Category Archives for "Business"

May 17

And Suddenly We Bought A Car

By kevin | Business , Decision Making , Random Walk

So my wife and I were driving from point A to point B last Saturday.  Just a regular day running errands and spending time with each other.

Honest to God, no kidding, I have not been thinking at all about getting a new car . . . though I have to confess that I never loved the Camry Hybrid we have been driving and always felt like I made a mistake selling the Acura TL. Anyway, I say to my wife, “Do you ever think about getting a new car?” Gloriosity, she has!

There is an Audi dealer about five blocks from where we are so we go and poke around and drive an A5 coupe. Stunning to look at and very nice but pricey given the performance level. The one with all the goodies costs as much as a small town. There aren’t any used ones.

Very much out of character, we leave without buying one (as it turns out, this is the third time in the past ten years that we went to look at an Audi and bought something else which is weird and too bad because I really like Audis and would very much like to be like Jason Stratham).  Instead, we wind up home looking at everything we can think of on the web.

It turns out we actually have some decision criteria . . .

  • Coupe: We think that means two doors and an emphatic statement that we are now a) Empty nesters for sure, and b) Too cool for school.
  • All wheel drive: Well you never know, it might rain in Seattle, and it is always possible that after a 30 year hiatus, we might just decide to head to the snow and do some skiing. It could happen.
  • High fun factor: Antithesis of the Camry Hybrid.
  • Good economics: We don’t need to do this so there needs to be something compelling (like free money).
  • Good story value: If there isn’t a good story in here, what’s the point?

Basically something more fun that a four door hybrid (a very low bar to step over I might add).

There aren’t that many coupes out there at all if you think about it.

Audi A5
Infinity G37
Hyundai Genesis
Jaguar XK
Aston Martin
BMW 3 or 6 series
Mercedes CL
Ford Mustang
Chevrolet Camaro
Dodge Challenger
Cadillac CTS (coming soon)

There are probably some others (Bently comes to mind) and there are some four door coupes as well (we’ll get to that in a minute), but that’s what we looked at on our dueling iPads.

A bunch of those you can just cross right off the list for cost reasons. This is a car, after all, not a vacation home. The Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet never made the list.  Too retro, too boy racer, too much. I didn’t want another Corvette or anything in that category either.  Cars like that are a hoot to drive three or four times a month for several miles without a break.  We also looked at other AWD cars not in two doors, kind of. Never for a second did we think about a SUV.

Basically it was looking like a two horse race between the A5 and the G37x.

There are almost as many Infinity dealers in the US as there are BMW motorbike dealers and they are slightly less convenient. We motored up to the one in Kirkland and low and behold they had a nice collection of G37x’s right out front. Very nice car it is.

For those not in the know it is a two door coupe with a stupidly powerful V6 engine, all wheel drive, and enough computing power and navigational gear to launch a first strike. I think there is a Predator Drone option as well. Various buff books have called it the best this and the most that.  It’s a fine, fine ride. In a pinch you can put your pet gerbils in the back assuming your luggage needs don’t exceed a laptop, credit card, and toothbrush.

We drove one.  We looked at all of them in detail. I really wanted to love it but I didn’t. Not really sure why. Just like I really wanted to love the A5 (a beautiful car with abusively priced options).  In the end, the dream of the racy coupe with two gigantic hard-to-egress doors and go-fast ergonomics got trumped by my creaking bones and sybaritic tendencies.

Meanwhile, I kept looking over at the G37 sedans . . . essentially the same car with two more doors, lots more headroom, and the possibility of transporting two more bipeds in relative comfort.  By this time my wife was talking with the sales guy about a Coupe with a particular interior color she fancied and I finally suggested that we go over to the sedans because they had a couple just like that.

For about the fifth time, one in the lineup kept whispering to me: A G37x in Lakeshore Slate with Stone interior, all wheel drive, Navigation package, and upgraded wheels and tires that come up to my waist. Our sainted car salesman (Ken, who just this week sold his 1000 Infiniti working at this dealer which is something indeed) tossed us yet another set of keys and off we went. We barely made it out of the lot and kind of looked at each other and it was done. The car had us at 2500 rpm.

Being a well known expert at decision-making I would give this about a six on a scale of one – 10. We had a decently clear idea about our preferences. We had a solid frame on the problem. We gave ourselves interesting choices. We did some research. The fact that we changed one of the major preferences at the last minute (expanding coupe to include the four door variety) brought other cars into play that we didn’t then go test drive, but what the hell. Ken made us an offer that was not insulting (remember we’re trading in a Camry Hybrid, the 2010 Torts Award Silver Medalist, tossed from the top step by British Petroleum).  Robert, the F&I guy made us a smoking deal on stuff to keep the paint and interior spiffy and then papered the whole thing in about twelve minutes. Bye-bye Camry, and hello rocket ship.

One day of ownership later, I can say with complete confidence the following:

The people at Kirkland Infinity were just superb, led by Ken.  It’s all part of the brand, but the difference in customer experience shopping for a luxury car and anything else is stunning.  Ken has been at this same dealer for eight years which is even more remarkable than the thought of Sarah Palin shooting a moose.  This sort of thing just doesn’t happen.

Ken, and people not named Ken, continually make an effort to a) communicate that “you’re family now” (in a really good way), and b) are constantly trying to figure out how to do something helpful. I was only sorry I hadn’t brought our laundry to be done.  I know I’m going to get a survey but let me cut to the chase and say that the folks at Kirkland Infinity get a 10.

Infiniti has ridiculously cheap money these days (there was a free option actually).  It’s like I couldn’t afford not to.

The car is all kinds of fun to look at, sit in, and drive.  I. Must. Drive. Slow.

May 03

Innovation Never Goes Out of Style

By kevin | Business , Decision Making

I get emails every week at www.decision-quality.com asking for permission to reprint, quote, and distribute one or more papers I wrote on decision-making.  It’s been forever since I actually looked at what I wrote so I went back and looked.  Here’s a snip from a paper on innovation I wrote.  The words seem useful even today . . .

Having participated in the tail end of it as a go-to-market consultant to a number of incubator companies, I had a ringside seat to both the good and the really ugly of the dot.com excitement. At literally the height of the boom, days before the wall started coming down, I wrote a kind of innovator’s credo that I called the disruptor’s dilemma, which had the following dimensions.

Nothing is Known. If it really hasn’t been done before, there are few if any known market requirements, and therefore your planning and projections are pretty much guesswork.

What Used To Work, Won’t.  The strategies and tactics that worked so well in the value system you just left probably won’t work in the market space you’re about to enter.

Half of What You Decide Is Wrong.  As a result of the first two points, you have to make the assumption that at least half of the decisions you make are probably wrong.

Half Of What You Learn Is Right.  You’ll spend every waking minute on a massive learning curve, and the feedback you’ll receive will usually be completely contradictory.  You should worry if that’s not the case.  The question is: where is the truth?

All Of What’s Right Is Only Useful For Half As Long As It Used To Be.  Just because something is true, doesn’t mean it will continue to be true.

Success Is Out There, It’s Just Somewhere Else.  If you keep learning, adapting, and innovating you might just succeed.  It’s just that success probably won’t lie where you thought it would.

Depending on your point of view, this is either a recitation of the worst of the dot.com hyperbole, or it is a reasonable set of guidelines for nurturing innovation. This led me to articulate what I then saw, and still see, as the “Six Laws of Successful Innovation,” which are as follows:

Your plans won’t hold up so compress your planning.  Bring the right people to the problem; stress test your thinking, make clear decisions, keep your documentation simple, and launch decisively.

Keep it simple. Complexity shows up all by itself.

Once you launch, go fast and hard.  Compress your learning into small segments of time and space. Think in 100-day increments.

Embrace your mistakes.  Mistakes are good because they tell you what not to do, so don’t cover them up. You’re probably going to make a bunch, so plan how you’re going to learn from your mistakes.

Expect the unexpected. You’re going to whack some beehives in the process (particularly if you’re really innovating), and the bees are going to swarm.  Don’t expect the market to sit around and watch as you try to redefine reality. Expect pushback.  Expect to be counterattacked from unexpected directions. Expect partners to make silly decisions.  It should all tell you that you’re doing something right.

You’re going to win in unexpected ways so build your organization, rewards structure, and partnership agreements accordingly.

Dec 02

Classic Decision Trap: The Market Is Up So Everything Must Be Okay. Right?

By kevin | Business , Current Affairs , Decision Making

DisclaimerI am not an investment adviser and I don’t give investment advice.  My expertise is in decision making and I am using the information quoted here to make a point about decision making, not about investment strategy.

One of the things we talk about when teaching decision making is that decision making is a distinctly human activity. That is to say that it is more than responding to stimulus . . . it is an cognitive act.

Because it’s a human activity, it’s subject to all the wonders and foibles that make us human. To the extent that it is a conscious act, the part of the brain most involved is the prefrontal cortex.  It’s a very cool piece of wetwear that is also not capable of keeping track of infinite amounts of data.  As a result, we construct mental short cuts (called heuristics by people who like big words) to get us through life.  So, for example, when we see scissors and we think about crossing the room with them, there’s a mental shortcut that pops up for most of us that says, “don’t run.”

Mostly these mental short cuts work well for us, but only mostly.  It turns out that there are lots of times they don’t.  We call those a lot of things, but in this context, a useful term is a “decision trap.”  It means what you think it does: a mental process that traps us, vs. helps us, make a high quality decision.

There are lots of decision traps which I’ll discuss at another time.  The class I’m interested in right here and now relate to how we evaluate information.  Again, there are fancy terms we could use but the general ideas are these . . .

  • We tend to over emphasize the most recent news.
  • We tend to give more wait to whatever was most vivid.
  • We tend to over estimate our role in the good things that happen and understate our role when things go poorly.
  • We generally do a terrible job of estimating nearly anything.

The list goes on.Continue reading

May 12

Run Notes: James Andrew, BCG speaks to SAMA

By kevin | Business

These are my run notes from an address by James Andrew, Sr. Partner, MD BCG, Head of Global Innovation Practice, to the 2009 SAMA annual meeting.

[amtap book:isbn=1422103137]

I learned about strategic accounts from an early age.  My father sold grease and oil for forty years.  I remember my introduction to big accounts and how not all accounts are created equal and what it takes to serve them.

I remember sitting at dinner one night.  My father had this territory that was the greater Chicago area and the phone rang.  It was US Steel in Gary.  His largest account.

If you know Chicago and what it took to get from the north of town to Gary, it’s not a pleasurable trip.  This meant he was going to be gone well past my bed time.  I made some remark like a ten hear old would do.

He pointed to my plate and said, “Do you like what’s on my plate?”

“Yes”

“Do you like your room?”

“Yes”

“Who do you think pays for that?”

Continue reading

May 11

Run Notes: Anne Mulcahy, Xerox CEO Speaks to SAMA

By kevin | Business

These are my run notes from an address by Anne Mulcahy, CEO Xerox, to the annual meeting of the Strategic Accounts Management Organization in Hollywood, Florida.

I want to begin, I know there are lots of you who are good Xerox customers, and we want to thank you.  We take that very seriously.

My message is really simple.  We are passionate believers that innovation is the lifeblood of any organization: Xerox or our country.  That blood supply is in danger of becoming anemic if we don’t look after it.Continue reading

May 05

From BAI: Charlie Scharf talks to Tom Brown

By kevin | Business

These are my run notes from a conversation between Charlie Scharf of JP Morgan Chase and Tom Brown of bankstocks.com at the BAI Mavericks in Banking Conference.

Charlie Scharf: Head of Retail Financial Services at JP Morgan Chase

Tom: Talk about when you came into Bank Ones’ retail and then Chase . . . what did you do.

Charlie

We were lucky we started with Bank One.  It wasn’t that complicated a job to do.  We had a great franchise . . .  First Chicago or Valley Bank . . . we had wonderful franchises but terribly managed.  Seven deposit systems.  Five loan systems.  People just couldn’t agree on what systems to go to.  It was just politics.  Lots of motivation towards the internet and being like a retailer, people forgot we were a bank.  We can’t be Nordstroms.

So we went at it methodically. There is no silver bullet.  A series of decisions.

We had to get on one platform.  Introduced new technology across the board to make it easy to do business.   You can talk all day long about customer service and if people don’t have the right tools, we won’t get there.  People need to see where we’re trying to go and how to get there.

We talked about growing the underlying customer checking base.  People come to us not because they want a card or a mortgage, it’s because everyone needs a transaction account.  Getting a growth mentality into people’s minds and then it’s all about relationships.

The single biggest thing we did was a “controllable P&L.”  If the can’t control, we don’t put it in: no overhead, pricing etc.  We want Branch Managers to act like they’re the local President.  That’s still true today

The thing that’s so fun about retail banking is that the people are wonderful.  “What mountain do you want to go up and how do we get there.”  If the plan is a good one and you don’t change it all the time, you’ll get there.

Continue reading

May 05

From BAI: Doug Lebda from Tree.com

By kevin | Business

These are run notes from a conversation with Doug Lebda, Chairman and CEO of lendingtree.com and Tom Brown of Bankstocks.com from BAI’s Mavericks in Banking Conference.

Tom: Start by talking about the founding through IPO

Doug

I’m not a banker.  I came at it from the standpoint of a frustrated consumer. I was attriting.  The rates were never what people said they were.  You had to go to the back of the bank and sit and apply.

I wasn’t the best bank customer.  Why can’t we consumers turn the tables?  Why is this so inefficient for the bank?

Customers want to comparison shop.  They want to know the real price that they can close with.

For bankers, this can’t be efficient.  You put an ad out there and you get all comers.  So we created a filtering mechanism.  We created a marketplace.  The pitch to the lenders: I’m going to put you in competition with your competitors.  They didn’t like that.  We said we’d only charge when we closed.  And we would cut your marketing costs in half.Continue reading

Apr 14

On Technology Tar Pits

By kevin | Business

A colleague referred me to Neal Ford’s elegant blog on technology.  Here’s a brilliant quote from a series he’s written on the trials and travails of SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) . Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is.

What I’m concerned about in this post is the overall landscape, which is another way of asking “How did you get where you are now?” You got here because of 2 reasons: first, you took the path of least resistance when you were a company (before you became an Enterprise) because, if you had taken the time to build a comprehensive strategy, you’d have never survived as a company. Second, and more important, what is strategic to the business is always tactical to IT. Business people can go into a conference room and change the entire direction of the company in 2 hours. Or, the business may decide to merge with another company that has truly dysfunctional IT, but other business concerns override that. IT can never move as fast as the business, with means that IT always has to respond tactically to the decisions and initiatives brought forth from the business. No matter how much effort you put into a comprehensive, beautiful, well-designed enterprise architecture, it’ll be blown out of the water the first time the business makes a decision unlike the ones that came before. The myth of SOA sold by the big vendors is that you can create this massively strategic cathedral of enterprise architecture, but it always falls down in the real world because the COO (and CEO) can override the CIO (and his sidekick, the CTO). If you can convince your organization to allow IT to set the strategy for what capabilities the business will have long-term, you should. However, your more agile competitors are going to eat your lunch while you build your cathedral.

Any enterprise strategy you implement must realize that you will always be in tactical mode in IT because the business strategy doesn’t require physical labor. Any enterprise architecture you develop must allow the business to evolve according to it’s wants (and needs). This is what my colleague Jim Webber calls “Guerrilla SOA” and what I call “Evolutionary SOA”. More about the details ofp evolutionary SOA in upcoming installments.

What I’m concerned about in this post is the overall landscape, which is another way of asking “How did you get where you are now?” You got here because of 2 reasons: first, you took the path of least resistance when you were a company (before you became an Enterprise) because, if you had taken the time to build a comprehensive strategy, you’d have never survived as a company. Second, and more important, what is strategic to the business is always tactical to IT. Business people can go into a conference room and change the entire direction of the company in 2 hours. Or, the business may decide to merge with another company that has truly dysfunctional IT, but other business concerns override that. IT can never move as fast as the business, with means that IT always has to respond tactically to the decisions and initiatives brought forth from the business. No matter how much effort you put into a comprehensive, beautiful, well-designed enterprise architecture, it’ll be blown out of the water the first time the business makes a decision unlike the ones that came before. The myth of SOA sold by the big vendors is that you can create this massively strategic cathedral of enterprise architecture, but it always falls down in the real world because the COO (and CEO) can override the CIO (and his sidekick, the CTO). If you can convince your organization to allow IT to set the strategy for what capabilities the business will have long-term, you should. However, your more agile competitors are going to eat your lunch while you build your cathedral.

Any enterprise strategy you implement must realize that you will always be in tactical mode in IT because the business strategy doesn’t require physical labor. Any enterprise architecture you develop must allow the business to evolve according to it’s wants (and needs). This is what my colleague Jim Webber calls “Guerrilla SOA” and what I call “Evolutionary SOA”. More about the details ofp evolutionary SOA in upcoming installments.

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