Tag Archives | criticism

The Greatest Threat To Innovation? Our Impatience

I’ve worked with customers and around technology long enough to see something disturbing happen. I’m not sure when it all started. Maybe it was always there but only exacerbated by the 24/7, always-on nature of today’s news machines. But regardless of how it began, this trend right now has the potential to destroy everything it touches. What is this trend?

Our impatience and cynical criticism of anything new that isn’t absolutely perfect.

We’re like Statler and Walforf from The Muppet Show whose sole role was to throw barbs at the performers (except most of us armchair pundits are not quite as witty or endearing as our Muppet counterparts). Oh and I’m not throwing my own criticism out to everyone else but me. I’m putting myself squarely in the middle of this trend. As an anthropologist, I can see the fingerprints of cultural entanglement all over this problem. None of us are immune from feeling impatient with technology (or really any customer-related experience) that doesn’t meet our ever increasingly high expectations. And therein lies the key problem.

We’ve assumed a sense of entitlement which is nothing more than consumer empowerment gone awry and to the extremes. We think we’re entitled to a perfect first product with no flaws. Witness Exhibit A: Dell’s try at building their first tablet, the Streak. Yes, I was a beta tester and have been using the Streak for a few months so can attest it has some significant issues. But I hope Dell doesn’t pull up stakes and quit because of all the fierce condemnations they’ve received from several tech publications. Instead, I hope they have guts and a long-term strategy that sees this as a building block.

Exhibit B (and actually what provoked this post) is how fast we’ve decided that Apple’s Ping is a failure. Dammit, it just started…and yet here’s a perfect example of how quickly the critics will descend on anything new. Anyone who has started to look at Ping should have instantly recognized it is an emerging work in progress. And whether it ultimately works or not, it deserves a chance to try and make it.

And here’s another one about Ping as a spammers delight. Yeah, Apple’s engineers should have foreseen this. But anyone who knows how tech products get to market also knows the challenges of sealing up every single hole in a first release. The beauty of web-based apps is how quickly things can get resolved once they are put out into the wild.

And lest you think I’m defending Apple and Ping, I’m actually defending the product’s right to get itself into the consumers’ hands and make necessary adjustments through time. And to do that, we have to be patient as consumers and not expect demand perfection from the get-go. If we can’t manage to do this, we’re looking at a very unattractive future possibility:

The idea of new takes on a different, ever increasingly derogatory meaning. Fewer and fewer companies will decide to take risks and build new technologies for fear of getting blasted (at best) or ignored (at worst) because they didn’t meet increasing standards that become nearly impossible to meet in first iterations. And then we are only the poorer for our own lack of patience.


Social Media: A Modern Form Of Bear Baiting?

As much as it may offend our current animal-loving sensibilities, the spectacle of bear baiting was once a very popular form of entertainment (and in certain areas of the world, it remains an attraction). Basically, it involved tying a bear to a post in the middle of an arena and attacking the beast with large, trained dogs. It was also common to provoke the bear further by poking it with long, sharp prods. Cruel? Without a doubt.

But I argue that the very same mentality that conjured this sport into creation remains with us today. We still love to sit around and watch corporate C-Levels get skewered for their mistakes or whole brands get mauled when they screw up. And now with social media, it becomes a full participation sport. (And lest you think I’m pointing a finger outward, there are indeed three pointing squarely back at me…I’m unfortunately guilty of this behavior, too.)

So what does this actually say about us? Have we really civilized ourselves and evolved out of our barbaric and bloodthirsty selves? Perhaps not. Perhaps we still love a good show where we can easily provide instant judgment of missteps, quick criticism of poor decisions. Hopefully, we’re not doomed to this quest for base entertainment…hopefully, we have the potential to be better. Here are a couple of ideas for how we can exit the arena and leave the poor bears in peace:

Let’s interactively communicate with the C-Levels, the corporate brand managers, the folks who do exist behind the actions we’re itching to criticize. For Pete’s sake, its as if there’s no room for error anymore. One foul-up and you’re an incompetent hack who deserves to be standing on a street corner begging for some spare change. What has happened to giving space to learn from mistakes? Fewer and fewer executives and brands are going to try to be innovative if they think their efforts are going lambasted by anyone with a Twitter account or blog. So instead, I suggest we be a bit more constructive, offer a bit more feedback, try to act as part of the solution.  Yeah, it may mean we have to try to be a little less cynical. Hell, you might just be able to chalk it up to your one-good-deed-for-the-day. That’ll feel good.

Perhaps the hardest of act of all is not giving in to the pressure of instant judgment. Yes, this means going against the grain and choosing a different perspective in a hypermobilized social media world. But look at it this way: in an increasingly homogenized world where everyone is seeking a way to be unique, your decision to withhold criticism until all the facts are known could be a critical personal differentiator. So, next time Amazon deletes a book from a Kindle, let’s help them learn from this action because they’re maneuvering in uncharted waters. Or next time the CMO from a retailer forgets he’s still responsible for customer satisfaction, let’s offer not only some constructive feedback, but acknowledge that she or he is actually a fallible human being capable of forgiveness.

I’m game for making the attempt if you are. What do you say?


The Power Of A…So Close Yet So Very Far Away

When an influential organization has an outstanding opportunity to change the game and create a new movement, you can be excused for feeling disappointed when the organization wastes it. Such is my reaction to ASAE’s Power of A initiative.

All I can do is shake my head and wonder if this is the product of a committee? You know, when a group of extraordinarily well-intended people get together and then beat a good idea senseless with a lot of weak-knee compromises and watered-down solutions. What’s wrong with the campaign?

Persistent Navel-gazing. If associations can be accused of anything, it’s an internally-directed focus on themselves and the issues affecting their membership. This is only reasonable since it’s a core concept that’s driven associations for quite a while. I will not argue with the need to rally together with other like-minded individuals as there is truly strength in community. But that strength becomes a weakness when it neglects to acknowledge the community’s existence within a wider society. Too many associations exhibit an excessive self-absorption and The Power of A does nothing the reverse this trend.

Social Media Mediocrity. The campaign’s site has the look of a truly interactive community except without any of the interactivity. Well, that’s not quite true: there’s a place to add your association and add a blog post. Note, though, that the blog post is only to be used by associations (your Association is a required field for posting). So far, it looks like a way for associations to just toss in their boilerplate PR message which is hardly blogging and definitely not going to yield comments.

There are other half-nods toward social media. There’s the inclusion of a Twitter feed using the #pwra hashtag and a Social Media Room which is little more than a collection of ASAE resources (and a “Power of A Badge?). None of this I would go to the trouble of categorizing as social media.

Audience Confusion. I could almost forgive the above two problems if there was a sense that ASAE knew who its audience is. But its painfully apparent that there is no clear understanding of who this campaign is targeted toward. Witness on the front page these two statements:

  • Help us share The Power of A with all Americans.
  • ASAE created this site to stimulate discussion among association leaders, policymakers & other stakeholders, so that the best and brightest ideas can be shared & help resolve issues of importance.

So who in the world is The Power of A speaking to? In an online world with intense competition for attention, where is the value proposition for anyone to learn more about the work that associations are doing? It may be an attempt to generate awareness, but with without individual interactive engagement it still equals boringly old-school broadcasting. Again, it seems that the focus of this site is a whole lot of “look at us, aren’t associations grand!” and “please pay attention to us, we’re very important.” but very little “what can associations do to be relevant in your life?”

One reason why I’m so critical of this campaign is because I really want for associations and ASAE to succeed. There is so much great work being done through this sector of our economy and a lot of good people put their heart and soul into this great work. So rather than contribute little more than armchair sniping, here is what I hope The Power of A can truly evolve into:

Engaging Public Dialogue. Speaking with policymakers is fine and it should be what every ASAE member expects from you. If it takes a special campaign to do it, then something is going wrong. And frankly, even if this is a problem, I don’t think this is the critical issue facing associations. The real issue is relevance. The question is always, “How are associations relevant to the betterment of our society?” For goodness sake ASAE, if you’re still wondering if public awareness is important, then act like you don’t know because you probably don’t. We live in a golden age of communication so here’s a start:

  • Engage individuals not involved in associations with provocative questions.
  • Stop talking at people. Instead, listen, understand, and share.
  • Open up to allow these people to ask questions, truly learn more, and develop meaning for themselves.

Connecting Value. If the general public doesn’t understand what associations do, throwing high-minded generalities at them probably isn’t going to help. If you want to build lasting awareness, then help people connect the value of associations to their life on their terms. That last phrase is important. Marketing, PR and the Communication trades are learning the painful way that bludgeoning an already overwhelmed audience with their corporate-driven message is a losing proposition. If you want people to listen now, you have to develop a relationship where your audience wants to know you, wants to know your perspective, and wants to share their own. Connecting value is a two-way dialogue.

Exciting the Imagination. Dang it, ASAE…surprise me! Help me believe more fervently that associations are worth having. If every single association shut down tomorrow, why the hell should I care? Again, don’t pitch me on some high-minded generalities. I’m not an association professional any longer so think of me as one of your target audience members. Make me a believer. And then help me make others believers. Do it soon because right now, I’ve got a strong case of the “whatevers.”

05.03.09 – Update #1
Other folks have similar criticisms of and suggestions for The Power of A campaign. All recommended reads if you’d like to get a flavor for the reaction:
Deirdre Reid’s The Natives Are Restless – How Do You Respond?
Maggie McGary’s The Power of..Huh?
Lynn Morton’s Power of A, lets take it to the next level!

05.04.09 – Update #2
Two more blogposts today related to The Power of A campaign:
Dave Sabol’s The Power of Missed Opportunities
Jamie Notter’s The Power of Frustration
And finally a response from John Graham, President and CEO of ASAE and The Center:
The Power of Conversation


First Commandment Of Community Management…

I don’t believe in creating “hard and fast” rules but I do adhere to some common principles in any work I do. The most important one I know (and incidentally, the hardest for me to live since I can be overly sensitive, at times) is not taking anything personally. Now listen…you might be thinking to yourself, “Gee Chris, that’s pretty much common sense. Is that all you got today?” And I will reply, “Yes, it’s all I have today. And why don’t you take your snarky, moronic, know-it-all attitude and just…” Oh, right. We’re talking about not taking things personally.

While I list this as a commandment of community management, it really does apply in almost all professional and personal situations. Those among us who can master the ability to not shred someone who criticizes our work or ideas may not inherit the earth but they will be far more successful.

The question I ask when confronted with an individual or situation that challenges me is: What can I learn from this? It’s simple and it gets me thinking about other possibilities. If you’re managing a community, how do you deal with criticism, particularly if its negative criticism? Do you defend your position by erecting a barricade or do you welcome the commenter in and try to understand the world from their perspective?

Your company’s community and customer engagement may hang in the balance.