Responding to Failure

By now, I’m sure most people have heard of the global outage experienced by RIM a few weeks ago. Shortly after the outage, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis offered a public apology for the issue, and RIM itself offered free apps and a month of free technical support in response, which were received with mixed reactions.

My comment, on both Twitter and Facebook that RIM clearly just “doesn’t get it” was met with some confusion as well. One person indicating that the difference between a regular mobile plan and a smartphone plan is about $10/month. So, a refund on services equates to about 30 cents a day, so a three-day outage means a $1 refund.

All joking aside, that’s actually accurate. A recent lawsuit confirms that it equates to only about $1.25. The cost of the outage, per person, is negligible. But, at least that has a monetary value that directly corresponds to the outage. $100 worth of free apps (most of which are games, and targeted at business professionals) is just out in left field. And that’s the reason why I said that RIM doesn’t get it. As a company that appeals to businesses as a primary market, the offering of free apps and free technical support was an insulting and degrading statement.

If your product is so problematic that you need technical support, such that a month of free support is valuable, you have a problem with your product right there. Most businesses however, run on annual budgets, and paid technical support is budgeted. Adding a month of free support to the end of the plan also means that billing cycles just got shifted by a month, and the cost associated with making budget adjustments accordingly far exceed the $1 refund or the lost business associated with the outage. As many companies are relying on mail communication through enterprise-grade servers, a three day outage is a serious problem when they are paying for a service that offers a 99.99% uptime guarantee. For the record, 99.99% uptime means that service is “guaranteed” not to be down for more than 20 minutes per year.

When you’re paying for that, any outage–even accidents–is considered professionally unacceptable. Most home users won’t care. But business users are paying for service guarantees, and make decisions accordingly. Three days of downtime can translate to millions in lost revenue.

Personally, I think RIM would have been better off to offer no free apps at all, and simply stick with the public apology, fix the problem, show how they’ll prevent it in the future, and move on. The free apps was just a completely off-track, insulting statement. It sent a message that RIM wasn’t concerned with the effects of the outage, and was more interested in simply pacifying people with something that in the end really didn’t cost them anything. It sent a message that RIM doesn’t get how businesses operate any more. It sent a message that a business professional’s downtime can be pacified by giving him or her a free copy of The SIMS to pass the time.

And so I stick with my original comment, that RIM simply doesn’t get it.

But what about your business? How do you respond to your clients and customers when your own services fail to meet expectations? How do you value your customer when your mistakes cause an interruption to their work? Do you see it as a cost of doing business to pacify the customer? Or do you see it as an opportunity to really learn your customers’ needs, and provide solutions that will help them improve in the future?

What’s Next?

I consume a large volume of industry news on a daily basis, most of which is general business and technology oriented. It seems that a vast majority of the content is focused on what’s next.

Focused on tomorrow’s technology.

Focused on what’s the next big thing.

Focused on Company X’s new, soon to be unveiled product.

Focused on what we don’t have, but we can have later.

It never catches up. There’s always tomorrow’s technology, and always something we’re supposed to look forward to. We’re so focused on tomorrow’s things, that we miss today’s moments.

When you’re planning your day, are you thinking about what you’re going to deliver tomorrow, or are you thinking about what you need to deliver today? Tomorrow has its place in planning, but once the planning is done, tomorrow is most importantly not today.

Plan for tomorrow all you want. But live for today.

Leaving a Legacy

As most of the world has already heard, Apple co-founder and multi-industry leader Steve Jobs died last Wednesday, a result of complications from pancreatic cancer. Millions of people worldwide mourned the loss felt by the Jobs’ family, by Apple, and by the technology industry in general. I read many quotes from people often saying, “why do I feel so sad over the death of someone I’ve never met?”

And equally as common as the question, I heard answers: “because even though you never met him, you use things every day that have been heavily influenced by him, and are signed with his passion.”

Whether you loved or hated the work Steve Jobs did is irrelevant: no one can deny that his influence over the past 35 years, and more specifically the past decade, has been world-changing. His impact not only shaped the tech industry, but the music and entertainment industries as well. His legacy will live on long after his death.

But this article isn’t about Steve Jobs. Nor is it about Apple, gadgetry, technology, music, or entertainment. This article is about you. Jobs was an illegitimate baby, given up for adoption, and a college drop-out. In the time this happened, these factors meant that the odds for success were stacked heavily against him. And yet, he changed not just a company, and not just an industry, but three industries, forever.

And so, the challenge. What are you doing this year to usher in change? What are you doing this month? This week? What will you do today? When today ends, can you look back on it with a healthy pride and say, “this is one step towards changing the world?” Maybe not the whole world… but at least yours. What are you doing today that contributes to your legacy for tomorrow?

[blockquote align=”center” variation=”purple” cite=”Steve Jobs”]For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.[/blockquote]

iPhone “4S” is for Strategy

In the wake of yesterday’s Apple keynote announcing the iPhone 4S, which left many people disappointed and dropped Apple’s stock by 5%, I’ve noticed that there are a few things that the industry is waiting to catch their breath on and adjust their rumor mills accordingly. Just like the jokes that cropped up over the iPad’s name, the disappointment of receiving a “4S” instead of a “5” will also fade, which is why it will be available in a week. You should never need to wait for speed…

Speaking of which, although the “S” officially stands for “speed,” as it did with the 3S, there’s a subtlety that it also means “strategy.” Bear with me on a few deductions:

  1. This release model and timing were planned long before Steve Jobs’ departure from the company. The fact that the industry expected this to be Tim Cook’s moment to shine was irrelevant. Cook’s presentation was no different than what Jobs himself would have presented, so it’s a hint that most things at Apple are continuing on exactly the same momentum as they have been. Jobs’ absence was an acknowledgement of that.
  2. Cook set the stage for future presentations: it’s less about him, and more about Apple as a whole. In other words, he let Jobs continue to be Jobs, and continue to be regarded and respected for his role, while also showing more of Apple’s cards. The “one more thing” hallmark of Jobs was notably absent, because that’s Jobs, and will forever be Jobs only. There is no “one more thing” with Cook, because the future is going to be less about Cook, and more about Apple.
  3. The 4S is an iPhone 3/3S replacement product. Not enough of an upgrade to woo iPhone 4 early adopters, but significant enough to be a “must have” for iPhone 3 users, who, internationally are just ending their 3-year contracts. It’s also the perfect model to attract the iPhone 3S users who have already proven they want the stepped-up model, and whose 2-year contracts are just ending in the US.
  4. It coincides with iOS 5 which has a one-year life, because iOS 6 will launch just after the iPhone 5 next year, and both will be a major rewrite. Why? Because iOS 6 will also need to service the 4th generation iPad (the 3rd will come out next spring*) which will be a major technology advancement, and for which the iPhone 5 will need some huge upgrades to match. Since the iPhone 4 was a complete redesign, there needed to be a pacifying model to keep the supply chain of complementary products functioning for one more year while the phone is completely re-engineered.
  5. There was a brief jab at HP, Dell and Microsoft with the statement that consumers don’t want tablets: they want iPads. It’s a hint that Windows 8, while it will still be successful in its own way, will only truly work on tablets that are intended to function like desktops.**
  6. The hardware changes are mainly intended to be hints at the future. The upgraded processor and increased RAM brings the iPhone to desktop-like production. The addition of software tools like voice instructions and online card printing are a hint at the future of services.***
  7. The brief stock drop is actually great news for shareholders. Apple knew what this would do, and let it happen. Shareholders can now buy more stock at the reduced rate, knowing that next year’s iPad 3 and iPhone 5 will boost the value tremendously, and investors now will get a great return on their money over the next year.

In the end, a purely strategic move for Apple, and a real hint at things to come.

[divider]

* I expect the iPad 3 to be another technology hinting product. The iPad 2 brought minor revisions and a speed boost. Essentially, it was a 1S, but for strategic reasons, it needed to be called the iPad 2. The iPad 3 however, will introduce groundbreaking new features, like a retina-style display, improved cameras, a processor and RAM boost, and very likely a software tool for remote desktop capabilities to OS X Lion (something like “AirDisplay for Everything Else”). The 4th generation iPad, in spring or summer 2013 however, will likely come shortly after an iOS 6 announcement, and a developer announcement about the next version of OS X (which will probably get a new name). Something will blend OS X and iOS together, and it won’t happen until about 18 months after Lion’s release, which would mean some time around early 2013. iPhone 5 will be the first hint, and iOS 6 along with iPad 4 will be the main iteration of it, followed by a new line of Macs (something in the MacBook Air family) sporting the new OS.

** Watch for this. Windows 8 will be released along with a slew of tablet-laptop hybrids. Consumers will jump on them quickly, but will soon recognize how much it differs from an iPad. And by the time Microsoft releases a fully trustworthy tablet (remember that HP has already failed at this, so that really only leaves Dell to get it right; and Dell has a bad reputation with home users), Apple will already be on their third model of iPad. And since iPad 3 will have groundbreaking new features, the new Windows tablets will look antiquated the day they’re launched. By the time there’s widespread consumer adoption, Apple will have responded with a new OS that will marry iOS and OS X making the iPad even more desirable for the consumer, and making Windows 8 look like Windows 3.1. Consumers still won’t want tablets… they’ll want iPads. And when the new OS is released, within a year of Windows 8, Microsoft will still be three years out from catching up, and the iPad will be on version 7 by then.

*** The future of services is inevitable. Apple has a business enemy in Google because of Android, but Apple has a more stable revenue model. Google makes its money from involuntary participation (revenue derived from advertising, which is why their products are all free: no one wants to pay for stuff associated with Google, as is evidenced with non-free Android apps). Apple on the other hand, makes its money from completely voluntary participation, almost to the point of absolute dependency (consumers crave Apple products, and would step over their own mothers to get one). Because of this difference in revenue methods, consumers are willing to pay Apple for the next big thing. And the next big thing Apple is betting on, is that people won’t want to continue “searching” but will want to start “doing.” With Google, you type your queries, find your results, and then try to apply those results to what you’re trying to do. For example, typing “Meeting with Fred at 10am” into Google yields nothing of value. If you want that to be a calendar entry, you have to switch to Google Calendar. In other words, with Google, you have to know how to do something before you can tell Google what you want. Apple is putting that all in one place, so all you need to know is what you want to do, and it will show you how. It’s a hint that Google will get less relevant for the average consumer. Similarly, the cards app is another service hint: print is still important, but it’s less about you, and more about the people you engage with. Cards is an example of remote printing at its finest. Print this, and send it where it needs to go. The old model is, print this, and then I have to figure out what to do with it. Again, with Apple, tell it what you need to do, and it will show you how.

With Great Exposure…

I am amazed at how many times I’ve heard clients who have said “I have some work for you… it doesn’t pay well, but it will give you great exposure.” As though it’s an honor to be able to work for them, almost to the extent that we should pay them for the opportunity. Even more amazing is how many of those people actually believe that their exposure is so fantastic that consultants would be fools not to jump at the offer. It’s as though they think their affiliation is so valuable that doing business with them is like shaking hands in front of a crowd, and everyone will want to work with you because you work with them.

There was a time in my career where I was suckered into this lie. A time when I thought exposure was far better than great pay. But the truth is, clients with that mentality actually bring neither great pay, nor great exposure. What they bring is frustration and high demands. They want a Mercedes for the price of a Chevy. They want premium service to advance their business, not an opportunity to help you grow yours.

When they say, “it will give you great exposure,” what they’re really saying is, “I want this to give me great exposure.” And they come borderline close to adding, “I don’t really give a rip what you get out of it.”

If you’re a small business owner, particularly one who offers consulting-based services, recognize these problem clients right from the start. Watch out for phrases like, “we don’t have a lot of money,” “we think this could be a great opportunity for you,” “this will go like gangbusters,” or “we’ll be able to pay you once we get our seed capital, which is coming ______.”

Most of these people are perfectly well intentioned. Most of them actually believe what they’re saying. Most of them aren’t trying to defraud you. Most of them are wrong.