John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

How to Produce.

How to Produce
(Learning from George Carlin)

When George Carlin died a high-school dropout who passed away at age 71, according to his last interview and various obituaries, he had made 130 tonight show appearances, 23 albums(cd’s), 14 HBO specials, 3 books, and 1 Supreme Court Case.

IMDB lists George Carlin as an actor in 34 titles, producer for 34, writer for 25, crew for 11, and he played himself in 94 titles, and was in an additional 27 archive footage-titles.  He was the first host of Saturday Night Live, and finally, he was the first person, posthumously awarded the Mark Twain prize for American Humor.

How did he do ALL that?  He threw away his best work. I learned that from Louis C.K.

Take all of your very best work of the last year, and throw it away.

Louis C.K. is an awesome comedian. He didn’t learn his craft from George Carlin, but he learned about how to produce.  He talks about using the same jokes for 15 years, and realizing that EVERY YEAR, George Carlin was coming out with a new HBO special, a new CD, and entirely new material.  Louis says that he heard George say the secret to producing was to “Take all of your very best work of the last year, and throw it away.” If you throw away your best work, you have to start fresh. It forces you to dig deeper.

I haven’t made a post here in quite some time. I haven’t been producing. Time to clean house. Out with the old, in with the new and in with the BETTER.  How do you use George Carlin’s ”Principle of Production?”

Ask yourself:  What is your best work?  What is your current work? What are you known for? What have you invested your time and heart into?  Take that and cast it aside.  Wow.  That takes guts…

Do you have incredible courage, commitment and a passion for what you do?  If so, throw it away. Start Fresh. Dig Deeper.

March 9th, 2012 Posted by | Continuous Improvement, Life | one comment

Twittering an Earthquake

About 2:50pm today, I felt an earthquake.  Given that I was sitting in my office in Winston Salem, North Carolina, that was pretty bizzare.  But I also realized the immediate, personal power of Twitter.   I popped open Tweetdeck and posted that I felt an earthquake in Winston Salem, NC.   I felt odd doing that – because the idea of an earthquake in Winston Salem… is like the thought of a purple elephant.  If I saw one, I’d be reluctant to tell anyone, because the very idea of a purple elephant is a bit unnerving and surreal.

Of course,  I immediately found that there WAS an earthquake, centered in Virginia, maybe 75 or 100 miles north of where Im at.  I didn’t learn it by the weather channel, or weather.com, or the local news.  I learned it by the FLOOD of tweets in my twitter stream.   Reports of tremors were flying across my tweet-stream from Ohio, Atlanta, NYC and even others from Winston Salem.   I looked for Google Realtime, which I hadn’t used in several weeks – only to find it had been disabled.

The interesting thing is that I realized the value of Twitter -  To me, Twitter = REAL TIME news. If I need to know something NOW, it is my personal source. Twitter circa 2011 = CNN circa 1990.

That is amazing value and power.  Will Twitter EVER really maximize that?

 

August 23rd, 2011 Posted by | Business, Life, People | no comments

The Reputation Economy is Here.

Dan Schwabel has written two posts on his Forbes Blog in the last week. His message is that “the Reputation Economy is Coming.”  Alot of pieces of the Reputation Economy are coming together at warp-speed. Here are a few:

MANY anecdotal stories of people who have been fired, arrested, not-hired,(cisco-fatty, etc).

Millions of people who meet and begin relationships due to *something* online.

Businesses running into serious issues… (Kenneth Cole, etc)

Colleges considering online info during interviews

If Dan Schwabel’s cited research is even close to correct that “80% of HR professionals use online reputation information… and that 70% had rejected a job candidate due to what they found online.”

It seems there is enormous evidence that whether the subject is personal, professional, corporate, or really from ANY perspective: The Reputation Economy is not coming, it is *here.*

What do you think?

March 1st, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Life, Marketing, People | 2 comments

Attention Span

My attention span is struggling under the pressure. There is a wide gulf between my life, my job and the startup that I’m trying to build.

I’m trying to learn about Quora. I am also trying to balance demands life, my job, my startup with the demands of my Blogs, guest contributions to other blogs,  Twitter, Google Buzz, my LinkedIn contacts,  Twitpic & Yfrog photography, and comments that I make on other blogs.

I want to keep in touch with all of these things because I advise customers who have their own lives, their own businesses and their own interests. To be the expert, I need deep personal understanding – AND the creativity to apply that understanding for my clients.

I think of myself as unique – a passionate, persistent, pragmatic, problem preventer, business and technology enthusiast. Former Marine, Ex Soldier & current geek.  Wrapping that up with my life is challenging because of my attention span.   It has never been such a problem before.   I don’t know if the problem is really MY attention span, or simply that the world is changing so fast. 

I want to improve some things.

I’d love to have a meaningful connection with my son but it takes two people to have a meaningful connection. I’d love to replace my aging Ford Explorer, but it only has 65k miles, and is very useful. I’d love to find a new job but my current job has been dependable since 1999 or so.  I’d love to explode my business because I think it can help hundreds of other businesses instead of dozens.  I’d love to write daily.  I’d love to bicycle about 30 miles a day, 5 days a week… but I can’t find 2 hours to do it.  To fit things in well, my days need another 24 hours each.

My world of information is exploding. Everyone’s world is. Staying on top is like juggling chainsaws and torches while flipping on a trampoline that someone randomly moves beneath my feet.  What sort of attention span can make it all work?  

Ultimately, I will need to set priorities and let things fall to the side. Everyone does. It is a challenge, and I need to find the attention span to make it all work, and make the right selections of what is important, and what isn’t.  

How do people do it? How do you?

January 27th, 2011 Posted by | Life, Other Stuff, People | no comments

The Cost to Convenience ratio

Bradford Cross wrote a great article on Measuring Measures “Why the iPad is Destroying the Future of Journalism.”

He was a bit off the mark in discussing Facebook, and could have provided more useful content by discussing Twitter because Twitter is a competitive microblogging platform that more directly delivers news-ish information.  His point was valuable because he focused on ways that media needs to address how it delivers unique content in a way that allows people to share.

Traditional media needs to ensure their cost to convenience ratio is favorable. 

What is that?  Here’s an example:  Your bank would love it if you, personally, used them for CD, Checking Account, Savings Account, Car loan, mortgage, IRA, online banking, online bill-pay, mobile banking and every other consumer service they offer. They want you to use their atm’s, their branches, and every location they offer.  They want the fees, of course, but they also want to make it more difficult for you to go to another bank and start up all those accounts, at that other bank. If your relationship with your bank is deeper, it is more difficult for you to switch. That convenience has a huge value because of the cost of changing, in terms of time and aggravation.

When your personal cost of switching (in time, and aggravation) exceeds the pain you feel from staying with a bank, they’re a winner.  This applies for ANY business.

If your convenience exceeds the cost you’re charged for that convenience, you, as a customer, might be content to be their loyal customer for EVER. You may slide from being a customer to being an evangelist.  This works for a local newspaper too, which may have a virtual monopoly on newspapers in a regional or local area. In many cases when a local newspaper is the only game in town, it can afford to be sloppy and cheap . The Winston Salem Journal, for instance, recently fired their entire copy desk. For their customers, the cost of finding an alternative far exceeds the cost of staying a customer. In some cases, there IS no alternative.

Look at Hyundai’s new Equus. Car and Driver’s comparison shows that it essentially clones the Lexus LS460L . “When Korean engineers set about copying the modern LS, they swallowed their inventiveness and simply deployed a really good Xerox machine.”  They did it extremely well, and “as-tested LS460L cost 50 percent more than the Equus.”  That is a steep cost for the convenience and pleasures of owning a car with the Lexus name.  Ironically, it is similar to what Toyota did.  ”Note the way the Equus undercuts the six-figure Lexus. Just like Lexus undercut Mercedes 20 years ago.”  Hyundai “xeroxed” the LS460L, and it has also copied Toyota’s Lexus business model to a certain extent. (Using Toyota’s business model against Toyota.)

Every business needs to look at the cost/convenience ratio that they provide. It is a real key to deepening customer relationships. Deeper customer relationships increast the cost of changing to competitors.  Successful businesses (Zappos, Amazon, Lexus, Hyundai, etc) aspire to make their customers happy because happy customers are loyal customers. Those customers are loyal, in part, because of the cost to convenience ratio.

Every Lexus’ LS460L that is sold this year is an example that the value of that loyalty… Every person who buys a Lexus LS460L is a person who is willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a Lexus, when there is a much less expensive substitute available. Those purchases show loyalty for Lexus’ past performance.

January 10th, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Life, Social Media | no comments

Sad Suicide

Mark Madoff’s suicide touched me. 

On the morning of December 11, 2010 — exactly two years after Bernard’s arrest — his son Mark Madoff, age 46, was found dead in his New York City apartment. The initial ruling for the cause of death is suicide by means of hanging.”   I did not know Mark Madoff or any other member of his family. Mark Madoff profited from an enormous Ponzi scheme that his father ran from a business that MARK worked for – for more than 20 years. He profited from his father’s scheme that resulted in the destruction of billions of dollars of wealth, charitable foundations. It was a scheme that has inspired/caused/incited other people’s suicides.  

Mark Madoff and his brother Andrew probably understood or should have understood what was going on. They were educated and experienced.  One had a degree from the University of Michigan and the other a degree from the Wharton School. Both had worked for their father’s firm since the 1980s.   (Ironically, they worked there from around the time that Michael Douglas’ oscar-winning performance as Gordon Gekko who said that “that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” in Oliver Stone’s Movie: Wall Street)

Given Mark’s involvement in the family business, it is amazing that he and his brother turned their father in to the SEC. It is possible, as ABC contends, ‘I’m going to say you knew nothing about it, because I’m seventy years old, you’re forty, you’ve got children. So I will take the fall for this.’  It is also possible that they realized what their father did, and turned him in because they felt ethically compelled to do so.  It seems that their family has been destroyed by their decision to turn in their father.

Mark’s Mother Ruth Madoff – his estranged mother – blames his father for his suicide.

I am saddened by Mark’s death. I know what it is like to lose a parent. I know what it is like to feel pressure.  I cannot imagine what it must be like to have an $80m lawsuit filed against me, to have bankruptcy trustees after me, to betray my father in an act that results in a 150 year prison sentence, and to live with the aftermath.   There’s a small list of people who understand that – probably only one now:  Mark’s brother Andrew.  

I don’t for a second condone what his family did and I don’t think anyone should. Yet his suicide still touched me. I feel sad for his family and for his children. His children will now grow up with a grandfather who is in prison and knowing that their father killed himself, hung himself with a dog leash on the 2nd anniversary of their grandfather’s arrest. In committing suicide, Mark picked a final, sad way out for himself.   I don’t think  are any ethical lessons beyond the WAY obvious ones. There’s no techie thing here, no marketing thing, no business thing – just a human thing.

Mark Madoff’s suicide is just sad – just a sad suicide.

December 13th, 2010 Posted by | Business, ethics, Life, People | no comments

Competitiveness and Personal Data

Technology competition is ramping up everywhere, and it surrounds the value of Personal Data.   Google is launching its E-Bookstore to compete with Amazon, Apple, and others. Facebook is releasing a new “profiles” feature that will certainly compete with LinkedIn and Twitter, and Google Buzz.

Motorola’s Droid Pro has to be giving RIM nightmares because the reasons for having their Blackberry are dwindling at an amazing speed. Cellphone competition is at a feverish pace. As Verizon prepares to get the iPhone, it sounds like they’re willing to pay Apple to prevent either Sprint or Tmobile from getting it…  Google released the new Nexus S phone  with a reference build of their android operating system, with no additional-anything to impede user experience. (TechCrunch says that “Google’s various apps, some of which are unavailable for the iPhone, that make it the best phone on the market today.”)

All of the technical competition has a downside though… Google’s Nexus S has a Near Field communication, NFC, feature that will let you use the phone in lieu of a credit card by simply tapping it against a device in a store. (read more about that here)  Given the data that they gather every second about customer preferences with their search engine, and the data that they gathered over the last few years with Street view – One has to wonder about the data they will gather from their Ebookstore and their Nexus S. One has to wonder what Facebook is going to gather with their new Profiles Feature. Another good question is… WHO is Facebook competing with there? Is it LinkedIn? Is it Twitter? Is it Google Buzz? or is it just Facebook improving for the sake of improvement? And what personal data will THAT improvement release?

Given the enormous value Google reaps from its growing googlebytes of data, it seems safe to question every “technical” advance, innovation, invention and announcement in terms of what personal data will be freshly captured for corporate plundering.

Is it all about the data? Should we be concerned about Ford gathering consumer information with their “Vehicle Interaction Revolution?” The new MyTouch feature of the Ford Edge understands thousands of commands. It connects to Cell phone, MP3 player, USB drive, SD Card… and features an ADHD-enabled delight: “Two 5-way switch pads on the steering wheel with 3 LCD displays – 2 in the instrument cluster, and 1 in the center stack. The available MyFord Touch™ features an 8-inch touch-screen display in the center stack.” (I’d love to trade my 10 year old Ford Explorer in for one. I’d think of it as a Ford Digital Explorer!)

Does it know how to phone home?  How long will it be before your Droid Pro can sync with your Ford Edge to update your Facebook Profile with 4Sq information, and feed all that into Google’s database so that Groupon can target you with an advertisement?  How much personal data is too much?

What do you think?

December 6th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Life | one comment

Black Friday is Dead

Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving, is a day that combines a recipe of these ingredients: pent-updemand, planning for holiday gift giving, end of year bonuses, excessive credit, retailer desires, and a deluge of advertising across all forms of media. It is one day, marked in black, when retailers theoretically break even for the year. It is a day that serves as a standard measure of the economy.

According to USA Today, “Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend accounted for 12.3% of overall holiday revenue, according to ShopperTrak. Black Friday made up about half of that.”

Link to Tombstone Maker
Black Friday is dead. Why? It is dead because people love options and alternatives, because some people hate crowds, and most of all because every retailer is now offering more and more options. Here are a few: Buy online, buy on Thanksgiving day, buy on Cyber Monday, buy a week before Black Friday, buy the week after or on any of the shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or – simply choose not to buy.

Breaking news today shows Black Friday sales rising modestly or enormously, but each article is just showing a small piece of the Black Friday pie.

Here’s some information from Yahoo: “U.S. online sales were up 33 percent on Thanksgiving this year, according to IBM Coremetrics, signaling irresistible promotions in advance of Cyber Monday, the kick-off to the online holiday selling season.”

Major media outlets like Reuters are saying that U.S. retail sales on Friday rose a mere 0.3 percent from the same period last year, while traffic rose 2.2 percent, ShopperTrak said. Heavily discounted merchandise may increase volume, but negatively skews sales data while cutting into profit margins.

But that is just a little piece of the real story. Paypal money transfers increased enormously, and further, Paypal data suggests that the “shopping season began on Monday, November 15, 2010.”

 How significant is that?  Here are some other tidbits of data: 

“Black Friday 2010 resulted in 21 percent more total payment volume compared to Thanksgiving 2010. PayPal saw 19 percent more payment volume on Black Friday 2010 compared to an average Friday in 2010.  PayPal processes 16.5 percent of U.S. eCommerce and 15 percent of global eCommerce.”

So – is there a 0.3% increase? Or a 27% increase?   Experts had forecasted a 2-3% increase

And many enormous retailers were open on Thanksgiving day. (Including  Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us, Kmart, Walmart, Gap, Old Navy and others) My local CVS pharmacy was open until Midnight on Thanksgiving. Many of these retailers had Black Friday deals available early. Many online businesses offered Black Friday deals early.

The cumulative effect is that Black Friday isn’t comparable to last Black Friday because the buying has been moved to a multiple-day, multiple medium affair. What was once confined to a day and a physical location is now everywhere over several weeks.

Black Friday is dead. We will still have a “Black Friday”, and will still call it Black Friday, but sales will begin earlier and earlier and last later and later. Combining that flexibility with online sales will mean that at some point, we might start calling it “Black November-December”  Whatever it is, and whatever it is evolving into, it isn’t Black Friday anymore.

What do you think?

November 28th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Life, Marketing, Social Media | one comment

Brilliance in Red Socks

I spent two amazing days last week at the Internet Summit 2010 in Raleigh, NC. I was amazed at the wild collection of brain-horsepower - a group of people that Joe Procopio calls the ”Jocks and Cheerleaders of Nerds”  Who were these people?

There was Paul Lee – who started his discussion by thanking Jonathan Arehart for “tweeting the hell” out of the speakers – and then speaking at length about how game-ifying things provides enormous motivation for people. (Think about THAT: Essentially, he gamed the 1500 attendees into tweeting even more, and particularly about him, proving his point with his own presentation – so smoothly that almost nobody noticed)  He also advised Chip Perry, CEO of Autotrader.com, that when he listed competitors, he ought to consider how Facebook was going to change the game for Autotrader.com. I don’t think Chip knew what hit him.

There was Dana Todd – firey intellect powerfully seeping out to the very roots of her hair – predicting that i-Ads were going to probably dwarf Google, Yahoo & Bing advertising.  If she is correct, Apple is undervalued by at least 200%, and everyone at the conference needs to understand the potential impact.  I’d bet that less than 5% of attendees had considered i-Ads’ potential impact.

Eleanor Hong was calmly riveting with discussion of news, search, and search in news, and – well, how social growth and news ratings interact.  Here’s a link to her presentation. It reminded me a bit of the problem with schrodinger’s cat. If you measure something, the act of measuring it has an impact. News, Media, and Social media statistics, to me, seem to reflect this. An event happens, it is reported, it is blogged, it is tweeted, it is FB’d, etc. It is an endless real-time churn.   Jenny Halasz told everyone about Linked in Signal. When she asked, I am a witness, that not a single person in the room had heard of it. (except perhaps Dana Todd, who had tweeted about it before the summit, but I don’t remember if Dana was there.) That is both a huge compliment to Jenny, and perhaps an eye-opener for Linked-In’s marketing team. (The conference WAS the target audience and NOBODY had heard of Signal.)

There were others who were a bit behind the times. “How many people in the audience have a Facebook account” is really not a valid question for that audience. There were many who were just a wee bit too self promotional. I’m convinced that one of the speaker presented self-promotional information that was either mis-informed, deceptive, or perhaps just plain lying. There were also questions that weren’t asked about every topic. Sometimes the probing should have been deeper. Statistics and sources should be questioned and understood, not glossed over. But these things were sharp in contrast because they were exceptions to the rule of “amazing-informative-powerful” that dominated the Internet Summit. 

And in this bright, shiny intellectual solar system, Bob Young stood out. Bob was pure Brilliance in Red Socks. He spoke with reverence about the people he shared the stage with, a senior Googler, and an IBM Fellow. In the most humble way, he explained how he respected IBM because they put customers first. He explained how he admired Google because he wasn’t smart enough to work there. (Really?) He spoke a bit about his company – http://www.lulu.com - a company that aims to transform media slightly less than Gutenberg did. There was a chart showing how in 2000, there was 1 printing press for every 50,000 people in the world, but now, in 2010, there are 5 devices capable of print for every person.  There was discussion about how 50% of all printed books are never read, and end up in landfills.

Bob impressed as the sort of person who reads business statistics about Amazon selling 24 e-books for every Kindle they sell, and seeing the goodness in saving 12 quarter reams of book paper and a pint of book ink as resources saved for the world… instead of seeing the Kindle as a money printer that will do more for Amazon than it’s cloud services ever will.

So – what did I enjoy most about Internet Summit 2010?  Bob Young in the question and answer section. The unscripted brilliant firey thought, so powerful that his hat couldn’t contain it – so powerful that it ripped right out of his socks.

Bob said:

  • “Before thinking about what’s next, think about what we’ve already done”
  • “Congressmen are not part of “us” – they need to understand … so they might write laws to promote freedom… Freedom is NOT empowered by anarchy.”
  • (in discussing internet fraud) “These guys are evil, but you have to admire it because they do it so well”
  • “good content isnt going to be written unless people are paid to write it”
  • We are raising the most literate generation in the history of mankind- because of technology, not in spite of it.”

Cord Silverstein’s idea is that for next year’s Internet Summit Keynote, just invite Bob, and have him talk about whatever he wants to. He isn’t suggesting that merely because Bob’s Red Socks can be seen from space… and not because Bob’s 64 minute NC State “Leadership in Technology” piece can be seen here…  I think Bob stood out because he wants technology to do good things, humane things, beneficial things, charitable things. Bob’s Aunt may have given “one of the single largest charitable donations in Canadian history“, but Bob is not about money. He is about doing things that will benefit people –  no, rather, he is about doing things that will benefit HUMANITY – things of depth, things of gravitas, things of consequence. 

Bravo Bob! May we all find a way to create a tiny fraction of your brilliance in the work that we do.

November 23rd, 2010 Posted by | Business, Life, People | one comment

President Eisenhower

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

A quote from
President Dwight Eisenhower:
Soldier, General, President.

Hard to me to make any useful comment on something so profound, except to point out that it should not be so completely forgotten.

(Official White House portrait of President Dwight D. Eisenhower from Wikicommons)

October 13th, 2010 Posted by | Life, People | no comments