Archives: May 2009

New Delhi!

I'm in New Delhi, where the thermometer is apparently stuck above 100°F. I am presenting at the "ASQ/FICCI Symposium on Innovation and Quality." The joint sponsors-organizers are the American Society for Quality and The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce, a venerable institution whose origins date back to 1927.

As always, I am wonderfully overwhelmed by the amazing energy that one sees and feels in India.

(As part of my preparation, I created "The Quality 121: 121 Random Thoughts on Quality, Emphasizing the Variables That Are Often Missing in Conventional Quality Programs." You'll find it here as a Special Presentation, along with the PPT for the event.)

Cool Friend #138: Diane Hessan

Our latest Cool Friend Diane Hessan is the CEO of Communispace, a social networking company that is a "pioneer in creating online communities to help marketers deeply engage customers." The company has built and managed more than 350 private online customer communities for an impressive collection of Fortune 500 companies. Erik and Diane discuss the company's business, social media, and Tom, whom Diane knows well. Given the business she's in, naturally there are many ways to find Diane online: Twitter,; blog,; and website, being only three among them. And, be sure to read her Cool Friends interview.

Tom Meets His Neighbor, Cubist Pharmaceuticals …

And Says ...
"Who the Hell Are You?"
They Reply ...
"We're #1!"

The attitude in China a couple of weeks ago was pretty good, maybe better than pretty good. There were economic problems, but the group of mostly entrepreneurs I was with vibrated with energy and lived to turn others' problems into their opportunities. Economically (I'm not talking nukes here), the feeling was also pretty good in Korea. Moreover, I was in Seoul to be part of Korea's launch of a new growth strategy, focused on global leadership in "green" industries, and marking a radical departure from business-as-was; the goal is to go beyond "doing good work" to unalloyed planetary leadership in arenas that matter. It did not seem incongruous to them or me that we were having a refreshing discussion of a brave new & exciting future when the current economic numbers were still sketchy—and surprises, even bad ones, could be in store. (E.g., how will the world's markets react to an almost certain GM bankruptcy? For what it's worth, my layman's bet is that after a hiccup or two or three, the markets will settle down and take it in stride. Maybe six months ago the psychology would have been such that true panic would have set in, but not now.) To sum it up, there's no bunker mentality—moving ahead smartly, even audaciously, is the order of march.

In a somewhat similar vein, I've been carrying around a couple-week-old special section of the Boston Globe, titled, "Globe 100: The Best of Massachusetts Business." Some things about MA seem to bug some people, but the academic and entrepreneurial firepower concentrated here surely makes it a Top 10 "success city" in the world—or, rather, success region. (We benefit from a bunch of such regions in the U.S., like the SF Bay Area/Silicon Valley, with no real earthly parallels, Greater Austin, Greater Seattle, Greater D.C., Greater Houston, Raleigh-Durham, Madison WI, great swaths of the LA Basin, etc.)

I found the "Globe 100" fascinating. Three of the top five finishers, 13 of the top 25, and 31 of the top 50 were tech companies—that number should actually be about 35; some of the so-called "service" companies are essentially tech companies. I have a house in Boston, though I'm hardly a regular resident, and business in general is my beat—hence I definitely should be plugged into "all this." So I was literally dumbfounded that of the 13 tech companies in the top 25, I had never heard of eight of them—and in particular I'd never heard of #1, Cubist Pharmaceuticals! (It's a half-billion-dollar revenue company—the rankings are performance-based, not size based.)

I actually think my ignorance is very cool—and important. You could say, surely, that it condemns me as "out of it." But I think that would be an erroneous conclusion. My conclusion is that there is a truckload or two or three or four or forty or four thousand of largely-invisible-absolutely-fabulous great stuff going on from Greater Boston to Greater Shanghai to Greater Seoul. The developed world is indeed in the middle of a profoundly troubling financial-economic crisis, and the impact will be felt for years; but unlike the Great Depression, all sorts of extraordinary things are going on or in the works or even accelerating—and the promise of a raft (a big, big, big raft) of future tech-based Revolutions (yes, with a capital "R") is mind boggling; and cause for extraordinary, almost giggle-worthy mid- to long-term optimism.

Shanghai's irrepressible entrepreneurs.
Korea's aggressive, bold green initiative.
The "Globe 100."

And now I'm off to Delhi ...*

(*NB: my trip-to-Delhi reading is alibaba: The Inside Story Behind Jack Ma and the Creation of the World's Biggest Online Marketplace, by Liu Shiying and Martha Avery. Wow!)

(It would be ironic if this Post appeared the day GM applied for bankruptcy. But if it were so, I would not change a word. While I would weep for dislocated families and shuttered businesses, I would also remind myself, and you, that it ain't a GM world, and it actually hasn't been for a good quarter century—even in the U.S.A.)

Event: Seoul

Tom is in Korea when a great deal is happening in that country. He's speaking to the New Growth Engines' Convention & Expo in Seoul. We wish him a safe trip!

Please let us hear from you in the comments if you attended the event. If you would like to get the PPT, you can download it here.

Memorial Day 2009

Note and flowers at the Vietnam Memorial

May the sacrifices of our troops today, in literally dozens of countries, and our veterans be remembered this Memorial Day.

I will be in Seoul on Memorial Day 2009—my special best wishes to our Korean War vets, still largely unhearalded.

Above: Note and flowers left at the Vietnam Memorial.
Below: Old Navy Seabee—actually 24 or 25 at the time; somewhere near Danang, Vietnam, 1966 or 1967.

A very young Tom on a bridge in Vietnam

When the Phone Rings at 3 A.M. …
Something’s Afoot!

Last Saturday at 3 a.m. my home phone rang. It was my Hong Kong client canceling yesterday's event—just hours before I was due to leave. I inform you of this because it means that my "after 40 years" trip to Vietnam also bit the dust; hence no [brilliant, incisive, soul-searching ...] commentary associated therewith.

Off to Seoul tomorrow!

Science "Fiction"

Daemon book coverI can not heartily enough recommend Daniel Suarez's Daemon. A Daemon is a computer program that runs in the background and performs certain system-controlling activities at certain pre-arranged times. In the book, written by a computer guru and gushingly endorsed by the likes of Craig Newmark/Craigslist and Stewart Brand/The Long Now Foundation, a renowned computer scientist-game designer dies and, after his demise, unleashes the Daemon, which disrupts the world as we know it.

There are a few things which boggle the imagination such as fleets of robotic cars acting with amazing intelligence, but all in all the scenarios played out seem terrifyingly realistic—in fact, on a modest scale they are underway as I write. While we know what's going on in the background is frightening, and William Gibson fans have been reading somewhat like material for years, something about this rendition sent chill after chill up (down?) my spine. Indeed, said sad spine is that of a cyber-amateur; but I think even the pros will find the book compelling—incidentally (?) it's teenage gamers who are most adept at dealing with various conundrums, while well-trained but ancient (30s??) FBI-ers and NSA-ers are out of their league.

Oddly enough, the day I finished the book, May 18, the Wall Street Journal ran a page 1 feature titled "Ups and Downs Whipsaw Supply Chain." It describes in gory detail the effect of vast interconnected systems of just-in-time management that have led to all sorts of glitches in manufacturing—a plant running fullspeed is flummoxed by three vendors whose hasty, independent decisions to slash inventory bring the downstream manufacturer to a screeching halt while the manufacturer's market is still robust. Hence the downstream manufacturer cannot meet demand, and the economy takes yet another hit. Of course the Wall Street fiasco was started and accelerated by genius programmers whose programs effectively (and automatically) took over global financial markets.

This book demonstrates, at least to me, that we are in for one wild ride.

Go, Larry!

You may recall my applause for Larry Janesky, who has turned "dull" basement transformations into a powerhouse business, Basement Systems Inc. (His portfolio includes his best-selling book, Dry Basement Science.)

Well, Larry's hit a home run, as far as I'm concerned, with an idea he passed on to his dealers—in my experience it's an original.

In short, Larry distinguishes between "busy" and "growth." Simply put, "busy" is booking business in good times—which boosts your revenue growth to the heavens, in the short-term. As to "real growth," it occurs "when the troughs in sales come up, not when the peaks go up." That is, on a chart, the bad times bottom-trough today is higher than the trough during the prior problem period.

In a little more detail, directly from Larry's dealer presentation (imagine quotation marks around what follows):

"Busy": OUTSIDE forces acting positively on my business.
"Growth": INTERNAL forces acting positively on my business.


Good news: Lots of work available, go get it (but it probably won't last).
Bad news: Can't count on it continuing—so don't let your overhead soar!!!


Good news: [Internal-basic] improvements are paying off.
Bad news: Probably been growing because your [internally driven] good work allows you to take competitors' business. But when you [succeed and] become a "big fish in a little pond," you'll have to add higher value to your products to redefine what you do and thus expand the marketspace.

Your call, but I think this approach to business makes a helluva lot of sense—especially to those firms, the great majority in my experience, which did indeed get sloppy during the now departed "good times."

TomChirp #11

Strong Language Follows!

The New York Times (May 19) reports "Passengers' Advocates See Progress." Several topics are discussed, and the most contentious by far "is whether Congress will impose a time limit on keeping passengers on planes stuck on the tarmac." Four Canadian airlines have recently set a 90 minute limit in almost all cases. Needless to say, American carriers are fighting this tooth and nail.

Forget, please, for a moment, any diatribes about government nosing into private sector business—save 'em for another topic.

As to the strong language warning: As a veeeeeeery veeeeeery frequent flyer, I hereby declare that I don't give two shits about the airlines' problems in this regard. They bloody well asked for the regulation by their repeated disregard for customer concerns—read overflowing, clogged toilets for one.

To the airlines I say: Stuff it!!!

2009 Recalibration: Part 6

Is your internal brand clear and compelling?

Throughout this series I've encouraged you to "recalibrate" your approach to your business by addressing six questions:

1. Where is the latent profit in your business?
2. How can your current customers help you unleash that latent profit?
3. How does the economic situation help you focus your new customer acquisition efforts?
4. Is your brand strategy right for the times, i.e., what do you want your customers to think about you?
5. Are you communicating optimally with customers at all touchpoints?

And ... the subject of today's post:

6. How clear and compelling is your internal brand?

[Download a PDF from presenting the six steps graphically.]