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Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Game Changing Innovation Reaches a Milestone

One year ago today, Steve Jobs announced the iPad.  It came into the world with incredibly high expectations, and it exceeded them by every measure. 

It is a beautiful machine -- perfectly designed, finely crafted and an indispensable tool that adapts to a user's needs with incredible dexterity, as anyone who uses an iPad will attest.  It proved to be a truly disruptive technology instantly impacting netbooks, laptops, ereaders and the entire print publishing industry.

As with any great innovation, there were detractors, but most of them have fallen silent as the iPad raced to success. And there are imitators. Allegedly, there are many -- just waiting in the wings, prepared to imitate, because they have been left with so little room to innovate or differentiate.

After a year of predictions, only a scant few opponents have made it to market.  Of those that made it out, most seem like second string quarterbacks -- they function similarly but are not quite able to perform on the same level.  HP, Dell, Samsung, Toshiba Motorola and others will find competing head to head with this machine impossible unless they miraculously find a way to change the playing field in a meaningful way.

Those who have studied Michael Porter's activity maps might understand that this machine's perfect integration creates an inherent competitive advantage and a steep, if not insurmountable, barrier to entry. No other company can match the iPad's evolution from the vision of a genius, its unique processor, its long-life battery, an optimized mobile operating system, a well-conceived and robust app store, a true understanding of user interface and manufacturing and assembly processes intended to sell the iPad at a price that offers more value than any other digital device on the market.  Those were derived from choices -- at times hard and controversial choices such as abandoning Flash video and making a wholesale commitment to HTML.

But they were choices made without compromise, and that is the essence of the iPad's brilliance -- there are no compromises in this machine.

Love or hate Apple, the concept of innovation mated to use, craft and value is what seems to be missing in business today.  The idea that a brilliant mind committed to continuous innovation, flawless design and value that is enhanced rather than cheapened by its manufacturing process seems beyond the philosophical -- if not the operational -- reach of many companies.  

So, happy birthday, iPad.  You changed the way we think of computing.  Maybe the courage and commitment that led to your design can also change the way we approach innovation.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some Know What's Coming Around the Next Corner

I haven't seen the most recent numbers on this, but it's painfully obvious that the number of senior-level professional services workers who were displaced during the recent recession is extraordinarily high.  From attorneys to architects to accountants to recruiters to public relations professionals, senior-level professional services positions have been eliminated en masse.

Realistically, the vast majority of these positions are gone forever.  If and when some do resurface, they will likely be filled by more junior-level professionals "on their way up" and at a significantly reduced salary given the "buyers market" employers are enjoying.

Let's face it: companies in the professional services industry that didn't see the Great Recession coming until it was too late had to take drastic measures to save their organizations from total defeat.  That often meant lopping off the larger salaries typically associated with the more experienced workers. And to do it quickly; oftentimes without a real plan.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, my position at a big PR firm was eliminated during the height of the recession).

Unfortunately, many organizations paid, or are paying, a dear price by laying off so many senior-level employees.  Watching your intellectual capital pack up their offices and leave the building forever isn't a scenic vista for any company.

For those the displaced workers left behind, who were grateful to still hold their jobs, well, that often meant "doing more without the right resources."  Nobody really wins in this scenario.  In fact, a recent survey by Right Management suggests heightened dissatisfaction by employees across industries and professions.

This particular report says that 84 percent of those surveyed will look for a new job this year.

84 percent!

Two blog posts, on different subjects but with a common thread, caught my eye and fuel this post.

The first, by Dan Pallota on behalf of Harvard Business Review, sings the praises of experienced workers and cites a laundry list of reasons why businesses should hire them.  My fav:  "My bullshit meter is highly attuned because I've heard a lot of bullshit.  At 25, I was naive enough to believe most of what everyone was dishing  out."  

As an experienced communications professional, I too understand the value of having a good bullshit meter.

The second is by Mark Suster, entrepreneur turned VC.  In his post (which is making the rounds on Twitter and is highly suggested reading for PR pros and startups), Mark advises startups with modest budgets on how to use PR firms. He counsels against hiring big PR firms at the outset.  "My rationale is that you won't have enough budget to be able to get enough of the senior team's focus.  All too often I've seen senior PR people from big firms come in and pitch for new business to startups while having 22 year-olds who do all the work once it's won."

If you have ever worked at a large PR firm (and I know the same holds true at a number of large law firms) or do so today, you know Mr. Suster knows what he's talking about.

Many experienced and entrepreneurial attorneys, architects, accountants, recruiters, and yes, even public relations professionals, have responded to this recession by creating new organizations -- small companies that care more about the success of their client than the number of billable hours legions of account executives at big firms are racking up.

Do yourself and your company a big favor next time you require outside professional services help -- whether it be legal or marketing or some other service -- or need to hire internally. Consider talking with experienced professionals -- those who know what's coming around the next corner because they've been there before, but also because they're open to new ways of doing things.

Chances are they will treat your company like it's their own.

It doesn't get any better than that.