Tag Archives: 250 words or less

Someone Find Me a Middle-man!


Photo by egavad / per

If you like dirty jokes, go check out this one from Penny Arcade, then come back.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Read it? Okay, look at that last panel:

They can’t cut out the middle-man! The middle-man is the whole point!

This is a good lesson for any small business owner, or the people who do marketing for them.

When you’re a chef, sometimes you want someone else to cook for you specifically so it’s not just like you always do it. Sometimes it’s not just okay to be a middle-man. Sometimes that’s exactly what your customers want.

Same for garbage collectors, travel agents, crime scene cleaners. You’re not doing anything your clients couldn’t do. They just don’t want to. If they don’t-want-to badly enough, you can make some serious money doing it for them.

This works for managers, too, but for a different reason. Don’t hire people who will do everything just like you. Hire people whose skills don’t completely overlap yours and let them use those unique skills. If your employees do everything just like you would, you keep hiring copies of yourself. That’s not a good strategy. (Unless you’re perfect.)

Naked cynicism

Sales is a tricky thing. If you’ve got a good product that you really believe in, you can make a fortune just by convincing people that you’re right.

But sometimes, it’s just a “good” product. Nothing wrong with it, but not so different from lots of others on the market. So why should people by your product instead of someone else’s?

Good marketing beats good product development every time. Just look at Microsoft. That’s what you’re competing against. Even with a better product, you have to have better marketing to win. And good marketing is measured by one thing: Is it effective?

Is there a line between strong advocacy and manipulation? Between creative license and deceit? How long do you have to be in the business before you stop caring, and just go for naked cynicism?

That’s why characterizing your prospect as a ruggedly independent thinker — immune to “herd think” — is a very powerful selling technique indeed.

If you can position your prospect as a renegade, and your product as a symbol of that individualism, it can form a powerful buying motive.

Just be sure and let your prospect know there are other people who feel the same way.

Update: Looks like someone agrees. Scion’s current ad campaign tagline is “United by Individuality.” Okay then.

Are you wasting your time being productive?

Most people think that wasting time means you’re not doing anything. Maybe they include not doing anything productive. But can you be doing something productive and still wasting time?

To answer the question, let’s go back several years to a time before optical mice were common. I was working the helpdesk at a law firm. I got a call from an attorney that his cursor was skipping around the screen erratically. It was pretty obvious from his description that there was gunk in his mouse.

I had just started explaining to him how to remove the mouse ball to clean it out, when my supervisor tapped me on the shoulder and told me to bring him up a new mouse. I said, “But it only takes five minutes to clean it out.”

She told me, “He bills $600 an hour. Bring him a new mouse.”

I didn’t know the term at the time, but she had just taught me a lesson in opportunity cost. If whatever you’re doing is less valuable than what you could be working on instead, you are wasting time.

Please don’t believe anything in this post

In Yet Another Internet Forum Discussion About Offshoring (I hereby claim authorship of the acronym YAIFDAO) someone wrote:

A lot of decisions should NOT be left to developers to make. imho, the time to think out of the box is gone by the time it is TIME TO CODE. It’s not time to think about alternatives to what to do.

That is absolutely right. You never want developers talking to end users. They might suggest some other plan than what was painstakingly shepherded through four levels of approvals.

And let’s just squash the notion right now that sometimes there are trade offs to consider. Just because the analyst’s solution will take three weeks of coding effort and a new application server, while the programmer knows of a reusable component that will take one hour and no increased hardware, is no reason to institute the Change Control Process.

Alternatives should always be considered in isolation from the impact they cause. Implementation issues should never be allowed to intrude into the world of business decisions.

Next thing you know someone’s going to suggest that maybe mere programmers could have a meaningful contribution to make to the business process. What rubbish.

Get your boxes in order

Everyone seems to have an opinion on downloading music and TV shows, everything from “Information wants to be free” to “Skipping commercials with your TIVO is theft.” Some of the views are self-serving, some are rationalizations, and some people have strong opinions based on what they believe is right and just.

Here’s the thing a lot of people are missing, though: Breaking the law does not count as civil disobedience unless you go out of your way to do it publicly. Obviously I’m referring to people who upload and download music, movies or software without permission from the copyright holders. Some of them are just in it for the free tunes. Some of them think the law is wrong. But the ones who believe copyright laws have gone too far damage their case when they quietly violate the law, expecting to protest the law if — and only if — they are caught.

Think the law has tilted too far in favor of the copyright industry? Great, so do I. Have you written to your congressman? If not, then don’t complain about the law when you get busted. It makes it look like you’re just trying to stay out of jail — which you are — and supports the MPAA and RIAA next time they try to get copyright extended.

Before you end up in a jury box, you should really try the ballot box. Time for me to get off my soapbox.

What is Steve Jobs thinking?

We all knew Cisco had the trademark on the name. According to their press release:

“Cisco entered into negotiations with Apple in good faith after Apple repeatedly asked permission to use Cisco’s iPhone name,” said Mark Chandler, senior vice president and general counsel, Cisco. “There is no doubt that Apple’s new phone is very exciting, but they should not be using our trademark without our permission.”

They negotiated, Cisco said no. So they release it anyway. And Apple’s response is:

Apple responded by saying the lawsuit was “silly” and that Cisco’s trademark registration was “tenuous at best”.

“We think Cisco’s trademark lawsuit is silly,” Apple spokesman Alan Hely said. “There are already several companies using the name iPhone for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) products.”

It’s “silly”? Come on, that sounds like they’re daring Cisco to take it to court. And claiming that the trademark has already been diluted by other products is a dangerous game. If that argument prevails, then Apple will have no standing to prevent anyone else from releasing their own iPhone.

What the hell are they thinking?

[Update]

See the Joel on Software forums for some discussion of this.

Design = function + aesthetics

Ask your local programmer if he knows how to design user interfaces and invariably he’ll say he does. Go ahead, ask. I’ll wait.

You’re back? Good. Now go look at the new iPhone. Has your guy ever made anything remotely that cool? Unless you’re reading this from Cupertino, odds are he hasn’t. The UI is more beautiful and, as near as I can tell from the demo movies, more usable than any other phone or music player I’ve seen. But I wonder, how much of the perceived usability is a response to the beauty?

It’s becoming conventional wisdom that you don’t want to make the demo look done. Excessive visual polish early in the process not only limits the feedback you get to comments about the superficial details, it also suggests equally finished interaction with the system. It literally makes it look like it’s doing more than it really is doing.

I’ve avoided this problem in my career by not being very good at graphics, and avoided realizing that by not working with any real visual artists to compare my work to. Yes, I used to think I was good at it, just like every programmer. Eventually I realized that consistency and predictability were a poor subset of what an artist can add.

Now, whenever I make up a project plan, there is a task at the end for “Add Pretty”. And my name isn’t on that task.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

In case you haven’t noticed yet, we’re going through another round of power struggles in the IT industry. Oh, that might not look like what’s going on. On the surface what people are saying is that it’s a matter of web-based vs. desktop applications. Frequently these conversations are based on the premise that it’s a discussion of the technical merits.

Nope. It’s the return of the glass house. Peel back all the rationalizations about easier deployment, easier support, more consistency, and what it really comes down to is more control. If we can just keep the software out of the users’ hands then everything will be okay.

But what history shows us is that users like having control of their “stuff”. Taking that control away requires either redefining “their stuff” to be “our stuff”, or convincing them that they aren’t qualified to handle their stuff.

Is this what your customers are hearing from you?

The War on Laundry™

Let’s see:

  • Not a finite thing that can be destroyed, nor group which can be defeated.
  • No one qualified to declare surrender for it.
  • There are better and worse ways to deal with it, none of which are able to completely eliminate it.
  • No matter how much you fight it, there will always be more soon.
  • No one really likes it, but the only way to avoid it is to change your lifestyle so profoundly that the alternative is worse.

Hmm, sounds about right.

Any relation to other Wars on Nouns is completely intentional.

When design is not design

“How is software production like the car industry?”

Oh no, not again. Yeah, well, most people are getting it wrong. So here’s another shot at it.

There are aspects of car design that strictly deal with measurable quality: performance of the electrical system, horsepower, fuel economy, reliability. But the shape and style of the car are much more loosely coupled to hard-and-fast measurements. That facet of the design — the way it looks, the demographic it will appeal to — is not amenable to Six Sigma processes.

Granted, there are some cars that are strictly (or nearly so) utilitarian. Some people only care about efficiency and reliability. They buy Corollas by the boatload. But the FJ Cruiser is not the result of a logical, statistical analysis, with high conformance to the mean and low variation of anything.

I think what I’m trying to say is that marketing design is building the right thing, while production design is building the thing right. The auto industry is mature enough that you need both. Success in the software industry still relies more on building the right thing.