Archives for category: Strategy

I was driving in central Dublin late on a Friday and a Saturday a few weeks ago, marvelling at the traffic. There’s not much traffic about, but it’s almost all taxis. Whole armies of them, pulsing through the arteries of the city. I don’t know how you can make money as a taxi driver that time of night. Supply seems to far outstrip demand.

Perhaps people can’t afford to pay Dublin parking rates, or perhaps they fear for their car’s safety at night time. Perhaps the one-way systems drive them mad or maybe they simply prefer public transport or taxis when they’re out at night. Either way, it got me thinking.

There seems to be a considerable drop in the amount of private cars in the city at night time. There’s been much written about the Uber platform over the last few years and what it’s done to the traditional taxi industry. But has the Uber phenomenon also contributed to a drop in car ownership in each metropolis?

We’re supposed to be moving to an eventual situation where we don’t need to own a car anymore. We’ll simply dial up a request for a car which will be deposited at our departure point. We’ll drive it to our destination there, where someone else will drive it somewhere else.

I was talking to a friend the other day who came back from a sabbatical in England in the summer. He’s not bothered to move back up to a 2-car family – they sold their second car before heading to London – and on the odd occasion he needs a second car he simply hires one for the day or weekend.

It feels like we’re gradually making the move towards treating a car as a service rather than an asset, if the connection of uber and car ownership is truly causal. It’s about time too. There’s no other major asset we purchase which starts depreciating the moment we get it.

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‘It’s better to give than to receive,’ or so the old saying goes.

Many organisations and institutions rely on donations to fulfil their role in society, even for their survival. A regular donor is worth their weight in gold. Their donor lifetime value is often a very sizeable sum.

And then there are the high net worth individuals who give vast sums. They are of course the holy grail. In very many cases their donation results in something being named after them. The Smith Room/Building/Wing/Stadium/Institute/College; the list of possibilities is long. For the donor this is rewarding and gives them the public acknowledgement and legacy that they probably feel is a fair reflection of their generosity. And why not?

Then there is the other type of donor. The folk that don’t need for there to be a connection between them and the thing that their donation is funding. Anonymous donors are the truly special breed. For them the satisfaction of giving and the knowledge of the benefit it will provide is enough for them. They’re happy to play second fiddle to the receiving organisation. For them the shadows and the light under the bushel.

Anonymus donors have a special kind of nobility.

The traditional approach to work for the vast majority of us, at least since national governments have been putting proper welfare structures in place for their people, is that we work for 40 years and then we retire, with a pot of money to sustain us, theoretically, for the rest of our lives. It’s the occupational pension, as opposed to the state pension which kicks in beyond a certain age.

Another school of thought has emerged relatively recently, namely that we should take regular long breaks from work and work until we’re older, enjoying these mini-retirements when we’re younger and healthier. Proponents of this version of the work/life balance call the traditional approach ‘the deferred life’, because you’re working hard and putting your life on hold until you retire. All your free time is pushed back to your most aged and infirm years. We’re living longer, which is a bonus but we’re also working longer to support the longer retirement too.

I must confess that I’ve had a few of these mini-retirements, in some cases before they were even thought of as such, but that was probably more down to indolence than good planning.

Of course, the $64,000 question that everybody asks is this: ‘how do I amass the $64,000 I need to live well without earning for a year or so?’ Clearly there are two barriers to being able to do this: money and flexibility. You need to have the moolah to bunk off every few years and tick something off your bucket list. You also need to have a work situation that allows you to do that, in the form of either an understanding and forward-thinking employer or your own business.

As many of us are faced with the prospect of working into our 70s to recoup the cataclysmic pension losses of 2008, the idea of mini-retirements and mini-returns-to-work seems more attractive with every passing month.

We all feel the pinch from time to time and need to watch the pennies. At least some things are genuinely free, like air. That’s true in a narrow sense but many types and formats of air are not free. In some cases, the air we want to put into our vehicle tyres to keep them safe and economical is not free.

These days at fuel stations you tend to see large automated machines that provide you with air and water on payment of a coin, typically a euro or a pound. Other fuel stations have free air dispensers, but they don’t work much of the time, or the gauge is broken or illegible.

Air is part of the overall service that a fuel station provides, along with a host of other vehicle- and house-related items.

In my town there are 3 fuel stations. They have a tendency to converge on exactly the same price, even down to the tenth of a cent per litre, which is worth another post in itself. I have a policy, where prices in my locality are comparable, to buy my full tank of fuel – about €80 – at the station that has a free and regularly functioning air dispenser, so I can check my tyres too.

You reward the suppliers who have your long-term interests at heart and who try to provide a more rounded service, some elements of which may cost them money, but which they recoup in spades.

When I drink a pint of booze I often think about the effort that went in to getting it into my hands and to my lips. Someone had to grow the ingredients, then harvest them. Somebody had to take the ingredients, combine them with other ingredients that they didn’t have to grow but still acquire, and using skill, technology, equipment and time produce a barrel of beer.

Somebody then had to warehouse the barrel, schedule it for delivery and get someone to distribute it to a licensed place that served booze. Finally, somebody to had to set up the barrel, connect it to some pipes, pour the product into a glass and serve it to me in their furnished, heated, cleaned building.

A pint is generally 20% either side of €4.50. It lasts about 10 to 30 minutes, depending both on its number in a sequence of beers and my mood.

Does that not strike you as being ludicrously good value? The effort that’s gone into producing the lovely, creamy work of art that should be in front of me right now, as I write this on a Friday evening.

Whenever I want to pay for something, anything, that’s relatively small, I use the pint benchmark:

Is this item expensive compared to a pint? Does it provide comparable value to me?

Then I act on my decision accordingly.

Almost everything we do is guided by self-interest. It’s human nature. Heck, it’s in every sentient being’s nature, otherwise it would cease to exist.

This rule seems to apply to us humans at all levels of the famous Maslow hierarchy of needs, from the basic acts like food and warmth to the more sophisticated ones like self-actualisation, which I think means achieving our potential.

When we do something with family and friend interests at heart, there’s probably a degree of self-interest in there too. Even when we do something for people we don’t know, in an act of charitable kindness, self-interest figures in the mix, aside from the simple satisfaction we get from our generosity of spirit, time or money.

It always comes down to that, the underlying reason for why we do stuff.

The question for me is this. Can we rise above it? Can we do something that’s genuinely not self-serving? Not all the time, but once in a while, perhaps occasionally?

When you’re going for a walk or driving or taking a train, a plane or a boat, you’re looking for different scenery, a different view of the world. Variety keeps the interest and adds to our bank of experiences. Too much of the same view and we get bored. It’s no use changing our location if the scenery is still the same.

It’s the same thing with work and play. You’re looking for a different scenario, a new angle, another way of looking at and experiencing things. While we love our routine, within that routine we also strive for variety. There’s no point making the effort to change if we get the same view, the same scenario. In this case the pain of change is greater than the pain of the staying the same.

We want the pain of change to be less than the pain of staying the same. This is why, if were going to improve our lot, or seize an opportunity, or fix a problem, we need to look at a different scenario.

The same scenario doesn’t work for us. We tried it already. It’s done. Time to move on. Time for a different scenario.

Time flies when you’re having fun. It drags horribly if you’re bored.

Sometimes you need more time and it seems to slip away quickly. Paradoxically, I’ve found that the harder you work, the slower the time seems to go past. Let me offer an analogy.

When you’re running on a treadmill, and you’re jogging or running more slowly – perhaps in your recovery phase – the time seems to gallop past. When you run faster and really work on the treadmill, the time seems to crawl past.

When I’m up against a deadline I find that if I work harder it has the effect of slowing down the time. Now, of course, you could argue that the harder you work the more you can get done in the same time – just as you can cover more distance in the same time on the treadmill – but the point is you feel more in control of the time rather than it being in control of you. This approach also works if you’re bored.

So there you go, work harder to slow down time if you’re busy, and work harder to speed up time if you’re bored. You heard it here first. Or maybe you knew it already.

As a marketer I like to participate in market research if I’m asked, and if I’m allowed – people from a marketing background can sometimes be excluded from participating in surveys. I know how hard it is get intelligence on a market.

Generally it’s a very short call, which is fine. Sometimes, I get called by a big research house in Dublin to help with a state of the market survey they do periodically. How’s my business doing, how do I think it will do, and so on. I avoid their calls these days.

Here’s why: it’s an unfair exchange. Firstly, the call is always about 15 minutes long, which is far too long and contains loads of repetitive questions. 15 minutes is a really long time to tie someone up on the phone. Secondly, I get nothing back. Not a copy of the research, nothing. In fact, it’s not just an unfair exchange, there’s no exchange at all. It’s all one way, coming from me.

Many companies doing research will offer a voucher, or a copy of the research, or entry into a draw for a device, in return for your time and attention. These guys don’t. They just persist with the phone calls.

If it’s not a fair deal for both parties, it will never last. It will simply cause resentment and close doors for good.

 

In this last post, for now, in the mini-series on product marketing in agile environments, I offer you my third thought on what has worked well for me. In fact, I talked about it briefly at the end of my second thought.

The third thought is this – and how difficult is that to say for a non-native speaker, with 2 voiced ‘th’ sounds and 2 voiceless ones! – leave the detail until the end. The detail is the filler, the proof points, the things that are only needed when the audience has engaged and wants to go deeper.

In your earlier iterations of the content to support your new product or enhancement, you focused on the high level, the really important stuff that resonates with your audience, the reason why you developed the product in the first place. People are busy, they are subject to a constant, heavy flow of information. They don’t have perfect memories; they’re only going to remember one thing you tell them, if you’re lucky, and you’re probably going to have to tell them multiple times anyway.

This is a good thing, because in an agile environment the exact detail of what you’re offering isn’t decided and baked in until the end. So your job is to build up the interest and demand with high level, highly distilled and focused messaging which helps your personas self-select. Once they have engaged and want to know more, then you can hit them with the detail which you now have.