Weekend Reading

Purpose

Process

People

Product

Platform

Venture Capital

Miscellaneous 

Weekend Reading

Purpose

Process

People

Product

  • Apple’s virtual reality ambitions tipped in new job listing: http://bit.ly/1y4zW4K {The Verge}
  • Wire wants to be Skype for the modern age, launches with the backing of Skype cofounder Janus Friis: http://bit.ly/1pUfPJ {VentureBeat}

Platform

Venture Capital

Miscellaneous 

Evolving Responsive.Org

Undercurrent is not a lone wolf.  There are many individuals and companies thinking about Responsive organizations. While this site has been a project of ours alone, it is time for Responsive.org to get bigger, to serve more people, to make an impact on how we work in the 21st Century.

In just a few weeks, this blog will be no more. In its place will be an organization helmed by like-minds whose mission is to create a fundamental shift in the way we work and organize in the 21st Century.

We’re excited about it and can’t wait to share it with you.

 

Weekend Reading

Purpose

Process

People

Product

Platform

Venture Capital

Miscellaneous 

Weekend Reading

Purpose

Process

  • Uber’s Next Billion-Dollar Financing Could Be A Convertible Debt Round: http://tcrn.ch/1xpOxuI {TechCrunch}
  • Baidu’s CFO on the future of search: http://for.tn/1szvN6z
  • The Founder’s Guide To Selling Your Company: http://bit.ly/1xuKVrj
  • Need a Loan? Let’s Look at Your LinkedIn Profile First. http://entm.ag/1zRMrpR
  • Americans’ Cellphones Targeted in Secret U.S. Spy Program: http://on.wsj.com/1v9f5l2 {WSJ}
  • Introducing data center fabric, the next-generation Facebook data center network (already allowing Facebook to increase its intra-building network capacity ten-fold with 50x improvement possible): http://bit.ly/1sO7MsH {FB Engineering Blog}

People

Product

Platform

Venture Capital

Miscellaneous 

Is Your Company Relevant to Customers’ Lives?

Empathy is famously considered to be a central principle of effective design, and for good reason. You’d be hard-pressed to design a successful product without first understanding the consumer—what’s important to her, where her priorities lay, etc. Similarly, businesses should make other strategic decisions, about topics such as marketing, retail experience, and mission, based on their knowledge of what customers are truly looking for in life.

I believe that if your company is focused on trying to convince customers why they should buy your product, you’re on the wrong track. The bigger question is how your company can offer something that might contribute to consumers’ lifestyles and to their most ideal visions of themselves. If you can nail this point, you’ll have loyal customers for life.

I recently read that, for example, Microsoft has recently amended its corporate mission. It now seeks to help its customers achieve productivity, and to find a way to make that enjoyable. I honestly can’t think of a better mission for a software company, especially in the modern context of constant distraction and noise. And when you think about it, it’s true that for most of us, it’s not the software itself that we want; we want the results. We want the deep feeling of satisfaction we get from a day of efficient work. This may seem insignificant, but I think it’s likely to cause seismic shifts in the way Microsoft designs products.

As I wrote in a recent piece, Nikon also represents a great example of a company that has moved beyond “customer service” by actually helping customers expand their photography skills. Companies in all sorts of industries can imitate this approach by asking themselves: how can they help people meet health goals? How can they enable people to save time, so they can spend it with their families? How can they help people learn a new skill? Make new friends? The product design, the customer experiences, and even the marketing messages need to reflect the answers to these key questions.

And the answers to these questions may even provide a strong lead on how to fix retail. We’ve all resigned ourselves to the belief that all customers want is convenience, which is why they shop on Amazon. But customers want other things as much, or possibly even more, than they want convenience. For example, connectivity is still extremely important to people—and if retail stores can find a way to make their in-store experiences an opportunity for engagement with other people, they might find a way to get bodies back in the stores. Alternatively, in-store experiences and programming could also seek to entertain or educate customers, instead.

Local DC bookstore Politics & Prose represents an excellent example of how this kind of strategy can help a company not only survive, but thrive, even in a dying industry. Politics & Prose is only expanding its presence in DC, primarily as a result of the way it’s positioned itself as a community mainstay. It offers excellent live readings, book clubs, and writing workshops that all leave customers thinking about the store as if it were a second home. That’s a very particular example, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be emulated by bigger corporations.

Developing these sorts of approaches takes time. But if your company is ready to embrace uncertainty and test hypotheses, it might find new ways for it to remain relevant to customers’ most significant wants and needs. And strategies like this can help ensure that you’re building a long-term relationship with customers, rather than just offering a one-time exchange.​

The Power of the Crowd And, Inevitably, the Rise of Custom-Made Products

Moses Namkung

Moses Namkung

In the age of the Internet, the crowd is in control of pretty much everything in a way that wasn’t possible just a decade ago. Wikipedia and Twitter are great examples of how we get our information in this new reality. Yelp and various other mechanisms of review give the crowd control in providing feedback. The traditional gatekeepers in nearly every industry have been ousted in favor of a more democratic flow of value and information.

And this year, we’re even starting to see a phenomenon emerging in which customers are accessing control over design and other decisions that shape the very products they buy. For example, fast food chains like Taco Bell and Domino’s are empowering their customers to custom-make their own meals from scratch (via an app) and share them with their friends on social media. This is beneficial for two reasons: it pleases customers to “have it their way,” and it helps the company stay tapped into what sorts of recipes their customers will like, thus improving their standard menu options.

Expect customer-designed items to show up on menus sooner rather than later—and not only that, but I think we’ll also start to see customers getting rewarded for their contributions (and not just with pizza). We could see the burden of marketing redistributed, so that standout customers, who act as brand ambassadors, eventually do the majority of marketing through their large networks. In addition, we may start to see customers making more significant decisions about the companies themselves.

The new trends with fast food got me thinking about other industries, and how they might succumb to customization and crowd control in the near future. My first thought was about the garment industry. I once traveled to Asia and had some clothes custom-made for me, and let me tell you, the power to decide the color, cut, material, and fit of your brand new dress is a luxury for which there is no real substitute. At what point will American consumers decide that mass-produced clothes and other products just aren’t good enough? At what point will we see the first J. Crew design that’s a brainchild of an amateur customer?

But there are plenty of other industries this could apply to, as well: Furniture. Cell phones. Packaged foods. Especially with the advent of 3D printing, I think for many industries, this time isn’t so far away, after all. So how do you get ready for the changes?

The first and most important thing is to realize that everyone has the capacity to be creative. Your people aren’t the only people who can have genius ideas. So your company needs to maintain adaptability by keeping an open mind about where great ideas can come from. Remember that sometimes the greatest insights come from folks who are a few degrees removed from the problem, because they have a fresh perspective. Think about ways your company might be able to empower customers to contribute, and how you might be able to reward them when they do.

Additionally, the internal structure of your own company must reflect the conditions of the outside world, too. This is why Undercurrent is always going on about the importance of the holacracy—if we live in a world in which authority is widely distributed, then of course it’s important for our companies to function similarly. Young people are especially unlikely to tolerate hierarchies and dictatorships, because they are accustomed to existing in a world without gatekeepers. By distributing authority, you empower your employees to exercise their creative muscles and run with it, which will ultimately yield much better results for you.

It goes to figure that you should probably keep all this in mind when you’re hiring, too. A certain percentage of young people on your team is going to be hugely beneficial for keeping the company responsive to these sorts of changes. You’ll also just want to be on the lookout for people who are extremely creative, but who are open-minded enough that they don’t always assume their idea is the best. You have to make room for new influences, and the only way to do that is to hire people who aren’t overly egotistical or possessive of their projects and ideas.

Weekend Reading

Purpose

Process

People

Product

  • Apple Retail SVP Angela Ahrendts: Apple Watch launching in “Spring,” after Chinese New Year: http://bit.ly/1tT8ucd {9to5Mac}
  • Verizon and AT&T aim to support HD Voice calls between networks in 2015: http://bit.ly/1x83OOL {The Verge}
  • Apple’s Next iPhone Rumored To Have Glasses-Free 3D Display: http://read.bi/1Gu8pB9 {Business Insider}

Platform

Venture Capital

Miscellaneous 

Simplicity Saves the Day, Again

I came across this invention, which condenses humid air into drinkable water, and I thought I’d share:

Attached to the frame of the bike and powered by a small solar panel, the device cools down hot, humid air, and as the water condenses, droplets roll into the bottle. The movement of the bike helps send more air into the machine, so water can collect faster.

It really goes to show that, as is so often the case, the most effective solution to a social problem that affects the developing world is often the simplest one. Again and again, attempts to revamp infrastructure fail, but small, affordable devices are often the best way to make a difference. This is extremely encouraging because it means that the products are easy to create, market, and sell — any company can take on such an initiative.

Whether you’re looking to sell clean-burning cook stoves, water purifiers, shoes, cataract surgeries, basic laptops, or vitamin-packed snack foods for the malnourished, there is a huge market of people who will pay small amounts of money for these essentials. Plenty of companies have paved the way with successful examples that not only made a profit, but also made a difference. And it’s a great way to break into markets that might be interested in other product offerings down the line.

It might be worth considering what products your company might have to offer.

Starbucks Commits to Deliver

Lately a lot of companies have been concerned with cracking the delivery nut, which is no doubt an attempt to prove the value of retail in an environment of greatly reduced retail foot traffic. It’s an expensive endeavor, and many who have come before have failed. But some are hopeful that with improved data collection and smartphone app capabilities, they can make it work for them.

Starbucks is the latest company to announce it will soon provide delivery services, which has many experts scratching their heads. How could they afford to provide this sort of service for a $4 latte order? They figure it might require a minimum order amount (and, of course, will be restricted to certain geographic areas). But it’s worth paying attention to, because if things keep going in this direction, we may see delivery replace drive-thrus in urban areas.

As this article adeptly points out, though, one concern for these companies (and others that jump on the delivery bandwagon) is how to maintain control over customer experience when the customer does not step into your store. I think there must still be something special about the experience for it to be truly memorable. For example, I think Anthropologie’s online orders are such a special experience because they come to you wrapped like a present, which makes you feel like it’s your birthday every time you receive a package from them. How could Starbucks deliver a little bit of delight with each order? That’s both the challenge and the opportunity on my mind.