Zoom and Skype

Philip Morgan

What the world needs now is more spicy hot-takes, amiright?

(Audio version of this email: /the-consulting-pipeline-podcast-all-episodes/cpp-133-zoom-and-skype)

Well, here's one anyway. It might be bias on my part, but when I see folks talking about the sudden rise in meeting remotely, one name keeps popping up, and another name is consicuously absent.

Zoom and Skype, respectively.

The hot-take: does any of this have to do with Microsft not investing in Skype for the last few years? I mean, other than investing in re-arranging the UI elements in cryptic ways.

In business, we are always responding to the needs of two timeframes: now and later. My simplistic definition of strategy is: decisions you make now to create better future possibilities for your business.

I've been thinking through how I can be relevant, generous, and focused during a pandemic, and this question has been very clarifying. It's clarified that my work is very much about medium to long-term transformation, and there are plenty of questions that have been heightened by the pandemic that I have nothing to say about. Just... nothing!

An emergency like the coronavirus pandemic puts a lot of focus on the now timeframe. As it should! There's a strong causal relationship between living to see another day and being around to enjoy the fruits of medium to long-term investments. You can't have the latter without the former.

Some consulting businesses are structurally poised to benefit from this forced shift in focus to the now timeframe.

I'm reminded of the movie Art School Confidential. The movie's protagonist -- an art school student -- is frustrated by a lesser-talented student getting more attention and success for his work. This movie review from blogcritics sums up a pivotal scene in the movie very well:

When Jonah, quite possibly the worst artist in the school, becomes all the rage, it boggles Jerome’s mind. He is frustrated and has a talk with his professor, played by John Malkovich, who explains to him the difference between talent and now-ness. An artist can always have talent, but it is forces out of an artist’s control that create now-ness. It is one of the two best scenes in the film about art.

The way Malkovich delivers the word "now-ness" with this delicious combination of compassion, world-weary experience, and mild contempt is one of the great moments in indie film history.

The now-ness of the coronavirus is similar. I'm not convinced that it changes the importance of many services offerings, but it certainty changes the urgency that clients feel. Some examples...

My friend and podcast partner Liston Witherill's services have become more relevant. He was always set up to help clients get better at sales in an online-first, remote-first context. But now that context has a now-ness to it. At least for a while, it's the dominant context. The importance was always there for Liston's services, but now he has three extra servings of urgency added to his plate, and that's generally good for the value proposition behind his services.

A client of mine who helps his clients build better safety-critical embedded software for medical devices was always set up to do important work. But for obvious reasons, there's a hightened now-ness that makes his services even more urgently needed.

Another client helps museums generate insight that informs strategic shifts. The pandemic has had a polarizing effect for his clients. Either they always saw the importance and implied urgency of doing the work of remaining relevant in a changing world, or they didn't.

If museums always saw the importance of this work, then seeing all their in-person visitorship evaporate almost overnight added urgency that aligns with the strategic vision of remaining relevant in a changed world. But if a museum instead was just hoping for the return of the bygone glory days where they didn't have to compete with Netflix and high-quality podcasts and the rest of the Internet, then the same change -- a drop in visitorship -- is likely to entrench their lack of long-term strategic vision.

Yet another client builds custom software for higher education. He already saw and was preparing for the future of this vertical. The pandemic has accelerated higher education's struggle for relevance and time-shifted 10-year plans into a 2-year timeframe.

The common thread among all these clients is twofold:

  1. Their services are important to their clients. This is because my clients made good strategy decisions when specializing. They avoided what I call the "Death Quadrant" in the Eisenhower Matrix (low importance + low urgency).
  2. The now-ness introduced by the coronavirus pandemic has had either a polarizing or accelerating effect. In every case, it's increased my clients' clarity about where they need to focus within their existing specialization.

There are days where I get overwhelemed by the pathos this pandemic has introduced into the world. I just have to step away from my desk and lie down for a few hours. The particular brand of now-ness brought by this pandemic sucks donkey balls.

At the same time, I have hope, because if what you do is fundamentally important to enough clients, then I believe that over the medium to long term, you will be OK. You can't not respond or avoid making adjustments, but the fundamental importance of your work to the world is what will help you get through this.


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REMINDER: The first step towards a focus on what's important to your clients is specialization. I'm running an 8-week online workshop on specialization, starting May 15. The price is $700 per seat, and attendance is capped at 20 (4 seats are available on a reduced price scholarship basis). My workshops teach you what you need to know, and then push you to take action. Most of the learning comes from the action you take in those 8 weeks and beyond: https://indieexperts.io/workshops/