December 21, 2011
After buying over 100 albums this year (mostly in CD format), I'm ready to reveal my top listens from 2011. To qualify, the entire album must be good, not just a few songs. I still love to listen to an album from beginning to end, instead of just grazing on singles via a playlist. It's hard to find albums that shine from cut 1 to cut 10 or beyond - and that's why these 6 are so special:
1. Yuck (self-titled debut) - If you liked early Smashing Pumpkins or Dinosaur Jr., you'll love this group of youngsters from the UK. Their songwriting is matched by a very special guitarist with one-of-a-kind tones.
2. The Givers: In Light - The Lafayette Louisiana guy/girl group has a fresh new hippie meets indie sound. For fans of Vampire Weekend or Peter, Paul and Bjourn.
3. Decemberists: The King Is Dead - This album sparkles, mainly because of the addition of REM's Peter Buck on guitars. Each song has a country-rock influence, which combined with the Decemberist sound makes for a truly remarkable album that you'll still enjoy five years from now.
4. Black Keys: El Camino - They pick up right where they left off with Brothers, except this time they've got some friends playing and singing with them. Just got this one in, but in less than a week, it's on heavy rotation in my car.
5. Foster The People: Torches - This is the breakout album of the year, containing three singles and several big deals for TV shows, commercials and movies. Foster really captures the gestalt of the times with this record and Pumped Up Kicks is the song of the year - bringing back song-construction wonders I've been missing since MGMT's first album.
6. Fruit Bats: Tripper - Much like Decemberists, Fruit Bats are really figuring out how to integrate a country-rock feel into indie and make it shine (brighter than Wilco). There's also a timeless quality to these songs, like merging Supertramp with the Allman Brothers.
Here are some discoveries from 2011 worth checking out:
1. Planningtorock - combines NIN with Florence and the Machines for eerie but awesome songs.
2. Peaking Lights - Dub, meets guy-girl vocal for dancy yet chilled out grooves.
3. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - These guys funk it up, Touch The Sky will make you get up and dance.
Chime in here in the comments - what are your favorite albums or discoveries from 2011?
December 14, 2011
Since reading Primal Leadership, I've been a fan of this topic and a student of the discipline.
Later, as Yahoo's Leadership Coach, I studied the areas of excellence in leaders both inside the company, and throughout our customer and partner base. Some, like Howard Stringer of Sony, had very clear skill sets, such as people skills. Others, like Scott McNeely, had implicit skills, like deal-making. After my first book came out, I was invited to speak at leadership events, which gave me valuable feedback over time. Here are four areas of leadership excellence that all great leaders continually develop.
1. VISION - As Stephen Covey Sr. said, "Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success: leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall." In other words, she sees where the organization needs to go, and can enunciate it clearly to her followers. Think of this as the strategy piece of the puzzle. Great leaders do not guess in this regard, they must constantly research and observe business context closely - otherwise, their vision is blurry or incorrect. This is why Readers Are Leaders. They constantly plumb books, studies and trend data to sharpen their vision and spot strategic opportunities to pounce on. When business misfires, they rethink their vision and are willing to shift or pivot.
2. COMMITMENT - You aren't a leader if you don't step up! As Farmers Insurance executive Bryan Murphy told me, "leadership is dangerous." Why? Because when you step up and say, "this way!", you are assuming accountability for the outcome. Get your vision wrong, and you may lose your job. But it's a bet you must make, because with commitement comes respect and a new power - the ability to mobilize people and align them with a plan. Commitment is an ongoing process, though. You can lose it or let it wither due to adversity. Great leaders constantly check in on their level of commitment and refresh their motivations, especially during tough times.
3. INFLUENCE - The Chinese proverb applys: He who has no followers is merely taking a walk! Despite your vision and commitment, if you can't motivate and/or inspire others, you can't lead effectly. Influence stems mostly from our communications skills, both in terms of what we say and how closely we listen to others. Great leaders use story devices to unite their teams, speak in clear terms and exude authenticity. They take every communications opportunity very seriously, and prepare relentlessly to move their audiences to action. READ: Leadership Is Dead: How Influence Is Reviving It for more here.
4. PURPOSE - This is likely the most important corner of leadership excellence. Great leaders are focused on the WHY behind the WHAT. Their strategy has a purpose bigger than traditional business goals: Making money, growing, accumulating resources. Leaders don't get the means and the ends mixed up. In True North:Discover Your Authentic Leadership, Medtronic founder Bill George talks about our compass, which is the ultimate guide for the leader. To him, integrity and service are the true north we point our enterprise towards. In Good To Great, Jim Collins reminds leaders that their purpose needs to be worthy - something bigger than just P&L management. This is an ongoing challenge for leaders, as they need to ask themselves, "how do we make this world a better place?" and then using purpose (think service, not self) as the ultimate device to give their followers focus and hope.
December 07, 2011
Today's article (Facebook: Zynga's #1 Frenemie) prompted this blog post.
While Zynga stands as a multi-billion dollar example of the dangers of platform squatting, many of you might be doing in a smaller but still deadly way. Examples: you don't have a website anymore, you build a big Facebook Page following instead. You don't build a web property to sell your products (see this a lot now in books), you rely on Facebook instead - thinking, "everyone is here, why not build it into their stream? You base your real estate, insurance or home repair sales on your Page, leaving your older properties abandoned to wither.
Startups from Color to Spotify bet-the-farm on a long and cozy relationship with Facebook - who could turn all of them off with the flip of a switch. Retailers, small business owners and even public figures are all provisioning the Facebook closed platform (emphasis on closed) to reduce costs and presumably fish where the fish are hooked.
But here's the rub: Facebook will eventually have to eat their babies to grow into their valuation. Still private, Zuckerberg gets to report vanity numbers only, playing with Eric Ries calls "success theatre" with it's investors and employees. Time spent, number of active users, etc., all dominate the Facebook story. That will change quickly when they go public and New York analysts descend on them to question their revenue-valuation multiple. If the social-bubble breaks (and it's being poked right now in the cases of LinkedIn and Groupon), who knows what Facebook's leadership team will resort to?
Look at Google, seven years post-IPO. Steve Jobs can testify: You can't trust a company that's on fire to triple their top line quickly. Thus andriod. Now, Google+ is tied to employee compensation and the sacred search algorithm, protected for users, is now biased to reward websites that include +, Places or Circles. Anyone in the valley will warn to avoid getting close to them early, because big and hungry companies "may accidently kill you."
Back to Facebook. If you are using a Page to market your products or services, it's pretty clunky to say the least. You can't conduct giveaways or polls, lest they shut down your account (which is based on your personal account, which also goes away). The apps they require you to use require too many steps and in our privacy-centric world, result in less conversion. So now, you lose all the web-innovations that power super sites like Zappos, Amazon, etc.
At Yahoo, I've seen this first hand. When I joined, we had dozens of dotcom partners in areas where eventually we decided to 'get into their space' to justify our lofty valuation. We were, by 2004, competitors with everyone who made money. Facebook will be the same.
I understand the business logic of being in the app business, making your ultimate bet on Apple. As a mature company, they aren't likely to flip a swtich and get into the app development game, killing all the Fred-In-the-Sheds to make a few more bucks. But, Facebook is likely doing skunkworkss right now to build their own social games, daily deals redux, publicity services, banking and loan services, mobile devices and for all we now VOIP telco services. If you currently make money via them, exclusively, you want want to diversify your business web outreach. What if they turn on a pay-for service for Page owners who want to have ANY links to purchase or generate leads?
Consider what happens when you rely on Google, yet somehow are in their business development plans. When they tweak their search formulas, big changes happen to your business. What if they tweak search to devalue links to Facebook pages, like they've toyed with in the case of Wikipedia and Flickr? Ask LA startup Mahalo, where they had to layoff employees after a regular Google update. First they were a human-search company, then after the Google thrashing of their business, they settled into a video-help resrouce. They didn't have an option. Keep your options open begins to make sense again - instead of cozying up exclusively with a cub company that's got paws bigger than Alaska.
December 01, 2011
This is a takeaway I got from reading Nail It Then Scale It. In the book, written for startup founders, Nathan Furr reveals a startling statistic: 90% of startups that fail, fail because they built something no one wants bad enough to buy.
Apply this to any solution business, whether you are a sales pro a consultant or the CEO. Do you solve a problem worthy of investing precious dollars into? Furr puts it this way: Make sure you are treating a shark bite of a business problem. In this view, as a solutions provider, you think of yourself as the doctor - treating a patient. For many of the solutions I've recently seen from iPhone apps to B2B offerings - the problem is only a paper cut. The prospect admits there is some waste or lost opportunity, but in the end, they are still doing fine. While your solution is relevant, it lacks true urgency.
I've discovered this running Deeper Media's training product launches. One of them, The Dirty Dozen Rules Of Email Etiquette, has had breakthrough sales success - reaching over 40,000 customer/users in five years. Another one, Greening Up Your Business, has had tepid results, even though I supported it with a book (Saving The World At Work). Why? Shark bite versus paper cut.
My email training clients had a REAL problem on their hands when they found me (I've never had to cold call this). Email use was out of control, relationships were breaking down and business was grinding to a halt. For my Green Business prospects, my training solution was a 'nice to have', but they didn't think the business would be negatively impacted without it.
In Nail It Then Scale It, Furr offers a great acid test for a Shark Bite Solution: Cold call a group of people, explaining what problem your service solves in a succinct manner. If less than 50% call you back, it's not a big problem. In his experience, the real Shark Bite Solutions had a stunning level of cold call backs - because the problem was big enough for prospects to pick up the phone and invest time with a stranger.
In this economy, it's important for us to sell solutions not products or services. To do that, we have to be brutally honest with ourself to make sure our solution is significant or we are identifying and quantifying a real problem worth solving right now (and not when things get better and luxuries are affordable.)