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Success or Failure: The Power of Leadership

Corporate America is often criticized as being bureaucratic and stodgy.  The complaint is that every decision takes much longer to be made and execute.  On the flip side, it is often said that small businesses make decisions quickly because there are only a handful of decision makers and the decisions can be executed swiftly.  Over the last few months, I have come to realize that this dichotomy has nothing to do with the size of an organization.  It is completely based on management’s leadership capabilities and style.

My boss at the consulting company I work for is an example of a good leader.  He is straightforward in his approach and always sets expectations very clearly.  He gives both positive and negative feedback regularly, reenforcing good habits and hoping to expunge bad ones.  He entrusts decisions to his team and supports their work.  At the same time, he makes sure he is not hypocritical at all and leads by example.  The combination of these traits are admirable and highlight what it means to be a good leader.  Under his leadership the organization moves forward quickly and nimbly as if we were a five person company.

On the other hand, I also work with a small five person company and their lack of similar leadership perpetuates a sense of stodginess thought of in thousand person companies.  Decisions are made slowly and followed through even slower.  This is in part because the head of the organization is indecisive, inconsistent and rarely follows through.  These traits reenforce bad work habits that are very hard to get rid of.

I find myself asking, is the success of any organization tied to its management’s ability to lead?  Although I wish it weren’t true, I am beginning to think the answer is YES.

 
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Put Ad on Web. Do Analysis. Revise.

This morning’s NYTimes business section had an article titled “Put Ad on Web. Count Clicks. Revise.”  The article talks about the use of Wall Street analysis techniques on Madison Avenue.  For the last year and a half I have been doing the kinds of analysis that the article talks about and know that counting clicks is only the beginning.  The web allows for so much tracking and data collection that we can look at return on investments for clicks and impressions, but can do even more.  

During the last year and a half, I have been working with Webmetro to look at the value of an ad.  To come to some conclusions we look at clicks, impressions and effectiveness during certain times of day, month and year.  We look at how ads tie into seasonality, how latency should effect spend, and we look at the effects of other marketing efforts on our web based ads.  These are some of the metrics we look at and some of the things you should be looking at also.  

Even with all the tracking out there and all the analysis that needs to be done, the first thing any marketer should do is learn their client’s business.  For every client that you work for, spend time to understand their inner workings, their priorities, what they need to operate.  Without knowing all that, all the advertising tests you do aren’t going to be anywhere as successful as they can be.  Chances are that you will spend many thousands of dollars before you get it right and that is money your client can’t afford to lose.

Don’t get me wrong, I run tests all the time and think they are very important, but you must understand what the metrics for success are before you start spending.  If you are looking for brand awareness, then impressions and clicks are a decent measure.  I would probably take bounce rate into account also.  If you are looking for sales, then true ROI needs to be the metric you look towards, but don’t forget to compare it to other marketing channels! 

There is so much out there and the space is still growing and changing!  This is truly an exciting time to be in online and interactive advertising.

 
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Help Wanted: Innovators to Pull Us Out of this Recession

I am a firm believer in the power of innovation and have been waiting for something to wow us out this economic recession.  Unfortunately, I came to a pretty sad realization today and am afraid that we are stuck in a viscous cycle that may not end anytime soon.  Now that you are either scared or think I am a lunatic, here is why.

Small businesses no longer have the capital to innovate and are too busy figuring out how to survive.  They are cutting expenses daily and trying to operate with less in the bank.  Although banks are “turning profits”(I put that in quotes because I don’t believe them), there aren’t many new loans being given.  Honestly, small businesses aren’t even looking for the money because who knows when they’ll be able to pay it back.  

Large corporate businesses aren’t innovating either.  They are looking at this economy as a time to squash the competition and gain a larger portion of the market share.  From a business point of view, if I were the CEO, that is exactly what I would do.  It makes sense to spend money to beat the competition while they are hurting, this way when things turn around revenue will increase exponentially.  

From a consumer’s point of view and the idealist in me, I want large corporations to spend money on research and development.  If one new sensational product came out this year from a proven corporation, spirits could be lifted and new cash would be infused into the economy.  This would start a chain reaction and help lift the global economy.  

Am I asking too much?

 
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What to do When Working with both Judging and Perceiving Personalities

As I continue to work with new people and personalities, I realize how insightful Carl Jung’s theory is and how useful the MBTI tool can be.  MBTI is based on the premise that everyone has 4 basic personality preferences.  The first preference shows where you get your energy from (my E vs I post). The second and third deal with how you take in information and how you rationalize your decisions.  The 4th preference deals with how you approach the task at hand.  I find that how you decide to approach a task causes the most issues between people and is directly related to the last preference, Judging vs Perceiving.  

People who prefer judging are planners by nature.  They likely have a schedule of tasks and meetings set in advance and probably think through each meeting agenda ahead of time.  J’s rarely like to change plans unless they have allotted time and room for change.  This may sound rigid, but is more about closure.  J’s like to come to closure in a timely way, and usually that involves setting a plan and finishing on time or even in advance.

On the other hand, people who prefer perceiving are the exact opposite.  They don’t like plans and are constrained by rigid schedules.  Their tendency is to go with the flow and enjoy changing things.  When working on a project, P’s are likely to want to leave the research phase open ended.  P’s accomplish tasks when under pressure and will likely do the bulk of work towards the end of the project timeline.  

Imagine, if you are a J with a preference to plan and working for a P, it might feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything because of the ongoing research phase.  As the deadline approaches , you might feel resentment for the last minute requests.  In the opposite situation, if you are a P with a preference for flexibility and working for a J, you might feel constrained.  You might feel resentment for having to work on tasks that aren’t needed for weeks or months.   

People who are aware of their preferences try to facilitate situations that make them comfortable.  I have a preference for Judging and set schedules and plans.  Every time I have worked for someone with a preference for Perceiving, I either enforce a schedule for the whole project or make my own mini schedules and plans.  This helps me focus and accomplish at my best.  Every time I have had P’s working for me, I have noticed their ability to avoid plans and facilitate change.  For myself, I plan a longer research phase to help satisfy their need.  I also try to keep changing things for them, or allow them to change things, but I always set clear and hard deadlines.  Once the deadlines are set, I leave them be and trust they will deliver on time.  P’s can have a perception that a J’s need for status updates comes from micro managing, when often it is just a way to make sure the plan is being followed.

Since I am a J, my tips are slightly biased towards J’s working with P’s.  How do you react in similar situations?  Are you a P and worked with J’s like me?  What helped you?

 
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Artificially Intelligent Twitter Visualizations

In 2006, I started my master’s thesis under the advisory of Elizabeth Sklar, PhD. At the time I was very excited about new web technologies and everyone’s use of web services. I had the idea of creating a simulation visualization platform using web services.  In multi-agent research, a subset of artificial intelligence, you create simulations to understand how each AI agent, or program, would react in a certain situation.  Very often those simulations are not monitored in real-time, instead they are reported on afterwards.  My idea was  to create a real-time view into those simulations.  Fortunately, I took a job in corporate america.  Unfortunately, I didn’t finish.  

In the last 3 years technology and my interests have changed.  Web services is still as popular as it was, but it isn’t new anymore.  The visualization problem is still an issue, so I have changed focus.  Since a lot of my interests now lie in social media, and there is constantly new data out there to process, I have decided to start researching twitter visualizations.  Thanks to a few twitter followers, I found a handful of great resources and have already started compiling a list.

My goal is to take the list of what is out there and figure out how to bring them all together using artificial intelligence.  Some of the visualizations are word based, like twitscoop.com, some are time based like TwitterStreamGraphs and some are geo based, like TwitterVision.  They all have great uses, but are very different and are used very differently.  Now imagine a tool that learns what you are looking for and presents the best visualization to help you find what you need.  That might be a hybrid of a couple different views, but the AI agents would figure it out.  

As I continue to research and find out new things, I will post more.  As always, if you have any ideas that you think are helpful, I am all ears!

 
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How Many Teachers’ Names Do You Remember?

Friday’s Op-Ed piece by David Brooks, ‘No Picnic for Me Either’, got me thinking about my own education and what made it a success.  Brooks pointed out that there are

“two traits necessary for academic success: relationships and rigor. The young Obama had a loving relationship with an adult passionate about his future. He also had at least one teacher, his mom, disinclined to put up with any crap.”

This rang true for me.  My family support got me to college, but I attribute my college success to one teacher who saw my potential and helped motivate me to work on challenging and inspiring projects.  Some people will tell you that I was setup for success because I attended an ivy league college, but I don’t believe that is true.  My success started when I became a research assistant for Prof Elizabeth Sklar, PhD during my junior year at college.  I started by helping out with a project that required a methodical analysis of the robot kits on the market at the time.  Once that project completed, Sklar pushed me to work on more projects and soon I was working on Educational Robotics, Computer Vision and Robotics projects with her and her team.   

I am confident that I would have walked away from college with a very different experience had I never found a professor like Sklar.  I am not saying that I would have failed out, but I don’t think I would have gained nearly as much.  

Is Obama’s push  to motivate teachers to be more engaged the right path?  Based on my own experiences, I say yes!  How many teachers names do you remember?  I only remember a few, but those names will likely stay with me forever.  Do you think their interest in your success helped get you there?  or were you self-motivated?

 
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Is Social Media a Distraction?

On Friday, I sat down with someone I work with who made a prediction that someday soon there will be a backlash from all the time spent using twitter.  His argument was that he doesn’t see the value of these interactions during office hours and that it seems like a distraction from the work at hand.  During our conversation I defended social media, especially twitter, but I have been thinking about it ever since.

I believe that interacting with people in your field is very helpful to accomplish daily goals related to work.  I also believe that interacting with people outside of your field can help give perspective to the same goals.  Here is where I am having trouble: is a constant stream of interactions from both groups at the same time helpful?  Especially when they are trying to feed you new articles and videos and enticing things to view.  Personally, I follow all the “cool” tweeple like @MackCollier and @guykawasaki, but I am not in PR and am not a full time entrepreneur.  I follow tech superstars too, but is my colleague right? Is all of this just a distraction from my day job?

With my MBTI training and my post on extroverts vs. introverts still fresh in mind, today I will defend social media as an outlet an extrovert needs to be successful at all times.  I am an extrovert and sitting in an office by myself or working at home can seem draining.  I need to know there are people out there talking.  I may tune them out. I may listen in here or there, but that chatter keeps my mind revved.  The little tweet notifications from TweetDeck don’t always drive me to see what’s going on, but it reminds me that I am not the only one connected.  I feed off of the 140 character bites that my friends give me and use that energy to deliver good work.  

Of course there are situations where I already have a lot of going on around me and my focus is being tested.  In those cases, I turn off TweetDeck and disconnect from the social media world, but I have a feeling I am not the only one to do this.  

So, is social media a distraction?  You tell me.  Do you find social media takes away your focus from work or do you feed off the buzz like I do?  Is your MBTI type preference for introversion or extroversion?  Do you think it makes a difference?

 
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MBTI Tips: 5 Things to be Sensitive to as an Extrovert or Introvert

Last week I attended the 4 day Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) Certification Program at AMA.  The seminar is meant for HR professionals to administer to their clients and staffs.  Although that isn’t my field, I felt this is a great tool to have as a team leader, manager or entrepreneur.  I was fortunate to have Linda K Kirby, the authority in the field, as my instructor and am inspired to share some highlights.

The theory behind MBTI was developed Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, in the 1920’s.  He believed that everyone is born with innate behavioral preferences and those preferences make up our psychological types.  Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers took Jung’s work and applied it, developing a test to determine a person’s type.  The seminar at AMA taught how to administer the test and interpret the results.

MBTI types are based on a set of 4 dichotomies.  Today, I will only focus on the first: Extroversion Vs. Introversion.  Many people think this has to do with how much you like people and like interacting with people and that just isn’t true.  This dichotomy deals with where you get your energy from.  In other words, when is your brain revved the most?  Are you firing all cylinders when there is a lot going on around you and you are interacting with people?  Or do you need quiet and calm to work and function at your best?  When thinking about this distinction, keep in mind that everyone operates in both extroverted and introverted situations.  The question you should ask is which you prefer more.

Here are 5 differences between extroverts and introverts that really hit home for me.  I hope you find them helpful.

  1. People who prefer extroversion(E‘s) need noise or activity around them to work at their best, while people who prefer introversion(I‘s) need quiet and calm to operate at their best.  This means an E will likely want the music playing in their office to get work done, but the I will find that distracting.
  2. After a handful of active meetings an E will likely feel energized and want to continue while an I will feel drained.  An I will probably want to go into a quiet office to re energize, not meaning to be rude.
  3. I‘s prefer to communicate in writing so they can process and respond in their optimal environment, while E‘s prefer to talk over the phone or communicate in person.  The E‘s need to communicate in person may seem intrusive to an I, but is not meant to be.
  4. In a meeting I‘s will take their time to process their thoughts before deciding what to say.  They will often require a few seconds of silence to respond.  An E might interpret that silence as being calculating or not willing to share, when in reality they prefer to operate in silence.
  5. In social situations, I‘s are less likely to initiate conversations.  This is not because they are shy or not interested, it is just because their tendencies are to stay silent.  The E‘s in the same setting will want to initiate conversation and interact with many people.  This overly friendliness may seem disingenuous, but it is not meant that way.  It is a function of their natural behavioral tendencies.

I prefer extroversion and I realized that I often get an email from a colleague and pick up the phone or walk down the hall instead of responding to the email.  This may be okay for many people, but after learning about what introverts prefer, I am sure it isn’t appreciated by all.  The next time you pick up the phone to call someone, ask yourself, “are they an Extrovert?  Would they prefer an email?”

What do you think your type is?  Any other situations that we should all be sensitive to?

 
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It is Time to Integrate CRM Tools with Social Media

As I mentioned in my first post, Starting Over, I am trying to stay focused on topics that are applicable to small businesses.  Last week I posted about the pyramid structure and internal operations of large and small businesses, today I am focusing on external relationships and operations.  Specifically, customer relationship management tools and the need for them to be integrated with social media.  Social media has changed the jobs of customer service reps, sales people, publicists and business owners everywhere, but I don’t think they are equipped with the right tools to handle it.

In today’s world, customers don’t only interact with companies via phone and email, many companies also have twitter accounts, blogs, forums and online communities.  This means when a business is trying to understand how connected a customer is with the company, it has to do a lot of investigating to get the full picture.  Companies like Salesforce.com, 37 Signals, Act, Epiphany, all have CRM systems to track customer activities, but they haven’t integrated with social media yet.

Over the last year, progressive companies hired community managers to try and get a handle on and participate in the overall conversation.  This is a very important part of social CRM, but the process shouldn’t stop there.  If the community manager is responding to a yelp review or a blog post or a tweet, this should all be recorded under the customer’s profiles.  Right now it is left as an unrelated interaction.  This means if the customer called customer service there would be no record of the interaction with the community manager under his or her profile.

Because of this disconnect, I am putting together a list of things that I think CRM tools should come equipped with.

  1. The most important change is language.  Most CRM systems see customer interactions as inquiries or sales or marketing touches.  They don’t converse, because that isn’t the goal.  Most systems goals are based around getting a customer to purchase or to appease them when they call.  Social media is about information sharing and participating in the conversation, which is a different bucket.
  2. Each customer needs a place for their blog under their record.  Ideally, the system would subscribe to the feed and alert the reps if something was written about the company or a relevant topic.  If the rep responds to the post in a comment this should be part of the history.
  3. A built in twitter updater and reader.  This means that the customer service reps will need twitter accounts, but that should be a requirement, or highly recommended, for all reps.
  4. Each customer needs a place for their twitter account.  Similar to the blog, the system should follow the person and send an alert if the company was tweeted about.  In this case the conversation should be recorded, including the back and forth replies as well as any DMs.
  5. The system should be subscribed to search feeds like socialmention.com to constantly find new customers and handles being used to talk about the company.  The system should create new customers automatically to track interactions with these customers/handles.

After putting these 5 points down, I realize this might be a running conversation and I hope we’ll come out with a full set of requirements to build the next generation CRM tool.

 
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Entrepreneurial Small Businesses Have the Tools to Survive This Recession!

My experiences over the last few days, working with 3 drastically different companies has made me realize that smaller and flatter companies with an eye on innovation are better equipped to survive this recession than larger pyramid structured ones.  

Companies with many layers of middle management are at a disadvantage in this climate, because they take longer to make decisions and execute them.  This pyramid structure breeds a culture where the staff is trying to move up the ladder, not run the business.  The company follows the CEO’s direction and maybe a handful of other executives that are part of the inner circle.  The problem comes when the company needs drastic and quick change.  If there are ten levels of management it might take two months to trickle down to the people that are actually executing.  After the two months, I am willing to bet the instructions are completely different than those the CEO gave.  Remind you of a game of “telephone”?

On the other hand, in small businesses people are more inclined to know what everyone’s specialties are and go directly to the source when things need to get done.  If the small business sees numbers tanking compared to last year, they can analyze, devise plans, adapt and move forward before the large corporation even moves an inch.  Maybe this idea of small business that I am describing is more of an entrepreneurial environment, but it is surely a more effective mode of communication and operation.

Some might argue that social media can bring this flexibility to larger corporations, flatten out their structure and change their communication styles, but today I am a cynic.  I think that companies where the culture is driven by people who are “in the know” are not inclined to use or adopt blogs, twitter, social networks or any tool that is meant for collaboration.  They actually fear them because they cannot control the conversation.

In contrast, entrepreneurial small businesses live for that one good idea that will push them over the edge.  For them, sharing ideas between staff members is expected and communicating with customers is desired.  This is why social media is a set of tools that small business can use to overtake their corporate competition, not the other way around.  Look at how Gary Vaynerchuk of Winelibrary used social media to grow his wine business.  He didn’t spend millions of dollars mass marketing, he figured out a way to interact with a new audience of potential customers. 

I am not a right wing conservative, but I do believe that it is the small businesses that test out new ideas and share information with their staff and customers that will not only survive this downturn, they will also grow.  Its this idea that motivates me to learn about the new gadgets, sites and tools that come out every day so I can recommend them to my clients and friends to enable them to succeed.  The top of my list recently has been open source tools(I love wordpress, mysql, openoffice), hosted services (basecamp, centraldesktop, google apps, amazon web services, salesforce) and social media( blogs, twitter, facebook, linkedin, ning, friendfeed).  

What’s on your list?

 
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