Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Our World Has Changed; People Are Not Illiterate, They Just Process Information Differently. Maybe Better.

“Rule #86 – Lew’s Rule: Errors are of two sorts: errors of commission and errors of omission. The nastiest ones are omission, because they are often ignored.” I learned this one in the early 1980s working with Lew Schneider, a brilliant
consultant. He said that it was easy to pick apart stuff that you could see, that was right out in front of you. Errors of commission. But, it was very difficult to discover the most insidious of errors; the stuff that wasn’t there. Errors of omission. Let me give you a vivid example. Look at the stock price for Research in Motion (RIM) – the maker of BlackBerrys. It is dying. RIM made an error of omission. It did not effectively adjust its strategy to account for competition from iPhones and Android mobile devices. RIM was crushed.

Lew Schneider lives on in my mind, and the minds of my people, and he is most encapsulated in Rule #86. He is still relevant and he is still very important.

Rule #101 – O’Neal’s Rule: It is all about romance. I shamelessly stole this from Rodney O’Neal, CEO of Delphi Automotive – they do $16 billion a year in sales. Rod always wanted to be romanced by the story of the strategy. “Talk about good and evil, tell me about the romance, suck me in and enthrall me with the story.” He felt that if the story were personal and interesting, it would stick. Smart guy. Well, a lot has changed in our world, and a lot stayed the same. In the old days, if you were in Ireland, the local shanachie would visit your home and tell stories. He was old and revered, a fabulous raconteur, and loaded with distilled knowledge called wisdom. He entertained, his stories stuck, and they were relevant to your life. For his efforts he got a great meal, an audience, and a belly full of great Irish whiskey. OK, Rod’s not Irish, but this is what he was talking about.

Well, the shanachie was displaced by a bunch of folks who produced tomes of wisdom by the bucket load. Out of the Crisis, In Search of Excellence, Good to Great, My Years with General Motors. All this was really good stuff and entirely relevant. And, for a time, people read this stuff.

Marshall McLuhan said that the “medium is the message.” What if the medium is pretty much obsolete? How do I reach you? Perhaps the greatest business book ever written was Out of the Crisis, by Deming. How do I get you to read 492 pages of Out of the Crisis? Unless I force you into an academic environment, I don’t. The world has changed and, in this instance, probably forever. Out of the Crisis is a lot like RIM and BlackBerry. Rule #86: Error of omission – people don’t read 492 pages of heavy text on their iPhone.

“Rule #7: The best learners are un-learners.” This one is critical to survival in our fast evolving world. Back before 1990, every boy knew the market for squirt guns. You got them at the five and dime and paid between 25 cents and a dollar for them. The buck version was a big honking thing that had gallonage, but little extra squirt. Lonnie Johnson un-learned all this. Smart guy. He figured out that he could make a big honking squirt gun that had squirt that defied the imagination. He called it a “Super Soaker” and sold them for around $25. In the process he created a billion dollar toy segment. It was critical to “un-learn” that the market for squirt guns was capped at a buck a copy.

There’s lots of stuff we need to un-learn. Amazon un-learned that books had to be made of paper. Blockbuster never un-learned that movies needed to fit on a DVD and be fetched at a store. Netflix needed to un-learn that it was a monopoly and that Amazon could spoil their market with a trick to sell merchandise freight-free. RIM needed to un-learn that it, too, was a monopoly. We make a huge time and emotional investment in what we learn, and we hold on to pseudo-knowledge way too long.

Rule #7: The best learners are un-learners poked its head up for me in the summer of 2011. We found out that we had to un-learn how we thought people learn. My firm hosted a set of focus groups that tapped into the automotive service buying and learning attitudes of the digital generation. This group is fast-growing, sort of like the Ebola virus. We call them digital service customers (DSCs). In 2010, they represented about 33% of the population; in 2011, they had grown to over 60%. Young, 20-40 years old, college educated, good jobs, no savings, smart with money. The American Dream is a light year away and irrelevant to them. We asked what they read. It was immediately apparent that paper was obsolete. What surprised us was that laptops, too, seemed to be headed towards irrelevancy. Remember McLuhan – the medium is the message. The learning medium for the DSC is their mobile device, and the messages that stick are ones that have best adapted to this technology. If a message is stuck in paper medium, it won’t sell. If it needs a laptop, it will suffer the same fate as iGoogle and RIM – obscurity, then death.

Hmmm. These DSCs might be a problem for lots of us. Maybe, I’m one of them?

I looked at my iPhone’s first page. This is all the stuff that I need the most. Yes, iGoogle is indeed irrelevant, because my iPad looks pretty much the same. I do not need drop down lists and text, I use icons. Angry Birds is right next to my Kindle and sits on top of my phone. If I want something that’s not an icon, I use Google. I search for short text and images that I can read quickly and then move on to the next thing. Say I’m in an airport. Do I want to read a book or play Angry Birds? If the book is not riveting, inside of 90 seconds I switch to Angry Birds.

If the medium is the message, then what’s the message here? Simple. Messages need to be short and riveting. They need to be separable. If you devote five minutes to a message, it must be easy to pick up where you left off. Think short stories instead of a novel. Messages compete with other messages and other activities. If your message is boring, it will be displaced by a session with Angry Birds.

Bottom Line: We need to make sure that the “media” we choose can deliver the “messages” we want. First, we need to make sure that we choose the media that people use, and not to underestimate the challenge of this. The implications of this stretch to our internal training and to our consumer merchandising and advertising. We need to un-learn our absolute conviction that we are headed down the right path. We might not be. Just think of RIM.

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