Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Show Me a Man Who's Angry...

...and I'll show you a man who cares. It works in nearly any context. The only trick is that by 'angry' I don't mean someone who just gets mad when it's his or her issue (i.e. a dispute about pay, sick days, leave, etc.) I mean show me a person who gets fired up about the job itself and I'll say you've got a quality employee on your hands.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Sorta Counterintuitive Thing About "Free"

I got a letter in the mail the other day with a Salem, NH return address.  It looked *real* (in other words, not just another bill or piece of junk mail) so I opened it, thinking it might be a card from a friend whose fiancee lives up that way.

As it happened, there was a $100 gift certificate to a restaurant inside the envelope.

I thought this was pretty interesting -- they're willing to take the risk on printing, stamping, and mailing letters to people nearby, and then include $100 gift certificates as enticements to eat there, as a way to drum up business.

Does that make them desperate?  The reality could be that it's quite the opposite.  Maybe, in fact, they're so confident in their product that they see the gift certificates as a better form of marketing than local TV and radio spots, AdWords placements, YouTube campaigns, or glossy promos in the local papers.  They've run their numbers, and they know that the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) of someone who enjoys their product is high.  The tricky thing, perhaps, is making the acquisition.

Giveaways, gimmes, and freebies are well-established ways for businesses to generate buzz, build a brand, gain loyal users, etc.  The tricky thing, though, is that they've gotta be done right.

Eventually, a business that just gives things away should stop pretending to be a business, and just call itself a charity.  So that restaurant should send me that first gift certificate, but if they made it annual thing, I'd condition myself to just wait for that early-November letter every year, eat there once, and call it good for the next 12 months.

If anyone says they truly, fully understand *free* they're lying.  Free is great, and free sucks.  I can fill a room full of Ph.Ds who will insist -- loudly -- that no business should EVER give something away free, because that means they're devaluing themselves, creating off-kilter expectations, distorting their market, etc.  Then, I could fill an EQUALLY big room with another group of experts who would say the opposite.

Bottom line?  It depends.

I am building a business with a heavy dose of initial *free* and yes, sometimes I question my sanity. Whether it is/was the right move, I will only know in retrospect.  That's why I sometimes watch the Steve Jobs 2005 commencement speech in which he insists that things DO make sense afterwards...it's a great source of inspiration.

PayPal got going by paying people a significant sum of dough to use its service.  Again, were they desperate? Were they out of their minds?

With the ease of retrospect and 20/20 hindsight, the answer there is a resounding, "No."  What they did know is that they were on to something.  They also knew there could be resistance among early users who did not understand how its service worked.  They put a whole bunch of chips down on the felt based on those assumptions, and things have worked out quite well for them since.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Bernie's Words, Their Words

I'm home today.  On the one hand, that's a nice relief.  On the other, it's time dedicated to detailed spreadsheets displaying all the flight information for the Salt Lake City Airport (SLC) from 2007 to 2012. It's valuation exercises with Free Cash Flows and Residual Income to prep for a midterm Monday.  It's a massive project about Health Care process flows, along with preparation for drilling at Devens all day tomorrow and Sunday, prior to MAG engagements every night next week.

Someone please be sure to let me know when mid-December gets here.  Let's celebrate with a Clausthaler.

But, today at least, 'working' means I get to listen to the City Council meeting in the background, not shave, and wear pajamas.

One exchange that I loved came at the very end of the meeting.  CC Mercier had introduced a motion about existing lawsuits involving the city.  On more than one occasion, she asked CM Lynch, "Whose responsibility is it to make these decisions [in reference to the city's response to the suits]?"

His answer: "That'd be the City Manager's decision."

Her response to that: "Well then that's you -- you're the City Manager."

His comeback: "Yes, I am currently the City Manager.  I happen to be the City Manager.  But the statutory responsibility for that falls with the City Manager."

Mercier:  "Yes, with you."

Lynch:  "Well, with the City Manager.  I was not the City Manager when this came up in 2002, or when the appeal decision was made in 2006."

CC Elliott jumped in later on and  played the same 'who is responsible' word game, which was equally worthy of Abbott & Costello.

Words matter.  If you've spent time around large organizations, you should know that responsibility and authority should rest with the holder of a particular position, but not with that specific personality.  It may seem like a picayune, nitpicky point...but it's not.  Well-designed organizations are not built around personalities.  Bernie was completely right to make that word choice distinction, and then to continually emphasize it throughout the exchange.

On a word choice tangent that's not CC-related, listen to the way the people you work with choose their pronouns. Watch how quickly 1st-person pronouns (we, us, our) get thrown around during times of success, and then how quickly they turn to the 2nd-person (you) when things start to go sour.

If I'm driving (figuratively or literally), I want a person in the shotgun seat who says, "We're lost, let's fix this" after a wrong turn.  The person who coughs out a "you're lost" without seeing the irony of the statement is the person who can (figuratively or literally) take a hike.

If you're trying to make character assessments, listening to the way people selectively choose their pronouns during good and bad times ain't a bad place to start.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Take a Bump...The First One's Free

Check it.  This is admittedly a very small sample size, and it's completely lacking any qualitative analysis... (In other words, I'm not factoring in the chance that someone might leave a nasty voicemail on the Superintendent's phone in which she threatens to rip off sensitive body parts of the Superintendent).

But I've got challengers in BOLD CAPS and first-termers in Italics.

And yes, yes, I know that not all challengers are created equal.  Some have already held elected positions, already run for citywide offices, etc.  But I just defined it in the simplest way I could: "Someone not currently serving on the School Committee."

There will be time later on for more analysis, but for now this may suggest there is a "Challenger Bump" enjoyed by School Committee candidates, followed by a time of great vulnerability (first re-election attempt).

Outliers are highlighted..."outlier" defined here as greater than one standard deviation from the mean in either direction.  If you catch any errors here, lemme know and I'll fix 'em!  Thanks...

Oh, and "AVG VOTES" should say "Avg. # of Votes per Voter."  Labels are missing for 2013, 2011, and 2009, respectively, from left to right.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Spin the Black Circle

There were 71,502 total votes cast in yesterday's City Council election.  With 11,581 unique voters doing the casting, that means the average person voted for 6.17 candidates.

Assume a bell-shaped, normal distribution.  Imagine you could insert a candidate into the race with completely random traits, name recognition, likability, etc. (I know that makes no sense, but just bear with me here and suspend disbelief).  Let's call him John Q. Random.

The column on the right shows the percent likelihood that the random candidate could have surpassed that candidate's vote total.  In other words, there's only a 2.3 percent chance that the random candidate surpasses Mercier's total, but it's better than 97 percent that he beats Fred Doyle.  The people closest to the mean are at the top of the curve, which is why Mr. Random would be about 50/50 to be on either side of their vote total.

** EDIT: I've already caught some flak for this, which is good (hey, someone was reading it!)...please let me clarify what I mean by 'random.'  I don't mean 'random' in the sense of a name plucked from thin air and placed on the ballot.  I don't mean 'random' in the colloquial usage of something or someone out of place, unexplained, etc.  What I mean is that it would be a candidate whose strengths and weaknesses -- the things that would make a person vote or not vote for him or her -- were randomized.

For you Gaussian fans, I'm saying that with the area under the entire curve being 1.00, Rita's vote total falls on the right-side tail, with only .023 of the area not covered.  All the candidates except Mercier, Elliott, Pech, and the Doyles fall inside the one-standard deviation portion of the bell.  That's a strong statement about the competitiveness of city elections!