The Quantum Mousetrap

Mark Eduljee's blog about Social Media Insights Intelligence and his FlightSim Movies

Posts Tagged ‘Inspired Innovation’

Esperanza. But have a plan

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Camp Hope (Esperanza), the name given to the hastily constructed gathering of huts and humans that sprang up over the 33 Chilean miners trapped 2,300ft (a little less than 2 Empire State buildings end over end) underground. And while hope was kept alive, and it was nurtured by their families and the global media coverage, what were the men doing down below?

They had a plan: A plan that would help to keep them sane, as safe as possible, busy, and all towards a single end goal: getting to a point in time when they could rocket up to the surface and into the daylight.

But let’s back up a bit. It was 17 days before the world even knew that they had survived the shaft collapses. And by all accounts during that time, those men increased their chances of survival 10fold by organizing themselves and putting a survival plan into place – rationing food, water, assuming roles and responsibilities, working together. Imagine if they had instead let emotion and raw survival instinct dictate their courses of action. But instead they CHOSE to create a center of survival excellence and fellowship. Brilliant!!

Such acts of sheer tenacity, foresight, maturity, calm and integrity, inspire me.

Now I know the cynics among you will postulate that “they had no choice”, and that it was in their self-interests to work together. While it’s true that they were captives of their circumstance, to say that they had no choice diminishes the human spirit.

I choose to instead to believe that when you put people into extraordinary circumstances, most often, they will produce extraordinary, enduring, and righteous acts of creativity, courage and hope… just ask anyone who has been into combat, anyone who has taken the leap to start a business or human or political venture with just the seed of an idea, or, for that matter, raised children. (I wish they came with a help manual!)…Oh lighten up<s>

This post is therefore dedicated to all those who choose to act rationally, with forethought and intent, and whose realistic assessment of their situations gives them a higher probability of getting what they need. (See also one of my previous posts about Needs Vs. Wants)

That sounds like the definition of a plan to me!

At its very basic level, planning attempts to reduce chaos and unpredictability. We humans are hard-wired to prefer order and consistency. Social settings aside, surprises are generally a cause for angst. Successful individuals and teams understand this. We tend to be at our most productive, innovative and successful when our environment is stable.

Stability, in part, is driven by good planning. I think the miners figured that out early. If you think of it, what they were essentially trying to do was to create a stable, predictable environment which would increase their chances of being rescued. Of course it always helps if there are mature individuals who can naturally assume positions of leadership and calm.

Types of plans: There have been book written dedicated to the science and art of planning, so I’ll keep this brief and light. There are 2 kinds of plans: Proactive – the timely, intentional type, and Reactive – the “we-are-playing-catch-up” type.  And the attributes of each type seem to be:

Proactive Planning is… Reactive Planning is…
Intentional Forced
Uses foresight Generally playing “catch up” or “ ! ’ang on !”
Demonstrates maturity Demonstrates adaptability and resourcefulness
Built from the end Built to get over the end
Calm, but can be intense Often done with much animation, high volume, and with your hair on fire
A risk and path quantification exercise Pffft!…Details-smeetails… just let’s keep up!
Done with a longer horizon or timeframe “Lord, please help me get through this and I promise that I’ll <fill in the blank>
ADD your thoughts here ADD your thoughts here

Contingency planning is part of having a proactive planning strategy.

While it would seem that being proactive would be better for your blood pressure, I’m not ready or willing to suggest that one is “better” than another. Both have their time and place. Both have their uses.

Brief segue….It’s now time for one of those simplistic questions I often hear – “well…which one would you recommend or pick?” Which reminds me of what Marisa Tormei said during the trial scene in the movie My Cousin Vinny, when she blurts out during cross examination…“That’s a Bull$#!t question!”. Why do we demand simple answers to often complex issues? We always seem to want, “sound bites” or, “the top three”, or “just the facts”, “Pick one”.  Sheesh. Ever stop to think that maybe the best option you may have to plan for a certain event or circumstance is to plan to be proactively reactive? Take a seat grasshopper!

Anyway where were we?…oh yes, one’s not better than the other…Any way you slice it, the learning and the common thread is that it’s always better to HAVE a plan. Now, no one’s suggesting a life of regimentation and order, but strike a balance…there is always room and need for being spontaneous, but on the other end of the spectrum are the no-planning rudderless ships who get up each day and simply react to their circumstance. That’s not healthy or helpful in the long run.

I’ve noticed that good plans seem to have these common denominators: (in no priority order)

  • There is a desired and an agreed-on set of goals coupled with a clear understanding of the end or desired state.
  • There is an honest assessment of resources, paths, risks and dependencies. Without this, plans become unrealistic and won’t have a high rate of success.
  • There’s due diligence given to testing the plans assumptions
  • Time is spent researching options (what don’t we know that can either help or hurt us). One of the pitfalls here is to let research consume the process leading to a state of “perpetual planning”. It’s then a small step to paralysis and fear of moving forward.
  • Milestones/Trip wires, or in a non-business terminology – checkpoints, are built into the plan which allows one to track progress.
  • And finally, a contingency or backup set of actions to be taken in case everything starts to head south.

But it’s not good enough to just think up the plan. You need to test it too.

One of the methods I’ve used to test any plan I hatch is to throw a bunch of scenarios at it to see if it absorbs them, or cracks. As an example: Say you are planning something simple like a Christmas do for friends and neighbors (or enter your big traditional holiday here)…. Well, those are never ‘simple’. Anyway. You figure that ~30 will show up. Great. So you plan space, eats, and eggnog with Jahmaykin spice Ruuhm accordingly. Here’s a possible scenario… What if only 15 show up? Or maybe worse…what if your friends think that they can spread the cheer and, since you haven’t objected in the past when the total was lower, that 60% of them then decide and think its Ok to bring along Family who may be visiting “No probs, <yourname> wouldn’t mind”, because “<yourname> is really friendly and would love to meet my cousins from Timbuktu ”?  Suddenly you now have >50 people, half of them strangers, in your house! …Hmm… better make sure we have a point in the existing plan to be clearer in the invitation text “This is a small, just- friends affair.  We will meet family later”. There, that should do the trick.  Phew, glad we tested that aspect of our plan.

Throwing scenarios at the plan can be as simple as thinking of a bunch of “what if..”. better yet, have someone not familiar with the plan, but familiar with the end goal to ask the what if questions – this reduces the inherent bias you have as chief planner. Or, they can be as formalized as a SWOT exercise (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Either way, the need is to be sure to test.

But look who’s talking! I’m writing this post on a flight out to a conference at angels39 (pilot-speak for 39,000 feet above sea level) somewhere over the American countryside. And for all my talk of planning and testing, I let one slip by, proving that even the great ones are after all still human <s>. I forgot to pack my shaver! An essential item in the land of civilization!! The trip has been letter-perfect (so far) except for this stone in my shoe. Dang.

So the choice I have is to now go through the conference looking like an unshaven miner who has been stuck down a hole for 17 days, or, do I sheepishly let the hotel know I’ve been a forgetful bonehead and to please send a kit up to my room?

I have the luxury of picking up the phone and asking for help. The miners had to wait 17 days.

Sometimes no amount of planning can get you the help you need quickly.

They emerged clean shaven. That was for the cameras and national pride. I’d have preferred to have seen them wear their 69 day growth as a badge of honor for the battle they fought. And won.

But clean shaven or not, it doesn’t really doesn’t matter. In the face of extreme hardship and uncertainty, those remarkable individuals chose to not see themselves as victims, to come together, and to create the ultimate survival plan, to adapt, to collaborate, to overcome, and to triumph.

So the next time you see yourself staring down the black hole of chaos, uncertainty, and ambiguity don’t do 1 thing, and then do 2 things:

Don’t see a victim of circumstance. Fate and Destiny can be influenced by choosing to plan and act.

Do have Esperanza – be filled with hope for a brighter time.

Get up, dust off, and build a plan to see yourself through to a time when you can rocket up to the surface and into the daylight.

Image credits:
Camp Hope: BBC
First rescuer: Captured from live feed

Listening: social media’s 4th dimension

Monday, May 24th, 2010

There is this wonderful story in the world of physics used to describe dimensions. It goes like this: An Ant is walking along a very long, looped, thick, cylindrical wire.

Wait! What the heck has this got to do with Social Media!!?

Patience grasshopper! And shuddap and listen for a change!

Let’s call the ant… Adam. Adam Ant. It has a nice ring to it yes?

Anyway, Adam is happy. He is wired to his universe. In his 3 dimensional universe he can interact with others, follow them, exchange information, and help out. With a vibrant and active community Adam does not lack the opportunity to engage in conversation, exchange information, interact with others, help out, meet others, or participate in activities.

Are you seeing a parallel? Does this world sound familiar to something you are in, right now? …Community on line (get it?), with roles, followers, activity, interaction, help, and conversations, all within a self-defined, self-perpetuating system? Sounds like the current Social Media universe?

Viewed from Adam’s vantage point and broadly speaking, Social Media’s 3 current dimensions are:

  1. Social Media Marketing (buzz, followers, sentiment, demand generation, and awareness)
  2. Social Media Communication (do I need to say more)
  3. Social Media Engagement (interaction, relationships driving perception)

These 3 (MCE) have been well studied, documented, with many a wise word written and oodles and oodles of content created about these activities to understand and help us use become more aware of these 3 dimensions. There are many careers that have been built on their platforms and its foundation. This is good. It should be encouraged. It advances the collective body of knowledge to drive SM participation reach, excellence, collaboration and contributions.

Back to the Adam Ant… As a member of the online community he’s not focused on, nor is he even in a position to be able to broadly Listen to the community. Sure, he can talk 1:1, or 1:100 if he shouts really loudly, or 1:1million if his megaphone and following is big enough, but he can’t listen to, or easily make sense of, the vast number of conversations in the online space. His measures of success and passions are limited and well understood too. His focus is participation and engagement.

But like the Dark Energy and Matter that scientists say pervades and influences how the real universe behaves, Adam feels the effect of a 4th social media dimension, but because of the level of activity around him, it’s very difficult for him to see it. Unlike his activity-driven universe which he can reach out and touch, this 4th dimension is much harder to understand, harder to measure, and much harder to “do” well, consistently, and predictably.

What is that 4th Social Media dimension?  … Social media listening

To put this 4th social media universe dimension into perspective, imagine now that Adam’s community is contained in a great big glass Ant Farm, one that contains a larger number of communities, all living their lives quite blissfully unaware of the world beyond the glass wall.

Certainly Adam is impacted by those outside who observe his community, and as a result, make environmental or other changes. After all, the community’s health is at stake. He participates, but the Listening dimension interprets his participation as “feedback”, and if it is doing its job, it has the option to take that feedback and make changes to the ecosystem as needed to keep Adam engaged and happy.

Exploring, understanding, and getting “really good” at 4th dimensional Social Media Listening is the next frontier.

What is Social Media Listening: It’s defined in terms of having the …

  • Commitment (executive sponsorship, the will or the awareness to invest in social media Listening and data science)
  • Capacity (Funding. Moolah. Dough. Some grease to keep the Listening effort functioning over time)
  • Capability (Providing the right tools and people to enable Listening)
  • Competencies (Alignment of roles, responsibilities and accountability. Organizational excellence)

…to create a framework that pulls in the voice of the community on one end, has people, process and tools to generates actionable insights while assigning them to competent individual subject matter experts in the middle, who then make changes to the customer experience on the other side.

Why is it in your interest to have a SM listening strategy?

Why is listening to 2 billion online conversations a year a good thing? And why is it important EVERYONE make an effort to get good at it?

  • Why not? If you are a business or person intent on gaining traction and awareness, what better (and more efficient) way to know what actions you need to take next than to first listen to what your customers want!
  • If you don’t, you are getting ½ the story: Most businesses and enterprises focus on Social Media Marketing (creating, gathering, or generating Followers and fans, Newsletter subscriptions, site visitors, click-rates, Communicating messages etc). That’s all great, and necessary. But SM Marketing is not SM Listening. Surveys, focus groups and other data collection methods traditionally used in marketing science disciplines are aimed at guiding decisions based on customer sampling, and they have their place and time. It’s a narrow, focused, time-bound method of getting a pulse. I’m not against surveys and focus groups. (Part of my previous job was to own the Survey strategy and governance for our line of business, so I get it) But that’s not broad Social Media Listening. Marketing’s purpose is to build and raise awareness. Listening is about gaining insights from EXISTING conversations.
  • SM listening provides unmatched, real-time early warning signals: If you want near-real time feedback, there’s no better way that I know of to hear what your customers are saying about you. BTW, putting up a survey on your site, or in a presentation is not SM Listening. Surveys are a fantastic tool in under certain conditions, but have been overused and abused. Surveys have inherent design problems that few understand…overcoming bias, sampling, stats and other math. I’ve seen many scorecards which have used averaged averages and other weird (convenient) math. It takes special skills, from trained professionals, to produce high confidence results, AND, to competently interpret the numbers without bias. You’ve probably got Monkey results if you’ve ever used surveyMonkey to run your surveys. Show me a result you “want” and I’ll design a survey that gives you that result. Survey results are easy to manipulate, and politicians and special interests use surveys to get the results they want to suit their agenda all the time.
  • Listening gives you what you “need” to hear… the good, the bad and the ugly. Marketing analysis gives you what you want to hear (focused, keyword driven data). To listen to SM conversations is to cast a broad net with very few keywords to cut the bias out of your Listening. The result is that you become a consumer of conversations, as opposed to, in Marketing, a conversation influencer.
  • Listening inspires innovation: There is no person or team on Earth who can compete with the collective power of all the brains, and ideas, and passions of all social media participants. They will invent new ways to use and abuse your products than you ever thought possible, and think of more new “if only it did…” features than you ever will. Which team wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of those Listening insights?
  • Listening completes the ROI story: Much has been written about Social Media metrics like reach, followers, sentiment, awareness, visitors, sales, conversion, net promoter scores, subscribers etc) But most, if not all of these measure SM Marketing success and effect. SM Listening takes your ROI story to the next dimension. Imagine your scorecard that also includes the following:
    • Product and Service quality improvements (Customers will see a difference)
    • New feature/service innovation (Competitors will struggle to keep up)
    • Business, process, cost efficiencies (doing more of what’s needed, and less of what isn’t. CEO’s Love this)
    • Influencer identification (long term deeper customer engagement and retention)
    • Key themes for SEO and content generation (making it easier to find, solve and engage)

In the spirit of listening, I’m going to now shut up and Listen – to you. I’m sure that you can think of a number of reasons and advantages to having a social media listening strategy. Comments welcome.

Over time I intend to write about social media Listening challenges, how to overcome them, and go deeper into the skill requirements and processes needed to set up and run a great social media listening system. I hope you will stay tuned. (See subscription links in the right column)

Reach out to me on LinkedIn if you wish. If you do, mention the Quantum Mousetrap. Mention Listening in the 4th dimension.