Tag Archives: Apple

Is Originality Overrated? The Race for Second Place

In the quest for competitive advantages, we often strive to find the novel idea that will set us apart, thus propelling us to the top of the food chain. While this is a worthy endeavor, is success bequeathed upon innovators? Internality it may feel rewarding to create something new, but is originality actually rewarded?

Last week, Facebook announced a new function, Facebook Camera. This “innovative” feature will allow users to post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Users will also have the ability to add filters and fun overlays to the pics. If this sounds familiar, it may be because Facebook introduced something similar on Facebook Messenger (Messenger Day), WhatsApp (Status), and Instagram (Stories), not to mention there’s another social networking site, Snapchat, which does exactly what these four Facebook-owned products do. In fact, Mike Murray, a reporter at Quartz, points out that Facebook’s five most recent product announcements are eerily similar to designs from other companies.

  • Facebook Camera = Snapchat
  • “Live location” in Messenger = “Sharing your location” in Apple’s Messages
  • Reactions and Mentions in Messenger = Reactions and @-mentions on Slack
  • Streaming videogames live = Twitch
  • Messenger Day = Snapchat

We can judge Facebook for repackaging past ideas, but considering they have two billion monthly users and generated $9 billion in revenue last quarter, maybe we need to judge ourselves for being so reliant on uniqueness. Just look at the movie industry.

Movie studios have grown resistant to new concepts that require a large investment. Instead, they are opting for sequels, remakes, and reboots that already have brand recognition. Why gamble with unknown actors playing unknown characters in an unknown story when you can develop a live action Beauty and the Beast, a re-imagined Spider-Man, or a continuation of Pitch Perfect (all of which I intend to see).

The plethora of movie sequels clogging the multiplex can make you feel as though your life were stuck on spin cycle. But if the movies don’t change, we do, and that’s a blessing.—Joshua David Stein

It’s a simple sales theory: Selling something original is much more difficult than selling something that’s familiar. Different, in itself, is not a selling point. People need to be able to relate what you are peddling to what they already know; otherwise you are in the defensive position of convincing, not promoting.

As much as we need new ideas, in Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen makes note that the “new and exciting” companies that disrupt their industry are founded by ex-employees of the “traditional” companies. These individuals did not attain success by creating something from scratch; their “originality” emerged from the idea that they could do it better, not brand new. They did the groundwork at the previous company—experiencing the necessary trial and error, thought experiments, and systems planning—and were able to implement in the new environment.

We all want to be innovators, and I’m not suggesting we abandon this endeavor. However, innovation does not require re-invention. There is something to be said for not consistently creating the wheel. It’s why we study best practices and scrutinize over our competition’s lessons learned. Plus, it lowers risk and is cheaper than paying for mistakes. Let others discover the potholes; we can follow their lead, enhance it, and make it our own.

In the end, there may be self-satisfaction in saying we thought of it first, but think of how self-satisfied you can feel by thinking of it second while enjoying the riches of victory? After all, you are trying to lead your team to long-term success, not win a first-place ribbon.

How ‘Fake News’ Damages Your Company and What You Can Do About It

Since the election, the idea of “fake news” has been prominently debated. Whether from willful blindness or a general sense of gullibility, stories that appear real have spread throughout social media…but this is not a new phenomenon.

200 years ago it was reported that after cutting down a cherry tree, a six year old George Washington guiltily told his father, “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.” Similarly, Paul Revere didn’t ride through the streets of Concord, Massachusetts yelling, “The British are coming” and Isaac Newton did not discover gravity when an apple fell on his head.

While these stories are technically fake news, they are distinguished from today’s fake news in their intent. When Mason Locke Weems penned the cherry tree tale in 1806, he was trying to illustrate Washington’s virtue so as to inspire young Americans to emulate him. Elias Phinney relayed Revere’s ride as an act of patriotism. And John Conduitt used Newton’s apple story as a metaphor so the less educated could understand the concept of gravity.

The fake news in our current political climate is more in the vein of Marie Antoinette’s, “Let them eat cake.” This quote was inaccurately attributed to Antoinette when a French Revolutionary anti-establishment pamphlet distributed it as a cartoon. In publishing such an untruth, the author was not trying to generate a metaphorical narrative; rather he was seeking to fuel the insurrection and overthrow of the French government.

As Antoinette can attest, fake news is inherently destructive in nature. Whether it’s from protesters or government leaders, these stories have no purpose but to disparage those with opposing views, stoke irrational fears, and spread falsehoods. There is no way to rationalize it; if an argument is well-intentioned, the truth should be sufficient to convince the masses. If it’s not, you need a better argument.

Consider how your company reacts when a malicious rumor is started. These localized fake news stories have long lasting negative ramifications on your team. Not only are they distracting, but the fabrications harm reputations, working relationships, and the overall culture. This then affects performance, productivity, and the bottom line.

There are two action items we can learn here. One, we need to do a better job identifying and quashing fake news. If you think this sounds easy, think again. A recent Stanford study found that students cannot determine fake news from real news. This lack of critical thinking is particularly alarming considering their nonstop media consumption. Participants had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles and were unable to identify where information came from. In addition, more than 80% believed a native ad identified with the words “sponsored content” was a real news story AND only 25% recognized and were able to explain the differences between a verified Twitter account and one that simply looked legitimate.

This finding indicates that students may focus more on the content of social media posts than on their sources. Despite their fluency with social media, many students are unaware of basic conventions for indicating verified digital information.—Sam Wineburg & Sarah McGrew

The second action item is that as leaders we must take responsibility for this fakery within our organizations. This begins with educating those on our team to be discernable absorbers of information. When new information is presented, teach them to evaluate it based on the following questions:

  1. Do you know the source? Is he/she reliable and trustworthy?
  2. Can you verify the information?
  3. How does it measure up to what you already know?
  4. Does it make (common) sense?
  5. Do you understand the complexity of the information?
  6. Do you understand the context of the information?
  7. What biases do you have that could affect how you interpret the information?
  8. Have subject matter experts corroborated the information? What about the company’s executive team?
  9. How current is the information?
  10. What is the intent of the person disseminating the information?

Fake news is an epidemic. Thankfully, you are in a position to be the Senior Editor of your organization’s “news” outlet. When fake news stories arise, no matter how trivial, report the truth. Don’t allow even one minor fib to become part of the dialogue. The more you practice this, the more fact-checking will become engrained in your culture.

Donald Trump: Three Leadership Lessons from the Republican Presidential Candidate

donald trumpAuthor’s Note: This article is not an endorsement of Donald Trump, nor does it condone, justify, or defend anything he has said or done. The leadership tactics we will discuss are proven to be effective in persuading others and bolstering influence. Whether these skills are used for positive purposes is up to you.

As today marks the beginning of the 2016 Republican National Convention, it seems fitting to discuss the projected GOP presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Whether or not you like him, we can all agree that Trump’s unlikely ascent in this race did not happen by accident. Trump’s masterful display of a few simple leadership techniques has resulted in a loyal fan base and unrelenting media coverage. Here are three such techniques that can benefit each of us.

Use Words That Sell Your Idea…and Repeat Them Often

One tactic Trump regularly practices is repetition of particular words. As listed in the Trump University Playbook, the most persuasive words that should be used when selling include: you, free, money, guarantee, and results. To show Trump’s frequency in using these words, a New York Times study of every Trump rally, speech, interview and news conference over a one-week period found “he has a particular habit of saying ‘you’ and ‘we’.”

We have to be more vigilant. We have to be much tougher. We have to be much smarter…

As for the other persuasive words listed above, he commonly makes such statements as:

  • “I have a lot of money.”
  • “I know a way that will absolutely guarantee
  • “I get results, believe me.”

The repetition of key words and phrases promotes clarity, but can also have an affect on a subconscious level. Often called supraliminal messaging, there is mounting evidence regarding information that is not consciously perceived and it’s downstream effect on our thought processes, decision making, and perception. Apparently, when words are regularly repeated, they can get lodged in the subconscious mind as expressing a real situation. The mind then tries to align the words with reality where they are more likely to be accepted and can block out contradictory thoughts.

In short, figure out the ideas that you are trying to communicate, condense them into a word or short phrase, and inject them into as many exchanges as you can.

Focus on Your Vocal Presence

As much as the words you say matter, how you say them may have a greater impact. A study by Rosario Signorello, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, and his colleague Nari Rhee examined the speaking strategies of politicians and its influence on voters. Consider a recent speech by Trump:

By the way, I think I’m going to win the Hispanic vote. [Then loudly and emphatically] Do you know in the state of Nevada I win with Hispanics?!” [Then softly again] They know I’m going to bring jobs in. They know I’m going to take jobs away from Mexico and China and all these places.

Signorello and Rhee found that speakers like Trump who utilize a wide vocal variation can impact how they are perceived. By increasing his pitch and volume, Trump is more likely to be seen as dominant. Hilary Clinton tends to go the opposite way by lowering her pitch and volume throughout the speech. She ends on a calm note so as to be seen as confident and commanding. The Italian politician Umberto Bossi, who suffered a stroke that impaired his speech, found that pre-stroke, people thought of him as an authoritarian, in part due to his wide-ranging pitch. Post-stroke, his pitch flattened out and he was seen as more benevolent.

Before your next presentation, consider the message and image you are trying to get across. Then, modulate your voice over the course of the speech. By varying your pitch and volume, you will not only lead the audience, but you’ll also keep them engaged in what you have to say.

Assign an Enemy

As leaders, we are aware that to be successful, our company and personal brands must stand for something. One way to do this is to distinguish what you stand against. Trump does this very well. He has expressed strong views opposing immigration, religious groups, Barak Obama, news reporters, and his prior GOP opponents.

Exploiting the “enemy” is not a new phenomenon in political campaigning. Since long before the founding of the United States, candidates and lawmakers have used potentially threats to further their agenda. Marketing expert Adam Morgan calls this creating a “fake monster” where a leader rallies the team to unite against the monster and save the village.

Articulating what you are against does not have to be fear-based or manipulative. The advertising agency StrawberryFrog launched a successful oppositional campaign for a smart car based upon their refusal to accept over-consumption and excess. And in its infancy, Apple’s brand was centered on anti-conformity and anti-Big Brother.

However it is used, by defining what you are against, you are also defining what you believe. You can speak out against the status quo or defend tradition. You can focus on a known adversary or create an imminent menace. Just ensure that your antagonist is aligned with your organization’s principles and culture.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, I think Mr. Trump’s more aggressive tactics may be one attempt at trying to assert some level of control in a situation where people feel scared and a loss of control — as a means of helping them to feel safer. The dilemma then becomes whether supporting these more extreme policies justifies the ends — particularly in terms of how it changes us as a society. — Samuel Justin Sinclair, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of The Psychology of Terrorism Fears

Donald Trump is running a successful campaign—you don’t need to agree with his ideology, actions, and/or personality to admit this. Instead of relying on such typical traits as experience or sophistication, Trump is prevailing through his use of expressive jargon, compelling speaking skills, and a crowd-resonating message. If you support him, these techniques are working. If you don’t, sharpen your skills to help defeat him.

Steve Wozniak and a Leaders’ Hacker Mentality

Steve WozniakToo often, our go-to move when addressing an issue is to throw additional resources at it – more people, more tech, more money will solve all of our problems. While it may be nice to have an unlimited reserve from which to pull, most of us aren’t so fortunate. We have set budgets, a streamlined workforce, and fixed capital to play with. So let’s stop wishing for the impossible and start developing a hacker mentality.

Steve Wozniak is a strong proponent of the hacker mentality. Woz, as he’s affectionately called, founded Apple Computers with Steve Jobs in the mid-1970s. For all the credit Steve receives, it was Woz’s brilliance that built the first Apple computer and revolutionized the industry. And he did it in a garage.

All the best things that I did at Apple came from (1) not having money and (2) not having done it before, ever. Every single thing that we came out with that was really great, I’d never once done that thing in my life.

The hacker mentality is a mindset of creativity and innovation. It involves a drive to do something that’s never been done and then constantly improve upon it. This differs from your average high achiever in that hackers want to accomplish their endeavors with the least amount of resources. If you do it in ten steps, they want to do it in five.

This need to ‘find the new shortcut’ mixed with ‘using parts in ways that they weren’t intended’ is the hacker’s mentality.

Before you get into the ethical quandaries associated with hackers, please know that I am not promoting immoral acts when I encourage you to be hacker-esque. As always, you should use your powers for good. What I am promoting is the attempt to do more with less. As Woz has said, “try to figure out how to use less parts to do the same thing.” This may include:

Stressing the need for continuous improvement. This is more than just repairing glitches; find something that’s working and make it better.

Evaluating and re-evaluating processes on a regular basis. There is no “final” version, just the “most recent” version.

Challenging yourself. Try to cut the amount of time your regular tasks take to complete. Or, to push yourself and your team, only allow the use of a percentage of a project’s budget. How creative will your team be when you offer the excess budgetary funds as a bonus?

With a culture of hackers, innovative solutions become the norm. It is no longer, “what do I need to get this task done,” but “what do I already have…” You can find a purpose for the great idea that never worked out and, with the ‘new shortcut’, save time, effort, and money. It may not generate the next Apple, but you have to start somewhere.

The Only Thing You Need to Know About Motivating Others

How many articles have you read touting the “Top 10 Motivational Techniques of a Successful Leader” or “7 Skills Every Leader Needs to Inspire”? The reality is that there is only one.

With the onslaught of Steve Jobs biographies and article, it has become commonplace to celebrate his management style of mythically brutal honesty. As described by Jeff Goodell in a Rolling Stone article,

But, god, he could be a dick. Those who knew Jobs best and worked with him most closely…were always struck by his abrasive personality, his unapologetic brutality. He screamed, he cried, he stomped his feet. He had a cruelly casual way of driving employees to the breaking point and tossing them aside; few people ever wanted to work for him twice.

steve jobsCould Steve have mitigated some of his early failures if he had removed the “brutal” from ‘brutal honesty”? How much talent did he lose because people didn’t want to work with him? How many opportunities were lost because his team was afraid of his wrath?

It’s easy to say that Steve’s unfiltered brand of criticism was effective when he was leading the now awe-inspiring Apple, but what about the ten year period when Apple was on the downslide? Before it’s resurrection, Apple was comparable to our modern day view of Blackberry – it was once cutting edge but the technology and market embarrassingly passed it by.

This is not a knock on Apple or Steve; I’m writing this on a Mac while my iPhone plays music to my right and my iPad streams news to my left. My point is that when things are going well, the leader has more latitude to act how they please. However, if their chosen demeanor is less than nice (possibly bordering on emotional abuse), they will be all alone when hit with the hard times.

Before reading another list of motivational/leadership techniques, try utilizing the easiest method of all – politeness.

Being polite is not a difficult concept; it borders on obvious. When being courteous, you’re showing that you value the other person. They, in turn, are more willing to follow you, not because you are the boss and they have to, but because they want to. This is Motivation 101.

When we are polite, we are tailoring our message to the listener so they will be more receptive. There’s the simple thank you, please, and good morning but real politeness centers around showing respect for the other person(s).

For those of you who feel a more visceral style is the sign of a “real” leader, what is your end-goal? Are you trying to placate your ego or further the organization’s agenda? Politeness is not about sugarcoating issues, compromising expectations, or imposing additional political correctness. To be polite is to communicate in ways that will most effectively get you want you.

Politeness may make others feel good, but the value from a business perspective is that your team will be motivated and engaged, less likely to resign, and more loyal to you and the organization. It may not feel as cathartic as shouting, “You don’t know what you’re doing. I’m going to get someone else to do [this] because this is f##ked up.” (this is an actual Steve Jobs quote), but you are going to get a better result.

You’re welcome.