Give Speeches that Change the World – Nick Morgan, Public Words

My guest blogger today is Nick Morgan, Founder and CEO of America’s leading firm for developing and coaching great speeches.  Leaders, especially those who promote innovation, need to be great communicators. You are never good enough when market shifts make the stakes so high. Here Nick offers particularly good insight to everyone who finds themselves in front of an audience in 2011:

 “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.” An old friend of mine, a speechwriter, used to say that to me. He meant it as a challenge. It was his way of saying that, if you’re going to take all the trouble to prepare and deliver a speech, make it worthwhile. Change the world.

Otherwise, why bother? Preparing speeches, giving speeches, and listening to speeches—each of these activities is fraught with peril. The opportunities for failure are many, and for success correspondingly few. An oft-quoted study suggests that executives would rather die than speak. Of all their fears, public speaking is number one, and death comes much further down the list, just before nuclear war. That must explain why they often put off the task of preparing speeches to the last minute—or give the task to someone else.  

If speechmaking is hard work for presenters, it’s also hard work for their audiences. Most business presentations are dreadful—boring, platitudinous, and delivered with a compelling lack of enthusiasm.  People don’t remember much of what they learn from speeches—something on the order of 10 to 30 percent. With some business talks I’ve attended, that failure rate must be close to 100 percent. How many presentations have you sat through where your mind started wandering a few minutes into the talk and never really came back? Where you surreptitiously picked up your smartphone and started planning your calendar for the next millennium or two? Where you ended up more familiar with the number of acoustic tiles in the ceiling than the number of points in the outline of the speech?

So why do we bother? We bother giving speeches because of the opportunities they offer presenters with passion and a cause. There is something profound about gathering a group of people together in a hall and giving them the full force of your ideas presented live and in person. There is something essential about the intellectual, emotional, and physical connections a good speaker can make with an audience, something that cannot happen on the printed page. There is something powerful about the chemistry that happens in the moment of contact that no other medium can reproduce.

It’s what I call the kinesthetic connection. It’s something I’ve observed in over 25 years of teaching and coaching public speaking. When it happens, it’s powerful. When it’s missing, everyone feels it—even the hapless speaker.

Why People Will Always Give Speeches

We still need speeches. We need them to move audiences to action. People may learn to believe in your expertise from the printed page. But they will only be moved to action if they come to trust you from hearing and seeing you offer a solution to a problem they have. That kind of trust is visceral as well as intellectual and emotional, and it only comes from presence.

From the audience’s point of view, we still need to validate our impulse to action by seeing our champions, to test the sense of their messages and the integrity of their beings. Partly, we’re reading their nonverbal messages, those gestures and habits that we learn to interpret unconsciously for the most part, the ones that tell us something about the credibility and courage of the presenter. Partly, we’re testing to see if they can structure and present their ideas coherently in real time, abilities that tell us about how articulate and organized they are. And partly, we’re watching to see if we can find some sense of common humanity in the speaker, in order to make common cause with that speaker’s passion.

When Roger Mudd asked Ted Kennedy, on 60 Minutes in 1980, why he wanted to be president, Senator Kennedy famously fumbled the answer. Millions of Americans watched Kennedy at close hand, thanks to the eye of the camera, and judged his incoherent, rambling answer to lack credibility. The campaign was over almost before it began. Kennedy had changed the world—not in the way he intended, perhaps, but inescapably and irretrievably nonetheless. Potential backers slunk away from the Kennedy camp. Potential workers joined other campaigns. Potential voters resolved to find another candidate. And all of that happened through the faux-familiarity of television. Imagine how much more devastating it would have been in person. 

Does changing the world seem like a daunting challenge? There’s good news buried in the challenge. With a powerful, audience-centered presentation, you can change the world. And that goes whether you’re talking to a small group of employees or colleagues—or a keynote audience of thousands. The principles are the same. 

And there’s more good news to come: Regardless of how good you are now, you can learn how to give a better speech, one that makes a kinesthetic connection with your listeners. One that creates a sense of trust in you and moves them to action.

You Need to Listen to Your Audience

At the heart of this connection lies a counterintuitive truth: the secret to forming a strong bond between you and the people in the audience is to listen to them—from the very beginning.

Wait a minute, you say. I’m the one that has to do the talking. How can I listen to them? And what do you mean by kinesthetic? You’ve already used that word twice.

The answers to these questions are related. Let’s take the easy one first. Kinesthetic means being aware of the position and movement of the body in space. And to listen to the audience, you need to listen (and to show you’re listening) with your whole body. To give a simple example, consider the nervous executive in front of the shareholders for an annual meeting. He has some less-than-spectacular numbers to report, and everyone knows it. He’s prepared for the worst. He begins his talk with a curt, “Good morning,” arms folded, staring tensely over the audience members’ heads, looking into the middle distance, trying not to acknowledge the anger he sees in front of him. He immediately launches into a defensive talk aimed at minimizing the damage and second-guessing what the audience might ask him.

Not a pretty picture. Contrast that with a different executive in a similar pickle. She knows the meeting is going to be tough, but she’s ready. She stands up in front of the shareholders, smiles, and asks, “How are you?” Her arms are comfortably open at her sides. And she waits for a couple of seconds, making eye contact with at least one of the audience members on the right hand side of the room. Then she asks, no longer smiling, raising her eyebrows to invite response, “Are you angry about last year’s numbers? [Pause. Looking at someone else, on the left, now.] You have every right to be. We’re as disappointed as you are. Let’s talk about them. What’s on your mind?”

Not many chief executives would have the guts, frankly, to take the second approach. But which company would you rather hold stock in?

The second executive is well on the way to giving an audience-centered speech. She’s going to find kinesthetic moments to connect with her audience, and she’s begun by actually listening to them—reading their entire range of responses, including the nonverbal—from the start.

Indeed, even in this simplified example, the key to success is in making those rhetorical questions real. When you ask, “How are you?” of an audience, wait to see how some members of that audience actually are. Don’t continue until you’ve learned the answer, either verbally or nonverbally. It’s a small but vital way to begin an audience-centered talk. Success in public speaking is made up of a myriad little moments of connection like that.

And one big thing: charisma. That’s the magic quality, isn’t it? The one that everyone craves. And yet charisma doesn’t come from doing something difficult or esoteric that it takes years to master (and lots of expensive advice from speech coaches like me). We know now, thanks to the communications research of the last thirty years, what charisma is. Quite simply, it’s focused expressiveness. Expressiveness is the willingness to be open to your audience, both verbally and nonverbally. To show how you feel about your subject. To get past nervousness and self-consciousness and get to the stuff that you care about, and give that to the audience. That’s why they call it “giving a speech.” If you can unlock your own passion about the subject, and give that to the audience, in a focused way, you will be charismatic. The audience will not be able to take its eyes off you.   

And so we’re back to audience-centered speaking, and kinesthetics. The only reason to give a speech is to change the world. You accomplish that by moving your audience to action. To do that, you have to be willing to listen to the audience, and to give it your passion. To get to that happy state, you need to find kinesthetic connections with the audience.

That’s audience-centered speaking in a paragraph. It’s a simple as that.
And lest you think that when I say “changing the world” I’m only talking about the big speeches (the ones that CEOs give to shareholders, for example) understand that I’m talking about every speech ever given. These principles apply to all public speaking, whether to five thousand people or five, for a grand public occasion or simply a regular meeting to report on 3Q numbers. After all, if you give a brilliant, inspiring, audience-centered presentation about those 3Q numbers, you will change the attitudes of your team in the room with you. And if you change their attitudes, you just might change their behavior. And if you change their behavior, you’ve changed the world in the only way that counts. 
So that’s my wish for you in 2011:  that you’ll start changing the world with every speech or presentation you give.

If you want to make sure yoru points are clear and communicated well consider contacting Nick and Public Words. Their clients have improved their communications dramatically for positive results.  At the very least, pick up Nick’s books from Amazon or another source and use his recommendations – you’ll be glad you did! Reach out to Nick via his web site

Harvard Kennedy School of GovernmentHow To Read Body Language by Nick Morgan

The Power of Myth – It Can Kill You – Collins, Thurston


  • When we don’t know what works, we create myths to describe what might work
  • Much of business theory is little more than myth
  • “Good to Great” has been a best seller, but it is not helpful for good management
  • To grow business today requires abandoning management myths and aligning with changing market needs

Good to Great by Jim Collins has been a phenomenal business best seller.  Almost 10 years old, it has sold millions of copies.  It continues to be featured on end caps in book stores.  That it has sold so well, and continues selling, is a testament to a much better book by the legendary newsperson Bill Moyers with Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth.” (Original PBS 2001 TV show available on DVD, or get the new release this month.)

When we don’t understand something we develop theories as to how it might work.  These theories are based upon what we know, our assumptions, and our biases.  They could be right, or they might not.  Only testing determines the answer.  However, sometimes the theory is so powerfully connected to our beliefs that we don’t want to test it – don’t feel the need to test it.  And if the theory hangs around long enough, people forget it wasn’t tested.  What easily happens is that “logical” theories (based upon assumptions and beliefs) that don’t explain reality become myth.  And the myth becomes very comforting.  Over time, the myth becomes part of the assumption set – unchallenged, and actually used as a basis for building new theories.

For example, the founder of modern medicine – Galen – didn’t understand the circulatory system.  So he thought blood was oxygenated by invisible pores.  As time passed it became impossible to challenge, or even test, this theory.  Eventually, blood letting was developed as a medical practice because people thought the blood stored in the affected area had gone bad.  It was several hundred years before Harvey, through careful testing, proved there were no invisible pores – and instead blood circulated throughout the body.  Millions had perished from blood letting because of a myth.  Bad theory allowed to go unchallenged and untested. It just sounded so good, so acceptable, that people followed it.  Dangerous practice.

Thomas Thurston now gives us great insight to the popular myth developed by Jim Collins in Good to Great.  Published by Growth Science International (http// “Good to Great: Good, But Not Great” Mr. Thurston puts Mr. Collins thesis to the test.  Is it a usable framework for predicting performance, and do followers actually achieve superior performance?  In other words, does the advice in Good to Great work?

Mr. Thurston’s conclusions, quoted below, are quite clear, and mirror those of academics and lay people who have studied the storied Mr. Collins’ work:

  • Even with the copious guidelines set forth by Collins, sorting CEOs into each category proved a highly subjective process.  The classification scheme was ambiguous
  • Level 5 leadership was difficult to categorize with reliability and consistency
  • Our sample [100 well known firms] did not reveal any statistically significant difference in the performance of firms led by Level 5 and Not-Level 5 leaders.  Performance in each category was approximately the same.
  • Level 5 leadership classifications were, in practice, highly subjective and not predictive of superior firm performance.
  • In other words, our results concluded that one can not predict whether a firm will perform good, great or bad based on its having a Level 5 Leader.

We like myth.  It helps us explain what we previously could not explain.  Like early Greek gods helped people explain the complex world around them.  But, when we build our behaviors on myth it becomes extremely dangerous.  We depend upon things that don’t work, and it can have serious repercussions.  Mr. Collins glorified Circuit City and Fannie Mae in his book – yet now one is gone and the other in disrepute.  Meanwhile his list of “great” companies have been proven to perform no better than average since his publication.

In Good to Great Mr. Collins offers a theory for business success that is very appealing.  Be focused on your strengths.  Get everybody on the bus to doing the same thing.  Make sure you know your core, and protect it like a hedgehog protects its home.  And make sure all leaders follow a Christ-like approach of humbleness, and leader servitude.  It sounds very appealing – in an Horatio Alger sort of way.  Work hard, be humble and good things will happen.  We want to believe.

But it just doesn’t produce superior performance.  There are no theories that have identified “great” leaders.  Success has come from all kinds of personalities.  And, despite our love for being “passionate” and “focused” on doing something really “great” there is no correlation between long-term success and the ability to understand your core and focus the organization upon it.  Thousands of businesses have been focused on their core, yet failed.

What we need is a new theory of management.  As the Assistant Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal, Alan Murray, wrote in “The End of Management,” industrial era management theories about optimization and increased production do not help companies deal with an information era competitiveness fraught with rapid change and keen demands for flexibility.

Increased flexibility and success can be assured.  If companies make some critical changes

  1. Plan for the future, not from the past.  Do more scenario planning and less “core” planning
  2. Obsess about competition – and listen less to customers
  3. Be disruptive.  Don’t focus on optimization and continuous improvement
  4. Embrace White Space to develop new solutions linked to changing market needs

This does work.  Every time.

update links on Thomas Thurston 5/2014:

Profit from growth markets, not “core” markets – Virgin & Nike vs. Dell & Sears


  • We are biased toward doing what we know how to do, rather than something new
  • We like to think we can forever grow by keeping close to what we know – that’s a myth
  • Growth only comes from entering growth markets – whether we know much about them or not
  • To grow you have to keep yourself in growth markets, and it is dangerous to limit your prospects to projects/markets that are “core” or “adjacent to core”

Recently a popular business book has been Profit from the Core.  This book proposes the theory that if you want to succeed in business you should do projects that are either in your “core,” or “adjacent to your core.”  Don’t go off trying to do something new.  The further you move from your “core” the less likely you will succeed.  Talk about an innovation killer!  CEOs that like this book are folks who don’t want much new from their employees. 

I was greatly heartened by a well written blog article at Growth Science International  ( “Profit from Your Core, or Not.. The Myth of Adjacencies.”  Author Thomas Thurston does a masterful job of pointing out that the book authors fall into the same deadly trap as Jim Collins and Tom Peters.  They use hindsight primarily as the tool to claim success.  Their analysis looks backward – trying to explain only past events.  In doing so they cleverly defined terms so their stories seemed to prove their points.  But they are wholly unable to be predictive.  And, if their theory isn’t predictive, then what good is it?  If you can’t use their approach to give a 98% or 99% likelihood of success, then why bother?  According to Mr. Thurston, when he tested the theory with some academic rigor he was unable to find a correlation between success and keeping all projects at, or adjacent to, core.

Same conclusion we came to when looking at the theories proposed by Jim Collins and Tom Peters.  It sounds good to be focused on your core, but when we look hard at many companies it’s easy to find large numbers that simply do not succeed even though they put a lot of effort into understanding their core, and pouring resources into protecting that core with new core projects and adjacency projects.  Markets don’t care about whatever you define as core or adjacent.

It feels good, feels right, to think that “core” or “adjacent to core” projects are the ones to do.  But that feeling is really a bias.  We perceive things we don’t know as more risky than thing we know.  Whether that’s true or not.  We perceive bottled water to be more pure than tap water, but all studies have shown that in most cities tap water is actually lower in free particles and bacteria than bottled – especially if the bottle has sat around a while. 

What we perceive as risk is based upon our background and experience, not what the real, actual risk may be.  Many people still think flying is riskier than driving, but every piece of transportation analysis has shown that commercial flying is about the safest of all transportation methods – certainly much safer than anything on the roadway.  We also now know that computer flown aircraft are much safer than pilot flown aircraft – yet few people like the idea of a commercial drone which has no pilot as their transportation.  Even though almost all commercial flight accidents turn out to be pilot error – and something a computer would most likely have overcome.  We just perceive autos as less risky, because they are under our control, and we perceive pilots as less risky because we understand a pilot much better than we understand a computer.

We are biased to do what we’ve always done – to perpetuate our past.  And our businesses are like that as well.  So we LOVE to read a book that says “stick close to your known technology, known customers, known distribution system – stick close to what you know.”  It reinforces our bias.  It justifies us not doing what we perceive as being risky.  Even though it is really, really, really lousy advice.  It just feels so good – like sugary cereal for breakfast – that we justify it in our minds – like saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” as we consume food that’s probably less healthy than the box it came in!

There is no correlation between investing in your core, or close to core, projects and high rates of return.  Mr. Thurston again points this out.  High rates of return come from investing in projects in growth markets.  Businesses in growth markets do better, even when poorly managed, than businesses in flat or declining markets.  Where there are lots of customers wanting to buy a solution you simply do better than when there are lots of competitors fighting over dwindling customer revenues.  Regardless of how well you don’t know the former or do know the latter.  Market growth is a much better predictor of success than understanding your “core” and whatever you consider “adjacent.”

Virgin didn’t know anything about airlines before opening one – but international travel from London was set to boom and Virgin did well (as it has done in many new markets.)  Apple didn’t know anything about retail music before launching the iPhone and iTunes, but digital music had started booming at Napster and Apple cleaned up.  Nike was a shoe company that didn’t know anything about golf merchandise, but it entered the market for all things golf (first with just one club – the driver – followed by other things) by hooking up with Tiger Woods just as he helped promote the sport into dramatic growth.  

Success comes from entering new markets where there is growth.  Growth can overcome a world of bad management choices.  When there are lots of customers with needs to fill, you can make a lot of mistakes and still succeed.  To restrict yourself to “core” and “adjacent” invites failure, because your “core” and the “adjacent” markets that you know well simply may not grow.  Leaving you in a tough spot seeking higher profits in the face of stiff competition — like Dell today in PCs.  Or GM in autos.  Sears in retailing.  They may know their “core” but that isn’t giving them the growth they want, and need, to succeed in 2010.

What you don’t know can kill you – Facebook, Twitter, iPad, Kindle

Nancy Munro of posted a great blog "Technology was Blago's Enemy Again." Although many people watch The Apprentice, I'm not one.  Apparently the former governor of Illinois was a contestant, and when he was challenged to lead a project team his lack of technology skills got in the way of effectively doing the job. Although he's a smart lawyer and politician, his tool set had become outdated.  A competitive team leader who was very good at texting and other state-of-the-art technologies was able to best Governor Blagojevich's team, and the ex-governor was "fired" by Donald Trump from the show.

On the surface, this is a funny story.  But Nancy points out how it reflects the very real issues of using technology when competing.  All businesses compete every day.  Those that learn to use new technologies are able to get more done, faster and more effectively.  Those who fall into a routine of doing things the same way, and don't advance their tool set, run the risk of being knocked out of the competition.  Mr. Blagojevich's inability to use modern technology killed his chances of winning the competition.

Will you, or your business, go to any trade shows or conferences this year?  Probably.  But you'll limit attendance because you're still worried about financial performance.  How will you select where you go?  Probably by attending the ones most closely associated with your industry or business.  But think about it, are those the ones that will be most valuable?  You'll probably mostly hear what you already know, and reinforce your existing beliefs about the business.  Is that really an effective spend?

Instead, shouldn't you use the funds to learn about what you don't know?  Like how to be a world-class social marketer?  This is an amazingly fast growing area where early adopters are gaining new sales.  For example, Guy Kawasaki and the world's leaders in social marketing will be talking about how to get sales and profits from Twitter and Facebook at something called "The Smartbrief Social Media Success Summit." I'm not a shill for the conference (I'm not even speaking there), but this kind of event offers the very real opportunity of learning something you don't know – rather than reinforcing old Lock-ins and keeping you doing what you've always done.

Have you purchased a Kindle or iPad yet?  If not, how do you know what they can or can't do?  At "Thoughts on the iPad" offers one person's reflection on what the iPad does well, and doesn't, and where it might evolve – as well as how it compares to the Kindle.  These devices are selling in the millions – so are you and your business thinking about how to use one to help sell more products or make more money?  Yahoo and Google are both launching ad models for iPad (see "Yahoo Readies Launch of Online Advertising Model"). Are you considering using this media to reach new customers?  Have you considered how one of these products embedded in what you sell might offer you a competitive advantage?  If you and your colleagues haven't tried one, experimented, how would you know?

Our businesses rarely get into trouble from something we know well.  It's what we don't know, what we ignore, that gets us in trouble.  Like wiping out newspaper classified ads.  The newspapers didn't even see it coming.  On the other hand, if they had investigated and used Craigslist they could have prepared, and maybe even developed a competitive on-line product to grow new revenues! 

It's incumbent upon us to constantly expand into new markets.  We have to constantly keep White Space alive where we use resources to experiment in areas outside traditional permission.  It's easy to keep throwing all our resources into what we know, but in the end, it's what we don't know that will knock us out of the game – like poor Blago.

Lost in the Swamp – Publishing – Random House, Tribune Corporation, News Corp.

Do you read more today, or less than you did 10 years ago?  For most of us, the answer is more.  Our ever present access to email and texting means we watch less TV, and pick up more from reading.  Of course, we read a lot less paper than we used to – books are falling more out of favor every year – and the plight of newspapers and magazines is rocky.  For traditional book publishers like Random House, Pearson, as well as periodical publishers like Tribune Corporation or News Corp. there is a lot of concern about survivability.  But it's not because we're reading less.  It's because the market has shifted, and people are reading differently.

What should a publisher focus upon?  Words.  Content.  A recent Harvard Business School web discussion "HBS Cases: iPads, Kindles, and the Close of a chapter in Book Publishing" highlights that the role of a publisher is to find really good stuff that people want to read.  The author, former CEO of Random House, points out that a publisher's job is to edit content into the format which makes it easiest to understand and digest.  A good publisher aids us in our seeking knowledge, or enjoyment.  But most publishers have completely lost sight of that goal, instead focusing on printing.  Books, magazines and newspapers.  Keep the presses busy, and the old supply chain filled.

In the business lifecycle we start with the Wellspring of ideas.  When something catches hold, we enter the Rapids of growth.  That's great, because growth is a fun place to be.  But when markets start shifting then things go flat.  We think slowness is our fault, so we work harder at what we've always done – but the cause is a market shift so the hard work makes little difference.  We drift into the Swamp, where we are so overwhelmed with all the problems from no to negative growth that we forget what our original purpose was (we get so busy fighting alligators and killing mosquitoes that we forget the mission was to drain the swamp!)  Eventually resources are depleted and we slide into the Whirlpool of failure.

Publishers are now in the Swamp.  Cutting costs, focusing on "big deals" (like bidding wars to publish a book by a celebrity like Sarah Palin), and spending all kinds of time dealing with the supply chain.  As the HBS article explains, while iPad and Kindle represent an opportunity for incremental growth – and new revenue – by feeding people content when they want it where they want it and how they want it – the publishers are in a pitched battle to slow electronic publishing.  The publishers are trying to Defend & Extend their old process of printing, and distributing, paper.  They want to defend their old Success Formula.  And in doing so, they've completely lost sight of the opportunity digital publishing offers!

A paper published on the University of Missouri web site "What Happens When Newspapers Cut Back on Marketing Investments? An Empirical Analysis" is extremely enlightening.  With ad spending down, in an effort to "save" the business, they are cutting editorial. Yet, this is creating a vicious cycle of decline (a Whirlpool is emerging.)

  1. Newsroom cuts are the most costly on revenue.  More than cutting sales or distribution, cutting content led to the greatest loss.  Duh!  Of course.  Readers are there for content – not for ads or distribution!  Talk about forgetting your purpose.
  2. The bigger the cuts, the impact on revenues gets progressively worse!  Remember what I said about creating a whirlpool?  When you cut what people want, you hasten demise.
  3. Newsroom cuts are most costly on profit.  Not only does revenue decline, but of all cost cuts the content cutting not only takes away readers – but quickly advertisers as well.  Advertisers depend on content to draw people to their ads.  Otherwise all you have is an ad tabloid – remember? 

My book publisher is Pearson.  Eighteen months ago I proposed that we take Create Marketplace Disruption and turn it into 16 short stand-alone mini-books.  People could then buy just part of the book, as it suits their needs.  Sell these for $1 or $2 each strictly as electronic downloads.  That idea flew about as far as the famed dodo.  Financial Times Press sells books I was reminded.  No interest in this other wacky idea I proposed. 

But I'm confident that for most of you, the idea of nice short readings – like say a blog – is a lot more appealing than digesting a 225 page bookPeople don't want less words, they just want things differently.  That's why I do public speaking and workshops – because many of us don't want all the detail of the book and appreciate receiving the content in another format.

So, do you know what direction your market is headed?  Are you moving forward to meet emerging needs and preferences?  Or are you trying to defend & extend the way you've historically done business?  For most publishers, the current direction spells disaster – failure.  Learn from their mistakes, Disrupt your approach and find some White Space to learn how you can make money and grow!

Change How You Do Market Research – New Book “Remote Research”

Paralysis from analysis is all too common.  Why? Because for the longest time people have assumed that it's possible to predict the future by studying history.  And there has been ample belief that if you ask customers questions, they will give you the answers which will guide your future.  Further, people want to believe that it was possible to find hidden meaning via discovering previously unseen correlations — even though almost all these sorts of low-score correlations turn out to be spurious, merely mathematical artifacts. 

Readers of this blog know that when we investigated The Phoenix Principle we learned that  traditional market research rarely improves understanding of customers or markets.  And we learned that customers are incredibly unreliable at telling you what they really want, or what they are likely to do next.

Nate Bolt of market research firm Bolt Peters now confirms this.  His recent column at "Stop Listening to Your Customers" is an indictment of traditional market research observed through his 9 years working with clients in the field.

  • "A common assumption… is that listening to
    potential customers is the best way to find out whether your product or
    idea will succeed in the market. Honestly — don’t bother."
  • "Opinions are often inconsistent with behaviors or other attitudes,
    especially when discussing hypotheticals."
  • "Remember 'Clippy" the little character that appeared in Microsoft Word years ago? That
    little bastard arose, in part, from Microsoft asking users if they
    wanted help working on their documents — everyone said, “Sure, sounds
    great.” But once people started actually using it in the real world,
    they hated it
    — it might be one of the most hated features in the
    history of computing."
  • "Never ask people what they think of your product or idea."
  • "Test ideas early by watching behavior. It’s fine if you
    don’t have a 100 percent functional interface — having eight people
    interact with a prototype or even wireframes or design mockups can be
    incredibly useful. Even recruiting strangers from the street to use your
    prototype is better than nothing."
  • "Use unorthodox methods. Companies like Apple and
    37signals make a big deal about never conducting user research. They lie… Releasing products in generations, like Apple does, provides them with
    mountains of reviews, task-specific complaints, crash reports, customer
    support issues, and Genius Bar feedback

Too much money is spent on research that can never, by it's design and method, tell the business what it needs to know.  The only way to know how to compete is to get into the market.  Quit trying to analyze – go do it!  An ounce of  "doing it" is worth a kilogram of research and analysis.  Get out of the office, out of the conference room, and into the market.  Set up a White Space team and make them responsible for launching, learning, reporting and figuring out what customers want that you can sell at a profit.  That feedback is the research which is really worthwhile.  It's faster, easier to get and more accurate than anything you'll get from a market study or focus group!

Nate Bolt's new book is "Remote Research."  The link I found to the book was at

Use Disruptions, not Goals, to Succeed – GM

Many people think the best way to grow is by setting big goals – even Big Audacious Hairy Goals (BHAGs).  But increasingly we're learning that goal setting is not correlated with success.  At there's a partial text, and MP3 download, of a recent interview between General Motors leaders and a University of Arizona Professor titled "It's not always good to create goals." 

The story relates how about a decade a go, with market share hovering at 25%, GM set the goal of moving back to 29%.  It became a huge, multi-year campaign.  Lapel pins with "29" were made and all kinds of motivational programs were put in place.  The GM organization had its goal, and it was highly aligned to the goal.  But it didn't happen.  Despite the goal, and all the energy and talent put into focusing on the goal, GM continued to struggle, lose share – and eventually file bankruptcy.  The goal made no difference.

Worse, the interview goes on to discuss how goals often lead to decidedly undesirable, sometimes unethical – even illegal – behavior.  Instances are cited where goal obsession led company employees to falsify documents, even  ship bricks in place of products to meet sales targets.  No executive wants this, but goals and goal obsession – especially when there is a lot of reinforcement socially and monetarily on the goal – can become a serious problem.

Results are exactly that.  Results.  They are an outcome. They are the way we track our behaviors and activities – our decisions.  When we focus on goals – usually some sort of result – we lose track of what is important.  We have to focus on what we do.  And for most organizations a big goal merely leads people to try working harder, faster,better, cheaper.  But when the Success Formula is mis-aligned with the market – even when the whole organization is aligned on maximizing the Success Formula results will still struggle – even falter.  Goals don't help you fix a Success Formula returning poor results.  Just look at GM.

In fact, it can make matters worse.  In "White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts" (available on the authors point out that when you try to turn a negative (a problem) into a positive (a challenge, or goal), you often achieve a rebound effect making people obsess about the problem.  Tell somebody not to think about a white bear – and it's all they think about.  When your company has a problem and you try to tell employees "hey, don't think about the problem.  Go do your job.  Work harder, increase your focus, and all will work out.  Sure share is down, but don't think about lost share, instead think about the goal of higher market share" frequently the employees will start to become obsessive about the problem.  It will reinforce doing more of the same – perhaps manicly Instead of becoming innovative and doing something new, obsessive devotion to trying to make the old methods produce better results becomes the norm.  Goals don't produce innovation – they produce repetition.

So what should you do when facing a problem?  Disruptions.  GM didn't need a big goal.  GM needed to Disrupt its broken Success Formula.  GM needed to attack a Lock-in (or two).  GM leaders needed to admit the market had shifted, and that competitors were changing the game.  GM needed to recognize, admit and encourage employees to engage in attacking old assumptions – and recognize that market share would continue eroding if they didn't do things differently.  Setting a big goal reinforced the old Lock-ins and even an aligned organization – working it's metaphorical tail off – couldn't make the outdated Success Formula produce positive results. 

Only a Disruption would have helped save GM.  After attacking some Lock-ins, like the desire to move all customers to bigger and more expensive cars, or the desire to focus on long production runs, GM should have set up White Space teams to discover new Success Formulas.  Instead of putting all its management energy and money into growing volume at Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GM nameplates, General Motors leadership should have revitalized the innovative Saturn and Saab to do new things – to develop new approaches that would be more competitive.  Instead of pushing Hummer to have 3 identical cars in 3 sizes, GM leadership should have unleashed Hummer to explore the market for truly unique, limited production vehicles. GM should have allowed Pontiac to really take advantage of the design breakthroughs happening at the Australian design studio – to change the nameplate into a performance car segment leader.  By attacking Lock-ins, Disrupting, and using White Space GM really could have turned around.  Instead, by creating a BHAG GM reinforced its focus on its Hedgehog concept – and drove the company into bankruptcy.

You can see a 40 second video about the value and importance of Disruptions on YouTube here.

A 75 second video on White Space effectiveness on YouTube here.

Read free ebook on "The Fall of GM:  What Went Wrong and How To Avoid Its Mistakes"

Who to follow in 2010? – Amazon, WalMart

Happy New Year!

As we start 2010 the plan, according to The Financial Times, "WalMart aims to cut supply chain costs."  Imagine that.  Cost cutting has been the biggest Success Formula component for WalMart for its entire career.  And now, the company that is already the low cost retailer – and famous for beating its suppliers down on price to almost no profitability – is planning to focus on purchasing for the next 5 years in order to hopefully take another 5% out of purchased product cost.  How'd you like to hear that if Wal-Mart is one of your big customers?  What do you suppose the discussion will be like when you go to Target or KMart (match WalMart pricing?)

Will this make WalMart more admired, or more successful?  This is the epitome of "more of the same."  Even though WalMart is huge, it has done nothing for shareholders for years.  And employees have been filing lawsuits due to unpaid overtime. And some markets have no WalMart stores because the company refuses to allow any employees to be unionized.  This announcement will not make WalMart a more valuable company, because it simply is an attempt to Defend the Success Formula.

On the other hand according to Newsweek, in "The Customer is Always Right," Amazon intends to keep moving harder into new products and markets in 2010.  Amazon has added enormous value to its shareholders, including gains in 2009, as it has moved from bookselling to general merchandise retailing to link retailing to consumer electronics with the Kindle and revolutionizing publishing with the Kindle store.  Amazon isn't trying to do more of the same, it's using innovation to drive growth

And the CEO, Jeff Bezos freely admits that his success today is due to scenario development and plans laid 4 years ago – as Amazon keeps its planning focused on the future.  With the advent of many new products coming out in 2010 – including the Apple Tablet – Amazon will have to keep up its focus on new products and markets to maintain growth.  Good thing the company is headed that direction.

So which company would you rather work for?  Invest in?  Supply? 

Which will you emulate?

PS – "Create Marketplace Disruption:  How To Stay Ahead of the Competition" was selected last week to be on the list of "Top 25 Books to read in 2010" by PCWorld and InfoWorld.  Don't miss getting your copy soon if you haven't yet read the book.

In Good Company – Innosight and IBM

Seizing the White Space is a new book being launched by HBS Press (and being pre-sold on  I'm very glad to read about others who are taking up the message of Create Marketplace Disruption – which first published the critical role of White Space in successfully managing any business (published in 2008 by Financial Times Press and also available on 

The author, Mark Johnson, is Chairman of Innosight, a consulting firm he co-founded with Clayton Christenson who's on the Harvard Business School faculty (and author of The Innovator's Dilemma also on  Innosight primarily focuses on consulting businesses to identify Disruptive innovations.  Now the Chairman is starting to realize that implementation is as important as identifying the implementation – and he's linked it to WHITE SPACE.  Great!!!

You can read his insights to how IBM and some of his other large clients have used White Space in an Harvard Business Publishinng Blog "Is Your Company Brave Enough For Business Model Innovation?" You'll quickly see that he applies The Disruptive Opportunity Matrix from chapter 10 of Create Marketplace Disruption – which is how companies have been shown to reach new businesses using White Space.  It's so gratifying to read somebody else who's applied your research and come to the same conclusions!

I'm looking forward to the book.  Readers please let me know what you think of the author's blog post – and the book when it comes out.

Post-script to yesterday's blog about the CEO of GM:

"Cat's Owens, Deere's Lane on short list of CEO candidates" is the AP article appearing on Crain's Chicago Business about the search for a new leader at GM.  As I predicted yesterday, recruiters seem to think the ideal candidate for the job needs to be from another big industrial company.  And preferably, an auto company "to understand the industry complexities."  Not only is there no incentive for these highly paid executives to take a similar job, at a lot less pay, in a government funded organization — but investors shouldn't want it!  GM needs change.  And more change than trying to make GM into John Deere, or CAT.

John Deere has had weak results for decades.  The company has been wedged between other equipment manufacturers so badly that most of its profits now come from yard tractors homeowner's buy from Home Depot.  Just because the company is big, and one of the few left making equipment for which there is declining demand, is no reason to want the CEO at a turnaround like GM.  Likewise, CAT is under intense competition from Komatsu, Volvo and other manufacturers who are squeezing it from all sides – jeapardizing revenues and profitsOnly acquistions have kept CAT growing the last 10 years, and margins have plummeted.  That leadership is not what's needed at GM either.

When will somebody speak up for the investors and start a search in the right direction?  GM needs leadership that thinks entirely differently.  Unwilling to accept old-fashioned industrial notions about how to lead a company.  Like I recommended, go somewhere entirely different.  Maybe recruit somebody from Dell or HP or Cisco that understands rapid design cycles.  Or someone from Wal-Mart or Target that understands how to sell things – cheaply.  Or someone from Oracle or Mozilla or Google that understands the value of software – and that the product is a lot more than the iron – so you can capture the right value.  It's so disappointing to read how the "recruiting industry" is just as Locked-in as GM. 

If one of you readers knows somebody on the GM Board, maybe you should send them this blog (and yesterday's) to see if they can consider searching in the right place for new leadership!

Don't miss the recent ebook, "The Fall of GM"  for a
quick read on how easily any company (even the nation's largest employer) can be
easily upset by market shifts.  And learn what GM could have done to avoid
bankruptcy – lessons that can help your business grow!

Defend & Extend – book publishing, movie distribution,

If you try standing in the way of a market shift you are going to get treated like the poor cowboy who stands in front of a cattle stampede.  The outcome isn't pretty.  Yet, we still have lots of leaders trying to Defend & Extend their business with techniques that are detrimental to customers.  And likely to have the same impact on customers as the cowpoke shooting a pistol over the head of the herd.

Book publishers have a lot to worry about.  Honestly, when did you last read a book?  Every year the demand for books declines as people switch reading habits to shorter formats.  And book readership becomes more concentrated in the small percentage of folks that read a LOT of books.  And those folks are moving faster and faster to Kindle type digital e-book devices.  So the market shift is pretty clear.

Yet according to the Wall Street Journal  Scribner (division of Simon & Schuster) is delaying the release of Stephen King's latest book in e-format ("Publisher Delays Stephen King eBook").  They want to sell more printed books, so they hope to force the market to buy more paper copies by delaying the ebook for 6 weeks.  They think that people will want to give this book as a gift, so they'll buy the paper copy because the ebook won't be out until 12/24.

So what will happen?  Kindle readers I know don't want a paper book.  They wait.  Giving them a paper copy would create a reaction like "Oh, you shouldn't have.  I mean, really, you shouldn't have."  So the idea that this gets more printed books to e-reader owners is faulty.  That also means that the several thousand copies which would get sold for e-readers don't.  So you end up with lots of paper inventory, and unsatisfactory sales of both formats.  That's called "lose-lose."  And that's the kind of outcome you can expect when trying to Defend & Extend an outdated Success Formula.

Simultaneously, as book sales become fewer and more concentrated a higher percent of volume falls onto fewer titles.  And that is exactly where WalMart, Target and Amazon compete.  High volume, and for 2 of the 3 companies, limited selection.  This gives the reseller more negotiating clout against the publisher.   So as the big retailers look for ways to get people in the store, they are willing to sell books at below cost – loss leaders. 

So now publishers are joining with the American Booksellers Association to seek an anti-trust case against the big retailers according to the Wall Street Journal again in "Are Amazon, WalMart and Target acting like Predators?" .  Publishers want to try Defending their old pricing models, and as that crumbles in the face of market shifts they try using lawyers to stop the shift.  That will probably work just as well as the lawsuits music publishers tried using to stop the distribution of MP3 tunes.  Those lawsuits ended up making no difference at all in the shift to digital music consumption and distribution.

"Movie Fans Might Have to Wait To Rent New DVD Releases" is the Los Angeles Times headline. The studios like 20th Century Fox, Universal and Warner Brothers want individuals to buy more DVDs.  So their plan is to refuse to sell DVDs to rental outfits like Netflix, Redbox and Blockbuster.  Just like Scribner with its Stephen King book, they are hoping that people won't wait for the rental opportunity and will feel forced to go buy a copy.  Like that's the direction the market is heading – right?

If they wanted to make a lot of money, the studios would be working hard to find a way to deliver digital format movies as fast as possible to people's PCs – the equivalent of iTunes for movies – not trying to limit distribution!  That the market is shifting away from DVD sales is just like the shift away from music CD sales, and will not be fixed by making it harder to rent movies.  Although it might increase the amount of piracy – just like similar actions backfired on the music studios 8 years ago.

Defending & Extending a business only works when it is in the Rapids of market growth.  When growth slows, the market is moving on.  Trying to somehow stop that shift never works.  Only an arrogant internally-focused manager would think that the company can keep markets from shifting in a globally connected digital world.  Consumers will move fast to what they want, and if they see a block they just run right over it – or go where you least want them to go (like to pirates out of China or Korea.) 

They only way to deal with market shifts is to get on board.  "Skate to where the puck will be" is the over-used Wayne Gretzsky quote.  Be first to get there, and you can create a new Success Formula that captures value of new growth markets.  And that's a lot more fun than getting trampled under a herd of shifting customers that you simply cannot control.