What Constitutes an Expert?

I once read that “you’re an expert if you call yourself an expert.” It sounds funny, but it’s true. I’ve met plenty of people who, by education or experience, are classified as experts. And yet those same people are evidently not experts because their skills prove them to be otherwise.

Education alone isn’t enough. Experience alone isn’t enough. Consistently delivering an expert result is really all it takes.

Call yourself an expert, if you will, but back it with your results.

And, make sure the delivered results for which you’re calling yourself an expert are actually the results you’re delivering. If you’re outsourcing half of what you do, then your subcontractor is half the expert, not you. If you’re outsourcing a core competency, you’re not the expert in that field. You’re an expert contractor.

UnMarketing – The Book

(Disclaimer: I’m not being paid in any way to endorse Scott’s book–that wouldn’t be true to who I am. I read it because I listened to one of his presentations, loved his speaking style and content, and felt compelled to engage more. For the business professionals I work with regularly–and argue with about why IT and IS is often falling behind in the very industry it created, because IT professionals are often the least socially engaged–this book is a mandatory read.)

A few days ago I made a casual tweet about wanting a Kindle copy of UnMarketing (by Scott Stratten) and Enchantment (by Guy Kawasaki). I know several people with a copy of Enchantment, but I don’t want a physical book – I want the Kindle version so I can make notes. (Also, then I don’t have to touch other peoples’ stuff.) At any rate, within an hour of tweeting it, I had received a copy of UnMarketing dropped into the Kindle reader on my iPad. I was then, of course, faced with the same dilemma as Scott was in chapter 32. I’m still unsure whether to publicly thank the person that sent it to me… but either way, if you’re reading this, you-know-who, THANK YOU.

I immediately wanted to write a brief review. Then I realized two things: I never write book reviews, let alone writing anything brief, so that’s a dumb idea right off. And, second, doing so would do the book a disservice. So I’ll make it simple, and then share a story. Go read the book. If you have any interest in marketing (or don’t), social media, business growth, entrepreneurship, or if you just need cheering up, go read the book. Stratten’s a genius at social engagement (sorry, “expert”); is as engaging a writer as he is a speaker; and he lives in my home town, so that’s extra bonus points. You can get the Kindle version here, and the print version here.

Now on to the little story…

Those that know me personally know that when I find something really engaging, or something I am genuinely interested in, I don’t shut up about it. I will personally hand-hold people, drag them to a store, and make them buy something until I’m convinced that they’re happy with it. I’ve done it with coffee, books, computers, and cars. Two people I know bought a Kia because I can’t stop talking about them, and one more wants to test drive mine. A circle of die hard “PC-lovers” around me are now using Macs. Like… several dozen.

So naturally, when I find something that sucks (yeah I’m remembering you, Esso, and you, ROWE system), I have no problem blasting it either. During a recent business trip to Australia, while sitting by the beach eating calamari and fries, and as I talked about a dumb tablet design by Asus (it’s about 2″ thick!), one of our corporate partners said to me,

You know, Steve, that’s one thing that’s always bothered me about you. I never really know what your real opinion is on anything. I always have to guess.

Obviously, she was dipping her food in sarcasm sauce, because the statement was smothered with it. And I took it as a complement. Truth is, you’ll always know my real opinion on something. It doesn’t always come across well on a blog, but face to face, you’ll hear it.

One of my goals this year has been to increase my networking–directly, not superficially–by starting digitally, so Stratten’s book (and actually, his whole business) is right up my alley. I consolidated most of my blogs, and branded StevePye.me early last year. Why a vanity domain, you ask? Well, as I’ve said in the past, sarcasm is just one more service I offer. The “.me” really isn’t all about me. But every day, several times a day, people ask my advice on stuff: what computer do I buy? Should I buy an iPad? What do you like about your Kia? Why are you a coffee snob? Why do you love open-source so much? Many people refer to me as a maven, and I am (also, read The Tipping Point). The questions are always a variety of topics, and I’m a maven in many, but business, project management, and information systems are always at the top of the list. Daily. And when people recommend me to others, the phrase I commonly hear is,

I wanted info about ______, and someone said, ‘Ask Steve Pye.’ So here I am.

Almost every business I’ve been involved in is because someone said, “you need to talk to Steve Pye.” That’s been going on for fifteen years, and I think the short and simple name helps (it’s why I don’t let people call me “Stephen” any more… I got branded as “Steve Pye” and it stuck). So… I capitalized on that. Yeah, it’s StevePye.me, but in the end, it’s because you’re probably contacting me to get information on something that interests you, and you know I’ll give it a fair and honest review. And then I’ll help you get whatever you’re looking for. I’ll even try to get you a deal on it. So in the end, for me, the “.me” is sarcastic.

It’s really all about you.

But I appreciate that you trust me enough to ask.

Thanks, Scott, for the encouragement and the inspiration this year. As I continue to build and lead, I’ll continue to follow…

Unmarketing is Awesome

Video: Scott Stratten on Unmarketing

I watched this video because I’ve been following @unmarketing for a while, and an earlier tweet of his mentioned “Nice job Adobe“… which is something I haven’t heard in a while. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve heard “nice” and “Adobe” in the same sentence in a decade. Curious as to what Adobe had finally stepped up to do, I clicked the link.

A decent presentation interface popped up. Or hovered in, or something. I scanned it momentarily, and then the audio and video kicked in. Within seconds I forgot about the interface, stopped scanning the page looking for Adobe’s greatness, and was locked in to listening to Scott Stratten speak about marketing.

Few speakers are engaging and dynamic enough to keep my attention for more than a few minutes. If I’m not wiser, more motivated, more educated, more empowered, or simply more entertained as a result of what they’re sharing within two minutes, I move on. My time is important. But he had me within seconds. The only other presenter who can do that for me is Steve Jobs, but that’s because I know what to expect with him, so even a bad start is worth waiting through. With Jobs, it’s as much for the products he brings as it is for the opportunity to hear his passion.

Without question, Stratten’s passion had me hooked. As a systems developer and business consultant, topics around social media and customer engagement will always catch my eye, but rarely do they keep me glued to the couch tolerating a burning hot laptop singeing my knees for 45 minutes.

I can’t add anything more meaningful to this except to say that it’s awesome, and it’s worth your time to watch. Plus, I had to post this before 10pm… watch the video to learn why.

But I will add this. As a guy who cares about companies engage with their customers, and has been overly vocal and passionate about them (like here, with Esso, Kicking Horse, or Yog Active), Scott made one statement that really resonated with me, especially in light of my own experiences:

To be great at customer service, you only have to be average, because everybody else sucks.

Go out tomorrow, and in whatever business you’re in… make sure you’re at least average.

Then get great at it.

Understanding Statistics

This isn’t specifically a Mac or Apple post, but rather a focus on the statistics and results of this particular survey. The survey identifies that about two-thirds of PC users (64%) would pay less than $600 for a Mac Tablet, and the remaining one-third would pay $600 or more. Interestingly, of the remaining 36%, 20% would pay more than $800, while only 16% would price it between $600 and $800.

In contrast, current Mac users have a different view: 27% would pay between 600 and 800, 41% would pay more than $800, and only 32% would pay less than $600.

Let’s look at these numbers a little deeper though. A Mac user is twice as willing as a PC user to pay $800 or more, and almost twice as willing to pay $600-800. They are half as willing to pay less than $600. In other words, Mac users consider the price worth it, and are twice as likely to buy a Mac Tablet as a PC user, regardless of the price. In other words, Mac users value something other than price when they make a purchase. PC users, on the other hand, value price above all else.

Basic economics says that a person will never pay more for a product than the value that product provides, except in the case of a pure monopoly on a necessity item. Thus, when a person is willing to pay a certain price for a product, they consider its value to be relative… they will pay more for a product they feel is worth more, but will not pay more than they think it’s worth. Make sense?

In this survey, 64% of PC users will not pay more than $600. Economically speaking, it’s because they don’t consider the value of what they are purchasing to be greater than $600. But their primary frame of reference is the cost of PCs, and in particular, $300 to $600 netbooks. In contrast, 68% of Mac users will pay more than $600 for a Mac Tablet. Again, economically, Mac users value a potential Mac Tablet as greater than $600. Now also consider that both parties are people who are willing to buy a Mac, and therefore already place some degree of value on it. These are not people who were asked what they think the product will be priced at, these are existing computer users who were asked to identify what price they would be willing to pay. PC users place a lower value on a Mac than Mac users do.

Thereby begging the rhetorical question of the day: Who is better to judge the actual value of a product–the person who already uses it, or the person who doesn’t use it?

In effect, PC users are saying, “I want a Mac Tablet, but Mac’s are pricey, so I want them for the same price as netbook PCs, because I value them as one and the same.” Mac users are saying “We already use a Mac, and we already know its value, which we consider to be greater than the value of a PC, so we’re willing to pay a higher price for that greater value.”

And this is where statistics get funny. The article from TUAW suggests that Apple needs to keep the price of a Mac Tablet at about $600 or less to attract PC users. Yet, Mac users are willing to pay more. But from Apple’s perspective, the statistics say something different:

Don’t take losses by selling the product cheap just to win some short term converts: current Mac customers don’t care. And current customers are more valuable than potential future customers.

Remember the old adage, slow and steady wins the race. Focus the time on educating the PC user to become a dedicated Mac convert. It’s not like Apple to win a convert by offering a cheap product. They win a convert by gradually appealing to something other than people’s pocketbooks.

Because Mac users get it.

Mac users understand the value and are willing to pay more for it. And once the product is out there and tested in a controlled capacity, then work on making it better, and dropping the price. You win more converts each time, and existing Mac users buy a new one anyway.

And lastly, don’t forget that we’re talking about a product that doesn’t even exist yet, and already people are willing to pay a premium for it. That’s precisely what Apple needs: Mac users and PC users alike acting like Pavlov’s dog over a potential product. It’s not a bad thing. But it is a learned, and conditioned response, and Apple knows how to lead that well. It will be interesting to see how this knowledge will drive the development of this product over the next two months.

Effective Project Management

Effective project management is a critical component to any business operation. In my experience, less than one-third of business projects are completely successful, and more than half experience cost overrun, time overrun, or both. The cause of this varies, but in general, there are four specific repeat-offenders in causing projects to fail or be severely crippled after their launch:

[fancy_header3 variation=”teal”]1: Inexperienced Managers[/fancy_header3]

Most managers have technical knowledge about managing projects, but lack the ability to effectively train team members, or fail to facilitate the flow of information. The most important project management tool is the ability to recognize skills in team members, and coordinate team activities in accordance with individual skills. In other words, there really should be an “I” in team, because managers should make a point to work one-on-one with every individual.

[fancy_header3 variation=”teal”]2: Failure to Address Small Problems[/fancy_header3]

Small problems usually compound and create large problems later. The best solution to solving small problems is to train team members to spot small problems, recognize how they contribute to the big picture, and empower them to solve their problems without intervention. The faster and more frequently small problems can be resolved, the easier it is for team members to take a proactive approach in solving bigger issues without being micromanaged.

[fancy_header3 variation=”teal”]3: Failure to Document or Communicate[/fancy_header3]

Documentation, reporting, status updates… these are all factors that most team members abhor contributing to, but they are vital to understanding and interpreting the big picture. In previous years, full disclosure documentation was essential, keeping the project manager fully versed in the status of the project. More recently, managers have realized the effectiveness of using various tools like micro-blogging and other social network media to communicate project status effectively.

[fancy_header3 variation=”teal”]4: Failing to Lead by Serving[/fancy_header3]

Although listed last, this is probably the most dominant problem. The job of a project manager, and any other team leader, is to lead a group by serving the needs of that group. Most managers feel a sense of “ownership” (actually, pride) over their projects, and tend to horde or withhold information that would be of value to a subordinate team member. This is a carry-over attitude from the management styles of the 80s and early 90s which have proven to be highly ineffective in modern operations.

Taking Action

Solving these top four problems is simple, on paper, but requires extensive training and re-training of project management techniques. There are four areas of training I often focus on to address these issues:

[fancy_header3 variation=”green”]1: Management Training[/fancy_header3]

Every team member should be trained as a leader. Leading involves being able to lead yourself first (which also means learning to be an effective follower), and leading others second. Learning to lead is the most effective tool in learning to understand team dynamics and inter-operational practices.

[fancy_header3 variation=”green”]2: Micro and Macro Lenses[/fancy_header3]

Looking at a project’s micro-operations (details) and seeing how they relate to macro-operations (big picture) helps team members to understand the value their role plays in the project as a whole. When small problems occur, fast solutions are implemented, and team members learn to rely on a larger resource base as they progress through a project.

[fancy_header3 variation=”green”]3: Micro-Blogging[/fancy_header3]

Perhaps the most revolutionary tool in business management, micro-blogging is the fastest and easiest way to remain on top of a project’s progress, keep team members informed, build documentation, encourage positive and constructive feedback, and provide a sense of healthy personal encouragement. It effectively involves communicating in short, simple and effective methods on a regular basis that feel more like casual chat, rather than requesting formal updates on a weekly or monthly basis.

[fancy_header3 variation=”green”]4: Serve First[/fancy_header3]

One of Stephen R. Covey‘s habits, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. A top priority of any good leader is to learn to serve effectively–to seek out the needs, wishes, and desires of others, and fulfill those needs at any time. When those needs are fulfilled, you empower your team members to actively seek out and do the same for others, including yourself.

[pullquote3 align=”center” variation=”green”]If your business lacks effective project managers, and you are seeking a simple solution without an overload of bureaucratic practices, please contact me to discuss ways that the SMART Project Management system can work for you.[/pullquote3]