Archives: March 2006

Cool Friend: Cramer

Kathryn Cramer is the coauthor with Hank Wasiak of Change the Way You See Everything Through Asset-Based Thinking, which she defines this way:

Asset-based thinking is looking at yourself and the world through the eyes of what's working, what strengths are present, what the potentials are.

The book is just appearing in stores now. Cramer is a practicing psychologist, a sought-after corporate consultant and speaker, and author of four books on personal effectiveness and professional development. She founded and became Managing Partner of The Cramer Institute in 1990. You can read the rest of her Cool Friend interview here.


Since high school, one of my favorite pieces of musical wisdom has been this: "Focus less on what notes you are playing, and focus more on when you are playing them."

This idea of "when" is also a great thing to think about at work.

In music, a focus on "when" keeps you in sync with other people. Nothing is more frustrating in music than a person who keeps their own time. Isn't that true in business also? Collaboration isn't just about what you do with other people, it's about when you do it.

And "when" is also a key to musical expressiveness. A short string of notes can sound boring when played with one rhythm, but take on beauty when played with another. Start at C on a piano and play down the white keys in even time until you reach the next C. Now do the same thing to the rhythm of "Joy to the World." You have created something totally different. Doesn't the same thing happen in business communications? Isn't the timing of words—sometimes measured in seconds, sometimes measured in months—a major reason those words are either heard or ignored?

Think "when."

Event: Dunkin' Brands

The event of the day is Dunkin' Brands in Las Vegas. Take a look at their website. A quick scan of the front page reveals that they're looking for people who'll be passionate, and that stories are what you'll find on their press page. I'm sure they can appreciate Tom's message. The slides are here: Final Version and Long Version.

We Try Harder, Too!

Hats off to Hertz. I rented a car from them at John Wayne Airport (Orange County, CA) on Friday. The gent who handed me my key at the remote pick-up point, I discovered in a brief conversation, is 82! I'd wager that the fellow who checked my contract and let me out of the garage was about the same age. Whether or not this has any bearing on the heated immigrant debate is not clear. I simply wish to commend Hertz for creating a fantastic win-win situation. The guys both seemed glad to be out and about and of some use; Hertz doubtless benefits from conscientious and generally cheerful employees who presumably are not taking home a king's ransom.

More: In the "little things" department—there are no little things in Service-Experience World—more Hertz kudos for exceptional driving directions, readily produced, that put Mapquest to shame. (LA and environs are a damn good test.)

As I wrote that last I realized anew how valuable I believe the word-idea of "experience" to be. To me, it's light years beyond "semantic difference." "Experience" conjures up a different plot line entirely from "service." It's helped me in my own work—the seminars—to adopt the word-idea "experience."

Event: WIN

The Wisconsin Innovation Network is where Tom is speaking today. Otherwise known as WIN. Nice acronym, don't you think? The slides are here: Final Version and Long Version.

Event: IIR

Today, Tom is speaking at a Conference on Marketing to Youth, presented by IIR in Huntington Beach, CA. There are two PowerPoints for downloading: Final Version and Long Version.

Fast Company

We told you that when the new issue of Fast Company came out, we'd link the stuff that mentions Tom from last month's 10th Anniversary issue. So, April's issue is published, March has become "last month," and here are the links as promised: "A Brief History of Our Time," where Tom makes a paragraph's contribution, and "Cover Gallery: First Impressions," where you can see the one with "A Brand Called You" among the featured magazine covers.

I Wonder If …

Okay, I know you know I'm hardly keen on Big Mergers. So I'll just ask you one question. While reading about the likely Lucent-Alcatel deal, I just wondered, simple guy that I am: Did the two CEOs, in weeks of intense negotiations, ever get excited about the consumer per se? Not the number of consumers they could sign up, not about the higher ranking in the Fortune Biggest Global Corporations (whatever) list. But did either of those guys ever say, "Wow, this will really make a difference in the quality of communications tools my 17-year-old daughter Mary will have ten years from now"?

Well, damn it, did they?

(FYI. Wall Street Journal headline on the potential merger: "U.S. Firm, France's Alcatel See Bulking Up as a Key to Thriving in Telecom." And you know exactly what I think of that ...)

Odds and Ends

No #1 seeds made it to the Final Four—a big news story. (Well, not Iraq or Ukraine.) But do your probabilities more or less right, and it's not so odd. I figure the odds of a #1 seed making it to the Final Four is 21%, and of winning the whole shebang is 6%. My assumptions are that a #1 seed has a 95% chance of winning round #1. A 70% chance of winning round #2. Then: 60%, 55%, 50%, 50% in the subsequent rounds. That yields the 21% and 6% above. George Mason's odds of getting to the F4: around .0003, or three in ten thousand. (My assumed per game odds for a #11 seed aiming for the F4 are 30%, 10%, 10%, 10%.)

My interest in this actually has to do mostly with organization design. Six victories wins the NCAA tournament—and it ain't easy statistically no matter how talented you are. Hence, let's consider a 6-layer organization making a decision—evaluating the right and wrong choice at each rung of hierarchy's ladder. And let's be generous, and imagine each level has a whopping 80% chance of making the right decision. So the odds of eventually getting the thing right are 0.8 to the 6th power—and that's 0.21, or 21% (just like emerging in the F4 if you're a #1 seed). Not so hot. It's like the communications game in which 10 people whisper a simple message to the person next to him or her. We start with "Jack's a smart guy to consider the middle-age market," or some such. Ten dilutions later, no malice involved, we end up with a simple, "Jack's an idiot"—or something quite close. It's a heck of an argument for de-layering in any situation.

Probability buff that I am, I was reminded of all this while reading a review of ex-neocon policy guru Francis Fukuyama's latest book, America at the Crossroads. The neocons' mistakes that have led to exceptional foreign policy over-reach, per Fukuyama, were based to a significant degree on overestimating the lessons associated with the end of the Cold War and the Soviet collapse. New York Times reviewer Paul Berman puts it this way: "The neoconservatives, [Fukuyama] suggests, are people who, having witnessed the collapse of Communism long ago, ought to look back on those gigantic events as a one-in-a-zillion lucky break, like winning the lottery. Instead, the neoconservatives, victims of their own success, came to believe that Communism's implosion reflected the deepest laws of history, which were operating in their own and America's favor—a formula for hubris."

The point of this Post—combining neocons, org decision-making, and the final Four—is the absurdly common tendency to get the odds of sequential events totally and dangerously wrong. "Six layers of management? Hey, our guys are all smart as a whip. We'll get it right." Well, if "smart as a whip," per me, is 80% odds of getting a decision right at any level—then the overall success odds end up, when calculated more or less correctly, quite discouraging. Mis-appreciation of realistic odds, particularly based on a simplistic story line ("smart as a whip," No.1 seeds are invincible, "Reagan won the Cold War single-handedly because he listened to the theories of thus and such neocon theorists") are incredible dangers to the Las Vegas bettor, the corporate chief, and the foreign policy planner alike.

Viva George Mason. (Hey, you can beat long odds—about once every half century, anyway.)

Who Does Own Your Brand?

There's an article in today's business section of the New York Times describing, titled "A Web Site So Hip It Gets Laddies to Watch the Ads." Half of the appeal is that the community of users also contribute to the video-heavy content. But what was most interesting was the attitude of marketers at Burger King who have let these same users create ads (of a sort) for Burger King, without their control.

Gillian Smith, Burger King's senior director for media and interactive marketing, said the program with Heavy was 'a calculated risk.' Ultimately, the company concluded that people who were likely to be offended by this sort of video were not likely to spend much time on and besides, it no longer had the ability to control its brand imagery the way it had in the past. 'Anyone could have purchased a king mask, which we sell online, done exactly the same stuff and put it up on their own blog,' Ms Smith said.

Clearly the wave of the future. Let your customers create the advertising.