Friday 25 November 2011

iPhone 4S vs Galaxy S2 vs Galaxy Nexus - a Comparison

Galaxy S2
After nearly 2 happy years with an iPhone 4 I'm approaching contract renewal, so I've been checking out the options for my next phone. After a quick look at the offerings from HTC, Blackberry and Nokia, I've narrowed my search down to the Apple iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

I've conducted a "survey of surveys" of these three phones and found that most comparisons focus on performance data charts - screen resolution, battery specs, camera resolution, processor speed etc. My aim is to clarify the decision based on some simple questions about how the phone fits in with the rest of life. If your phone decision depends on some of these considerations, you might reach the same conclusion as me.

Beautiful design and reliable performance

Over the last 4 years I've migrated from PC to Mac and now own a Mac Mini desktop, a Macbook Air laptop and an iPhone 4. My music is in iTunes and my photos are in iPhoto. I've become an Apple prisoner, captured by the seamless integration of their products and services. I've enjoyed their great design and reliable performance, and I'm a big fan of Apple as a company.

However, I've had two concerns about my reliance on Apple - the price premium and the limited (and pricey) integration of their services in the Cloud. Even with the introduction of iCloud, this aspect of Apple's offering seems to be behind the services provided by others - notably Google.

Security and redundancy

Even as I've moved from PC to Mac, I've also moved from Microsoft Office to a host of cloud-based software platforms for both work and leisure. Google is the lynchpin of my online life, providing Gmail, Google Apps, Blogger, Youtube and Picasa. All of these are free and more importantly from my perspective, they are hosted in the cloud, so if any of my devices are lost, stolen or broken, my data and content are secure, backed up in redundant systems which I can reach through a range of devices.

What is a smartphone for? Data or Voice? Entertainment or Business?

While the ability to make voice calls is still a qualifying requirement for a telephone, none of these three smartphones is marketed on the basis of call quality (which is anyway largely dependent on the quality of the service provided by the network operator rather than the handset manufacturer). For me the reality is that I make fewer voice calls than I used to, and use my phone much more as a data device - for capturing and viewing images, for finding information about places, contacts and opportunities. I'm not a gamer, and I don't rely on my phone to bring my personal music library around in my pocket.

As a result, certain features stand out. The Galaxy Nexus has a lower resolution camera (5 Megapixels, compared to the 8 Megapixels of the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy S2), but it does have an immediate shutter response, eliminating the delay associated with most phone cameras. The larger and higher resolution screen of the Nexus may appeal to gamers and video downloaders, who will also like the faster processors of the two Samsung phones (1.2GHz rather than 1.0GHz for the iPhone). For those of us with lower performance requirements, the lighter weight and longer battery life of the Samsung phones may be more appealing.

The importance of freedom

But for me the decisive factor is that after years in thrall to Apple, the Samsung phones offer the opportunity to break free into the more open world of Android. While Apple's strict control is central to their quality, Android offers a degree of freedom I'm finding irresistible. With better integration with Google's cloud services and the freedom to use my phone as a base station for my laptop, Android now fits much better with my needs.

As a keen photographer I'm drawn to the 8 Megapixel camera of the Galaxy S2, so when my contract renewal comes around, that is what I will be collecting.

And finally, just mentioning that I'm planning to switch from iOS5 to Android seems to be earning me credibility with my technically minded friends!

Wednesday 16 November 2011

How competitor analysis defines success - a lesson from a gamekeeper

If you want to succeed, you need to know what success looks like. Often we define success in relative rather than absolute terms. For example: "success is earning $100 a month more than your wife's sister's husband", "success is being the best...", "success is winning". But this puts our ambitions into the hands of others, since their actions determine whether we believe we have succeeded.

So if your definition of success involves a competitive comparison rather than an absolute result, it's very important to think about how you choose to define your competition. For example, for most of us it is unrealistic to aspire to be the best high jumper in the world, though we might reasonably aim to be the fastest swimmer in our local pool. More significantly, if you are setting goals for your company or team, it's useful to choose a challenging achievable target rather than a fantasy one ("we want our sales to rise faster than any other seller of x in our domestic market" rather than "we want to top the FTSE100 by the end of the year").

Not long ago, I was walking on a public footpath near Plymouth when a 4x4 drove up. The driver was clearly checking on me, and explained that he was the local gamekeeper. I took the opportunity to ask him about the local wildlife, including whether there were any deer on the land he looked after. He explained that there were plenty of fallow deer on the estate, especially now he had stopped the poachers. Since the estate was clearly very large, I asked him how he had stopped the poachers. His explanation was very simple.

He told me that in the past the deer on the estate had frequently been chased and killed by dogs brought by poachers based in Plymouth. One afternoon, he was out checking some pheasant pens when he saw a group of people with hunting dogs walking across one of his fields, away from the public footpath. The dogs were on long leads but he felt confident that they would soon be released to hunt. Considering his options, he decided that calling the police would be fruitless, since he expected that even if they arrived in time to challenge the poachers, there was unlikely to be any useable evidence and they would escape with a warning, and return at their convenience.

So he decided on a different course. He was 300m from the poachers and they had not seen him. He took his hunting rifle from his car and carefully lined it up with one of the hunting dogs. He shot and killed the dog, with the bullet passing close to the group of poachers, though he was later able to justify it as a safe controlled shot. In the ensuing fracas, the police were called, but by the poachers rather than the gamekeeper.

As he sat in his car, calmly explaining this story to me, I asked him why he chose to do such a reckless thing. He pointed out that he realised he was not trying to compete with the poachers - he was trying to compete with other nearby gamekeepers. He needed word to get around the poaching fraternity that he was crazy, so that they would concentrate their activities safely out of his range. He regretted shooting the dog, but pointed out that hunting dogs were killing dozens of deer, and that after this incident, poaching immediately stopped on his land.

Choosing how you define your competitive set is not just a matter of identifying a recognisable set of peers - it may involve a different perspective altogether. It may be that the really important competition is not the obvious one. For example, perhaps rather than looking at the growth of profits you should consider the threat posed by specific skills shortages leading to competition for key staff with companies active in very different markets.

Of course while competitive pressure can help to motivate and drive innovation, it's perfectly legitimate to define success in terms of absolute outcomes too. While some teams define success as being the best, others may have a specific object such as curing a disease, or completing a project on time and within budget. Either way, wisely defining what success is - the goal of the team's efforts - is essential.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Sharing a joke - the vital role of humour in a team

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Standing on a wooden box at the front of the gym, wearing tight white vest and shorts, Sergeant Jordan demonstrated the first move in our physical training session, and in a deliberate falsetto shouted:

"Feet shoulder width apart! Except in my case where obviously that's not possible!"

To many, the stereotypical image of military training is a sergeant shouting at a bewildered recruit. My recollections are very different - my main memory of my training is the laughter, not the shouting. Jokes and humour have a vital role to play in forming a team's self-view, and add spice to the narrative that the team develops. If you want your team to gel, think about the role that humour plays while the team is together - does it reinforce a sense of shared identity and purpose, encourage a light-hearted attitude to challenges and reward efforts, or is it undermining motivation and alienating team members?

Among Physical Training Instructors (PTIs), the arts of entertainment and motivation are totally intertwined. As they push recruits to ever greater feats of physical achievement, they distract them from the pain with volleys of comical remarks that range from poking fun at stragglers to self-parody. A common feature of PTI humour is the humility that is inculcated into every Royal Marine recruit. As the guardians of the physical standards of the Corps, the PTIs deliberately play the parts of the peacocks among the camouflage of the other specialists. Two years after first hearing Sgt Jordan in the gym, I was back at Lympstone training recruits. One day they were trying on new uniforms and I overheard a familiar voice as Sgt Jordan joined them in the changing room -

"Don't be afraid men, but I'm about to take my shirt off"

Of course humour is often subversive, and most jokes have a victim. While it can play a useful part in team bonding, it can also embed a culture of exclusion or cynicism. The mood of a workplace is often most clearly expressed in the jokes people crack there. Sexism, racism and many other vices are often betrayed in jokes, and listening to the banter around the water cooler can often give the most informative insight into the real values of a company or organisation.
But humour can also play an important role in helping people deal with fear or discomfort. Studies of people in stressful roles in the military and emergency services routinely show that humour helps alleviate stress and protects people from psychological harm.

If you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined

One of the most unpleasant topics we covered in training was Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare (NBC). Studying the effects of chemical and nuclear weapons is a shocking experience, since these weapons kill and maim in very brutal ways. As we donned our full protective outfits - known as Three Romeo (level 3 for the inclusion of rubber overboots and double layer gloves, romeo as the phonetic "R" in "respirator" - and practiced various military exercises peering out at the world through the small eyeglasses of the S10 Respirator (gas mask), it was certainly difficult to see the funny side. The only light relief came from our NBC instructor who introduced the concept of Zero Romeo - himself naked apart from the obligatory gas mask.

Without explicitly deciding that to master NBC we needed to be able to find its funny side, we continued our training and put thoughts of blister agent and secondary blast to the back of our minds. However, as our training approached its conclusion, we set about preparing a presentation for our families, designed to explain to them what we had been doing for the previous 15 months. We tried to cover all aspects of our training in a light-hearted but informative way. Just about everything from the bizarre equipment inspections and gym exercises to the competitive spirit of the group and the drama of our exercises at sea and on land had great comedy potential, but NBC was the unfunny exception.

A joke that bombed

We decided to tackle it head on. We would dim the lights, show a picture of a mushroom cloud on the projection screen, and one of our number would silently walk to the front of the stage and read from the publication "Survive to Fight", the nuclear warfare pamphlet. He would read the section explaining what to do when a nuclear bomb goes off nearby (lie down with your feet towards the blast and your hand under your body to minimise burns, do not attempt to stand up until the second shockwave has passed etc). We thought that with the right deadpan delivery, this would amply illustrate the futility of soldiering in a nuclear battle and raise some wry smiles. Unfortunately, senior officers thought that some of our families might not see the funny side, so the sketch was withdrawn from our presentation!

Always look on the bright side

One of the 4 Commando qualities is cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and humour is the bedrock on which this is built. A sense of humour is seen as a vital aspect of team membership. Not everyone is born a comedian, and not everyone finds every joke funny, but it is the steady accumulation of challenges laughed through and fears trumped by smiles that build the narrative that holds a team together. Whether your team is preparing to don protective clothing or launch a new product, humour can help you work together.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Worthy isn't enough - the message has to be sexy

I recently met up with a university friend who has become a marketing professional. Since he has been in Canada for the last 5 years we had plenty of catching up to do. He was the massive oarsman who used to sit in front of me in a rowing boat day in day out, so I've always felt we were pretty well in sync and I was very interested to learn what insights he has gleaned over the last few years.
Rolf is a fantastic communicator. He has worked extensively with Native American communities in British Columbia, helping maintain their traditions and develop and share the narratives that embody their culture. In fact, narrative was a central theme of Rolf's conversation as he described how we make sense of the world around us by storytelling. My last blog post was on the subject of storytelling, so I was quick to agree.
I've recently been studying several businesses that could be described as "good". They major on providing excellent value for clients while applying waste-eliminating techniques to traditional processes. All these businesses (in financial services, healthcare and renewable energy) have a common feature: they improve on traditional business models and pass most of the benefit on to their customers.
How to tell an ethical story?
I mentioned this to Rolf and asked his advice as a marketing expert. How could these businesses engage with their customers without increasing their prices to the point where they were no longer competitive with traditional incumbent alternatives? Perhaps the clearest illustration of this is in financial services where traditional banks are widely reviled, yet organisations like Zopa which match borrowers to lenders and reduce the spread retained by traditional banks struggle to be noticed. Their ability to advertise is limited by the modest fees they charge. In contrast in particular with payday lenders, some of which charge APRs of more than 4,000%, the media profile of Zopa, Ratesetter and others is tiny.
Good isn't good enough
Having myself built a business with a strong ethical message - maximising the impact of donations to charity - I have wrestled with this challenge for years. As Rolf points out, it's not always the ethical marketeers who win - he cites the US food market as an example in which obese consumers harm themselves while encouraged by barely regulated marketeers.
So the challenge is to avoid the trap of thinking that one is marketing to homo economicus, the mythical hyper-rational consumer beloved by traditional economists. Instead, we need to tune our messages to real people, taking note of behavioural economics - the irrationality and short-termism that characterises consumer behaviour. No amount of rigorous mathematics can overcome the primal decision drivers that really shape consumer choices.
Sex sells - almost anything
Rolf expresses it very simply: "Worthy isn't enough - the message has to be sexy." Whatever you are marketing, it's vital to appeal to the base of the brain. Transparency and economic justification are nice-to-have, and indeed they are essential in justifying the ethical business tag, but they are not sufficient on their own. The marketeer's magic is in adding a frisson of excitement to the subject which really turns customers on.
Rolf is living the message - as marketing director of a company that makes concrete additives, he has a far greater challenge than selling fast cars or designer clothes. Yet take a look at his marketing material with its beautiful images of towering structures and verdant scenery and it's clear that this is a man who can make concrete seem sexy!

Thursday 3 November 2011

Leadership as storytelling - how narratives bond teams

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.

Leaders as storytellers

If you aim to encourage others to follow you, it's worth studying the techniques of successful historical leaders. One common feature of great leaders is their ability to engage with their teams by involving them in a story - or narrative.

From Henry V to Winston Churchill, great wartime leaders are remembered for their rousing stories. They invited their followers to join them in making history, and pointed out how future generations would retell their exploits.

While few leaders face the French knights at Agincourt, or Hitler's armies across the Channel, every leader can apply the storytelling principles that Henry and Churchill brilliantly demonstrate. As a young Royal Marine I learned this lesson and I hope you'll find it useful too.

The fewer men, the greater share of glory

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

As one of the greatest leaders in history or literature, Shakespeare's Henry V is a fine source of leadership inspiration. In this speech to rally his troops for battle, he tells them that they will tell their sons of their exploits at Agincourt for years to come.

Henry's aim is to bind his men to him. He has already offered to send home anyone who doesn't have the stomach for the fight ahead, and even to pay their salaries before they go. He is not relying on discipline and threats but on aspiration to encourage his men to join him in battle. He even highlights that if anyone does leave then the glory of the remaining soldiers will only increase - he creates a sense of exclusivity among this band of brothers.

Focus on the prize

This lesson lies at the heart of leadership. Henry is plotting out the benefits of featuring in his story, and it works. His positive reinforcement of the roles of his lieutenants Warwick, Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester (all of whom get a name-check in his speech) binds each of them to their posts through the struggle ahead.

Critically, Henry focuses on the prize - the positive result, rather than the struggles that lie between his audience and their status as storybook heroes. He doesn't even mention the possibility of defeat, even though it's very real.

Getting out of dire straights

When he spoke to the nation on 18 June 1940, Winston Churchill faced the prospect not of imminent victory over the French, but of the imminent invasion as Hitler prepared Operation Sealion. Newly in post as Prime Minister, Churchill did not shy away from the harsh reality of the situation, but he offered hope was well as purpose, and above all, he set the struggle in an imagined historical context:

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

I think many people would argue that it was.

OK - but we're not at war now

Churchill and Henry V were wartime leaders operating in extreme conditions, but storytelling still has an important role to play in leadership, even when the setting is not quite so dramatic.

In 1997 I was put in charge of a group of 60 Royal Marine recruits, and challenged to convert them from civilians to Commandos in 9 months. To succeed, I would need to ensure that as many of them as possible stayed in my troop, without resigning, being injured, or failing to pick up new skills at the required rate.

I knew that they were in for a tough time, and also that many would doubt their desire and ability to complete their training. Most of all, I knew that these doubts would be most damaging when the recruits were out of the reach of me and the rest of the training team. So I thought about how to ensure that every time they had a break and the opportunity to return to the familiar comforts of home and family they still wanted to return to the challenges and discomfort of the Commando Training Centre.

I realised that when they headed home, their friends would be asking them what they had been doing with the Royal Marines. And I knew that if their answer was good enough they would enjoy telling the story. So my challenge was to ensure that whenever my recruits went home, I could guarantee that they had the best story in the pub. Every week I was careful to ensure that there was at least one episode that  they could turn into a great story, and I noticed that they enjoyed rehearsing - the more dramatic, outlandish (and often uncomfortable) the episode the better.

As the troop prepared to depart for 2 weeks of Easter leave, I played my best hand - knowing that this was the most likely time for the comforts of home to tempt my men to stay away. As they waited for the train, I asked them if anyone knew what an "SSN" is. At first no-one volunteered an answer, but one recruit hesitantly guessed "Is it a nuclear submarine?".

I congratulated him on his answer and explained that on their return from leave the troop would embark on an exercise in and around Scotland which would include a reconnaissance phase involving covert insertion and extraction by SSN. This wasn't standard for recruit training, but I'd managed to get my troop on a special exercise with extra resources. Everyone returned from Easter leave keen to collect another great story.

The measurable result of this was that for the first phase of training, 736 Troop had the highest retention rate among recruit troops for 5 years. We lost no-one at all for the first 10 weeks, speeding the recruits towards realising their Commando ambitions and saving the taxpayer a small fortune too.

The best story in the pub

So if you are seeking ways to motivate a team, ensure that every member has the best story in the pub. As leader your role is to provide your team with the basis of the story and encourage them to take ownership of it and retell it in their own words. If your stories align with your values and objectives, your team will be loyal, dedicated and effective.

This is one of a series of articles on lessons from Commando training. Here is the full list.