.

Twitter Followers:  Brown (9,679), Coakley (3,385)  Brown’s Twitter feed dominated his web page.  Both candidates tweeted about the same amount, but Brown offered twice as much original content, providing a more “engaged response.”

Ning:  The “Brown Brigade” had 6,000 members. The platform created a campaign community to announce events, organize outreach, and compile blogs about his campaign.

Blogging:  Did not appear to be a factor. Brown did not have one. Coakley’s discussed campaign events and received few comments.

YouTube Video Views:  Brown (578,271), Coakley (51,173)

While visits to both candidate webpages were about equal, the study concludes that Brown’s use of social media helped drive his election in several ways, including boosting name recognition both in Massachusetts, and out (which helped fundraising). They note that just 51% of Massachusetts voters had heard of Brown in a Nov. 12 poll, and by Jan. 14 his name recognition was at 95%.

An irony of this development is that Democrats have received the bulk of the credit for progressing campaign-oriented social media networks, but were out-done by the Republicans.  In fact, a report released this year found that Republican lawmakers were using Twitter more than five times as much as Democrats.  Leading tweeters are Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Senatoe Jim DeMint, who was determined by one algorithm to have more Twitter “clout and influence”  than any other senator.

Clearly, the use of social media will now be inexorably linked to political campaigning.  But the more interesting prospect may be what is yet to come. With the intense research, resources and scrutiny given to the use of the social web as a tool of stakeholder engagement, could political parties emerge as principle technology innovators?

Politics as social web innovator and driver brings up some other interesting questions:

  • How do social web lessons from the business world translate into the world of politics?
  • How will social media policies apply to political campaigns … to prevent potential embarassment from over-zealous tweeters, for example?
  • How will these lessons translate in other countries, especially where social media adoption is just beginning?
  • Why weren’t blogs more important as a mechanism for political response and establishing a voice of authority? Are they afraid of putting their stands in writing?
  • What business opportunities will emerge from this insatiable need for political social media consulting?
Illustration: New York Times

A podcast on blog community philosophy

I had the pleasure of being Trey Pennington’s guest on his Marketing Professor Radio Show last week.  I didn’t know where the conversation would lead but I spent nearly the whole time talking about YOU, meaning the {grow} community.  A few topics:

  • Blogging and leadership
  • The importance of kindness
  • Writing for yourself
  • How to be a conversation starter
  • Building true community

If you have a mild interest in the bizarre thought processes that go on behind the scenes of {grow} you might want to check it out:  http://bit.ly/ahchhk

Why comment on a blog? Do it for the money.

Well, I’ve written two recent posts on why people DON’T comment on blogs — one about re-defining engagement, and one with feedback on why people just don’t like to participate.

So today I thought I would write a post on why you NEED to comment.  But I’m not going to go into boring blogger mode by listing “Five Reasons You Should Leave Blog Comments blah blah blah.”  Instead I want to show you how leaving comments can result in serious business and financial benefits for YOU.  And I’m not kidding.

You see, this is not about just writing a little note at the end of one of my articles.  This is about showing up and joining a powerful business network.

So I’m going to put my money where my blog is.  Let me demonstrate just a few ways how the people who engage on {grow} have benefited …

  • Gregg Morris was one of the first regular members of this community. We have become dear friends and he has become one of my paid technical consultants for my customers.
  • Steve Dodd is another amazing guy I’m sure you’ve seen around here. He helped me land one of my best customers and we continue to help each other on joint commercial opportunities.
  • Michelle Chmielewski did a company video for me and received a new HD camera from me for her work. Michelle and I have subsequently worked on many ideas together and I’m sure we always will.
  • I’ve provided new customer leads to Trey Pennington, Christina Kerley, Lisa Foote and many others.
  • Michele Linn has been a paid writer for me on one of my biggest customer projects.
  • I helped Nathan Dube push his company promotion into viral territory and the case study I wrote up on him is being used by Jason Falls in a seminar this week.
  • Billy Mitchell has become a great friend and I’m helping him develop a very important webinar for his company.
  • I’ve pitched in to help charitable causes that were important to Billy, Danny Brown, Kacy Maxwell and others.
  • I’m helping John Bottom with a social media experiment he’s conducting at an upcoming conference.
  • I’ve helped edit a new book coming out soon by Rebel Brown and we help each other on all kinds of problems.
  • I’ve provided free advice through phone calls and emails to DOZENS of people from {grow} and from time to time I’ve also called on my new blog friends to help me too.

I’m sorry if I missed you and your story … I could literally fill three blog posts with examples of the wonderful people on {grow} and how we help each other.

But you see this is just the beginning.  Because when you participate in {grow}, you’re not just connecting to me, you’re giving yourself a chance to connect to EVERYBODY.  I am seeing tons of new business connections among people who first met each other right here. And how did they do that?  They COMMENTED.  They ENGAGED.  And together we’ve formed a cool little help network of friends.

So why not get on board?  We need you here!  And don’t use “I have nothing to say” as an excuse.  Of course you have something to say, even if it’s “I appreciated Steve’s comment,” or “Something like that happened to me too,” or “Mark, you need to shut up now.”

Remember, you’re not just commenting on a blog, you’re joining this community of dynamic business professionals … and you never know what might happen!

So now tell me again, what’s the benefit of invisibility?

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