Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Organizations & Products With A Clear Owner, Passionately Promoting A Vision, Leads To Success

Back on October 5th Seth Godin wrote a blog post called "Peak Mac". I've been mulling it over this last month and find his thoughts really resonating with me. He goes on a rant about how software on the Mac isn't getting better and offers an hypothesis. The hypothesis is what I care about:
"Software like Keynote, iMovie and iTunes that doesn't get consistently better, but instead, serves other corporate goals. We don't know the names of the people behind these products, because there isn't a public, connected leader behind each of them, they're anonymous bits of a corporate whole...
Mostly, a brand's products begin to peak when no one seems to care. Sure, the organization ostensibly cares, but great tools and products and work require a person to care in an apparently unreasonable way...
The best strategy for a growing organization is to have insiders be the ones calling it. Insiders speaking up and speaking out on behalf of the users that are already customers, not merely the ones you're hoping to acquire."
The issue is ownership. Organizations start to flounder when nobody steps up and takes ownership. They need someone who says, "I'm responsible for this. It's success and failure is on me - And I deeply care about the outcome."

Sports teams, and especially coaches, know what this means. You can see it on their face during the post-game interview. And you know what? Customers can tell if passionate ownership exists as well. They see it in the product, the sales pitch, the packaging, and the customer service.

This is one reason why start-ups do so well. They're fueled by a single vision with enough passion for the idea to start a company and risk their time/money/reputation on the idea. You may not agree with that person's vision, but you can sense the passion behind everything they do. Once start-up had the vision to put a computer on every desk. That vision, owned by Bill Gates, fueled Microsoft's growth for many years.

A lack of ownership is why larger companies struggle: they tend to make decisions via committee. Just yesterday I was listening to HP Inc's CEO talk about the company's vision and mission (disclosure: I work for HP). It's essentially: we want to be amazing at everything for everyone.

The problem is that it's too general to actually guide any decisions. His committee obviously skipped that part of the MBA class that talks about picking a niche and targeting customers.

But that's OK if the vision doesn't resonate because the CEO doesn't own the vision. He started out saying that the vision had been focus-group tested with multiple customers and partners. Therefore it must be good one. It didn't stem from a core belief and passion.

Contrast this to another vision set within Hewlett-Packard's LaserJet division a few years ago. The VP said "We want to be the intersection of the digital and physical world for an enterprise's paperwork. We will create the on-ramps and off-ramps for enterprises to seamlessly transform digital paperwork to physical, and vice-versa."

Super specific, and easily actionable. Out that statement flowed a natural product road-map and ecosystem. It also made a market that had been ignored (large copier machines) an obvious extension for growth. A specific statement like that is powerful and can't be created by a committee.

I get that the CEO is at a higher level and should therefore be more general. But one of the reasons Hewlett-Packard split into two companies was gain a clearer focus and vision. To say we want to do everything really well for everyone makes no distinction between the old HP, or any other company for that matter.

One recommendation for HPI would be to do what Apple used to do: Steve Job took ownership of every single product. You may not have agreed with his vision, but was clear that Apple had one which informed what products it created and what features they focused on. He eventually articulated it as Apple focusing on "the intersection of technology and the liberal arts while owning both the hardware and software." Very clear. A explains why their Numbers application is horrible.

I know that HPI is heading down the 3D printing/scanning path and has a tag line about a "blended reality." Something along those lines which also captures our current printer and PC businesses seems much more appropriate. Or, how about a vision that describes at actual attainable/measurable goal? I could also get behind a philosophical statement which describes how we approach business.

For the record, I think HPI will be fine. Overtime, my guess is that the new CEO will get used to being the CEO and most likely create his own vision that he's passionate about.

As for me, I describe my job as creating the most accurate forecast of ink cartridge revenue as possible. That's my responsibility. It's also very specific and guides my activities each day.

What do you take ownership for? Can you say it in a couple sentences explain why it's important to you? If you can, others will notice and start rooting for you to be successful in attaining that vision.

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