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Forget techniques, forget methods, forget speak aids, forget hand gestures. Most importantly, forget "How to Speak in Public" books. They're crap, and really, just draining you of your hard-earned money. According to a BusinessWeek article, it's not so surprising to learn how to rock a room: practice! The greatest communicators in the world's history, from MLK to Abraham Lincoln to Oprah, didn't need public speaking books. (Maybe, unless, you think robotic-type speakers--you know what we're talking about--qualify.) Great communicators, on the contrary, are like the rest of us. They weren't born to speak, like what popular opinion tells you. Most started out as horrible speakers, as most of us are without any public speaking seminars under our belts.

Yet, great communicators had one thing going for them: they had tons of practice.

If you want to be a great communicator, don't start with a book--start with speaking groups such as Toastmasters. Word.
Posted on May 22

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Say you're an automaker, and think by acting on your customer requests, you'll increase profits. It's a good theory, but would you be profitable if you offered tinted windshields? Bain's Mark Gottfredson and Keith Aspinall explain why it's unwise to offer those tinted windshields, arguing in favor of simplicity:
Look at what happened when one automaker started offering tinted windshields as an option. On the surface, the move looked like a clear winner. The company's marketers calculated that nearly 40% of customers would buy the option for $120, while the supplier would charge just $8 per unit. Moreover, installing tinted glass rather than clear glass seemed to add no labor costs on the assembly line. With new revenue far outstripping direct costs, adding the new option seemed to guarantee a quick profit boost.
Seems good, but was it? Apparently not:
Offering tinted windshields, in combination with many other options, led to a whole range of higher costs that never showed up in the company's analysis. On the factory floor, the automaker had to adjust its work flows, add new quality-control tests, and even change the routes of its forklifts -- all of which increased production costs. Purchasing and material-handling costs went up to accommodate the added part. Assembly-line errors crept up as proliferating options made workers' jobs less predictable. The tinted windshields added complexity to the company's operating and accounting software, which already produced millions of option codes to account for often-minor variations in assembly. Because the systems could no longer "control" for every option, orders now came to the factory floor in random patterns -- for example, three cars in a row might require tinted windshields, followed by five that didn't. Workers' walk and reach time increased because they had to double-check order sheets to determine which windshield to install. The increased customization also caused unexpected peaks in demand, leading to dips in quality as workers rushed to finish tasks. Forecasting became more complex, resulting in cars with options packages no one wanted on dealers' hands. Perhaps most pernicious, when a dealer discounted a car to move it off the lot, the forecasting system would see that sale as true marketplace demand, triggering inaccurate forecasts of orders that were likely to come. All of this led to a ratcheting up of inventories to avoid possible stockouts. The "clear winner" ended up losing the company money, though management didn't make the connection at the time.
Complexity kills your margins. In fact, we challenge you to find one complex aspect of your business that you can simplify. Your bottom line will be that much happier.
Posted on May 21

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Food for thought for the weekend: Aside from the seemingly obvious, what do you absolutely, totally, without-a-doubt, enjoy--no, love--doing? Something that just sends shivers through your spine when you talk about it? If you're not overwhelmingly emotionally-connected to your business, you're in the wrong industry.
Posted on May 20

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You set business deadlines, but your work usually never gets done in time. What to do? MIT's Dan Ariely and Insead's Klaus Wertenbroch says setting a series of small deadlines by somebody other than you, as compared to setting one giant set deadline by yourself, works best. If you're an entrepreneur, it's a difficult task to set deadlines for yourself. I experienced this problem when I started Trizzy. The vicious cycle would go: (1) set deadline, (2) miss deadline, (3) set new deadline, (4) repeat (^2). If, as an entrepreneur with no one to report to, how would I be more effective at setting deadlines? Simple: let your customers set deadlines for you. Or better yet, if you want to take initiative, publicize your deadlines for each project milestone. This will drive you to be more accountable to them.
Posted on May 20

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As we said before, trying to achieve overnight success is a loser's mentality. Case in point: Facebook. A company blogged by many for its seemingly overnight success, a $750 million offer, a $2 billion target rumor, is losing ground to the once-derided Friendster, a company that's achieving momentum by taking gradual steps.

Facts, Truths, Evidence

Someone pointed me out to Facebook's saturation, and Friendster's ascent: graph.png The companies that eventually win build incremental, small successes--consistently.
Posted on May 19

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Well, don't do it directly, anyway. If you focus on serving your customers, satisfying your business investors will take care of itself. When I was younger, I took a small investment--we're talking $50, here--from a family member to start a tiny IT servicing business from home. I knew what she wanted; like every investor, she wanted to turn that small investment into a relatively hefty increase. Too bad I focused solely on that, and not on what I should've been focusing on: my customers.

And they weren't too happy...

Because I focused on finding ways to double that investment, I mistreated my customers by catering to my stakeholders first--customer needs a distant second. I focused on a win-lose situation, instead of a mutually beneficial win-win situation. Instead of adding value to the customer, I focused on maximizing the return on a customer with as little value as I could provide to them. (Hey what else should I be doing if I'm trying to double my investor's investment? Or so I thought.) Well, that tiny IT servicing business tanked. I couldn't add value, and my customers knew it.

A lesson learned

Now, as a much wiser person (or, at least I hope), I've noticed concentrating solely on your investors detracts your attention from adding value to your customers' lives. Hey, they're the ones who'll detemine with their pockets if you double your investors' money anyway.
Posted on May 19

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Sure, you just recorded record earnings and profits. You also won coveted customer service awards, achieved your highest employee satisfaction scores, or even received media coverage for your unique and successful business model. But, don't think you're "there". You're never "there". Companies that think they're "there" most always rest on their laurels. And, if they don't adapt for constantly changing market conditions, their past successes won't mean squat. Kodak rested on their heals. And Gateway. And Krispy Kreme. So did Dell, surprisingly enough. When you get too stuck on your past successes, those successes will blind you from adapting to your customers' needs. Says London Business School's Donald Sull:
When successful companies face big changes in their environment, they often fail to respond effectively. Unable to defend themselves against competitors armed with new products, technologies, or strategies, they watch their sales and profits erode, their best people leave, and their stock valuations tumble. Some ultimately manage to recover -- usually after painful rounds of downsizing and restructuring -- but many don't.
The key then is to improve, constantly. Constantly. Constantly. (Constantly.)
Posted on May 18

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Incremental steps. That's been our theme this month, and we love the idea. At first, go small with your innovations. Start small. But, if your innovations prove promising, don't stay small. Build gradually. Build gradually through small successes. The best inventions started out small. Google's search engine, Ray Kroc's first McDonald's, Sam Walton's first discount little shop, William Hewlett's and David Packard's first little idea from its labs (a bowling foul indicator)---all began as infants. Says organizational behavior Professor Andrew Hargadon:
Brokers must be good at testing ideas, at judging them on merit without letting politics or precedent get in the way. Brokers' attitude toward ideas is usually "Easy come, easy go." They treat ideas as inexpensive and easily replaceable playthings that they are supposed to enjoy, understand, push to the limit, break, and change in ways the ideas' inventors never imagined. If an idea seems to solve a current problem, they build on it. If an idea doesn't work out, they look for another. Brokers rarely keep trying to make something work in the face of evidence that it won't. They focus on finding the best ideas for solving problems, not on solutions they can claim glory for. We call it the nothing-is-invented-here attitude.
Unfortunately, the media promotes "big ideas," but never describes the process to get to those big ideas. Once you learn to start and build incrementally, you'll understand why the tortoise always beats the hare.
Posted on May 17

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Yahoo's about to unveil its new homepage, and I'm impressed with how they're approaching its business decisions strategically. As you might know, Google's been on a surge with its search engine market share--putting Yahoo and MSN behind considerably. Yahoo knew it needed change. At first, I remember, Yahoo experimented with a Google-like-only-search-bar-on-the-front-page type of theme. Wrong decision, it proved. The folks at Yahoo knew it couldn't beat Google. It didn't have the technology, the infrastructure, the manpower, the patents, or the venturesome innovators to beat Google.

Choose Your Battles Wisely

Instead of competing where it can't win, Yahoo's now choosing its battles wisely. It's not competing with Google directly with a search-bar-only-front-page. (Too bad we can't say the same for fourth-place Ask.com.) Instead, the guys and gals in Sunnyvale know their hidden gem (a.k.a. strengths & talents) lies in its consumer web portal. Instead of focusing on search, Yahoo's focusing on the web lifestyle. Instead of focusing on building the best search engine (where it can't win), it's focusing on building the best portal experience (where it can win).

Don't compete where you...suck.

Learn from Yahoo: If you don't have the resources, it's time to switch your strategic decisions. Capitalize on what you have, and where you can clobber anybody else.
Posted on May 16

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The best web companies didn't achieve success overnight. Somewhere, down the line (maybe it's because of the hype-filled web 2.0 era?), web companies forgot success comes gradually. Instead, most set out to change the world overnight. They try to attract the general population, but most -- we'd guess 99.5% -- fail. Even Wall-Street-gem Google couldn't achieve success overnight. As did social networking star MySpace. And web 2.0 info-site TechCrunch. Instead, these companies built its customer base incrementally. It attracted venturesome innovators first, who then attracted the majority.

Don't believe us? We'll prove it to you.

We present to you Alexa traffic stats for Google, MySpace, and TechCrunch, respectively:
Posted on May 15

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