For anyone interested, I just posted some photos from my trip to Switzerland... I'm not the greatest photographer... consider yourself warned.
For anyone interested, I just posted some photos from my trip to Switzerland... I'm not the greatest photographer... consider yourself warned.
“WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW?!” is a new type of film. It is part documentary, part story, and part elaborate and inspiring visual effects and animations. The protagonist, Amanda, played by Marlee Matlin, finds herself in a fantastic Alice in Wonderland experience when her daily, uninspired life literally begins to unravel, revealing the uncertain world of the quantum field hidden behind what we consider to be our normal, waking reality.
Convinced that a series of coincidences involving a doorman hold some secret to life’s largest riddles, Albert Markovski (JASON SCHWARTZMAN) seeks the help of a detective agency unlike any other... which leads him down a path that questions the essence of existence itself.
In an attempt to ferret out the meaning of these flukes, he consults Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (DUSTIN HOFFMAN, LILY TOMLIN), AKA the Existential Detectives, a pair of married metaphysicians who fearlessly investigate the mysteries at the core of their clients’ secret innermost lives. When on a case, these two follow their clients around closely, observe their daily activities, query their friends and employers and intently examine the lives they lead. The difference is that the Existential Detectives seek the solutions to the most persistent mystery of all – the one that lies at the core of reality and existence itself... which means their investigations can get a little tricky...
Check out the trailers as well as more at the films website....
I head home tomorrow, which I'm pretty exicted about... I miss my wife.
The week was really cool. I now have a better understanding of why people suggest visiting Europe, it really is beautiful - at least the parts I saw. I won't say that I'm "changed" as a result of it, but have affirmed some of my thoughts about the world... like people are really more alike than they are different. People may have different motivations, expectations, experiences, but overall, people want to feel love, enjoy life, etc, etc...
Overall, I had a really good time.
Thursday night I visited a wonderful city named Luzern... 6 hours was not enough...
It started with spectacular views up and down the Reuss river while crossing several of the wonderful walking bridges. Walking down shop-lined cobblestone streets and enjoying a 2 1/2 hour Fondue dinner. Good food, good Swiss wine and plenty of lively conversation with my Swiss co-workers. A walk through the heart of the city to one of the more popular nightclubs and then a leisurely stroll back to the parking garage.... after getting my first cup of coffee "to go". Its odd, when you have coffee in parts of Switzerland, you sit and drink it, you don't take it with you.
That is probably the biggest thing that I noticed during my trip - a break is a break. You stop and relax and talk. That was enjoyable - we worked hard, but really took time to sit and talk, which was great. It is nice to really connect with people. I never felt rushed.
The weather was nice on Friday, so I got out and explored a little around the hotel. Other than the scenery, it was pretty boring - the area I'm in is in the middle of nowhere...
I took the train to Zurich today, which was great... and the trains really do run right on schedule. Being in Zurich was a little more comfortable than most of the rest of the week as almost everyone spoke English... I should have spent more time studying my German.. ;-)
Actually, like my trip to Luzern on Thursday night with some co-workers, I had two wonderful tour guides today: My cousin Tara, an American Ex-Pat working in Zurich for KPMG and her Swiss husband Mark, a Police Detective. They met me at the train station this morning and gave me a fantastic tour of the city - starting at Starbucks (where we sat and had coffee...). Actually, the tour both started and ended at Starbucks (the second cup I did get "to go").
Zurich was wonderful. I probably took about 100 pictures - some of which I will post when I get home (I didn't take my camera to Luzern... URGH!). We started on one side of the city and went up to an overlook by Zurich University and then back down, across the river to the Bahnhoffstrasse (the main shopping street). On both sides of the river they took me off the beaten path and showed me some wonderful parts of the city, including one of the oldest cathedrals in the world. We had lunch at Oktoberfest - which was great.
Something I really like about Switzerland is the fact that you can take your dog with you when you eat. I should have brought one of my dogs! ;-)
It looks like I might have to come back in a couple of months, which would be cool... but next time I'll have to make sure my German language skills are better!!
On one of my flights to Switzerland, a commuter flight, the stewardess asked someone from the left hand side of the plane between rows 1 & 7 to move to the other side of the plane... to balance it out...
Being a nice guy, I volunteered. Now, keep in mind, I weigh about 135 pounds. I didn't feel very comfortable with the fact that a 130+ pounds was enough to hold up the plane from taking off... scary.
Scarier still was the turbulence we hit on the longer flight going to Zurich. I've only been more scared once in my life (when I was held-up at gun point). I don't like to fly as it is, but this was nuts. People we're screaming and the stewardess was nicely telling people to calm down. Yikes. I was terrified... so much for sleeping on the flight!
The cool part of the long flight was a video screen embedded in the top of the chair in front of me. How very cool! One of the options was a Map that let you track the plane. It actually displayed a little plane on the map as well as the route we were taking... It gave statistics covering time elapsed, miles traveled, current time and estimated time of arrival. As someone who doesn't wear a watch, it was cool to know how far along we were. I was able to sleep for a couple of hours which is good because I lost 6 hours flying over. Got in around 8AM local time then went to work. Got done around 4:30.
As you can tell, I'm in Zurich. I'm in a small town about 25 miles from Zurich. My first impression is that it is VERY, VERY expensive. 4 swiss francs for a cup of coffee. It's good coffee, but with tip (2 swiss francs), that is quite pricey. Steak for dinner, 46 swiss francs. Yikes!
I'm in my very cool, very modern hotel room and the only english channel on TV is CNN. I'm glad I brought 3 books!
My German class has not paid any dividends yet, but I have made a foul of myself once - I said Bitte (please) when I meant to say Danke (Thank you). DOH!
I've not quite adjusted to the time difference yet. Probably towards the end of the week... just when I'm ready to come home. LOL!!!
Some movies never make it to the theater - they go "straight to video". I wonder if we'll ever see the day when television shows that don't make it on the air go straight to DVD? Take the Fox sitcom Arrested Development, not the most popular show in the world, in fact I don't think it is on anymore, but they are now selling the DVD of season one.
I used to think the cool thing to do was write a book, but I'm not so sure that has the same cachet it used to. The big thing today is to make a film, like a documentary... perhaps the next big thing is producing a series and making it available online... then perhaps selling the DVD of a complete season. The technology certainly exists to do it.
Hmmm... what's stopping someone from doing something like that?
[UPDATE] Sure enough, I should have read the Arrested Development page that I linked to. The season starts on Sunday November 7th. Sorry Chris! Now you can't blame me if the show gets cancelled! ;-)
The Fifth Business Blog Book Tour is happening right now! It features Al & Laura Ries discussing their book, 'The Origin of Brands'.
The Tour Stops:
Be sure to check it out - there is some great stuff (I'm catching up right now)!
To find out more about the Ries and the book, you can visit their website
To find out more about the Business Blog Book Tour, check out A Penny For
Steve Jobs says that in order for a company to do well and innovate, it must be focused on products. We all know about his input in the development of Apple's products. I think it's true, but there's something more than that, and it's something that many successful entrepreneurs who develop hugely successful products (and services) and Jobs have in common. Companies aren't able to produce successful products just by being product orientated, the secret is that somebody wanted that product, and so they developed and then sold it. The classic example is the Walkman; everyone knows that the Sony chairman wanted his own portable music player, and that was what became the Walkman.
So if this is no secret, why are there so many products on the market that aren't as great, as iconic, as successful as the iPod, the Walkman, etc. ?
As I said in my last post, companies try to listen to customers, but they could do it in a far better, in a more profitable way. That, though, is just the first step. A lot of marketers seem to forget something very important when deciding what goes into next season's range of products:
If it's accepted that in order to sell correctly, you need to propose a solution to the customer's needs and not just a product with a set of features, why do companies persist in developing products mainly by benchmarking? What is benchmarking, apart from comparing a set of features? So, companies develop products that are a sum of their features, which is why salesmen sell products on features, and it's also why there are so many me-too products.
So what have the marketers forgotten? They've forgotten how to be customers themselves, and while they stay like that, chances are that they'll not come up with the next big thing; there'll be no rupture with existing products. Innovative products don't come just from identifying a gap in the marketplace. Anyone can do that; there are loads of gaps in the market place! But so many of them are lousy gaps, so we don't care about them. Innovative products come around when somebody says “I want that, and it doesn't exist so I'm going to make it”: the person who develops the product is the customer.
It seems that a lot of marketers have forgotten how to think like a customer, and so they never come up with a product that they want to buy. If we just look at the PC industry (that I work in), we're going through the convergence trend, media centres and such like. Marketers will tell you how great they are, but how many of them want to put one of the PC towers in their living room? I'll bet not one of them does (I don't...). I'll bet that they'd want one if it fitted into their TV cabinet, if it was the same shape as a VCR or a DVD player, if it was less like a PC, etc... How many marketers are trying to develop that? Every industry has its media centre, its 'almost-there-but-not-quite' product, and it's simply because lots of marketers work in a linear manner and focus on features and benchmarking.
As I said before: companies need to listen to their customers differently, but that's just the first step. People in companies need to remember that they're customers as well, they need to think like they're customers, and they need to be honest and say that they wouldn't buy a product if it's the case. Not every company will develop innovative products that create a rupture with the existing markets, but I'll bet that every company that does that will develop products that will sell a lot better. Listening to customers correctly is the first step towards a better product, but if you don't think like a customer you won't understand what he wants. You have to go the whole way if you want it to work.
Before you dismiss all of this as overly obvious, ask yourselves these questions: How many companies can you think of that think like customers? Does your company (or your marketing department) think like a customer? If not, why not? Is it really that hard?
~~ By Christopher Grove
That title is a nicely packaged soundbite. Who wouldn't support legislation with a name like that? I know that this is old news, but it was discussed last night and I've been meaning to write about this for some time.
No Child Left Behind is government legislation designed to ensure that children in this country get the best education possible. So, how does NCLB attempt to do that?
Well, for starters, one of the cornerstones of the legislation is that it mandates Teacher Certification. The amount of money a school district gets is partially based on having all teachers certified.
From the NCLB site:
No Child Left Behind defines the qualifications needed by teachers and paraprofessionals who work on any facet of classroom instruction. It requires that states develop plans to achieve the goal that all teachers of core academic subjects be highly qualified by the end of the 2005-06 school year. States must include in their plans annual, measurable objectives that each local school district* and school must meet in moving toward the goal; they must report on their progress in the annual report cards.
(* Highly qualified = Certified)
This is flawed. Big time.
I led a project last year to redesign the hiring process at a large, east-coast, inner-city school district. As you can imagine, getting teachers to come to an inner city school district is no easy task, let alone certified teachers. The same is true for rural teachers. The two school systems that need help the most, urban and rural school districts, are being "left behind" by this legislation. Getting "highly qualified" science and math teachers is a serious problem and since most of these urban and rural school districts can't recruit enough of these teachers, they're penalized financially for it.
This is not the worst part....
Again, from the NCLB site:
No Child Left Behind puts a special emphasis on implementing educational programs and practices that have been clearly demonstrated to be effective through rigorous scientific research. Federal funding will be targeted to support such programs. For example, the Reading First program makes federal funds available to help reading teachers in the early grades strengthen old skills and gain new ones in instructional techniques that scientifically based research has shown to be effective.
Okay, if we are going to grow skills for 21st century jobs, should we be relying on clearly demonstrated programs and practices? I mean, in order to prove that they are effective, that means they're old and don't we need new educational programs to grow a new workforce? Next, how have they proven that that these programs are effective? What is the scope of the research? Does it end at the conclusion of a school year? Does it end when a student graduates? Does it end when they've gotten a "good" job? Wait, what is a good job?
Our education system needs fixed alright, but you don't fix it by treating children, teachers or school system as if they are all the same. You start by understanding children and figuring out how to get them to want to learn.... until you've figured that out, everything else is just noise.
How would you improve the school system in this country?
Juniper Networks says that listening to customers wouldn't enable them to come up with the next killer, innovative product
A lecturer told me a market research anecdote; years ago, when TV was still black & white, a company wanted to know what improvements consumers wanted. One customer said that he wanted to be able to store programmes in the TV and watch them when he wanted. The anecdote goes that this suggestion was left to one side... but that consumer was asking for a VCR (or even TV on demand). My lecturer said that this was proof that you'll never get a new product out of market research, but he didn't say that a customer won't ever give you the next big thing. And I agree. However a lot of companies don’t listen to customers at the right moment, and they don't understand what the customer is saying.
No secrets there, I'm sure lots of companies try to attack translating what customer says, but how many look at the other point?
I worked in a call centre a while ago and was in contact with unhappy customers calling to get their PCs repaired. The sort of job that's being outsourced, because there's no added value to that sort of job, right? Not true. When a customer calls, he won't just tell you what needs improving, venting his anger on the product that's broken or crashed. He'll tell you about how he's so frustrated that he can't work out how to use the software shipped with the PC, or just why it's so important that the TV Out and DVD drive work during the kids' holidays. You can say that's linear; it is; but if you take that linear thought and apply it while the competition doesn't then it's better than linear.
And then you can always go a step further, take what the customer says, work with it and come up with the next big thing. You won’t get that with market research, because you're asking the questions. You will only get it when the customer is telling you what he wants without you directing or biasing his answers.
Now how many chances does a company get to listen to customer in that way? I can think of a couple that aren’t used often enough: sales and after sales service.
Too many sellers are too focused on selling their product rather than a solution for the customer's needs. And too many after sales departments are preoccupied with fixing problems. This means that companies keep on marketing what they think the consumer wants, but how often do they market what the consumer really wants? PC customers aren't the only ones that say what they want. Call centres are being closed down due to outsourcing, some CRM conscious companies are worried about the level of service, but none are worried about the possibilities of listening to their customers and finding out what they really want. Why not?
No matter how good the quality of service given by an outsourcer, no one will ever listen to your customers for you and tell you what they want. None will ever help you find out what a customer wants the next big thing to be. Your own employees will if you value them enough and (really) include them in your company. This isn’t about outsourcing; it’s about marketing differently, it’s about not being short-sighted. Not all customers have reasons to complain, but all of them will tell you what they really want if they get the chance. And if you listen to what they say differently to your competitors, you can find the next big thing.
Why don’t more companies try that? What other moments can you think of where you can listen to your customers without influencing what they’ll say?
~~ By Christopher Grove
With my schedule over the next two weeks, I've invited regular commenter Chris Grove to post here (since I haven't convinced him yet to start blogging - perhaps you all can help me).
I'll be posting his first entry, "Let The Customer Say What He REALLY Wants", tomorrow.
P.S. If anyone else is interested in guest posting, let me know - I'd love to have any regular reader post something! Just let me know - don't forget, I've got a wicked schedule this week and next, so it may take as much as 24 hours to reply.