Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's a Man's World. (How Are They Doing?)

(More from my digital compost heap.)

Father O'Malley: On the outside, it's a man's world.
Sister Benedict: How are they doing?
Father O'Malley: (Sheepishly) Not too good.
-The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

One of my favorite snips of movie dialog. Ever. Pity it's still true 65 years later.

A social media disagreement caught my attention a couple of months ago when social media guru Chris Brogan tweeted something (or maybe it was in his blog feed?) along the lines of sometimes wishing he didn’t allow comments on his blog. Of course, that drove me straight to his blog to read his post, “Women in the Workplace,” and the reader comment of interest from Rieva Lesonsky, noted business consultant, author, and editor. (I read the other comments, too. Lots of evidence of privilege – good intentions but lack of understanding due to insider status.)

Chris Brogan stated in a comment (which seems to have disappeared now) on Rieva Lesonsky’s blog that the main points of his post were:
  1. Not all women WANT to lead, at least the way leadership is set up now. 
  2. Maybe women are leading “from different chairs” inside and outside of organizations.
To #2, I say, "No kidding." Women have always led behind the scenes in business, making significant contributions.

The problem is that women do not receive the same recognition and tangible rewards for their leadership as men do.  In fact, many men (and, to be fair, some women) have built their careers on the backs of highly talented females leading from different (less prestigious, less compensated) chairs. I doubt that many men, however, make similar complaints about having to manage upward while their female bosses keep rocketing up the corporate ladder.

To #1, I say, “Not untrue, but let's not use it to avoid the issue.”

Of course not all women want to lead, nor do all men. The difference is that women who want to lead and are talented enough to do so successfully are not given the same chances in terms of development into the role, decision-making authority, and commensurate compensation, as men. Lots of men. Often, untalented men. Men who may not even want to lead but took the money and title anyway.  

Despite the problems in leadership perception and expectations corporate America, do you really think that women with leadership talent and a desire to lead would turn down high pay and a prestigious titles if they were offered?  Heck, no! No more than the men do, anyway. They want to lead!

Would women change the frame of leadership if they could? Probably. But they are not in a position to do so. They have to get into the executive suite before they can make impactful changes to what defines corporate leaders, but there are nowhere enough of them in corporate leadership to be heard over the din of the old boys club.

And, sorry to burst the self-determination bubble, but Mary Middle Manager is not going to be able to revolutionize leadership at XYZ organization from a grass roots level. And, frankly, to expect her to do so is ridiculous. Oh, sure, if you don’t like something , change it – we’ve heard the rhetoric. But the reality is that business is NOT a democracy, nor is it primed for revolution. It is primed for self preservation. Most people go to work to earn a living, not change the world. Mary may be brilliant, but unless she is in the executive suite she has no real influence, no one really cares about her plight, and peers won’t rally around her to propel the coup. Worse, if she sticks her neck out too far, she just may anger the overlords. And Mary probably needs that job. After all, she’s still generally making 80-85% of what her male peers are making, no matter how you slice it.

Why will Mary leave to start her own business, retire in place, or off-ramp? It’s not that she doesn’t want to lead in the current leadership environment – she does! But by the time she effects the organizational changes that will open the top jobs to her – before she’s given the chance to lead – she’ll  be long retired.  Who wants to fall on the sword for a glacially moving cause?

Reminds me of this poster. I don’t want to end up with my picture on a demotivational poster with the caption, “Midas Touche’:  Did she seriously think she’d ever convince the golden boys to share their gold?”

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Just to round out the story, here is the comment I left on Chris Brogan’s blog:

I understand Chris’ issues with this response. But, as a mid-career professional woman, I understand where Rieva is coming from, too. I have been exploring gender bias through involvement with diversity initiatives at my company. (I love my company.) Frankly, I was shocked to discover how much rationalizing I’ve done about the bias I have seen, experienced, and even (unwittingly) enabled in my career. Clearly, Rieva was quicker than I in recognizing the realities of gender bias and is passionate about it. We need to be outraged, because it *is* outrageous that gender bias can still be an issue in corporate America in 2010. In her response, Rieva raises some very important points:

1. Sexism is still alive and well.
It’s not necessarily covert, which implies intent. I think it is more of a failure to recognize white male privilege and the resulting subconscious sexism. Most of the decision-makers I know, men and women, have good intentions and have championed improvements. But, there is so far to go.

It took me years to admit that the primary determinants of my career progress were not merely hard work and talent. I received many kudos and rewards (and much more work), but not the particular career-propelling opportunities that fast tracked my male peers for highly-compensated, direction-setting jobs. I duped myself into thinking that I was taking the right steps to control my own career destiny. I control it now, but had to reconstruct my approach on the ashes of long-held beliefs.

I have long led from another chair. The question is, “Why should I have to?”
2. Perhaps we’re avoiding the priority problem by diverting attention to fruitless analysis of wants
Clearly, asking someone what they want is better than shoving what you think they want at them. However, such rhetoric can be an avoidance technique. If I make the issue about undefined personal wants, then, as a decision maker, I can offer mentoring and my job is done. If I recognize it as a systemic problem of unequal opportunities, suddenly it is a big, complex problem that rattles my own security, requires major changes, and becomes imperative for me to address. Ick.
3. There’s still a huge wage gap
Chris cites statistics that say the gap is narrowing. No matter the size, should a gap exist at all in 2010? While women are paid less than men, they continue to have more stress and less opportunity. Stress and costs rise when a business trip means you have to scramble to find a live-in caregiver at a cost you can’t afford…or pay daycare an extra $100 to attend an emergency meeting scheduled on a day you don’t usually work…or are expected to work—and pay a sitter—on your unpaid FMLA because a crisis arose at the office…or part-time simply means you must do the full job in fewer hours at reduced pay.
4. We do not provide equal opportunity
We need to stop clinging to work structures defined back in a Donna Reed world. Neither women nor men who don’t fit the archaic stereotype can fully engage in their careers in this model—and we are losing out on their talents. With the many options available to us now for rethinking work-life, work locations, job responsibilities, etc., why can’t we move it along on this issue? A woman (or man) shouldn’t have to found a new company to align values with opportunities.
Thanks to both Chris and Rieva—and all the other commenters—for thought-provoking discussion.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Spectacular Lemonade Stand

Kitty Foyle: There's a lot of living to do in this world. And if you're worthwhile, you get hurt.
Kitty Foyle (RKO, 1940)

It must have been one of those days on which all 3 lines of my biorhythm intersected.

It was epic.

My siblings, father, and I were gathered at my mother’s bedside, waiting to saying goodbye to a woman who had rarely ever had a cold and epitomized true grit better than John Wayne.

Then, my husband suddenly became ill, necessitating an immediate trip to the nearest major medical center. I zoomed home, arranging care for our 3 small children on the way, picked up my husband, and sped him across town to the hospital.

I stayed until he was admitted, what seemed like 97 tubes of blood were drawn, and the doctor examined him. When his doctor assured me that all was under control and it was safe to leave him in the hospital’s care, I rushed back across town to the hospice center.

Mom died.

Oh, and our children’s regular caregiver had emergency surgery.

All on the same day.

Leading up to this day, I’d worked a 70-hour week, and had been putting in long hours and hard effort in the weeks prior. It was one of those unfortunate times when, despite other stressors, it was quite clear that it would be unwise to anger the overlords.

No, this is not the start of a novel. It sounds too ridiculous to be convincing, anyway. But it’s true.

I’d like to say that this was a crazy anomaly, an unlucky coincidence. But this sort of thing has been going on for a while.

About 7 years, in fact.

Did I break a mirror? Could this have been the grand finale of a looking-glass curse?

I sure hope so.

I guess I was due for a series of unfortunate events, though. Until about 7 years ago, I led a charmed life. Seriously. It’s not that nothing bad ever happened. It did. But everything always worked out okay in the end and never really seemed all that bad in retrospect. All the little glitches were trivial compared to the tremendous number of things that went really, really well through my entire life.

I’ve been blessed with brains, common sense, and a functioning family. My parents emphasized good values, education, and work ethic. It was no life of abundance, but we always had what we needed and, maybe, a bit more. I got a great job, married a loving man, and, despite the usual road bumps and disappointments of marriage and career, had incredibly fun times, playing in a rock band, travelling, spending summer weekends on the beach with a gaggle of good friends in a trailer we shared with another couple, enjoying good food and drink with our posse of gourmets/gourmands, and generally having a blast. Then we settled down and had the 3 most fabulous kids in the world. Life was good.

Then all the stink pellets started hailing down on us. Hard. Really, really hard. And mercilessly. Really, really mercilessly.

(A friend dubbed it The Vortex of Suck. Look for the #VortexOfSuck hashtag on Twitter.)

And life is still good. Really good.

Okay, I’m not stupid. It would be considerably better without the stink pellets. But, as long as there is tremendous, lemony suckage that can’t be avoided, I guess I’ll do the best I can to make lemonade.

I should know how. I started early in the lemonade biz.

When I was a child, I never had money to go to the movies or buy the hottest Lip Smackers flavor like my friends from families that had fewer children and larger disposable incomes, so I became an entrepreneur (along with my best friend, Lesli): We had spectacular lemonade stands to which kids from the neighborhood flocked—not only did we make and sell elaborately styled lemonade treats, but also ran carnival-style games and other fun activities from our little sideways-toppled toy box that became the counter of the lemonade stand. I earned enough cash to support my juvenile whims, albeit with the sacrifice of a few lesser loved toys as game prizes. Lesson learned: topple the box, suck it up, and redefine the situation; you may wind up getting what you want.

My life has been one calamity after another for a long run, now. Even, so, there is always someone who makes me smile (you all know who you are, and I think you are awesome), something that’s worthwhile, something that truly matters, every single day. I just have to open my senses to discover it. Each day that I can love and be loved is a glorious day. Each day of life is a one-of-a-kind gift, no matter what it brings. It's all a matter of perspective.

Kitty Foyle: Boy or Girl?

Dr. Mark: Boy. Almost lost the little fella. (Looks dolefully around the poor apartment.) Mighta been better if he hadn't pulled through.

Kitty Foyle: Don't say that, Mark. It's always better to pull through.

Kitty Foyle (RKO, 1940)
Make lemonade spectacularly. You only live once.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

MADly Creative — WWNT?

First I read Forget Brainstorming – What you think you know about fostering creativity is wrong. A look at what really works, which led me to The death of brainstorming. Newsweek got it wrong.

I read the exchanges between the Newsweek writers and the brainstorming consultants with interest. Both sides had valid points.

Nonetheless, I think the solution to getting more creativity back into American business has little to do with either side's arguments.

I am no creativity expert—just a member of the “lay audience” who has participated in brainstorming using various techniques ranging from chaotic "skeet shooting" to expert-facilitated ideation. My personal observation is that creativity has no One True Method. Even I, as an individual, have no One True Method that is right for me in every situation.

I do think that creativity can be elevated by setting up conditions that encourage it. In my humble opinion, the key conditions are time (to think, revise, dream), stimuli (i.e., new information, for which the source can be any interaction: human, media, environment, etc.), and passion (around the topic).

In my personal experience, I've been inspired even in badly organized skeet-shooting-type brainstorming environments when it was the right mix of people in the room and we were all passionate about the topic. We stimulated and built upon each other's ideas and were so passionate about the topic that it played in our subconscious minds even when we shifted focus to other tasks. We'd keep spontaneously regrouping to hash out another component of the idea as it occurred to us. Creativity was not only stimulated; it could not be restrained.

I have also seen a whole room of very clever people limp through the torture of producing nothing of significance even within exceedingly well facilitated brainstorming sessions. These dreadful, costly experiences usually occurred when the people involved just weren't truly invested in the topic. (I'm not talking about need or urgency here—the demand for a solution may be very real and you may be passionate about finding a solution, but sometimes you just don't have any passion around the topic itself that is to be brainstormed.) In these times creativity seems tremendously forced; that's when it fails, despite the best process expert being on hand to lead the exercise.

My best creative ideas come from doing a lot of reading, thinking, discussing, thinking, writing, thinking over a period of time (I guess it's that that whole "letting several simultaneous ideas percolate" method). Then, when inspiration strikes, it's like fire because my subconscious, I presume, has already been at work fitting the pieces together.

I think the biggest obstacle to creativity in business today is that we have no time—we're "doing more with less," structured, gated, LEAN, etc. until people don't have a single spare second to mentally process potentially inspiring stimuli beyond a very superficial level. (Don't get me wrong—these methods are hugely important in fully developing and executing the outcomes of creativity to extract the most value, but they don't generate creativity.) People are stretched so thin in today's corporation that the stress diminishes the ability to be functional at a high level, let alone creative. Necessity may be the mother of invention (and I'm not entirely convinced of that, either—necessity may simply be the impetus to get the resources you need for possible creative work), but desperation isn't.

So, IMHO, the heart of the solution lies in organizational design, not of finding the best brainstorming method or consultant.

WWNT? (What would Newsweek think?)

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Notes from My Digital Compost Heap

I make a lot of notes as I survey business or technical literature. Sometimes they form the basis of future work, and sometimes they just gather digital dust. Rather than allowing so many bits and bytes to forever languish on my hard drive, I've decided to start publishing them as blog posts. Who knows, maybe my germ of a thought can add to your next breakthrough idea.

First retrieved from my digital compost heap are notes I made after reading Innovation is Not a Strategy (, Sept. 8, 2009) and the comments following the post. Personally, I think innovation can be a strategy.

First of all, what is innovation? Innovation isn’t invention, nor is it adding “nice to have” features to existing products. My best definition of innovation is filling an unmet need in an entirely new way in which the customer finds substantive value. This may be a new-to-the-world product (TiVo*), transforming an existing product into something that operates very differently (Glad Forceflex*), or the total re-invention of an old idea (Swiffer WetJet – it’s really just a mop, but by eliminating the need for a bucket, the whole process of cleaning the floor changes dramatically). All of these ideas introduce something new to the world and customers recognize and value it.

When invention meets value, it becomes innovation. It may take a long time for that value to be realized, but for innovations like the internet, which took a long, long time for invention to meet value, the magnitude of the value when it does “hit” quells any doubt that it was innovation.

Although sales can be an indicator of value, value is not sales. Fads sell, but there is no substantive value to the consumer. Value is defined as relative worth and return on investment. I suspect most former pet rock owners became disenchanted with Sedimentary Fido soon after purchase.

So, can innovation be a strategy? I think it can, but it only works within a larger vision.

Pepsi, which cranks out inventions regularly, seems to lack vision. It builds the soft-drink version of the pet rock repeatedly. It responds to trends like health consciousness and environmental responsibility superficially with small variations on existing products. I think this cheapens the brand image, although a brand like Pepsi has been around for so long that maybe it can sustain the knocks of repeated innovation failures on the chance that something will hit.

Google or Apple, on the other hand, have strong vision and are able to translate invention into innovation over and over again to the acclaim of pretty much everybody other than Microsoft. They have failures, but they're overshadowed by the big hits. They start by saying things like, "If X were designed today, what would it look like?" They don't use their existing products to tether them to a starting point; they start from scratch every time. Yet, the pieces all fit together because they align with the larger vision.

Pepsi, Apple, and Google all are profitable and have power brands, but a reputation of innovation also draws passionate consumers that are not only the source of sales dollars but unpaid marketers of the brand with their fierce loyalty. They draw in other consumers and make each product launch a phenomenon. Innovation as a strategy? Looks like it to me.

For some companies, it may be the dominant strategy at times and a crucial factor in maintaining the brand. For U.S.-based manufacturing companies whose products have become commodities, it must be.

The innovation strategy may be cannibalistic (i.e., trade-up) or it may be redefining the product portfolio because technological advances obsolete the old products (however slowly). The latter requires a company to look very hard at its core competencies and decide how best to apply them beyond the company's traditional boundaries. Consider how brilliantly Amazon did this.

With good leadership and strong vision, a new innovative product, even one that in no way resembles the old (“big time innovation”*), could be the new flagship of the brand. Why not leverage a strong brand for a strong new product? Of course, this must be managed expertly, or you're just Pepsi with another useless sku.

Of course, I'm no expert. Just a businessperson and a consumer.

* Special thanks to Jeannie Chan who provided the examples of TiVo and Forceflex as innovations in her comment to the post that I referenced, above. She also used the term “big time innovation,” which I also re-used – the term has been used by others, but she should have credit for inspiring me to use that term in this post. Make sure you scroll down past the post and read her comment, among others.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

On This Day, O Beautiful Mother

Yoko Ono transformed one of her artworks into an online format called My Mommy is Beautiful. She encourages each of us to post a picture of our mother and give tribute to her in words or other creative expression. My beautiful mother died two weeks ago after a long and full life. Until now, I could not find the words to describe the exquisite and complex beauty of my mother. I still can't do her justice, but here is my noble effort.

My mommy was beautiful.

Mom was an educator. When I was little, Mom always sang as she worked around the house. She had a clear, sweet voice, and I loved to sing along with her as she explained our world through song. She was a marvelous storyteller, and described her childhood, especially memories of her beloved father who died when I was still a toddler, with spellbinding detail. She played games with me so that I’d learn language, math, and logic, and taught me to read so early on that I don’t remember ever not being able to read. Mom had been a teacher before I was born, while she was raising my older siblings, and her passion for teaching was in her very marrow.

Mom was busy and energetic. She drank a lot of coffee, ate very little, never touched alcohol, and smoked a half pack of cigarettes a week, because that’s what women of her generation did. She preferred walking to driving. She hated driving, actually. Yet, she would never let her fears keep her from doing what she wanted. She’d white-knuckle the steering wheel as we drove through the park’s dreaded fiords to visit her widowed younger sister in a neighboring community. In nice weather, she'd happily leave the car in the garage, put my baby sister in the stroller, and walk us to the store. She helped out elderly neighbors, driving them to doctor’s appointments or running errands for them. She visited anyone she remotely knew in the hospital. She sent greeting cards signed with her perfect, schoolteacher handwriting. She volunteered at school and church.

Mom was the queen of frugality. She economized with unfathomable skill, balanced her checkbook to the last penny, probably saved billions through her legendary use of coupons, but still always had a nickel to buy me a pretzel rod from the big jar on the counter of the store at the corner. She’d always buy me and my sister sensible, sturdy, out-of-style shoes for school because they needed to last the whole year. Yet, on my birthday, I’d always receive a tastefully fashionable outfit that made me feel like a princess.

Mom was a woman of faith. I often saw her lips moving ever so slightly as I heard the almost imperceptible click of rosary beads slipping through her fingers in her pocket. She went to mass each morning, especially enjoying school masses, which reminded her of her teaching days. On Sunday, we were all expected to dress up and be on our best behavior for mass, which was always followed by Mom’s wonderful Sunday brunch.

Mom took her career as homemaker seriously. Dad is soft spoken and all heart; Mom was small of stature but powerful in spirit. Dad was the provider, but there was no doubt that Mom was always in charge, the unchallenged organizer of the household. She labeled and filed everything and kept us on track by a system of refrigerator notes. The house was always tidy, clothes were always clean, and the refrigerator was always stocked. Her cooking was simple, but the food was delicious and plentiful. Being of Sicilian descent, she made fantastic pizza and lasagna, and there were always meatballs in the refrigerator, up until the week she died. She loved it when anyone entering the house went straight to the refrigerator and helped himself; to Mom, that was the ultimate compliment.

Mom and Dad were a sharp couple. Mom was slim and shapely, and Dad is classically dapper. On Monday nights, she and Dad went bowling, and Mom would dance around the house all day in jubilant anticipation. On special dressy occasions, when Mom and Dad would hire a babysitter for a big night out, Mom would put on her black pumps, red lipstick, and pearls that Dad gave her on their wedding day, and with a crowning dab of Chanel No. 5, she'd transform into a glamour girl who I thought looked and smelled like a movie star. The smell of her perfume would linger in the air all evening and make me drift off to sleep dreaming of my beautiful mother. In the morning, Mom always had a little surprise for me—a piece of cake wrapped in a napkin, or, if I were very lucky, her corsage from the previous evening. She'd pin the flower on my shoulder and let me wear it all day so that a little of her sparkle dusted over me, too.

Mom’s smile was dazzling and her laugh was genuine. A lot of laughing happened when she talked long-distance with her mother every Saturday night or when she got together with her best friend, Dorie. She laughed a lot less, and was silent and contemplative a lot more, after Grandma's mind and health faded and after Dorie died from cancer much too young. Dad’s best friend died young, too, as did Dad’s brother. As my parents’ circle of young friends and relatives tragically dwindled, my parents’ life became considerably more sedate, routine, and focused on us. Dad always worked long hours and Saturdays; Mom, I think, was lonely.

Mom had grit, but suffered great heartaches. Mom experienced an undue share of loss, disappointment, and worry in the years just before I was born and while I was yet a child and ignorant of my parents’ concerns. By the time I was a teenager and young adult, it seemed that the cumulative effect of Mom’s burdens, especially from my perspective of a stereotypically aggrieved teenager, was irrational distrust of of me. Mom's rules seemed unbending and her expectations impossibly high. It was not all unpleasantness—we enjoyed playing games and watching TV together. We went shopping nearly every Saturday afternoon, and Mom would cheerfully watch my younger sister and I model the latest styles. I wondered then why Mom never shopped for herself, but later realized that when her middle-age spread forced her despairing retreat to a uniform of polyester sportswear, Mom, bittersweetly, tranferred her fashion attention to her daughters. Though Mom's attitude distressed me then, I know now that Mom was just in the normal throes of middle age, amplified by too much rapidfire heartache and my somewhat oversensitive youth.  

Mom was a paradox. She and Dad never had resources or time to travel much, but my sister and I developed a serious passion for international travel as younger adults. As we traveled the world, Mom, incongruously with her frugal nature, heartily encouraged us to take every trip, even when funds were low. She seemed proud and fiercely protective of our careers and independence, though she had chosen a different path for herself. She shocked us with unexpected liberal statements, inconsistent with her outward conservativeness. I think she regretted not taking more chances and chasing more dreams before age and health became limiting.

Mom was my greatest champion. When I became a mother, Mom already was both a grandmother and great-grandmother many times over. She held my hand through sorrows, celebrated joys, and, most importantly, walked with me through the unremarkable in-between times. She loved marveling at each loose tooth, hearing the kids learn to read, holding the youngest grandchildren on her lap, feeding the kids all the cookies they would eat, and proudly displaying their artwork and photographs. In recent years, she encouraged me constantly, praised my smallest personal victories, and helped me to forgive myself for my maternal failings. The woman who I had perceived as dominating, distant, and disapproving in my youth, revealed a vulnerable, understanding, supportive nature that hearkened to my early childhood. She tried to guide me through life's overwhelming burdens as I entered middle age, recalling those years when she'd lost so many key people in her own support system. She told me stories about herself that I had never heard with frank descriptions of her feelings, fears, regrets, and joys. I felt the acceptance and unconditional love I’d felt as a child, only with the added richness of a shared bond of womanhood.

Mom was indomitable. The last 6 months of Mom’s life were a shock to my family. The woman who had rarely had a cold, who put a heart attack behind her in a few short weeks so that she could resume mowing the lawn and shoveling snow, the woman who nursed my father through major health issues so that he continues to far outlive all of his relatives, the one we thought would live forever through sheer stubbornness, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Up until the last few days of her life, she was still cooking and sneaking out in her car to go shopping, under my father’s radar, albeit with shuffling feet and a certain unsteadiness. She scolded us all until her last moments, telling me to go home because she didn’t want me to drive in the dark, telling my Dad to stop coddling her, telling all of us that she didn’t want to leave this earth when we said it was okay—she would make that decision. She would not be silenced—even when her tongue was parched and swollen and morphine alone could no longer quell the pain, Mom asked our Holy Mother to pray for her, saying the rosary one last time as my older sister slipped the beads through Mom’s fingers. She orchestrated her final moments, making sure we all fulfilled our roles, as if she were still leaving instructions for us on the refrigerator door.

My mommy was truly beautiful. A couple of weeks before she died, after Mom had stopped coloring her hair in an effort to preserve it through chemotherapy, her hairdresser gave her a tight perm to make Mom’s thin, light hair look fuller. I marveled at her shining, soft, white curls and remarked that her hair was simply gorgeous against the paler, softer skin that was testimony to her 80 years. Her eyes lit up indescribably with the pure joy of feeling loved, beautiful, and happy in her own skin and with her tremendous life. In that moment, I saw a dazzling flash of that stunning, feisty, sweet-smelling woman in black pumps, red lipstick, and pearls, who knew she was a looker, always had a song, a story, a prayer, and a lesson on her lips, and was ready to conquer the world while holding my tiny hand in hers.

I miss you, my beautiful, beautiful mother, so very much.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Amazon Bright and Beautiful

The area of e-content has much yet to be defined, but Amazon has a clever strategy, as I knew they would.

In the swirling e-content maelstrom, as publishers and aggregators see their old profit models implode and device manufacturers rush to meet consumer e-reading demand, Amazon is in the calm eye of the storm. Stephen Windwalker, Editor of Kindle Nation, blogged yesterday about Amazon's economic imperative to move into e-content, but notes that the company's strategy was born of vision, not desperation:

If Amazon hadn't gone the ebook route, but we were still somehow on the way to Mike Shatzkin's prediction, quoted in yesterday's New York Times that within a decade, fewer than 25 percent of all books sold will be print versions, then Amazon would be a company whose core business was dying.
It seems clear...that (1) Amazon did see that future…(2) neither the company nor CEO Jeff Bezos panicked…(3)…Amazon was hard at work turning the nightmare of the declining print-book future into…a Kindle content ecosystem that is either enormously attractive...or too powerful to ignore…
Amazon's strategy is working. Since the Apple iPad and its corresponding Kindle app were launched, Amazon's sales units of paid Kindle books has trended upwards, with last month's unit sales outpacing hardcover sales by 80%. As Windwalker humorously illustrates:
Apple (AAPL) put out a press release Tuesday to announce that they shipped over 12 million more Kindle-compatible devices during the fiscal quarter that ended in June, bring the worldwide total of Kindle-compatible devices to over 2 billion…that's not exactly the way Apple spun its quarterly earnings news, but that may be the way that Amazon's Jeff Bezos and his Kindle team heard it.
When Amazon announced last month that Almost Every Non E-Paper Kindle Getting Audio and Video Embeds, Gizmodo summarized:
Amazon's own e-book reader won't be able to play back video or audio embedded in e-books the way the iPod touch, iPhone and iPad will… it probably doesn't matter too much to Amazon, who stands to make a killing on the books themselves…
Those of us working for consumer goods companies understand the wisdom of Amazon's "blades" approach to e-content. (Give away the device; make money on the refills. See: The Economics of Kindle: Why e-readers are looking like razors and razor blades by Lee Gomes, Amazon created the market to its own specifications with the Kindle e-reader, and when the market reached critical mass, reverted to its core competency of content distribution. Well done, Amazon.

Especially resonant with me (see #6 here) is Amazon's approach of coopetition. Per Windwalker:
When Amazon opened its "big tent" in 1999 to launch…Amazon Marketplace, the company took the rest of the online and brick-and-mortar economy to school on the unlikely but surprisingly elegant notion that every competitor is a potential partner.

Strategy is about knowing your field, recognizing momentum, and finding a way to harness—or propel—it to everyone's benefit.

When I have my library hat on, I know that there is still a lot to figure out about e-content, especially lending (so many current barriers), digital copies of print works already owned (not economical in current models), and technical literature (not available or not formatted well across various devices).

Still, how different (read: cool) content lending will look in 5 years! We have many opportunities to merge devices with e-content answers (proprietary and external literature), and to develop interesting new gateways to e-content resources for internal customers. We're gonna ride that momentum!

BTW, I believe that the entire worldwide web eventually will consolidate under 3 key sites: Amazon (commerce), Wikipedia (content), and Facebook (networks) ;)

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