Monday, August 31, 2009

Pie In The Sky

Dear Community,

I made this pie. This is actually the pie before things headed really south. Its a pie in unbaked glory, full of potential, unaware that it is about to be totally overcooked/burned/complete destroyed in the fires of my hellish oven.

I digress. The important thing is that the pie didn't turn out (thats putting it kindly). And so all of my effort, that cute little heart that I spent 10 minutes cutting out and re-cutting out was for nothing.

And thats because all we care about these days is in the end product. How amazing would it be if you showed up with a disgusting burnt pie and people were delighted. What effort! What a labor of love! Who cares about the oven! But we're not like this.

Results are quantifiable. And because they are quantifiable they are easy to incentivize. We like to pretend that these incentivized results are reflective of effort, but, in so many cases, I'm not entirely convinced that they are. As long as we place a premium on results, effort will always be under valued.

And maybe the truth is that effort is not good enough. Imagine if you called up customer service only to hear "sorry, we really tried- gave it our best go, but we can't help you". If it were me, I would be irate. That poor person would have to listen to me rant about how worthless they were for at least 3-5 minutes. And then I would want to rinse and repeat with their manager.

That said, I think the problem here is that I don't trust the "we tried" statement. I think if I honestly believed that Mr. Cell Phone Customer Service Man had gone home and worried about my lack of reception, I would let him off the hook. When he announced that "he tried"- I would be appreciative- in the same way that I am appreciative when terrible cooks make a real effort (that is nonetheless disgusting).

So I think the answer is we have to get people to believe that we are actually trying- that we are doing everything in our power to help. And to do that, I think we actually have to try harder. Which means we can't just incentivize results- we have to figure out a way to incentivize effort. Because there will be times when we can't help and in those moments its crucial that we have consumer trust. It crucial that they believe that we did our best- that we tried.

Which is why I gave away the burnt pie instead of donating it to the trash. Because while its not a delicious consumable gift, it is a gift of time and effort and love- which, in my book, are just as valuable as the "result".


Monday, August 17, 2009

When Airlines Lose Your Bags The Best Thing To Do Is Yell

Dear Community,

A friend of mine (some of you may know him as AdWordsPro or AdWords advisor) sent me this article today:

I'm not gonna lie- Im not a big article reader. I bought the Economist for the plane ride home and got about a 1/3rd of the way through each article before eating peanuts and taking a nap. But for this one, I read the full thing. I even found myself emphatically nodding which I'm sure looked really weird- like something had gone very wrong with my neck.

For those of you who aren't big readers, the article boils down to this for me:

"When more people are qualified and willing to speak on behalf of the company at a moment's notice, you can get more done. You can draw customers into the dialogue, and solidify your role as a partner. It's a mistake to imagine that there is any other way to go about it. That's especially true in companies that have all sorts of responsible people working on hundreds of products in dozens of divisions".

Amen. As I was saying above, I flew home last week. While I was purchasing the Economist, my airline was busy losing my bag. When I landed, I had to spend 45 minutes interacting with customer support people who couldn't do anything for me. They had no information, no power to give me a voucher, no information about what kind of refund I would get for replacements I would need to purchase while the bag was missing. All they PO Box where I could "air my grievances".

If the airline had given these poor people actual power to interact with me, to speak to me on behalf of the company, the situation would have been totally different. Instead I yelled at them for 45 minutes, ruining both of our nights. Then to make matters worse, I lost the PO Box address, so none of my "grievances" got "aired".

Which is why I nodded emphatically when I read the article. And I suspect, if you read it, and have ever called a 1-800 number, you will find yourself doing as well.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Automation Nation

Dear Community,

This past weekend I went to Austin to visit my brother who has been doing a robot internship there for the summer. nerd. Id like to say that he really was interested in showing me his work, but I think the real truth is he wanted company for the 17 hour drive back from Austin to Colorado. About 8 hours in, I think he was really regretting the invite. I = not good road tripper. We invented planes for a reason.

Anyway, about 15 hours in and 1.5lbs of beef jerky later we came to Colorado's only toll road. Its a sweet toll road. One, because everyone is Colorado is to cheap to pay the $2 toll (they will literally drive 20 extra miles to avoid it) so you get the whole road to yourself but it also has the nicest toll operators ever. I'm not even impressed by "happy" customer service, but I would give these people a hug if there wasn't a metal booth in between us. 10am, really chipper. 3pm, really friendly, 2am- still smiling. They are all older, and by that I mean over 50 and, for whatever reason, they make me believe that they don't hate their job- which I really appreciate. Its become a thing in my family- all of our guests actually comment on how nice these people are on the way home from the airport. And then they mistakenly assume Coloradoans are all nice people (luckily we have Marylin Musgrave to keep that stat in check).

But this time when we went through the toll, we found that all of the toll collection had been automated. They take a picture of your license plate and bill you.

It's sad. Its faster. Its more efficient. Its actually really effective automation. But its still sad. I kind of liked talking to these people. I kind of like the "$2 please" interaction.

Which, of course, made me think about a lot of the automation that goes on a Google. There are a lot of Google users out there and to get to all of you, we need to have some automation. But as this happens we need to figure out a way to support and grow meaningful conversation and community around our products.

I think the key to maintaining these types of interactions is a reevaluation of authority. People want the advice to come from Google, but, you know what, your neighbor may know just as much as I do. Someone's blog on the Internet may have better advice. If you go to a conference, the person next to you may have amazing insight because her business is remarkably similar to yours.

And these kinds of interaction is what will save us from automation nation. It wont bring back my toll folks, but it reminded me that I like that kind of interaction and I should actively work to preserve in in my own life.

Over and out,

Monday, August 3, 2009

1,000 Push Up Challenge

Dear Community,

Starting today I am having a 1,000 push up challenge. Starting, you have 120 hours (5 days) to complete 1,000 push ups- 200 a day.

I emailed all of my friends with this challenge this morning- and the response was varied, everything from "Wow- I could use some push ups" to "What the hell? Who would ever do something like this? You're insane".

The general sentiment was one of confusion though. Were we doing them together? Was there a prize? How would the push ups be tracked? (Someone even asked if it was 1000 every day, or 1000 in 5 days. He's weird.) No, we weren't doing them together, there would be no prizes and everything was on the honor system. It's basically just a bunch of people doing a bunch of push ups in the same time period.

So whats the point then? Why not just do some push ups? Why email a bunch of people with the vague idea of an unrewarded challenge? I don't really know to be honest. Something about it just feels more fun. It feels more signifigant to do things with other people, even if you are only imagining these people doing the same activity. (Which, not to go all pedantic on you, but for all your geeks out there, this is where a shout out to Benedict Anderson should be inserted. I probably should have called it the Benedict Anderson Push Up Challenge, but I wans't sure that would actually increase the sell).

So far 10 people have vaguely signed up. And, as I'm doing my 8 sets of 25 push ups on my office floor, I think about those 10 people and I do all 25 instead of stopping at 9- which is where I am pretty sure I would stop otherwise.

Anyone care to join?