Jennifer B. Davis
So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.
- Peter Drucker

If you don't believe that is true, read this article on The Onion and tell me if you don't find yourself sadly relating.




Jennifer B. Davis
Related to my earlier post about selling statistics, here comes along a new tool that allows you to visualize that data in a new way (and make decisions with it).

The service is called Moody and it is in the category of iTunes enhancers. Using a color-coded tagging system, Moody filters songs according to your mood. You can select our own color indicators to futher personalize the experience.

It is free and you can donate to the developers, if you are in the mood.
Jennifer B. Davis
Flickr, one of my favorite photo sites, just launched some new statistics features for their professional members. When I followed the link that I read, it offered me the chance to upgrade my personal account to a pro account with the #1 benefit being "Be enthralled by graphs and charts!" You can read all the stated benefits of upgrading at this link.

This makes me consider two things:

1. Sometimes you don't have to offer people much to get them to part with their money. Sometimes the value-add that is required, isn't much in the scheme of things. You don't have to offer the world, just enough to provide value to the customer.

2. People will pay for their own information. Whether it be Flickr stats or American Express' specialized statements that allow you to categorize expenses for reporting purposes, sometimes it is the data around the main service that provides the differentiation. This is one of the popular features of Xobni's service (see your most frequent email communicators in an easy pop-up) or iTunes (what are your favorite/most frequently played songs).

So, what information do you gather that you could sell, package, or otherwise entice your clients with? Would your corporate clients be interested to know how often their employees called for technical support? Would your customers be interested to know what their buying preference say about them? Could you post some statistics and get positive press mentions (like Google and Yahoo! do when they issue press releases about what the most popular search topics are in any given year)? I suspect that your data would be more useful and insightful than the fact that lots of people searched for news on Britney Spears this past year!
Jennifer B. Davis
If I had a secretary, this is what I would ask them to do. I'd have their number on speed dial. When I was about town, I would see something and call him and leave a message. Let's say I saw a building and wanted to know what the company did or perhaps I heard friends talking about a movie and wanted to be reminded to view the trailer. He'd respond back to me (at a more convenient time and place) with a summary of more information and a list of additional links.

So, that is probably why I don't have a secretary. No matter. Now that Kwiry is in beta. You SMS something from your phone that you see/hear and it emails you what you typed, as well as a list of links where you can learn more.



Now, if only I could make sure Kwiry sent those text reminders to a real assistant would would go pick up the dry cleaning, download the song, or buy the gift. Then it would be perfect!

Jennifer B. Davis
One of the most creative books I have ever seen is the Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book. It reads like a handwriting journal and includes illustrations of what appears to be real fairies caught and squished between the pages of the book. Some are a little graphic and perhaps the whole thing is a little morbid, but I thought it was very creative at the least.

I am really glad that the new book service, FlattenMe, didn't choose this approach. Instead, you upload a picture of your child and they integrate them into a beautiful children's book. The site is very friendly and they have gotten some great press. Too late to order for this year's holiday season, but perhaps for Valentine's Day?

Jennifer B. Davis
Archeologists have just discovered a well preserved dinosaur remains which is calling into question many assumptions scientists have made about these ancient reptiles. Specifically, the specimen's vertebrae, which museums commonly stack together, are actually "spaced 10 millimeters apart. The result implies that scientists may have been underestimating the size of hadrosaurs and other dinos."
It is strange to think that we might have been underestimating the size of something we assumed to be gargantuan. The dinosaurs in museums or the dinosaur models I used to visit as a kid, with their stacked together vertebrae, are terrifyingly tall. Can you imagine if they are bigger still?

It reminds me of many of the challenges in business strategy and forecasting. We make assumptions every day about the scope of some problem or the potential of some opportunity. We may assume it is big or minimal, but what if we are wrong. Not directionally wrong, but "order of magnitude" wrong. What if that customer satisfaction isn't just struggling, but is really horrible? What if the forecast isn't just a little soft, but seriously at risk? What if your employees are not just satisfied, but are referring their friends to new positions? What if what you know to be true isn't just true, but is understated?
Jennifer B. Davis
Regular readers of this blog know I am a fan of customizable products. Here is one that might be of particular interest as temperatures plummet and you are out shopping amidst crowds of germs: personalized Kleenex brand tissues.

$4.99 plus shipping and you can put your own image and text on a Kleenex box, select top cover colors, and more. I think it would make a very creative "Get Well Soon" card!

Sadly, Kleenex also launched a new tag line: "Let it out." I am not kidding (groan).
Jennifer B. Davis
"I don't deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don't deserve that either."
- Jack Benny

"When you're young you believe it when people tell you how good you are. And that's the danger, you inhale. Everyone will tell you you're a genius, which you are not. And you learn that you're never as good as they say you are when they say you're good, but you're never as bad as they say you are when they say you're bad. And if you understand that, you win." - George Clooney

These two quotes strike me as interesting and telling. Life is unfair and sometimes it is a right-way unfairness and sometimes a wrong-way unfairness. You can't rely on people's opinions, comments, or accolades as an accurate indicator of your performance. You know what you deserve. Chances are, no matter how hard you work or how talented you are, when you really think about it, you are really lucky!
Jennifer B. Davis
After the day I had, I could not resist this quote from Peter Drucker.

"So much of what we call 'management' consists in making it difficult for people to work."

How true!
Jennifer B. Davis
On a recent flight to Europe, I saw a WorldShop catalog full of duty-free items that can be purchased on the plane. They advertised everything from jewelry to toys, from luggage to candy. This ad caught my eye. In the States, the warnings on cigarettes are big, but they fill the square with lots of fine print. In this catalog however, the messages were not subtle.

Two words.

Smoking kills.

It reminded me that sometimes there is no time for subtly. Sometimes you have to be direct. Give a clear directive.

So, next time you think about delivering a marketing message, talking to employees, or pitching a new investor...be direct.
Jennifer B. Davis
So, "The Next Great American Band" is on reality TV featuring groups with names like Dot, Dot, Dot, The Clark Brothers, and Sixwire (the former being the least favorite, I must admit, and the latter being my favorite). In this case, I am not sure the names matter, but they certainly can hurt (perhaps when the boys in "Light of Doom" grow up, they will find a better band name).

Meanwhile, businesses all over the world are struggling with naming their products and services. How to pick something meaningful? How to pick something clever? How to make sure it can be spelled correctly? Is the URL taken?

I have written about this before and offered some online automatic name generation solutions. If you are still lacking inspiration however, I have a new suggestion...think about your product or service like you are naming a band.

I know this might not be a new approach. Afterall, we all know companies like Yahoo!, StumbleUpon, Apple, and others that probably started off as the names of rock bands. To get you started check out this list of great band names posted by one of my favorite humorists, Dave Barry. Maybe one of these would be perfect for your next product launch!

"Rodent Passion" might be perfect for your pest control product or I could imagine the empire you could build around "The Foliage Eaters." The possibilities are endless!

P.S. Dave Barry celebrated his 60th birthday this past July. Happy belated birthday, Dave.

P.P.S. This is just the kind of thing I might have written about at the Creative Outlet Labs' blog had I known. I am doing a series called SomeoneYouKnow.isRemarkable.com. If you know of someone who is remarkable (whether or not they are famous enough to have their own page on Wikipedia or not) and celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime or everyday event, please email someone@creativeoutletlabs.com to recommend them for a feature.
Jennifer B. Davis
We have all heard that laughter is the best medicine, but it is also the best business. According to a study by Goleman and the Hay Group referenced in a Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, found that "within organizations, the most effective leaders were funny (that is funny ha-ha, not funny strange). These leaders had their charges laughting three times more often than their managerial counterparts."

So, it is good for your career to laugh. I read about this humor test to determine your preferred style of humor. Warning: the test itself is a raw for my taste and the requires registration (and they email you afterwards at annoying frequency). I am not recommending you do it, if you are offended by body humor.

Here is what they said about my sense of humor:

STYLE: The Prankster
CLEAN COMPLEX LIGHT
Your humor has an intellectual, even conceptual slant to it. You're not pretentious, but you're not into what some would call 'low humor' either. You'll laugh at a good dirty joke, but you definitely prefer something clever to something moist.You probably like well-thought-out pranks and/or spoofs and it's highly likely you've tried one of these things yourself. In a lot of ways, yours is the most entertaining type of humor because it's smart without being mean-spirited.


PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Conan O'Brian - Ashton Kutcher
OPPOSITE STYLE: The Shock Jock
Jennifer B. Davis
If everything that we really needed to know, we learned in kindergarten then it is true that we should share. If you have documents to give to others, then you know what a pain attachments can be and how hard it is to post anything but pictures and text onto sites like blogs. Now, you have a few additional options:

Adobe has launched a beta of a new application they appropriately call "Share." With an Adobe ID, you can post files (up to 1GB) on their servers for free, allowing you to embed them in webpages,k access, them anywhere, and share them with whomever you want. Not only that their sign-in interface is really clean and straightforward.

For users of Microsoft products, you can store up to 1,000 documents and access them anywhere with Microsoft's new Live Workspace. People criticize it for a lack of editing features (like Google Apps or others), but that isn't the point really. Thousands of documents are created each second in Microsoft applications, so sharing these might cover most of the things you want to share and now you can do it for free.

Enjoy!
Jennifer B. Davis
Ditch the gift cards (which Seth Godin says are a rip-off anyway). Toss the fruit cake. This season give personalized t-shirts for Christmas!

Here are a few options:
  • Zazzle: They are the best choice if you want a shirt with a text message on it or if you want to vary the text that accompanies a photo or image. I am a customer of Zazzle. I have made one for my toddler son (see image below). I have set up a storefront here for Little Masters by Rebecca Hull. Enter code SURVEYBR1107 until November 30th to get free ground shipping! The quality and service has been excellent! They offer a wide variety of products besides shirts, including postage, stationary, mugs, and stickers.


  • CafePress: They are the best choice if you want to design lots of products with the same design. I am using them for HSVGear.com, which is a collection of apparel and gifts celebrating the lifestyle of Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. They do have a nice collection of women's items (not just smaller-sized men's clothes) and more than just clothes. Only company to offer things like license plate covers, yard signs, and other unique items.


  • Threadless: Not really sure how the personalization works on this site, but they have a whole host of unique products to buy that you are sure not to find at the mall and the prices are good.


  • GoodStorm: The prices here are the lowest I have seen for shirts (base prices as low as $5.95) and the storekeeper profits are much higher.


  • Etsy: If you are looking for something a little more "out there," check out the collection at Etsy. This site is all handmade items. Some of the t-shirt designs (under the clothing category) are really whimsical and the prices vary widely. Most are hand-stiched or silkscreened.


Jennifer B. Davis
Regular readers of this blog know I love (I mean L-O-V-E) print-on-demand and customizable products. I think it is revolutionizing the way the products can be brought to market and enabling all sorts of new business models.


One is called Ponoko. You think up a design. You send it to them. They use their tools to make it out of wood, acrylic, etc. You can browse though designs that others have updated and they can be made in quantities of one. You pay for the materials, making, and shipping costs. Some of the designs are free. They provide templates. Very cool for those who like unique things in the their home or office, or those who like to design furniture, jewelry, or other stuff. Products available for sale today range from $2 to just under $1,000.



The company is in New Zealand and they are giving free shipping to anyone who can refer someone with a laser-cutter. Apparently they are trying to grow their network of production locations.
Jennifer B. Davis
Apparently it is very common for corporate recruiters to Google (the verb) a candidate's name. I am sure it is common in other circles as well (if I, heaven forbid, was on the dating circuit right now, Google would get a work out searching for skeletons in the closet of any would-be boyfriend). Not only that, but if you want to make a name for yourself in any field, reinforcing your expertise online is critical. So, the good folks at TheLadders have put together their recommendations on how to build your online brand and I thought it was worth summarizing here. The authors are William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson nauthors of Career Distinctions.

  • Publish: Get articles or white papers published in online publications, preferrably those highly ranked themselves.
  • Posting: Post a review on Amazon or BarnesandNoble on subjects that are "on topic" with your expertise.
  • Pontificating: Post comments on other people's blogs. You can find relevant blogs at BlogSearch.Google.com. You can subscribe to the best ones in your field directly or you can keep your eye on the entire landscape by subscribing right on BlogSearch to any blog that contains your keyword choices.
  • Publicizing: Write a press release and post it. PRLeap or i-Newswire will release them for free. Check out an earlier article I wrote about doing your own PR.
  • Partnering: They recommend networking sites like LinkedIn, Ryze, ecademy, and Facebook. I personally like LinkedIn.
  • Profiling: They recommend creating the basic online profiles at Ziggs, LinkedIn, Naymz, and ZoomInfo, which I have written about before to make sure that they are complete and show your expertise clearly.

I guess I have some work to do...this personal branding thing could be a full-time job!

Jennifer B. Davis
"Anything, but beige" you say. If you love color and like to experiment, you will enjoy a site called ColourLovers. You can mix palettes (naming the colors yourself, which I always thought would be the best job at a paint or finger nail polish company) and see other combinations that people have come up with. You can search for the post popular palettes or select by colors that you are trying to match. Then you can use the palettes in your website designs or the like.

One of the top ranked palettes when I visited is featured here. It is called Chupacabra and it was submitted by EnaBean (who interestingly enough is 16 years old according to her profile and has put together what seems like thousands of combinations most of which are beautiful).
Jennifer B. Davis
There is a new product from Snapfish that looks pretty cool - talking greeting cards. You personalize the card on their site with your pictures and then you record your voice in the little microchip with the card arrives. In case you are interested, they are offering a 20% off special with the coupon code TALK20 until November 30th.

However, I just can't help but think there is a better way to do this in the future. Why not allow the person to pre-record the message by calling into a number (or similar to how GrandCentral lets you set up your voice mail by calling you)? Then instead of receiving the card yourself, you could have them send it to your recipient directly.

If you'd rather not record it yourself, why not have a celebrity recording you could choose from? Marilyn Monroe's singing Happy Birthday or Clint Eastwood saying "Make my day." They could be pre-recorded or the technology exists to have a personalized greeting in a celebrity voice. Remember those voice mails for Snakes on a Plane with Samuel L. Jackson?
Jennifer B. Davis
It seems like the hot color for business books today is orange. Here are three of my recent favorites.


Jennifer B. Davis
You will now find a new site posted at http://www.creativeoutletlabs.com/ with some features you should check out. The most exciting of which is that we are now collecting volunteers for an upcoming beta test of a new service called Remarkable by Creative Outlet Labs. There will be more on this posted on the site and on the company blog in the coming months, but in the meantime sign-up and make sure you are on the list to be notified when we have something to look at.

While you are on the site, you can also read the company blog and take the survey that is posted there. This will help set the direction for the product offering, which we believe will provide a better way to appreciate, collaborate, and celebrate.
Jennifer B. Davis
It started with the band Radioheads and extended to Paste magazine. I blogged about it here. Now, you can subscribe to the company blog for Creative Outlet Labs and pay whatever you want.

Well, in all seriousness, you can’t pay for it even if you wanted to. However, if you are interested in keeping tabs on the development front, go to http://creativeoutletlabs.wordpress.com/ and add it to your RSS reader.

So, save your donations. There will be something for you to buy soon enough.
Jennifer B. Davis

In Portland there is a tile-lined tunnel leading out of downtown where exhaust grime collects. Often there will be "graffiti" on the wall that isn't graffiti at all, but rather someone writing a message by writing in the grime. Things like "Happy Birthday, Brittney" are common. It is a variation of "Wash Me" written on a dirty back windshield.

Now someone is making a business of this. Street Advertising Services uses high-pressure cleaning machines to wash advertisements and logos onto dirty pavements using a client-specified stencil.

The idea was born from a frustration of the founder of trying to find an inexpensive way to advertise in London. The company operates mainly in the UK, but it is open to projects elsewhere. This would be the easiest business to start. I expect it to take off in other markets.

Look for an ad in a tunnel near you!

P.S. Beyond advertising, why not sell standard stencils of reindeer to people for their driveways to deck them out for the holiday season?

Jennifer B. Davis
Robert Heinlein is credited with this great quote: “Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.”

This not only applies to inventors and product innovators. It applies to everyone.

No matter what we might try to get ourselves to believe about our customers (or ourselves), people are generally lazy. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. People don't have time or interest to do hard things. They are busy. They are occupied with other important things. Your complex or difficult requests just might not be worth the effort. So, you have to raise your game. You have to make things easy.

Said another way, "Customers are not all early adopters. You must create easier ways for your customers to do something."
Jennifer B. Davis
Here is my theory: "Everything (every product or service sold) is a commodity."

How can I make such a bold statement? Isn't there a difference between bulk feed corn and a high-precision German sportscar?

Here is my rationale:

- Most goods and services are bought with cash (or the promise of cash, but that is a different post). Even those bought through barter arrangements often use the cash value as a medium for setting fair exchange rates.

- That cash could be used to buy any other good or service. Something marketers know as indirect or alternative competition. This is even more pronounced today than ever before because every local purchase is now competiting for resources with every purchase that can be made online.

- Cash is a commodity. It is ubiquitous. It has primary and secondary markets built around it. You can track its value (in terms of buying power) in a whole host of syndicated reports. The business of moving cash has hundreds of competitors.

- Because you buy with cash and cash is a commodity, then every good that you purchase ultimately competes against any other good and thus is a commodity.

So, the role of corporate strategy (and of course marketing and advertising, as Hugh Macleod's cartoon posted here so aptly describes) is to fight the gravity of commodification with its opposite...differentiation.

But rather than starting from a baseline of differentiation (and fighting the slippery slope downmarket), why not embrace the slippery slope? And challenge your organization to think about what makes a commodity successful? A simple selling proposition. Clean channels of distribution. A high-quality product that doesn't require a lot of post-sales support. A lean organization focused on taking cost out of the system.

Then from there, the business can decide how it wants to differentiate. Generally, this is accomplishing by competiting on more than a single commodity category. IKEA doesn't only distribute Swedish fiberboard, but also markets high-style Scandanavian design. Ferrari sells the ability to get from point A to point B, and style, and the ability to beat someone off the line.

Jennifer B. Davis
I hired a doula when my son was born and her published rate was a range. She encouraged her clients to pay whatever they felt fair within that range, based on the quality of the services provided. At the time it struck me as an interesting pricing model. Very collaborative. Very service-oriented. Horribly unpredictable.

The band Radiohead has made news recently by letting their fans pay whatever they want for the new album. The magazine Paste is following suit, allowing people to pick their own subscription price (at least for a couple of weeks).

Following Radiohead's 'pay what you want' pricing scheme for their latest album, In Rainbows, indie pop culture magazine Paste is giving its readers the option of paying whatever they like for a subscription. "We were curious to know what our customers thought we were worth. And what better way to find out, than to let them tell us?" explains Paste President/Publisher Tim Regan-Porter. "While it's certainly a bit unconventional, we also see it as a chance to get our product in the hands of people who could become lifelong fans."

So, part "puppy" strategy (as in, no one wants a dog, until they get a cute, little puppy) and part pricing research, this new tactic may be crazy or brilliant. I love the idea of getting real feedback on the pricing elasticity of a market by allowing people to set a price.

That said, so much of how we view pricing (both from a customer and company perspective) isn't absolute, but relative. If someone could pick their price of a Rolls Royce, would the brand have the same cache? If the marketplace decided that you could only charge $5, for something that costs $7 to deliver, is your marketing "bad" (feature/benefit positioning, awareness, channel coverage) or is your cost structure out of line?
Jennifer B. Davis
If you have worked in a corporate environment, you know how nice it is to have a library of documents that can be utilized. Whether they be standard non-disclosure agreements or worksheets that lead people through the copywriting process, it is often these documented "best practices" that help make companies successful.

Now, there is a library repository for the little guy: .docstoc. It literally should be called "boilerplate.com" as that is what it is. A user generated community where people share professional documents. Today there is an NDA, a purchase agreement, a last will and testament, a list of jokes, and a white paper about the circulation of the blood, among the thousands of documents posted.
Jennifer B. Davis
I wanted to alert those loyal readers of this blog that the URL will be changing in the coming weeks. I am taking back http://www.creativeoutletlabs.com/ for some new things I am working on. More details will follow about that later, but for now I must, sadly, leave you guessing.

This blog covering all things innovative, interesting, and ironic (at least to me) will still be available directly at jenniferbdavis.blogspot.com. Adjust your RSS readers and Favorites lists accordingly.

Do keep http://www.creativeoutletlabs.com/ on your radar screen, however, as exciting things will be happening there soon! Stay tuned!



Jennifer B. Davis
Sometimes you read research reports and they change your mind. Other times, you read the summary of a multi-year, multi-billion dollar study and think "Did we really need a research study to tell us that eating fried foods leads to weigh gain?"

Then there is the 3rd category. The research reports you can't quite belief, or disprove. There was an interesting article in the New York Times about some research around the correlation between intelligence and physical height. It is strange research, that is hard to explain or justify. If it is true, I'd like to know why taller people are statistically smarter.

Are there other things you have read like this that just leave you scratching your head?
Jennifer B. Davis

In Tim Ferriss' provocative book, 4 Hour Workweek, he redefines what it means to be an expert and sets the threshold very low. He contends that if you have read 3 more books on the subject than the average person on the street, you can consider yourself an expert. The more you are asked for your opinion, the more people will ask for your opinion and so your celebrity (and implied expertise) grows.

So, although I don't agree with Mr. Ferriss about many things, it did make me think about what I knew better than the average person. The first thing that came to mind: air travel (probably because I was reading the book in the SFO terminal). Not just air travel in general, but business travel. Not just business travel, but how to travel for business when you are early in your career (some of the things that I have learned the hard way, but wished someone would have told me when I was just out of college). Perhaps, I will write a book (or a whole seminar series on CD with a workbook, as Tim recommends, that I will sell for $89).

In this book, I will have a whole chapter dedicated to the principle of "Never Pack More Than You Can Lift."
Jennifer B. Davis
Can that be true? According to the folks at Comscore it is.

How we take things for granted!
Jennifer B. Davis

Do a little experiment this next week. Keep track of how many hours you spend doing the following activities. All of your work hours must be sorted in the bucket which best describes the activity:
  • Internal Coordination and Alignment: those activities focused on status reporting, getting buy-in, getting updates, correcting misunderstandings, and setting priorities.
  • External Results: those activities which directly produce, execute, for fiinish something visible for the customer, which they value.
The Lean strategists would tell you the more things you do that are directly visible and valued by the customer, the leaner the organization overall. I am not sure who said it first, but you should never equate activity with results.
Jennifer B. Davis
I am reminded of a poem I once read when my youngest brother was small that read "Even when removed of all obvious confections, children are sticky."

To be sticky in a business concept is to have an idea, product, or website that keep people keep coming back to (in their actions, their words, etc). I have read that you need to be controversial and polarizing if you want to create buzz on the internet (as measured by trackbacks). I guess the adage is true that "bad publicity is still publicity," even on the internet.

In broader terms, businesses want to have sticky products to build customer loyalty. Marketers and campaign leaders want sticky ideas. Chip Heath author of "Made to Stick" contends that all sticky ideas share six principles:
1. Simple
2. Unexpected
3. Concrete
4. Credible
5. Emotional
6. Story

Perhaps that is why children are sticky afterall.

P.S. If you want to find out how sticky your ideas, products, or company might be, here is a link to some tools that you can use to monitor web buzz.
Jennifer B. Davis
I am a fan of enthusiasm. That said, I thought this was just too funny to pass up. Gotta love Hugh at GapingVoid.
Jennifer B. Davis
This is the general manager's delimna. To do the job well, the GM needs a well-rounded background and an understanding of a range of business disciplines from marketing to product development, from finance to operations. There is a case here for career diversification.

However, most GMs do not have a broad, highly-diversified background. Most rise to the ranks through a particular function (from a marketing coodinator to marketing manager to marketing director to VP of marketing). It is easy to tell the story of their career. There is a case here for career specialization.

Combined, these would recommend a moderate diversification strategy. A broad enough range of experience to give you a grounding in the discipline and the vocabulary, but enough of a continuity to make it easy to write a bio and build credibility with other executives, boards of directors, and investors.

In 1972, Richard Rumelt, a professor of strategy at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, ws the first to uncover a statistical link between corporate strategy and profitability, finding that moderately diversified companies outperform more diversified ones. Perhaps the same is true of careers.

The great news for all of us is that we own our careers. If yours has been narrowly focused on a discipline or function, branch out. Take a new assignment, take a class, volunteer, or start a business to get experience in an area that you don't already have. Remember, the goal is moderately diverse (and, of course, in an area that interests and excites you).

If your career has been broad and varied, now might be the time to focus. Also look at the common threads in the positions or roles you have had. Emphasize those commonalities to help weave a more cohesive career story and a more "moderately diverse" background.
Jennifer B. Davis
I have often contended that the reason that many entry level positions require a college degree is not because a liberal arts education is actually applied in the position, but rather the company does not want 18 year old kids applying for the job. They want 22 or 23 year olds with a little more life experience eager to prove themselves. Nothing against 18 year olds, but there is a huge amount of maturation that happens in those early twenties that companies benefit from.

I ran across this quote from Robert Frost the other day and found it interesting:

"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence."

I actually wonder if this isn't a better definition of maturity, than it is of education (although they are interrelated, of course). Those individuals who are mature (of any age), can listen to criticism, alternate opinions, or radical ideas and remain themselves.
Jennifer B. Davis
What would we do without Excel?



Jennifer B. Davis
While the paperless office remains elusive, we can all appreciate how nice it would be to eliminate the mounds of paper around the house. To solve this issue, I reread David Allen's Getting Stuff Done, subscribed to his blog, and got on the paperless bandwagon. See my recommended products below:




The best product, besides the two monitors, of course, is the scanner. It is small and features one-button operation. It is fantastic for bills, receipts, and other documents that you want to keep (but don't want to sort, file, or have to rummage through later).
Jennifer B. Davis
The following quote is attributed to Isaac Asimov:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny…”

What strikes you as funny? Interesting? Surprising? What kind of human behavior have you observed and thought "that's funny, I wonder why we do that"? What kind of unexpected, unintended uses of technology have you observed? These are the raw materials of innovation.

I am reminded about a stand-up routine by Jerry Seinfeld (of Seinfeld fame) about cordless phones. He said they would never catch on because hitting the button to hang up on someone wasn't nearly as satisfying as throwing down a receiver. Although he was wrong about the cordless phones, I wonder if the same principle didn't apply in the popularity of the flip-phone cell phone style which hangs up on a caller when you close the lid of the phone (which can be done with style and a degree of passion if the conversation warrants it).
Does this bode a problem for the iPhone? How do you hang up the phone with gusto on a paddle-style phone? Perhaps we have just invented a whole new use for multi-touch user interfaces: passionately pinch the image of the caller's face on the screen and they get a dial-tone. Strangely in this promotional picture for the iPhone, it looks like that is what is happening. That's funny....
Jennifer B. Davis
Since I am officially on every mailing list known to man, it should not surprise me that I regularly receive CIO magazine. Although not technically my field, I do find it interesting.

In a recent article by Carrie Mathews entitled "Future-State CIO" they include this handy graph, which I have included here. It make me think however, that the graph did not just apply to Chief Information Officers, but rather to all professionals looking to have a larger strategic impact on their organizations. As you move up in the organization, exert broader influence, and gain additional responsibilities, the percentage of your time spent in functional excellence decreases, being replaced with your role as a business strategist and leader.

















We have all seen examples of people who didn't make this leap effectively, as with each move towards the "future state" the leader has to become more comfortable with giving up those things that might have made them successful in the past (ie, being the most technically competent, for instance). There have been books written about such leaps. This graph and the article spoke of an intangible "Executive Quotient" (EQ) that is required to perform at this more strategic level. I am interested in your feedback on this whole concept and your experience in developing your EQ.

So, all of your who are in pursuit of becoming the gallatic commanders of your companies and organizations, I wish you all the best as you leap beyond functional excellence to the future!
Jennifer B. Davis
We have a friend who likes spaghetti and marinara sauce, but only in the right ratio. He has more than once commented that the key to a good meal is all about the sauce to noodle ratio (his favors the sauce).

I wonder how much of life is summed up in the ratios. I ran across this provocative post on the ludicracy of planning and it got me thinking about the following ratios:


Planning: Doing - the ratio of planning to doing. Planning, scheming, discussing or diving in and achieving something (even if the achievement is failure).


Planning: Wishing - The ratio of planning to wishing. You can wish for something to happen. You can have an idea, but how much are you translating that to real plans, investments, and commitments.


There are other ratios that perhaps people might track in their own life (ie, listening:talking, playing: working, reading:writing) and credit as a secret for success. What's yours?

By the way, you can buy a reprint of the vintage poster of "Pluck Makes Luck" at art.com.
Jennifer B. Davis
I found a new little tool which is worth passing along. It is called 5Clicks by Interapple and it is a freeware utility that allows you to capture a portion of your screen and save it off in a variety of formats. The reason that I find this useful is that I use multiple monitors (something I have become addicted to and can't work without). When I do the standard Windows screen capture it gives me all 2,560 pixels in width, which is exactly the dimensions that I never need. This little tool will save me having to edit things down in PhotoShop or Paint when I need to snap a graphic (like the one to the right).
Jennifer B. Davis
There was a thought-provoking interview conducted by Crain's Chicago Business with Jason Fried, one of the founders of 37Signals. You may recall that this is the guy that blew off a product idea I once sent them, but apparently I don't hold that against them. I love what they do (as do their million other users) and they continue to innovate with a geographically-distributed team of 8 people. Which is pretty incredible!

One of things Jason mentions in the video is that they tried all working together, in the same office, and it killed their efficiency. He said "interuption is the enemy of productivity." Now they just try to "stay out of each others way." Certainly they talk, when they need to. They clearly collaborate, as the tools they make work well. They just do it judiciously. There is no water cooler.

In contrast, is most corporate environments, and even start-ups today, that prefer open, collaborative environments believing that people work better in teams if they are in each others' face all day long. What about the famed "Management by Walking Around"? Isn't that the epitome of interuption, having an executive walk around the office and talk to employees over their cube walls? We want cafeterias, or at least coffee service, to bring people together. They want social functions to build teamwork. I don't want to speak for Jason, but I suspect he would contend that this is like feeding the enemy army before they attack you. So, what do you think, are open environments (read: cubes), cafeterias, and water coolers actually breeding inefficiencies in organizations? Or is Jason's view more of a personality test for the corporate culture, its leadership, the size of the organization, and the type of work that is getting done.

Perhaps some work could not be done in the 37Signals way, distributed and unstructured? Perhaps this is unique to software development? Could trial lawyers work this way? Architects? Strategy consultants? Research scientists? How much collaboration and communication is enough? How much is too much?

Could all personality types work in this more isolated way and find it satisfying? Could you go days or weeks without the social chit-chat in the office? I know some that couldn't. I know some that would love it and would feel so much more productive.

What about you?

Jennifer B. Davis
I am not telling you anything new when I say that online communities are becoming more important than actual communities in some cases. Can you rattle off the names of 5 people whose blog your read? Can you rattle of the names of 5 of your neighbors? This is not to judge (we are horrible at meeting neighbors and I haved bake a "welcome to the neighborhood" batch of cookies in...well, I don't know if I have ever done that, although I have thought of it).

So, online communities are important. You know about LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, etc. I hear about new ones like Damsels in Success (clever name) targeting professional women. What if none of these exactly fits the community that you'd like to be a part of? Why not start your own?

The leader in social network tools is Ning, who boasts 80,000 networks. Whether you are a Phish fan, in the advertising business, addicted to One Tree Hill, or a proud graduate of the Blue Springs High School class of 1987, you can find or create your own community. Like all good things on the web, there is a free option (ad-supported). They have private label options for corporate communities, premium options that include your own domain name, and for $19.95 you can set-up to run your own ads on your social network and create your own media empire.

To broaden your options, you should also check out KickApps, which is a similar thing, but emphasizes "rich media community experience" and all the content gets displayed in a Flash viewer. They have some cool viral elements like widgets that others can embed to help spread the word about your community. Again, it is an ad-support, no-cost-to-you business model.

As an aside, a visit to Ning and KickApps illustrates the yin and yang of website design and voice. One is power-punching and athletic (as in rugby) the other is more ethereal and poised (as in yoga). Just goes to show how different visions and brands can manifest themselves online.

According to TechCrunch there are others that do this as well including CrowdVine, GoingOn, CollectiveX, Me.com, PeopleAggregator, Haystack, Onesite. They did a handy comparison chart that you might find interesting.

Now, I bring this up because I wonder if tools like this are being used for more than connecting with classmates and industry professionals? I could see these tools being a very powerful foundation for a church or ministry website, as it could include published content (sermons, songs, articles, announcements about upcoming ministries), as well as forums and places where parishoners could post their own photos of events or discussions about related topics.

I wonder also if any of these sites allow the network administrators to charge for membership to their networks? This could be interesting as an extension of a college course or the like and if there was a way to charge, this would be a very interesting "lab fee" item.
Jennifer B. Davis
Now here is a tool that makes the life of a blogger a bit easier. It is called tumbalizr and their alpha version site allows you to type in a URL and then select a pixel width. It gives you a thumbnail JPEG of the site you selected (either a screen or the whole page). Then you can embed the shots into your PowerPoint presentations, websites, or blog posting (see left). Cool!

Now, if it would only allow you to select a portion of the screen to save as a JPEG, then it would be perfect!
Jennifer B. Davis
Smashing Magazine did a great contest recently asking people to redesign the dreaded 404 Error Pages to something more beautiful and user-friendly. You'll love some of these. My favorite is this one designed by Vi-Su.

I like how the creative designers re-envisioned how to deliver a bad message in a more beautiful way. One them by Jeremy shows how a message can be delivered in sensitive copy. He writes, "Oh Boy...This is awkward. 404 Error: Not Found. Man....I feel bad about this. Whatever you are looking for ha smoved or has been removed from the server. Let's take you back to the start and hopefully you can find your way."

I wish more companies (especially service organizations) took this approach. Be personable. Show you care about the customer. Try to sincerely help them out. What else can you ask for?




Jennifer B. Davis
GrandCentral, acquired recently by Google, is a new service that allows you to get one number that is then forwarded to whatever phone(s) you are currently using at the time.

I could see this being as popular as the universal email addresses (Yahoo, Hotmail, gmail) that allow you to mask your ISP and move around without changing your email address. Combined with voice-to-text messaging and Google's other services this could be pretty powerful for those of us that are not tied down to one phone.

They are currently in private beta (which you might be able to get in on through InviteShare), but you can sign up to reserve a number when the service becomes more widely available.
Jennifer B. Davis
After years of admiring the innovation of on-demand printing businesses, I have decided to launch one myself, as a shopkeeper with CafePress.com.

You can find the store at http://www.hsvgear.com/.

This site has a huge variety of products that celebrate the active lifestyle of Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. The Village is 26,00 acre gated community, complete with 12 lakes, 9 award-winning golf courses, and lots of recreational activities.

Check it out and spread the word to anyone who might live or visit Hot Springs Village! Fans of Creative Outlet Labs will like to know that this is one of the first of many planned sites and projects in the works. Stay tuned for updates.
Jennifer B. Davis
Consider the juxtaposition of these two quotes I read today:


"Nothing can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own."
- Sidney J. Harris


"The fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees."
- William Blake



Can a person, young of age or of heart, discover something new in an old idea? Is rediscovery a sign of wisdom? Is one person's wisdom another's amusing arrogance? Is there "nothing new under the sun" as the proverb says, but only fresh eyes seeing it anew?




Jennifer B. Davis
Michael Bungay Stanier from Box of Crayons had a newsletter back in June that talked about his 7 Sources of Joy. It is great read. His 7th source of joy was "freedom from fear" and he included the picture posted here. We'll never know what this guy wrote on the wall, but I can bet it wasn't that he was afraid of wearing skirts!


So, it made me rethink the use of a tool I had blogged about before from GE called ImaginationCubed. I tried it and I can say it is pretty powerful, so read on. Go to the link. Grab a pen. Select the color that suits you. Write out your fears. Illustrate them if you wish. Read them there. Think "what is the worst thing that could happen?" Change your pen to big and white and erase your fears.

Bonus: Also works on a MagnaDoodle.
Jennifer B. Davis
Whether true or myth, this story illustrates the characteristics that often set-apart extraordinary leaders from the pack:

There was a bleak and cold day in which George Washington stepped out of his headquarters. It was cold, so he drew on his great coat, turned up his collar and pulled his hat down to shield his face from the cold, blowing wind. He walked down the road to where the soldiers were fortifying a camp and no one recognized this tall muffled man who was in fact the commander of the army.

He came across a group of soldiers who were under the command of a corporal. They were building a breast work of logs and the corporal, all filled with himself as being important and superior, kept on barking orders. "Up with it," he cried. "Now altogether push!"
They were trying desperately to push this final log up on top of the crest. Each time they tried just at the last moment, the thing would fall back. They were exhausted. The corporal would again say, "Up with it! What ails you? Up with it!" The men would tug again and again and the log came crashing down because they weren't quite strong enough to do it.

Finally, the third time he starts barking at them, Washington himself goes up to them and exerts all his strength to push the log and it falls into place. The exhausted men were about to thank this unknown soldier. At that point he turned to the corporal and said, "Why don't you help your men with the heavy lifting when they need another hand?"
The corporal replied, "Don't you see that I'm a corporal?" Washington said, "Indeed," as he opened up his coat and revealed his uniform. "I'm the Commander-in-Chief. The next time you have a log too heavy for your men to lift, send for me!"
Jennifer B. Davis
I was told about a great service the other day that combines so many things that I love (internet technologies, personalization) while allowing you to pay tribute to people you love. The site is called MuchLoved and on it you can create and post tribute websites to loved ones who have passed away. They can include photos, life stories, timelines, journals, and ways that the grieving can share their thoughts and pictures, as well as donate to relevant causes. The sites can either be public or you can invite a selected audience. MuchLoved is a registered charity and they accept donations. There are for-profit companies doing similar things, like VirtualMemorials.com or PartingWishes.com, but I like the interface and feeling of MuchLoved much better. I could see how this service would be great for those extended networks of family and friends who are not physically about to participate in memorial services.

Shifting gears a bit, as I often do, I wonder if a similar set-up would work for other occassions.

  • Weddings (TheKnot.com features some features like this and it would be a great addition to the services provided by Bella Pictures).

  • Retirement roasts (a completely underserved market, it would seem).

  • Milestone birthdays.

  • Baby dedication/blessings.

As a parent to young children, I could see setting up a website to commemorate a baby's one year old birthday, allowing people to leave their well-wishes, photographs, and the like. It could live on in the form of a website, and perhaps the template could also feed a print-on-demand scrapbook to help commemorate the day!

In fact, the book could become part of the event it is commemorating, in the case of a wedding. The guest comments, stories, and advice submitted before the wedding, engagement photos, and the like could be combined with a guest book for the big day!

Jennifer B. Davis
Ran across this quote from Albert Einstein: "You see, wire telegraph is a kind of very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? A radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

Is this the real reason they call cabling for internet connectivity CAT5?
Jennifer B. Davis
I ran across this quote from Arnold Toynbee and thought I would pass it along:


"It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself, but at some more ambitious goal beyond it."



May all your dreams be BIG! Want it all and even if you fall short you have touched the skies!
Jennifer B. Davis
We are all familiar with the perfume or underwear ads that don't mention or show their products at all. Instead, they are clearing promoting the idea that if you had their product you live would be as beautiful or glamorous as the folks in the commercial. Even the tame ones, like the ad for Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely, clearly tap into the demographic and the underlying reasons for purchase. This is the basics of branding.

So, why should the advertisers have all of the fun? The most successful salespeople have long recognized that the key to product positioning is to get at the heart of the emotional motivations of the buyer. What are their greatest fears? How is their performance measured at work and how you can help them win points with the boss? In essense, the job isn't selling or marketing a product. It is selling piece of mind.
The famous addage "No one got fired for buying an IBM," wasn't about the product. It was about risk mitigation. Certainly, these products (and their marketing) tap into a whole different set of emotions. Note the graph on the computer screen to the left...up and to the right! Just what that risk intolerant executive wants to see, in light of his decision to invest in computer equipment!

Today, I ran across a very interesting concept in co-marketing with risk mitigation in mind. Carpisa, a well-known brand of fashion handbags and leather goods, has joined with an insurance company to create a bag bundled with travel insurance. They guarantee the bag for craftsmanship and also for outright loss. Piece of mind for a piece of luggage.

This fires the imagination. Just sticking with this theme, what other products could be bundled with piece of mind, in the form of insurance? Technology products bundled with insurance that says if a new product comes out with better performance (or Apple releases a new version of the iPhone with expandable memory and the ability to change the battery), they get it for free. Online photo processing companies offering archiving services, in case your printed pictures are ever lost or damaged (they could use footage of family photos after Hurricane Katrina and people would immediately get it). Offering insurance to parents who buy a Gund or Build-a-Bear stuffed animal that if this one becomes your child's favorite and it is ever lost, they will overnight you a replacement to avoid permanent trama. This is beyond product warranties, or even extended warranties. This is understanding the full set of emotions triggered in the context of selecting or using a product.

Case in point. I use Plaxo because I never risk losing my contact database ever again. I wonder if they know how many of their customers are actually buying piece of mind, as well as convenience.

Speaking of convenience, what products could be bundled with corrolary services? I am a big fan of companies bundling products with other service offerings that would make the whole experience less stressful. Going back to luggage and things that could be used to reduce the hassles of travel, here are a few ideas. I would certainly pay more for a suitcase that allowed you faster access through security through a special line, a rental car service that dropped you off at the terminal and checked your bags for you (or started providing service in your departure location by offering to take you to the airport in the first place), or a laptop bag that was insured against theft.
I leave you with two questions: What are the risks associated with products or services that could be addressed by bundled insurance offerings? What are the convenience offerings that should come with some of your favorite products?
Jennifer B. Davis
A good friend blogged recently about taking a personality test. This got me thinking about all the great self-reflection tools that are available, for free, on the Web.

Although Myers-Briggs (the quintessential personality test) is a for-fee test, there are many look-alikes online. You can find one at Humanmetrics (only 72 questions on one long page) and some additional information on the Personality Page (which also includes personality profiles).

Other types of tests that I like include the Enneagram and Emotional IQ. I remember taking the enneagram in graduate school and joining others with the same profile. It was amazing to see the similarities in the groups that the test had discovered.

In professional environments, I have used a lot of tools including DiSC Profile and Interpersonal Style (which frankly I like better because the vocabulary is easier to explain and remember; this site compares some of the common personality test themes).

In other news, here is a site that analyzes your personality based solely on which of a series of images you choose. For me, the results were scarily (eerily) correct. The 1 minute personality test!
Jennifer B. Davis
As I have mentioned before, I love business books. I know this might qualify me for some type of certifiable mental condition, but I love a good business theory, the ever practical 2x2 matrix, and case studies of how others have failed or succeeded. But there is a downside to all of this reading: business hypochondria. It is a condition whereby any book you read seems to apply to your situation. I suppose this condition exists because popular business authors are a bit like horoscope writers: they try to make them apply to just about everyone. That said, I ran across something recently that caught my attention and made me look around for signs of this condition at my own workplace. Maybe it will have the same affect on you.

Josh Kaufman (the force behind the Personal MBA) had a quote on his blog and mentioned a theory called the Dunning-Kruger effect. According to Wikipedia, it is a documented phenomenon whereby people who have little knowledge systematically think that they know more than others who have more knowledge. Dunning and Kruger won a Nobel prize for their work, so this is serious business. As the theory is applied, they found that "incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill" and "fail to recognize genuine skill in others." I think we have all seen examples of managers who can not make good hiring decisions because they themselves are under the delusional effects of Dunning-Kruger (which I will call DK for short). DK managers think themselves to be overly capable and discount the contribution of others. A common malady for sure. But, what is the cure?


According to our experts, if those DK managers will improve their own skill level through training, they can learn to recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill. So, this is the delimna. The only cure for DK is self-awareness and the willingness to be trained. However, the symptoms of DK is lack of accurate self-perception and a belief that one already has gained competence (thus, not needed training).


How can you immunize yourself from DK? Apparently, peole with true knowledge tended to underestimate their competence. So, perhaps you can fein humility, stay open to training and coaching, and can avoid being "grossly incompetent" as the studies have illustrated. Consider yourself warned.


The only cure for business hypochondria? Get rid of your business book collection and cancel your subscription to Harvard Business Review.



Jennifer B. Davis
I read a book by Patrick Lencioni recently called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. If you liked, the 5 Temptations, you'll love this one! In reading this book, I was again reminded of the importance of leaders being comfortable not knowing all the answers. It takes a special kind of security and confidence to trust your team and lead them. If you haven't read these books, I would HIGHLY recommend them. I passed along the Dysfunctions book to my husband, who passed it to his Dad, and now we have a whole new group of fans who are applying it outside of the corporate world to volunteer leadership in a non-profit setting.

I think it is funny that Mr. Lencioni's consulting practice sells all sorts of "dysfunctions products," but I am trying not to hold that against him.
Jennifer B. Davis
This great presentation outlines the Tribal Knowledge at Starbucks. My favorite starts on slide 13 where they talk about brand building and the difference between marketing, advertising, PR, and branding. Brilliant! They also have some great things to say about making employees ambassadors and believers in the brand.
Jennifer B. Davis
If you enjoy reading about cultural trends, globalization, and the future, you'll enjoy this presentation by Karl Fisch called Shift Happens.
Jennifer B. Davis
Guy Kawasaki's Garage Ventures popularized the concept of The Art of the Start. Now you can see a cool presentation online to reach your own inspiration point.
Jennifer B. Davis
Although provocative, this somehow sounded better than "life is roulette." Now that I have your attention, here is the concept.

Outside of the foundations of morals, ethics and integrity, almost everything else in business is a shade of gray. Every decision can be right or wrong in different contexts, as we all have experienced. There is no single model or path to success. I read an article in the McKinsey Quarterly the other day which piqued my interest. Here is an excerpt:

“Once you’ve internalized the concept that you can’t prove anything in absolute terms, life becomes all the more about odds, chances, and trade-offs. In a world without provable truths, the only way to refine the probabilities that remain is through greater knowledge and understanding.” Wise managers know that business is about finding ways to improve the odds of success—but never imagine that it is a certainty.

So, this puts Rick Tamlyn's comments in my earlier post in a new light: if you want to improve the odds, gain greater understanding or...

... you can change the rules of the game or change the game you are playing.

I leave you with one more excerpt from the McKinsey article:

Finally, clear-thinking executives know that in an uncertain world, actions and outcomes are imperfectly linked. It’s easy to infer that good outcomes result from good decisions and that bad outcomes must mean someone blundered. Yet the fact that a given choice didn’t turn out well doesn’t always mean it was a mistake. Good decisions don’t always lead to favorable outcomes, and unfavorable outcomes are not always the result of mistakes. Wise managers resist the natural tendency to make attributions based solely on outcomes. They avoid the halo bestowed by performance and insist on independent evidence.
Jennifer B. Davis
Do you remember the proofs that you did in high school geometry? I have been thinking about forecasting lately (as a topic of keep professional interest and personal curiousity) and am wondering if I could use this proof concept to make some connections. See if you can follow the following:

1. Each one of us has a bias.
It may be conscious or subconscious. It might be easily seen by others or by ourself. In any case, there isn't a person out there that is free from natural inclinations, pessimism/optomism, strengths / weaknesses, etc.

2. Bias create errors
A optomistic person may see the glass as half-full, and credit people with too much capability than they have demonstrated. A pessimistic person might be overly conversative and play out the "worst case scenario." Reality, in either case, will be different than the bias of the individual. Even a small error is still an error.

3. Bias manifest themself in every decision point.
Unless we actively fight it (often by overcompensating in the opposite direction), we demonstrate this bias at every point in our life where we are asked to make a choice.

4. Forecasting is all about making decisions.
Forecasting is an estimation process in unknown situations, which inherent relies on our ability to extrapolate our beliefs, data, and assumptions and make decisions. Whether forecasting financial results, anticipating the success of a new product, informing supply chain decisions, guessing when the train will arrive, or charting out your personal retirement savings, it is all about guesses, and educating those guesses as best you can.

5. The more decisions, the more error
So, if the above are true, each decision point in a forecasting process would give you an opportunity to illustrate your bias, introducing error. This error would multiply by every decision point to amplify your natural bias.

6. Corrolary: Fewer decisions, less error
Some forecasting processes having fewer decision points, thus would inherently be more immune to bias error as described above.

7. Conclusion: Forecasts based on limited data points are inherently more accurate than those based on multiple decision points.

Sounds logical, right? But think about this. This theory would say that forecasts based on historical trend data (one data stream) are more accurate than bottom's up forecasts which roll up the estimate sales targets from multiple sales territories. This is the counter intuitive part. When asked for a more accurate forecast, what do most general managers or business owners do? They go head first into bottom's up sales data to prove their assumptions, to show where the money will come from, and the like. This seems like it would be highly accurate and give them more confidence than simply extrapolating past performance. But I am coming to the conclusion that it isn't true. More analysis, leads to more error, which leads to more analysis, and forecasts get wildly out-of-whack.

So, what the is the true north for forecasting? I asked this question of several folks whose forecasting ability and experience I respect and they replied, "past performance is the single best indicator of future performance."

This phrase is very familiar to those who are experienced with behavioral interviewing techniques, which seek to illustrate a candidates competency and compatibility for a new job by matching the patterns of performance and styles of work from their past to the ideal for the position. This theory, in human terms, says that as you grow older and gain experience, you simply become a more refined version of the person you always were (a key point in Marcus Buckingham's new book entitled Go Put Your Strengths to Work).

If you are interesting becoming a better forecaster and trend observer, you'll like this post showing Paul Saffo's (Institute for the Future) Rules for Forecasting.

Enough philosophy. How do you forecast? How do you take out the bias, but ground your forecasts in reality? Are complex methods better than simple methods? How important is an understanding of the business (thus the passion that would lead to bias and to errors) or is it better to have a "pattern recognition" person that doesn't know the business? Your insights and experience greatly appreciated.