What if you already had everything you need?

My grandparents in their first car

In this time of economic upheaval, most of us feeling fear, and the stock market ups-n-downs giving any investor heartburn, ask yourself this one question: What if I already had everything I need?

My maternal grandparents, Martin and Laura, were two of the most loving people I’ve ever known. They weren’t poor, but were damn close to it, and yet it always seemed that they had everything they needed: a home they owned; cars that ran; friends and family who loved them; and boxes of Zane Grey novels (my grandpa had every one ever published and loved ’em).

Growing up we often visited them in their small and modest home in Moorhead, MN, and as a kid I didn’t think anything of the fact that their furniture and cars were old, I had to sleep in the attic on a rollaway bed since there wasn’t room elsewhere, and in 1970 becoming aware that Grandpa drove a 23 year old 1947 Chevrolet that Mom used to take to visit her high school girlfriends with my sisters and I in the back seat.

My grandparents always seemed to be able to improvise and achieve what was needed in the moment. Whether it was Grandpa creating a line of knives from old sawmill steel blades and deer antlers (for the handles) for fun and profit, to Grandma cooking up meals from leftovers and stuff around the kitchen that amazed us with her creativity to feed us all with what was available, I’m certain that they would’ve liked to have been more cash flush, but they had a great life and sure seemed to have everything they needed to be fulfilled, successfully raise two kids, and be fabulous grandparents to a pack of us.

As someone who has acquired incredible amounts of stuff over my adult life, live in a home twice the size of what either my wife or I grew up in, drive luxury cars and been fortunate to have traveled the world, I realize how lucky I am to have achieved so much and yet still want new things like an HDTV I have my eye on, the just launched new Macbook Pro, a Nikon D300 camera body, another home in Arizona or Southern California, remodeling in our current home, and so on. With the current world economic situation, like just about everyone I know we’ve instead put every purchase and major expenditure on hold (as have my clients who have had capital budgets frozen and almost every client engagement I’m on or have proposed has been cut or completely eliminated…gulp).

Rather than lament about not feeling comfortable in burning cash right now on stuff that can wait (and on which I would’ve proceeded on previously without much thought), for nearly a year I’ve been starting every new project or thought process about what I want or need by asking, “Hmmm…what if I already had everything I need?”. I especially am doing this now when I’m going to require new clothes for some event, feel pent-up demand for some new gadget or device, when I prepare for key client projects or even when we’re creating a new product or service for our business.

Try asking that question before you do anything right now…I’m convinced that you’ll realize that you already have everything you need to do “X”, or at least to get started on it.

“Collaboration Now!” on CNBC Oct. 12th

Donny Deutsch, host

When a topic is worthy of a television show, you know it’s hit the mainstream of business consciousness and is one you should sit up and take notice of right away.

Collaboration Now! is a new show on the business channel, CNBC, hosted by Donny Deutsch. This is a successful advertising guy I’ve come to admire through one of the most positive, uplifting and motivating entrepreneurial shows on television he hosts, The Big Idea, and this new show looks to be just as instructive, informative and intriguing.

Here’s the premise:

Collaboration is essential to compete in the global arena. In order to stay ahead of the curve, organizations need to redefine the rules of collaboration, build trust in new ways, collaborate in virtual environments and partner with those who help make it happen.

Find out how Boeing’s global partners are building the airplanes of the future, Cisco is helping companies collaborate from remote locations in real time and how NFTRA is working together to enhance trade, not restrict it.

Does your collaboration have the right ingredients to succeed?

With upcoming shows about collaborating in human resources, social responsibility, the future of tools, technologies and approaches, Collaboration Now! will undoubtedly be one that you will want to set to record on your DVR like I did last evening.

In my talks, attending conferences and interacting with my client executives, there seems to be a surprising leadership reluctance to focus resources on collaboration (or, by extension, any crowdsourcing initiatives) and too strong a need to have teams create elaborate business and use-cases in order to justify collaboration software or services within a company.

Sadly in this time of high oil prices, collapsing financial markets and a near capital lending freeze — all making collaboration software, services and training more imperative and yet tougher to invest in and move forward on — there seems to be a new openness to embrace it as the recognition sinks in that we’re living in a time of the greatest shift in human connection ever and finding ways to collaborate with one another is already a critical success factor.

If nothing else this show will certainly provide strong evidence — and do it with well produced, slick and entertaining segments — that you can use to help justify having collaboration be a much higher priority and worthy of investment.

If you’re a leader in your company, an entrepreneur delivering any kind of web applications or social media, or just a frustrated functional area leader who sees the need for more impactful collaboration, then you’ll certainly absorb some key ideas from the topics they cover and the guests they invite on.

Relying on Applications in the ‘Cloud’

If you have been a Twitter user for any length of time, you won’t be surprised that Twitter is down right now for the umpteenth time this year.

In a recent presentation and ideation with a client, one of the company functional area leaders leapt in with this question: “Twitter is getting so much buzz in BusinessWeek and on blogs, is this something we should make key to our social media strategy?

I did a bit of a humma-humma and ultimately advised them to have an account, begin to participate, watch it (especially for their brand mentions), but make it very peripheral to the rest of their strategies since the service simply isn’t reliable. Many people I know are slowly moving off of it as the ongoing service interruptions are maddening and not worth the effort.

The more time you and I invest online means we’ll actually experience periodic and lengthy outages that heretofore only the hardcore users would. With Amazon’s S3 storage outage taking down Web 2.0 sites that relied upon them, Apple’s botched launch of MobileMe (which now is running perfectly, I might add), Gmail‘s periodic (but quickly repaired) outages, to my own experiences with MediaTemple whom I rely upon to serve a dozen sites, relying upon applications in the cloud that fail is making many of us skittish.

Once per quarter for the last 11 quarters I’ve invested some time each day to look at every one of the “Web 2.0” applications in the cloud off of lists like this one.  I’ve learned that many with an appearance of a strong value proposition, solid and scalable technology, are in the deadpool or been acquired.

Will this cause you or I to eschew apps running over the internet? Nah. I know that I’ll continue to invest more and more of my participation and functionality on the ‘net since it’s just simply too useful…especially with my mobility demanding constant access to my data. You’re probably like that as well, especially if you’re a member of the smartphone club.

Choose wisely though. Don’t overinvest or map mission-critical processes to applications in the cloud that you’re not certain will function, scale or be acquired in the near term. I know that’s hard to do, but it’s also why the big-get-bigger since they have the resources to keep our fear at bay and ensure apps will run.

Small firms, big firms and regional economies

The Bumble Bee is a site I stumbled across a couple of years ago and it became a permanent fixture in my RSS reader. Prior to the Collaborative Technologies Conference in Boston (now called Enterprise 2.0) two summers ago, the site author, Ken Thompson, sent me an email and we connected at the conference.

The guy is a delight with an engaging presentation style and his ongoing analysis of teaming and collaboration — with biomimcry as his guide — was the catalyst for his thought leading blog and the impetus for the development of his Web messaging applications (unbeknownst to me until I met him, Ken is an accomplished software architect, team lead and business leader) which include SwarmTeams for businesses and SwarmTribes for consumers.

Ken Thompson

Ken has written a book called “The Networked Enterprise, Competing for the Future Through Virtual Enterprise Networks” which I found incredibly enlightening. When Ken sent me the manuscript and I wrapped my head around his approach, I realized its importance as enterprise organizations embrace “2.0” and map their businesses, organizations and cultures on to our increasingly networked world.

My ongoing reading of Ken’s blog, the nature of his swarming software for messaging, and the fact that he’s an incredibly smart and all around good guy has compelled me to try to find a way to get him on your radar screen. If you’re involved in enterprise or organizational level teaming, communications or are trying to understand what it means to be a virtual enterprise in a networked world, turn to Ken and absorb what he’s delivering.

After the jump, a very short paper from Ken Thompson on small firms, big firms and regional economies as an introduction to him and his thoughts.

Read More

Social Publishing Systems: What about We, the Participants?

We’re living in a time of the greatest shift in human (and machine) connection and communication any of us over 30 years old will experience in our lifetimes. Social media is proliferating, networks of people exploding, self-publishing, microblogging and new communications channels like Twitter emerging, and for the most part, the enterprise isn’t playing in most of these areas.

As a former content management systems (CMS) guy (was with Vignette during the dotcom heyday), I’m in an interesting spot between grassroots social media use by individuals, non-profits and small business and my enterprise clients trying to determine how to play in this shifting landscape. These clients are trying to figure out how to engage all of us connecting and communicating, and just finding more efficient ways of publishing content with a CMS or portal isn’t cutting it.

Social publishing systems are needed.

This morning I read Jeremiah Owyang (Sr Analyst at Forrester Research: Social Computing) who had this post entitled, “Social Software: Here Come The CMS Vendors.” He begins by discussing his oft-repeated theme of the volume of white label social networking providers, and ends with a premise about the major CMS vendors, “I’ve started to notice more of the ‘traditional’ CMS and Portal players that already have deep footprints into the corporate web teams that are inching into this space.

What are the trends, what are CMS vendors likely to do and what should be offered?

Read More

Magento Commerce: iPhone and WordPress Support

Magento Commerce enjoys one of the most active and participative ecosystems I’ve seen surrounding any open source project…let alone one that started in January of 2007!

Though the software is still in a 1.0x version state — and is not for the faint-of-heart to install and deploy — it’s moving quickly toward being positioned as the ecommerce engine of choice. Joomla, WordPress and even Drupal project folks are interacting with the Magento Commerce teams to determine how integrations can proceed and how quickly.

Today sees an email from the team about iPhone support and WordPress integration. Two positive steps in the right direction.

I tried out the iPhone interface and it’s simple, easy and fun. Thinking about my purchase history and online research before buying, I realize that it’s relatively unlikely many transactions will occur from a smartphone. But there’s no question in my mind that these devices will be the primary internet interface for many of us going forward, and having sites accessible will be critical.

The WordPress integration is also of particular interest as I’m doing more with this software and the community is crying out for seamless integration and rock-solid ecommerce.

Wells Fargo: Doing the right thing…and the smart one too

Debra Rossi

After my adventure with Wells Fargo the last couple of days, I was pleased to discover this morning that they’d fulfilled the account reinstatement from their mistake and we are back in business online. What I hadn’t expected was a call today from Wells Fargo Executive Vice President, Debra Rossi, who is the Head of Merchant Payment Solutions.

She apologized, made no excuses, told me about their recognition of the fundamental breakdown of their normal process (to call the customer before canceling them!), asked what she could do to make us whole, listened to me without interrupting and engaged conversationally while ending with her direct phone number in case I have any issues going forward. Tough to invest this kind of time when you’re running a major part of the Wells Fargo $573B business and undoubtedly have pressing matters piling up.

Ms. Rossi will also be supplying us with a letter of apology.

This call went a long way toward making up for the frustrating adventure and embarrassing shut down of our ecommerce, and now gives us the opportunity to communicate with our offended customers (those we know about anyway) so they don’t think we’re no longer reputable or somehow can’t handle Web commerce.

What was enlightening as well was this: my posting, her reaction and action, and a successful resolution (and, I’m certain, lots of awareness within the company so this doesn’t happen again to someone else) is a great example of social media and conversational marketing in action.

Though polite queries from Ms. Rossi and others yesterday about my original post were offered as being curious in nature, the implication was now that this matter was resolved would I take it down or what was my intention?  Today’s social and new media — and blogging basics — dictate that posts are not removed nor materially modified once published and I adhere to that philosophy and practice. It’s why I amended/updated yesterday’s post and am now writing a fresh one: to detail their action, call out and laud them for it, and to be transparent, but I’m compelled to leave the post up as-is.

Lastly, I always encourage my clients to do exactly what Ms. Rossi did: don’t let things fester as they’ll become infected like what happened to Dell Computer (remember “Dell Hell“?) and the PR disaster that rained down upon them…from which, one could argue, they’re still not fully healed.

Ms. Rossi did the right thing…and the smart one too.

Where the hell is Wells Fargo? Out on the dusty trail, I presume

UPDATE: See this post for final resolution that came in a phone call from a Wells Fargo executive.

Here’s a superb lesson in how not to manage your customer relationships and, especially, solve their problems.

What if your business was dependent upon online ecommerce and one of the processing chain providers cancelled your account without telling you, while the organization that owns the relationship and process cordially ignored you?

That’s what happened to us, and the big problem lies with our prime relationship, Wells Fargo, and how they dropped the ball (or stuff off the stagecoach if you like that metaphor better) and have not helped me resolve the problem in any way.

There’s a reason Wells Fargo uses a stagecoach as their symbol since it’s illustrative of the state of their leadership in merchant services…more aligned with the 1800’s than the demands of business in the 21st century.

WELLS FARGO AND PARTNERS HAVE ME IN A CHOKEHOLD
After six years of successful ecommerce running on one platform, our hosting company let us know in January they were pulling the plug March 31st. So we made a change, rebuilt our site on a new platform in the first quarter, and launched the third week of March before the old one went dark.

Our new platform required us to set up a new processing gateway (really the whole chain from payment gateway to back-end credit card processing with a third firm to bank and the money then in our account). I chose my personal and commercial banking company, Wells Fargo, since I trusted them. The bonus was there would be a single relationship point, they could set up the payment gateway with partner Authorize.net and the back-end processor, and it was actually less expensive then us going direct with the latter.

But it suddenly stopped working two and a half weeks after we launched.

For the first few weeks we received “successful transaction” settlement reports from Authorize.net and credit card orders were processing fine…and the last couple of weeks my staff flagged me that there were zeroes on these settlement reports. Since many people order by phone or fax even today — and our sales weren’t suffering dramatically and we didn’t have a mass mailing going out until this past Monday — we initially assumed it was the economic downturn, people getting acclimated to the new site and so on.

Yesterday two customers called about credit card payment failures on our site. I went online and tried two purchases myself with two different credit cards: they both failed. Digging in at Authorize.net, I was stunned to see dozens of failed transaction attempts.

You won’t believe what I’ve gone through to get this problem resolved and no, it’s still not fixed at 3pm CDT.


UPDATE as of 6pm CDT: See the resolution at the bottom of the post.

Read More

The Cognitive Age: Why Social Media Matters

Our economy is down, gas prices are up, jobs are being lost and outsourced, we’re at ‘war’ with possible escalation (e.g., attacking Iran), and there is tremendous uncertainty in nearly every industry being disrupted in some way by the connecting of the globe and the increasing influence of the Internet.

Let me submit for your consideration that the impact of social media — technologies, software and approaches connecting any of us willing to participate with them online — is pointing the way toward new systems and behaviors that will enable us all to move higher up the value chain as we learn how, together, we can create and deliver what the world needs in new and innovative ways.

One of the best op-ed pieces I’ve read in some time, The Cognitive Age, was published in the New York Times on Friday by David Brooks.

In this piece he’s putting globalization in context in this election cycle, which is chiefly on competition with other countries and the policies of government that ostensibly is accelerating job loss in the US. Brooks puts forth this premise which bears emphasis:

“The chief force reshaping manufacturing is technological change (hastened by competition with other companies in Canada, Germany or down the street). Thanks to innovation, manufacturing productivity has doubled over two decades. Employers now require fewer but more highly skilled workers. Technological change affects China just as it does the America. William Overholt of the RAND Corporation has noted that between 1994 and 2004 the Chinese shed 25 million manufacturing jobs, 10 times more than the U.S.

Then he outlines his central argument which, I should add, I completely agree with:

“The central process driving this is not globalization. It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. This is happening in localized and globalized sectors, and it would be happening even if you tore up every free trade deal ever inked.”

What does this have to do with social media and why does that category of technology matter?

Read More

Why pay for software in a day of open source?

You may have noticed the highly visible online argument going on between SixApart‘s Anil Dash and WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg. It escalated today when Matt continued the “open source vs. paid” debate (which is really open source ecosystem energy vs. a perceived slow-to-move commercial vendor positioning against open source).

This is amazingly healthy in my view and the competition for the hearts-n-minds of bloggers clearly is driving SixApart to build and deliver better and more robust services (and I’ve been waiting for them!).

I’d reframe this debate like this however: why should you pay for software in a day when open source is free and the ecosystem surrounding the successful projects is immense?

When I made my decision to begin blogging in earnest in 2004, there was only one vendor I was willing to bet my blogging on: SixApart’s Typepad hosting. Though I can easily install, run and maintain numerous types of open source packages (and could’ve with Movable Type, the software at the root of Typepad), I knew myself well enough and that I’d be twiddling bits instead of writing content if I used the then fairly immature WordPress. Typepad looked like a sure bet and had the momentum so that was my choice.

Even though I’ve been at the enterprise software level with Vignette and Lawson Software in leadership positions, for some clients I’ve chosen Joomla, Drupal and even used WordPress as a low-end content management engine. But when it comes to betting your business or a new initiative on a new category, it’s imperative there’s someone or some organization available to ensure a successful outcome with the software used.

Read More