Marketing Assumptions

Posted by jlubans on December 31, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

In my earlier post about Skymall, I deferred marketing assumptions to another day. Today is the day:
Skymall’s marketing assumptions.
What would a master ratiocinator like Sherlock Holmes deduce from this glimpse into the in-flight travel market?
Elementary! What we have here is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder on the part of the buyer, pandered to (I am quoting) by the seller!
A harsh and Freudian assessment, Mr. Holmes! you may be thinking. Perhaps. Here are my deductions:
The traveler:
- Has discretionary income and is willing to acquire non-essential (how essential is a hair-thickening laser helmet or two original seats from Yankee stadium?)
- Is “wired” all over (as in Web.2) and expected to respond in a timely way (a few hours, no more) to directives (in text, voice message, twitter, and/or e-mail format) shot from invisible bosses and colleagues all over. Skymall shopping compensates for this ultra connectivity.
- May believe that life is out of control – do YOU feel in control at the airport? - and shops to counter that malaise.
- Has numerous travel-related illnesses or hazards of the road: bad feet, obesity, headaches, tension, lack of lasting social relationships, and a wide variety of complaints due to wired-ness: back pain, sore wrists, short sightedness, and an overheated lap.
- Yet, in spite of considerable sacrifice, feels guilty about travel away from home and family and yearns to assure a comfortable life for her pets, to improve the appearance of his yard and to fill great rooms, entertainment centers, and man-caves with objets d'art, including a surveillance system in the master bedroom.
- Seeks self-assurance and improvement through gadgetry and other services without factual evidence that the gadget, pill, book or service will perform as advertised.
- Likely works in an organization (definitely NOT a self-managing or democratic workplace!) that encourages feelings of inadequacy and is stingy about providing what all workers really want.

PS. Probably not too many SkyMall shoppers work at the Multnomah County Library, Oregon's largest public library, and among one of the most enlightened public libraries in the nation. Check out their copy of Leading from the Middle!

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE SAILORS AND THE STONES”*

Posted by jlubans on December 28, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

“While making a trip by sea, a certain well-to-do gentleman grew frustrated with the bad weather. As the sailors were rowing less strenuously on account of the weather, the man said to them, 'Hey you, if you don't make this ship go any faster, I will pelt you with stones!' One of the sailors then said to the man, 'I just wish we were somewhere where you could find stones to throw!' 
That is how life is: we must put up with less serious losses in order to avoid worse ones.”
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There’s something ineffably Aesopian in the sailor’s humorous retort to the ranting passenger, a classic bit of wisdom. And so it may be at work when we put our aspirations on hold during inclement weather in our organizations. Better, for example, to heave to and ascertain if a new leadership will support your navigation, rather than to go full steam ahead and run aground. (I could not help myself.)

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

PS. When your boat docks in France, a copy of Leading from the Middle is not far away.


SkyMall & the Worker as Traveler.

Posted by jlubans on December 26, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: For the weary road warrior, heading for Hawaii, an inflatable pillow.

I’ve long wondered about the buyers of stuff from the SkyMall catalog found in every seat pocket on every commercial airplane in the country. It’s there, peeking out at you, dog-eared - from its elasticized seat pocket right there under the seat-back tray table - the poor man’s Neiman Marcus’ Christmas Book.
For the bored-to-tears traveler without a book, smart-phone, Kindle or iPad, SkyMall is the ultimate diversion when circling the airport for a long-delayed landing or when parked for hours in the no-man’s land between the terminal and the runway. Knowing a little bit about advertising – having been exposed to it all my life! – I have to wonder what the stuff offered up on SkyMall’s slick pages says about its targeted market, its audience of buyers? I assume advertisers look at the numbers for passenger age, income, gender, and other socio-economic indicators to justify spending huge sums on print runs in hopes of catching more than a few eyeballs with a credit card. One study claims that workers account for 36% of the travel market. So, I assume that is one of the top targeted groups.
I have a hypothesis that we can glimpse something about the traveler; at least we can tell what advertisers think about the traveler! I sampled a recent issue.* What did it tell me?
For one thing, life is tough out there, for the businessperson, while traveling, or at home or in the office.
Health-wise, one ad offers shoes that “defy gravity”. With these steel-spring-in-the-heel-shoes, the wearer will experience a “return of his energy” when running to catch a connecting flight after landing 30 minutes late at DFW.
A full-page ad for Lipidryl weight-loss offers a 200% guarantee and claims that there could be, according to their research, “a 933% increase in weight loss without any necessary change in eating habits!” Another page from my scientific sample suggest things might not be all that happy work or home: “Discreetly monitor home or office with this hidden video camera.” (Disguised as a motion detector).
Contiguous to that ad is one of several self-help books: “The Best Advice Ever” by Ari Neptunia, “sharp advice on how to avoid mistakes …become happy, wealthy, and healthy.” “(It) provides out of the box ideas.”
If the book does not work, then try the “Migraine Magic Plus” eye mask. “Massaging magnets increase blood circulation” Also "helps relieve sinus pain, double vision and dry eyes.” (Ailments acquired on that last trip to Fargo , maybe?)
Pets, especially cats and dogs, take up many SkyMall pages. My sample found “The Neater Feeder”, raised feeding bowls so there’s less slopover, maybe? And, there’s something for you to show your dog who’s boss: “Pull Stop and Jump Stop” harnesses for misbehaving dogs. And, if you have two dogs, you can walk both on a specially designed tangle-free leash. (Can you use the Pull Stop on one and the Jump Stop on the other?) Finally, for the guilty, absentee-pet-owner-road-warrior who is not there to let the pup out to do his business, “your dog (can have) a yard of his own. Great for apartments and condos:” The weather proof Porch Potty, a slab of astro-turf. Premium version includes sprinklers to rinse grass area clean. There’s even a scented (red plastic) fire hydrant!
Being prepared is an oft-repeated theme intrinsic to SkyMall:
“Fix a stopped toilet” (For when you come home, or maybe take it with you for your trips to less than four-star hotels? Not sure.) “No-mess plunger easily clears toilets…. it sits atop your toilet bowl and pushes compressed air through the water toward the clog to clear …The plunger (you may be thankful) never touches water, keeping germs in the toilet bow. “Folds easily for storage” (and travel?)
Along with the perennial collectible artififacts from the Hobbit and Harry Potter industrial complexes, SkyMall offers sports memorabilia, including paving bricks and seats from the old Yankee stadium and autographed jerseys and photographs from sports greats to adorn corporate or home office walls. Also on offer is the Brandon Steiner book: “You Gotta Have Balls” about how he, personally, “created a Sports-marketing Empire”.
Another full-page ad, with a dash of ambiguity, turns out to be something you might want to hide from your boss or co-workers: (The) “Great Gift Wrap Up!” in Las Vegas. Apparently this is for frequent habitués of Sin City who have earned “gift points” which can be “redeemed for fabulous gifts during two week-long shopping events.” Of course, we know you got all those “Gift Points” while entertaining corporate clients.
Now something for the stranded traveler who works from the airport waiting-lounge or hotel bed: A laptop “lap table” with (two US-powered cooling fans). Or, there’s a cooling and adjustable laptop cart or a multimedia cooling laptop stand (with a cooling fan) or an ergonomic white laptop stand with built in keyboard (no cooling fan included).
While we are on technology, there is a silver helmet with ear phones guaranteed for you to “Get thicker, fuller looking hair in weeks – guaranteed.” An “advanced laser hair rejuvenation system.” (Alas, no cooling fan included.)
Finally, there is the “Genuine Navy Seal” watch. For those boring meetings or tipping-point moments, when no one’s in charge, take a gander at what’s on your wrist and IMAGINE how you would handle it if only they would let you.
Marketing assumptions to follow.

*SkyMall Holiday 2012 184 pages. (Delta Airlines). I screened each 9th and 10th page for a total sample size of 17 pages, front and back.

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE FOX AND THE STORK”*

Posted by jlubans on December 21, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

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“Do no harm - if someone does get hurt, then turn-about is fair play, as this fable cautions. 
The fox is said to have started it by inviting the stork to dinner and serving a liquid broth on a marble slab which the hungry stork could not so much as taste. The stork, in turn, invited the fox to dinner and served a narrow-mouthed jug filled with crumbled food. The stork was able to thrust her beak inside and eat as much as she wanted, while her guest was tormented with hunger. As the fox was licking the neck of the jug in vain, the stork is supposed to have said, 'When others follow your example, you have to grin and bear it.'”

Translator’s Note: “Caxton supplies the English proverb 'with the staf which he had made he was bete.'” **

The fox was cute, the stork cuter. One or the other goes hungry. A winner? Maybe, if “getting even” is a “win”, as the promythium condones. Politicians (elected and appointed) pull this sort of one-ups-manship. I recall wanting to move my professional association into a new area of service. Several colleagues and I were riding a popular wave among the membership to do just that. If we succeeded – it was fairly certain we would - the traditional groups might lose dues-paying members leaving for our new, inclusive, organization. One of the traditional groups, at the urging of its president, created its own subgroup for the new service (which it had resisted doing for many years) and thus retained many of their members. Problem was that this kept the old divisions in place and handicapped, to this day, the necessary open discussion among all participants. You might say the outcome was a half-a -loaf, which was better than none. Kind of like the fox and the stork, because of their petty behavior, getting one meal instead of two!
My colleagues and I did get the unacknowledged bragging rights for the creation of the new subgroup. Without our efforts - perceived as a "threat" - the subgroup might never have been.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

**Seems akin to being “Hoist on one’s own petard!” Or, to quote Hamlet, “Hoist with his owne petar.” In English, “petard” is an obsolescent word for a type of “bomb” for blowing down gates and doors. In French, ‘péter’ means “to fart”, a not unrelated image.

Ants & Democracy

Posted by jlubans on December 19, 2012  •  Leave comment (2)

I will be showing my Democratic Workplace class the NOVA DVD, “Ants - Little Creatures Who Run the World.” The DVD features Dr. Edward O. Wilson’s research and was produced in the mid to late 90s. I’m using it to augment our class’ discussion of complex systems and how leaderless, self-organizing units work together to achieve group results.
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Caption: Leaf-cutter ants laden with food for the nest*.
According to Dr. Wilson humans have an inherent weakness: we emphasize the needs of the individual over the needs of society. The final scenes of the DVD show a despoiled earth, all human life extinct. But as the camera zooms in, we see ants zipping around and through the concrete debris and metallic detritus of what used to be civilization. The ants win, continuing their 100 million year run of biological success! Clearly Dr. Wilson (or NOVA) thinks that the ants’ cooperation and seemingly selfless way of life (or, as the script has it anthropomorphically: “selfless devotion”) is vastly superior to mankind’s tendency toward selfish behavior. If we extend to the workplace the viewpoint that individual needs trump those of the group, it suggests that man is largely incapable of cooperating or collaborating. I expect that devout fans of the hierarchy are nodding vigorously in agreement. “I told you so! If humans are to accomplish anything, they need direction, the firmer the better.” (These same advocates for limiting personal freedom, of course, always exempts themselves from the coercive and necessary guidance for the masses.)
Unlike ants, humans are imbued (divinely or over time through evoution) with freedom and the capacity to make choices (bad and good), to decide for themselves. Also, we have the unique attribute of language to argue for and explain our choices.
The critics hold that if we got rid of choice, we could have a cooperative society and be better off. Charles Handy, in writing about the concept of subsidiarity, says this re individual freedom: “Choices, in fact, are our privilege, although they come disguised as problems, and stealing people’s choices is wrong.”**
Actually, humans do cooperate, just not consistently. (Chapter 23, "Sacred Teams", in the book, is especially relevant to humans cooperating. It has my observations about the Semana Santa processions in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.)
Is this inconsistency in cooperating a fatal weakness for our kind? I’ll ask the class, “Do you agree that this is a weakness? In what ways? Does taking away a worker’s elbow-room for making decisions eliminate democracy in the workplace?

*While hiking in Costa Rica in early November, I observed, close-up, long lines of leaf-cutter ants, burdened with freshly cut leaf segments, hurrying across rocks, rutted earth, fallen tree limbs – nothing could stop their march back to the nest. The DVD confirms that the harvest does not kill the trees. New leaves will soon grow back for another bountiful harvest.

**Handy, Charles. “Subsidiarity Is the Word for It.” Across the Board (magazine); June, 1999, 36: 7-8.

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “THE HORSE AND THE GOATS”*

Posted by jlubans on December 14, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

“Sometimes lesser folk are accustomed to speak disparagingly to one another about their superiors; listen to a fable on this topic. 
There were three goats who saw a terrified horse running away from a lion. The goats made fun of the horse, and the horse replied, 'O you hopeless fools, if only you knew who was chasing me! Then you would be just as terrified as I am.' 
People with excellent qualities are often insulted by their inferiors.”
Translator’s note: “In Caxton’s telling of the fable, the story concerns 'thre lytyll hedgehogges / whiche mocked a grete hedgehogge / whiche fled byfore a wulf.'”
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Caption: A horse from a different fable, but apt nevertheless. Circa 1831. Spode crockery showing Aesop’s "The Horse and the Loaded Ass." Creighton University.
I’d add another moral, even though this fable already has two! "Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.” Until you do (figuratively, not literally**) you cannot fully appreciate what’s driving someone else. I recall an unpopular decision I made at work. It involved, as many unpopular decisions do, choosing the “best person” for a job. The departmental staff favored a person I did not believe capable, from past performance, of doing the job. So, I went with my choice, a less popular but, to me, more able manager.
At a subsequent staff meeting the matter came up. Just like the goats, the staff had a righteous good time jibing at me. Overtime, my choice proved to be the right one for the organization, but I suspect the critics still thought it wrong. On reflection, I’d make the decision less unilateral and more collaborative - I’d be less reliant on my “excellent qualities”. Saying that, I understand that a collaborative decision might be far from what I believed initially – with urgent certainty - needed to be done.
Well, that’s probably far afield from Aesop’s fleeing horse and his goat critics – but that’s where the story took me.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

** “Then criticize them. You'll be a mile away, and you'll have their shoes!"

Organizational Flora and Fauna

Posted by jlubans on December 12, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Anthropologist Richard Leakey discerning, Hamlet-like, between a Lovable Fool and an Alienated Follower (not really).

Observers of the organizational flora and fauna have developed several checklists to help us identify the species populating our workplaces.
Today, I want to look at a couple of the best and the worst, the ugly and the beautiful, the sweet and the sour, the nadir and the zenith…. I could go on, but I suspect I would lose you!

I allude to three charts that draw and quarter, literally, workplace habitues. These charts describe followers, styles of conflict resolution and “likeability”. All three have their differentiating axes and at least four categories (five for types of followers) or boxes to sort out our work colleagues. The charts (while independently developed) are highly congruent – the categories “fit” each other 95% of the time - and, importantly, give extra dimension to what might be otherwise a superficial categorization. And, they help us to identify the attributes WE may want to, if we can, develop or avoid.
Here are today’s two categories:

Alienated Follower. An alienated follower, while passive toward the leader, is an independent and critical thinker. In conflict, the alienated follower competes – It is, after all, a zero-sum power struggle to undermine and to defeat the leader. Very low cooperation. As for being likeable, the alienated follower probably fits the “competent jerk” slot, someone who has high competence but, since he is at odds with the organization’s leadership, offers few welcoming vibes. If you have to, the research shows you will consult the alienated follower but you much prefer to talk to the “lovable fool” even though the fool is regarded as marginally competent. Depending on the organization and the subtlety of the alienated individual, she may have a certain following among uncommitted staff. Because of high competence, it is difficult to be rid of the alienated follower. The one strategy that might work is "Hold your friends close, but your enemies closer." Embrace the alienated follower and use them in positive ways.

Effective Follower. An effective or “exemplary” follower is an active (not a “suck-up”) supporter of the leader. At the same time, this follower/leader demonstrates a considerable capacity for independent critical thinking and is unafraid to articulate to leaders things they would prefer not to hear. In times of conflict the effective follower asserts a collaborative and cooperative response, one that encourages discussion of several options and aims for win-win outcome. With these highly positive attributes, the effective follower is the organization’s “lovable star” performer with high competence and high likeability. Yet, research and anecdote suggests that the effective follower will be punished by the organization about half of the time. The punishment is not for incompetence but for courage.

PS. If you are in Cambridge (UK, not Massachusetts!) visit the University of Cambridge, Commonwealth Room for a copy of Leading from the Middle!


Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE CHARIOT DRIVER”*

Posted by jlubans on December 07, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

“A man of Sybaris fell out of his chariot and hit his head on the ground, since he was not a very experienced driver. Another man who was a friend of his came up and said, 'Everybody should stick to what he knows!'”
While this is a mild kind of joke, an “I told you so” rebuke, Aesop’s razor-sharp tongue did get him into trouble. Dale Carnegie would have had his hands full.
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Caption: A woodcut from the 1489 Spanish edition of "La vida del Ysopet con sus fabulas historiadas" depicts the death of Aesop.
One insult that may have gone too far was Aesop’s reminding the people of Delphi that they were descendents of slaves and therefore were “the slaves of all the (free) Greeks!” The Delphians flung Aesop off a cliff.
While I did not get tossed off a cliff, there were things I said in jest (hardy, har, har) at work that were not the most judicious. Slow learner!
*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

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Blog hits exceeded 250,000 today, December 7, 2012. Early on there were about 300 hits per day; now the number varies between 600 to over 1,000.
This week, the daily rates are back to more "normal" levels, around 500; one wonders if usage is linked to school semesters and assignments?
PS. Vermont Law School is one of several law school libraries that have the book. Maybe because of its seditious nature?

Managing Self

Posted by jlubans on December 05, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

While I was in NYC last week, a couple of friends talked to me about the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and its organizational model. One asked, “Surely, the model cannot be applied anywhere else, can it?” Another friend, as we talked about this conductor-less group, queried “Isn’t Orpheus self-selected?” In other words, was not Orpheus born that way, a natural grouping of like-minded people?
So, can the model replace hierarchical groups?
A good question and I am going to try to come up with a more rounded explanation than my usual response of fitting the Orphean model to professional groups, like a legal, media, or medical practice or, in my realm, a medium to large-size academic library.

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Caption: Orpheus in performance at Carnegie Hall; Like Kilroy, I was there in the first Tier, Dec 1. (Used with permission.)
In fact, the question was on my mind while listening to that evening’s glorious music (Prokofiev, Barber, Mozart ).
As the reader knows, I often write and teach about Orpheus. Chapter 6 of the book is “The Invisible Leader: Lessons for Leaders from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.” That chapter describes in detail many of the attributes of the orchestra, including the claim that Orpheus demonstrates more leadership than do hierarchical organizations. Which of course it must since there is no conductor, no single leader – each musician takes responsibility for the whole piece, not just his or her part.
And, my most recent explanatory blog entry about Orpheus is here.
Well, what happens when a hierarchical organization adopts the Orpheus model? What changes?
Here are a few of the differences, some characteristics and features. This is a preliminary listing, derived from my years leading self-managing teams and from my decade of observing Orpheus. If you have some aspects to add or delete, let me know.
- A greatly scaled back administrative group. The former departments, now self-managing teams, take on many of the responsibilities of divisional vice-presidents. While reduced in numbers, the administrative office still provides organization-wide services, like professional development and learning. Also, accounting continues centralized. There is an external-facing Leader with an overview of the organization but this is a leader in the Taoist tradition: "The best leader leads least".
- No performance appraisal. Stop cheering, please! Simply, it is not needed in effective teams.
Discipline is needed less because there are few if any administrative rules and regulations that contribute to problems and get in the way of real work and productivity. Teams are self-managing and they counsel, coach and discipline as needed.
- Less closed-off office space. Instead, most people use open workstations and cubicles. Conferences are held in former corner offices (with views) out and in. The architectural idea is to make collaboration easy.
- A supportive support staff. Non-career staff are there to assist teams, offer input and ideas, and largely to implement the work of the organization. Support staff are responsive and responsible; they are a working extension of the organization’s mission, helpful to one and all, inside and outside the organization. Support staff facilitate information requests and connect outsiders with insiders.
- No standing meetings, apart from an annual “New England town-hall” event. The annual meeting sets the budget, chooses new initiatives, and re-asserts priorities, values and mission. All other meetings are impromptu, called as needed. Whoever calls a meeting takes responsibility for research and preparation of the topic prior to discussion and resolution.
- Collaborative decision-making. If a decision involves another team, it has to include the other group and anyone else touched by the decision. Occam's razor frames the decision-making process.
- Salary equity. While not totally flat, salaries are less stratified than in the hierarchy. Regardless, salaries are competitive with markets. Seniority does matter, but most people make about the same. The leader’s salary is more but moderately so.
- Hours worked are reasonable, 30-40 per week. People set their own schedules, recognizing there is life beyond work. Vacations and sabbaticals are generous. Productivity is high.
- The “org” chart is a circle.

There you have it! None of these features require a genetic pre-disposition. (Actually, humans are already pre-disposed toward this type of organization!) All that’s needed is willingness to simplify the workplace, take responsibility and do more real work than under the old ways. If a person is at odds with managing self, he or she has the option to leave. If a musician yearns for someone in charge - a conductor, that musician should be in a conductor-led orchestra! Most re-organizations attempt, but rarely succeed, at shrinking the hierarchy. The Orpheus model is different. It reduces non-essential staffing and results in a more empowered and productive staff.