So here’s the really big idea.
A lot of us use GPS for a variety of things today, especially driving directions. But when we get driving directions, like the directions from my home to the Blue C Sushi restaurant in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, there’s one basic issue – the directions are provided in a totally reactive way. The search engines don’t know where we want to go until we tell them.
But there’s a way to change that.
What’s the one place that knows where we will be hours, days, even months in advance? Our calendar.
What if when a calendar appointment is created, we get prompted with a “would you like directions to this appointment?” and you could answer yes or no.
Then, if you clicked “yes” what if it asked you how familiar you are with the departure location and the destination (high/medium/low buttons would probably do the trick) that way it doesn’t spend the first 10 lines of the directions telling me how to get from my house to Interstate-5. I know how to get to I-5 and I know Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood pretty well too.
Then when it’s about time for you to leave for your appointment, it goes out to scrape information about accidents and events from DOT and related sites so if there’s a likely slowdown, it can recommend a different path.
Then, if you want to sell some ads, tell me that Blue C is on the left side of the street just after the gas station.
So then Bing can run the searches and send me an e-mail with the directions, which might also be a good reminder of the event. Proactive search.
Integrating Bing with Outlook would be great for Bing and Outlook and I would use it every day.
Go bing or go home.
By the way, if you haven’t used Bing Visual Search, it’s really a great experience.
At lunch I was talking with my friend Bruce about this article that was in the paper today by David Pogue. On the one hand, this company called Square that has a little doo-dah that plugs into a mobile device could really transform payments and transactions between non-merchants, I thought the more stunning portion was the data on how much the credit card companies get at the point of the transaction (3%-4% of the value of the transaction plus a flat fee of 30 cents). So not only are the credit cards sticking it to people with cartoonish interest rates, they get the merchant on the front end.
So you can read the article, but basically with this device, anyone can perform a credit card transaction (no sign up, no monthly fees) in exchange for giving up 2.75% and a 15 cent fee. So if you are at a yard sale and want to buy a mirror, you can just swipe your card on the phone of the seller and conduct the transaction with your credit card. VERY cool. It seems like this would spawn a variety of new software products and it could further reduce the amount of cash people use. I would think the percentage charged would be less, but that may come with volume. $2.90 received for every $100 spent is a LOT of money in any volume.
The article said that Apple declined to modify their phone to have a groove for credit cards, which is why this little slidey doo-dah has to be plugged, in but this sounds like such a great opportunity for Microsoft and their new Windows Phone 7 to have a major area of differentiation from the iPhone.
No is the answer to the question that is the title of this post.
There was an article in the Saturday paper by Kim Severson called “Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries” and none of it surprised me because I think kids are not the right thing to target in the war on obesity which is really a war on type 2 diabetes which is what leads to heart disease, stroke and lots of other things.
The good news is that it’s not that hard to get rid of type 2 diabetes (which by itself costs $14,000 per person per year to treat, and 1 in 4 Americans has it or has the genetic marker to get it) and all of the downstream diseases. Typically if a person loses just 6% of their body weight, it all goes away. That’s not an incredible amount.
The bad news is that people aren’t losing the weight and the problem is getting a lot worse, faster, and it is now especially bad in kids.
I have lots of suggestions on how to move the needle on this, and I was lucky enough to spend some time last month with the US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin talking about it. She’s great, by the way.
But before I start into the suggestions, I want to first look in the rearview mirror to investigate a “war” that we seem to have largely won, and that’s the war on cancer. My question is why we have been more successful at getting people to quit something that is literally, clinically, addictive in smoking, and we are losing ground on things that are easier, or cheaper, or just taste better? Or is it really just an education issue? Or is it really a business issue? This is a big topic and I am not going to tackle all of it today, but here are some thoughts:
1) People were told that if they smoke they will get cancer, which most people equate with death. And a lot of people know someone who got lung cancer and died, my maternal grandfather in my case. I read the obituaries in the paper every day and not once have I ever seen the cause of death listed as obesity. I wondered about the old fashioned cause of death “consumption” but it turns out that’s another term for tuberculosis, not consuming too much food. I would assert that people don’t know being fat can kill them just as smoking can. They know heart disease will kill them but I don’t think people know the direct link is there between diabetes and heart disease. So RECOMMENDATION #1 is to turn the dial on the messaging and let people know that donuts and pizza and candy bars and burgers aren’t so different from cigarettes, they are just harder to light (I imagine). People aren’t scared enough about obesity.
2) People are hearing a lot about the obesity issue but it’s very rare that I hear anyone talking about the solution. My friend Jenn Ty tells me that Robb Wolf’s new book The Paleo Solution offers great guidance, but I think we need the Surgeon General to do public service announcements with facts like the 6% number I mentioned above. I am pretty sure the old messages from former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop had an impact. So RECOMMENDATION #2 get out some simple messaging from the Surgeon General and others. One company that is well suited to get behind this is the bank ING, their current ad campaign recommends that people know what their “number” is in terms of how much money they would need to retire. Extend that to knowing what your “number”is for your target weight (current weight minus the six percent).
3) The other end of this is the business end. At $14,000 a person per year, either you or your company or an insurance company is paying for that. I wrote before about how Safeway had no choice but to push on a corporate wellness program because their health care costs are growing way faster than their profits and they need to turn that tide. The evidence is there that the 6% number is real and companies need to do more, and some of it is experimentation with different programs and messages, because corporate culture will play a role. Different messages, different programs, different incentives, people need to move on this now. So that’s RECOMMENDATION #3 on rethinking all of this – corporate America and the insurance folks need to do more experimentation to drive these costs down.
4) A lot of people talk about childhood diabetes. Yes it is a problem, but until you get the parents educated and aware, and on board, focusing on the kids will be a waste of time and money as Severson’s article points out. That’s no surprise to me. Start with the parents and it will trickle down to the kids. RECOMMENDATION #4, focus on the parents first, and the childhood obesity piece will follow, not the other way around.
If we don’t slow the growth of diabetes, people will end up in the hospital, and we know that whole system is already a mess, so we need to stop this upstream of the people going to the hospital.
I would love to hear your feedback.
As far as I can tell, anyone who has an iPhone that is stuck with AT&T hates AT&T, but accepts it as a given that the service is poor, unpredictable, and generally awful.
But somehow, I think we have come to accept the AT&T bad service as a sort of benign neglect that the network is so bad that the hate has taken on somewhat of a familial hate, where we despise the company, but because in some weird way they are like family so we put up with them, like certain relatives that we might see once a year at Thanksgiving.
That was true for me until yesterday just before 1:00 PM.
That was when I got my monthly text message from AT&T announcing how much would be billed to my credit card.
July 21, the message told me that my monthly bill was $117.83
August 21, the message said the monthly bill was $119.46
Yesterday, the message told me my monthly bill was $412.21.
That’s a 254% increase from the previous month, when the previous month delta was 1.4%
Assuming this was all some sort of mistake, I called AT&T and the woman on the phone quickly assured me that this was because of a significant increase in usage, something that didn’t, and doesn’t sound right to me. But that gets to the heart of why I am writing this blog.
Since it’s their word against mine, and I really wasn’t expecting my cell phone bill to be 254% higher than it was the month before (it didn’t seem like I used my cell phone any more than usual), I put my tail between my legs, as it were, and asked the woman if there is any way to set alerts to let me know when I have crossed certain billing thresholds so that I can cut back on my usage – really trying to make the best of a bad situation. My real goal was to prevent this from happening again. Her response was that I can login and check up on the status of my account any time. Figuring she hadn’t understood the question, since it has already been established that it’s REALLY easy for them to send me a text message, I told her that didn’t answer my question. From there she told me in a very stern, unfriendly tone “your phone is your responsibility and it’s your responsibility to keep track of your usage.” Really!?
This reminds me of the signs in rooms that declare maximum occupancy rates (who is really going to keep count?)
This reminds me of elevator weight limits (do they expect us to announce our weights to ensure the total doesn’t exceed the limit?)
With our mobile devices, it’s completely unrealistic to keep track of the total of the minutes we use, and if AT&T wants to charge me a dollar a day for a report to be sent to my device to tell me about my minutes, when the bill for this utility service can swing by 245% in one month, I would pay that, though weekly probably makes more sense in my case.
The point is that this is predatory behavior and AT&T should be ashamed of themselves. It’s bad enough that I am stuck with them because I have an iPhone, but for them to be so rude to me and not give me any option to easily, simply report on usage should be a crime. A felony.
Shame on you AT&T.
I hope Elizabeth Warren of the new consumer protection bureau puts you high on your list, someone should go to jail for this. A 245% swing in cost for a commodity function is wrong. AT&T needs to do some rethinking. Now.
OK, last week I traveled again and again I was amazed at how outdated some of the elements of commercial travel remain.
Here are the problems:
1) TSA lines take way, way too much time and line length seems almost random
2) These days announcing that “we have a very full flight” has almost the same effect as shouting “FIRE!” in a theater
3) Most of us check in well before the gate has been announced for the flight, and figuring that out can be a hassle
4) Seat assignments have never been more complex, especially when flights are canceled.
5) The limits on carry on luggage are not enforced
I don’t think any of those are too controversial, and here are my thoughts on how to improve each, and I just hope someone, somewhere, especially at Alaska Airlines, is listening.
1) TSA. If we can’t speed up the line, and I don’t have a good way to speed up the line, but most people these days have a mobile device in their pocket and it just wouldn’t be too hard to have a site that gets updated every 10-15 minutes that says what the typical wait time is so that you can at least plan a little bit for this.
2) Announcement. It’s easy to check how full the flight is when you check in the night before, so I always know, but beyond that the airlines have the message board up above that lists the number of people on standby. Can’t people connect the dots that if there are people on standby (usually) then it’s a very full flight? Give us some credit and for people who can’t figure it out yet, they’ll learn.
3) Gate. The airline knows my e-mail address. I know this because they send me an e-mail 24 hours before my flight with all kinds of information. If they already do that, why not shoot me another e-mail when the gate is announced, and if the gate changes, e-mail me again. Most people check their wireless devices in the airport.
4) Seat assignments. In the rethink talks I give, I help organizations see through some of the industry labels they use to describe themselves to help them really isolate what business they are in and what business they aren’t in. Today their aren’t many things that differentiate commercial airlines beyond price, not the way we check in for flights, and not even the flights themselves or the food we are served. So what’s left? Seat assignments are nothing more than an inventory management challenge. Every flight has a set number of seats, the inventory, and that supply of inventory needs to get mapped to the demand side. It’s really not as complex as they make it. I should just be able to go to the web site of the airline and list out the things that are most, and least important to me about my trip. Take last week, I went to Denver to give a talk to some people from the Qortex company and their friends and clients. So if I could have just told United that I wanted to get there Wednesday PM and leave Friday morning and I wanted seats on the window in the back, it should have been pretty easy for them to pick flights and seats for me and save several clicks. Similarly, if a flight was canceled, I could have let them know that it wasn’t urgent for me to get back Friday afternoon, so rebooking would be easy, but if it had been urgent, they could have just called me. They say they can’t make outbound calls, but that’s a silly policy, but if true, then they should text me – that’s free.
5) Luggage. Argh. This is the reason boarding is such a nightmare. The overhead bins fill up, and checking luggage takes FOREVER to get back and stuff gets lost. But I see lots of people with nothing under the seat in front of them and that’s a big part of why the overheads get full. There needs to be enforcement and it will make things a lot better.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?
In The New York Times today there was this interesting article about startups and entrepreneurs and venture capital and it centered around a company called Scavenger (they should call Vanna White to report that someone stole their vowels).
The basic goal of Scavenger is, in the words of their Princeton drop out founder and CEO, to “build the game layer on top of the world.” and I agree that this is a huge idea that could be the next Groupon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Foursquare etc.
You can read the article for yourself, but at this point I think Scavenger is making a big mistake and I think Randall Stross almost got there in his article today in the same paper talking about why Netflix is beating Blockbuster (among other things).
Let me start with the Stross article. A key observation that he makes is that both Redbox and Netflix are succeeding. Redbox is the company that has kiosks in grocery stores and you can rent movies for a dollar and of course Netflix is the company that you subscribe to and you can get movies and entertainment mailed to you, or you can stream the content over the internet. Part of the point of the article was that Blockbuster went out of business because they didn’t realize fast enough that the “bricks” element of their business wasn’t important to their customers. The point that Stross didn’t make, that I think is vital for Scavenger, is why Redbox and Netflix can coexist and thrive in the same market. There’s an easy and a harder explanation for this. The harder involves market segmentation and the fact that Netflix isn’t competing with Redbox, they are selling to very different demographics. The easier point is that Redbox got into the head of the customer and figured out that renting a movie could be a bit like an ATM in the sense that you know people are going to be at the grocery store – put your machine there so they don’t have to make an extra trip, and anyone can afford a dollar a rental. Netflix has been in the head of their customer since the beginning and when DVDs could be mailed, they realized that was a better and easier way to rent, and now with iPads and high speed home connections, a lot of people prefer to watch on demand and they are on top of that and their stock price reflects the success.
Back to Scavenger.
I totally agree that most of what we do as consumers can be boiled down to games. That’s a great insight. The trick is to get into the heads of the customer. The games that a teenager will want to participate in are very different from the games a 44 year-old business executive like me will want to participate in. So what? Well in most cases I have a lot more discretionary money to spend and it would seem to make sense to to some of that demographic analysis to help prioritize where to focus. And to the point of the writer of that article, if the games are product specific and don’t aggregate into a larger point pool, that needs to get changed ASAP. I hope Scavenger realizes the potential of this big idea, I just think they need to do some major rethinking before they will actually be able to cause the kind of business earthquake Netflix has now created twice.
P.S. Look for my next book “Surviving Business Earthquakes” starting in October at a Starbucks near you.
If you think your human resources team is there to help you when things get bumpy, well you might as well still believe in Santa Claus.
There are two really basic things your human resources team are measured on:
1) Helping to fill open positions
2) Preventing your company from getting sued
#1 is obvious, and #2 makes sense if you think about it. In the case of #2, unless there’s a lot of evidence about an HR violation, when there is an argument between two people that involves HR, they are always going to prioritize a positive outcome for the company ahead of a positive outcome for you and that often means the more senior person in the argument wins no matter what.
Feel free to argue with me on point #2, but that’s not actually the focus of this blog entry.
The big risk to companies today is being asleep at the wheel at #1 – hiring.
Let me start with some recent examples involving Amazon and Google, two companies that are doing well and growing a lot today, which is great for them in an economy that is down overall.
I have spoken with a number of immensely qualified and accomplished people who have looked for roles at those two companies, and the response has been the same. Even when they have a personal contact at these companies, the message that comes back from HR is that they need to find a specific open position before starting a conversation about where they fit.
If you are talking about a low skill position like flipping burgers I can see an attitude like that, but you have the chance to hire a really senior person with really great skills, that attitude is not only just plain lazy, it’s bad business.
A friend of mine who is a recruiter told me that part of this is because in a bad economy, people out of work are scampering for anything and everything they can get. I get that, but putting it all on the job seeking side of the equation is a huge mistake.
For one thing, when a truly great candidate comes along, when money isn’t an issue (as it’s not for Amazon and Google) you should consider a defensive hire – hire the person just so your competition can’t.
Second, and more importantly, while I appreciate that everyone is really busy in these companies, you still need to take the time to consider that this person could transform a department, a division, or the entire organization even when there isn’t an open position that fits their exact background. If you look at Microsoft in the 70s and 80s especially, one of the things they did with repeated success was to take a really smart person and drop them into a spot where they had zero prior experience. The belief that proved out was that really great people would figure out how to be successful in these new roles. That’s not to say it will be successful 100% of the time, but more of that kind of attitude is needed today when there is so much incredible talent out there today.
To be fair, this doesn’t solely fall on the shoulders of the HR team, a lot of this falls on the shoulder of the executives and the company culture. If they are executives, they ought to have enough pull to point out a truly great candidate and say “hey, we just need to figure out a place for this person to land and work with HR to make it happen.”
In an economy like this, this is the time to really have your sharp pencils out, looking for the next Susan Boyle, the person who isn’t an obvious fit immediately. There are so many incredibly talented people out there looking for new roles, and I know people who have good jobs who are looking for other jobs – this isn’t just the unemployed people I am talking about.
Now is the time for HR teams to really shine and help their company find those great candidates. Hiding behind the message of “find a position the fits your skills” for executive roles is lazy and dangerous for companies that really want to continue to do well in this economy. If your HR team is that lazy, maybe those are the folks you need to consider replacing.
P.S. By the way – if you don’t usually read Seattle Business magazine, there’s a great article about HR by Scott Rabinowitz in a recent issue.
Blogging Innovation, the well known site that publishes all sorts of content about innovation, including many bloggers, has opened the voting for their “Top 40 Innovation Bloggers” contest, and the link to that is http://www.business-strategy-innovation.com/wordpress/2010/09/voting-open-top-40-innovation-bloggers/
Today I was talking with Tucker Max (author of I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell) of all people this afternoon and we were talking about how incredibly unpleasant air travel is, the way people take so much time to move down the aisle and get out of the way.
The fact is that people seem to have gotten increasingly rude in airports and on airplanes, at least in the US, and I am not really all that surprised that the flight attendant slid down the emergency chute a couple of weeks ago with two beers because he just couldn’t take it anymore.
But having done some rethinking about this, I shared an idea I had with Tucker, and he liked it so I am sharing it here.
The key to this idea is that it doesn’t cost the airline a thing to implement, except for a little bit of training, and maybe a minor computer change.
What if the airlines let it be known that at the end of boarding, a flight attendant would award the best behaved passenger with a free upgrade. Consider it like a lottery ticket. They airlines save one of their first class seats for this program, so people are very motivated to get the free upgrade. My bet is that is enough to get people to be much more considerate and efficient in boarding (which also helps the airlines with on time departures).
I think it’s at least worth a shot. Air travel is so unpleasant these days, they are going to have to do something, right?
While I am at it, I have two other ideas for the airlines to consider to make the experience better:
1) Full. When the flight is really full, don’t announce that. That’s almost like shouting “FIRE!” in a theater these days because we all know there’s a shortage of overhead space, unless we are in a special mileage club or first class, we might not be able to get all of our stuff into the overheads. So don’t create the panic. Don’t say anything.
2) Delayed. for people who want to upgrade or who are on standby, the standard rule is that they won’t release those changes until 15 minutes before scheduled departure, and that includes if the plane has been delayed, which makes no sense to me. First of all, with so many of us checking in hours before departure via the web, they probably have a really good sense of how full the plane will be, but when it gets delayed by say an hour, they should unlock those seats 15 minutes before the originally scheduled departure – that would give them a full hour to manage all of the seat juggling.
That’s my $.02 on how to make flying better.
P.S. If you want to know why I was talking with Tucker Max, I would be happy to explain.