Jennifer B. Davis
The economy is hitting some industries and some families hard right now. If you find yourself worried about such things, here is a bit of encouragement: people are getting new jobs. Cool jobs. Fun, important, and meaningful jobs. Dozens everyday.

The good folks at ReadWriteWeb just started a service they are calling jobwire (although there are rumors in Twitterland that they may be changing it). It is a place where they post people who have taken new jobs. It is fun to read about people and their new positions. The companies featured tend towards technology, which is one of the segments that is getting pounded right now.

Just a bit of good news and positive headlines in a world full of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. If you are looking for your next high-impact gig, I hope to see your name on jobwire soon!
Jennifer B. Davis
Last night, a speaker confronted us with the importance of truth telling and its relationship to trust building. I was reminded that it takes courage and a genuine interest in others to tell them the truth, especially if that truth isn't what they want to hear.

You can tell someone that they have a peppercorn between their front teeth, but do you have the courage to tell them how they could be more effective at work?

I have been truly blessed by colleagues that have challenged me, when when the message they had to deliver was a tough one. They made me think. Really, think. And for that I am thankful.

You have to really care about the person to risk the relationship to tell them the truth and to make them think. As the quote below illustrates, they might hate you in the end.

"If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you: But if you
really make them think; they'll hate you." - Don Marquis

But without truth telling, there isn't much ofa relationship anyway.

Jennifer B. Davis
"I base my fashion taste on what doesn't itch."
- Gilda Radner

When my sister was little, she was (and still is) a beautiful girl. Long, curly hair. Cute-as-a-button face. But would the girl wear frilly dresses? No way. They itched.

When I read this quote from Ms. Radner (a hilarious comic by any measure) I thought about those days. Her wanting to wear denim overalls while my mom was trying to get her into a pretty dress.

This was before the days of the tagless tag (an invention that my toddler sister would have cheered for). Before they made fabrics softer and clothing more seamless. Those inventions were there, right in front of us, the whole time. But we didn't see them. We didn't recognize the pain for what it was...a design problem to be solved. Once we identified it and named it, I am sure we could have solved it. My Mom is a great seamstress and our family is full of artists and problem-solvers, so I am sure we would have invented the tagless shirt, lined children's clothes, or the adaptation of swimsuit fabric to children's dresses. The problem had not been named, so it couldn't be solved.

What problems are you facing today that are like that? Moderate annoyances or hinderances that keep things from being truly useful, truly beautiful, or truly comfortable. Observe it. Name it. Then go about solving it. This is how we save the world, one itch at a time.
Jennifer B. Davis
Tonight, Tony and I attended IgnitePortland 4, an event sponsored by the Legion of Tech. In this event, 13 presenters each had 20 slides and 5 minutes to teach the audience about a topic or entertain them in some way. Some of the presentations were really outstanding.

The first was from a guy from Kentucky, who now lives in Portland (although his accent might still live in Kentucky). He had several pieces of advice on what Kentucky can teach Oregon. My favorite had to do with place names. He said that Kentucky has a lot of brands and companies that are named after the state. Bourbon is from Bourbon county. Louisville Sluggers are from Louisville. "We didn't invent fried chicken, but because of KFC, everyone thinks we did," he proposed. He said that more companies need to name themselves something local and then go national to bring attention to the region. This was very interesting to me. Most companies choose a company name that could be "from anywhere," despite the fact that all companies are from "somewhere." Let that be a lesson to all those would-be entrepreneurs out there.

Did I mention that the presentations were on auto-forward? This means that after 15 seconds each slide moved along. This added a degree of sport to the presentations. They couldn't fall behind in their presentations (without it being painful for the audience to watch) and the whole thing kept on time, more or less. I think this is brilliant and something that should be required for all PowerPoint presentations. Keep them moving. Keeps the text to graphic ratio in line. Keeps the pace of storytelling at an appropriate level. I could see this being used in corporate environments and in church. 20 sermon slides in 5 minutes. Go!

If you are in the area, plan to come to the next IgnitePortland 5. It will be in February and the tickets are free!
Jennifer B. Davis
I read Seth Godin's new book Tribes. In it, he makes some very provocative points about the fallacy of quality.

"Quality is not only not necessary, for amny items it's undesirable. If we
define quality as regularly meeting the measured specifications for an item,
then quality matters a lot for something like a pacemaker. It doesn't
matter at all for a $3,000 haute couture dress.

More fashion = less need for quality."


I found this statement very interesting. If something is more fashionable, it doesn't have to be "six sigma." More art. Less science.

I wonder if there isn't a graph that would show that people's expectation of quality rises as commoditization takes over a product. It becomes less unique. Less differentiated. And as a result, the marketplace raises the standards of "sameness." Predictability is favored over excellence. The restaurant franchise wins out over the brilliant chef. The factory pumping out millions of widgets wins out over the inventor.

Seth's point, and one that he doesn't advocate alone, is that quality is something the "factories" used to value, but that in many ways we have evolved beyond it. With the use of technology. With a growing discontent for sameness. We are demanding leadership and sometimes (or ALL the time) leadership is messy.

Makes me wonder how much we as leaders of companies, organizations, families, and product lines should emphasize quality, in its traditional definition. Maybe more effort needs to be put into true differentiation and a value that extends beyond predictable mediocrity.
Jennifer B. Davis
As if the crushing financial burden of Sarbanes-Oxley is not enough, now it is pretty clear to me that Generation Y employees won't probably work at public companies. The controls, approval levels, and other things that are nearly required to maintain good SEC status, smiling auditors, and shareholders (who might be assumed to be more worried about the companies in which they invest stealing from them, than they are those companies being successful in their markets), all lead to a corporate culture that is too old-school for this new batch of employees. No wonder this generation is highly entrepreneurial.

See repost of a portion of a blog post from the good folks at 37Signals and tell me whether or not the public corporate entity has a chance...

The traditional workplace is broken
(Show original item)

In the article entitled, "Want to attract and retain Gen Y? Better rethink everything", The Arizona Republic explains how employers can attract younger workers and talked about 37Signals.

President Jason Fried says today’s employers present the biggest roadblock. “Simply put, employees are treated like children. They are not allowed to think for themselves, and there are too many layers of approval, just too much insulation that prevents anyone from doing anything. The traditional workplace is broken, and until someone realizes that, there’s always going to be conflict.”

This suffocation by protocol is dead on and will never allow an employee to “go beyond” or achieve something extra for the company. This is a critical link that most organizations continually fail to acknowledge. They are too focused on ensuring employees do no wrong that they actually prevent them from achieving anything beyond status quo."
Jennifer B. Davis
As the economy tightens around us, I think we all feel a little poorer than we did even a few months ago. I read a few things in the past week that I have been thinking about.

1. Save Pennies, Spend Dollars
When times are tight (or perceived to be tight), it is still important to do the important things. Spending your child to private school or investing in a new business are those types of important things. To spend dollars on those things, you may have to scrimp on the things that don't matter as much. Save pennies elsewhere to make bold, purposeful investments where you need to. So, if celebrating a milestone birthday with a loved one is one of those important things, celebrate big (and bike to work the rest of the month)!

2. All Economics is Micro-Economics
I know the academics would disagree, but for most of us the only economics that matters is that which is very personal to us, close in physical proximity or time. Of course, the world economy is intertwined, but most of don't need millions of jobs, we only need one. We don't need a large bank, we just need someone to give us a return on the use of our money (which could be a micro-loan we make). The economy in our local community and the tax-base of public services we use is more important to us than the larger trends of housing starts across the country. Even our own retirement portfolio is only super critical if we are actively spending it (close proximity in the dimension of time).

3. Wealth is a Feeling, not a Bank Balance
I remember hearing a joke: "I have all the money I will ever need," the comic said. "As long as I don't spend another dime." How true. A feeling of wealth is still comes down to spending less than we earn, individually. Mr. Macawber, from Dickens' fame, wrote pointly about this type of micro-economics when he said that "to have an income of twenty pounds per annum, and spend twenty pounds and sixpence, is to be the most miserable of men; whereas, to have an income of only twenty pounds, and spend but nineteen pounds and sixpence is to be the happiest of mortals." Apparently, wealth is an emotion, like contentment or anxiety, that can be managed by perception and by personal action.

So, although we need to be concerned about the economy, about the bank bail-outs, the political races, and other things that good citizens need to stay up with, remember that the micro-economics matter the most. I wish you all wealth, in the truest emotional sense of the word.
Jennifer B. Davis
When we were growing up, my Mom thought it would be great to connect four stationary bikes (one for each of us kids) to the television and we'd all have to keep peddling for the TV to power up.

Now, there is a new gym in Portland called the Green Microgym which is the first health club in the world to generate a significant portion of its own electricity by putting the sweat power of its members to work. It would be quite a commute for me (doesn't make sense to drive to so far to go to a green gym, right?), but for the neighbors it sounds very cool.

Now, I am just waiting for the electricity-generating daycare or playground (why not tap into the energy of all those little kids?) or the wide-spread use of the electricity-generating nightclub dance floor. These might be a great solution not only for those who want to save energy, but for those in rural areas and in emerging regions where reliable power is elusive or too expensive.
Jennifer B. Davis
This is right up my alley. Designers who create concepts that no one ever buys can put them up for sale in an online marketplace at IncSpring. As a buyer you can search brands by industry, color, or name. You can see how others have rated the logo before you buy.

This might be a great way for a design student to get some of their work out there and get some clients using their designs.

I think it is interesting what business ideas themselves can come from these logos. For instance, the gift-wrapped roll of toilet paper and the company name "PrankExpress" bring to mind all sorts of funny gifts and things that could be sold and marketed.

I know this is opposite of how the "experts" say to do branding and identity design. They say you need to analyze your business, your corporate culture, your value proposition, and your customer perceptions before encoding them into a logo (and brand name). While I don't necessarily disagree, I wonder if a business (especially a start-up or small business) couldn't come pretty darn close by shopping for a logo that appeals to them and a few of their customers they might show it to. Research done. Logo designed. Now, they can go out and grow their business.
Jennifer B. Davis
Home delivery of groceries has come, gone, and come again. There is an outfit in Sarasota, FL which literally brings that idea a step further, by offering bicycle delivery of organic produce from local providers. Instead of bringing the grocery store to you, they bring the farmer's market. This seems like a fantastic idea to me, combining environmentally-conscious local eating with environmentally-conscious transportation. The PR and marketing benefits are obvious.

What else could be delivered locally by bicycle? Produce, for sure. Meat from a local butcher shop (in a refridgerated trailer?). Flower arrangements from a local shop or garden center. What about plants and nursery supplies? Milk from a dairy (another retro idea that is gaining popularity). IKEA furniture delivered to dorm rooms for assembly. I even wonder if the neighborhood school bus route couldn't be converted into a modified bike cart. After all, those kindergarten kids are pretty light.
Jennifer B. Davis
An innovative company in Brazil is offering a subscription service targeted to male gift-givers (surprise, surprise) giving them an easy way to send gifts of chocolate, flowers, etc for a low monthly fee. Check out the link above if your Portguese is pretty good or see the Springwise article. I am wondering what other things could be done on a subscription service.

Keeping up with holidy, birthday and anniversary correspondence is a natural. Jack Cards makes the chore (I mean priviledge) of sending personalized cards easier by sending you the cards in advanced, pre-stamped and addressed, so that you can zip off a personal note and everyone will wonder "how does she do it?". What if this was combined with a tiered service that sent along gift certificates in the cards or better yet, allowed you to categorize your address book into close family and friends, colleagues, and casual friends allowing you to tailor the gifts to each (keeping track of what you got them in previous years). Combine it with a 24x7 concierge service and you text a message or call them with immediate needs (flowers for a friend who just lost a grandparent, for instance) and it starts feeling like having a personal assistant.

What if you took it even further. What if there was anniversary plan that combined a time share with this gift subscription, to create custom luxury get-aways for a couples' wedding anniversary? You could tie this into the "themes" of each anniversary. You know the ones that say you give paper or clocks on the 1st anniversary and the 50th is gold? They could tier the offerings based on location and budget. I'd love the 3rd anniversary luxury trip to Italy to celebrate leather and glass which are traditional gifts for this anniversary or the trip to Japan on the 12th anniversary for silk and pearls.
Jennifer B. Davis
Sometimes you see products or ideas and immediately think "Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that?" Here are a few that I think are great.



In the land of the Dutch, where bicycles reign, a new company is combining bike racks with hand pumps for tires. Springwise pointed it out and you can learn more at http://www.heklucht.nl/. I love when convenience and user experience are combined with common materials to deliver a new thing. Somehow this reminds me of a former colleague who installed a beer keg in his garage and punched through the adjoining wall, so that he could tap beer right from his recliner in front of the TV (okay, maybe that is exactly opposite of a bike rack).


If you have ever juggled silverware and your plate at a potluck, then you'll love snap-and-dine. All the pieces are joined together to create a sturdy surface for the buffet line. The only thing they need to add is a glass and a napkin. This one was from CoolHunting.

The final submission is not a product, but rather a crowd-sourced service of sorts. When we were choosing names for our children I found a very useful site where strangers had gone to the trouble to rate and comment on names, ranking them according to perceived attractiveness, intelligence, athleticism, and other criteria that might come back to haunt the kids later. I found it very insightful and I really valued getting the feedback early before we made a mistake. Now, you can get strangers to provide your image consulting in much the same way. Your very own focus group. Sadly, the site and service are only in German, but what an opportunity for someone in the States to do something similar (or to utilize their high school German). Check it out at checkyourimage.com.




Jennifer B. Davis
Here is a fun thing to do on a Friday, go Yearbook Yourself to see how you'd look in the hairstyles of different eras. My best ones are posted here. Hilarious! Be sure you to comment and include a link to where yours can be found.

Does make me wonder why a styling products company hasn't created a website like this for trying out different hairstyles (like the famous hairstyles of celebrites like Jennifer Aniston, Posh Beckham, Peggy Fleming, Mary Lou Retton, etc). This exercise sure teaches me that I should avoid perms, bleach blonde coloring, and pin curls.







Jennifer B. Davis
"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is."
- Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut

"I could never start or run a company. I don't have the killer instinct. I'd rather observe and criticize those who do."
- said jokingly by a friend (a business strategy professor) at a recent dinner party

Perhaps I am letting this entrepreneurial bug bloom into a full-blown infection, but I have a growing concern about business professionals. That as a group, we don't know much about business.

I think there are some great marketeers out there (I consider myself one of them) that fail to realize the importance of sales channels, innovation, and who have never talked to a customer to find out why they bought and what would make them recommend the product or service to a friend.

There are great product designers, who are still designing products. Widgets who do some function or the other (usually designed by using the rear-view mirror of pre-established categories which can be analyzed by third-party researchers and are supported by big name consultants), but not solutions that fundamentally change industries or have a real meaningful impact on the people who use the products.

There are fantastic accounts, quality managers, documentation control professionals, IT managers, and "do-ers" all over the company that define what "doing the right thing" is for their respective functions, but may miss the mark entirely in terms of understanding how their role fits in to the value chain that customers are willing to pay for.

However, having these guys read a book or attend a presentation where the executives try to define the business levers of the business doesn't quite solve the problem. What people need is real experiential learning. In order to know how to run a business (and most everyone in an organization does to some extent as they influence the outcome of the whole), people should run a business.

I think every academic environment should have an entrepreneurship class where people have to develop a real product and sell it to real customers by the end of the course. Not talk about it. Not read about others (although this can be useful), but really do it.

Google and 3M both have well publicized programs where they let their engineers spent some portion of their time on undirected research and development aimed at bringing new innovations to the company. I am wondering if the same thing couldn't exist in other functions. What if a company's marketing team had to spent 10% of their time marketing a non-profit to learn guerilla techniques and how to write more passionate copy? Perhaps everyone in roles which naturally add more structure and process to the company should spent time in sales roles trying to navigate through those layers of progress once they are entrenched, and likewise, someone in sales had to spend some time helping to design the new product introduction process to ensure quality products at the end of the line.

Entrepreneurism teaches a pragmatism, a sense of urgency (impatience), and prioritization that would be quite a culture shock to many professional business people. Is it "killer instinct," or is it just business?
Jennifer B. Davis
MarketingSherpa recently posted a quick quiz to determine whether or not you had the chops to be a consultant. Take their little survey yourself here.

I could answer "yes" to the questions here which was a fine start, but frankly didn't think that is all there was to it. Here are a few more I would add to their list.

#6. Security
Consulting professionals, especially those starting out, have feast or famine existances. This is typically because they are building a client base and have limited resources to spread over servicing current clients and finding new ones. This leads to lumpy and inconsistent revenue. To consult for a "living," one must consider it like any start-up business and expect a bumpy ramp.

#7. Expertise
The best consultants (and the ones that claim the most success) specialize. They don't try to be all things to all people. They are not a temp labor agency, they are supposed to be adding real, differentiated value to their clients. So, there are manufacturing consultants and there are "Lean manufacturing consultants." They are IT project management firms and their are "ERP conversion " consultants. Pick a niche. Dominate it. Read "Crossing the Chasm" and specialize.

#8. Find Clients First (then quit your day job)
I'd highly recommend any would-be consultant read "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi. Fantastic, motivational book on networking in which he outlines a blueprint for starting a consulting business...secure a few clients and then strike out.

#9. Treat Your Business Like a Business
I'd recommend you read David Maister. He writes about professional services companies and his work (now in print with his new book "Strategy and the Fat Smoker", his podcasts, his videocasts, and his blog) is just great.
Jennifer B. Davis
I won't even try to add commentary to the things that Smashing Magazine put together in a post called "10 Beautiful Things for a Beautiful Life." Check it out!
Jennifer B. Davis
The folks at geekhouse bikes in Massachusetts, can build you a custom bicycle to your specifications. Pretty cool stuff. But, not as cool as something they have called "sublimated powder coating," which is a processes that allows any digital graphic to be fused into a powder coat on a bicycle. See inset picture for an example of how complex the designs can be.

So, you can create your own sleeping bag or blanket. You can personalize Kleenex boxes or M&Ms. Why not trick out your entire last-chance summer get-away by designing a custom bike with your graphics on them?


Jennifer B. Davis
Thanks to the power of Google Translate and Mloovi, this blog is now available in a number of different languages!

Subscribe to the Spanish feed here.

Subscribe to the simplified Chinese feed here.

Subscribe to the Hindi feed here.

Subscribe to the Finnish feed here.

Subscribe to the French feed here.

Subscribe to the German feed here.

I am hoping this works well, as I wasn't able to test mloovi's beta system fully (and I wouldn't know if the translations are all that acurate). I welcome feedback on this.
Jennifer B. Davis
I have to admit I am a PowerPoint junkie. At work we use it ALL THE TIME and sometimes we forget that we can have meetings without it. I just learned about a new tool that might change all of that, it is called SlideRocket.

What I love about it already is that it is web-based, it appears to create beautiful and innovative presentations, and has built-in tools for presentation sharing over the web. No need to utilize PowerPoint AND a web conferencing tool in the future. Plus, they have some community elements that look interesting.

If you really need/want to use PowerPoint, you can always export your SlideRocket show. If you must.
Jennifer B. Davis
Seth Godin wrote a post about price pressure. In it he proposes, that if people are asking for a lower price, you are not providing value and providing that value is your choice. Choosing the path of lower prices and commoditization is your alternative choice. I found this thought provoking.

This could be perceived in contrast to a previous post I did some time back about embracing the challenge of commoditization. That said, I think there is a big difference between internally looking for improvements and new ways to provide value in an increasingly competitive market and marketing yourself externally as the Arco of your segment. You can look for efficiencies, while delivering value for the money you are charging. Stay ahead of that curve (on both fronts) and you have a great business.
Jennifer B. Davis
I have written before about personalized M&Ms. Now you can get them with not only words, but pictures on them as well.

The examples they show are faces (some of which are a little scary), but I think maybe Hugh at GapingVoid, who is famous for drawing cartoons on the back of business cards, should start drawing cartoons on the side of an M&M instead.
Jennifer B. Davis
I regularly follow the blog posts from 37Signals. They recently posted notes from the Chicago-area SEED 3 conference and I must admit they are the best conference notes I have ever seen. The artist/notetaker is Mike Rohde. Some fantastic nuggets in there even for folks like us who didn't attend.

You might think of inviting Mike, or someone like him, to your next conference, sales meeting, your next board presentation, or perhaps your next church worship service. Could be a whole new experience!
Jennifer B. Davis
Great post the other day from James Wood about Andrew Jackson. Think about the toughest person you know. The person who played injured. The person who overcame adversity. Then, go read this post. You may put President Jackson on the top of your list.
Jennifer B. Davis
Just saw a write-up on Posterous, a super simple blogging platform. I thought Tumblr was the simple one, but this platform is even easier. It takes the information in the header of an email and turns it into an authentication for a blog post. Pretty ingenius (perhaps not without its risks as well).

Check it out and think about how you can take unnecessary human steps out of your product or service. It might be easier than you think!
Jennifer B. Davis
Springwise wrote about a clothing rental business called Transitional Sizes. For a monthly fee they rent clothes to women who are changing sizes (due to pregnancy or weight loss) anywhere from size 4 to size 26. You can have clothes that fit each month, and when they don't you turn them back in for new ones. The website looks a little too eBay (come on guys, you can take some better photos of the clothes), but is a good concept.

I'd love it if this were combined with a MyShape.com style clothing store, so that they could pick out a wardrobe for you that would match your styles and measurements, and the season and weather in your part of the country. At the end of the season, you return the package in exchange for some new pieces.

I love the subscription model as it builds loyalty and referrals with every compliment, plus it takes the guesswork out of shopping. Trust me there are a lot of women with disposable income that don't like or want to take the time to shop!
Jennifer B. Davis
My mom, like many others I suppose, was a home economics major in college. She taught consumer education in schools. I just learned about a Beverly Hills store that should prompt a "why didn't I think of that" response from her. It is called Fashionology LA and just like Build-a-Bear, this store focusing on having tweens make their own clothes, designing them on kiosks in the store. I get the impression that this is more embellishment than hard-core tailoring, but still...it is home economics at the mall.

I could see this extending beyond t-shirt embellishment to simple sewing projects where kids could practice designing something truly unique. I loved that kind of thing when I was a kid and I had the advantage of a home economics teacher in my house. Most kids today don't (including mine), yet would love the creative outlet that this could be.

The folks there at Fashionology LA have built in some great viral marketing tools to extend their reach (they take pictures of the girls in their new creations and email them to them so that they can share them with their friends - brilliant!). Something to think about for your own business, how to let the customers do the talking!
Jennifer B. Davis
Why live in a town you hate? Why have a job that you feel is a waste of your talents? Why do you make the choices you do.

If your first answer to these question is "for purely economic reasons" or something like that, I invite you to rethink.

If you live in a town because it is cheap to live there, it could be that there is a reason for that...that you make less money if you work there. Usually the supply-demand thing does work out (statistically). If you hate the town, move. Unless you are a trust fund baby that doesn't have to worry about your income (in which case move to a staffed luxury compound in Honduras or something instead), you will probably be okay. You will find that will diligent work, some talent, some energy in networking, and a little luck you can live the same lifestyle in a town you like.

You can live your own dream, if you care enough to take action. Exert leadership over your own life. I am down from my soap box now. Feel free to respond.
Jennifer B. Davis
We love movies and books that are based on reality. No matter how fantastic or unbelievable the events in the tale may be, it instantly has credibility if it begins with "this story is based on a true story." We are immediately drawn in. Real truth, even if sensationalized or dramatized a bit, is so irresistable.

In contrast, I give you the financial forecast. For those of you not involved in these types of things, financial forecasts are models that people build, usually in Microsoft Excel, that show projected revenue, profit, costs, and the like in an effort to track the progress of a business, to make decisions regarding strategy or tactics, and to communicate to others about the business (whether they be management, shareholders, partners, etc).

The thing about a financial forecast is that the future is unknown. A fact that we sometimes like to ignore. We can not predict the future. And as they say in Princess Bride, "Anyone that tells you different, Princess, is selling something."

So, because the future is unknown, you need to make assumptions. More like "make up" assumptions would be more accurate, as all forecasts are works of fiction. Those assumptions about customer acceptance, revenue growth, cost reductions, or the like have a huge impact on your perception of the business opportunity. They can have a huge impact on the short-term decisions that might be made. Assume a healthy economy and low product return rates and you can convince yourself to spend more in marketing, only to find out later that these assumptions were horribly wrong and the money was wasted. Assume that 20% of your products will be sold with a unique feature and if it turns out being 50%, you could find yourself with product shortages and unhappy customers. You could be off by a little or a lot. Assumptions are a killer indeed.

The best assumptions are ones that have a high probability of occurance. That high probability based on some past perforamance. If you always have a slow first quarter of the year, it safe to assume that next year will be no different. If you have a trend line extending back into time that says that revenue is growing, you have a reason to believe it will continue. Distrust step functions. There has to be reasons to believe.

It is just like the movies and books. We are drawn into the story if we believe it is based on truth. Same with financial forecasts. This is true in business, but also in non-profit organizations, churches, and even personal finance.

So, how do you create good assumptions:

1. As I have said before, trends trump step functions. In other words slow and steady trend lines are more probable than things that immediately get better overnight, like someone flipped a switch. If you are assuming a step function improvement, you better know exactly what switch is getting flipped and be confident in the outcome.

2. Understand and measure the key levers of the business for real-time feedback. If your business is dependent upon selling service contracts along with product sales, you should know what your attach rate should be and what it has been. You should be able to see the actual attach rate trends as frequently as is reasonable and should share them with the teams involved. You should know where your costs are and the boundary boxes in which things should stay for the business to be profitable. As the good folks at GE taught us, "what you measure, you improve."

3. Everyone is in the business. This means giving your employers and partners visibility to the key metrics of your business will make you more successful, as choices are made at every level of the organization that greatly impact the success of the business and the factors you are measuring. Now, I am not talking about disclosing financial information inappropriately or giving away company secrets. I mean teaching all the players in the game how the score is kept, how to read the scoreboard, and their role in putting points on the score board. Remain open for anyone on the team to suggest a better play to call to reach the goal, once they understand the rules of the game. These kinds of conversations are the basis of true teamwork.
Jennifer B. Davis
"For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three." - Alice Kahn

I love technology. I especially love database-driven, web-enabled technologies with great interfaces that make important things easier to do. Seriously, I really do.

But, I have become aware recently (or should I say "reminded") of ways in which technology can fail to deliver on its promise.

1. Stop-Drop-and-Roll When Technology Makes Something Simple More Complex

Forget scale. Forget extendability. Sometimes business needs are simple. You need to answer the phone and route calls, for instance. How hard can it be really? Incredibly difficult once you create phone trees, voice prompts, scripts, and queues. Add to that a hold music music track from Hades (a stress-inducing piece of classical music that is reminiscent of a battle scene from an epic film) and you have a comic combination of making something simple hard. Part of the problem is trying to fit all possible needs into one solution, when in fact a customer-driven approach would call for multiple, smaller solutions.

For example, some websites are packed with information for everyone which makes them hard to navigate, contain too much copy, and lose their purpose (for example see anything that the good folks at Microsoft post), so all technologies are prone to this kind of complexity. In contrast, stands very simple web page design where the text is a clear call to action, the copy is natural speech, and all of the content fits "above the fold" without making the user scroll to read.

Using the web page example and applying it to my telephony problem, I wonder if the solution is this. Replace the complicated phone tree with its 50 options (and the hold music that enrages already irritated callers) with a pleasant woman's voice who says "Thanks for calling us. We love to hear from you and want to make sure you talk to the right person who can help you the best. To skip to sales, press 1. To go straight to technical support, press 2. Or just hold and a real live, honest-to-goodness human being can assist you. On our website you will also find a directory of contacts that might help you connect even more quickly. Again, thanks for your business. Please wait a moment while we connect you."

If technology makes something more complex, you should stop it, drop it, and roll with something new. For instance, if your customer base is known and finite and if you have more than 2 options on any phone line, break it up and pass out new numbers. It could be that your business is too complicated for the technology to solve. This leads to my second principle.

2. Don't Pave a Cow Path (or Pave Only Cow Paths that Lead Somewhere)

A colleague of mine once told me a story about how a farmer sold his property to a developer and they decided to build houses along gravel roads laid down where the well-worn paths through the pasture land that the cows had cut over years of grazing. Years later, they paved those gravel roads and although the residents complained, only the old-timers remembered the someone hadn't sat down to design the best layout for the neighborhood, but had instead paved the cow paths.

How often do we do this? Come up with a great technology solution to a problem we don't understand fully, just because the technology solution is in hand or can be envisioned. I am guilty of this more than I like to admit (being generally optimistic about technology and life and having this natural impatience to get on with something already). We start building solutions for things that only work the way they do by accident. Or, we throw out a perfectly good "cow path" solution in favor of a more complicated one.

One of the most successful development projects I was involved with was an internal corporate application. Before writing a single line of code, I lived the workflow of the application (however painful it was) for several months managing an Excel spreadsheet. During this "alpha" phase, I worked out all the communication flows and templates, the policies of who needed to be copied on what, and started to quantify the benefits of automation. The core workflow changed quite a bit in those early days and got refined in this manual process, and I was able to articulate requirements for a little application that is still very useful and powerful (and has gone through numerous iterations as new needs and ideas were explored).

This reminds me that one must make careful choices about what gets paved and why. Living in a tent on a cow path for a while, while taking land surveys might be a perfectly reasonable way to "write" requirements.

3. Nothing Replaces an Outside-In View

Companies love to create Inside-Out solutions. You need to know how many product returns you get and why products fail, so you adopt a nifty little service application to manage the transactions. It works great. Unless, a customer wants to see all their transactions and the status of each. Maybe that gets a little tougher. Or unless a sales person wants to see all their transactions and the status of each, across multiple customer accounts, geographies, product lines, or departments. Then the transaction system doesn't quite serve the purpose. Before you rush out an implement a fully-integrated CRM package (which can be wonderful by the way), remember the problem you are solving and the points above. It could be that the outside-in perspective would tell you to keep the transaction system and implement a report instead. It could be that a fancy, automated report isn't needed, but rather a regularly scheduled phone conference with a key customer to walk them through any open issues and assure them of your attentiveness to their issues. It could be that you have back office communication or coordination challenges, that once solved through better roles and responsibilities, the issues are minimized and more manageable.

It is good to keep in mind that most customers don't really care about the efficiencies of your business overall, how the same phone tree helps them and their competitors, or what you are doing to solve problems for everyone. They really want their problems solved. And, it is always easier to solve one issue than ten.

Technology can be a part of that. It can help coordinate information, make dispersed and diverse team act together, and can provide feedback loops in real-time. It can be game changing or tactical, but it is only a part of the whole solution.
Jennifer B. Davis
Techvibes publishes a monthly list of Portland start-ups. This list is great and makes me excited to be a part of this community. Check it out at Silicon Florist.

I couldn't resist going through most of them. Some I had heard of and some were new. They range industries. Some are social networks. Some sell products or services. Some are bootstrapped and others are venture backed. Some are built for consumers and others for business or enterprise clients. By the end of the list, I had added a few blogs to my reader, a few follows to my twitter account, got a new virtual assistant, and learned a lot more about the Portland business community.

Check it out!
Jennifer B. Davis
I got a note from a friend of mine who received a mini-tribute from me. She wrote, "It is such a cute card. Made me smile the whole day!" If you are interested in making someone's Monday, tell them they are Absolutely Remarkable at http://www.isAbsolutelyRemarkable.com.

P.S. It makes a nice little belated Father's Day card as well. See http://Dad.isAbsolutelyRemarkable.com.
Jennifer B. Davis
It is clear that building word-of-mouth marketing is critical for the success of a product or company and often it can use a bit of help to get started. I am always interested about how companies do it. I found a few insights that I thought I would share here.

For well over a year, I have participated in SheSpeaks, a sampling network of women. They have sent me products to review. I loved the Sonicare toothbrush. The Nicole by OPI nail polish took a little getting used to, but is interesting (this one is new and I have some coupons, by the way). The salon hair care product that made me smell like almonds, but look like I hadn't showered in weeks was an emphatic "no!"

Today, I learned about another network like this called BzzAgent. I don't have much to report other than they reallly get the word-of-mouth thing and I have heard about the founder's latest ebook on no fewer than 3 blog posts this weekend from folks I follow and respect. I read the book tonight and it had some nuggets in it.

If you know of others, post the links in comments here.
Jennifer B. Davis
I just received a great little article by Patrick Lencioni, an author who I highly recommend. You can sign up for their newsletter here. It was about the design of office spaces and how it affects employee interaction.

"The biggest problem with traditional office space is what it suggests about the importance of individual versus collective work. By placing greater emphasis on privacy than openness and collaboration, companies unconsciously encourage people to see their work as being primarily individual. Whether we‘re talking about line employees in cubicles or senior executives in walled offices, workers are almost trained to seek out greater separation and space."

What is your favorite work environment? Private in an office, yards or time zones away from your colleagues? In an open environment for collaboration?

About a year ago I worked on a full-scale office redo and I found it very inspiring to visit some office showrooms. I loved Herman Miller, whose innovation is award-winning. They had these great "bee-hive" designed cubes with 120-degree angles (instead of the traditional square 90-degree cubes). If you are interested in this sort of thing, I'd definitely recommend you taking a field trip to a local showroom or checking out their research white papers.


Jennifer B. Davis
"Brick walls exist to prove how much you really want something. They are only barriers to those who don't want it bad enough. They are there for the OTHER people."

This is a paraphrase from a lecture from beloved professor with terminal cancer who provided his "Last Lecture" on achieving dreams which is now a website, book, and Diane Sawyer interview.

Highly recommend watching the video at the link above.
Jennifer B. Davis
"Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance." - Kurt Vonnegut
Is this true? Or are some people "starters" and others are "finishers"? Some people are idea generators that can kick-off any number of great projects, but lack the skills or perseverance to see it to the end and maintain it. Are there folks that are actually better at maintenance and continuous improvements? Is it a flaw of human character or a personality test?

Would people rather build a kit car than change the oil? Would people rather build a house than clean it? Would people rather build a server, design software, or create a company, than join something that is already a success?
Jennifer B. Davis
"We are more ready to try the untried when what we do is inconsequential. Hence the fact that many inventions had their birth as toys." - Eric Hoffer

What are you playing around with today and might actually be the next big thing for your business?

Years ago I worked for a software company and while we were developing software, one of the programmers came up with an innovative prototyping tool. We showed this tool to some other folks who loved it and over time, that tool became the best selling product of the company. Something that wasn't on the roadmap at all when the company began.

I wonder how many businesses start like this. GetSatisfaction.com, an innovative service that brokers companies and their customers, started as a way to handle support requests for the sale of excess and obsolete marketing items from defunct internet start-ups in the early 2000's. Twitter started as a side project and has become huge.

What are your side projects, again that you are playing around with, that should be moved to the core of your effort?


Jennifer B. Davis
Volvo promises an injury-free car by 2020. Is is a marketing ploy, a safety-conscious consumer's dream, or a product liability ligitigator's windfall? Judge for yourself.
Jennifer B. Davis
Fellow blogger and old college classmate, Jennifer Jeffrey, had a great quote on her blog the other day:
"Give up all other worlds, except the one to which you belong" - David Whyte

I thought this was a beautiful and thought provoking. I am not sure what context the phrase was originally penned or to what circumstances David was referring to, but it made me think about the power of focus.

Here are few things to keep in mind when focus is a priority:

1. Horizon
What does success look like? On what should you focus? To what "world" do you "belong"?

2. Perspective
What worlds are you willing to give up to allow you to belong in one world completely? One must be aware of their surroundings, so to speak, in order to focus.

3. Discipline
Just like a photographer will wait all day for the right light or move their tripod dozens of time to capture the right angle, so focus in any task requires discipline and persistence.
Jennifer B. Davis
Simplicity is the name of the game now-a-days. The new Evite alternative called Mobaganda takes that a step further. Without having to register, you can create an invite, email it to people and track their responses via RSS feed. The design is ugly (my personal opinion, I am sure), but the concept is cool. It is build on the Google Application Engine, in case you care about those kind of things.

I learned about it several weeks about on Twitter (@stirman is the person behind the launch). To keep tabs on cool things like this you can follow me at www.twitter.com/jenniferdavis.
Jennifer B. Davis
There is a funny quote on the top of the Viximo site..."Blog: because you're not a real startup unless you're filling the internet with more crap." This tongue-in-cheek quote reminded me to remind you about my other blog over at http://creativeoutletlabs.wordpress.com. There you can keep tabs on the software development (in semi-stealth mode) of Remarkable Tributes and more. Check it out!

P.S. I don't know what Viximo does (something about designers creating "virtual gifts" over social networks) and I might not be able to endorse them at all, but I did enjoy their contact us page (the best I have ever seen) which provides actual directions for your carrier pigeon to make a delivery and instructions on how to send a smoke signal (in HEX, no less).
Jennifer B. Davis
I have been missing web seminars left and right recently. I generally love to attend a few each month (usually tuning in while multi-tasking on other things), but have had to miss some good ones recently. They generally send me one of those "we are sorry you are a loser" emails to allow me to tune into a recording of the call. So, in an effort to redeem myself, I thought I would send along links to some of the recent ones I have missed (and some I attended) to help them spread the word and possibly to contribute to the personal and professional development of my loyal readers.

Topic: Web Marketing for Small Businesses
Description: Based on Stephanie Diamond's new book by the same title. See http://www.webmarketingforsmallbusiness.com/.
Audio Recording Link: http://marketingmarshall.com/recommends/stephaniediamond2 (note this is an MP3 recording that you will need to download and save onto your computer to listen)
Note: Elizabeth Marshall hosts AuthorTeleseminars.com which is a great resource for these type of "virtual book tour" events.

Topic: Rules for Renegades Series
Description: A call with Alex Mandossian hosted by Christine Comaford-Lynch, author of Rules for Renegades and CEO of Mighty Ventures.
Audio Recording Link: http://www.rulesforrenegadessummit.com/preview/AlexMandossianCall.mp3 (note this is an MP3 recording that you will need to download and save onto your computer to listen)
Note: In anticiation of her upcoming Rules for Renegades Summit, Christine is doing a series of these calls that might be of interest to you.

Topic: Storytelling and Strategy: Accelerating the Success of Your Organization
Description: Mickey Connolly from Conversant (author of Communication Catalyst) talks about collaboration and storytelling.
Recording Link: https://cc.readytalk.com/cc/playback/Playback.do?id=oe3rq796 (registration required)
Note: They also provided a few white papers which might of interest. One is the Ten Laws of Collaboration and the next is The Five Sense Solution.

Topic: Meatball Sundae
Description: Seth Godin talks about his new book
Recording Link: http://marketingmarshall.com/recommends/sethteleseminar4. Here is another link from Corvent to similar content: https://www119.livemeeting.com/cc/corvent/view?cn=&id=Meatball&pw=view
Note: Seth's presentation is interesting as there is nearly no words in the PowerPoint. Only pictures, some of which are fantastic!

Below is a list of upcoming free Web Seminar events that you can sign up for yourself:

American Marketing Association - Upcoming Events: http://www.amanet.org/events/

ReadyTalk Web Seminar Series RSS Feed of Upcoming Events: http://www.readytalk.com/feeds/readytalk-web-seminar-series.php. They also have a podcast feed, if you'd rather.
Jennifer B. Davis
Perhaps it is because I am thinking about all things entrepreneurial or because I am grateful to be back in my old stomping grounds, but I have been thinking recently about featuring some of my favorite local service providers on this site. Here is a list of some of my Portland, Oregon area favs.

Insomnia Coffee: A group of moms get together here each 1st and 3rd Thursday nights at 8 PM for fun and support. The coffee and ambiance is fun any time! They feature live music on weekend nights and are super family friendly. They are at SE 53rd and Baseline in Hillsboro.

Fresh Thyme Soup Company: Chef Randy makes up batches of made-from-scratch soups each day. Fantastic flavors! They are a great lunch place and even have take-out options if you want to pretend you made it yourself for dinner.

Extreme Pizza: My former colleague (ex-colleague?) Alan and his wife just started up an Extreme Pizza shop on Cornell and 188th in Beaverton/Hillsboro a few weeks ago. We tried it out the other night and found the toppings piled high and the cheese light (think: non greasy pizza). It was delish! They deliver as well.

Tres Bon Salon: I have seen several hair stylists at this salon in the Bethany area of Beaverton/NW Portland and can say that all of them are great. I am currently going to Carla, aka "cowlick tamer," who is fun and a really fantastic stylist.

For the Health of It Massage Therapy: Ok, this last one I might not even want to mention. Monica is the best kept secret of all. If you want a "fluffy" relaxing, put-you-to-sleep massage, keep on shopping. But if you are looking for a serious kink wrangling, Monica is the one. Another ex-colleague of mine, she has found her true calling. If you want to get in touch with her, let me know.
Jennifer B. Davis
Love this story from the blog by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (can't wait to finish their book which I have been carrying around for several weeks).

"Dell told us (the story’s in Chapter 8 of Groundswell) that when they started their most recent support forum, 1999, they knew they’d need moderators. They pulled 30 support reps off the phones and converted them into forum moderators. Those support reps answered questions online, just as they had been on the phone. Already, Dell was getting more efficiencies, since each answer could be read by dozens or hundreds of other people searching for it on their support forum. Now, five years later, the support forum is many times larger than it was then. And the number of moderators is no longer 30. It’s five. And that’s because the members of the community are moderating it themselves."

What in your business could be made more efficient by turning over the reins to a larger group of people? Other employees? Customers?
Jennifer B. Davis
Love this memo from scrapbook artist, Ali Edwards. Click on the image to see her blog.


Jennifer B. Davis
I recently read about a Swedish company called Coming Through, which retrofits Honda Goldwing motorcycles to be "tow trucks." After all, they can get through traffic and are beefly enough to haul most passenger cars. Rather than starting with a tow truck (of the more traditional style) and engineering it down, I am sure they started from the need and build a solution from there. The design is cool and I could see cities having whole fleets of these to deal real-time with stalled cars on freeways that gunk up morning commutes.
Jennifer B. Davis
As close to mind-reading as I have seen, I used presdo the other day to arrange for a meeting and it worked pretty slick. I like the streamlined interface where you just type in what you want to do in words and it helps you fill in the blanks.

Furthermore, I like how the developer (a co-founder of LinkedIn) bootstrapped the development on his own money. I am feeling an affinity with enterpreneurs of this type currently and hope it is wildly successful.
Jennifer B. Davis
I was reminded recently of the important connection between storytelling and branding. There was a good presentation about from Mickey Connolly, who is a founder of the training and development company Conversant and co-author of the Communication Catalyst (another one I'd recommend).

Danny Meyer in his book Setting the Table related how he tries to turn diners in his New York City restaurants into evangelists. He talked about taking a page from the auto maker and watch manufacturer's playbooks, who have "long understood that people buy their products not just ecause of how the product itself performance, but to tell a story about themselves." His job as a business owner is to "give people a story worth telling."

So, what does your product brand tell your customers about themselves? Do you sell leading-edge technology so that your customers can feel like they are early adopter and insiders? Do you sell fashionable items, so that customers can feel chic? Do you sell at value pricing so that customers can feel frugal and responsible? Do you sell green products, so that customers can feel a part of a larger environmental movement? All products tell a story, some better than others, and the brands that understand that have a huge advantage.

It is a challenge for business leaders, no matter the size of the company, to think about what they want their customers to feel about themselves having bought, used or experienced the company's product. I have spent some time thinking about it for Creative Outlet Labs.
Jennifer B. Davis
I have mentioned before the great book entitled "Setting the Table" by Danny Meyer. He writes about building and nurturing relationships with customers, something he calls connecting the dots.

As Danny writes, "Dots are information. The more information you collect, the more so you can make meaningful connections that can make other people feel good and give you an edge in business. Using wahterver information I've collected to gather guests together in a spirit of shared experience is what I call connecting the dots. If I don't turn over the rocks, I won't see the dots. If I don't collect the dots, I can't connect the dots. If I don't know that someone works, say, for a magazine whose managing editor I happen to know, I've lost a chance to make a meaningful connection that could enhance our relationship with the guest and the guest's relationshi with us. The information is there. You just have to choose to look."

This concept really resonated with me. On a personal level, I have found that when I am learning something, the best test of understanding is when I can connect the learning to another discipline or something else that I have experienced. Sometimes I imagine that I can feel the connections in the brain developing when this occurs.

On a professional level, I have seen the power of connections. When one relationship or bit of information can be leveraged to help someone else. The circles of influence and connection growing. You can see it happen in qualitative and measurable ways. One of my favorites is LinkedIn. From my profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/jenniferbdavis you can see links to people I have worked with and questions I have answered to try to assist others, as well as information about me and my experience that might be useful in us working together. Lots of dots there to be collected and connected.

If you are on LinkedIn and know me, please send me an invitation to connect! If you are not, you should definitely check it out!
The beautiful photo (showing the connection between dots in a store window and the reflection of square windows in an adjacent building) came from AnnPar on Flickr.
Jennifer B. Davis
I was talking to an old friend today and Twitter came up in conversation. He said he had never heard of it, apart from my mentions of it on my blog. He commented, "I thought it sounded a bit personal. Like someone would call you up and say 'I'd like to Twitter with you.' To which you'd reply, 'Thanks very much.' Ahem."

Well, although it may be a bit more personal than some of the posts on this blog, I still would recommend you check it out. You can follow my feed at www.twitter.com/jenniferdavis or you can see it in the margin on this blog (if you go to the site directly to read the posts).

By the way, it was great to see you again, Mike (and your lovely wife as well).
Jennifer B. Davis



















"I like an escalator because an escalator can never break, it can only become stairs. There would never be an escalator temporarily out of order sign, only an escalator temporarily stairs. Sorry for the convenience." - Mitch Hedberg

We once built an incredibly useful web application at work to handle a business problem that was labor intensive, a critical differentiator for our business, and was something that we needed to scale. The application was slick and worked really well, at least I thought. Then we started getting new users to try it and as they learned the nuances, we found they needed some "Do you really want to send this?" or "Do you really want to delete this?" confirmations added in to prevent some errors. In addition, logic needed to be added to the site that would prevent incorrect data from being entered in the first place. One colleague described the early version of the application as a gun without a safety. Powerful, but a big dangerous in the wrong or inexperienced hands. We quickly identified the risk areas and put fixed in place, but not without causing some consternation first. I have found that there are at least 3 ways to error-proof your product.

1. Make the Error Impossible

Usability experts like to focus on making the "right" thing to do obvious. I believe, however that equal attention needs to be played to making the "wrong" thing impossible (or at least horribly difficult). The shaped solid ink cartridges in a Xerox color printer is a great example of this. You can't put them in the wrong slots. They don't fit. All products and applications should be error-proofed in this way. Some people check for email formats on entry fields or check sum credit card numbers to ensure they were typed correctly. What about making sure in other ways that people can not proc

2. Take the Pain out of Error States

For a higher standard still, you can look to the quote above about escalators. How can you make a disabled, broken, or improperly used product still functional, but just not as functional. Instead of a 404 error on a website, what about sending users to an alternative page with a training video or with the offending part of the code pre-selected with defaults to make it easier for the user? Maybe in addition to sewing extra buttons into shirts, they should include safety pins. If the people mover at the San Francisco airport is not in operation, people can still walk on it and get a bounce in their step and view the artwork and displays on the wall. Remember, too that delays are error states and entertaining customers while they wait is also a way to take the pain away.

3. Reframe Unavoidable "Errors" as Opportunities for Differentiation

Taken one step further still, what about taking the unavoidable (or frequent) errors and turning them into differentiation points. For instance, all products eventually reach the end of their useful life (the ultimate error state). What about providing real solutions for empty packaging, used products, or those products which are at the end of their useful life? I firmly believe more people should bundle in recycling/removal or upgrade programs into the costs of their product. What other errors are unavoidable or frequent enough to justify looking at them differently? If most people mistakenly hit some key, select an inconvenient option, or have problems with particular types of installations, why not develop programs around those things and turn them into features that are marketed as differentiators, rather than error states to be avoided?

Jennifer B. Davis
"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."
- Thomas Jefferson

Freedom is messy. You have freedom of assembly and you get people protesting and disrupting a perfectly good Olympic Torch relay through London or Paris. You give your users control of their content and they’ll design ugly products, use your software in unexpected ways (breaking it, by the way), and may even enable some third-party tools or hacks that disrupt or undermine your business model. Build a community on your website and you may have people criticize the company or its management. Post a blog and people will comment and disagree with you.

Freedom in itself isn't disruptive though. The thing that creates the real chaos around freedom is popularity and passion. Only if people read your blog will they comment. Only if people are aware of your human rights practices will they protest you winning the bid to host the Olympic games. Only if they use your site and love portions of it, will they take the time to object to the parts they hate. They may criticize, but at least they care.

Freedom is messy indeed. It identifies those things that are relevant. In a world without freedom, you can’t easily tell what is really important to people.

And of course, feel free to post your violent disagreement in a comment.
Jennifer B. Davis
Following the recommendation of a colleage and an unability to get an appointment with our normal primary care physician, we went to ZoomCare this weekend. If you are in Portland I highly recommend you check out their services. In any case, their approach illustrated 10 ways that innovators can change industries. I really hope my dentist, my hairdresser, and other service businesses I frequent are reading this.

1. Let your customers buy/schedule online
Go to http://www.zoomcare.com/ and pick your appointment time. So simple. Again, why can't I schedule a hair appointment like this? We scheduled my husband's appointment after hours and it was confirmed via email (our choice) by the next morning. The doctor had read the comments that we had put on our appointment request prior to the appointment.

2. Let customers be spontaneous
Their website includes a real-time graphic indicator of the wait time in their two offices. This is handy for estimating how an impromptu appointment will affect your day. There is no wait if you have an appointment, but if you don't, you can see how busy the place is without leaving your house.

3. Seize a niche
ZoomCare is in the gap between urgent care centers and traditional doctor's offices. You don't get to pick your doctor. They don't treat heart attacks, strokes, offer kidney dialysis, or deliver babies. They are a healthcare solution for folks that are generally healthy, but need periodic treatment.

4. Publish a price list
It is crazy to think that ZoomCare's website might be the first fee schedule I have ever seen in healthcare. Normally, insured patients don't even know what their healthcare is costing them (besides their co-pay and then the statement that they receive showing what the insurance has paid). This doesn't lead to good consumer behavior. It is fee schedules like ZoomCare that make me think that I could accept one of those catastrophy-only healthcare plans, where I'd pay out of pocket (but before tax) for office visits, etc. The fees didn't seem too bad and even if all of us came into the office each month, the fees would be less than I am paying in insurance today (and my employer pays most of it, so I am only seeing a portion of the actual cost).

5. Don't underhire your front-line staff
ZoomCare hires front-desk staff that have college degrees and diverse backgrounds. Where other doctors offices have clerks, these guys are more like cruise directors. I suspect the hiring managers would love their office associates had experience in a circus, speaking multiple languages, and had degrees in diverse fields. After all, they are the face of the company and should be a reason people come back. The doctor was great, too!

6. Treat your customers like intelligent, rational human beings
My husband was shown in his diagnosis by the doctor (with the use of a video screen). Then the front desk person walked him through the treatment handout at the desk and had a bag of information ready for him when he left.

7. Partner seamlessly
Zoomcare accepted our insurance (it was listed on their website as one of the plans they accepted). They emailed (or appeared to email) the prescription to the pharmacy of our choice. My doctor's office by contrast, made me call into their separate prescription line and I had to provide the phone number and address of the Costco pharmacy that I wanted them to use, something they could have Googled as well as I could.

8. Don't partner when you can provide
The office itself had a whole little store front set up where they sold over the counter treatments and other items that their customers might need. It reminded me of the little stores set up in hotel lobbies for those who forgot their toothpaste. If the patient needed aspirin and some cough drops, they could get them right there and avoid yet another stop along the way.

9. Don't underestimate the power of a happy customer
We were told at Zoomcare by someone (who was impressed by the follow-up phone call he received to ensure he was feeling better). We have gone on to tell no fewer than 12 people (and that was before this blog post) about the service.

10. Make your customers beg for more
We already wish they had an office closer to us (it was worth the drive, but could be more convenient). The ZoomCare brand could certainly expand to a whole range of health services. I wish they had dentists/hygenists on staff (although my dentist's office practices would make them a great candidate for running a ZoomCare Dental office). They could expand to vision care. They could expand to an online over-the-counter medication store with home delivery. They could expand to home health care of other types. The positive brand they have built can expand out to new endeavors. Perhaps ZoomCare will expand to a neighborhood near you!
Jennifer B. Davis
I just added a Twitter feed of my posts to this site. If you haven't yet used Twitter, it is fun service that allows you to post 140 character messages from your phone or the web. If you are skeptical, sign up for free and try it out and follow me (which is another way to say "sign up to see my posts automatically). Or, you can read what internet strategist Kendra Wright says which is right on the money.
Jennifer B. Davis
Here are a few things that I have found myself saying more than once. Perhaps I should get some shirts made?

"Every order has a story."

"'Under your desk' is not an official inventory location."

"Routine things should be routine."

"Every order is the most important thing in the world to someone."

"The antidote to scope creep is to acknowledge everyone's enthusiasm and engaged energy and decide what you will do LATER."

Jennifer B. Davis
This has to be one of the coolest custom products ever, custom metal cufflinks from Eleven Forty Design. They are individually modeled from a picture (or you can pick from your favorite person from their portfolio which includes Einstein and Flash Gordon). Each sleeve would have one side. Put them together and they create a little portrait bust. Imagine your toddler, your dog, or your favorite superhero immortalized on your cuffs.

This would be an interesting category of products for a custom engraver (or laser "tattoo" artist) to have. Send in a picture and they engrave it onto a flat silver cufflink. Probably would be a lot cheaper than this sculpted design, but just as personal.
Jennifer B. Davis
Oxford Landing wine out of South Australia makes it easier for customers to become repeat buyers of their products. Their labels include a tear-off card to remember the wine by. I rememer in the days of the Rolodex (now, there is a company that missed the boat...they had the brand that could have lead them to create Act! or Plaxo, but that is another post), marketing literature would often include a die-cut Rolodex card that people could tear off and save. This is the wine bottle equivalent. Brilliant!

I think product packaging is one of the most underutilized mediums for viral marketing. I'd love to hear about other examples that you have seen.
Jennifer B. Davis
What would people do if every service issue at a company was handled in such a personal manner as Seth describes here. When is the last time one of your executes signed a personal apology letter or a note thanking someone for their business...or in this example the outer case of an xBox 360? As he said in his post, "humans like humans. They hate organizations." How can you make your company more human?

First, I'd recommend you read Danny Meyer's book about his career in the New York restaurant business called "Setting the Table" and think about how hospitality might apply to your business. My book is heavily dog-eared (a sign of a winner) and he writes a lot about the human dialogue and its impact on business success.

According to Danny, hospitality is at the foundation of his business philosophy. "Virtually nothing else is as importan as how one is made to feel in any business transaction. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on eyour side. The converse is just as true. Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you. Those two simiple propositions - for and to - express it all."

And that is just on page 12. Trust me. You'll love this book and will hear me mention it again as it has influenced my thinking on many things about customer service, product development, and strategy execution.
Jennifer B. Davis
A former colleague of mine and I were chatting today and I was prompted to pen these two laws that in our mutual experience apply to businesses or projects of any size or scope.

  • The Law of Customer Service: Friendliness and customer empathy play crucial roles, but in the end it is all about setting expectations. Making and keeping promises, is the key.

  • The Law of Analysis: Anyone can make an Excel forecast look good. In the end, it is all about the accuracy of your assumptions. There must be robust and defensible reasons to believe.
I'd be interested in your experience with these laws (or related concepts). In my experience, there is no use fighting these laws...the laws will win.

This might be the first of a whole constitution of laws that I might compile. I would love your contributions.
Jennifer B. Davis
Right mix of defeatest attitude, friendly familiarity, and, best of all, he or she never commits to getting back with you. This was taken from a blog post by Michael Arrington and he removed all the personally-identifiable information (to protect the guilty/innocent).

You may find this example inspiring as you draft your "I am in the office, but can't be bothered with your email which is why my 'Out-of-Office' is perpetually set" message (aka, 4 Hour Workweek fame).

_______________________________________________________

Thank you for your message. I apologize in advance if I do not reply.

I admit it. My email response rates are lame. I have tried many different approaches and techniques, yet I fail. I read everything that comes in, and I swear I have the most sincere intentions of replying to all of you. But, alas, I suck.

I am spending more time than ever on the road these days. Working on private equity stuff, coaching startups, giving speeches, training for an Ironman this summer, and luckily, taking some vacation. The result has me logging in to Gmail much less frequently, which may, in fact, be a healthy development.

Thankfully, what used to be well over a thousand inbound messages a day is slowing now that I am an increasingly irrelevant unemployed vagabond and no longer holding any [XXXXXX] pursestrings. Hopefully, these trends will continue until my mom and dad are the only folks left sending me notes, and even then mostly to give me updates on the weather back in [XXXXXX].

If you are curious about what I am up to, or looking for clues as to where you can physically stalk me, try my Twitter stream at:twitter.com/[XXXXXX]. If we are actually buddies, friend me on Facebook. Though, be warned I log in over there even less frequently than here. If you are just looking for some cheap laughs, check out my brother [XXXXXX] ’s YouTube videos: http://youtube.com/[XXXXXX].

In any event, I do look forward to being in touch with all of you. For now, thanks for your patience.
Jennifer B. Davis
I live with a preschooler and a toddler, so needless to say I am always scrambling to remember (and write down) the funny things they say and do. Even at work, I am amazed by the funny things that people say. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

  • "We must get more aggressive about being conservative."

  • "I don't like winging things. I don't want them to feel wung."
    (not sure if wung is a word or what exactly is the past tense of the word "winging")

  • "It doesn't build character. It shows it."


Here is a fun little book that you can create to allow you to capture those quotable quotes as they occur. The downloadable PDF is here. Either that or you could carry a steno pad, start a Twitter account, or use Jott to document those things before they slip your mind.

Trust me, you may find a use of them in the future. Perhaps you will have a line of t-shirts.

Jennifer B. Davis
I am a list maker and an organizer type. You know...the kind you ask to plan things and handle things because I can keep my wits about me and manage tons of details. However, I have learned that there is a barrier to organization that many can never overcome...the front-end work and clarvoyance required. Before you know all the stuff that needs to be done, you must start a list. You must organize your day without knowing what emergency may arise. You must create a filing system before you know all the things that you may want to file. And, before you have anything to file, you must create your plan.










Now, you can see why I love and fear for the success of a new product from BlueLounge called the Space Station. It is a sleek desk organizer with "internal coiling pins" to maintain the sprawl of wires that exist on most desks. The design has a "why didn't I think of it" simplicity and I am thinking variations of this could be made out of a wood for a more furniture feel (which is what I would want for my home office).

Still, we'd all have to designate these USB ports, decide what equipment would need to be accessed frequently enough to get a cord wrap, go out and buy duplicate connections for when you traveled (assuming this puppy doesn't fold in the middle to fit in a carry-on bag), and the other things that kept people's desk messy in the first place. I wish them luck!
Jennifer B. Davis
Usually I am a positive person, but sometimes it is fun to get a bad attitude. And when you do, why not wear it on your shirt?

If you are an entrepreneur or in venture capital you might appreciate (or resemble) some of the sentiments from VCWear.
If you are in a larger corporation, then I know you will find many of these DespairWear demotivators hit a little close to home. I personally like some of the kid products, which are cute and not so depressing.