Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Conduct unbecoming: appropriately sanctioned

I don't feel any sympathy for Jamie Briggs who seems to have had a big night out in Hong Kong and - in a social part of the evening - behaved in a way that some of the people around him took offense to.

I know the culture of state and federal government; the minister is the all supreme boss. The minister is - in a way - appointed by the people and is the top of the tree in public service. It requires the minister to be almost antiseptic in their dealings - especially where personal interchanges in a social setting are concerned. For goodness sake you'll get away with swearing like a soldier in a work setting as long as you're treating your staff with respect - but step outside the office and it becomes murky.

I move in two main circles of life at the moment - universities and skydivers. I can assure you that I cannot take the "out of hours" culture from one of these domains and apply it to the other. I have enough danger of offending even when I'm being very guarded.

Jamie made a mistake. One he should have avoided. And it's part of the job to avoid offending other people. His resignation is appropriate.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Stupid hurts. It's not personal.

I like to think that there are consequences for ones actions. I suppose it has something to do with what I hope is my internal locus of control.

If I get caught in a car park for 2 hours at 5 p.m. on boxing day it's my stupid fault for going to the office when the sales are on. If I have a family member who won't speak to me for years then perhaps I had a part to play in that and I just have to live with it. If I go for a skydive and injure myself then perhaps I shouldn't be doing certain things.

Stupid hurts.
It's my dream that other people also take responsibility for their own situation. So some time ago I wore my "stupid hurts" t-shirt into a large room full of people. I've previously noted how I seem to be a form of live rorschach blot.

My little troll really pulled out the insecurities of a few. I've never agreed with the people who say there is no such thing as a stupid question only stupid mistakes. Both exist.

If you are standing in front of a glass door fridge full of beer and you ask me "where is the beer?" then that qualifies as a stupid question. It's not personal but it does wear on me when people ask me to solve problems that don't exist. Where the slightest mental effort on a persons part means that they don't need to ask me to help.

I have had both compliments and complaints over my "stupid hurts" stance. I am mostly around universities and skydiving.

Where would you guess I received the most complaints?

UPDATE: Two days ago a friend dislocated a knee. This is where the theory and the practical don't always line up. Now I hate being the guy who once said "stupid hurts". But my friend is a star. She'll be fine.

Here is a beautiful sunrise.

Monday, December 21, 2015

God give me the strength to be nice

As I get to the end of the year I have some more time to reflect on some of the people around me. But first I"ll reflect on my own challenges earlier this year.

I went to one of the great drop zones of the world to attempt the Australian record big way skydive. That was May and it feels like a lifetime ago. I still carry the emotional scars and the exuberance.

As with all my attempts to get some skills on this I was thwarted by the weather. I was way undercooked when it was time to go for the record.

On the day of the first cut I was so so pleased to be given a position in the base of the formation. It was not a glory slot but man I knew that I was underdone. The organisers threw me a bone and kept me in the game. And I got the Australian record with 118 of my friends. Many great skydivers did not get the mercy I was shown and were cut during the record attempt.

So as the world turns and I become responsible for judging the performance of others I get frustrated quite easily.

I feel like saying "don't you know how bad you are!? I'm doing you a favour by letting you have this [mark position score place]"

When confronted by a person who is oblivious to their own level of performance it's all I can do not to scream. But then, as the people I trust continue to tell me:

"it's not what you're saying Cullen it is how you're saying it"

So I say a little prayer.

"God give me the strength to be nice"

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why reinvent the wheel that Google just created?

I work with universities and TAFE colleges quite often. They are always trying to create fancy learning systems for online.

They tried to build video capture and discussion board and blogs all within their own platform. It must cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I have been involved in what they call blended learning since about 2003, I have progressed from recording WMV files of lectures and emailing them to students out to doing YouTube face to face feedback on student assignments.

Everytime I have created some manual system about a year later Google has fully automated it and made it better.

A Blog a website a video diary all of these things are really easily managed by using Google or sometimes Microsoft.

I know if you've spent thousands hundreds of thousands of dollars employing developers encoders then you need to hold on to that resource.

But clever business is everywhere are using the technology that is available to them. Guess which ones are likely to survive in the next decade?

18 Point

A case in Point. Every word of this blog post was recorded using Google voice recognition.

Notwithstanding the minor bug about that pretty darn good.

Um that minor bug above. Clearly some proofreading still required.

Parachutes? I don't see it.

My Nana once told me to blow on a dandelion and watch the parachutes descend.

Even as an 8 year old I could not see any deployment.

Still I did like the idea of a parachute even then.

Hot day harden up

A friend once said that all good sports are weather dependent. Never more true than when you are leaving to go to the drop zone at 5am.

It could be worse. I could be leaving to record lectures for an online course the way that I have been for the last 8 days.

In fact I consider it a privilege to be able to go up and do some work at something I love. Sure I love teaching marketing and research but I love Skydiving.

How good can it be to be paid to teach something that you don't just love but live?

So as we say let's get the dustbuster out and get the sand out of my undies, take a spoon of cement and HTFU.

It'll be a hot day today and all the jumping will be done by 11 a.m.

But a morning of jumping that you miss out on is a morning of jumping you will never ever get the chance to do it again.

Wheels off 6 a.m.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Feliz Navidad

Now I know we're on the run to Christmas. Sure I'm cynical and weary of Christmas. Other people's emotions bore me at the best of times, and Christmas is the best of times.

But as I roll towards Christmas Day, I find the immersion of goodwill and happiness rubs off. As I trudge through other people jostling to make the Christmas period their own version of perfect, eventually I come to this:

"I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart"

And the gun fired early this year, as I just heard this song:

Friday, November 27, 2015

War Stories: Hot nuts vending at retail

This reminds me of a customer I once had. It was heartbreaking. He provided warm nuts under lamps in service stations. A really nice idea - fraught with logistical problems.

Stock rotation, portion control, shelf life. Under hot lamps, the nuts sat there at 60 degrees C. That would send them rancid in a day I reckon.

I was lured into selling him oxygen barrier pouches. At refrigerated temperatures, they'd keep bacon fresh for 6 weeks. It cost him about $10,000 to build artwork and a minimum first run size of $10,000. No promises about shelf life - our materials were never designed to run at 60 degrees c.
Bottom line - his stock was going off after a day under the lights. It cost him thousands, not to mention his pissed off cusgomers. Apparently the oxygen barrier of nylon goes to crap once it gets warm.

And the worst thing - I worked for a company who didn't have to care. My boss sat in a meeting and said "there will be no compensation - it's as simple as that"

The guy's name was Ted, I think. Salt of the earth. A growly Aussie guy - chewed me out a few times - but a good man.

Fuck I feel old sometimes. I hope the guy's ok. Last I'd heard (late 90s) he was fighting testicular cancer.

These days I'm the growly old guy nobody wants to talk to.

Service quality is often about managing your worst customers.

Often, as a customer, I feel for the service staff who are trying to deliver a quality product.

When I have a choice of lines to join  - such as at a supermarket - sure, the first thing I look at is "how fast is the checkout person working". But pretty quickly i look at the people who make up the line.

Does that person look like the type who will dither with credit cards, get confuaed about prices or try to pay their $30 bill in silver coins?

In the academic literature it's referred to a "co-creation" where the consumer is an imporant part of the quality of the final product.

So for an airline - for instance - you're only as good as your least inconsiderate customer.

Wouldn't it be great to have separate lines for customers who have their stuff working, and the ditherers? Just my luck I'd be in the wrong line when i have a dithering day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tony Rokov: I didn't know you, but I like you.

Fly free and go with God, buddy.

"About 20m from landing a tandem skydive, a freak wind twisted Tony’s parachute causing him and the teenage boy strapped to him to drop to the ground. In his last moments Tony positioned himself to protect the teenager from the worst of the impact. Devastatingly for everyone who knew and loved him, Tony didn’t survive his last act of bravery. Tony had been in the military for over 20 years so this certainly was not his first act of bravery.  While serving his country in some of the world’s most hostile places Tony put himself in danger countless times to protect others."

Update: My heart breaks, but go with God, buddy.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Kids, Bless 'em: Complaining to my bosses rather than me.

Twice in the past few months I've had this. Somebody has something to bring up with me - a "problem with Cullen" perhaps.

I'd asked them:

"I'm under pressure here and might not be hitting my marks as well as you like. If we get into that place I need you to be onto me quickly so that I can fix it. Is that OK?" 

And rather than bring it up with me, a boss gets the complaints and then the boss brings it up with me. It's strange - for sure I can be cranky but in both cases I had signaled that we needed to work together as a team on this, and that they were my front line.

I have to just put it down to immaturity. I seem to recall when I first entered the spiders web of business with email, a few of my noob moves was to blanket email everyone who might be interested when I had a problem with one of my counterparts. Somewhere along the track I learnt that teamwork trumps grandstanding - or at least it's the "me I want to be".

Bless 'em, perhaps in 20 years they'll reflect on these days in the same way as I am now. Or not.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Students who don't give a crap: Steve Cain I understand you now

In the 1980s I did an apprenticeship in radio/electronics at the Defence Technology and Science Organisation (something like that - DSTO) in Salisbury. It was a godsend for me, but I didn't like it much at the time.

So I wasn't much of a catch when I went out on placements in my second year of the apprenticeship. I was too interested in reading Jason Bourne books (yes - books back then), training martial arts four times a week and the regular - girls. I suppose I have always had a survival technique that my heart lies elsewhere - and the "elsewhere" sure as hell wasn't the Communications workshop at DSTO.

So as I wound up my placement in the Comms workshop I remember the foreman debriefing me:

"You didn't really try, did you? You did enough to get by, but nothing too much more. You weren't here early, you weren't committed to any job we gave you. Based on that I'm just gonna tick the middle row of boxes. You could've done better but you can't really complain about what you've got here, right?"

Steve Cain, my respect for you grew ten feet on that day. And I began to develop an inkling of self awareness - the smart arsed 19 year old I was.

Uncanny that I am using Steve Cain's line - word for word. And I have a bunch of "participation" marks to award soon. I'm not angry - I don't care that you don't give a shit about the courses I'm paid to teach you. I'm just a little tired. I know you're clever and that you have better things to do. And to to good ones - I am so grateful that you can at least pretend to engage that you'll probably get a 10.

To all - you will raise my ire if you've just been "phoning it in" all semester and you're harshly demanding special meetings and extra consideration. Life just doesn't work that way. I've never told a student to "bite me" but there's still time.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Self serve terminals need service

Ok we're at the point now where we have one staff member on ELEVEN scanning terminals. That means that when a customer (who's scanning, packing and paying all by themself) gets a red light because of a system bug, then that customer should expect that a staff member gets in, fixes the bug, and fixes it properly.

Sure it's an important job and it might be stressful so put a second person on the job! What have you got to lose? You've already managed to shut down a half dozen terminals because the "self serve" system is working so well.

So make it work well.

Cullenofadelaid classic: The Wolf and the Lamb: Some fights just won't be won

"Cullenofadelaid classics" is a set of blogs from the vault. I have a bunch of posts I made about five years ago but pulled them down - my political environment had got a little heated. But there's some handy content there so here it is. This is from December 2015.

The Wolf and the Lamb at by Aesop

A WOLF, meeting with a lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea, which should justify to the lamb himself, his right to eat him. He then addressed him: Sirrah, last year you grossly insulted me. Indeed, bleated the lamb in a mournful tone of voice: I was not then born. Then said the wolf: You feed in my pasture. No, good sir, replied the lamb: I have not yet tasted grass. Again said the wolf: You drink of my well. No, exclaimed the lamb: I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother's milk is both food and drink to me. Upon which the wolf seized him and ate him up, saying: Well! I won't remain supper-less, even though you refute every one of my imputations.

Moral: The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny, and it is useless for the innocent to try by reasoning to get justice, when the oppressor intends to be unjust.

Source: Aesop's Fables Copyright 1881 Translator: unknown WM. L. Allison, New York Illustrator: Harrison Weir, John Tenniel, Ernest Griset,
Posted from Blogium for iPhone

Empowering myself: Life's too short to stay in a bad situation

About six weeks ago I was (unwittingly) running a field experiment about some new people I was working with. We had walked - shoulder to shoulder - into the fray and things had gotten ugly.

I knew the finger pointing would start and that this was to be a test of the quality of the people I was working with. I was disappointed that my new friends were so quick to throw me under the bus, but I could live with it.

However in what seems to be some bizarre form of dissonance reduction strategy, my new ex-friends are trying to back fit the story that I was the cause of the problem. That's a little yucky.

I've spoken before about how dangerous it can be to wade into a mess and try to clear it up - lest you be blamed for creating the mess.

Life is too short. In a conversation I'll never have, my words would be:

"There are four things that keep me at something. One is when I'm paid extremely well, another is when I get to do work that I totally, totally love. Another thing that keeps me in a place is when I'm treated with respect and yet another is where I get to work with fantastic people. The situation here fails on all four counts, so I guess it's goodbye."

I won't have that conversation because I'm not quite dumb enough to burn my bridges that hard, but if I slowly drift into the whole "Where's Cullen? We used to see him a lot more in the past" you'll know what's going on. I'm just accepting better offers.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Don't. Lie. Good advice for business and for life.

I'm sure Karma will take care of his, but I've been blindsided by some blatant lies recently. Blindsided because the lies were unnecessary. The lies were used to achieve trivial things for their perpetrators, but they branded the perpetrator - in my mind - as a person who can't be trusted.

I understand the little half truths that grease the wheels of social life. Telling a person that their meatloaf wasn't disgusting or that their singing voice doesn't hurt your ears - pretty harmless. Although gently inserting some truth seems to gain me more respect: "I like the passion in your writing but I had trouble understanding the point you were making".

But bare-arsed lies for minimal gain? I've encountered two, recently.

"Your deadline is October 5 because the business deadlines mandate this"
No - you're going on leave and wanted the work out of the way, for your reasons. I found the business deadlines were weeks later. You're a liar.

"We deliberately reduced the number of clients we booked because you didn't have the teams to do the job"
No - you lost one of the clients a week into the project. You were as surprised as we were. You're a liar.

To a person with weak personal standards, telling a bare-faced lie is something of a secret weapon - in the short term. But in the long term you gain a reputation for being a bullshit artist - at best - and possibly worse.

A reputation for honesty and forthrightness is a great asset, and it's important not to trash yours.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Another unexpected pleasure - a skydive with Jeff

Jeff comes over from KI every six or so weeks. I'm often doing work jumps and it never occurs to me to simply get in the sky with him.

Today we made it happen and it was fun. And it may just be the inaugural SA record for POPS - the Parachutists over Phorty Society. Come and get us - guys!

Copperhead Road: Transferrable Skills and Survival

The song once struck me as the ultimate cool. As a rollicking Bluegrass ballad, "Copperhead Road" came to me at that angry young man stage where danger and illegality were cool.

And the latest tough guy stories were from guys who'd just come back from the jungles of Vietnam.
His story of third generation "white trash" brought up on stories of grandparent moonshine runners resonated with me, even though I have no similar history.

With great respect to my dozens of (North and South) Vietnamese friends, Steve Earle nails it when he speaks of setting booby traps along his newly acquired drug plantation:

"I learned a coupla things from Charlie dontcha know, you'd better stay away from Copperhead Road"

I know that stuff still happens but for me I'll just listen to cool songs and skydive on the weekends.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A bright spot on a bright landscape

Work, work, work. It seems to be the norm for me at the moment. And plenty of what I do is hard to classify as work; two skydives on Wednesday, a wine trip with ten students on Thursday.

It's all good, except for the times it's not.

But today surprised me. I was teaching 9-4.30 which is normally quite a grind. However there was the combination of some great students, a great co-teacher, interesting teaching content and a beautiful spring day to walk home in. A perfect storm.

One of the nicest Satudays of teaching in five years. And I've had some magnificent Saturdays. Here's to you, Cate Jerram and the Business Research Methods students. And my caring sister who sent a message of concern - lovingly misreading the subtext of an earlier blog post. You made this day special.

May we share many more.

Do the right things. And trust.

As i walked past my flowers this morning a dozen metaphors came to mind.

I bought those flowers closed - I put them in water and now a week later theyre open
The Dutch Irises behind them are ones that were given to me for free by my florist because the last bunch I bought didn't open
Beauty is available everywhere if you stop to notice it
There are no gaurantees about any specific result you may get for your efforts, but the big picture will work out

These are just my top of mind points. The takeout for me is to keep doing the right things, trust, keep talking to people and be prepared to notice the little wins.

Step in Step out

It is a dance that is bizarre it is bizarre it is a dance that's wearing thin
When you step in and I step out
We don't find the time for talking seems we find the time to shout

All I can say is that it won't be this way forever. Life takes all sorts of turns; many phases look completely different to each other. Where there's life there's hope and the only way to crystallise a failure is to give up.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Four years productively unemployed

It's coming up to four years since I became unemployed. I'd been in a job of some sort since school and had thought that being on staff with a PhD offered some security.

But after four years of contract (2+2) I failed to win a third. And I was out in the cold, looking for billable hours.

Luckily that erstwhile employer needed me - a lot - but they also needed me to show I had other clients, so that I truly was an independent contractor.

So here I am, drawing money from at least three companies and no shortage of things to do.

I don't know what the future holds, but this four years of being "unemployed" has been very productive.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Adelaide water: Pretty darn good

I've got to thinking about water recently. The essence of life.

Growing up in Adelaide in the 1970s it was fair sport to complain about the water. "Adelaide tap water" was an epithet my dad used regularly. But times move on. The days of running a bath that has a brown tinge and an earthy smell. Gone. And our water is safe to drink. At 0.4 cents per litre.

There's a far higher chance of getting poisoned out of a rainwater tank.

Sure, by comparison, Melbourne water or spring water are sweet, sweet life. But ours costs a maximum of $3.84 per kilolitre.

The sweet sweet life you see below costs about $640 per kilolitre.

Adelaide water is pretty damn good.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Energy drink: why you so cheap?

One of the fringe benefits of one of my workspots is cheap energy drink.

So why is the Mother green selling at $2 compared to the $3.50 for Red Bull and V at another site?

My argument - brand equity. Red Bull - highest BE, highest price. V is an established brand - next highest. Mother Green - trying to get there. $2.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In awe of the people that work for me


Fate has it that now I have some people working for me. Fate will also have it that one day I might be working for them. My Lion and the Mouse post speaks to that. But for today I can get to be the boss.

And I am in awe of my two teams. Zubair, Kechen and Megan are covering an area they know way better than me and with brilliant efficiency and teamwork. They come to me with solutions and I get to say "yes". I get to look like I run a tight show.

In another domain, Ged, Dezri, Long, Kechen and Josh are covering an area that I know well but dealing with day-to-day stuff that I simply can't get to. They do, and I cover a few exceptions. I get to look like I run a tight show.

I might not get to manage people again for a while and that's cool. Managing myself is quite a task and some say I'm not so good at even that.

But semester 2 is looking like a time where I can say "gee, I had good people then".

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Strangest Dream: Back at Cryovac

I rarely blog about my dreams. That sounds self indulgent and boring.

This seems relevant. Last night I dreamt that I was back working at a company called Cryovac, selling hi tech plastic packaging and machines into the food industry, that started about this time of year, in 1993.

Men of action in the fray
It was where I came to learn that doing was more important than anything else. My boss Rod Davis and coworker, Chris Skinner, were men of action. Early in my seven year stint I went - wringing my hands - to Chris. "We told [customer x] that he'd be getting his order today, but production just told me it's two weeks off. X will hit the roof". And Chris gave me the best advice I have ever had in business:

"Standing here talking to me is not gonna help you. Get on the phone and fix it"

And so much of my time there taught me that when there was a problem the best thing to do is to get in and eat some shit sandwiches; establish a course of action with the customer and keep them informed. And the further up the line you work, the more likely you are to make sure that the problem is not a disaster. If I had spoken to my production people a week before then I could've told my customer a week earlier; he could've held off ordering expensive perishable raw materials and the shit sandwich would be smaller.

It sounds so obvious to me now. But last night my subconscious had a message for me.

A paralysed academic
I dreamt I was back there with Chris and Rod. We were all friends, but after a week or so it became apparent that I really wasn't getting much done. I would come in an instead of having spoken to customers and gotten orders, or explored new opportunities I would have a half a page of writing on a piece of paper. My subconscious has shined a spotlight on an inner fear.

My last fifteen years in the University system has given me a huge amount. I quickly fell into a research and customer insights stream, and have learnt some amazing techniques from very clever people. I stand in front of a lecture theatre of 200 with no qualms and provide an online supplement to my teaching that is efficient and second to none. I'm proud to have had an association with about 10,000 students in that time, across Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and of course, Australia. Three times a year I get to work for 12 weeks with the best middle and senior managers of Adelaide, and we all learn from each other.

A man of action or a fish out of water?
But my "get in and fix the problem" approach has me like a fish out of water. Sure, I am accused of not getting stuff done but that tends to happen when your "to do" list is long. I manage to deliver, and there is clearly no shortage of people who are happy with what I can get done. To me - as a contractor - it's all money. But I'm a fish out of water because the University approach seems to be about thinking or feeling, rather than doing. Everybody wants to be a strategist, nobody an doer. Wringing ones hands or looking for who to blame is the norm. Dozens of times I've been caught out when I've given the heads up to a boss or a coworker, they've ignored it and somehow I've been seen as the problem.

I'm not sure, but I think I hear the call of the non-university sector. We'll see. I might find an enclave where people get stuff done - within the university sector - but I think I'll be more likely to find the right culture outside.

Still, it's not all bad. My current - self employed - situation has it that the money is just rolling in. But it may be time to consider a change. My subconscious was saying "stay there too long and you'll become one of them".

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Not happy where you are? Start trying to move.

I have spent over 30 years in the workforce now. Much of that time has been totally rewarding - working with people who know more than me, learning a lot, and being treated with respect.

And in some cases, even the best of things gets old. Either I change, the place changes, I lose respect for the players, or they lose patience with me. Many things.

But when I meet people who tell me they're unhappy in their work my answer is always the same. Start applying in other places. For me the result has always been positive - although it does involve dealing with the unknown.

When you start applying for jobs elsewhere it can go a few ways:
  • You might win a new job and move.
  • You might realise nobody wants you with your current skill set.
  • You might see that what you have is really pretty good.
  • Your current employer might find out, and sack you.

I've had all of the above. Each more than once. And it has always worked out for the best.
So if you're not happy, don't waste another day. Start applying. Today.

Groundbreaking news: Shoppers aren't 100% loyal!

Wow. In other news, the sky is blue.

In a month, 75% of supermarket shoppers buy from a chain that is not their major one.

I promise you, that's not news. 100% loyalty rates for all consumer products are way lower than you think.

And if we consider a period that is longer than a month - say, a year - I'd expect that about 95% of people would have strayed.

Nobody owns a customer. Even the biggest brands only borrow them, mostly.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Father's Day

As I move towards this Father's Day it's more poignant than ever. A whole bunch of family relationships in every corner of the country and many degrees of the emotional spectrum. And the question still haunts me:

"Cullen, are you an asshole?"

It depends on who you ask but I can point you to the various people who will answer yes or no. Few who tske the middle ground if really pressed for it.

And perhaps that is what this should be about. Perhaps it should be

"Is my dad an asshole? day"

I had so much more to say but apparently my battery will run out soon. According to Android. Serendipities.

But to many of those who consider me an asshole - I love you more than you know.

We just ran out of time.

When is a customer not a customer?

No - I've never bought a Beaumont tile. So no - I shouldn't be parking here. Soz.

But the line becomes a little more blurry when you think about it a little more. I needed to park in the Norwood Garden Centre so I could expeditiously pick my boy up from school and bought a $30 Crepe Myrtle for the privilege. When i told them they were all "you didn't need to do that, you've been here before".

So where do we sit here?. I can't inflate my tyres at your servo because I didn't buy petrol just then?

The whole "customers only" thing is a big question. Sure it's open to abuse, but one of the branches of marketing that I've studied says "everyone's a customer" - nobody has a zero probability of buying.

But the best was the Royal Hotel in Adelaide who had a bouncer walking their carpark on a Friday morning. He spoke to me and we agreed that buying a beer a week ago didn't let me get a day's parking.

Perhaps that's what marketing is about. Talking to the customer - even the infrequent one - and relationships.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The "Bar Tab" app

There is so much I can say about this, but it's clever. Whether you use Lovelock's "Flower of Service" framework or the "Outlet selection and purchase" step in the consumer decision process - this frictionless purchase process is good marketing.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The car wash satisfies some interesting needs on a Sunday night

Sure, I'm caught too. But I'm watching a whole bunch of people who really aren't very good at it try to get their cars washed. I can whip through for $5 but one of the guys - for sure - has spent $15 already.

Still, it satisfies a need. A need to take responsibility for the washing of your own can, and the need to start fresh on Monday.

That's why I'm in the line.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Working in political places: it's all a game

This time around I'm not worried. I'm doing some work in a place that appears to be pretty political.

Some of the stuff I've been involved with has "gone to poos and wees" and some of it is down to me. Not all, but some.

I will be interested to see how this plays out. I like the people I have been doing stuff with and now I get the chance to see how it goes when things are not so rosy.

It's almost fun. I'm not worried - just interested. I'm managing what I can control and alerting people to the things I can't. It will be a chance to see what my new friends are made of. If I get thrown under the bus, then I suppose I'll know.

But if the past is any indication I'm notoriously hard to kill.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

How to be considered more than a lightweight

As I get older, I realise that through my life when I thought I was playing with the big boys they really just patting me on the head and letting me run with busy work. At some point where I was managing millions of dollars of sales accounts they expected me to be more than just an enthusiastic, well meaning amateur. Results really began to matter. And that was a challenge because I didn't even know what it meant to play like a grown up in the business world.

These days I have 35 year old middle managers study an MBA course under me. Most of them have learnt these things through osmosis, but sometimes I get an electrician who has just been promoted to section manager and they can use these points.

So in order to be considered a serious player you should:

Think more than a few weeks ahead
The level in a management tree is directly related to how forward looking they need to be. A leading hand on a factory floor needs to be concerned about today's production, or the week's. A senior manager is trying to get ahead of next year's challenges. How do senior managers deal with this week's problem? They don't - they deal with this week next year's problem. How? They write policy, they prepare budgets and they give their line managers the tools to do their job. If you're dealing with this week's challenges then you're a senior manager in name only.

Know who your business's customers and stakeholders are
The only reason a business, or a not for profit, or a horseriding club, has a reason to exist is for its customers. So you need to have a crystal clear idea who those people are. And if they're not customers but they're in the mix, then they're stakeholders - and if they're not on your radar you're acting like a line supervisor, not a senior manager.

Understand the value your business creates
Those customers are only having anything to do with your because you solve a problem for them. Perhaps your business provides them raw materials, distributes their product or gives advice. Why on earth are they paying you money? The best managers know they live and die by their customers remaining perfectly clear on why they're together.

Be honest with yourself
How did that meeting go? Well? Does the other party think so? The worst and most amateurish managers I know will leave a meeting saying "that went well" while the other party is hatching sophisticated plans to break out at some time later. "I'm a pretty good leader - not great, but good. Aren't I" is the saddest question I've ever had a boss ask me. I just knew they hadn't grown beyond an adolescent level of self understanding.

Remain fresh, and know when it's time to quit
Quit this one and start kicking goals somewhere else. After a while, people start getting sick of you and you should be moving on. Don't be afraid - there are dozens of opportunities and the people who worry about the future have every reason to. If you don't reinvent yourself or move on - even in the same position - people will take stronger and stronger steps to remove you. They should. If you really are learning and growing, you will never have to face that pain.

So, 25 years ago when I had bosses tell me that I lacked maturity I didn't know what they meant. I do now. You may be 53 years old and still be not be ready for any real responsibility. Just check the items above.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Students - your email grammar says something about you

Students - everyone else will be trying to get ahead of you. If not now - in uni - for sure once you leave. This is no longer the game where you get a prize just for playing.

Don't let other people score a free kick on you. Every piece of communication says something about how professional you are. Even if it's sent from a phone or posted to Facebook.

What do you think a person is likely to think about you if you send them this email:

"I am in a 4pm Monday tutorial, i have no attended yet as i have been unwell. i was looking to send my tutor an email regarding my absents..."

Sure, I'm just a lecturer in your first year Uni course but do you really want to be the person who sent that email? If you choose to be then that's fine, but don't be surprised when your friends are enjoying success you don't for some inexplicable reason...

Sunday, August 9, 2015

It's so easy to plagiarise

It's so easy to plagiarise - and you might not even know it.

Sure - copying another person's words is the most obvious plagiarism, and we have remedies for that. Copy/paste the sentence into Google and - busted!

But when you see a piece of art that really captures your imagination, and you produce your own version? Probably plagiarism. Sure the line between being inspired and plagiarising is a little fine, but as with the photos below - no creative addition means plagiarism.

This was the ad agency for the AFL, and the AFL acted swiftly, decisively and ethically in dealing with the problem.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Batch processing my emails: Karma for poor communicators

I'm managing three email accounts for three different personas of mine. It means I check them on about a two day rotation. Purely a practical thing, and it's had an unexpected upside. When a person sends me an email that I can't act upon, their whole process just gets held up until the next time I check that email account.

So a person who tells me they need a report from me but hasn't given me the material we agreed they would - a two day delay. The student who wants me to clarify a minor admin issue but gives me no hint as to which course they're in? Two days.

I've spoken in the past about a stupid tax - where doing something dumb costs me money. This is more like Karma for poor communication skills.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Vacuum pac facts

I love a fighting brand. I like Pureland Tofu. But I'm getting frustrated by their packs gassing up before their expiry date. Sure, I just flipped it last time, at the local supermarket, but when i buy a product that says use by October 10 and it's showing degradation by Aug 1, it's an inconvenience.

Yep, a pack that is gassing does not mean it's dangerous. But it is suboptimal.

But time for an information opportunity. If you buy anything that is vacuum packed, you can take it back for an exchange as soon as it has anything inside it that looks like air. Cos that's not how it's meant to be.

The rate I'm going, I might have a piece of tofu in the fridge in 2025; every time I've decided "let's go" the pack has gassed up, with two month to run.

No biggie, but for the manufacturers they could put a shorter shelf life on it or get a better estimate of their shelf life. And, for the record, my temperature control was fine.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Loves your bum...

This has got some momentum. I don't know when they first started saying "Quilton loves your bum" but it's clever.

Early in my life studying marketing i would often quip:

"I don't care - I'd even sell toilet paper if it meant I could be doing marketing"

There's someone here who clearly went through with that.

So that's the personality of the Quilton brand - loves your bum. As good a personality as any.

So, a clever ad creative probably came up with that, but it's the marketing manager who keeps the personality alive. So, when they make a minor packaging change (continuous innovation) they call it a "love handle". A product contribution to the brand personality.

And a question to you. How well would this personality transfer to countries outside of Australia? Which countries, perhaps. Segments within other countries?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Career advice to a marketing student

I get nervous giving advice. Who the hell am I to tell people what to do? I'm not a case study in building a successful career. But I have watched certain things work, and I believe a few things are necessary conditions. Entry points.

Hi, I'm doing the marketing course and i was wondering about what kind of classes should i do to get a job in advertisement?

And my response:

Hi. Big question. Too big for me to answer here. Most importantly: 
  • View everything you see in life through a marketing lens
  • Be curious about everything and keep investigating until you have an answer that satisfies you
  • Have some public presence that shows you are doing the two things I mentioned above. Perhaps write a blog such as
  • Take opportunities to do interesting things whenever they present – even if it doesn’t look like it will pay
  • Be prepared for things to not work. Water runs downhill, and when it meets an obstacle it finds a way around it. So too it should be with your career plan.

I don’t have a magic formula of things to study that’ll get you into advertising and marketing, but the things above will start to get you near the playing field.


Poor poor pitiful me

I love the 1970s US country rock. This beautiful lady was on my radio with this song in my early teen years. An upbeat song about a morbid topic - her last thoughts before she will succeed at a suicide. This is not a true story - Linda Ronstadt is still alive. All of the bad experiences she had with men.

"Oh these boys won't let me be, lord have mercy on me. Woe is me"

Purity of any emotion can be beautiful. Apparently even so with the emotion of self pity.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Students: Get your global brain on!

I will be starting, soon, with a bunch of students in International Business. One of my challenges was to think about global issues:

The global environment is an important backdrop for all of us trying to do business. Three global events that have implications for Australian businesses. They are:
·         The Greek default and European Union austerity demands
·         The slowdown in China and the crisis in Chinese investor confidence
·         Australia’s relationship with Indonesia, most recently shown as a reduction in live cattle import quota.
The question you need to answer is:

“Of the three global challenges involving Europe, China and Indonesia which do you believe has the greatest importance to Australian businesses?”

I'm looking forward to the arguments. Back in 2012 I was thinking about at least one of the issues.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A fun whiteboard, for a nerd.

I'm sworn off of research PhD supervision - it's bad for me. The field just attracts the worst type of people and then I have to share their space.

But I have enjoyed that one of my bosses had an MBA student who wanted to research SME drivers of cloud adoption, and we created this fun whiteboard.

The inner nerd in me is having a little fun, on a miserable day where skydiving is out of the question.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Response rates for a satisfaction survey

A nice system where the respondent enters a code from the receipt, does the survey and then gets a validation code for a free burger.

A lot of messing around that might give you more "deal prone" respondents, but a nice technique, still.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lemons at 50c each?!

Are you kidding me? Have you looked outside? If there was any sensible relationship to what's in season, they'd be 50 cents a kilo.

Oddly I'd just picked a half a dozen before i went to the supermarket for something else.
Still, people who live glasshouses..

I pay money for applesauce and sometimes ice. I hear that's not economic "rational man".

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Keeping the customer happy: Well played City Holden

After a really shabby early experience, the dealer guys at City Holden did brilliantly.

You don't need to know the specifics but Holden (big brother) couldn't get a thing right and the dealer guys (City Holden) were absolute stars.

Yeh perhaps all part of the "good cop / bad cop" deal but whatever. Life's a game of perceptions.
And now the dealer guys are contacting me. This is how I read this:

"Big Brother will be calling soon. If you have a problem, bring it up with us before you go trashing us to them"

I think that's fair. But it doesn't matter. I'll be singing the praises of City Holden. I don't ever wanna buy a car from anyone else.

When talking renewables you must also talk numbers

It's ok to have good intentions but the need to be funded. So, the generation price for Solar is $190/MWh or about 20c per KWh, and according to the chart at the bottom the Australian buy price is about 50c (AU after conversion from US). If we were to increase our proportion of renewables we will send electricity prices through the roof.

I'n not saying we shouldn't but we need to go in with our eyes open. And not be surprised when old people start dying (more) because they can't afford to heat their homes.

DISCLAIMER: This is a quick and dirty analysis - I haven't cross referenced either of these posts but they do accord with what I've already heard. Face validity at least.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dead flowers: Revenge served cold

My kids hate this song. It was about four years ago when i was having some people problems that I used this song as an anthem. My kids got sick of hearing it. In the car, on the guitar - too often. On repeat - too much.

I used it to cling to sanity. And I still like the message. The people who have caused me my biggest problems have a good life. And I think they always will.

I can't expect Karma to do the work to make the world right. The world is just not fair.
But just as when you're playing in a footy team that is getting beaten by 50 goals, all you can do is play your own position. Make sure that your player gets as few kicks as possible.

So in life, my job is to not make the world a worse place. I watch a business take in young, enthusiastic, intelligent and impressionable people and within three years convert them to self serving and amoral.

There was a time where I believed I could tread that path. But I got squeamish - I couldn't handle destroying innocent people just because they didn't suit my plans. There is such a thing as right and wrong. I still managed to do many things I regret before I woke up to myself.

But back to dead flowers. With my problem people - they may continue to serve me trouble and my job is to simply deal with it. One day I might be putting roses on their grave - or vice versa - but life is way too short to climb to the top over bleeding bodies.

But my problem people? I manage to avoid them. They have a good life, and so do I. I certainly wish bad things for many of them, but I refuse to dwell on it. Life will be whatever it is.

"Professional Victim" comment - not for Facebook

Posting these things on FB gets too noisy. I have become weary of how quickly we are to take offense, or to blame racism, sexism, ageism or some other external factor for the fact that we simply sucked at something, even if briefly.

I'm getting a taste of the downside of age related preferential treatment in one of the things I do, but for now I haven't woven it into my life story or sense of self. Still, if I'd had years of gender based downside, I might. Don't know.

The FB post I didn't make:

"Bronwyn Bishop should lose her spot as speaker. But whatever happens she'll go through the wringer. I'll be interested to see whether she trots out the whole "no man in this position would have to go through what I did". I doubt she will, because whatever she may be, she's not a professional victim."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The food court: Where positioning becomes free for all

I've known shopping centre managers in the past. One of their biggest challenges is turf battles between traders in the food court. The chinese shop selling hot chips, the fish and chip shop selling cappuccino.

So at the airport food court the idea of positioning falls away in the face of the hordes, all looking for food. Sumo Salad sells toasties, Krispy Creme sells croissants and coffee, Maccas have an offer.

Sure, positioning is something worth thinking about. But points of parity are important.

Third party room service: of course!

Of course. I'm here in Pyrmont/Darling Harbour where there is plenty of accommodation. But not all hotels wish to be running a kitchen until 11.30pm.

Of course a clever businessperson would be able to take care of that. I'm sure it's not new, it's just that now is the first time I've noticed.

Friday, July 17, 2015

My inner nerd is impressed: A mean plot for categorical data.

I love x-y scatterplots. They allow me to visualise the relationship between two variables. But they had a drawback. When you're trying to understand how two seven-point scales interact, they are silly looking.

An x-y plot with two seven point scales is essentially something like 49 dots. Sure each dot has a different weight but visually not very helpful.

First pickup today, then. Stephen Prendergast suggested what we call a "mean plot" which summarises it perfectly.

I could do it from scratch but I like the way Stephen says he can send me some SPSS syntax for it.
Oh, and then I just learnt the benefits of saving factor scores on a factor analysis as opposed to creating a new variable from the mean of the relevant items.

Yes, the data nerd in me is having a lot of fun.

A trip away, but through new eyes

In the 12 years I spent on staff for universities I became bewildered by the way they play the travel game. Staff would have a budget (back in my day a big one) to pay for travel/accom/registration for conferences and training. And it became the game to spend the money before the end of the year.

All very nice, but it was a structured junket in about 80% of cases. For sure there's networking and professional development, but I've just watch a staff member use four years of that investment and move to another employer. She needed to - her current employer had no idea how good she was and she spent all her time dealing with white ants.

So it's refreshing for me to be doing a professional development course on my own terms. Sure, most of my money still comes from working for universities, but I send an invoice and they pay. And I manage everything else.

There is none of this patriarchal "where are you going?" stuff, and I'm paying for it out of (pre-tax) income that could've bought a TV or a new dishwasher. Which is fine.

I really like my clients - universities, SMEs, a market research company and a skydiving school. I hope things keep going well with them. I've been saying no to other work but with these guys I have enough work, enough money and have had enough freedom to rack up 600 skydives as well as an instructor rating and a national record. That's me on the bottom left below:

and in the centre circle here:

And one of the conditions of my current self employment is that I have to fund my own professional development trips. That's pretty darn cool, too. Let's see what this Australian Market and Social Research Society Winter School "Multivariate Data Analysis" course has for me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I don't mind that Google knows that much about me

Nice little message on my phone. Reminding me that i have a flight at 2pm and that it'll probably take me an hour to get to the airport in time.

Yes i know it's easy to get all uptight about how much they know but this is fine by me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ok, time to get serious again..

I've managed to goof off a little in the last few weeks. Early June, after coming back from the Australian National Record Bigway Skydive in the US I was still crazy busy with marking exams and a range of admin, but not a lot of standing in front of students. Two weeks from now I have a whole heap of semester 2 students starting again. International Business, Market Research, Marketing Applications, Special Projects, Industry Placements and Internships, as well as some amazing MBA Marketing Management Students.

I get nervous because it's a team effort. The student has to want to learn, but by goodness I need to have the systems in place that will allow them to. To my students - however it is that we're working together this semester - let's go get 'em..

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Live exports to Indonesia are slashed

Indonesia's drastic reduction of live imports from Australia is due to three things: Natural Variation, Relationship and Food Security concerns. Blame is down to randomness, Abbott and Rudd/Gillard respectively.

This is a huge call and requires some unpacking, but that's how I see it. But overall it's about a fraught relationship; one that successive governments from Howard, onwards, have been unable to manage.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A bird and a cold morning

As I sit here (still) marking papers I have a buddy with me.. And I'm glad I remember the most important lesson about birds and cold weather. Keep them fed. They die, most definitely, otherwise.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Successful delivery: A nice new car

I hope I get to provide the run-down, but between the dealer and the company they have created one very, very, very happy customer.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Exam marking only starts once I've done my students' housekeeping

#1 crap job of exam marking. Do you really want to be the student that forces me to go through your paper and write in red on the front? First world problems I know, but a really easy pickup for the student.

City Holden: The dealer steps in to save the day

My new Barina is on the never never. But it doesn't matter so much now as the dealer had given me a nice SUV for as long as it takes.