Not sure this is design material but Groupon fired their CEO/Founder today. Wall Street seems to be cheering the move.
I have to say though that I gained a ton of respect for the founder based on the very humble and thoughtful email he sent announcing his own firing. If you read it, it’s pretty remarkable and inspirational. It would be easy to be cynical about it but I think it shows some interesting insight and I’m going to take it at face value. The closing line is particularly interesting:
If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!
Sage advice for most companies!
He still should have sold to Google for $6 Billion when he had the chance though!
At the beginning of this year Vivian Lin and Jarod Beukelman visited CES 2013 and saw many interesting things. There was one trend so wide-spread that it stood out from the rest.
Connectedness: the Big theme of CES 2013
Creating a seamless, simple-to-use, network of smart objects was the main aspiration of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Buzzwords like smart, networked, sharing, and ubiquitous were trumpeted from large Asian mega-exhibits and small indie booths alike. For us, the exciting part of our trip was seeing how this trend is playing out across a mass of sensory products extending mobile reach, endless device to device channels for sharing content, and augmented ways of experiencing the way we work, live, and play.
Connectedness ain’t easy
In the future, consumer products will no longer compete solely via their own attributes but on (and in some cases with) the services, infrastructure, and technologies that enable them. Companies are now investing in platforms for their products and services to integrate seamlessly. The execution and design of these services is defining their success or failure. Connectedness is also providing room for small players to quickly disrupt the big companies, who seem to have their work cut out for them just keeping up.
Top down, or bottom up?
The landscape of CES is split between tech giants, such as Samsung or Sony, and small independents fueled by the rise in crowdfunding. Both of these groups are trying to win consumers with very different strategies. The Giants have a top-down strategy is top down. Build an ecosystem for which all products under the brand hopefully provide a similar experience. For the little guys, their strategy is naturally bottom up, connecting to the mobile offerings of the larger companies in order to be a part of the ecosystem.
From the top down
For the largest companies at CES, having a top down strategy for connectedness means going all in on one platform. LG had its SmartThinQ line of appliances with proprietary protocols, and AT&T Building a home automation subscription service. These companies are doing everything they can to keep their customers locked into their brand, even at the cost of user experience. The big American brands who are building mobile platforms (Apple, Google, and Microsoft) have decided they have no need to show off at CES. This comes as former leaders such as Sony are struggling to make a profit and up and coming Chinese tech brands are poised to enter first world markets. Filling the empty real estate left by Microsoft’s first-time absence was China’s #1 native brand, Hisense. They were not the only Chinese brand standing tall this year. Hisense was joined by Huawei, Changhong, Haier, and TCL, all with large floor spaces, and all showing just as much incremental innovation as the Japanese and Korean companies.
From the bottom up
A remarkable number of the smaller exhibitor booths at CES were made possible by the rise of crowd-funding centers like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Notable independent hardware startups included Occulus Rift for 3D gaming, the Pebble watch, and the HAPIfork. This trend is supported in part by the growth of the maker movement, empowered by the explosion of DIY Micro-controllers and sensors like the Rasberry Pi, as well as the falling price of 3D printing and other prototyping tools. Because of crowd-funding, makers like Smart Things have found themselves morphing from DIY outfits to mid-sized companies who can provide viable alternatives to the big name top down solutions.
The notion of greater connectivity in our everyday objects has been a long time coming, but what CES 2013 has taught us is this trend is about to turn the corner exponentially. But who will come out on top? We believe that the large corporations have a lot of soul-searching to do if they are going to create experiences that will get consumers to go all in on their brands. The little guys are still fighting the fact that they are little. This all translates into consumers having to manage many disparate experiences and business models, which doesn’t feel like the future at all.
Last Friday, my colleague Rainer Schnabel and I attended the Association of Professional Design Firms (APDF) quarterly exchange at the Viceroy in Santa Monica. This event was called ‘New Business is Your Business,’ and focused mainly on Marketing. A lot of time was spent thinking about customer service and the customer experience, so naturally we began to think about applying these thoughts to our own business and how we could improve.
If Design Concepts were a physical product, our user interface would be our business development and project management teams. This is a comparison our president, Dave Franchino, likes to make regarding our customer service model. I like this analogy and, over time, have aspired to situate it within a total experience map to better understand the details that I likely overlook.
Experience maps are one of the many tools we use with our clients, but they are immensely powerful. When done comprehensively, they can track and outline the entire user experience in one place, revealing what really happens in the market, pain points for the users, and opportunity areas that may have been previously obscured. But their most powerful function is the way they tend to shift the perspective on our project opportunity not only for our clients, but for the Design Concepts project team, as well.
At APDF, too, a lot of the conversations centered on shifting perspective. They were led by Mark Goldstein, a top marketing and advertising executive The Wall Street Journal has called “the guru of new business.” Mark brought a laser-like focus on how to best prioritize our day-to-day activities to reflect the things we strive for; namely, providing deep and lasting impact to our clients.
Some of his ideas were very simple, like how to thoughtfully, succinctly, and respectfully respond to RFPs while still leaving the opportunity open to take a unique approach. Others were more dynamic, like how to use carefully choreographed meetings and well-defined individual roles to appropriately respond to a company’s strengths, opportunities, and potential pitfalls. Doing this properly can help lay the groundwork for powerful shifts in perspective throughout the course of work.
As usual, the thing that makes APDF exchanges so unique is the honest and thought-provoking ideas and applications that come from discussing all of this with peers during break-out sessions, receptions, and evening small group dinners. That’s where inspiration can take hold and be refined. By the end of the conference, Rainer and I had the framework for our own customer service experience map and now just need to fill in the details (which is the hard part). We’re excited, however, and have already begun.
Our goal in this exercise is to make sure that we are focused on the right things every day, not just the ones we’re best at or that have worked themselves into our routines. We are excited to take to the next level, and are thankful to have an organization like APDF to facilitate the discussions that can inspire it.
The power of habit…
Those of us in the design and innovation community think we have a pretty healthy appreciation for the power of habit – and the challenge of changing behavior with innovative new products and services. Those of us that do it for a living like to think of ourselves as enlightened experimenters, operating on a much higher plane behavior flexibility and rationality. Maybe not so much.
I had that point driven home for me in a fairly personal and dramatic but humorous way a while ago by one of my co-workers. We were chatting about which personal care products we use when I made the mistake of mentioning what brand of shampoo I prefer, sending one of my co-workers into fits of hysterical laughter.
It took me a minute to figure out what was going on before his source of bemusement hit me. You see, for those of you who don’t know me, I’m pretty much… bald, and have been for probably a good decade. What little hair I do have is kept cut short. Not premium shampoo material. It’s certainly not likely to need depth, body, sheen and luster.
Which is not to say I shouldn’t or couldn’t use shampoo (most bald guys I know do use shampoo – soap is generally too harsh). It’s just that until that pivotal guffaw by my erstwhile colleague I’d never even thought about it. It had simply never occurred that my rationale for purchasing shampoo was sadly outdated. For the last 15 years I have diligently shopped for, purchased, stored, and applied shampoo for a gradually receding and eventually negligible amount of hair without ever giving a thought to any of it. I simply kept doing what I’d always done even though it didn’t make all that much sense any more. For years. And you wonder why our clients –no pun intended – pull their hair out trying to change consumer behavior!
Therein lays one of the fundamental challenges present to anyone in the innovation space. Behavioral habits – no matter how silly or obsolete, no matter how compelling the alternatives, die very hard. We are creatures of irrational and sometimes frustrating habit. We are creatures of pesky, quirky and sometimes frustratingly entrenched habit. It’s Part of what makes our job of innovators so darn hard. Of course that’s also half the fun.
For my part, I think I’ll go shampoo shopping tomorrow with a different perspective.
Four weeks ago, after driving mainly foreign cars of the not too fuel efficient kind, I leased my first EREV (Extended Range Electric Vehicle); a 2013 Chevy Volt. Curiosity pulled me into the dealership and, contrary to my expectations, I had a good impression of the car and dealership experience. The lease offer was extremely attractive and I was up for an experiment. So I silently rolled off the lot in one. To date, I’ve driven a total of 1,300 miles – 1271 of those purely on electric power. Here are some of my impressions so far.
I really enjoy driving this car. The car has a substantial, almost sporty, road feel that is distinctly different from a Toyota Prius. It’s not a sports car by any stretch of imagination but turns nicely and displays adequate grip.
It’s quiet (before you know it you are doing 40 mph without any noise or vibration normally associated with driving a gas powered car) and the electric drive makes the maximum torque available right off the bat. Accelerating onto freeways and passing are no challenge for the car. You’ll get to 60 mph in less than 9 seconds and, if you have another 12 second to spare, it will do 100 mph.
It has made me a more aware driver as I try to anticipate other traffic to avoid rapid braking. No, I’m not interested in hypermiling; I just try to keep moving to conserve power in order to enjoy the acceleration.
No matter how you rationalize the purchase of this car, a lot of your neighbors, friends and co-workers will wonder what made you go ‘Ralph Nader’ on them.
The cost for a full charge, or 40 miles of driving, in the Madison area is about one dollar. I admit that when the gas price drops, I will feel bad that I won’t save as much.
Room in front is adequate, but large passengers will find the rear tight with scant leg and foot room. Hey, it’s a compact car.
Visibility is not all that great so parking can get a bit tricky.
The car sits as low as a supercar so the flexible air deflector scrapes on every speed bump, driveway, and intersection with lateral gutters causing unwanted attention and probing stares from nearby pedestrians.
The interior is pleasant, at least in the front. The instrument panel looks a bit too much like a video game and I’m sure our human factors engineer would be horrified by the touch-sensitive controls on the center stack that offer no distinct tactile feedback and are hard to find. I’m also equally as sure that Trekkies love the “whoosh” sounds when you press the power button.
The Volt drives and feels like a regular compact car with some high-tech touches. It’s really a remarkably unremarkable car (in a good way). As to whether it is a practical car depends on the miles driven per day, the climate, and your driving style. For me personally, the car has a decent electric range and I can rely on the gas engine for hundreds of miles if I exceed the electric range. Although this is an advantage over electric-only cars (like the Nissan Leaf), it is also a disadvantage because it requires two complex drivetrains that make the car expensive.
For now, this is still an experiment and time will tell if the Volt is a perfect fit for me. But I do believe that the Volt is a great concept for future models. Over time the cost will go down, the electric range will increase and additional body styles will increase utility and make the car appealing to a larger population.
Tonight, I will try out another advantage: topping off the batteries on one of the many free charging stations around town while I shop for a pair of Birkenstocks. In designer black of course.