Friday, July 17, 2009

a thousand crystal towers, a hundred emerald cities, and the hand of the watchman in the night sky

This, of course, picks up from the last post on the topic, found here.

Law #13: The Law of Sacrifice

This law is simply stated, but somewhat complex to understand. In brief: to gain, you must lose. Or, you have to give something up, to get something of more value.

Still confused? Here's how the blogger in question put it:
But in some sense, these two laws are the same idea with different expressions. There is power in focus, but to get there, we have to make tough decisions about what things we will not do.

The Law of Sacrifice is all about saying "no" to opportunities. This skill is incredibly difficult to learn. I suspect that the only way to learn to say "no" is to experience the pain of saying "yes" too often.
Law #14: The Law of Attributes

This one's annoying, but I'll try to alleviate some of the really annoying bits. In short, this law states that if you have an attribute--that, obviously, your brand or your product has laid claim to--that, somewhere out there, there is likely an equal, but opposite attribute, that would also fit.

Still doesn't make sense? Gods, I wish I could help. I'm back with the fellow geek hurling this book across the room for its imprecisions, at times. Still, I would tend to agree--most of the time, with really obvious product attributes--turn those around, see what comes up. It may or may not be true, but at the least, it will let you think about your product in different ways.

Law #15: The Law of Candor

This one's simple, and actually clear to understand. If you admit something's not perfect with your product, that will make your client more positive about your brand, most of the time.

How can this be? Well, remember the Avis We Try Harder campaign? By admitting they were the guys coming in second, it actually brought them positive feedback from customers, and people who were charmed by the sincerity. (Of course, it didn't hurt that Hertz had just confused everyone who rented cars by offering a guy who flew through the airport to get to the rental counter--I mean, come on, if the guy could fly...why would he need to rent a car?)

But in general, it all comes down to admission and sincerity: people may not always be honest, but they admire it in products and brands. And they'll respect you more for showing it.

Law #16: The Law of Singularity

Another complicated one. The book states this as, in each situation only one move will produce substantial results.

Not true in the long run--a lot of moves can gain good results, some better than others, but they actually mean something a bit different. The blogger again to explain:
The pattern is fairly common. I call it "The Infinite Loop of Marketing Despair":

1. The product is languishing.
2. People start asking what to do about it.
3. Somebody says, "We just need to do more marketing."

4. The marketing team gets in a conference room and brainstorms.

5. They come up with ten new ideas and begin executing them all.

6. Go back to step 1.
Instead, just pick one idea; don't try to push all ten forward. It's like the Law of Focus: pick one phrase, one word for a description. Same thing. Pick one idea, the one that sounds best to do; don't do everything.

Law #17: The Law of Unpredictability

This one I'm just going to quote directly from Eric Sink, 'cos he nailed it in one:
The Law of Unpredictability says, "Unless you write your competitors' plans, you can't predict the future."

But that doesn't seem to be the main point of this chapter. What the authors are really saying is that long-range planning doesn't work. We can try to observe and follow trends. We can make big-picture predictions. But if we try to make detailed plans over the long term, our competitors will surprise us and those plans will end up getting scrapped.

I suspect this chapter is a lot more necessary for people like Pepsi and Burger King. Those guys probably do get tempted to make long-term plans. But in software, things move so fast that most of us wouldn't even think of trying to make any sort of detailed plan for a five year horizon. There are exceptions, but in general, the mere notion is absurd.

That's pretty much it. Obviously, note the market trends, but don't follow them; if you follow the market trends, then we're stuck in the land of babydoll dresses for another year on the grid. Be different. Be unique. Unless you can write your competitors' plans--and you can't, ever--then don't bother with them. Focus, delineate, identify--and be prepared for shifting ground underfoot.

Law #18: The Law of Success

Put simply, success makes you cocky, and if you stay cocky, you crash. The more detached you are from your customer base, the less involved you are in what's happening at the customer level--the closer you come to the big penthouse office in the seventy-story building, with three hundred middle managers between you and the sales floor...well, it's that much farther to fall. And you will fall, if you forget your customers.
But either way, forgetting the customer is a fatal disease. Fortunately, this disease is also preventable and treatable. Don't let it happen to you.
Sums it up nicely.

Law #19: The Law of Failure

This law is also pretty clear: Accept your failures. You'll make them. It's unavoidable. So get comfortable with it.

Every failure will teach you something, and likely more than a success would. Because a success will cheer you and lead you on to the next possible success--but a failure will make you want to learn why it failed.

By all means, try to learn why. But don't make it a personal statement. Accept your failures, they're part of the process.

Law #20: The Law of Hype

This law says that hype--press, buzz, critical acclaim, whatever form the hype comes in--isn't the best thing.

Why? Isn't word of mouth what you want? Well, yes. But hype and buzz are not word of mouth. And every business that gets picked up and embraced sooner or later gets thrown to the world.
The vast majority of companies thrive and make a profit in a world which is completely disjoint[ed] from the one where the [venture capitalists] and the press live. They don't spend their time convincing investors and reporters that their product will change the world. Instead, they spend their time convincing customers that their product is a good purchase. It's very difficult to do both -- that's why the companies you see on the front page are often dead within a few years, while the companies making real money are the ones you hardly ever hear about.
In short: OMG Twitter is the greatest thing ever! to Man, Twitter sucks, it's full of old people. In less than five years.

Does this mean Twitter is dead? Of course not. But it means don't go out of your way to become a media darling. Let that go. Give interviews if you want, but the point of your business is not to make good press, it's to make money, right? Keep that in mind.

Law #21: The Law of Acceleration

This law breaks down fads versus trends. Simplest definition of fad: iPod Shuffle, quite nearly the most useless, easily broken, easily lost member of the iPod family; proof of the point that people will buy weight and complexity over simplicity and convenience, if weight and complexity end up working better.

Simplest definition of trend: people now buy smaller cars, so car companies are building smaller cars.

See the difference? Follow trends, don't chase fads. Fads will bottom out; even if trends eventually do, they'll lead you towards other slow-developing trends. Or to risk the cliché, march to your own drummer, don't follow the leader.
Drawing their examples from mainstream consumer products, the authors observe the tendency for companies to overestimate short-term fads. When something new becomes big and hot, companies jump on the bandwagon, spending a lot of money doing so. They restructure. They invest in new equipment. They work hard to make themselves prepared to deliver products for the fad.

And then the fad stops, and the company is left with problems:

* "What am I going to do with all the olive green refrigerators and orange carpeting I bought just before the fashion changed?"

* "Oh, great -- I can produce fifty gazillion Cabbage Patch dolls per day. That'll come in handy now that nobody wants them anymore."

* "Darn it! I just bought a warehouse of fruit-colored translucent plastic, and now I find that the next iMac looks like a white desk lamp."

Fads accelerate very quickly, but often don't last long. Trends have a much slower acceleration, but eventually run fast and steady. Chasing fads is expensive, so it becomes very important to learn how to distinguish them from actual long-term trends.

Law #22: The Law of Resources

Let's go back to Eric Sink again:
The Law of Resources says that "without adequate funding, an idea won't get off the ground". The gist of the chapter is that marketing is very expensive and you have to be prepared to spend big bucks on advertising if you want to be successful, so you're going to need a lot of funding from your [venture capitalist].
But while that's very true...
Preaching these ideas to small ISVs is like showing up at your local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and telling everyone that a little red wine every day helps the heart.
Why so? Well, because by and large, while the principle is sound--in nearly every application, it takes money to make money--smaller businesses don't fall into this so very much. Who can afford to take out the huge ads? The big fish. But the smaller fish don't necessarily starve, either, with enough word of mouth and the occasional review--and why is that? Mainly, because "resources" has an entirely different definition on the grid.

Money is just that, money. And funding for businesses supports materials outlay, shipping costs, advertising, printing, employee salaries, rental fees if they don't own the land their production facilities are on, utilities (power, water, garbage, internet if they're a software firm), mailing fees, taxes. All these things go into keeping a business (RL) strong.

But for most businesses on the grid, financial backing means upload costs. Texture fees. Paying employees. Hours of work off the grid. Setting up groups. Sending out notices. The cost of the actual land for the business, which involves membership fees, or at the least tier costs, week in and week out. Vendor systems--some of which do charge per sale (and Subscribe-o-Matics are in that, too: only the first 500 members are free.)

Advertising? This isn't that important, beyond a blog or webpage that designers can toss their new releases out on. That is advertising, but it doesn't cost, per se.

And prims? Above and beyond the cost for owning land, building or buying your store, tier fees and/or premium account payments...prims are free. It's so easy to build things on the grid; the trick is to build things well and desirably.

So in the case of this last "Immutable Law"--while it's true, it's not as true on the grid. Though costs of business can still run high.

Anyway, there you are, twenty-two business guidelines which still, by and large, import enough solid information to make reading through them--or reposting them, yet again--of interest.

(Oh, and the idea to repost this? Weird linkage here--Prokovy Neva complaining on Rezzable leaving SL to Desmond Shang on the SL forums. Huh.

(But I thought it worth bringing up again.)

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