Monday, August 31, 2015

Mission, Vision, and Strategy

Most organizations have perfunctory mission and vision statements that are boilerplate feel-good statements for the annual report rather than working documents that give purpose to their employees.   Even when firms mean to use them well, the statements are so vague and elaborate as to be meaningless, such that employees pay them no heed.

A proper and functional statement clearly communicates the goals of the organization to stakeholders (employees and partners as well as investors) and inspires employees in particular to take meaningful action.   Few companies approach them in this manner.

Each of these three items has a specific purpose:
  • The Mission – Declares “this is what we do” so that stakeholders understand the purpose and values of the firm
  • The Vision – Declares “where we are going” so that stakeholders understand how present activities lead to achieving a future state
  • The Strategy – Declares “how we will get there” and provides specific objectives to pursue and actions to take

The mission statement must be clear and succinct, rather than vague and aspirational.   It indicates the service or product the company provides and the market they serve, and generally justifies the reason the firm exists in the present day.   A mission statement does not disclose the desires of the company, but describes it as it presently is, and givens guidance for the actions to be taken today to maintain it such as it is.

The vision statement is futuristic, and as such is subject to aspiration and vagueness – but that is ideally kept to a minimum.   It communicates in specific and memorable terms a vision of the future, and it need not be one that can actually be achieved.  For example, one organization’s vision was to “put a computer on every desk in America” – which was preposterous at one time, and is still not strictly true, but it is not so farfetched.

The strategy is the bridge between mission and vision, and tends to be less poetic and more practical – it indicates the actions that need to be taken to get from present state to future state, beginning with high level goals that will take many years to achieve (a computer on every desk) and drilling down into the details it will take to get there (design a model that is useful and affordable to the blue-collar household).   It is likened to a roadmap that shows the destination, then the general direction from here to there, then the highways, then each turn and gas station along the way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Monetizing Leisure Time

The goal of a customer in interacting with a company is to obtain something of value in exchange for the capital and effort he must exchange for the good or service that delivers  it.    Likewise, the goals of a person who engages in a non-productive leisure activity is seeking to gain something of value in exchange for his capital and effort: the pleasure of performing the activity.

This difference is often exaggerated.  While you can argue that some products deliver functional values - medical services extend and improve our lives - many products are purchased for pleasure value.   A person doesn't really "need" a soda to survive, and could get by on tap water.  So the purchase of that product is for the sensual and psychological pleasure derived by consuming it, which tends to entail a cost that is greater than the fulfillment of the need it serves (if any).

So to spend time working to obtain the cash to buy a soda is in effect to exchange time for pleasure - through the medium of money.  As many economists have noted, money is unimportant except as a medium of exchange – though its supreme functionality (being a good that can be exchanged for many others) causes its importance to be overestimated.

There is the suggestion that a person ought to value their leisure time the same as their productive time.   That is, a person who earns $12 per hour on their job is creating a value of twenty cents per minute, and that leisure should only be desirable if it generates a value greater than that.   This seems both inaccurate and oversimplified.

In many instances, leisure time is spare time, and in that sense is less valuable than productive time because there is no opportunity to exchange it for the same monetary value.   In some professions, there are opportunities to work overtime or take on additional shifts – but for most people, the work shift ends and they are expected (required) to leave, and cannot earn more by spending more time on the job.  

In other instances, the value of the way in which leisure time is spent generates greater benefit to the individual than their time spent on productive activities.   Consider the cost of tropical vacation: a person pays a great deal more than their hourly wage to be idle in a pleasant location.  Not only is this individual forfeiting the compensation for productive work, but they are spending additional funds to have the benefit of being idle.

The notion of work and leisure are related only in that they are options for the use of time.   One may spend time in productive activity or consumptive activity, and consumption is generally more valuable (productive activity is generally undertaken only for the sake of consumption: we work for the sake of producing something that can be consumed.)

So in all, the suggestion that work and leisure time, or productive and consumptive activities, should be valued equally based on cost-per-hour or per-minute simply does not hold.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Social Networks and Computer Networks

The analogy of human networks to computer networks is a bit hackneyed, and it’s difficult to put a fresh spin on the worn-out metaphor – but I stumbled across a discussion that touched upon the psychology of the various roles, and the information seemed worth preserving:

Network Model

The base metaphor considers there to be four function in social networks that are similar to items in the computer network:
  • Users – those who have a task to do and need the resources of the network to accomplish them
  • Workstations – those who have the responsibility of doing the work at the behest of the user
  • Servers – those who have a great deal of information, but who will only share it if asked.
  • Routers – Those who help connect other notes on the network, connecting those who need something to others who have it.

This analogy works fairly well when the network is employed for a practical task, though the model does seem to lead to pigeon-holing and oversimplification: no person is entirely a router without server capabilities, the user and the workstation are often embodied in the same individual, etc.   But if you regard these as four functions, not four roles, it seems more or less accurate.


Discussions of the base metaphor describe the roles in terms of the capabilities of the individual involved.  
  • Users – To be part of the system, the user must have a need that the system is capable of fulfilling.
  • Workstations – To fill the user’s needs, a workstation must have the capability to fo the tasks required.
  • Servers – To enable the workstations, a server must have the resources that are required to support the workstation’s task.
  • Routers – To connect various parts of the system in a useful way, the router must have knowledge of the capabilities and resources of each system to which it is connected.

However, this is where the metaphor failsL human beings are not machines that do what they are capable of simply because they have that capability.   While capabilities are a functional obstacle (or functional enabler), human beings are primarily ruled by their motivations.  They try to do what they prefer to do, and try to avoid doing what they prefer not to do.


The discussion itself focused on the motivations of the various “nodes” in the human network – how are they motivated to perform the functions described by these roles?   People will often attempt to do something of which they are incapable, or will refuse to do something of which they are perfectly capable.   So motivation is a significant factor.

The user is the most straightforward part of the network.  By definition, the user needs to accomplish a task and needs the resources of the network to do so.  The first need is their motivation to undertake the task and the second need is their motivation to interact with the network.   So long as the task is compelling and the network is believed to be a means of accomplishing it, the user will be motivated to interact.

The workstation is the most necessary part of the network, but its motivation tends to be less straightforward.  In an organizational network, workers are paid to do their jobs for the users – though this is extrinsic motivation that is not present in most social contexts, and even in the professional context compensation is regarded as a weak motivation.   The workstation is motivated by the intrinsic rewards of performing its function – a sense of task identity, or a sense of capability and usefulness.

The server, likewise, is most responsive when it receives intrinsic rewards from the tasks it performs.   While there is generally not a task involved, information-sharing can be considered analogous to a task in the sense that it is a useful function.   Hence the server gains esteem from being regarded as an expert, and has a sense of usefulness when its capabilities are put to practical application.

The router’s extrinsic rewards are similar to those of the server: while it does not have subject-matter expertise in a specific functional domain, its expertise is in making connections.  Said another way, the router is an expert in the network itself, with knowledge of the nodes and their capabilities.   Its rewards are the esteem of being regarded as an expert, and the sense of usefulness when this knowledge facilitates the performance of the network.


Having attempted to summarize the motivations of the network roles, it seems to me that the factors of most of the network are entirely similar – exercising the ability to put knowledge and skills to a practical purpose, and the esteem that comes from so doing.  These are very closely related to the topic of job satisfaction – though a social network is not necessarily a commercial network, it has similar functions in the performance of tasks (with or without extrinsic monetary rewards) and the intrinsic rewards of any useful role are almost identical, the chief difference being in the means by which those rewards are achieved.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Lost Art of Recruiting

For years, I’ve been receiving emails from recruiters about a positions that they allegedly think are good matches for my skills – but on reading then, the positions are usually entirely inappropriate.  Sometimes, it is a position that matches my current one – or worse, a position that I held many years ago.   Other times, there’s seemingly no connection at all.

And it becomes obvious very quickly that this isn’t the work of a recruiter, but a piece of software that unintelligently matches job requirements to certain keywords in resumes (mainly on LinkedIn).  This happens so often and has been going on for so long that I’ve had the sense that recruiting is a lost art.

But lately, the quality of these solicitations is getting better.   Either the software has vastly improved, or companies have returned to human recruiters who actually know how to evaluate a potential candidate against an opening to determine when there is a valid match.   That is, the position is not a match for what I used to do or am currently doing, but for something that would actually be a step forward in my career.

I’ve snooped around the industry web sites to see if there are any articles about “new and improved” matching algorithms, but haven’t found one, so I’m led to believe that firms are investing in qualified and intelligent individuals to perform the task that software has been doing miserably for well over a decade.

I have the sense it’s because the labor market is improving, and people with customer experience credentials are so rare that the recruiters can no longer count on posting a job description and having scores of qualified candidates respond – so it’s necessary to pay the extra expense to have the job done right.

Whatever the case, I take it as a good sign, and look forward to the time when companies brighten up about using marketing professionals rather than software to identify and solicit customers who actually need their products rather than spamming the universe.

That might be a bit much to ask, but it’s a future worth hoping for.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ease and Satisfaction

I have the sense lately that the attempt to make things easier for users is contributing to a lack of satisfaction with the very products that propose to alleviate them of the burden.   In order to make it easy to do something, choices are eliminated – and eliminating choices means eliminating options that, while they require a bit of thought and effort, result in a more satisfactory outcome.

I recall hearing something similar in an argument about storytelling.  
  • When someone reads a book that mentions a “pirate,” the simple mention of the word conjures a mental image in the mind of the reader.  
  • When the author embellishes the story with a description of the pirate, the details the author provides prevent the reader from forming his own mental image
  • When an illustrator is hired to draw a picture of the pirate, the granularity of detail is increased to the point that the reader has very little leeway in deciding for himself what the character looks like.
  • When the book is made into a film, the actor who plays the role prevents the reader from imagining even subtle nonverbal details about the character.

And this is the reason that people who see a film based on a book they have read feel a certain sense of dissatisfaction.   “The book was better,” they will say – or more specifically, they will complain that the filmmaker really didn’t understand the character, and transformed the pirate they had conceived from reading the novel into a flimsy stereotype.

This translates itself into consumer experiences of products and services that make things very easy to do, but are not capable of doing quite what the customer really wanted to be done.   From email clients to portfolio management, there are many instances in which a service promises ease of use at the expense of capability and flexibility.

I have to concede, though, that there are a sufficient number of customers who are willing to make that sacrifice.   They will accept a mediocre outcome if the process does not require too much effort – but they are not particularly happy about it, and this latent dissatisfaction translates itself into customer defection when a different solution is offered that may require more thought and effort, but which provide a more satisfactory outcome.

In all, this boils down to the autistic economy: the cost (time and effort) a person is willing to invest in achieving an outcome depends on the degree to which the outcome satisfies the need that motivated them to pursue it.   And in that sense, the trade of effort for results is balanced when little effort achieves marginal results.

And so, the lion’s share of most markets likely does favor ease of use – but there is also an increasing potential in niche marketing to those whose desire for better results causes them to be willing to undertake greater cost to achieve them.