Be Interesting by First, Being Interested

“Be fast, be first, but never be alone. Nothing can replace the value of teamwork.” ― Farshad Asl 

Hi Everyone, 
I wanted to say thank you for all the feedback and thoughtfulness I received from many of you regarding last week’s Desk of Brad. Indeed, we are at the threshold of some very interesting times. Keep the ideas flowing and continue to reach out to me with your thoughts and suggestions. I also appreciated the book recommendations I received… thank you! 
When I was contemplating starting Tahzoo, the first thing I did was write out a list of values that I wanted to build a company around. This was before we had a name and frankly even before deciding what the company would be doing. In my mind, if we could agree on a core set of values and organizing principles, then we’d have the opportunity to bring together a group of likeminded people to solve problems. A careful note of distinction — I never expected to build a company where like-mindedness was centered around one or a few technical disciplines, quite to the contrary, it seemed to me that having a core set of values would be the glue that would hold the company together rather than consistency in our collective expertise. 
The purpose of these values was to ensure that we could bring together a wide variety of people from differing backgrounds and experiences to solve some very difficult problems and be able to count on these types of people every day. I think Smart and Happy is the easiest of the values to understand. Who wouldn’t want to go to work every day with a group of smart and happy people? It wouldn’t matter what you “did” for the company or that you’d work within integrated teams, but you could count on the notion that at least you’d be working with Smart and Happy teammates. It’s a simple hypothesis, “that consistency in values across a company would facilitate more effective teams and better solutions as we tackled difficult problems”. 
A quick reminder of the company values – The words have been tweaked from time to time but the sentiment remains that same. 

  1. If you care about your clients and you care about your employees, you’ll have a company worth caring about 
  2. We hire for character before we hire for capability or qualifications 
  3. We want to work with interesting people, who are interested in change 
  4. We believe in the marketplace of ideas 
  5. We hire Smart and Happy people 

  Touching on value number three, “We want to work with interesting people who are interested in change” … My DOB last week was about change. I approach change with vigor and curiosity, maybe it’s a way of dealing with my fear of change or a natural extension of my curiosity. Either way, I find the idea of change, understanding what is going to change, and the reward of experiencing change to be a central and driving force in my life. I am excited about all the change happening within Tahzoo right now, we are going places! We are doing great work for amazing clients and most importantly we are perfecting our craft. 
I was chatting with Dara Keo, VP of Technology, today about the importance of trust among teams and trust between Tahzoo and our clients. One of the first and most important steps in building trust is getting to know one another. We have a lot of interesting people at Tahzoo, take the time to get to know your peers, their interests, their hobbies, and their passions. My challenge to each of you this week is to go spend some time with someone in the company you don’t know very well and get to know them. Being interested is the start of being interesting, and if you work at Tahzoo you’re an interesting person. 
Let’s go be great! 

People, Processes, and Technology

“I believe in these guys and they believe in each other. The biggest thing for us is never quit.” -Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez 

All of our engagements are about three distinct areas of organizations; people, processes, and technology. Our clients hire us to work through all of those dimensions to achieve a business objective.  
In that context, I want to start a conversation about “how” we execute on those three dimensions. One of our core values is we hire interesting people who are interested in change and I’ve written often about how as individuals and as a company we are agents of change. 

I’d like to stipulate that we do work in these three domains with every client. What I am concerned about is that we are not consistent in the way that we approach our client relationships recognizing that all three domains need a strategy and an execution plan. I think on the technical side of our business we are extraordinarily well documented, consistent and virtually every consultant within Tahzoo operates within a common and consistent framework. However, when it comes to people and process, we need more well-developed methodologies and execution plans.  
I’ve always been proud of how good we are at building relationships with our clients. Over the years we’ve become quite good at mirroring the corporate culture of our clients. These “connections” have enabled the change management processes but we should not be deluded into thinking that building strong personal relationships is our change management process. We need to be way more thoughtful and structured about how we are going to drive organizational change and assist our clients with designing, leading, and implementing change. 

On the process side, we have excellent Business Analysts and Functional Consultants who work very well with our designers and engineers to design and build a state of the art systems. We document the “as is” and the “to be” state quite well. But that isn’t sufficient when we are driving large scale organizational change. Not only do we need to design the “as is” state but we also need tools for rationalizing the ROI of the change and then a plan to drive wide-scale adoption of the new methods and procedures.  
As a company, we do many things very well and we need to continue to evolve our thinking and methodologies. I am raising this with each of you today to begin a companywide conversation about change management and how are we going to evolve the people process and technology aspects of our engagements. The combination of Sites and Docs coupled with the DAM/Aprimo workflow tools is leading us down this path regardless. We can’t just be good at implementing systems against business goals, we need to be good at leading change in all three dimensions. 

 Remember, rarely is the technology that is the impediment to success… it is the people, process, and change management issues. I believe we can be the agents of change that our clients need to push through and make the most of their investments.  
Let’s go be great! 

Content is the Missing Third Data Source

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” 
-Robin Williams 

Hopefully, all of you have a fond memory of an English teacher who taught you the joy of great literature. For me, it was Mrs. Moore. She asked us to read Paradise Lost by Milton, it was and still is one of my favorite books. My mind was blown, it was such a profound story and sparked an interest in language that has never left me. The phrasing, structure, and choice of words were really fascinating to me. For those of you who don’t remember it’s an epic poem about Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Not that I expect anyone would want to read this again, however, if you’d like a copy, I’d be happy to send one to you.     
As I read the poem, my mind was processing the language on many different levels. I was following the storylines, making connections between the characters and language, experiencing the emotional intent, and following a cadence of the poem, all of which helped me make sense of the story. We all do this when we read a book, see a movie, or watch a YouTube video. When you experience content, your mind follows a process of understanding the language, which is how you make sense of what is being shared with you. Most of this processing happens unconsciously. There is another great book call the “Secret Life of Pronouns”, Frank Taylor recommended this book to me. It explains how the use of pronouns belies your mental framework and underlying thinking on a subject. If you’d like a copy of this book, let me know.   

I’ve been sharing my enthusiasm for Linguistic AI and MarkLogic for a while because I believe those two technologies in combination will allow us to turn content into a data source. This will be the third pillar in advanced personalization technologies. If we are able to take Profile data (Data about people) Analytical data (Data about behavior) and use content as an additional data source, we can then plumb all of those data points into a machine learning system that would define the right experience for each person or segment.  
I need everyone in Tahzoo to start thinking about content in five dimensions; 
You naturally do this anytime you listen to someone. There is an area of research call NLP Neuro-Linguistic Programing. Neuro refers to your neurology; Linguistic refers to language; programming refers to how that neural language functions. In other words, learning NLP is like learning the language of your own mind. We are applying the learnings of NLP to create richer data models so that we can create an experience that feels right. 
By combining the three data pillars, we will be able to use Artificial intelligence to structure an organize experiences for the consumers. The system will be able to take into consideration, your context, your intent, and most importantly how you interact with content toward a specific objective. This will be a major paradigm shift in the way marketing and personalization are conducted today. Most personalization solutions are grounded in an e-commerce paradigm, where the marketer sets up a series of A/B testing experiments that try to identify what most consumers are responsive too. This leads to a wide variety of problems, starting with the tyranny of the majority, where because the red button is selected 52% of the time everyone gets the red button, never mind the fact that 48% of the customer like the blue button. When these models are applied to content or the sequencing of content it is very difficult to avoid content silo-ing where you create a reinforcing selection of the same content.  
What people are really looking for is a solution that understands the context and expectation of your experience and then delivers this efficiently. The reason that content and language is that it is the basis of understanding and brand building. When you feel understood and you share a common language with your customer it strengthens their brand affinity and increases the likelihood that they will take action. We have a long way to go in modeling out human to human interaction patterns in a digital context but Haystack Tahzoo’s product for transforming content into actionable data sets is a huge step forward.  
Let’s go be great! 

The Experience Economy: Part 3

This concept of the experience economy I have been talking about for the past two weeks is a fundamental shift in the American system of values. People no longer care what goods you have; they care how good you have it. This is not just my speculation. It’s been documented scientifically.

There is a large body of research showing that “contrary to expectations, life experiences are a better use of money than material items. Essentially, what happened was or value system shifted from things to experiences. This was quickly and increasingly reflected in the economy—the “experience economy.”

Here are a few examples; Uber blended car-sharing and ride-sharing to totally transform the experience of getting from point A to point b. Make no mistake, Uber is a very practical and valuable service, but it is also an amazing experience. I press a button, a car arrives, I pay. Done. I remember the first time I used Uber. My only thought was, “This is amazing.” In the same vein, AirBnB ubered the hotel business. Suddenly, each of us had a living room and a well-appointed kitchen in practically every city in the world. The mathematics of the Experience Economy was pretty simple: Sharing plus experience is economics. The uber-example of the experience economy, however, is Netflix. That company has reshaped itself three times and each time it has trumped the old industries that once stood in its place. First, it was mail-ordered DVDs, which sounded the death knell for Blockbuster Video and it’s the late-fee revenue model. Next, it was streaming movies, which will someday destroy the cable industry. And, most recently, when Netflix learned that cable and the movie studios could limit the growth of streaming by tying up the content for extended periods, Netflix pivoted yet again and became a producer of high-quality, high-demand content like “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Game, set, match: Netflix.

It’s the Experience Economy, and it’s changing not just what people buy, but why. And what, exactly, will be the impact of the Experience Economy? Well, we are already seeing it in the fact that sharing has become more important than owning… You don’t need a new drill, you need a hole, so you rent the drill. You don’t need a vacation, you need a destination, so you rent the apartment wherever you want to go. The Experience Economy is changing the way we buy, too. According to a recent study, hotel revenue has decreased by 8-10% in AirBnB’s most popular markets. According to 2015, Alixpartner’s study of the 10 U.S. metropolitan car-sharing markets, each shared vehicle displaces 32 personal vehicle purchases, equally roughly 500,000 vehicle purchases avoided in the last decade and forecast to avoid 1.2 million sales by 2020. The Experience Economy is even changing the way we communicate. Now, all our experiences, from the most mundane to the truly transcendent, must be shared. Our lives are inherently interactive. We live in the instant with our lives are displayed for all the world to see on multiple channels and myriad devices the minute they happen… Be here now. Indeed.

Mostly, however, the Experience Effect is changing how we do business. This is where Tahzoo comes in. No longer does one-size-fits-all content suffice. Today’s leading businesses need to consider everything they do in terms of “The Experience.” This goes for every company I know. If you make three-dimensional products; good for you, but that product is an experience. Look to the iPhone for inspiration, it’s as much an experience as a phone. If you provide a service, even better.

We live in a service economy. Services are experiences, too. Technology has allowed us the privilege of learning what our customers want, need, and desire and we can use that information and some pretty remarkable technologies to meet them on their terms. We can speak to them in their language and we can treat them to experiences they really care about. This is what the customer experience is meant to be. For you and me as individuals, the Experience Effect means we will increasingly define our experience by our ability to share them with our families, with our friends, and with the world. For the businesses of the world, the Experience Economy will mean understanding that no matter what product or service we deliver, we are ultimately delivering an experience, some make that experience something different, something memorable. And lastly, companies must be honest and truthful about the experiences they create. Only when experiences are sharable, different, and authentic can they truly transcend.

The Experience Economy is real and it is changing the world. It has already altered every business on the planet and it will continue to do. Now, more than ever, the quality of what we experience is more valuable than the quantity of what we own.

quality vs quantity - experience economy

Let’s use that knowledge—and this moment in time—to change the world.

The Experience Economy: Part 2

Consumerism is Dead

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about this word “experience.” It got me wondering, where does this focus on experience come from? Though it’s clearly been around for a long time, it’s only recently become an object of intense focus.

Think back to the era of great American consumerism—the 1950s through the 1970s. This was a time of huge post-war economic growth, the spread of the American dream, and suburban ideal. It was also a period of incredible growth in mass communications, too, most obviously with television, which created a sort of global community that inspired a series of famously shared experiences—Elvis, the Kennedy assassination, The Beatles, the man on the moon, etc. Camped out in their living rooms, people experienced these things together. And yet, while we watched these incredible transformative events collectively, we did so in isolation, in our own homes, the communication was one-way. If we wanted to talk about it—if we wanted to share our experiences—we had to wait until the next day at school or the office to talk about it.

Marshall McLuhan had it right. The medium was the message. The one-way, mass communication of television had a profound impact on advertising and marketing. This was the great Mad Men-era of push advertising. The goal of this sort of one-way communication was to convince people that acquiring stuff, lots of stuff, preferably the same stuff as your neighbor, was a higher purpose. If your neighbor buys a Cadillac; you needed a Cadillac. Thus was born the Age of Consumerism. More is better was the mantra. Eventually, new forms of communications grew, each one taking hold at a faster pace than the previous—VHS, cable TV, satellite TV, DVDs, PCs, cellphones.

With the advent of social media, however, things changed dramatically. As if overnight, Facebook and YouTube flattened the world. It was the birth of the sharing economy. Broadcast yourself, they said. Every meal, every vacation, every life milestone had to be documented and shared with the world. Suddenly, stuff you had didn’t matter so much as the experience did. The selfie culture was upon us. The Mona Lisa of this new era happened on Oscar Night when Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and others joined in that memorable selfie. In that instant we were all “friended” by celebrities we could otherwise never approach.

Rigid consistency is passe.

It was the signal of a larger trend. People stopped caring about the endless pursuit to acquire the exact same stuff that other people had. All this consumption left us empty and led to the conclusion that maybe more wasn’t better after all. Mass-produced consumer goods became less desirable. People started sharing cars, not buying them. Zipcar and Uber grew. Ford and GM looked for new ways to capitalize on the sharing culture. Mass-produced food declined, too. McDonald’s struggled. While many say it was because their food is unhealthy, you could look at it and say It’s because all their food is the same in every store in the world. The exact thing that McDonald’s was known for—rigid consistency—became passe. There was no experience to be had.

In response, we saw the rise of the fast-casual trend with companies like Chipotle and Panera, but even those companies are becoming too common and are now being replaced by a new generation of niche restaurants. In Washington DC, we have Cava Mezze, a Mediterranean-themed restaurant offering lamb meatballs, tzatziki, and harissa. The ultimate mashup of social media and fast-casual dining is the “food truck” where each day saw gourmet food peddled on different street corners, the location of which would be announced through social media. The food was great. The concept was great.

…But the experience was greatest of all.