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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Why daily?

By Philip | August 21, 2019

I advocate publishing something online, and doing so daily.

I advocate doing this during a certain phase of your career, but not necessarily for the whole career.

Why this madness?

What is daily publishing?

In pharmacology, there’s this concept of the minimum effective dose. Wikipedia defines MED as “the lowest dose level of a pharmaceutical product that provides a clinically significant response in average efficacy, which is also statistically significantly superior to the response provided by the placebo.”

The MED for daily publishing is 3x/week.

The reason I compare daily publishing to a pharmaceutical is because both of them change you, hopefully for the better. At its best, daily publication is steroids for your thinking, but without the negative side-effects.

Daily publishing involves publishing. If you write or create but don’t publish, you don’t get all the benefits because you’re not exposing your thinking to others in the same way. Publishing what you write or create builds a sort of honesty into the process. It raises the stakes.

You can’t just think or write any old shit; if you’re publishing what you write, you’re willingly subjecting yourself to feedback — perhaps from anonymous randos — so you feel pressure to maximize your performance, which is to say you feel pressure to maximize the quality and coherence of your thinking and your articulation thereof.

If you’re publishing something that you’ve written or created online 3x/week or more, you’re practicing daily publishing.

Again, why this madness?

The expertise enema

I advocate daily publishing for folks that need to cultivate a functional foundation of expertise, and would like to do so quickly even if the speed creates emotional discomfort.

What’s functional expertise? 1) It’s relevant and valuable in the marketplace. 2) You can articulate and apply it proactively in ways that help your clients.

I think of expertise like the human skin, which has three layers. The exterior layer of skin — the epidermis — is thin and somewhat lifeless compared to the others. Thank you, Wikipedia, for this illustration:

Most of us live in the “epidermis of expertise”. We understand how to do things, and call that expertise. Which, to be clear, it is. But it’s a kind of expertise, and it’s not the only kind nor is it the most valuable kind.

The dermis and hypodermis are the much thicker, much more alive layers of the skin. And in my model of expertise, these deeper layers represent deeper, more valuable expertise.

Daily publishing moves you from the “epidermis of expertise” to deeper layers, and it does so by forcing an “expertise enema”. (I’m loving the medical analogies today!)

Most folks who accept the daily publishing challenge start by sharing what they know about how to do things. This is good, but eventually you’ve shared basically everything you know about how to do $THING. What the heck do you do then? Do you quit this high frequency publishing?

If you’re following my advice, no, you don’t.

You keep going. You’ve “hit the wall”, and you keep digging, keep pushing, keep thinking, keep publishing, and keep striving.

What happens next, in most cases, is that you move through the epidermis of expertise and you enter the dermis. This isn’t an overnight state change; it’s a multi-month metamorphosis.

The “dermis of expertise” is the domain of knowing why, of seeing subtle distinctions, and the beginnings of mastery. In the dermis of expertise, you become aware of how context and second-order consequences interact with your area of expertise. You abandon simplistic ideas of how things work, and embrace the complexity and chaos of the real world and seek to cultivate an expertise that can at least survive this complexity and ideally work effectively within it. To do this, you engage in “side quests” where you recruit complementary forms of expertise in order to make your own more effective. You also keep working hard on cultivating your own expertise. You don’t lose focus either. Those complementary forms of expertise are secondary in nature, and organized around yours in order to strengthen your focus, not dilute it.

To move past the epidermis of expertise, you need the expertise enema. You need to quickly flush out of your system all the simplistic models your expertise is based on. You need to pick the low-hanging fruit of teaching what you know so that you can feel in your bones that you do not know enough and you must know more. You hit the wall quicker if you practice daily publishing, thanks to the expertise enema.

Hitting the wall hurts like hell. What lies on the other side of that wall, if you’re willing to push through to it, is the rewarding combination of power, pleasure, and humility that comes from exploring the dermis and hyodermis of your expertise.

That’s why

There’s a whole other area to explore here, which is the question of how daily publishing is received by your readers. And also the question of when in your career to embrace this daily publishing practice. And there’s also the other question: “Does it have to be writing, or can it be video, audio, etc?”

I’ll tackle that stuff next week.

In the meantime, if this idea of an expertise enema is interesting to you, check out http://theexpertiseincubator.com, where you join a small group of business owners and willingly embrace this challenge, and 4 subsequent challenges, that truly function as an incubator for your expertise.

To conclude, I ask you: was Marcel Proust talking about daily publishing here?

A pair of wings, a different respiratory system, which enabled us to travel through space, would in no way help us, for if we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of the Earth. The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we do, with great artists; with artists like these we do really fly from star to star. — La Prisonnière, Proust


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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Popcorn and toothpaste

By Philip | August 14, 2019

Is selling your services more like popping popcorn or pushing toothpaste through a tube?

Hey, it’s Philip, and I’m back with the last installment of a short series on the idea of CRMs. Not a how-to article on CRMs, but one on the thinking behind them.

No regular buying process

There are several reasons why a linear sales pipeline — or even a choice between multiple linear pipelines — doesn’t fit how my business works. The first is that my clients have no regular, standardized buying process for what I sell.

The easiest way to conceive of a regular buying process is to think about a business that has a procurement function. This is a highly professionalized function that has processes, expertise, and performance metrics oriented around buying stuff. If you’re ever dealing with procurement, it’s because your client has (or believes they have) a regular buying process for what you sell.

I find that if you’re selling consulting that facilitates change or innovation, then what you sell doesn’t fit into a regular buying process. Your change/innovation consulting services are sufficiently exotic to your clients that they can’t fit into their standard process for procuring services.

Your services may not fit a client’s regular buying process. And in turn, they may not fit into a pipeline model very well at all.

I think popcorn is a better model for how these sales work. Your leads are all kernels of popcorn in a pan, exposed to the “heat” of your marketing. Some combination of that marketing heat and other factors cause a kernel to pop, resulting in a sales conversation.

Could you have known ahead of time which kernel would pop? Nope! What value would there be in that knowledge anyway? We know that if we apply the right level of heat for the right amount of time to a pan containing oil and popcorn kernels and we stir it enough, we’re going to get delicious popcorn. Who cares which kernel pops first, third, or fiftieth?

High importance, low urgency (until it’s not)

I think a lot about how where your clients might place your services on an Eisenhower matrix:

Services on the Important row are easiest to sell, or at least easiest to sell at a premium price. But services in quadrant A are hands down the easiest of all to sell because they combine importance and urgency. I have to believe that the cost structure of running a hospital emergency room is not the only reason those services are priced high relative to other medical services. I think it also has something to do with the combination of importance and urgency creating latitude for premium pricing. Rush pricing for client work is predicated on the same combination of factors.

You don’t get to decide where your services land in the Eisenhower matrix; your clients do. You can try to use marketing to shift your clients perception of your services from one quadrant to another, but marketing’s ability to create shifts like these is quite limited compared to reality’s ability.

My clients see my services — and other change/innovation consulting services — as important but not urgent. Until, that is, they become urgent for reasons outside my control.

No amount of sales pipeline-ing can cause my services to become urgent for a client. No amount of willpower or “persuasion” on my part can cause my services to become urgent for a client.

Again, it’s like popcorn. I’m doing my part by applying the right amount of heat and stirring to the pan, but factors unique to each kernel of popcorn (moisture level, etc.) determine when that kernel pops. If you’re doing change/innovation consulting, these are examples of the kinds of factors that could cause a lead to “pop” and become a prospective client:

  • A competitor company gets some press for rolling out a new product. This triggers fear or anger in your lead and they say some version of “screw it, we need to act now” and reach out to you.
  • Your lead reaches some sort of breaking point and decides the pain of change is less than the pain of the status quo.
  • Your lead is new to a job where the expectation is that they’ll drive some kind of change.

I think you get the picture. There’s some triggering event that causes your lead — who already viewed your services as important — to also view them as urgent.

A CRM pipeline feature might be useful once a lead “pops” and becomes a qualified prospect, but before that point the pipeline feature isn’t very useful.

Simple sale

Most of my services are a simple sale because the service is packaged and priced beforehand in a standardized way, so the sales conversation is usually not about creating a totally custom engagement for that prospective client, but instead checking for fit between the prospect and my well-defined service. After 30 to 60 minutes on a call, most prospects have enough information to decide if my services are right for them. This is another factor that makes my sales more like popping popcorn than like pushing toothpaste through a tube. The state change from lead to prospect to client is quite fast in most cases.

The complete opposite could be true of your business. You could frequently face a lengthy, complex sales process. Some of your prospects might have significantly larger potential value than others, meaning you have reason to prioritize them over the less valuable ones. Despite differing deal values, your sales process might look roughly similar across multiple clients. This is the pushing toothpaste through a tube sales model. In this case, using a CRM where the model of a pipeline is a central part of the CRM might make a lot of sense.

Weird CRM

Quick recap: three aspects of my sales process made CRMs that heavily use a pipeline model not ideal for my business:

  1. No regular buying process
  2. High importance, low urgency
  3. Short, simple sale

If you’re thinking about starting to use a CRM, do consider how your typical sale works, and think about those three aspects of your sales process: Does it fit into a regular buying process? Where do your clients place your services on the Eisenhower matrix, and what implications for your sales process does that have? Is your sale short and simple, or lengthy and complex?

Most CRMs are designed for a somewhat lengthy but regular/standardized buying process, and if that’s not how your services are sold, then those CRMs are going to be a poor fit. They’ll feel clunky and over-featured. You’ll be fighting them each time you use them.

This kind of thinking led me to Affinity, a CRM meant for VC/PE investors and commercial real estate agents. Here’s a link to the product: https://www.affinity.co. That link, since I’m too lazy to monetize every drop out of my email list, is not an affiliate link (none of the links in my emails are affiliate links. See aforementioned laziness).

Affinity is a “weird” CRM for a consultant to use! It does have a pipeline feature but, critically, the product is not totally oriented around this feature. In Affinity, a pipeline is not a first-tier part of the data model.

Instead, Affinity is built around the assumption that your network is kernels of popcorn in a pan that you are “heating” through regular communication and looking for opportunities to join nodes of the network into mutually profitable deals.

I find this freeing. I can focus on my prospects’ needs rather than trying to fit them into a standard buying process that doesn’t really fit their reality. I can very easily spin up what Affinity calls lists to respond to known or emergent needs in my audience.

For example, I have 4 lists set up in Affinity, organized around the 4 main issues I help my clients with:

  • Seeking to specialize
  • Learning to generate leads
  • Seeking to cultivate deep expertise
  • Seeking to commercialize IP

As I become aware that people in my network are working on one or more of those issues, I’ll add them to that Affinity list. And I’m starting to apply additional effort to helping the folks on each of those lists.

One of the ways I’m doing that is the free quarterly roundtables I invited y’all to a few weeks ago. Because I’m bootstrapping these roundtables, I invited folks on my Affinity lists and this entire email list, but once I’ve gotten this system up and running, I’ll be able to fill those roundtables just from inviting folks on the Affinity lists.

Each quarter, I’ll create 4 e-book “anthologies” of the best emails from my paid email list and send the relevant e-book to everyone on those Affinity lists.

This could be done with other CRMs for sure. But there’s something about how Affinity is designed that makes this kind of focused “heating” of the “kernels” in my network easy to set up and execute. This is applying marketing “heat” in a more targeted way.

Lest this read like an advertisement for Affinity, I’ll close by saying: choose tools that fit your business. Don’t use Pipedrive or Copper or Salesforce or Affinity or whatever simply because it’s what “everybody else” seems to be using. Understand how your services are best sold, then pick a CRM that fits that approach.

If you sell change/innovation services, it’s especially likely you’ll be poorly served by conventional CRMs with their elevation of the pipeline model to first-tier data model. Good luck finding an alternative! Despite the CRM category being incredibly, incredibly crowded (ex: PieSync currently supports 66 CRMs, G2Crowd has 381 entries in their CRM category, and Producthunt has 1,769 entries for CRM web apps), there aren’t a ton of non-pipeline-oriented CRMs out there.

Happy Wednesday,

-P


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[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Does data modeling lead or follow business strategy?

By Philip | August 7, 2019

I’ve recently chosen a CRM. Note: If you just instantly, uncontrollably fell asleep upon reading the letters C R M, I get it. Give this article a chance anyway; this issue is way more interesting than CRMs themselves are.

When you really dig into this issue, it touches on several things that might seem to be un-connected, but actually are connected: genre, business strategy, and product positioning.

That I’ve recently chosen a CRM means I spent some time evaluating different CRMs, and that process was fascinating, despite the narcolepsy-inducing nature of CRMs in general.

Evaluating CRMs was fascinating because my goal wasn’t to choose the best normal CRM, it was to choose the right CRM for my business. And that’s where the idea of genre starts to show up.

Genre

As far as I can tell, “normal” CRMs are a software tool that use contact management and reporting to help you shephard prospects through a pipeline.

Some normal CRMs let you set up multiple pipelines, but the main idea of a pipeline is that it’s a linear process, with distinct stages in the process.

This is where the genre of “normal CRM” impinges on business strategy.

Business strategy

For businesses like ours, business strategy is a combination of mission and focus.

Some combinations of mission and focus will imply that a linear process describing how someone moves from anonymous to lead to prospect to client is the ideal way to structure the sales process. In other words, a pipeline will be a good data model for these businesses.

I definitely understand the appeal of this model. It’s simple. It promises that you can understand and control your sales process using a really simple model. The marketing funnel is another such simple, appealing model.

And then some other combinations of mission and focus will imply that the pipeline model makes no sense at all. Same with the marketing funnel model. This is where genre impinges on business strategy.

For some businesses, the genre of “normal CRM” will be a terrible fit.

I think this is why I’ve resisted using a CRM up until now.

It’s not that I haven’t tried! It’s just that most CRMs — because they’re trying to fit into the genre of “normal CRM” — use this pipeline model that seems ill-suited to my business strategy. I’ll use the next article in this short series to explore why the pipeline model is ill-suited to my business.

Positioning

Product positioning, which is distinctly different than services positioning, is (sometimes) the task of making genre explicit. Software products succeed and fail at this to varying degrees. The usual approaches fail.

The first usual approach with software marketing is to focus on feature completeness, believing that a robust enough description of features will telegraph clues about genre, and from that faint, implied signal about genre, prospective customers can make up their own mind about whether the software is for them or not.

From this perspective, it’s arrogant to make declarations about who the software is for.

From this perspective it’s believed that emphasizing the product feature mix in the right way will telegraph that “this fits in the normal CRM genre” or “this is the best option within the normal CRM genre”, and potential customers will have no problem deciding what “normal CRM genre” means and whether that’s what they want or not.

I believe but can’t yet prove that this approach to positioning comes from how enterprise software is typically sold.

This first usual approach works fine where the market is not saturated with an overabundance of seemingly similar options.

The second usual approach is to differentiate through feature emphasis, or a unique feature-level design philosophy. For example, Copper CRM takes what might be the most valuable real-estate on their marketing home page to say the following: “Copper is a new kind of productivity crm that’s designed to do all your busywork, so you can focus on building long-lasting business relationships.” The rest of the home page elaborates on this statement by highlighting the product features that enable this “freedom from busywork/focus on relationships” design philosophy.

This second usual approach is one way to deal with a market that’s saturating with good options, but I’m not sure it’s the best approach in this kind of market.

Copper is getting closer to being clear about genre, but they’re still using feature descriptions as a proxy for being clear about genre. They’re being coy about who exactly their software is for.

I understand why Copper does this. It’s the same reason we all waffle on being emphatically clear about who our products or services are for: we’re hungry for more, and the seemingly obvious path to more is going bigger, and the seemingly obvious path towards going bigger is to say some variation of “we’re for everybody”. Going narrow and deep is the better path to getting from small to big, but it takes courage and discipline to pull off, so it’s easier to to believe that the right [design | marketing site copy | product feature mix | whale customer/client] will substitute for market focus + courage + discipline + time.

Secondarily, Copper probably doesn’t want to overhaul their marketing site every 12 or so months. 1 Yet, if they were willing to do that, they could start with a narrow focus and broaden over time as they gain traction and realize growth goals.

What’s pretty unusual in software marketing is to make genre explicit, rather than implicit.

If I wanted to give the typical SaaS founder nightmares with a chaser of heartburn for good measure, I’d suggest they heavily emphasize the following message on their product’s marketing site. Let’s cast this example as a CRM:

This is not a normal CRM. It’s quite unusual, in fact. It might not be for you. But… if the pipeline sales approach doesn’t work for you and instead you are seeking a CRM that focuses on relationships first, you won’t believe how well this CRM matches your needs!

This is the beachhead approach Geoffrey Moore documents in his book “Crossing the Chasm”. It’s sane and smart and bold, but under-utilized (except when I get hired to consult on product positioning).

I’ve left some loose threads hanging here. What CRM did I choose? (Not Copper CRM, FWIW.) Why is the pipeline model not a fit for my business strategy?

I’ll get to those in subsequent emails in what will become a short series.

-P


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Notes

  1. I want to be clear I don’t know the Copper CRM folks, so I’m making some generalizations and guesses here and using Copper as a way to personify those generalizations. Stereotyping, in other words. 🙂

[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] At last, some survey marketing conclusions

By Philip | July 31, 2019

FINALLY. 🙂

Finally, I’ve fixed my inconsistent coding of the survey responses from my LinkedIn sample, and have something to say about this little bit of research.

Let’s start with the core question: how do self-employed software developers invest in their career?

Let’s focus on the top 3 methods of investment, and differentiate between my two sample groups. Remember1, one group was a convenience opt-in sample2 from LinkedIn, and the other was a convenience opt-in sample from my email list.

Overall numbers

To paint a more complete picture, let me pull in some numbers I’ve previously mentioned about this survey and my two sample groups:

  • 22 people from LinkedIn completed the survey.
  • 33 people from my email list completed the survey.
  • The median age of respondents is 42 (LinkedIn sample and 41 (list sample).
  • 64% of the LinkedIn sample have invested in their career in some way. 36% have not.
  • 95% of the list sample have invested in their career in some way. 5% have not.

So as you’re looking at the numbers below, keep these overall numbers in mind.

There are three sub-questions I’ll focus on in this quick write-up:

1) How do you invest in technical skills?

The full question was: “Please list ways you have you spent time and money for developing your technical skills.”

A response starting with “a-” is an action, while one starting with “s-” is a sentiment or belief. What you’ll see below are the top 3 responses, and how many of my respondents indicated that action, sentiment, or belief, and what percentage of the total number of survey completions that number represents (rounded to the nearest whole number).

LinkedIn Sample:

  1. a-online-courses – 12 – 55%
  2. a-reading-books – 4 – 18%
  3. a-irl-conferences – 4 – 18%

List Sample:

  1. a-online-courses – 22 – 67%
  2. a-reading-books – 16 – 48%
  3. a-coding-practice – 9 – 27%

2) How do you invest in business skills?

The full question was: “Please list ways you have you spent time and money for business or self-employment skills.”

LinkedIn Sample:

  1. a-reading-books – 2 – 9%
  2. a-learning – 2 – 9%
  3. a-experimenting – 2 – 9%

List Sample:

  1. a-online-courses – 15 – 45%
  2. a-reading-books – 15 – 45%
  3. a-email-lists – 6 – 18%

3) Where does opportunity come from?

The full question was: “Consider your entire career as a self-employed software developer and times you have gotten new opportunities, better projects, or other forms of career improvement. What do you think led to these improvements in your career?”

LinkedIn Sample

  1. a-networking – 6 – 27%
  2. s-perceptiveness – 3 – 14%
  3. s-persistence – 2 – 9%

List Sample

  1. a-networking – 8 – 24%
  2. a-relationships – 5 – 15%
  3. a-relationship-with-existing-clients – 4 – 12%

Conclusions

What conclusions can we draw from this slice of the data? Remember that I’m someone who is in the business of helping dev shops make smart investments in the owner’s career capital, so my conclusions are filtered through a sort of meta question, which is: “What changes might Philip need to make to more effectively reach and serve the people he’s focused on serving?”

I think the following are conclusions that are supported by this survey data:

1) Books and online courses are the best way to reach and help devs who are trying to invest in their career because those are the most common media that investment-minded devs seek out.

2) If you’re helping devs acquire new technical skills, operate from a hands-on learning perspective rather than a theoretical perspective. 3

3) If you use an email list to reach people, your best method of growing your email list might be via other people’s email list.

I’ll expand on this conclusion a bit, because it might not be self-evident.

There was a stark difference between my two sample groups here. No LinkedIn respondents mentioned email lists (like this one you’re probably reading this article via) as a method by which they would invest in their career. Six of my list respondents mentioned this method of investment, and it was listed both as a method for investing in technical skills and as a method for investing in business skills.

Of course, this is a clear sampling bias. If you ask enough members of an email list that focuses on investing in your career how they invest in their career, some of them are bound to call out… the email list by which you recruited them for the survey as one of the means of investment they use!

But it also suggests that if someone is on Email List A because they have a preference for that form of learning/investment, they might be very open to joining Email List B and Email List C and so on. They might be more open to doing this than the average person.

This suggests that if I am running Email List C, then finding a way for Email List A’s owner to expose my email list to their list members could be an effective way for my email list to reach more people.

In a way, this is super simple, basic stuff. We all know it’s easier and cheaper to sell again to an existing customer than it is to acquire a new customer. We all know it’s easier to deepen and extend a customer’s engagement with something than it is to introduce that thing to someone who has never considered it and has no context in which to understand or value it.

So of course it’s easier to attract a new list subscriber if that person already values being on an email list! But also… I wasn’t really thinking about other people’s email lists as a way I could attract more people to my email list, despite this seeming so obvious when faced with my survey data.

I have tended to think of growing my email list in the following terms:

Get on podcasts as a guest -> end with a call to action to join an email course -> let the email course do the work of inviting people onto my email list

This works well, and yes, it does resemble a digital marketing funnel, albeit one where the work of trust-building is pushed towards the front of the funnel. Front-loading the trust-building is somewhat atypical for digital marketing funnels which often entirely ignore trust building and seem to focus only on filtering for and selling to those who are desperate.

My survey data suggests that I might want to invest in a second — perhaps complementary — funnel. One that has a different “mouth” that involves other people’s email list.

Onward to my final conclusion:

4) Opportunity comes from relationships and market awareness.

As I often like to say: unfortunately, you’re in a relationship business.

My survey data bears this out. 🙂

The final conclusion

My survey focused mostly on inputs (except for the final question, which asks respondents to speculate about the causal relationship between inputs and outcomes). For example, I asked “Please list ways you have you spent time and money for developing your technical skills.” rather than “Please list the most effective methods you’ve used for developing your technical skills.” or “Please list the ways of developing your technical skills that you’ve found to produce the best result for the least time spent.” This seems like a flaw, or an important but overlooked part of answering my core question of “how do self-employed software developers invest in their career?”. It’s nice to know how they do this, but it would be even better to be able to say what produces the best ROI in terms of desirable career outcomes.

I’m now in a good position to get an answer to that question. I could design a second survey that uses my first survey (which I’ve referred to as the “de-biasing survey”) to scope and fashion the questions in the followup survey, which would have this as its core question: “Please rank these 5 methods for improving your career in order of effectiveness.”

I’m exaggerating only a little bit when I say I thought my initial survey’s questions were nearly perfect when I sent them out. It was only when I started seeing the responses that I got ideas for improving them and a general realization that they were not perfect. “20-20 hindsight!” as they say.

This is what experiential learning looks like. You 1) take your best shot, 2) facilitate meaningful feedback from those who are not incentivized to protect your ego, 3) iterate, and 4) repeat.

I do believe this survey has shortened the feedback loop from 1 and 3. For me, that might be its primary value.

Next steps on this project are:

  1. Take what I wrote above and tweak it to be less about me and more about my survey respondents.
  2. Send this report to the respondents who asked for it.

I’m on the fence about whether to ask some of the respondents for an interview in order to enrich my data set or whether to call this “sprint” done and move on to the next research question, or a refined version of this question using my 20-20 hindsight. Either way, I’ll take a break from this lengthy series and write about some other stuff that I’ve been experimenting with, most likely telling you about a sales/CRM experiment I’ve been running in my business.

I will end with this blatant pitch: I’m working on getting another Expertise Incubator group together. I need at least 3 people to start another group, and I cap each group at 5. I’ve got 2 folks who are in, so if you’d like to join a small group of folks who are pushing themselves to cultivate valuable expertise — and who in the second quarter of the program engage in a research project like what I’ve described here — then please hit REPLY and let me know. The cost is $2,100/quarter, and the program creates a lot of productive discomfort, so bear that in mind as you consider whether it’s a fit for you. If you reply, I’ll suggest we set up a short video call to figure out if the fit is ideal for where you are in your career.


Here’s an absolutely bizarre, yet oddly enchanting song I ran across recently: https://youtu.be/m276i7UIyNw It’s called “Taming the Dragon”, by Brad Mehldau, and it’s an offbeat spoken word thing with segments of heavy, trippy drumming and synthesizer layered in. Kind of like MMW’s “Whatever Happened to Gus” and “Your Name is Snake Anthony“.


Here’s what’s been happening on my paid Daily Consulting Insights email list:

  • Unless we’re sociopaths, we maintain loyalties to people, groups, and ideas. Some of those are harmful.
  • What can you learn from superstar performers? Tim Ferriss thinks you can learn a lot. I’m not so sure.
  • Reality distortion fields: They are FOR SHIZZLE not the easiest way to make money. They are not “finding an existing river of money and dropping your fishing line into it”. They’re more like constructing the Panama Canal from scratch. Yet, some of us build our businesses this way. Why?

Notes

  1. If you want to read up on this experiment, check out what might be one of my longest — and potentially most boring — series of emails:
    1. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing/
    2. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-the-de-biasing-survey/
    3. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-recruitment/
    4. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-initial-data-from-the-de-biasing-survey/
    5. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-qualitative-analysis-of-the-de-biasing-survey/
    6. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-coding-and-counting/
    7. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-its-a-grind-grind/
    8. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-slogging-away-the-morning/
    9. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-coding-and-altered-states/
  2. A convenience opt-in sample is where you invite a group of potential survey respondents to participate in the survey. You may or may not incentivize their participation, but you are definitely not using statistical methods to attempt to control for or compensate for sampling bias. In fact, that’s the whole strength of convenience sampling methods: they’re fast and cheap compared to probability sampling methods or census sampling methods.
    Of course, the lack of statistical sophistication is the main point some will criticize if you use convenience samples. I have a TEI participant who is engaged in an interesting conversation with one of his list members who seems to see this as a huge deal. His list member seems to be saying that since a convenience sampling method has uncontrolled bias, it’s completely worthless.
    I disagree, because new information, even if it comes from a biased sample, can facilitate significant relative decreases in uncertainty, which can provide impressive value to a business decision maker. Furthermore, even if you’re not using strict statistical methods to control or compensate for bias in a sample group, you can be aware of what biases might be present in a convenience sample, draw reasonable conclusions about how those biases might influence the information you gather from your sample, and incorporate that information into your decision making.
  3. Anyone who has ever tried to learn something about coding, or tried to teach others about it probably understands this intuitively, but it’s nice to also see this reflected in the data.
    This also makes me feel more confident about my choice to teach business and marketing skills from an experiential learning perspective rather than a theoretical perspective. Just because the skills exist in a different domain doesn’t mean I should use a different learning modality for teaching them.

[PMC Weekly Insight] The tyranny of the easily-measured

By Philip | July 24, 2019

(Programming note: I’m taking a short 2-week break from my lengthy series on survey marketing to talk about today’s topic, which is contextually relevant, but is still a break from reporting directly on the research project.)

What gets measured gets managed (or improved), they say.

What does this mean about what is easily measured vs. what’s not easily measured? We have this conventional wisdom that in order to control or improve something, it must be measured. But does this actually mean what’s easily measured becomes more important, or will become institutionalized as more important?

Just the framing of that question suggests the answer: no, of course not. Ease of measurement doesn’t correlate to importance of what’s measured. In fact, I’d bet that ease/difficulty of measurement correlates directly to frequency of measurement, not importance:

It’s probably obvious: what’s most easily measured is what’s going to get most regularly measured. But tthis seems to me like a better way to decide what to measure:

Reducing the risk on high-impact things is a great way to think about what to measure. Even if all you knew about was actual impact — and the risk component was a mystery — you’d still have a good pointer to where to deploy measurement effort. Look for what’s actually impactful, and measure that.

Ideally, measure what’s high impact and high risk, even if it’s not easy to measure. Here are some examples of this combination of high impact and high risk:

  • As I’m writing this, it’s the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, a classic high impact-high risk project. In fact, the term “moonshot” has come to stand for high impact-high risk efforts.
  • Extending into a new market or wholesale re-positioning.
  • Building something new where that new thing might effect an important metric or aspect of the businesses performance. For example, imagine a large subscription-based business. Small changes could have large revenue effects, because those small changes are multiplied across a large subscriber base. This is the principle by which conversion rate optimization produces leverage.

If it’s not easy to measure this high impact-high risk stuff for your clients, help them measure it anyway! Or invent ways for them to measure it.

TEI participant Stephen Kuenzli has just published a very interesting piece of original research that illustrates inventing a way to measure the difficult-to-measure: nodramadevops.com/state-of-application-secret-delivery-and-audit-practices/

He started by asking some questions about secret key handling in a cloud environment, and found a strong correlation between how securely this is done and the level of satisfaction that DevOps engineers have with how its done. This suggests that you can ask the safer, easier-to-answer question “How satisfied are you with secret-management practices” and if the answer is negative, you can with some confidence believe that there are problems with the level of security for secret key handling at that organization.

In simple terms, Stephen has uncovered a useful, valid proxy measurement. This is a great example of what I mean when I say you can invent ways for clients to measure what’s important, even if it’s not easy to measure. Also… read the whole report! It’s interesting, and a great example of how you do a scrappy, self-directed research project: nodramadevops.com/state-of-application-secret-delivery-and-audit-practices/

Stephen took on this research as a speculative investment in his expertise and authority. If a client with decent budget had commissioned it, I could see Stephen charging $50k or more to do the exact same research, but with the client owning the resulting IP. Will Stephen doing this as in-house research produce a similar or greater ROI to Stephen’s business? We shall see! This is speculative stuff, after all, and research like this is an investment that takes time to pay off. But if Stephen’s client LTV is, let’s say $50k or greater, then all it takes is Stephen’s research influencing 1 prospect to become a client for it to produce ROI that’s similar or greater than if he had done this research as work-for-hire for a single client.

I’ve noticed a few places where the tyranny of the easily-measured prevails:

Email marketing software. Opens, clicks, subscribes, and unsubscribes are the most easily measured. But how valuable are they?

Here’s one suggestion of a not-so-easily-measured thing that would — in the context of your consulting work –be far more valuable: how many companies have 3 or more people at that organization on your email list? Or here’s a similar metric, but expressed as a time-based event: notify me when 3 or more people at the same organization join my list within a defined period of time, like 1 month.

Why is this not-so-easily-measured-thing 1 valuable? Well, ask yourself what it might mean if 3 or more people from the same org join your email list within a relatively short period of time. We can’t know for sure in every instance, but in some instances this would happen because Person 1 at Org A joins, finds your email list relevant and either forwards an email to someone else at Org A and that person joins your list, or Person 1 verbally tells others at Org A to join your list. Either way, you have your message and PoV spreading by word of mouth at Org A. What does this WoM mean? It might mean this org has a need that relates to what you talk about on your email list, and there’s an opportunity to serve that need more deeply with a paid engagement. 2

There are a lot of “might” and “may” qualifiers in the previous paragraph, but that’s OK. The core idea is valid, which is that the most easily measured stuff in email marketing software is less valuable than things that are less easy to measure.

The less easy to measure stuff also tends to be specific to a niche use case, which might also explain why it’s not baked into the software. For example, a retail e-commerce site might have no use for reporting or alerting that tells them when more than 3 people from the same organization have joined their email list. That might be noise to them, despite being valuable signal to a consultant. I could certainly see why a huge email marketing platform like Mailchimp might avoid baking niche reporting needs into the core software. It’s too wierd, or confuses the question of who the sofware is for (Mailchimp’s answer: “everyone!”), or creates some other undesirable second order consequence. If Mailchimp functions like a conventional platform, then even if they do recognize the value of measuring less easy-to-measure things, they’ll choose to leave the task of actually doing that measuring to third party integrations.

To summarize: I understand many of the good reasons why the not-so-easy-to-measure stuff is left unmeasured. There’s still significant value in looking past the easily measured to the important-to-measure. 3

Next example: social media. The easy-to-measure stuff here is: quantity of likes, comments, and re-shares. The not-so-easy-to-measure stuff is: actual impact of your thinking as delivered through social media posts or your commenting on other folk’s posts. 4

I could imagine a world in which a social network like LinkedIn deploys natural language processing to do a sentiment analysis of the comments on each post, and in addition to simple, dumb “engagement” metrics based on likes, comments, shares, and reach it adds a positive/negative/controversial sentiment analysis metric to their reporting on the performance of a post. This would not get us much closer at all to understanding the actual impact of the thinking expressed in a LinkedIn post, but it would be an incremental move away from the stuff that’s easy to measure and towards more important but harder-to-measure stuff.

There are certainly other places where what is easily measured wins out over what is important to measure, but those are two easily understood examples.

I want to encourage you to push through what’s easily measured to what’s important to measure.

Let me leave you with this, which I see as a wonderful allegory about the importance of knowing what to measure, which we could also think of as the importance of knowing where to look when things go wrong: www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/07/16/world/europe/notre-dame.html

-P


Here’s what’s been happening on my paid Daily Insights email list:

  • [PMC] You’ll want to use the 3/8″ spanner for that… - (Readin’ time: 3m 10s) I have a confession: I don’t have any idea what software my CPA uses to file my taxes. Shocking, I know. What would it say about the situation if I did know what kind of software he uses? It would mean that I’ve accidentally or intentionally learned about the software CPAs…
  • [PMC] A restaurant for rule-breakers - (Readin’ time: 2m 37s) At some point in history, someone broke the rules and ate a meal in their car. At some later point, Sonic set up a restaurant specifically designed for just these kind of rule-breakers. Think about it: cars haven’t been around nearly as long as food has. This means that humans have…
  • [PMC Weekend Edition] “5,000 generalists are not capable of running a country of over 1 billion people” - (Readin’ time: 52 seconds) This is interesting: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/04/the-indian-school-of-public-policy.html Here’s an excerpt: India is changing very rapidly and launching new programs and policies at breakneck pace–some reasonably well thought out, others not so well thought out. Historically, India has relied on a small cadre of IAS super-professionals–the basic structure goes back to Colonial times when a…

Notes:

  1. What exactly is the threshold beyond which something is not-so-easy-to-measure?
    For most SaaS products, that will be measurement that involves a third party tool or custom code. In other words, if it’s built into the software, then it’s easy to measure. If it’s not, then it’s not easy to measure, again seen from the perspective of most users.
  2. Those who suffer from imposter syndrome will first invent a negative explanation for why multiple people at Org A are joining your list. The Resistance will say: “It’s actually so they can all laugh at this fraud with an email list!” It doesn’t take too long to begin recognizing The Resistance’s very distinctive accent and start to overlook its lame attempts at keeping you safe.
  3. Incidentally, I’m very proud of Paul Jarvis for turning off tracking pixels and link redirection on his Mailchimp account. He talks a bit about that in Liston and my interview with him: offline.simplecast.com/episodes/paul-jarvis-on-building-an-audience-and-a-company-of-one
  4. I’d say measuring social media’s role within a funnel is not trivially easy, but it’s also not as difficult to measure as what I’m about to propose in the next paragraph.
    But, critically, few to no high-dollar consulting engagements are actually sold using social media, or a funnel involving social media. So that’s why I’m avoiding talking about this exact measurement.

[PMC Weekly Insight] Where does power come from?

By Philip | July 17, 2019

(Programming note: I’m taking a 2-week break from my lengthy series on survey marketing and research to talk about today’s topic.)

Where does power come from?

It depends on what domain you’re looking at.

Ben Thompson has done an excellent job modeling how this works online at large scale. Aggregators, as he calls them, create power by controlling access to a huge audience.

Google controls access to a massive audience of web searchers, and those that want to show ads or be placed in search results cow-tow to Google to gain access to Google’s audience of users.

Netflix controls access to a massive audience of folks seeking professional level video entertainment, and show creators work for the most part on Netflix’ terms.

Here is a really interesting Bloomberg article with the stories of three companies that got in early with YouTube and then watched in horror as YouTube rolled out increasingly unfavorable terms of engagement — often materially harming their businesses –which YouTube did as it could afford to, meaning as its power increased with its growing userbase: www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-15/youtube-s-trampled-foes-plot-antitrust-revenge

The following quote from the article great, because often in these situations what you see is some PR-type person distorting the truth. YouTube’s spokesperson doesn’t feel the need to do that. She just lays it out real plain:

“YouTube said its tactics were sensible. ‘Like any business, we make changes to how we operate to reflect the current climate,’ Faville said. ‘We make all these decisions with the same goal: to improve the YouTube experience for our users, creators, and advertisers.'”

All three of the companies profiled in the Bloomberg article above are neither YouTube users, creators, or advertisers. They’re competing middlemen, and YouTube — and any other Internet Aggregator — most definitely does not have their best interest at heart.

The bit of nuance that is missing from Faville’s statement is this: the actual priority order in which YouTube attempts to improve things is for 1) their users, 2) their advertisers, and 3) their creators (her statement list them in a different order). If YouTube can amass more power by making things better for #1 and #2 at the expense of #3, they will. But generally, YouTube and other Aggregators will try to make things better for all three if they can because they know that without the power that comes from controlling access to a very large, loyal audience, they can’t maximize revenue from #2 (their advertisers) or attract a good supply of content from #3 (their creators).

When you play the SEO game, or when you publish stuff on social media in an effort to connect with prospective clients, you are a “creator”. You supply content to an Aggregator, and you do so on their terms.

Remember your place in this relationship. You are the least important constituency to Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, or whatever Aggregator/Aggregator-Wannabe company you’re using to distribute your content. You’re a member of that Aggregator’s least important and therefore least powerful constituency.

So that’s how power works at the large end of the spectrum.

What about the small end, where you and I run our businesses?

If we rough out a list of our sources of power, we would come up with 7 (or more):

  1. Controlling access to something that is scarce but valuable.
  2. Being generous with #1 in order to improve businesses/lives of a specific audience. Brand power, in other words.
  3. Direct access to an audience. The power of freedom from intermediaries.
  4. Insight into a market combined with flexibility and scrappy motivation to serve that market. IOW, the power of agility.
  5. The power of margin: the profitability of a really good services biz creates “margin” — money and time you can invest into the future of the business.
  6. The power of intellectual property (IP). This comes from packaging our expertise.
  7. The power of an unregulated profession. There are pros and cons of course. We don’t have barriers to entry (paid training, licensing, etc.) keeping the supply low, but as a countervailing benefit, we do have extreme flexibility and a lack of oversight that frees us up in interesting ways.

A few thoughts on each of these sources of power:

Controlling access

We don’t generally think of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as a powerful nation. But, in the domain of lithium-ion batteries, the DRC has power because mines there are a source of the vital — and not easily substituted — mineral Cobalt.

Find a small enough market that has an important job they need done and become their preferred source of expertise — or an irreplaceable source of expertise — for getting that job done and you will have power 1.

Being generous

Somewhat paradoxically, being both controlling and very generous with specialized, valuable expertise is a source of power. Being controlling with how clients access your expertise is a source of financial power.

Being generous with giving access to this expertise is a source of brand power, which leads to future financial power.

Aside from giving Alan Weiss $100 once for access to a 1-hour long teleseminar, I’ve never given the guy much money. Most has been in the form of buying a book or three, which transfers price of book - distributor's cut - publisher's cut to Alan. What’s that, maybe $10 per book?

My feeling is that I have access to some of the most valuable aspects of Alan’s thinking: the evergreen-enough stuff that was worth codifying into a book. What I don’t get for this price is individual application of Alan’s thinking. That costs a whole lot more.

But what I do get is some access to his thinking, and that still has great value. In fact, the ROI of this form of Alan’s thinking might be much greater than the ROI of individually applied thinking, at least at an early stage of someone’s business. In other words, if a $30 book helps me make an additional $10,000 in revenue, the ROI on that is spectacular compared to the ROI on $3,000 of coaching that produces the same revenue increase.

Anyway, giving away for free (via a podcast, email list, or other form of content marketing) or selling for very little money (traditionally published books are one prime example of this) access to a generalized version of your expertise is a source of power because it can help you build a brand.

Direct access

Direct, relatively unmediated access to a group of potential clients is also a source of power for you. This might look like:

  • An email list
  • A D2C subscription business
  • A community you’ve built
  • Events you host
  • 1:1 relationships that you use email or the phone to nurture

Direct access is a source of power because you receive all the information about your audience that an Aggregator would normally keep for themselves. This information can lead to the next source of power…

Insight

Insight into a market combined with flexibility and scrappy motivation to serve that market gives you the power of agility. Your insight into the market gives you an ability to see and understand the important jobs that market needs done. If they’re emerging, new jobs the market needs done, you can see their emergence early on, perhaps giving you a first-mover advantage. Even if they’re established jobs the market needs done (ex: lead generation), insight gives you the power to create a bettersolution for getting that job done.

Margin

Some services businesses can be extremely profitable. This can give you the power that comes with margin:

  • Power to invest money or time in your business, which often looks like investing in yourself or your expertise or your future ability to create value.
  • Power to say “no” to clients, which can preserve your health, happiness, or sanity, all of which preserve your future earning potential.
  • Power to innovate, which is a “wasteful”, speculative activity. We don’t innovate when the wolf is at the door; we look for the closest weapon and grab it and tense up. This tense posture is incompatible with the posture of innovation.

IP

Out of a posture of investment and innovation can flow intellectual property (IP), which — in the services business context — is expertise packaged and made usable by non-experts.

IP can significant contribute to the power of margin (profitability), can deepen your insight into a market (I’m thinking here of IP-as-diagnostic-tool), can increase your ability to be generous in a powerful way, and can increase the power that comes from controlling access to your packaged expertise.

Unregulated profession

Finally, although the lack of regulation on our profession can be a drawback, it can also be an advantageous source of power.

It’s been interesting to work with this real estate developer Mark here in Taos. He’s selling us 1.2 acres of land we’re going to build on, and as we’ve asked him for recommendations for other professionals, he’s often said: “It’s illegal for me to recommend anyone, but if you bring me a list, I can veto.” I’m sure there is at least one good reason for the regulations that cause him to say that, but it’s a reminder that regulations do have a cost, and sometimes that cost is born by a larger group than intended. I’d rather get a recommendation from Mark for a good source of a construction loan, but instead I have to do that research myself because of some regulation he as a real estate broker is subject to. I’m not generally anti-regulation, but this is a case where I bear the cost of this regulation, and I wonder if that was part of the intent of the regulation?

Anyway, the lack of regulation of the kind of businesses you and I run can be a source of power for us. We can focus on opportunity, value, and impact with more degrees of freedom than regulated professionals might be able to.

Wrap-up

I wonder if you feel powerful in your business?

Because you have lots of potential sources of power! Maybe feeling powerful is as simple as remembering all the sources of power you actually have. There are at least 7, but probably more.

Or more likely, feeling powerful in your business is a matter of investing with the goal of leveraging one or more of those 7 sources of power.

What’s holding you back from that sort of investment in yourself?

-P


Here’s what’s been happening on my paid Daily Insights email list:

  • [PMC] You’ll want to use the 3/8″ spanner for that… - (Readin’ time: 3m 10s) I have a confession: I don’t have any idea what software my CPA uses to file my taxes. Shocking, I know. What would it say about the situation if I did know what kind of software he uses? It would mean that I’ve accidentally or intentionally learned about the software CPAs…
  • [PMC] A restaurant for rule-breakers - (Readin’ time: 2m 37s) At some point in history, someone broke the rules and ate a meal in their car. At some later point, Sonic set up a restaurant specifically designed for just these kind of rule-breakers. Think about it: cars haven’t been around nearly as long as food has. This means that humans have…
  • [PMC Weekend Edition] “5,000 generalists are not capable of running a country of over 1 billion people” - (Readin’ time: 52 seconds) This is interesting: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/04/the-indian-school-of-public-policy.html Here’s an excerpt: India is changing very rapidly and launching new programs and policies at breakneck pace–some reasonably well thought out, others not so well thought out. Historically, India has relied on a small cadre of IAS super-professionals–the basic structure goes back to Colonial times when a…


Notes

  1. And for a fuller treatment of this topic, please read David C. Baker’s “The Business of Expertise”.

[PMC Weekly Insight] Coding, and altered states

By Philip | July 10, 2019

Executing a simple research project of your own is SOOOOO EYE-OPENING1.

It’s not the first thing this will teach you, but eventually you will learn that research is akin to how George Bernard Shaw once described photography: we make a lot of photographs because, like salmon swimming upstream, so few of them make it. With research, there are just so many opportunities to distort things with seemingly small mistakes. I’ve been seeing all the opportunities-to-screw-up that show up when I’m abstracting detail, which is a necessary part of this process.

As I’ve been comparing the coded results of my two samples, I’ve seen this over and over again.

Please bear in mind that I need to re-code some of this data, so the picture I’m seeing here will change, but let me show you the coded data from my two samples as it exists now.

The LinkedIn sample

Full resolution version of this file: pmc-dropshare.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/Photo-2019-07-10-06-27.JPG

The list sample (meaning people from this email list who responded to the same set of questions as the LinkedIn sample)

Full resolution version of this file: pmc-dropshare.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/Photo-2019-07-10-06-26.JPG

Altered states

This morning, I printed out my counted and ordered list of codes from my two samples (the two images I shared above), and just sat there for a long time comparing them. Comparing them, and asking questions about what I was seeing there, and looking for patterns in the data.

It’s fascinating to notice my emotions as I do this. Perhaps for some folks, the emotional layer of this kind of research isn’t consequential, but for me, it is. It’s really hard to get over this “you’re doing it wrong!” feeling when looking at the LinkedIn data because that group seems to invest in their career in ways I don’t get excited about. Then I swing back to a more objective state and start letting myself look past the emotions and trying to see what the data is actually saying.

I did the following: I looked at the underlying detail behind several of the codes that were at the top of the list of codes for my LinkedIn sample. For example, you’ll notice that in the LinkedIn sample, a-coding-learning –which means “the action of learning about coding” — is at the top of the list of codes for question 4. You’ll also notice that a-online-courses is at the top of the list of codes for question 4 when you look at my email list sample. I was curious about this.

What I found when I re-examined the underlying responses was that I’d coded things differently between the two samples. On the LinkedIn sample, which was the first one I coded, I had abstracted things more than with the email list sample. Said slightly differently, my email list sample used a more granular set of codes to represent the underlying data. The LinkedIn sample used a less granular set of codes, which means I abstracted the detail in that sample more. Same coder, different approach to coding.

Once I looked back at the underlying detail, this became clear. On the email list sample, when someone referenced reading a book or participating in an online curse, I coded those as a-reading-books and a-online-course. But when someone made the same sorts of references in the LinkedIn sample, I coded both the books and course responses as a-coding-learning. Again, I abstracted responses more with the LinkedIn sample.

Why this difference? It wasn’t intentional. It might have come out of some biased view based on my initial — mostly emotional — response to seeing the data for the first time a few weeks back. But I think it’s more likely an accidental outcome of coding the two sample groups at different times when I was in a different headspace. I really do think it’s just that innocent and simple2.

If I hadn’t walked backwards from the codes to the underlying data, I would have started trusting my codes. I would have trusted them too much, and started to see them as an un-distorted miniature of the original.

Those of you that are as old as I am or older, or those of you who are younger but have given yourself the gift of caring about history will remember microfiche machines.

Coding responses to a survey does not create a microfiche image of the underlying responses. Instead, it creates an abstraction of the underlying responses.

Next steps for me in this project are cleaning up my coding and figuring out next steps based on what I see in the cleaner data resulting from better coding.

And also, I’ll never be able to look at a news headline that says “New study shows $THING” without remembering the ability of abstraction to distort.

-P


Here’s what’s been happening on my Daily Insights list:

  • [PMC] You’ll want to use the 3/8″ spanner for that… - (Readin’ time: 3m 10s) I have a confession: I don’t have any idea what software my CPA uses to file my taxes. Shocking, I know. What would it say about the situation if I did know what kind of software he uses? It would mean that I’ve accidentally or intentionally learned about the software CPAs…
  • [PMC] A restaurant for rule-breakers - (Readin’ time: 2m 37s) At some point in history, someone broke the rules and ate a meal in their car. At some later point, Sonic set up a restaurant specifically designed for just these kind of rule-breakers. Think about it: cars haven’t been around nearly as long as food has. This means that humans have…
  • [PMC Weekend Edition] “5,000 generalists are not capable of running a country of over 1 billion people” - (Readin’ time: 52 seconds) This is interesting: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/04/the-indian-school-of-public-policy.html Here’s an excerpt: India is changing very rapidly and launching new programs and policies at breakneck pace–some reasonably well thought out, others not so well thought out. Historically, India has relied on a small cadre of IAS super-professionals–the basic structure goes back to Colonial times when a…


Notes

  1. If you want to read up on this experiment, check out what might be one of my longest — and potentially most boring — series of emails:
    1. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing/
    2. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-the-de-biasing-survey/
    3. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-recruitment/
    4. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-initial-data-from-the-de-biasing-survey/
    5. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-qualitative-analysis-of-the-de-biasing-survey/
    6. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-coding-and-counting/
    7. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-its-a-grind-grind/
    8. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-slogging-away-the-morning/
  2. I was about to cite the “hungry judges” research as an example of how time of day and other factors can effect decision making, but some quick Googling uncovered a raft of issue with this research and how it’s been interpreted, so I’ll hold off on using that research as evidence.
    But really, you don’t need research evidence to know that all sorts of things can effect our behavior, and with something like coding survey responses, it’s easy to see how these external or internal mental/emotional effects can alter how we do the coding.

[PMC Weekly Insight] Slogging away the morning

By Philip | July 3, 2019

Quick tophat: Could you help a client of mine with some research they’re doing? If you think of yourself as a consultant and know something about how you or your firm generates leads, please share your experience here emailforexperts.com/clg-survey/ It’s a 5 minute commitment that will enrich a very valuable dataset Tom is developing and sharing back with those who participate.


A belated happy Wednesday to you!

It’s belated because I spent the entire morning coding responses from my list sample for my survey marketing experiment1.

It was more work than coding the responses to the LinkedIn sample because 1) more responses and 2) more verbose, thoughtful responses from y’all. And then I had to do some re-work because I got sloppy and overwrote a bunch of columns in my spreadsheet where I was doing the coding and had to do some of that over again. 😐

I think y’all will enjoy the following two snapshots of the data from this coding. Remember, this is you, meaning these are coded responses that came from people on this email list who responded to my survey.

In response to the question “2. Please list ways you have you spent time and money for career development.”:

And one more that’s particularly interesting, this one in response to the question “7. Consider your entire career as a self-employed software developer and times you have gotten new opportunities, better projects, or other forms of career improvement. What do you think led to these improvements in your career?”:

I’ll have a more robust analysis for you in a week or two.

In the meantime, some interesting stuff that came up while coding these responses:

Do you code clearly bad-faith responses?

^^^ This dingaling took the survey while also insulting the survey questions (highlighted row). I ignored these responses because they are noise, not signal.

If this happens to you while doing something similar, don’t sweat it. If you sample enough people, you’ll get stuff like this. Just exclude these obviously bad faith answers and move on.

UI matters

When coding responses, seemingly minor UI stuff (column width and how text wraps in a spreadsheet) really matters. Fighting the UI by popping back and forth from the column you are trying to read to the column you are writing codes into vs being able to easily read and code without the back and forth is a surprisingly big deal. So take the time to set up the UI to make the process easy.

Look-ahead responses

It’s interesting to me that multiple people seem to have reviewed all the survey questions before answering them. So far it’s4 out of 56 responses that evidence this behavior.

I don’t think this is a problem; it’s simply interesting to be able to see this.

Tough stuff

Man, some responses are really tough to code! Ex: “Meet with people to discuss future career changes.” Is this networking, informal mentoring, or something else? Or all of the above?

I just give it a few minutes of thought, come up with the best code I can, and move on. I’m not sure it’s worth more effort than that.

Now that I’ve got all my survey responses coded, I’m much closer to being able to write up a first draft of my findings. Woot! I won’t lie: it’s been a slog getting here.

There might be ways of doing research that don’t involve some slog work. But if you’re willing to embrace a bit of slogging, you can generate some absolutely fascinating, unique insights based on proprietary datasets that you collect and own. I think that’s worth some slogging.

If you’re in the US and celebrate Independence Day, then happy Independence Day to you! If you don’t, happy Get A Lot Done Because The Phone and Inbox are Quiet Day! If you’re outside the US and wonder if this country is going crazy and taking the rest of the world to hell with it, you have a valid concern.

I’m kind of kidding with the fatalistic pray for Mojo GIF.

You know that William Gibson quote, right? “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” The same, I believe, is true of positive change. It’s here and happening and there’s lots of it, it’s just not evenly distributed. Don’t over-focused on the negative and sources that profit from focusing on the negative.

Happy Wednesday,

-P


Recent Daily Insights

  • [PMC] You’ll want to use the 3/8″ spanner for that… - (Readin’ time: 3m 10s) I have a confession: I don’t have any idea what software my CPA uses to file my taxes. Shocking, I know. What would it say about the situation if I did know what kind of software he uses? It would mean that I’ve accidentally or intentionally learned about the software CPAs…
  • [PMC] A restaurant for rule-breakers - (Readin’ time: 2m 37s) At some point in history, someone broke the rules and ate a meal in their car. At some later point, Sonic set up a restaurant specifically designed for just these kind of rule-breakers. Think about it: cars haven’t been around nearly as long as food has. This means that humans have…
  • [PMC Weekend Edition] “5,000 generalists are not capable of running a country of over 1 billion people” - (Readin’ time: 52 seconds) This is interesting: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/04/the-indian-school-of-public-policy.html Here’s an excerpt: India is changing very rapidly and launching new programs and policies at breakneck pace–some reasonably well thought out, others not so well thought out. Historically, India has relied on a small cadre of IAS super-professionals–the basic structure goes back to Colonial times when a…


  1. If you want to read up on this experiment:
    1. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing/
    2. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-the-de-biasing-survey/
    3. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-recruitment/
    4. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-initial-data-from-the-de-biasing-survey/
    5. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-qualitative-analysis-of-the-de-biasing-survey/
    6. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-coding-and-counting/
    7. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-its-a-grind-grind/

[PMC Weekly Insight] It’s a grind-grind

By Philip | June 26, 2019

“It’s a grind-grind
It’s a grind
It’s a grind-grind”

— “Bus to Beelzebub”, Soul Coughing

That’s Soul Coughing, singing about the act of coding survey responses.

I’m kidding, but yet… it can be a grind. The coding part, I mean.

I’m continuing to work on my survey marketing experiment1 I’m not done coding the list sample responses.

In particular, the list sample is some real work to code because y’all were much more verbose in your responses than the LinkedIn sample. My hot take on this difference: this is because y’all are much more actively investing in your careers. That’s probably why you’re on this list in the first place! So you simply have more to say on the subject.

Getting help with the grind

What about getting help with the high-effort parts of a research project like I’m conducting? Does that make sense? Is it worth doing? If yes, how would you go about getting help?

Let’s start with the how question and then get to the should you question.

Partner with a researcher

You can partner with someone who has research experience. You’ll most easily find this type of experience in academia.

Graduate-level students are one option. They bring the research rigor while you bring the business context and connections needed for the project. The collaboration may help them with their progress towards a degree, or with their publication needs, or with something else that’s important to them. And the collaboration helps you with your client work or marketing. So there’s a shared incentive in this arrangement.

Professors or departments are another option, though they may be more selective because — at a departmental level — they’d be committing more resources to the project and so need to be more discerning about what they say yes to. At the professor or department level, you may gain worthwhile credibility because you’re involving a greater level of research rigor in your project, along with the brand of the professor or department’s institution.

Outsource

You can find freelance researchers outside of academia. They might be able to help you by taking on high effort work.

By outsourcing parts of your study to a freelance researcher, you can buy back some of your time, but at what cost? Yes, there’s the financial cost, which is fine. But there’s also the cost of you being at least partially removed from parts of the process, and this might cost you insight and confidence in the outcome.

Should you get help with the grind?

This is all good stuff, but you need to evaluate whether the following costs are worth it:

  • Loss of control and flexibilty. In embracing a greater level of research rigor, you will be giving up certain forms of control and flexibility. You might be committing to a larger sample size, or a more expensive recruitment process, for example. For a high profile important study, this could be worth it. For others, it could not be, especially combined with the potential loss of flexibility. More on this below.
  • Loss of insight. In getting outside help, you’ll necessarily be less involved in all aspects of the study. This might cause you to feel less confident in the insight your results generate. To be clear, it might not cause this outcome, depending on how you handle it. But the risk is there.
  • Collaboration. In so many contexts, teamwork is presented as an unalloyed good, but in some contexts it is a cost that doesn’t pay off. In innovation work, the value of a collaborative team needs to be closely scrutinized. Yes, the team approach might produce value. “Many hands make for light work.” This is true. But also, many hands make for a lack of agility, additional expensive communication overhead, and a potential lack of focus and clarity. So specifically in the context of innovation work, a collaborative approach may be less effective.

In a large, high-profile research project, the benefits of putting together a team are really worth considering. But in a small research project like mine, it’s possible to nearly ruin the whole thing by building an unnecessary team in order to avoid a few hours of unpleasant work. Much better to just do the effing work myself and avoid all those costs that would come from assembling a team.

Mixed methods and qualitative/inductive flexibility

I’ve been reading a freaking fantastic book on research, and now I feel like I have a foundational reading list for you if you’re interested in doing research in a business context. The list:

  1. “Mixed Methods: A short guide to applied mixed methods research”, by Sam Ladner
  2. “How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business”, by Douglas Hubbard

The book I’ve been reading recently is the first on the above list. It’s a short, highly readable, largely jargon-free book. And it’s just excellent. It helps you understand the inherent contradiction — and the resulting power — that comes from blending quantitative and qualitative methods in the same study.

One of the points Dr. Ladner makes is that qualitative methods — which are inductive in nature (generating new theories) rather than deductive (attempting to test the truth of a theory) — are also more agile and usually involve less up-front cost.

Something I believe but can’t prove: academics default to quantitative/deductive approaches rather than qualitative/inductive approaches. This might result in a mismatch if you partner with an academic on your research.

You may begin with an ill-defined question, a strong but vague sense of what you want to learn, or what simply amounts to the wrong question to ask2. So if you use a high-up-front-cost method to answer a question like this, what you really have is an expensive boondoggle. A lean, iterative approach might have been much better, and starting with a small qualitative-dominated study might be a much better match between the maturity of your question and the method you use to get answers. In other words, a small qualitative-dominated study is the better tool to help improve your question.

Wrap-up

All this to say, I’m an advocate for the following process:

  1. Do your best to define a good question for your research project.
  2. Embrace the grunt work you’re about to deal with. Begin with a small-scale study that uses agile, flexible methods. This might mean avoiding getting outside help.
  3. Use the results from your initial small-scale study to refine your question. Also use these results as assets that help you connect and build trust with prospective clients. In other words, use the results of your study as marketing material.
  4. (Possibly) cycle through a few more small-scale iterations as you refine your question.
  5. Only once you’ve proven the value and clarity of your question would you consider scaling it up, and at this point you could benefit quite a lot from partnering with an academic or freelance researcher.

Questions?

Responses to these emails in this series about research have been, like, crickets, except for a few folks. This suggests I’m talking about stuff that’s relevant to only a small amount of my list.

Your thoughts?

-P


Recent Daily Insights

  • [PMC] You’ll want to use the 3/8″ spanner for that… - (Readin’ time: 3m 10s) I have a confession: I don’t have any idea what software my CPA uses to file my taxes. Shocking, I know. What would it say about the situation if I did know what kind of software he uses? It would mean that I’ve accidentally or intentionally learned about the software CPAs…
  • [PMC] A restaurant for rule-breakers - (Readin’ time: 2m 37s) At some point in history, someone broke the rules and ate a meal in their car. At some later point, Sonic set up a restaurant specifically designed for just these kind of rule-breakers. Think about it: cars haven’t been around nearly as long as food has. This means that humans have…
  • [PMC Weekend Edition] “5,000 generalists are not capable of running a country of over 1 billion people” - (Readin’ time: 52 seconds) This is interesting: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/04/the-indian-school-of-public-policy.html Here’s an excerpt: India is changing very rapidly and launching new programs and policies at breakneck pace–some reasonably well thought out, others not so well thought out. Historically, India has relied on a small cadre of IAS super-professionals–the basic structure goes back to Colonial times when a…

Notes

  1. If you want to read up on this experiment:
    1. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing/
    2. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-the-de-biasing-survey/
    3. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-recruitment/
    4. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-initial-data-from-the-de-biasing-survey/
    5. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-qualitative-analysis-of-the-de-biasing-survey/
    6. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-coding-and-counting/
  2. Douglas Hubbard talks a lot about how common and disastrous this is. It’s a simplification of his posiiton, but a pretty fair one, to say that we are excellent at choosing the wrong things to measure, and some lean iteration helps us to arrive at better things to measure.

[PMC Weekly Insight] Survey marketing: Coding and counting

By Philip | June 19, 2019

My survey marketing experiment1 continues. As a quick reminder, I’m experimenting with using a survey to connect and build trust with a group of people.

Today, we arrive at some further simple data munching. The first round of simple data munching was made up of counts and averages of the quantitative data the survey contains. This was both conceptually and mechanically simple.

The next round of data munching is also conceptually simple, but a bit more mechanically involved. This part involves:

  1. Coding the survey open-ended responses so that they are more standardized and easy to analyze.
  2. Counting the frequency of the resulting coded responses. For example, once I did the coding of the LinkedIn sample, the action of networking showed up quite a lot in the open-ended responses. But how often? And where does this activity show up in a sorted list of all activities mentioned? This is why I want to count the frequency of the coded responses.

Doing this was not difficult, and was all accomplished using Google Sheets2. The coding involved making some judgement calls. For example, when a survey respondent says “I do a lot of experimenting with programming patterns to find alternate solutions”, how do I best code that? That’s the kind of judgment call I’m talking about. (I went with “a-coding-learning” in this case.)

Then I used a pivot table to count the frequency of the coded responses. Then I sorted the results of the pivot table by the count of each response.

Here’s what I came up with (get ready to do some SCROLLIN’!):

In case it’s not easy to read, the above is: “Coded responses to ‘2. Please list ways you have you spent time and money for career development.'”

The above is: “Coded responses to ‘4. Please list ways you have you spent time and money for developing your technical skills.'”

The above is: “Coded responses to ‘6. Please list ways you have you spent time and money for business or self-employment skills?'”

The above is: “Coded responses to ‘7. Consider your entire career as a self-employed software developer and times you have gotten new opportunities, better projects, or other forms of career improvement. What do you think led to these improvements in your career?'”

I experimented with putting the un-summarized list of coded responses into a word cloud generator, which was fun and something I might include in the report I write up about this, but I think the word cloud obscures more than it reveals when compared to a simple table.

Elevator pitch summary of your research

If I had just 20 seconds or so to summarize what this research is teaching me, I’d say the following:

The self-employed software developers I’ve surveyed “in the wild” invest in career development with a heavy usage of online learning platforms like Pluralsight and IRL events, and they find new or better opportunities primarily through networking and experimenting with their own business. They invest about 300% more in cultivating technical skills than they do in cultivating business skills. In my study, they used the word “marketing” exactly zero times.

I want to point out that the next-to-last sentence is purposefully constructed to be provocative, but its support in my data is questionable. Or rather, “they invest about 300% more in cultivating technical skills than they do in cultivating business skills” is one of several possible framings for the underlying data. Here are a few other possible framings:

  • Super factual: “When asked about how they invest in technical skills, respondents are about three times more verbose than when asked about how they invest in business or self-employment skills.”
  • Less provocative, still attempting to be factual: “I don’t have data on exactly how much time or money self-employed devs invest in technical vs. business skills, but my data does show that they clearly emphasize investing in technical skills over business skills.”
  • Simple, but suggesting a motive that the data might not support: “Self-employed devs seem way more interested in technical skills than business or self-employment skills like marketing.”

To be clear: I’m not talking about how I’d interpret or frame this data in the body of a report, but rather in a time-compressed situation where being memorable and somewhat provocative is more important than being accurate or nuanced. In that time-compressed situation, impact is created differently than it is in a less time-bound situation.

This all points to the actually difficult part: interpreting this data. Some of the key difficulties include:

  • Attributing intent or motive. What do I make of the fact that my respondents are more verbose in responding to questions about technical skills?
  • Interpreting importance. When I code and summarize the responses to open-ended questions, my list of codes for the “technical skills” and “where does opportunity come from” questions are much longer lists than the list of codes for the “business/self-employment skills” question. Maybe this does not mean that respondents actually emphasize the technical skills. Maybe it means they get lower ROI from that investment, so there’s more of that investment but less result from it. Maybe it means it simply requires more words to describe how they invest in tech skills, but if we look at the investment in terms of ROI or something else, a different picture would emerge.

Interviews with some of my respondents would help clarify the questions above. In fact, I think it would be irresponsible of me to draw firm conclusions from this data without conducting around 5 interviews to better understand my respondents motive and thinking.

Next week: I’ll have had time to code and summarize the responses to the other sample, which is folks from this very email list, and so I’ll be able to compare the two samples.

Questions on this stuff? I’d love to hear ’em. Hit REPLY 🙂

-P


Recent Daily Insights

  • [PMC] You’ll want to use the 3/8″ spanner for that… - (Readin’ time: 3m 10s) I have a confession: I don’t have any idea what software my CPA uses to file my taxes. Shocking, I know. What would it say about the situation if I did know what kind of software he uses? It would mean that I’ve accidentally or intentionally learned about the software CPAs…
  • [PMC] A restaurant for rule-breakers - (Readin’ time: 2m 37s) At some point in history, someone broke the rules and ate a meal in their car. At some later point, Sonic set up a restaurant specifically designed for just these kind of rule-breakers. Think about it: cars haven’t been around nearly as long as food has. This means that humans have…
  • [PMC Weekend Edition] “5,000 generalists are not capable of running a country of over 1 billion people” - (Readin’ time: 52 seconds) This is interesting: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/04/the-indian-school-of-public-policy.html Here’s an excerpt: India is changing very rapidly and launching new programs and policies at breakneck pace–some reasonably well thought out, others not so well thought out. Historically, India has relied on a small cadre of IAS super-professionals–the basic structure goes back to Colonial times when a…


  1. If you want to read up on this experiment:
    1. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing/
    2. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-the-de-biasing-survey/
    3. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-recruitment/
    4. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-survey-marketing-initial-data-from-the-de-biasing-survey/
    5. philipmorganconsulting.com/pmc-weekly-insight-survey-marketing-qualitative-analysis-of-the-de-biasing-survey/
  2. There are better tools, like Delve, for doing this, but Google Sheets is good enough for my needs here.