The New Coke moment

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The legend of New Coke goes a little something like this…

Thirty-odd years ago Coca Cola got a little bit spooked by the marketing campaign run by their arch competitors Pepsi – the Pepsi Taste Challenge. The campaign, which ran in adverts over here too, showed blind taste tests where people time after time selected Pepsi over Coke when asked which one they preferred.

The legend goes on (I say legend because I haven’t had the chance to re-read the history book of Coke that’s on my shelves somewhere)…

Coke decided that they needed to trump their competition. And so they reformulated their beverage so that in blind taste tests Coke would win. So confident in their user testing, New Coke was brought to market and customers…

… hated it.

There’s a paradox here: on the one hand Coke lost its nerve and started focusing more on its competition than on its customers. But on the other, it started listening absolutely to its customers (but in the confines of a laboratory experiment) and changed its products on the basis, basically, of putting people into a room and asking “Do you like this?”.

Which brings me to yesterday’s announcements of Windows 10. The latest incarnation in logical branding from the people that brought you “Windows RT 8.1 update”.

Windows 10 brings the Windows product back to where the logical extension of Windows 7 should have been – primarily an operating system for “traditional” personal computers – things with a screen, keyboard and mouse.

Windows 8 was a touch-first operating system that brought the promise of new device types, fusing the benefits of tablets and PCs. For many people, though, it seemed the benefit of a tablet was that it wasn’t a PC. The hybrid device is one that when you put people in a room they’ll say “Yes, that sounds like a good idea” but when it comes to actually buying and using one, something of an “edge case”. A bit, if you will, like a TV that has an integrated DVD player. Sounds like a good idea, but you’d probably only buy one for a kids bedroom, and then only if you didn’t like your children very much.

Windows 8 was a product designed in laboratory customer consultation in reaction to competitive pressure.

Coke were able to ride the blip of New Coke and maintain brand superiority over Pepsi in the early 80s. It’s only more recently that the whole sector of fizzy pop stuffed with sugar has become more generally pressured on the grounds of health, and why Coke (and Pepsi) now produce a much broader range of beverages including water.

In the period leading up to Windows 8 and since, the market has changed in the world of the PC. When its predecessor Window 7 was released in 2009 (after the other blip of Vista) smartphones were still gathering market share, with the iPhone still in only its second year and Android nascent. Today, Windows PC account for around 30% of the devices used to access the internet, Android is there or thereabouts as the most popular “personal” computing operating system, and tablets (the device that obsessed the design of Windows 8) might yet be proven to be something of a short-lived mass phenomenon in terms of importance (particularly with the release of the big-screened iPhone).

So Windows 10 appears to be going back to basics as a keyboard & mouse-based operating system at a time when people are really starting to question how much they need those devices to get things done. An edge-case device for doing large amounts of typing and spreadsheeting. Windows Classic, if you will.

But for the most part tech companies don’t like the idea of selling the old – even if Apple have managed to wrap up all of the century-old Bauhaus movement in their products in recent years. It’s always about the new new thing, because the revenue models are all based around selling new stuff on regular replacement cycles. That’s why mobile phones these days are less likely to have easily-replaceable batteries or abilities to add memory.

So what for Windows 10? Well, it’ll probably be reasonably successful as it will appeal to the legions of IT departments who saw a practical and support nightmare in Windows 8. It will sell millions and millions of licences. But does it do anything to address the central question facing Microsoft? Will it address that we’ve moved beyond the PC and have done so increasingly with products and services from other companies? Those more fundamental issues are no clearer than they were back in 2011 before any of the Windows 8 product was public knowledge.

Confusion

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This post is in the “cheaper than therapy” category a little more than usual, but expresses some of the paradoxical stuff I’m currently mentally wrestling with…

First of all, nobody can predict the future. I don’t care if you’ve been blessed with the magic pixie dust of mysticism, or the magic pixie dust of big data, the future is unknowable in absolute terms.

If you are, however, needing to make an educated stab at what the future holds, then you could do far worse than saying “it’ll be pretty much exactly the same as today”. That will work for you pretty well within most margins of error until it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it’ll possibly be quite catastrophic. But don’t worry – tomorrow is usually pretty much like today.

“Tomorrow is usually pretty much like today” is a prerequisite state for most models of improvement in organisations. The continuous improvement/TQM/Kaizen world, making it’s cyclic changes to get marginal improvement in existing ways of working, depends on tomorrow being pretty much like today as the changes to the ways of working are improvements on themselves and generally assume not much outside is changing. Continuous improvement is pretty useless if your organisation is being subjected to the occasional seismic “tomorrow is very different to today” disruptions that occur. But don’t worry – those disruptions are fairly rare.

If you want to do something drastic, you’re going to have to make a lot of assumptions and take a lot of risks and, probably, fail. It’s easy to get suckered into thinking that big changes are successful be the tendency is to only hear about the successful ones, or the massive disasters. The marginal failures (which I presume are the majority) never get coverage because they’re a bit dull.

However there is a case where you can get away with a lot – that’s when you’re in a position of a monopoly supplier. That might be because you have a complete or relative monopoly, or where you the sole supplier of an ancillary service (take, for example, banking apps). You might bugger things up to cause people to switch services, but the number of customers that will be bothered to change say their bank account or electricity supplier today is relatively low (although that will change).

IT used to be a monopoly supplier. It was able to bugger things up for end users at a grand scale. Not intentionally, but usually in the aim of fulfilling the needs of the organisation over the needs of the end consumers of the services it provided.

But IT isn’t in a monopoly position any more. It has to compete with what some euphemistically call “shadow IT” (read: people finding stuff that enables them to get their jobs done), but isn’t really given the option to take risks to innovate to fail – because no organisation could afford to have the rates of failure that real innovation requires. The sorts of rates of failure that are associated with startups.

Instead we are still left with the nonsense of the cost-benefit analysis approach to investment decisions that predicates the ability to see into the future. Which brings me back to my very first point.

Weeknote 214: two day eventing

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Things I have learned this week:

- I do like to present
that culture is a thing oft spoken about but rarely understood
-
 I’m still able to marginally bring down the average age in a room full of CIOs…
– … but push it up in a room full of social media wonks
– it’s difficult to really spot any differences in the competing world of Enterprise Social Networks

Next week: projects start to coalesce (hopefully)

Meeting of minds

Presenting

This morning saw the culmination of about five months’ work – the release of the research report that I’ve investigated and compiled over this summer for IG Digital, and the event organised in conjunction with social PR firm Zoodikers at which we launched.

The research involved me speaking with or online interrogating people from 65 organisations across the UK, from marketing, communications, technology, customer experience and general management backgrounds. The audience of about fifty people in Bloomsbury today represented a similar sort of diversity, and my co-presenter from Zoodikers, Katie King comes from a very different background to my own. All of this further convinces me of the benefits of bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and experience to discuss and debate the ways in which organisations should address change. Established communities of professional interest too often get trapped into group thinking, and the reinforcement of “the way we do things”. The debate at the end of our presentation today was wonderful.

Having said all that, tomorrow I go in the opposite direction when I attend CIO Magazine’s annual shindig, with 140 or so UK technology leaders gathering together in London. It’s going to be interesting to hear where that professional group are at today.

You can see the slides, sign up to the report (and in a few days’ time watch our presentation) at http://igdigi.com/SMWcc

Weeknote 213: Braveheart

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Things I have learned this week:

- searching on the Internet usually yields the answer to anything
first day of school is considerably more stressful for parents than children
– explaining product concepts to a complete stranger hones the mind

Next week: It’s Social Media Week London – why not come and join us on Tuesday Morning

Collaborative personae

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You’ve got to love the Internet. Find a challenge that you haven’t come across before? Tippetty-tap on Google and before you know it you’ve found someone who has already.

And so it has been with the issues of agile approaches to software delivery in the context of collaboration tools that I mentioned earlier this week.

My searching led me to some work by a group of IBM researchers who had identified the same challenge – that agile approaches (and particularly the technique of using user personae) failed to cope with the group dynamics inherent in collaborative software.

Their work led to them defining six types of teams, which we in turn are further developing. They look a little like this:

A project team is a group of people brought together to deliver a particular product or outcome. The team lifecycle has a beginning and eventual end. Members may be there for the whole duration of the project, or for just parts of it when their skills or time are required or can be afforded. For most people in the team, their personal work objectives are aligned to the objectives of the team.

(The IBM model split project teams into stable teams, where most members were there for the duration, and dynamic teams where most members were not. At the moment we didn’t think that distinction would be helpful in our context.)

A client/supplier relationship team is a group of people from both sides of a business relationship whose objective is to facilitate good communication between both sides. An account management team and client representatives would be a stereotypical example, but such teams can exist within an organisation between operational silos as well.

A service delivery team provides an ongoing service to a client or customer with no defined end point. Such teams might work under service level agreements to provide an indication of successfully achieving their goals. Team members are likely to be relatively  stable, and the activities of project teams are likely to change the operational activities of such groups. This highlights that it is quite possible for an individual to be a member of many teams of different types at any given time.

(This team wasn’t included in the IBM model, which was derived from the study of software development teams where we are assuming there wasn’t much service delivery going on. The rise of DevOps working though sees much more software development move into this type of team structure.)

A committee is the first team type where the activities of the team are probably secondary to the activities of most of the individual members. A committee is a group that operates in a pretty structured manner to provide oversight or insight to a particular matter. A project governance board is a good example here (as separate from the actual delivery team).

A community is a (possibly leaderless) group of people who come together because of some sort of shared professional interest or cause. Secondary to day to day activity, a community is there primarily to share expertise and knowledge.

A networking relationship is a usually small (often just 2) group coming together to share knowledge on a particular topic or theme, or to seek assistance. Mentoring relationships would be a formalised example, hooking up for a coffee a less-so.

(In the IBM work this was referred to as a professional relationship).

From these groupings, or next stage is to develop out team stories that can start to articulate some of the things that they might do, to then in turn help provide examples of where collaborative technologies might help… For example, for a project team, to ensure that we successfully deliver our project we need to track the progress of tasks and activities might lead to looking at how co-authored documents within Google Drive or Office Web Apps might provide a platform.

The aim here is to both provide some frameworks for people to start to see how collaborative tools can improve a team’s working practises, and also to help identify which teams to work with in the first place.

Leading questions

I’m very lucky to live in the stereotypical leafy South West London suburb of Teddington. Close to the open spaces of Richmond and Bushy Parks, with a thriving local independent shopping centre, great schools and other amenities.

The best way to illustrate what sort of a place Teddington is is when I saw dog poo on the pavement nearby recently how someone had taken the effort to scrawl in chalk next to it the words “Shame on you!”. My initial reaction was that we must now be teaching the dogs to read around here.

Teddington really is a lovely place. Sometimes a little over-competitive, but really lovely. And with great transport links – a sedate 35 minutes into London Waterloo, and with Heathrow Airport on our doorstep.

Ah. Heathrow. The cause of much current consternation.

Generally aeroplanes take off over Berkshire, into the prevailing westerly winds that keep this country so warm for its latitude. But about 30% of the time the winds come from the East and so planes take off over London.

In the past few weeks there has been a lot of easterly wind, and that, combined with some new flight path routes that Heathrow are trialling, has resulted in a lot more aircraft nose than we are used to hearing. The people of Teddington aren’t happy.

But there is more afoot at Heathrow. Having knocked back Boris’s plans for a large pontoon in the Thames Estuary, planning decisions are coming to a conclusion in the next few months as to whether to build a new runway at Heathrow or London’s second airport at Gatwick. A once in a lifetime decision, apparently.

Yesterday in the post I received a mail from an organisation calling itself Back Heathrow. Slightly shady to it’s origins and funding (although the website does admit to it having been initially started by the airport itself) the group is a lobby organisation to support Heathrow expansion. Included within the envelope was a “survey”. The structure of the survey was of the “do you support the expansion of Heathrow or the boiling of puppies” variety that seem to be so popular amongst political lobby groups.

Doing a bit more searching, it looks like providing surprising results in support of Heathrow expansion where before there was dissent might be a specific modus operandi for Heathrow. This is no way to have an important debate.

I don’t know if Heathrow should be expanded or not. It appears that the “do we really need more airport capacity?” question has been put to bed. I can see pros and cons to both Heathrow and Gatwick growing (I spent a couple of years working on the Gatwick site a few years back and so know that area a bit too). But I also know that this leading question, PR-driven data gathering approach being used by the Back Heathrow campaign makes me not trust them. Nor the data that Heathrow produce to support their case. How much rigour has gone in to any of it, or have “find us the right answer” methods been used throughout?

In an age when information is so easily disseminated (and checked), organisations that think that it’s enough to gather false data to present their case are on very thin ice. Whilst the journalism trade might be increasingly naïve and under-resourced to print the stuff, concerned citizens can lobby back with increasing force.

Matt Ballantine's thoughts about technology, marketing, management and other stuff…

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