Buzzwords

The most common post I’ve written in the last ten years has been about buzzwords. My work touches on business, communications and technology and those are fertile grounds for buzzword hunting. In each post I’ve attempted to find the word’s origins, and explain it’s current meaning. I confess I heard more buzzwords when I had an American boss but it’s not an exclusively American phenomenon and friends in Europe and Asia also suggest buzzwords for me to write about.

Some of the words I still hear regularly: Big Data, the Cloud and Socialising projects. In fact their use is growing, and I am rarely called upon to explain “the cloud” any more. Some have thankfully fallen from use, if they ever caught on at all: SoLoMo was a terrible term, and the situation it refers to is so normal that it no longer warrants a specific term.

To date I’ve written 74 posts on various buzzwords, and there seems to be no end in sight as more buzzwords are folded into my work environment every year. In fact it’s so common in the technical field there’s a term to describe wanting the latest feature – buzzword compliant, I’m sure it’s something everyone working in digital projects encounters.

Still haven’t had the courage to play buzzword bingo in a meeting. Let’s see how many buzzwords I discover in the next 10 years.

image: words 

First Mover Advantage

It sounds like something from flatmate hell, where the first person to move into a shared house gets the advantage of choosing the best room, or from sport where the racer first off the starting block has an advantage.

In fact this business term originated in the game of chess, where there is a slight statistical advantage for white who has the first move.

In the business world it has come to mean the advantage gained by the first significant company into a new market. Very often the “first move” has some transforming aspect to it, or combines two formerly separate products or services.

One commonly cited example is Netflix, a DVD rental service that outmanoeuvred the incumbent video rental giant Blockbuster. By developing a huge supply of DVDs, a fast delivery service, and a very simply business model that could be explained online Netflix could take over the market for DVD rentals in the US.

Apple are also often mentioned, although they did not develop MP3, and were not the first to think of portable music players (I had a Sony Walkman way back), they combined the two into a device that people would actually want to use, and developed an online delivery model, iTunes, that has left the rest of the music industry scrambling.

But the first mover advantage is not a guarantee of success, in many cases the first mover incurs expenses educating users, or on R&D, or on building infrastructure but competitors can move in easily before the real gains have been made.

Despite the risks it is something of the holy grail for business seeking to innovate into new space, so this term often pops up at marketing strategy meetings.

It doesn’t always work, just as in running a race where someone can trail the leader and make a last minute sprint to win the race. If I knew anything about sport I could point to examples. So instead a business example; Spotify is now the world leader in streaming music, but it wasn’t the first to come up with the service. It beat out early rivals Napster and Rhapsody by winning the war for user numbers by a factor of at least 20. In the platform economy user numbers are king, beating out profits as a predictor of success.

Sometimes being a smart follower is better than being a first mover – especially in a long race with significant headwind.

Image running

 

Upselling

Upselling is the practice of offering the customer a little more than their original purchase request. The most well-known example is probably the McDonald’s “would you like fries with that?”, in fact whatever you order at McDonald’s you’ll be offered one more thing – even if you’re ordering via a digital screen.

It’s a normal part of service in the US, but it’s less common here in the Netherlands, and there have been times here where I’d have welcomed a little upselling rather than trying to catch a waiter’s eye to order water.

But last week I had a sales experience where upselling almost lost them the sale. I wanted a small item, a nail buffer. I imagined the price would be in the 5-10 euro range. But I couldn’t just buy the buffer, I had to buy a set… I tested the hand cream, it smelt good. I agreed to by the set, my decision helped by it being on sale. At this point I’ve agreed to spend 3.5 times my initial planned spend.

But then they tried to upsell again, for twice what I’d just agreed to spend I could have a body scrub and a moisturiser – telling me that I had “skin discolouration” as part of the sales pitch. I declined politely. Then at the cash register, while I was standing with the money in my hand, I was asked again – I was so tempted to walk.

But on reflection I think the hard sale is one of the reasons this company is being forced to offer big discounts on their products. The Dutch are a bit allergic to this approach.

Image  french fries via pixabay

Ego Surfing

It’s a term coined almost twenty years ago, referring to the act of searching for your own name, pseudonym, or handle online to see what information appears.

We often place a negative association on displays of egos, and references to ego surfing on the internet are generally negative or sarcastic.

But ego surfing can be a smart thing to do.

Just as companies manage their online presence and their online reputation so should you, I think this should be an ongoing action, but I’m sure people think of it more when they’re job seeking.

If you’re a random, unfamous person like me, the occasional search on major search engines will be enough. Here’s how I do it;

  1. Use a browser I don’t use very often
  2. Log out of any accounts, particularly Google
  3. Clear browsing history and cookies
  4. Search for my name, and the name of the blogs I write
  5. Search for the key topics I write about in the hope that my name/blog appears connected to those topics.

It’s important to use a “clean” browser to do this as Google will give you adjusted results based on your location, browsing history and login.

If you find content that shouldn’t be publicly available you have a few options to remove it; WikiHow provides a list of actions you can take. In some cases Google will remove content that they index if it could lead to identity theft (although they won’t remove your date of birth). In some situations EU residents can ask to be “forgotten” by Google when information is dated and has a negative reputational impact.

There are therefore two very good reasons for searching your own name; to check that your name isn’t associated with negative information and to make sure that the content you are publishing is building your reputation in your field of expertise.

The algorithms used by search engines prioritise content that is useful, rewarding content sources that provide useful content, and ranking content higher that is clicked on. Most people won’t click on “next page” of a google search so it’s really important that your content is on the first page of results, in fact there’s a joke in Search Engine Optimisation about hiding anything you don’t want anyone to find on page two of Google results.

If you find that your prized content is not ranking highly in search results the thing to do is create more quality, useful content, generate more links to that content and wait. If you’re a public figure and find you are turning up in search results connected to negative events, the way to change that is to start doing a lot of good things, media will create reports on the good things and that’s what will appear connected to your name in a very short time.

Algorithms can have inherent bias, but they mostly reward content that is useful, often clicked and newsworthy.

The sculpture in the header image of this post was set alight, and burnt in a matter of minutes. So much for an ego.

 

Image: Art: Ego    |    Michael & Sandy   |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Breaking Down Silos

The metaphorical silos in a company can be seen as representing boundaries put up by an organisation to keep a group of people focused on accomplishing their goals, and preventing interference with progress by outsiders, so there’s a positive purpose.

But we talk about breaking down silos because when silos are rigidly maintained within a company it creates problems. Silos form in large companies to support the hierarchical structure of the company. It rests on an old model of thinking about work; that managers know what needs to be done and are responsible for directing all those under their responsibility to complete that work.

For me silos are are an outcome of an overly hierarchical company culture, one where people are unwilling to share knowledge, solve problems together or co-operate in any way.  The business directory defines silo mentality as;

a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.

Visible signs that your organisation is in silos;

  • people talk about “us” and “them” meaning different departments within your company
  • you need agreement from management of two departments to get co-operation from another department
  • you need permission from a manager to approach someone in another department
  • departments in your company store their information online in team sites or shared drives that are only accessible for department members
  • you do have lunch with colleagues, but only ever from your own department
  • your personnel directory is searchable by name, or department, but not by expertise
  • when you look for specialist expertise, for example a Spanish-speaking tax expert with experience in Latin America, you start by emailing someone who speaks Spanish

Yes there is a need to focus on the work, and that may mean that a project team shuts itself off from the organisation in some way. Yes in regulated industries there may be a need to put boundaries between certain parts of the organisation; the term used for this in banking in Chinese walls. In agencies temporary boundaries are often put in place around a project to prevent sharing of client information.

In general I wouldn’t consider anything temporary as a silo; just as you don’t move a grain silo easily, silos within companies take time to be established. I agree that there are regulatory boundaries to be considered, and while I’m probably guilty of understating those in my enthusiasm for improving knowledge sharing across a company, I’m certainly not thinking of them when I call for us to “break down the silos”.

I watched a TED video that talked about what might be one of the greatest silo breakdowns ever, and it comes from the US military. General Stanley McChrystal states;

The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it.

He explains that it’s almost impossible to know who is the best person to use each piece of information, and that the army therefore moved from a “tell only who needs to know” to “we need to tell, and tell them as quickly as we can“.

It’s this philosophical shift I am referring to when I talk about breaking down the silos.

In some companies the need is urgent, and in those cases the phrase needs to be upgraded to “tearing down the silos”.

Moving the Needle

I was reading an article on Wal-Mart’s e-commerce business recently and I came across the term “to move the needle”. Since I spend more time sewing on buttons than I do driving cars at the moment the first mental picture I had was troubling. Turns out not that needle.

The expression refers to moving the needle on some instrument of measurement such as a car speedometer, possibly more specifically the analogue Vu meter used in audio recording. In a more abstract form asking whether something “moved the needle” is just asking whether there was a noticeable improvement in the results.

In the Wal-Mart article they were referring to the e-commerce side of sales, which at 0.3% of US sales (by value) is barely impacting the billions in total sales. So although sales are at over $200 million it’s not yet moving the needle. I may not be the only one unfamiliar with the term, the headline reads “Wal-Mart’s e-commerce business: Can it move the needle, be material?” I’m pretty sure those last two words have been added since I first saw the article.

In another take on moving the needle, Lisa Earle McLeod applies the term to personal changes, and shows how making small, consistent changes is significant. She says “You don’t accomplish big things overnight; you move the needle every day.” Exactly.

What are you doing to move the needle today?

Image; Pixabay

Win-Win Situation

We’re often encouraged to look for the “win-win” outcome, or a situation will be described as “win-win”. Generally it’s used to point teams to look for outcomes where all parties will benefit.

It’s common parlance now but it comes from game theory, specifically from “non-zero-sum” theory. That is a game some outcomes have a total greater or less than zero, best illustrated by the prisoners dilemma.

Imagine that two prisoners can either betray the other or remain silent with the following potential outcomes.

Rationally prisoners will betray, since that gives them the best outcome when they don’t know how the other will behave. Which gives you an indication of how hard it is to get to a win-win situation between two parties with competing interests.

The above table becomes abstracted and generalised to the following;

In addition the win-win should be a new solution that delivers positive outcomes to both parties, in practice a compromise can be called a win-win when it delivers less to each party and is in fact a lose-lose, but with both parties losing less than in a dual defect situation. Given that there is a rational advantage in defecting, and often in defecting early, it can take tricky negotiation to get both parties to co-operate.

Image: Adventure via Pixabay  |  CC0