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I post ideas from crazy to great, share the best stories that I find on the net, and work hard to provide great content to my readers. From the practical business uses of social media to information on direct mail, I’ve probably written a post on it.

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Underestimating the Future

Posted by on Sep 29, 2016 in Ryan's Thoughts | 0 comments,_WEF_2009_Davos.jpg

(Image: The World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons)

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.

~Bill Gates

I’m going to change Mr. Gates’ quotes: most people underestimate the change they will encounter in one year, and overestimate the change they will see in 10 years.

Gates’ quote is, in my experience, completely accurate. Looking back on my past 10 years, I’m amazed at how quickly it has gone by and also wish that I had done more in various areas – that website I abandoned 7 years ago would be worth a fortune today had I kept it up, I’m sure 😉

Still, I think my modification also holds true. While individuals have the ability to move quickly, to adapt, and to make significant change, large complex systems have built in bumpers that resist change. This is one of the reasons that the iPhone was almost inconceivable 10 years ago, and also why we still don’t have flying cars.

In my business career I have been both blessed and cursed by technology. The first business I worked for after completing my post-secondary education – I managed a large chain’s electronics and appliance repair centres in both Regina and Saskatoon – was decimated by technology. In 1997, when I started there, people would gladly spend $400 to repair their 4-Head HiFi VHS machines. When I left 3 short years later you could buy a new DVD player for $49 at the Boxing Day Sale. My boss, one of my earliest mentors, told me that he had electronics technicians learning how to fix washing machines in order to keep their jobs. During that time we went from troubleshooting and replacing individual components on circuit boards to replacing circuit boards, to putting things in a box and sending them back to a factory. At the time appliances, such as washing machines or dryers, were mainly mechanical devices, though they are obviously much more technologically advanced now.

On the flip side, I owe much of my present success to the rapid upheaval in the traditional marketing world. As print and other forms of mass media became less relevant in the face of a growing digital world, cracks opened up that allowed sharp people with a hunger to learn the chance to make a big impact.

I don’t intend to predict the future with this post, but I have a few apps on my phone that, when I show them to people, tend to make their jaws drop. I also have some technology that I like to play with that does the same thing. You may know about these already – you may even know about newer versions of them than I do – but I present some of them here today as an example of how things may change quite quickly in the future.

Google Translate – This simple app has been around for a while, but it feels like magic to me and most of the people I show it to. Simply choose the source language and the language you want something translated into, allow the app to access your camera, and then point it at any sign. The app reads the words, translates them, and then superimposes the new language over top of the old. I’ve been using this app for over a year, and every time I open it I still get excited.

Google Cardboard – For less than $20 (sometimes WAY less) you can get a cardboard virtual reality headset that works with any relatively modern smartphone to create a decent VR experience. It’s not an Oculus Rift, but it doesn’t have to be. Technology prices drop dramatically over time, and Cardboard is a fantastic way for ANYBODY to get a glimpse at this new technology early. Once again, this technology isn’t really NEW – it’s been around for a little while. Think of Cardboard as the gateway drug into a Rift – which will have an ever-declining price in the coming years.

NYT VR – The New York Times is one of the oldest and most prestigious print institutions in the world. By all accounts they have also successfully managed the transition to the digital world. As new technologies come online – such as Google Cardboard – they have continued to adapt. Their VR platform is one such example. Will it be the future of the news media? Probably not. Are the 3 to 10 minute immersive VR news videos that they share on the platform incredibly well researched, thought provoking, and jaw-dropping? Yes. Will we all end up standing around our houses wearing VR headsets? I don’t know – but I think the NYT is doing a fantastic job of staying on top of the trends and staying ahead of the curve.

Electric Cars – I’m a car guy – I always have been. I had a subscription to Road & Track when I was 10 years old. One early story from, I would say around 1987, about electric cars speculated that it was high-end performance cars that would benefit from technology first. This would normalize the technology, the writer theorized, making it desirable to car guys (and ladies) who would ultimately embrace the trickle-down tech. Who’d want a regular Corvette with only 240 horsepower (it was 1987, after all), when the Z06 had electric motors and made 300? Based on the way the electric car industry floundered over the next couple of decades, the manufacturers didn’t take this advice. Rather than desirable hot rods, we were left with the Prius – a wonderful car that has never excited a single human being (except for maybe the folks over at Roadkill). It took Elon Musk and his Tesla Roadster and then the Model S, which is one of the fastest accelerating production cars in history, to get car people riled up about the possibility of EVs in their garages.  This technology is going to EXPLODE in the coming years, and in a very short-time frame there will be EVs all over the roads.

Self-driving Cars – It’s safer, faster, and better for the environment. It also probably won’t catch on in most of North America in the short-term because of stubborn people like me who insist on driving themselves around. Where it will catch on quickly is in long-distance trucking where removing the driver from the equation will halve shipping times, save fuel, reduce product spoilage, and reduce emissions. This is going to happen sooner than most people think, and it won’t be long before truckers drive only from truck stop (where the autonomous vehicles park themselves to avoid difficult city driving) to warehouse. This also means that most truck drivers will be home with their families a lot more, dramatically changing the lives of millions of people.

Instant Translation – Just today I downloaded an app called ‘Live Translator Free’ – which listens to whatever you say in your native language, converts it to text, translates it to a language of your choosing, and then reads it back in the new language. In my short few experiments with it today I was blown away at how quickly and accurately it was able to understand my speech, and how fast the translation was. I’m told the translation was also very accurate – if erring on the formal side. This technology will be automated into an earbud in an amazingly short time, and the benefits our entire species is going to see in just the next few years because of this will be incredible. We will either all finally understand exactly what we all mean when we talk to each other and end up in a lasting period of world peace… or become Cybermen. But my vote is on a huge increase in peace and understanding.

Print Media – I actually think that print is going to rebound from where it’s at now. Not that most newspapers will rebound – because I think that many markets will ultimately lose their daily print newspapers in the next few years – but that there will be a resurgence in high quality magazines, journals, and books. I like my Kindle, but I LOVE cracking the spine on a hardcover or shopping for magazines at the bookstore. There is a lot of opportunity for great local and niche content to be packaged and sold on a bookstand.

If these examples are new to you: enjoy. If you think you have something better – post it in the comments!

On Customer Service

Posted by on Aug 24, 2016 in Ryan's Thoughts | 0 comments

open engine

First, a quick background note: I work on cars… a lot. I repair them, modify them, and for some reason seem to like to torture myself with old vehicles. I’m telling you this because I have learned that, when repairing cars, things sometimes go wrong. Sometimes things go disastrously wrong. You break something unrelated to the original repair, you get the wrong parts in the box, or the new part doesn’t work, leading you to question your original diagnosis. This will become important later on.

I’m telling you this story because last week, while away on vacation, I dropped my wife’s car off at a shop to replace a leaking gasket that I really didn’t want to fix myself. The gasket was hard to get to, had a couple of probably seized bolts holding it in place, and I just KNEW it was going to be a pain in the butt to do. I was going to be out of town for a week, the car would be sitting – why not just have it fixed while I’m away?

The quote was for 4 hours of labour. The part was $15. It would easily be done in a single day by a professional mechanic with a vehicle lift, air tools, and years of experience. I dropped the car off on Sunday morning. I was coming back into town on Thursday, and it would be ready for me to pick up. Easy decision.

Wednesday was when I got the first call.

“Hello Mr. Holota, this is the repair shop calling. We’ve discovered that your car also needs part X, and it’s going to cost an additional $199.” Uh-huh.

Then on Thursday morning the phone rings again. “Hello Mr. Holota, this is the repair shop calling. We’ve found that part Y and Z are on their way out, and we recommend replacing them for an additional $100.” Uh-huh.

Thursday evening. “Hello Mr. Holota, this is the repair shop calling. Remember part X? That part is no longer available and we have to replace it with upgraded part AA. But instead of $199, it’s $599, plus another $100 for part AA-1.Oh, and we can’t get it until Monday.” Hold the phone, please. 

I’m sure that most of you can relate to this story. You pay someone with specialized knowledge to perform a task for you – whether it’s a plumber, mechanic, lawyer, or god forbid – marketer – and they keep adding things onto the bill. You have a feeling that you’re being taken for a ride. This is the part where the tidbit of information about me being a car guy comes into play. See, I’m not a professional mechanic – but we’ve had this particular car for 9 years (my other car, the one I bought in high school – I’ve had it for 22 years). The car is considered an enthusiast vehicle, so there are web forums of dedicated fans who post detailed instructions on everything from how to change a headlight to how to remove an engine. And, there are online parts suppliers that can get anything under the sun for a tiny percentage of what you can get them for from the dealer or even the local auto parts store. So part AA and part AA-1? I know all about them. They’re common failure parts… and they are also readily available for much less than $700. At this point, I start to get a little bit mad. If I’d have wanted to spend a ton of money and wait several days, I could have just ordered a whole pile of parts myself. I need to think about this overnight.

Friday morning the phone rings again. “Hello Mr. Holota. We’ve found an alternative to part AA and AA-1 at a much more reasonable price. They’ll still be here on Monday.” Oh, okay. This calms me down a bit.

Monday the phone rings. “Hello Mr. Holota. You won’t believe this. The wrong part came in the box. We have to re-order it, but it will be here tomorrow.” At this point, I’m starting to believe that the garage is full of untrained monkeys and that I should have just paid a random person off the street to take care of the problem for me.

Then came Tuesday. This time, the phone call from the garage said that the car was ready. I headed down to the shop after work to pay the bill and get the keys. The service advisor shakes my hand, tells me how nice it is to meet me, and says they’re going to miss the car, because it’s been there so long it feels like family. A joke to ease the tension. He has trouble finding the keys, and while he’s looking the owner of the shop comes out to talk to me. It’s a very nice car, she says, especially given the age. We talk about cars. They’re both enthusiasts who genuinely LIKE cars (not all mechanics do). The talk drifts from the car that was just repaired to the car I pulled up in. “You’ve had it for 22 years? Wow!”

I leave with a smile on my face.

As I mentioned, I know all about the car that was being repaired. I KNEW the repair would be trouble, which is why I didn’t want to do it myself. I know that things can go wrong, that bolts get stuck, and that other things can get broken while trying to do a repair. I KNOW that you can get the wrong parts in a box. These things really do happen. Cars are actually incredibly complex machines, and Murphy’s Law most certainly applies to their repair – especially as they get old (sometime ask me about the February I took the bus to work because the two hour repair I started ballooned into a 4 week fiasco).

Here’s the important part: I completely understood the repair and even empathized with them about the repair, the difficulties they were having, and the problems getting parts. But even so, the situation was not made okay until I talked with them face to face, got to know them a little bit better, and had a good understanding of who they were and what their intentions were. This was a GREAT independent repair shop, and I would go back there again in a heartbeat. There’s a lesson here for anyone in business.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks about medical malpractice. He notes that some doctors make tons of mistakes, and yet never get sued, while other doctors rarely make mistakes but seem to get sued often.

“…the overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all. In other words, patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care – and something else happens to them.”

In fact, Gladwell concluded that the ‘something else’ was just bad customer service.

“What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly.”

Imagine if the garage had taken my payment and then rushed me out the door. I would have felt badly about the experience. I would have felt taken advantage of, and I would have started to question other things. Sure, I know that part AA was a common failure item, but in this case, was it really? I would have felt ripped off. But because the garage took the time to chat with me and get to know me, I understood that the problems they were having were the very same problems that I would have run into had I tried to do the job myself. Furthermore, I likely would have broken even more stuff myself in my impatience and growing anger (see the February story, above).

Here’s the marketing lesson: If you spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to convince people to walk into your building and then treat them like dirt when they arrive, you’ve wasted all of your money. If, on the other hand, you treat them like they are the most important people in the world, they will reward you with patience, understanding, and kindness, even when something goes wrong. Customer service is a natural extension of marketing. Treat your customers right, and they will sing your praises to anyone who will listen. Treat them wrong, and they’ll tell everyone about that too.


Dunbar’s Number And Social Media

Posted by on Aug 11, 2016 in Ryan's Thoughts | 2 comments

If you’ve been on Twitter for a long time, and you have friends who have also been on Twitter for a long time, then you’ve probably had this conversation:

Person 1: “Twitter sucks now.”

Person 2: “Yup.”

Well, the conversation may not have gone exactly like that. It may have revolved around the lack of interaction with your Tweets, compared to ‘the good old days’. Or perhaps the conversation laments the amount of crappy self-promotion so prevalent on the service today. You may also be frustrated by the fact that so many of the OG’s no longer post as often as they used to.

It’s true. Twitter has changed. A lot. It’s grown exponentially, for one thing. It’s been monetized in a big way, and it’s been democratized too. Where Twitter was once a secret hideaway for the ‘social elite’, it’s become a tool for everybody to complain about their local hockey team and to share pictures of their cats (oh wait, it’s always been used for that….)

I’m rarely on my personal Twitter account anymore – though I spend a significant amount of time running a corporate Twitter account – but I do spend a lot more time on Facebook than I ever did. In fact, I used to hate Facebook, but over the past 3 years or so, it has become a key relationship management tool for me. What gives?

And that’s when it hit me – it’s a classic case of Dunbar’s Number.

A refresher for those of you who have forgotten: Dunbar’s Number is a number that reflects the number of social relationships that a person is capable of maintaining. It was proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, and the number was suggested to be about 150, but some current estimates place it as high as 250.

Dunbar’s Number repeatedly shows itself everywhere from successful workplaces to military units, and even to closed communities such as Hutterite colonies. Once a group spreads past 150 people, it begins to break apart. Splinter cells form, infighting begins, and before long, the village must divide into two, either literally or figuratively, if it wants to survive.

I follow about 2,700 people on Twitter. I followed interesting people who followed me, sought out folks from the marketing and business worlds, and looked for other folks from the same geographic region to interact with. Real-world relationships were built, business was done, and everybody was happy.

Everybody was so happy that they wanted even more! We invited the people that we liked most to connect with us on Facebook – a much more private ‘walled garden’ in the social sphere, a place where we connect with our aunts and uncles, share pictures of our kids, and talk about our work days. If I get a new follower on Twitter I check their profile and a few of their last Tweets – not a bot, not too political, not talking about insurance or endlessly sharing pictures of great real estate buys – and I follow them back. I see someone mentioned in a tweet, and I follow them out of curiosity.

What a change from the days in which I used tools like SocialBro to track down people with similar interests and cultivated a list of people to follow(I’m strictly talking about personal accounts here, not business accounts).

Conversely, if I get a Facebook friend request, it’s serious business. Who are they? Where are they from? Do I know anyone else who knows them? And then I decide to ignore their request. I share photos of my kids on Facebook, I’m not letting just anyone in. Total number of FB friends? 313. Certainly more than 150, but it’s arguably easier to manage a Facebook friendship than work to harvest a crop with someone. And truth be told, there’s probably a few folks that I could knock off my list pretty easily.

So, if I follow a good number of people on Twitter, but somehow find it less relevant, and few people on FB, but find it fascinating, what’s the deal? The answer is curation. Like me, most of you are probably a lot more careful about who you let into your FB circle. You have fewer relationships there, the relationships mean more to you, and it’s far more relevant to you at any given time.

Targeted and relevant. Sounds like a perfect storm. Where else do you probably follow fewer people than you do on Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram?

Which social networks have the highest engagement and the fastest growth? The very same.

What do you think?