Want to be the Best in the World?

I recently had a debate with several colleagues about the following question; would you rather be the best in the world at one specific task or a jack of all trades? Viewpoints on the question were mixed.

On one hand, being the best in the world makes you an authority on whatever it is you are the best at. A jack of all trades may have a wide range of talents, but is unlikely to be called upon for knowledge on one particular subject.

On the other hand people that are the best at what they do spend endless hours perfecting their craft, but are often one dimensional. What does a professional athlete do after his or her career is finished? Malcolm Gladwell’s title “Outliers” suggests that it takes 10,000 hours for someone to master their craft. That’s over five years (based on a 37.5 hour work week) of working on only one specific task.

Product Management is one career path where it’s viewed as beneficial to have expertise in a number of areas. As the link between a number of organizational functions including technology, marketing and sales – having broad knowledge is important for developing the trust and support of the stakeholders Product Managers work with on a daily basis. A Software Product Manager without technical expertise may have difficulty communicating customer needs to the internal technology team. An effective product manager though, must also be able to communication benefits to the product’s end user in a way they’ll understand.

In Product Management, being the best in the world is not a matter of mastering one particular task. What are the key factors to perfecting your craft?

Web Evolution – A History of Web Design Over the Past 20 Years

Below is a graphic developed by KISSmetrics outlining the evolution of web design since the world’s first website was launched  in 1991.

In only 20 years the definition of a “web presence” has evolved to the point that today, many argue that traditional websites are becoming obsolete.  When discussing the promotion of his new book, Guy Kawasaki recently suggested that he didn’t need a website to reach his target customers, but a Facebook page instead.

Static websites are a thing of the past and concepts like collaboration and crowd sourcing are becoming web standards.  Of course, the evolution will continue and even these concepts will become old news (probably even faster than traditional web pages).  The infographic below is a great reflection of where we’ve been in such a short period of time.  One can only speculate what this chart will look like 20 years from today.

Top 5 Ways to Stay on the Cutting Edge

With the pace at which the online landscape is evolving, it’s easier than ever to become complacent and fall behind competition.  Businesses that are making the transition online need to recognize the importance of paying particular attention to factors that are likely to affect the future direction of their industry.  The following is a list of what I believe are the best ways to stay on the cutting edge and position your organization for the future.

1.  Know What Your Competition is Doing

While we’d ideally like to be ahead of our competition, knowing what they’re doing today will give pointers to where they are headed.

2.  Listen to Your Customers

They may not be able to tell you exactly what they want, but gaining insight to how they’ll use your products is essential to building irreplaceable solutions.

3.  Hire for technical expertise

Today everything is happening online.   If you don’t have the technical expertise, you’ll be left in the dust.  Even worse, the longer you wait to adapt to new technologies the harder it will be to get back into the game.  

4.  Do as an Entrepreneur Would

With the pace at which businesses and technologies are moving today, bureaucracy should be avoided at all costs.  Put decision making in the hands of people capable of making the right decisions and give your products a chance to grow.

5.  Involve Organizational Youth in Decision Making

A colleague recently told me that he heard “if you want to understand why Blackberry Messenger (BBM) is so popular, you’ll have to ask your kids”.  The youth may not have as much experience, but in many cases they’re closer to the innovations that will allow your business to flourish. Don’t forget their voice.

The Key to the SME

The key to the SME?  Turn-key, easily implemented solutions.

Small to medium sized enterprises generally do not have the time or the man power to focus attention (or scarce resources) on functions that fall outside of their “core business”.  In these types of organizations the marketing manager may have responsibility for the company’s human resource function, or the CFO may also serve as general counsel.  With more responsibility, each employee is forced to prioritize the tasks they believe contribute most significantly to the bottom line. 

Companies that cater to the SME market need to provide affordable solutions that save their clients’ time.  Groupon has found a way to turn group buying power into an opportunity for consumers to test products and services that they would not typically have the opportunity to experience.  Group buying networks exist for some B2B products and services as well, but could a similar concept be applied to a wider range of offerings?  While this could account for the “affordable” part of the equation, easy implementation and fufilment might be more difficult propositions.

The SME continues to be a relatively underserved market.  Though they do not have the same resources as a large multinational, they will spend their money on solutions that they believe will improve their businesses.  With over 2 million small businesses in Canada – they may still be worth your time.

OpenTable Does Valentine’s Day the Right Way

In my most recent post I asked readers what Groupon could have done differently to avoid the grief they received from customers as a result of a misleading Valentine’s Day coupon.

But whose responsibility is it to indicate that prices may be higher than normal on Valentine’s Day?  Should customers be expected to know that prices are subject to change on certain holidays?

After booking my Valentine’s Day dinner through OpenTable I recognized a disclaimer at the bottom of my confirmation e-mail:

“Holiday Reminder:  This is a confirmed reservation for Valentine’s Day.  Given that some restaurants create special menus, you may wish to contact the restaurant for details about any prix-fixe menus and pricing.  Thank you.”

This simple disclaimer about a seemingly obvious condition protected OpenTable from potential Valentine’s Day scrutiny. OpenTable took the opposite approach to Groupon recognizing that it would be ill advised to assume a customer’s understanding of special circumstances. With new channels of online distribution at our disposal, we mustn’t forget the increased complexity of sales transactions and the importance of clear communication with potential buyers.

Groupon: 50% Off What?

Recently valued at over 5 billion dollars, Groupon has taken the impact of collective buying power to new heights. Customers receive 50-90% off coupons to some of their favourite products and services under the condition that a deal sells beyond a set “tipping point” set by Groupon and its partnering suppliers.

Today; however, Groupon was under scrutiny for a deal with FTD that offered 50% off flowers over Valentine’s Day.  The coupon redirected customers to a site that sold flowers at a higher price than on their regular website.  Groupon has since cancelled the offer and have been working with FTD on a solution to remedy the negative publicity.

While it’s good to know that Groupon is listening to its customers and taking corrective action, what do you think Groupon should do to prevent this in the future?  Though many subscribe to the belief that customers are always right – should they have been surprised that there would be a mark-up on flowers on the week of Valentine’s Day?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

It’s About “How” Not “What”

Today information can be found pretty much anywhere and more often than not it’s free.  Increasingly consumers are less concerned with what information they’re given and more about how it’s presented to them.  Wolframalpha is a perfect example of site that has revolutionized the way content gets displayed within a search engine.  It doesn’t just tell you where to find your answers – it gives you your answers.  In fact, in many cases it gives you more than you asked for (see image below).

As we consider new products and new ways to reach potential customers it’s important to consider how people want products delievered to them.  Sometimes a new product may be right in front of us in existing products, just asking to be shown in a different light.