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January 15, 2016

The Future of Competence: Don't Be Generic

My competence seems to cycle from back and forth leading-edge to generic.

I started as a specialist, with a PhD in robotics, head-hunted by the robotics department of the UK Nuclear industry.

A few years later, I was a technology manager delivering solutions to customers in the nuclear, aerospace, pharmaceutical, and financial industries. A generalist

Then, I was CEO. Raising finance, recruiting, designing departments, objectives, process, operations. The ultimate generalist

Then, as the dot-com bombed, I stopped having a job.

I joined 100,000 other business managers who were out of work.

That was the end of a cycle

You have a Choice

The choice of a specialist skill or a generic skill is hard.

The choice, like any investment, is a compromise between risk and reward.

For both people and companies. We either choose or it is chosen for us.

Often we don't seem to have a choice. It just happens

The Lure of Generic Skills

Learning excel or outlook are good investments. They are low risk choices, most likely to pay off

Lawyer, manager, accountant, salesman, marketing are also low risk choices.

Job boards always have openings for good managers and salesman.

A manager, salesman or accountant can work anywhere.

Business is about managing people. If you can manage people, you can manage any business.

Managing Human Capital, Harvard Business School

Generalist skills provide structure, certainty and choice. Established education, clear career path, wide choice of employers and customers.

It is the sensible, reputable choice.

Why be different?

Global Markets: Commoditization of Skills

Globalization and technology have increased the supply of skills and services

Generic skills and services are the first to be replicated by competitors in different geographies.

In the world of Google, and online job search, your competition is just one click away

Being the best at a generic skill no longer guarantees a job.

You can no longer compete by simply being better

The Need to Be Different

To compete, you need a service and skills that are not replicated easily

I dont want to be the best. I want to be the only.

Marty Neumeier

Your skills need to be special, different

If you are not different, you have no identity.

You're just a commodity

To have an identity, you need a point of difference

And if you don't have one, you need to create one

Dave Trott

Differentiation: You Have to Choose

Making yourself different involves choosing. You have to choose a focus. You have to choose your difference.

Persisting with your focus involves saying "no" to jobs, requests and clients outside of that focus

Acquiring a specialism, a differentiation requires a sacrifice. Requires an investment

The greater your focus, the greater the possible reward, the more risky the investment.

Increasingly, without risk, there is no reward. It is the nature of the current market.

You will have to take some risk.

Focus is the Hardest Thing

Most of us like being generalists.

I like being versatile. Give me a problem, I will fix it.

I don't have to make choices. I just serve.

I like diverse problems. I like learning new things.

Variety, is it not the smart thing?

No

Focus is the hardest thing.

Rules of Focus: The One Thing

First choose your focus. Your domain of expertise.

The generic skills are the functional axis, horizontal rows, in an organization chart.

The specialist skills are the product or project columns, the verticals.

The specialist skills, product or client know-how, provide the competitiveness, the differential of the company.

Specialist skills are always domain specific. Highly dependent on context.

You are unique because you know the context that matters.

Pick a narrow specialist skill. How many people claim to be experts in your domain?

The harder the competition, the narrower, the more focus you need.

Conclusion: How Your Company Values You

A company is as competitive as its differentiation in the market

Companies value the people that create the difference

All companies can hire generic skill staff. Therefore, that can't provide the company's differentiation.

The staff with skills specific to the company create the differential. They focus on the company's specific domain, its context, its products.

Computer science purists love the art of coding, “if the algorithm is cool, if the integration is pretty, they’re happy.”

“For me, it’s all about the end product, not how I got there.”

Rasmus Lerdorf

Are you loyal to your products, or to your generic skill?

You can measure Domain Specific competence

How much do you know of the company's specific context?

Do you know the customer? the product users? the specific technology? the product? the competition?

The highest scorer in Domain Specific competence is the company founder, always

If you score high on Domain Specific competence, you make a difference

If you want to make a difference, don't be generic

References:

- College and Business Will Never Be The Same - End of Silo'd Careers, Steve Blank

- Knocking Down Walls, Marty Cagan

- The Internal Agency Model, Marty Cagan

- The Refragmentation, the demise of the corporate class, and rise of creative classes, Paul Graham

- How Google Works, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg

- Developing Strong Product Owners, Marty Cagan

- The Role of Domain Experience, Marty Cagan

- Product vs IT Mindset, Marty Cagan

- Finding Your Edge, Alice Bentinck, Entrepreneur First

- So You Want to Manager?, Julie Zhuo, Facebook

- The Zag, Marty Neumeier

- The Brand Flip, Marty Neumeier

- The Linchpin, Seth Godin

- Theory of Efficient Markets, where return is proportionate to risk

- The no.1 Reason to Focus, Seth Godin

- No is Essential, Seth Godin

- Reductio Ad Absurdum - The One Thing, Dave Trott

- "T-Shaped People", Tim Brown, IDEO

- Understanding UX Skills, Irene Au

- Advice for Thriving in a World of Change, Joi Ito

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January 14, 2016

Contrarian Investing: The Story of Mr Womack, the Pig Farmer

"Mr Womack the Pig Farmer" is my top investment philosophy

The man never had a loss on balance in 60 years.

His technique was the ultimate in simplicity. When during a bear market he would read in the papers that the market was down to new lows and the experts were predicting that it was sure to drop another 200 points in the Dow, the farmer would look through a S&P Stock Guide and select around 30 stocks that had fallen in price below $10—solid, profit making, unheard of companies (pecan growers, home furnishings, etc.) and paid dividends. He would come to Houston and buy a $25,000 “package” of them.

And then, one, two, three or four years later, when the stock market was bubbling and the prophets were talking about the Dow hitting 1500, he would come to town and sell his whole package. It was as simple as that.

He equated buying stocks with buying a truckload of pigs. The lower he could buy the pigs, when the pork market was depressed, the more profit he would make when the next seller’s market would come along. He claimed that he would rather buy stocks under such conditions than pigs because pigs did not pay a dividend. You must feed pigs.

He took “a farming” approach to the stock market in general. In rice farming, there is a planting season and a harvesting season, in his stock purchases and sales he strictly observed the seasons.

Mr. Womack never seemed to buy stock at its bottom or sell it at its top. He seemed happy to buy or sell in the bottom or top range of its fluctuations. He had no regard whatsoever for the cliché’—Never send Good Money After Bad—when he was buying. For example, when the bottom fell out of the market of 1970, he added another $25,000 to his previous bargain price positions and made a virtual killing on the whole package.

I suppose that a modern stock market technician (on CNBC) could have found a lot of alphas, betas, contrary opinions and other theories in Mr. Womack’s simple approach to buying and selling stocks. But none I know put the emphasis on “buy price” that he did.

I realize that many things determine if a stock is a wise buy. But I have learned that during a depressed stock market, if you can get a cost position in a stock’s bottom price range it will forgive a multitude of misjudgments later.

During a market rise, you can sell too soon and make a profit, sell at the top and make a very good profit. So, with so many profit probabilities in your favor, the best cost price possible is worth waiting for.

Knowing this is always comforting during a depressed market, when a “chartist” looks at you with alarm after you buy on his latest “sell signal.”

In sum, Mr. Womack didn’t make anything complicated out of the stock market. He taught me that you can’t be buying stocks every day, week or month of the year and make a profit, any more than you could plant rice every day, week or month and make a crop. He changed my investing lifestyle and I have made a profit ever since.

From John Train's, The Craft of Investing.


The longer your time view, the easier the practice of contrarian investing

The art of waiting for the large sentiment swings. Waiting on the market does not come naturally to investment professionals

Set your own rules, don't be influenced by market volatility.


January 11, 2016

Product First

What Comes First? Sales, Branding or the Product

What comes first? I have had this argument regularly for the last 25 years.

With sales, marketing, technical, and services departments. In fact, with every department director I can think of.

As a junior engineer, my sales director gave me my first "commercial awareness" ticking off; "first, you sell it".

The 21st Century - Your Product is Your Branding

Not long ago, you could create a brand with advertising. Pure Brand Advertising.

Now, you can only create a brand with people, with a community. With a crowd of people that say your stuff is good.

You need buyers on ebay voting you as good. Good reviewers on Amazon. 5 star feedback, social media likes, up ticks, votes

What you think and say no longer matters.

Your brand is what the customers say it is. The crowd uses your product, and they decide

The product creates the experience,

The experience creates the reputation,

The reputation creates the brand

Dave Trott

Your product must do your advertising, your sales and your branding

I know sales and marketing directors who are confused and saddened by this new age

Think of it as an oyster,

You start with a piece of grit, and build a pearl round it,

People buy the pearl, they don't buy the grit,

But no grit, no pearl

Dave Trott

So, please. Product first.

References:

- Death of Salesman, Marty Cagan

- "How to empower the customers who will drive your success", The Brand Flip, Marty Neumeier

- "Is advertising a Con?", Creative Mischief, Dave Trott

- Product Trumps Distribution, Nic Brisbourne

- Positioning, Eric & Laura Ries

- Red Hat Community Branding, Chris Grams

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