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Consultant's View, 2012

January 2012

Why "The Cloud"?

Several companies are making a big push for "Cloud Computing". There are a number of new technologies converging into "Cloud Offerings" and the different vendors offer different mixes of those technologies. Between all this, there can be some confusion. There are several main business reasons to go to the "Cloud" but saving money on current operations is usually not one of them. These reasons are

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Evaluating Meetings

Meetings are expensive. Many people who are not authorized to spend $500 on outside vendors can call an hour long meeting of engineers that can cost over $1,000. Does anyone check to see if the meeting was worth it?

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February 2012

Measure, measure, measure?

There is a well known saying in management that you can't manage what you don't measure. American companies have deeply adopted this idea. But there are real problems with focusing on just what is measured. It is possible to be excellent in what is measured and lose one's way.

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Teams?

Business books and articles have been extolling teams quite a bit. One could see a manager taking the push for teams to mean that all he needs to do for greater effectiveness is to assign everyone to a "team". Teams work better, right? Not always. New research shows that putting people in teams might make things worse and team make up is very important.

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March 2012

Measuring Customer Satisfaction

Do you want more income? If so, find out more about what your customers really want. Business advisor after business advisor tell us to find out what our customers want. Yet, few businesses do that well. There are ways to better measure what your customers want.

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Business Models Changing

JC Penny is changing its business model. They are switching to regular pricing and hope to not have to offer constant discounts. Other companies are making deep changes to their offerings to meet new market expectations. Are your business models changing, too?

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April 2012

Is Your Business Protected?

On April 3, a tornado bounced through a Lancaster Texas truck stop, picking up trailers, spinning them hundreds of feet in the air before smashing them into the ground, and providing a strong visual of the dangers businesses face. Recently, a major processor got "hacked" costing them their "approved" status with Visa. There are a lot of ways for businesses to be destroyed. It takes a lot of work to minimize the risks of being in business.

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Silos in your Business

The only businesses that do well with silos are farmers and grain elevator companies storing grain in them. Many other businesses have internal "silos" where parts of the company do not work well with the rest of the company. A business consultant tries to make the case that companies should work to get rid of silos. His argument ignores the facts of human nature.

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May 2012

The Illusion of Stability

As human beings, we want things to be stable. We want steady progress on projects, steady delivery of services, and strong, steady corporate ownership. We want the world to be predictable.

The world is not stable and predictable.

When we operate as if the world is stable, we eventually lose.

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Who to hire in crazy times?

Corporations are known for hiring people that fit in. So, who to hire when a corporation is facing a chaotic situation? When things are crazy, you want to hire people who can handle crazy situations.

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June 2012

True Genius is hard to find

Nearly every company is advertising for the 95% person, but genius is hard to find and even harder to recognize. Many a large multi-national corporation is paying their top people as if those people are true geniuses, but the results rarely match the pay. So, why is it that companies can't get what they want?

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It is business, don't fall in love

Many of us fall in love with our ideas. We fall in love with a product. We fall in love with a job candidate. We fall in love with a new business structure. We fall in love with a company that we want to invest in. Falling in love is bad business.

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July 2012

A Recipe for Success?

Browsing through the stacks of business books, it is easy to see that many people think that they have found a recipe for success. Over the last few decades, we have seen business book after business book tout "Excellence", "Six Sigma", "Walking Around", and many other business ideas. But few of these books have made a significant difference in American business. Did the company do well because they were doing something extraordinary or if they "won the corporate equivalent of the lottery"?

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Conflict and Confusion are Valuable

One of the interesting themes of modern education is the strong emphasis on conformity and conflict avoidance. Children who are "disruptive" are put on medication to "calm them down". Employees who challenge the system are let go. We do not want conflicting opinions in our structures. It turns out that such conformity is harmful to real learning.

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August 2012

How to Get More Innovation?

Politicians and corporate leaders have been making the case that we need more "STEM" education and innovation ("STEM" meaning Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Yet, only 4% of current technical innovation makes it to the market and even less is successful there. That really doesn't sound like we need more "STEM" innovation. Instead, the real need is business innovation. eBay was not a technical innovation, but a business innovation. So, how do we get more business innovation?

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Collaboration Tools

There are a bunch of tools out there called "document collaboration tools". These range from the Google Docs to other quite elaborate tools. Hardly anyone uses them. Google had something called Google Wave that they took down because not enough people were using it. Why not?

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September 2012

Managing for Innovation

Many a company claims that it wants its workers to innovate. However, rarely does a company make the management changes that would foster innovation. A culture of innovation does not appear on command. It needs to be planted, nourished, and cultivated. We invest in ideas that do not pan out. We try things that don't work. A culture of innovation costs the company a lot to build.

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How Ideas Propagate

Social scientists used to think that we got our ideas from our good friends. With the new "social media", they have been able to test that idea and found it to be false. Ideas come in from the frontiers and from where two cultures clash.

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October 2012

Designing Around Failure

Most of our efforts in life are about striving for perfection. We want to make perfect products, perfect corporations, and perfect computer software. None of that is possible. A growing number of people are suggesting that we may do better by trying to design for failures.

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Energy Costs

Every time we have volatile energy costs, Americans change their energy usage. We did that following the 70's energy crisis. We did that when we were running out of whale blubber oil and southern pine turpentine in 1860's. Each time, we have numerous entrepreneurs creating new industries to provide the energy needed and change the services we need to use less energy. Today, one rising cost is the energy cost of computer networks.

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November 2012

Business Moats

Warren Buffet says that he wants to find companies that have a "moat" where they have multiple competitive advantages. But what happens when a business is protected by a moat? The answer isn't always what you would expect.

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Concentrated Creativity

There have been some interesting studies in how human beings react to having too much choice. When people are faced with a wall of different options, they often walk away not taking any of the options. The same is true with being creative. When too much freedom is given to the creative person, they rarely are able to find the muse and produce anything.

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December 2012

Perception of Risks and Opportunities

As human beings, we have a hard time properly perceiving risks and opportunities. We often ignore very real risks and suffer consequences. Youtube is full of teenagers suffering consequences as they attempt some stunt and fail. Americans have a long history of taking odds that others haven't. Yet, as managers, we do better when we can properly evaluate risks, but there are major challenges to doing so.

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Adaptable Companies

With Hurricane Sandy and then a blizzard the week afterwards, New York and New Jersey have had a one - two punch of natural disasters. How would your company fair when faced with a couple of nasty events? Coping with major natural disasters requires both a resiliency of the core organization and corporate adaptability.

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Prairie Trail Software offers a complementary newsletter, A Consultant's View.

These newsletters are our chief form of marketing. But beyond letting our clients know that we exist, they also provide a great source of information about consulting in general and specifics for transaction processing systems.

Our newsletters are completely free and available on request, see our ordering page, for more information. Recent newsletters are available on the web after print publication.