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Emanuel Rosen Interview About His New Book Absolute Value

AbsoluteValue9780062215680Remember Emanuel Rosen? Author of Anatomy of Buzz and Anatomy of Buzz Revisited? He is out with a new book entitled Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information with co-author Itamar Simonson. To me, the book is a highly thoughtful trip down the changes of the Internet and the personal growth of the author along with it to reach towards different topics and conclusions. I respect this journey immensely as it is a journey all executives should be taking and it is one that I’m on myself.

The extensive research in the book also serves to validate much of my research and it is nice to find authors demonstrating thought outside the current group think. This book is about much, much more than marketing and should be read by those outside the discipline first and foremost. There is no higher compliment I can give to a book on marketing than that suggestion. We are living in a time when corporate organizational charts are starting to be redefined and so far as a society we are stuck at the starting gate of the race. Those who break free will pull away from their peers. Please share this interview and encourage others to read this great book! Enjoy the conversation.

Q: How was it different to write this book with a co-author?

A: When you write by yourself, you go through long periods where things are in your head. When you work with a co-author, you get immediate feedback on every thought. It’s a very different process and I was lucky to have Itamar Simonson as my co-author. Itamar is one of the world’s leading authorities on consumer decision making. Very knowledgeable and open minded. It’s been certainly a productive collaboration.

Q: This book appears to have taken a long time to write. As someone who has researched a proposal, I can appreciate and respect this. This book is quality, it was not slapped together quickly. Please discuss the reasons for this and the impacts it had on the final product?

A: Indeed, it took us a long time to write this book and we’re happy with the final product. We were exploring a lot of ideas, and we weren’t shy about changing our minds. This usually takes  time.  Some people work faster (and still write good books), but this is the way it worked in our case.  We both felt that even though a lot has been written about the Internet’s impact on marketing, something bigger was happening, and we wanted to get to the bottom of it.

Q: Long before ASUS built laptops, they built motherboards. In custom build computers, people had the choice of choosing ASUS or not for a long, long time. Did you explore the impact of this previous awareness on ASUS laptop sales?

A: Yes, this was a factor that facilitated their market penetration. Because of their experience with motherboards, ASUS had good awareness among power users, so when ASUS started selling laptops under its own brand those in the know, who can easily assess the quality of ASUS, made their verdict and published it in reviews, blogs, discussion boards etc. This, of course doesn’t mean that they endorse every product from the company. Some products from ASUS get high ratings and some don’t.

Q: We see lots of business models changing. Do you think part of the reason they entered the market was to protect ASUS motherboard market share? (For more on this topic, please see my recent article on Steve Jobs.)

A: Yes, their shift to the consumer market was triggered by others’ move into their turf—motherboards. This made it clear to ASUS (and other manufacturers) how vulnerable they were.

Q: Conversations about information overload aren’t new. I liked your example from 1545 where Ann Blair talked about a “confusing and harmful abundance of books’. It is not new, but is it different now?

A: Of course, today we all face unprecedented amounts of information. But while this is true, consumers are actually very good at identifying that slice of information that is most relevant to them. Using new search tools, they can use information selectively and efficiently and benefit from it without being overwhelmed or overloaded. Information abundance as we know it today is a very new phenomenon in the history of the human race, and it will probably take a while before we fully comprehend its implications. The conclusion that it paralyzes decision making seems a bit hurried. While some consumers are indeed overwhelmed, most consumers can handle the information just fine.

Q: For mass markets with large volumes of information, lack of information is clearly not an issue as your research shows. When it is a new paradigm changing service people aren’t looking for yet or a thinly provided product or service, this information becomes imperfect due to the illiquidity. What would you advise providers of elite, low demand niche services to do in this environment to create trust and sales?

A: When a product category doesn’t have enough users, it’s obviously hard to expect many user reviews. For example, you won’t find too many organized review sites for private jets (although you ca still find much more information in this category than in the past). The role of experts and other influencers in such cases is then more significant. Customers in these areas also still rely on the marketer to provide the information which means that the marketer still can have significant influence.

Q: Why were Peter Rojas’ blogs successful for technology and yet some other new verticals in society don’t have sites of this nature? While we are at it, what do you see as the future of blogs?

A: Engadget and the other services that Rojas started were successful because a lot of people are interested in consumer electronics and share their experiences. When there is significant demand and where quality can be assessed, tools are likely to emerge (although this may take time). Marketers should be on the lookout for game-changing technologies that might lead to new types of information sources . The trends we discuss in the book may be vaguely relevant to a company today but increasingly important only a few years later

Q: Not exactly a surprise to people that know me well, my favorite chapter was “When Brands Mean Less”. In fact, one could argue this would have been a great title for the book. Without spoiling the amazing content in the chapter, could you please discuss how this chapter came together?

A: This chapter opens the second part of the book “How Marketing Changes Forever” and it’s been getting a lot of attention since the book came out. What we say in this chapter is that the power of brand as a main cue for quality is diminishing when customers can use reviews from other users and experts to assess the absolute value of products and services. Brands still have some important roles that are not likely to go away, but when it comes to assessing quality, things are changing pretty dramatically.

Q: The book has mostly consumer examples, what are B2B business people to consider here? What is different?

A: The same general principles apply: Whenever customers rely on reviews (from experts & other users) the rules of marketing are changing. The key question the marketer should ask is: To what extent do my customers rely on these new sources of information? In many areas in B2B, this is not yet happening, but this is starting to change in some categories. For example, suppose you’re a B2B software company. A site like which focuses on business software may signal a shift if your customers actually use it. If that’s the case, you need to promote an ongoing flow of authentic content from your users to make sure potential customers find reviews of your software that are relevant and current. In general, customers are likely to prefer objective reviews over things like case studies or white papers because they are perceived as more credible and give potential users a sense of what to expect. For some (especially large) customers things are not significantly different because they have always had the in-house expertise to assess absolute value, but today this type of knowledge is becoming accessible to more companies—even small companies. In addition, sites like LinkedIn or Glassdoor have also changed things for B2B marketers as they help potential customers know what is happening within companies: who work there, who used to work there, etc.  Incidentally, the lines between B2B and B2C have been blurred. Routers are reviewed on Engadget and projectors used in business presentations are reviewed on Amazon or PC Magazine.

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Paul Oyer Interview – Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned From Online Dating

pauloyerPaul Oyer, Professor of Economics in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, has written an extremely thought provoking book entitled Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned From Online Dating available on Harvard Business Review Press. The book is an extremely fun read and I really enjoyed interacting with Paul Oyer. For the interview with Paul, I experimented with a video interview for the first time. I must apologize for the unintended echo effect in parts of the audio (it is fascinating what you don’t hear live that you hear in a recording, will wear my audiophile headphones and noise canceling microphone next time for sure). It is also time for a new laptop.

Please enjoy the interview and please give the book a read. I would think those who have never used an online dating site would find the insights to be fascinating. Thanks!

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Robyn Benincasa on Building World Class Teams with Essential Leadership Lessons : How Winning Works

Robyn Benincasa -How Winning Works: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on EarthWhat is true leadership? Keynote speaker Robyn Benincasa leads by example.

Robyn Benincasa dropped me a copy of her newly minted New York Times bestselling book entitled How Winning Works : 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth (Harlequin).

I’m really glad she did! As you know I read  lots and lots of business and leadership books. I read this book over a longer time horizon than usual because it forced me to stop at soul searching checkpoints and reconsider the world around me. Due to this impact, I strongly recommend Robyn’s perspective changing book to everyone!

Roybn’s leadership flexibility keynote message compliments my passion to inspire organizations to reallocate strategic business operations resources to their best uses in the 21st century to the benefit of all customers and stakeholders. Better teamwork serves as one critical piece of a much larger and increasingly uncertain business leadership puzzle. All of the puzzle pieces need to work together well to create successful organizations and Robyn provides a perspective changing critical piece. Robyn was kind enough to answer a few questions and share her wisdom:

Q: So you are a firefighter, an adventure racer, a motivational speaker, the owner of a team building retreat business called World Class Teams Leadership Adventures and a non-profit, The Project Athena Foundation,  which helps survivors of medical setbacks live an adventurous dream as part of their recovery. What led you into these multiple career paths and what inspires you to start new adventures?

Robyn Benincasa: Life has lead me in all kinds of wonderful directions! I love finding strengths and core competences in others as well as in myself. I think our opportunities lie in our unique strengths and acquired knowledge. All of the above were the result of my being deeply compelled by something, discovering I was good at it (or not!), and then adding my own twist to make it meaningful for the people that are a part of it!

Q: When did you first realize you had an entrepreneurial streak and what have these events taught you?

Robyn Benincasa: I was lead into speaking by a friend who saw the parallels between EcoChallenge Adventure Races and the teambuilding styles that would work well in the corporate world. I also had several years of Fortune 500 Pharmaceutical Sales under my belt, so I knew she was right. I just had to think of the best way to deliver the message so that the presentation was less about racing and more about how the teambuilding skills, which we’d learned in the quest for an extremely difficult and distant finish line, could be applied to our ‘real’ lives. I was scared to death in my first few presentations, but it really seemed to resonate with business leaders, and I had some early successes (like having a Starbucks Zone VP in one of my first presentations who then hired me to speak in 8 districts across the US!) that kept me fired up to continue. In 2002, I decided to start my own speaking/teambuilding company, World Class Teams, and we do 45-50 events each year. I love it! But it sure is hard to fit in my required Fire Department hours and racing life into the spaces between. I’ve learned a lot about capitalizing on one’s strengths and outsourcing one’s weaknesses to a great team in order to get to the next level. I definitely practice what I preach. 🙂

Q: What have your experiences around the world taught you about teamwork and how one can best focus on the positive coaching rather than criticism – especially in adverse situations?

Robyn Benincasa: Its imperative on a world class team that there is always an underlying sense of goodwill, loyalty, affection, and mutual respect for one another. If that is undermined, the team will break down quickly. You can deliver the same message to your teammates, but if it comes out at criticism (pointing a finger), you’ve shut down that interpersonal connection. If your message is received as coaching (extending a hand), you’ll get a far better response and a deepened bond. Delivery is a lot of the game in teambuilding!

Q: In your racing career, you had the benefit of pre-event planning and having to make many decisions quickly. Please talk about making decisions effectively and quickly. If you have any general advice on creating urgency in group decision making that will make this interview pretty darn popular me thinks…

Robyn Benincasa: We were always in a race! So the issue of making quick decisions and solving problems in a VERY timely manner was critical. I think competition is an incredible tool to light a fire under a team  ie: if we don’t get this new product to market, our competitors will.  But speed doesn’t always equal effectiveness. We very often found that if we ran/rode/paddled just a liiiiittle bit further, the answers would become more clear about which navigation decisions to make when we were confused. We discovered that going a little longer on the trail and actually finding the right answer, even if finding that answer took us the wrong way for a bit, was almost always a more effective use of our time than standing in the trail for 30 minutes scratching our heads and speculating about what was ahead. If we were stumped for answers, we’d always climb the nearest hill to get a better view or “go ’til we know” more information.  That became a bit of a team mantra when we found ourselves wasting time staring at the maps. 🙂

Q: The lessons of HOW WINNING WORKS appear to be far reaching. How can those lessons be applied to one’s personal life as well as work life in terms of teamwork?

Robyn Benincasa: We’re all in an adventure race every day of our lives in our own way, aren’t we? We’re just not covered with leaches or swimming through crocodile infested rivers, although it may seem that way at times. :). I’ll prove it to you:  if you didn’t realize I was speaking of my extreme endurance sport, wouldn’t you think I was a new hire at your company? “I work with a small team of men and women, and we’re trying to make it through a seemingly endless series of checkpoints, in pursuit of a nearly impossible goal, working against extreme time pressures, in constantly changing conditions, and with the goal of doing it all better than anyone else in the industry”. I rest my case. :). The 8 Essential Elements of Human Synergy that I talk about in How Winning Works brings out the best Teambuilder in all of us, whether that team is with our family, friends, colleagues, clients, husbands, wives, etc. If you deal with people in any capacity, you will benefit from the tips, tricks and skills you’ll find in “How Winning Works”.

Q: How and why did you first get into public speaking? How did your previous sales skills from a previous career help you to position yourself to become successful?

Robyn Benincasa: Oops. Answer this one already, above!

Q: In the section on “We Thinking” you discuss how in the early days of adventure racing teams, they used to pick individual superstars and how those teams didn’t work well. Right now in recruiting, generalists with experience in leading high performing teams are regularly passed over for specialists – often with one dimensional skill sets. What would you tell the leaders of those companies to start to chage that?

Robyn Benincasa: Specialists are fine, as long as they truly embrace the concept that they are one useful cog in a larger wheel. If they are willing to lend their strengths but ALSO recognize that they need to accept help in their areas of weakness and/or let others lead, they should be a solid member of the team. That being said, I’d rather have a true team builder on my team any day versus a specialist if they’re a diva. :). Being a successful teammate isn’t necessarily about what you know—its about what you’re willing to learn, how much you embrace the concept of team synergy, and how willing you are to leave your ego at the start line. It’s the heaviest thing in your pack.

Q: You told one story of regarding motivating a group of students. You were marveling at the attitude change when you were “asking these kids if they thought they could do it instead of forcing them to”. How could you apply that to people overall? (please see page 138)

Robyn Benincasa: Easy! We all embrace that which we help create! Psychology 101. Unfortunately many leaders believe that their role is to “tell others what to do”. But in my opinion the true measure of a leader is how many other leaders they have created. And we create leaders by allowing our teammates to lead based on their strengths; asking for their input and opinion on goals, strategy, and outcomes; inspiring their critical thought, and facilitating their success. Managers are a dime a dozen. Leaders are a rare and wonderful breed.

Q: What started the process of you writing this book and what did you learn about yourself from the process of writing it?

Robyn Benincasa: My friends made me do it! :). Seriously, one of my best pals told me it was time, and she wrote the book proposal. It was sold in a few months and then, ack!, I had to start writing. I did it all on flights to and from keynotes and in the fire station between calls at night. I even created a little team for myself of a coach who gave me homework assignments and chapters to write each day. It helped to have smaller ‘checkpoints’ to reach each week than to think about the daunting finish line hundreds of pages away. See? Adventure Racing even taught me how to write a book. One step, one checkpoint at a time.

I urge everyone to read this book and think about how it could change their everyday interactions.

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Business Author Ro Khanna Discusses His Thought Provoking Book Entrepreneurial Nation

ro khanna, entrepreneurial nation why manufacturing is still key to americasThe nice folks at McGraw-Hill sent me a freshly minted copy of Ro Khanna’s new book Entrepreneurial Nation : Why Manufacturing is Still Key to America’s Future.  As someone who would like to help the CEOs and board of directors transform the sales and marketing of America’s manufacturers to make them into international growth companies, I was excited to see this title as I hope it will bring focus to an important and related issue – where and how corporation resources and employees are allocated for utilization.

In Entrepreneurial Nation, Ro Khanna presents a highly valid yet contrarian book about the potential for USA manufacturing resurgence. Ro advocates reversing certain strategy consulting dogma of the late twentieth century to create this reality. People would be wise to listen to and act on Ro’s message.

The book is a highly unique combination of personal memoir, business and government stories. If the book were to go mainstream, I would  think that the world might discover that his core concept has applications in other areas. Ro was kind enough to answer some questions:

In Chapter 1 you state, “The best American manufacturers consider the intellectual contributions of all of their employees.” Critical and divergent thinkers are critical, but the majority of companies are not yet replacing their leadership ranks with these types of transformational leaders.  What has to change for this to occur at more companies more quickly?

Ro Khanna: We cannot compete with China in a race to the bottom or lower wages.  So, we have to outcompete them by offering more innovative products, finding efficiencies in production, or customizing products to meet consumer’s unique needs.  The best manufacturers recognize this fact, and their leadership creates the culture for employees to make meaningful contributions to a product’s design and the production process.  The result is gain in productivity and also better products.
My hope is the manufacturers that I profile can serve as a model to many of American companies.  They show that empowering employees makes business sense.  A bottom-up culture is perhaps the only way American companies can compete with low-wage labor.  We can’t compete on price. We need to compete by being more creative.

You had the privilege and honor of meeting with one of the most brilliant business people ever, Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel. He argues strongly against outsourcing manufacturing ? Yet it occurs. so who exactly are people listening to for this advice that is contrary to Andy Grove’s great wisdom?

Ro Khanna: Yes, Andy Grove is one of the most brilliant and passionate people I’ve met.  I wish more policy-makers were listening to him about the importance of keeping a manufacturing base for the purpose of innovation.  Some neo-classical economists have argued that we should be indifferent about whether we have a manufacturing base or not.  That may be nice in theory, but what Grove shows is that it cannot work in practice.  Losing manufacturing would mean losing millions of good paying jobs.  It would also hamper our ability to innovate because as Grove shows design and production cannot be separated.  I am disappointed that Grove’s ideas on the importance of manufacturing have not captured more of the attention of the Beltway.  It’s partly why I wrote the book, and Grove arguably is the protagonist of the story.  Washington should listen to people like Andy Grove who have actually implemented successful manufacturing processes and created thousands of jobs here.

I found your research finding that a number of companies were starting to “recognize that machines don’t always improve productivity” to be fascinating as it validates much of my research about white collar management, business strategy and marketing operations. Please discuss how you discovered these fascinating bits of information …

Ro Khanna:  When I would ask manufacturers about why all their jobs could not be automated, they would laugh at the naivete of such a thought.  One of the senior managers at GE explained that individuals were actually more efficient and accurate at tasks such as packaging compared to robots because they were more portable.  Keith Busse of Steel Dynamics also went into considerable detail about the types of jobs in steel manufacturing that he could not see automated any time in the near future.  In general, it’s a gross oversimplification to say that automation will render human workers unnecessary.  A better question is to figure out what types of workers are needed with increasing automation, and what skills they need to develop.

You discussed a manufacturing skills gap in Chapter 7. Recruiting expert Libby Sartain is famous for saying “Hire for attitude, train for skills.” Jeffrey J. Fox asserts companies do not spend enough on training employees. Is there really a skills gap or is there a management problem combined with a lack of vision around how to hire talent that could be trained to do these jobs in a short period of time?

Ro Khanna:  Great question.  You are absolutely correct that companies should invest in training workers.  But, we need to provide them with the incentives to do so.  If we expect companies to take a financial risk and invest in training workers for specific skills —skills that these workers presumably did not acquire through public schooling, college, or vocational education –then companies should receive some tax incentive to do so. We have to make the economics of investing in worker training attractive for a company’s bottom line.  Yes, visionary corporate leaders may get the importance of doing so, and understand that you hire talent not resumes.  But, having incentives can help them justify such  long-term investment decisions to their Board and shareholders. Companies can also partner with trade unions to invest to help cultivate the best workforce.

How did the lecturing gig at Stanford come about?

Ro Khanna: I was speaking at Stanford about how historically there has been a bipartisan vision of supporting American manufacturing.  I talked about Hamilton’s Report on Manufacturing, about Coolidge’s investment in our aviation industry, about Reagan’s investments in our semiconductor industry.  Many of the students had no idea about this aspect of American economic history, and said that they often did not get that perspective in their classes.  Their economics classes were like math classes. So, I thought it would be fun to discuss with students the practical aspects of American economic policy-making, and how that may not easily fit into classical economics or Keynesianism.

What did you personally learn about manufacturing as a result of writing this book?

Ro Khanna: I was inspired about the resilience of American manufacturers I met, and how they went about just doing their work with determination.  I write in the book that, in a deeper sense, the American manufacturers I met speak to who we are as a people. Those talking heads who predict America’s decline need to travel this country and see the hundreds of innovative businesses that are thriving.  There is a reason that the skeptics were wrong when they wrote us off during the early years of the Cold War.  There is a reason they were wrong again when they predicted in the 1980s that Japan and Germany would be the dominant post Cold War economies.  These skeptics always miss the entrepreneurial culture, the hard work, and the sense of optimism that defines America.  After meeting dozens of manufacturers, I am very confident about the future of American manufacturing.  We just need to get the policies right to make their lives easier, and encourage our manufacturers to adapt to the global economy.  That’s why the work you are doing is so important.

Was there anything you learned after the book went to press  that you’d like to share?

Ro Khanna:  Almost every person who has read the book says what they find most interesting is the stories.  I spent a lot of time worrying about taking on the economists such as Jagdish Bhagwati who argues that manufacturing no longer matters.  I spent time arguing for the right policies our nation needs to support manufacturing.  But what seems to touch readers is the concrete stories of Americans who are succeeding in making things.  If the book accomplishes one thing, I hope it shines a spotlight on those Americans who are figuring out how to compete successfully, despite the difficult odds.