Category: Business

B&N shares leap on Microsoft digital-tech plan

B&N shares leap on Microsoft digital-tech plan – MarketWatch.

Microsoft still has something reminiscent of its old magic touch. Its like a wand gently tapped on Barnes & Nobles business field to cause an explosion of vividly coloured flowers. It remains to be seen if this field will keep blooming in the years to come.

Microsoft is building strategic partnerships to prepare the launch of its massive Windows 8 ecosystem. Compare this approach with Samsung’s business style. While the South Korean is obsessed by operational excellence and hardware design brilliance, Microsoft is investing in non-IT business partnerships which are the life-blood of the ecosystem.

I suspect we will hear more of this kind of deals from Microsoft, many of them aimed at mobile computing platform.

We haven’t heard or seen anything yet about Windows 8 tablets other than some vague prototypes. I have a hard time to believe that Nokia will not play a major role here. It is going to be interesting, even fascinating to see how the competition between Apple, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung will unfold.

Apple Marketing SVP Phil Schiller dumps Instagram over expansion to Android | 9to5Mac | Apple Intelligence

Apple Marketing SVP Phil Schiller dumps Instagram over expansion to Android | 9to5Mac | Apple Intelligence.

This reminds me of Steve Jobs dumping Flash from iOS.  It is a manifestation of power, or a sense of power, to dump Instagram simply because it was ported to Android platform as well. Isn’t this a bit too touchy?

It could be. This is not an official drop from Apple’s strategic partners list, but Phil Shiller is senior enough to have an impact.  This may further strengthen the perception of Apple’s do-as-I-say stance which could be very costly to undo in a few years time when more flexible partnerships are needed.

 

Need for Skills: Unrabble-ing The Temptation of the Perfect Resume

To cut costs, a job needs to be standard and be aimed at standard workers, so that recruiters can look for candidates using keywords and quick screening methods. As one job ad attracts huge number of responses, standardisation means less time is spent on filtering. As a consequence, the role of recruiters is reduced to simple clerical work, which is the code for it-can-be-automated.

Unrabble.com does exactly that: take the pain out of recruitment process into the pleasure of ticking online boxes. Recruiting now is fun. Or, is it?

Like many fresh innovative and promising start-ups the solution looks really good. The data entry screens, the filtering algorithms, the graphs & charts are bliss. It’s a pleasure! You have evaluation tools, collaboration tools and productivity tools. You have everything.

Unrabble looks really great. It is online, it’s clean and it is clear. The problem starts when it comes to translation. Not to be too negative, but this is a bit like the Heidelberg theory of uncertainty which says that you cannot measure simultaneously space and time with precision. The equivalent theory of recruitment uncertainty is that you could not simultaneously be precise about activities and personal skills in the same time. If you focus on activities using exact measures, then you lose clarity about what the real skills are. If you focus on personal skills, you lose clarity on activities, which is the problem with resumes that have “fluffy” narrative. Personal skills could be described by putting together activities and outcomes presented in a certain light. Same activities could determine the formation of multiple skills. By using precise time based descriptors, only one picture can emerge, which is eventually quite inaccurate impression of who you are, or what you can do. This prevents the candidates from highlighting the skills used during the experience that are relevant to the job.

I mentioned in a previous post that employers are increasingly looking at prospective employees as actors joining a crew in a movie set. How will Unrabble help employers recruit the people that really fit with their business culture and work style?

It seems that we are induced to cultivate a set of standard quantifiable skills that could be easily employed in freelance/crowdsourcing model, in which project teams are assembled based on these quantifiable skills. We are becoming virtual characters with digital attributes, measured, manipulated and moved around in a huge real-life Moneyball movie set. The ugly side of crowdsourcing is that we become numbers. The good news is that this is not the whole story. Innovation needs creativity and creativity needs human skills that are hard to quantify, free flowing individual expression, knowledge and intuition, and human relatedness that are essential in creating great teams.

If I had a crystal ball, and I was a good reader, I would say the future employment is a combination of the two. We will need to be able to find short term opportunities for which our skills are a perfect match and which are discoverable over Internet using standard definitions and indicators, but we also need to explore opportunities based on personal relationships in which we work as part of a team creating new products in a start-up style. This may lead to the creation of other jobs, and if the venture succeeds it will either become large or it will be assimilated by a larger organisation. Growth will lead to clear labour division and the future employees will be the ones hired on the basis of standard skill set.

How would employers evaluate your suitability of the traditional resume structure is too rigid to be used as a good measure? The answer is your online identity, your personal brand that is being created over the years through layers of interactions, contributions to discussions, publications, opinions and associations. This will trump the resume as an indicator of who you are. A perfect resume can be written in one day, but the identity takes a life time to build.

Your online expressions are gradually painting a complete picture of you, a much more comprehensive description of your skills as a potential cast member in a creative project. Employers will use virtual identity that to evaluate your suitability. Is that scary? Maybe not, because of the variety of needs and circumstances, there will always be something out there that suits our personal expression and ability to solve problems in a creative way.

What happens if you don’t have a public online identity? I suspect that over the next decades the answer to that question will be: you don’t exist.

Lumia 900: “launched” by AT&T, it shines on Amazon

AT&T hyped the launched of Lumia 900 so much that almost everyone expected to see fireworks in each capital city dedicated to the new Windows phone. Instead stories of sedated customer representatives who would happily talk about iPhone and its apps rather than Lumia keep coming up in many reports that came out today. So why all those noisy promises of a mammoth campaign, bigger than ever, promoting Lumia? It’s a mystery that left anyone scratching their heads. AT&T should care about this if they spend $150m on this campaign.

But the Amazon’s online business never sleeps and it did a much better sales job than the bricks-and-mortar AT&T shops. This is another example why Amazon is eating the lunch of traditional business. It all started on Easter Sunday. The sales started to push Nokia up the sales charts reaching the number five spot. I am not sure how the tally is determined, but there is one detail that tells me how the product fares: the customer reviews. If the number is high is usually a good sign that the product is hot. On Sunday, the number was about ten for the black Lumia 900. That is not impressive at all.

However, in the next day, Lumia 900 reached the top. The black model was top and the cyan was third initially, but then it reached the number two spot. So Nokia got the 1-2 pole position. But to me the most remarkable thing was the number of customer reviews. In one day it climbed up to go past 60 reviews for the black model and 20 reviews for the cyan model. What is going on?

It is impossible to figure out if Nokia will be successful in its attempt to revive its fortunes, but there are a couple of interesting things here that could predict a positive start for the Finish phone maker and for Microsoft through extension. The first one is the rapid increase of the number of the customer review. By comparison, the Droid which used to be on the top of bestseller list and Samsung Galaxy, the second on the list had 54 and 16 reviews, respectively. Nokia did reach those numbers in one day, while the other two phones had at least three months to get those reviews. Secondly, the reviews have almost perfect five stars. This is quite something.

There is something else. Reading randomly those reviews, one could notice some reviewers are encouraging of Nokia and Microsoft. This is interesting, because it shows emotional attachment to the new device and its user interface. Windows Phone is new; it has an unusual design, certainly distinct from the other two operating systems and in combination with an exceptional hardware design, it offers something to the new owners making them proud of their acquisition.

Nokia is currently running a cute ad showing how a guy with a new cyan Lumia 900 gets the attention of a girl to the dismay of his other mates who obviously own iPhones or Androids. I have a sense that the ad cleverly taps into that emotion that comes with ownership of something new and beautiful. It is the only way Nokia can fight the negative of having fewer applications. It is a smart approach, because otherwise, by just comparing technical specs and numbers people will not feel motivated to go for a change.

And by the way, how good is Amazon? Who needs to go through the experience of dealing with sales people that are unprepared to help, when you have great information and all you need to do is to just press a button to get what you want?

Modern hiring is about casting, not filling

I am the first to admit, that I am not a public performer, and yet it doesn’t take to be an Oscar trophy holder to recognise that nowadays excellence in customer service is more than just a scripted process in which anyone can learning by memorising the steps and procedures after one day training. A great customer services needs people with emotional skills with attitude. This trend is not purely driven by the supply side, but also by the demand: you and I respond much better to people who can show empathy, are good story tellers and have a great smile.

I was watching Mentor on Bloomberg and following the conversation between the Jamba Juice CEO James D. White and Drybar CEO Michael Landau. As James entered first time into the Drybar salon, Michael was explaining to him how the business operates. James has an incredible experience in business having worked for Coca-Cola, Gillette and Safeway stores with expertise in brand management and marketing. Michael was reporting in a happy, passionate but measured demeanour how they struggle to cope with demand. The design of the salon limits the number of seats to eight which is not nearly enough to satisfy all those who want to buy their service. The key aspect of Drybar’s business is to offer to their customers a great experience, which is not only about having the hair done well, but make them feel as if they go to a bar where you order your service off a style menu. It’s all about the experience

Michael said they hire people carefully to make sure the best experience is created. He explained to James that the recruitment process is more like casting. Those who are hired have to have the right attitude. James acknowledged the comment and said that at Jamba Juice the staff is selected based on the idea that they are performing in front of an audience and they have to feel comfortable in that role and be good at that. The staff needs to have the right energy level.

This simple exchange of experience suddenly made me realise, that in fact this is what we want from any service, not just those that have an obvious artistic element. This is what Howard Schultz noticed when he studied thousands of coffee bars in Milan, Italy when he was really intrigued not only by the professional knowledge of the bar owners, but by their chatty, familiar and almost theatrical relationship with their customers.

We talk a lot about knowledge and competency when we evaluate a person, but we do recognise later that the ability to work in a team is important. Somebody once said that there are three questions you really need to answer when you face a job interview: can you do the job, do you want to do the job, and can you work with the team (or can the team work with you). I think this should be extended to include your clients: can they work with you?

Performance is about the ability to create a positive emotion that unlocks motives, passions and readiness to connect. This is not only about closing a monetary transaction, but an emotional deal too. It is a healing process. When your customer has a positive experience, the stress level just goes down by a notch and for that, he or she is ready to do business with you and come back at another time.

Knowledge is not enough. Performance needs to be added into the mix. This is a bit tricky, because performance cannot be learned by reading a manual. It is attached gradually through life experience. It depends on the environment you lived in when you grew up, the people in your entourage and your cultural fabric.

The world scene is a playground for mobile players

Big moves are made by Apple and Nokia in trying to set the path for long-term domination in the Chinese market. The way Tim Cook’s visit in China, was presented by the media you would think he is actually a head of a large state than the CEO of Apple. But if you think about it, Apple IS like a country as it has a market cap that makes it larger than many countries and the European Union’s officials would kill to have its cash reserves. During his tour, He visited Foxconn’s iPhone production line, which employs 120,000 people, just after it was revealed that Foxconn bought a 10% stake in Sharp, he met with Beijing’s mayor, and he had long discussion with the Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang who may be the next China leader.

Meanwhile, Nokia worked out an exceptional arrangement with AT&T. The carrier will start selling Lumia 900 at a price that defies gravity, $99, and its device head Jeff Bradley promised the biggest smartphone launch ever.

But this is nothing. Nokia has a very stronghold in China. To protect that advantage, while attacking Apple’s strong base in US, Nokia has accelerated its work in China as well. China Telecom will launch Lumia 800C and Lumia 610 with other carriers lined-up to do the same. Let’s not forget, in China Nokia is the largest smartphone maker. Stephen Elop, the CEO of Nokia has been pressing flesh in China recently working hard to support and grow Nokia’s relationship with the local partners.

Nokia also recruited Adam Guli to help Nokia in its race against Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone. The US market is big and key to success, but as China will become the largest smartphone market in the world at the end of this year with over 140 million handsets estimated to be sold this year, conquering the Chinese market is vital in the quest for the world domination. The exciting part is that China is far from being done yet.

This is almost like a diplomatic battle with scenes cut from historic movies. And then, somewhere, barely noticed, Mark Zuckerberg, casually dressed, walks through Chinese cities claiming he is on holidays. Yeah, right! There are 460 million reasons why he shouldn’t be just a tourist. Besides, in these smartphone wars, Mark is not really a 100% neutral observer. He needs to pick a winner and have Facebook show up on as many smartphone screens as possible. I would not be surprised he will do something with Nokia, since Facebook has a slight affinity with Microsoft and tensed relationships with the other two.

Who else is missing in China? Steve Balmer? He is too quiet. Something is going on there.

This year will be a huge year in mobile computing. And Windows 8 hasn’t been launched yet! The stakes are high. A lot of commentators have already concluded who the winners are in the mobile phones market. However, I am not so sure. The Asian market has not matured yet, and the Android platform is too fragmented. Nokia new Lumia handset line based on Windows Phone operating system looks superb. Nokia is one of the finest operators in this market and it is perfectly capable to challenge both iPhone and Android systems.  Almost everyone has written off Microsoft. Does Apple or Google think the same? That would be a serious mistake. These action packed visits in China are a strong indicator that the fight in this market hasn’t revealed the long-term winners yet.

Why In the World Do We Share?

In a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, titled What Makes Online Content Viral?, Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman analysed about 7000 New York Times articles to examine which articles made it to “the most e-mailed” list. The conclusion of the research was the emotional intensity evoked by the articles was a major factor in determining their virality. Thus a change in the article characteristic by one standard deviation causes the following changes in the probability of making it to the most e-mailed list:

The articles have higher virality (more shared) if they stir up emotions. Some emotions have higher impact than others, but the one outstanding aspect is that anger and awe have a higher influence than the practical value or the interest of the article. The research shows that the low-arousal emotions (like sadness) dampen our enthusiasm for sharing. This is also interesting. My reading into this is that sadness has lower social value and it is not looked upon favourably by our peers. I dare say this is in line with behaviour linked to depression when people tend to suffer in silence.

Do we have the same appetite for sharing in other social situations, such as Facebook or Twitter?

Ben Elowitz wrote an interesting post on his blog, where he shared (!) a few thoughts about emotions that drive sharing. He analysed the Most Shared Articles on Facebook in 2011 and discovered that the emotional drivers have a different pattern of influence on. Number one factor is emotionality at 23%, followed by negativity (18%), interest (15%), surprise (13%) and positivity (13%). The practical value is way down to 3%!

Sure, the emotional patterns differ from one sharing environment to another, but clearly sharing is an emotional act. As Berger and Milkman noted in What Makes Online Content Viral?, “Virality is partially driven by physiological arousal”. I guess spiritual/intellectual emotions would count as low-arousal – there is not one word about that in that study.

Harvard Business Review published research on the same topic. In The New Science of Viral Ads, Tales Teixeira describes five ways of increasing the chances of people sharing video ads:

  • Utilise brand pulsing: don’t put your logo straight in the middle, but show it only from time to time. This increases the chance of sharing by 20%
  • Open with joy: right at the opening do something that causes positive, joyful reaction. This prevents boredom.
  • Create a roller coaster: keep coming up with surprises and joyful experiences: this prevents the drop in interest
  • Surprise but not shock: if the shock is negative, embarrassing or venturing into taboo territories, people may feel inhibited about sharing
  • Use all of the above: joyful opening, show the brand here and there, keep people hooked, don’t shock.

The methods of measuring the emotion, the type of sharing medium and the type of content are different, but the role of the emotion in the decision to share something is undeniable

This may explain why sharing in formal circumstances doesn’t work. When you get the emotion out of the content, sharing is not that attractive, lacking the virality we see in informal social situations. By contrary, as the Berger and Milkman’s research shows, the low-arousal emotions have an inhibiting factor.

We share more when we feel that emotional impulse in the content. However, emotion is involved not only before but also in the act of sharing. What do people feel when they share? Unfortunately the research is mostly focused on the correlation between the emotion triggered by the content and the decision to share ignoring the emotion of sharing.

Emotions such as feeling appreciated, feeling good about being funny, intellectual, practical or artistic, getting rewarding feedback, feeling social as opposed to isolated, feeling contributing to an important cause, being the best in some ranking system, all of these contribute to making people want to share the content. These emotions have to do with our character, and our character and experience have to do with our choice of environment for communication.

Our sharing behaviour must be influenced also by the kind of environment we use and the type of human network we are part of. For example, people are never going to share funny videos on LinkedIn. Why because there is an expectation you need to look “professional” there. You can’t take the risk of broadcasting on LinkedIn a prank video of the Pope dancing with Madonna at Mardi Gras festival even if you think is really funny. You will be frowned upon by all the HR departments.

This is why I think we should be looking on not only what makes the content viral, which is a marketing problem, but also about what makes people share, which is a social communication problem. Formal network environments miss the opportunity to engage and get people become more creative, curious and motivated because they lack of emotion, inhibiting the social communication.

As an example, SharePoint is a very good product, but it is too formal, too boring to capture the imagination of people making the information sharing less effective. The SharePoint 2010 My Profile feature is a typical corporate “search to find information” strategy. Even the voice describing the features is emotionless. The product design is all about information, fields, tags, skills and projects. There is very little about socio-emotional features, a comprehensive anti how to make information viral strategy. I dare challenge you to listen to that video describing My Profile feature until the end of it. If,  as research shows, people are far more likely to share in a state of arousal, this sleep inducing video, has close to zero chance of being share. Oh, except for me. I just did it! I guess we can put this in the category “interest” or “practical value” basket. Anyway, it needs to add a socio-emotional dimension to it to really become an effective information sharing tool; let’s say a combination of Facebook/Google Plus and SharePoint would do much better.

Social games are derided by some as being too superficial, something for de-stress therapy in the weekend. But modern games are really getting better at engaging our internal emotions which defines us who we are. Gamifying the sharing experience works because it adds emotional value to the act of sharing. If the sharing environment adds features that tap into these emotions such as giving rewards, showing your approval/disapproval for shared content, follow and be followed, all these increase the chances content will be shared. This could mean that specialised social networks will spread and gradually replace the formal sharing environments and put more colour into our virtual office lives.