Start Standing for Something

Around my office I can often be heard saying something that has for me, become a bit of a mantra.

If you want clients to absolutely love you, you have to stand for something. There will be those people that don’t like what you stand for, but the people that follow you – they will absolutely love you.

And I really do honestly believe that. If you don’t stand for something, how do you matter?

The example I always use with my conversation is of course Apple and Microsoft. This is not a conversation about which one is better. It’s simply understanding their approach to their market. Think about it… Microsoft has mass adoption. The majority of computer users use Windows and they further target new clients through mass marketing and mass partnerships with hardware vendors like Dell, HP, and the like. Now consider Apple. They have exclusive use of their software on their own hardware. They focus on early adopters and gadget lovers. They aren’t concerned about mass adoption but rather instead target a certain subculture for their success. They believe that beauty is part of functionality and have clients willing to pay a premium that agree with them.

Rarely have I come across, even in my past history as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, users that absolutely loved their Windows machine. Never have I heard a user talk about how impressed they are with how the start button works or how easy to use Microsoft Word was. But look at the Apple folks… the people even call themselves “fans”. They love everything the company is about. Of course there are many people that dislike Apple and find their products silly, but they rarely matter… because the people that love Apple, absolute love them.

Another thing that fans will do is forgive. If they absolutely love your product they will tend to forgive small mistakes or inconsistencies that might come up. They would rather be involved with helping make something better so they often are the types that will email, or tweet you unsolicitedly with ideas of making the experience better, or even reporting a bug they found. The important thing is they want to be involved. They want to feel like they too are making a little bit of a difference by helping you improve your product so it’s important to listen.

Where Geeks and Business Folks Collide

A complaint I’ve always heard from business people tends to be that their technology group is so opinionated about everything. They have a passion for either a specific language, a technology, or whatever. I say, “learn from this!” The business side should take this as an example of passion, and purpose, and start standing for something from the top. Too many companies just sit there, they do the same things that all the other companies in their industry do. If one company pushes out widgets, the other company tries to make a better widget and then push those out. We are greatly amidst an Experience Economy, where purpose and well-functioning, collaborative teams will be the greatest competitive advantage any organization could ask for. The company that can grasp the power of purpose will breed an environment of passionate people ready to stand up and make a difference.

Ready? Because your competitors are hoping you fail at it. They want you to be as mediocre as they know to be, with a templated mission statement and services that hint at average. Seriously, the world has enough “average”, so start standing for something and evolve – or die.

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Stop Leading Your Team to The Destination, Give Them The Map

To start 2009 this will be one of the first of many business oriented posts coming to this blog. It’s great to be a technologist, but it’s important we as technologists can do something with our ideas. So I hope to provide some benefit to those of you willing to listen.

The biggest thing every executive needs to run a successful company is a vision – you can’t do crap without a vision of what it looks like. I’m not talking about a 5-year plan, or a 10-year plan… I’m talking about an idea. What do you want to be? Who are you in the realm of all of your competitors? If you don’t know this, why come in the office in the morning? What pushes you to get up everyday? There has got to be something… and that’s the first step – figure out what it is.

Once you’ve got the idea figured out, don’t tell everyone about it by commanding they follow behind you, because people will get lost and it will slow the entire process down.

Think about it for a second. If a group of people in several cars are all trying to get to the same place, but only the person in the front of the line knows how to get there. With every stop sign and stop light, every turn, and every interruption the people in the line have to check where the leader is… and in turn the leader needs to check that everyone is behind him. So instead of commanding, give everyone the map, explain the vision, and explain how they fit into the vision of what’s going on. Then with the map in hand they can get to the destination in their own right. Give your people the freedom to make small course changes on the way, side streets or pit stops, they’ll meet you at the finish line.

Let’s say part of the corporate vision is to provide a superior user experience in all of your software. If you share the map and embed that ideal in your corporate culture you’ll see how people will take charge. Jill in QA will consider it when testing. Bob in design will research the best user experience paradigm in his interface, just as Sam will do the same when programming the front end.

Have a vision, build a culture around the vision, and then let the smart people work.