September 2006

Sell this way and stick to it. Don’t even try to suggest something different. Stop. No, I said no!! Don’t think about it, its not going to happen.

So, what is a business model, according to Wikipedia, the definition given by Osterwalder, Pigneur and Tucci is:
a conceptual tool that contains a set of elements and their relationships and allows expressing the business logic of a specific firm. It is a description of the value a company offers to one or several segments of customers and of the architecture of the firm and its network of partners for creating, marketing, and delivering this value and relationship capital, to generate profitable and sustainable revenue streams.

In other words it’s what you have to sell, how you sell it, and who you sell it to.

Of course the type of commodity you are trying to sell is going to define your how and your who. Its not the same to sell heavy industrial equipment, high tech medical appliances or cell phones. Your “audience” is different, the way they are going to buy is different, the way they are going to pay is different and the way you are going to deliver and support the products is different.

You can direct sale. You can sale through partners, you can finance, you can take cash, credit or check, you can provide support directly or through a 3rd party (or provide no support at all, if you want a company to run out of business its not my issue), you can ship, you can retail. It’s a whole universe of possibilities out there.

The most important part of the trilogy. The fuel that drives everything. Customers. Business models aim to them, products aim to them and how we sell aims to our Target audience. Of course the segment we will sell to is defined mainly by our what and the success in appealing to them is determined by the how.

So out of the three parts in this trilogy our most variable item is the “how”, we have a set of products which we usually can’t change all that much. Then there’s the who, products limit this, and business models, pricing, payment methods and other “details” can limit this. You might limit your target customers purposely with your model, or it can happen by “accident” .

But where’s the tyranny?
We’re getting there. In most cases  companies instate a Business model that proves to be somewhat successful and stick to it. Sales managers fall in love with what works for them and if someone suggests anything a tad different they are accused for heresy (and usually burn in some sort of pyre as well).

The result this usualy yields is a static business model, which only changes due to external influences and not because of an inside desire or drive to change.

What then happens is that a business model then wears off, gets outdated and must be replaced once it’s not working anymore (does the word “loss” ring a bell?). Thus the model tyranny.

Get out of the circle.
Is there any way to avoid this? Sure is! The business model should be in continuous reinvention, evolving and changing, ahead of the events whenever possible. Thus, new things should be tried all the time, different approaches (hows) to tackle the same issue. Of course this can be both time and resource-consuming, so there must be no confusion about “evolution” and “just trying things out”.

The whole point is to change the set of mind. Keep asking questions:
-This works so far, but can it work even better?
-What things can be done to improve the different areas?
-What’s already showing to be outdated or less than perfect (or will become so in a short term)?

Its a whole different approach, regarding a business model more like a dynamic ever-changing part rather than a word carved in stone.


Well I haven’t been in a “leadership” position for much, but there are some things I have learnt, both form my previous experience (and what my old “bosses” did right and wrong from my point of view) and what has been an exiting journey so far.

Not so long ago I was a self employed freelance designer and programmer. Most of the time I struggled to survive and make a living, the remaining time I struggled to handle tons of work that seemed to come the same month. With such “work randomness” I had to work alone. Before that I manly played music (and had not-worth-mentioning-jobs) which is done in a group but has a lot of individualism as well (manly on the composition side). So, before IBM (and then Lenovo) I didn’t have a lot of teamwork experience. Right before I started working this kind of made me nervous: would I adapt?

I did. And I loved it. Quickly enough I could see that 4 people together could do a lot more than 4 people working alone. And quality is much better. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. Even better if there is a good leadership.

I had both good and bad leaders in the past (and will have both kinds in the future, for sure), I hope people consider I am in the first group, but that is not for me to say; but I can scribble a couple of concepts I think are good to keep in mind.

M stands for Motivation.
I cannot state strongly enough how key this is. If people are motivated they are unstoppable. They can achieve whatever you ask them to do, and more.
So, what motivates people? Well salaries are the obvious answer for many, but I think that even if good salaries are a must, they don’t motivate that much (on the other hand, bad salaries kill motivation as fast as light). You can’t motivate if you pay poorly, but a healthy pay check wont motivate people per se.
The enumeration isn’t looking very good this far, 1 thing that kills motivation but is not a motivation itself; lets try to do a little bit better now.

  • Create a good work environment. Enhance participation, make people comfortable.
  • Promote creativity. People have ideas, most of those are good, listen to them, take good care that their ideas see the light of day and that credit is given.
  • Absorb the punches, pass congratulations. Most “rants” about things gone wrong should be absorbed by leaders, lessons must be duly learnt and positive feedback should be passed along in every case (even in case of screw-ups). Every now and then a warning might be necessary, most of the time it’s not.

Communication is the base. Listen and learn. The best way to learn what’s going on in a team is to listen to what people say and listen harder to what they don’t say. (Tricky, ain’t it?).
Take the time to listen to suggestions and issues. And do not “just listen”, take action to prove you are actually listening.
Make them out-stand.
The worst mistake I’ve seen leaders do is to “stop” their team members from doing things mostly because they are afraid of either loosing control or to be “out-shined” by them. In my experience the exact opposite is true. The better people in a team work, the better the leader looks. In terms of control, just re-read “Communique”.

Preach with the example.
“I don’t expect you to work more than I do”. If you prove you work, listen and are yourself motivated you’ll transmit exactly that. Works like a charm.

Always stand by them.
Make your team members life as easy as you possibly can. If you have to choose between covering your own back and theirs: cover theirs. You will never recover from a “treason” to your own team.

Final word.
I have always been part of creative teams. I know nothing about, say, working on an accounting team; but I think the same basic principles apply to all sorts of teams.

As I keep learning on a daily basis I’ll keep the blog updated on this regard.

Lenovo´s birthay was last month, we moved to our new location a couple of months before that. Management thought those were good reasons to celebrate, and thus, lenovo partied yesterday (September 21st, the day spring beggins in the southern hemisphere).

We had quite a good time with music and dancing, some games and some drinking…

Now we must actively seek for the next set of reasons to party again, probably the end of year will do…

Lately I have been feeling I need 48 hour days… I know it is a common feeling as you try to “climb the corporate ladder” sort to speak. (Although I don’t regard myself too much as a climber). I tend to try to manage as much stuff as I can (or can’t) and that takes a toll.

On the other hand I must say I have a team I can rely completely on. The guys whose work I administer give 110% all the time. They are proactive and full of ideas and I try to encourage that as much as I can (which brings more work and somewhat of a hassle sometimes, but I can live with that, I’d rather have a bunch of creative, “crazy” people working with me).

Thus here is mi ussal way of doing things: From 9 to 6 I try to get all things my position require me to do (managing requests takes a lot of time!) after that I feel sort of free to try and get the “extra” stuff done.

This usually yields workdays that last from dusk till dawn (with the missus complaining that I work too much… and she’s right). Even the days I decide I’ll “take it easy” I’m still online and available in case something urgent comes up.

Once upon a time I used to be on the client side, so I know what clients usually expect. Their work is their life and when doing services their work should be our life as well. People spend quite some time planning things; so the “execution” part must be as close to perfect as can be. That is our responsibility, to make sure that other people’s hard work sees “the light of day” in the best possible way.

Having said this, what happens most of the time is that development times are short. Too short actually. This usually contradicts the principles of doing the est and most creative work. There is a contradiction with ridiculously close deadlines and quality of work. I’m amazed that things go as well as they do with the short times we usually manage (our average development time is 2 days, with things spanning from a  price change to a full sitelet creation)
How to handle this? You have to learn the hard lesson of saying “no”. From time to time it becomes somewhat visible that we have “spoiled” clients, who know we deliver and thus push and push (something natural, I guess), then comes the moment when it’s necessary to step on the break for everyone’s mental sanity.

So much to do, so little time.

Simple idea… buy two deodorants, combine them and get a new fragrance. Make an authentic axe-style tv ad (you know, pretty girls and stuff) put it all together… sell twice as much deodorants; just geniuos.

Axe 3

I wonder if Lenovo can come up with something of this kind… Buy a T60 and a Z60, put em’ together and get a TZ120…

Public support and help forums have been around for quite some time. Based on the concept that two heads think better than one and that 1000 are even smarter, lots of open source or low profit organizations have relied on forums as their primary support source. The obvious advantage to this is: its cheap. But there are others and plenty of other advantages.

First there’s the advantage of looking at problems from different (countless) perspectives. Some issues have a unique solution, others might have multiple ways to be solved. People might come up with solutions that even designers or creators didn’t think about.

Then there’s feedback. You can post a question and you’ll get replies (or direction to previous replies to the same subject) really quickly (if you have a broad enough user  base).

Another positive aspect is that it could be a really good source for  inspiration and ideas for improvements. You could hear from the “source” what things don’t work as expected, what things might need changes or adjustments and what things users want to see coming out (as a matter of fact I’ve read quite some posts asking for the next generation of ThinkPad tablets, just to quote an example). Then it’d be up to decision makers to evaluate if what they’ve learnt is where they want to go.

Finally, if all the data is well ordered, moderated and recollected it could eventually build up a knowledge base, the source of FAQ and answers for call centers and eventually cut (in part) support centers. If you find good answers on a website-forum you won’t ever dial that 1-800 number.

So here’s the deal. I’ll talk about what I know. In Latina America we have a clear prominence of Spanish speaking countries. From Mexico to Argentina Spanish is a common place, to a certain extent. But some terms and the utilization of the language differs quite a lot. In Colombia, for example, they speak a lot more “formally” than in Perú.

A Basic SEO example can be pulled by looking for search terms in different countries. In this case I’ll use google Labs’ Google trends.

We’ll compare Mexico and Argentina on 3 terms “PC” (blue), “Computadora” (red) and “Ordenador” (orange):

Mexico Search terms

Argentina Search terms
As it can easily be deducted “PC” is a far more popular term than “Computadora” in Argentina, while in Mexico “PC” is still number 1, but “Computadora” is very popular as well. “Ordenador”, only appears (slightly) in Mexico. These are slight but important differences.

Thus SEO for countries speaking the same countries should not be the same. Although, in LA “neutral spanish” is used (is a use of spanish that is from everywhere and nowhere at the same time) some words should be localized in order to make it more appealing both to readers and to search engine crawlers.

If language use differs in not so distant countries picture what the cultural differences are from north to south, east to west, continent to continent.
Now we’re getting to the interesting part. How can coroporate branding and identity be broad enough to appeal to every culture? Is this possible without being “bland” or “shallow”? It is possible. But it takes luck, inspiration or genius. Either that or your “corporate image” must be flexible enough to allow some localized content.

So you have a two way road. If you have a strong “trans-cultural” image you should stick to it (apple comes to mind, and even they have changed it over time -evolution- and have a broad spectrum of possible look and feels to choose from, with a “scent” to apple). The other road is to have a more flexible approach, allowing certain regionalization to appeal to the broader public.

I’d rather have a strong corporate identity, but if I ain’t got that, I’d settle with option number two.

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