I can’t even begin to count the number of tweets I’ve seen in the past week or so harping on Netflix’s stock price drop on its announcements of customer attrition and reorganizaton.

Is the firm’s actions the right move or the wrong move?

I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what ticks me off: The number of people who blab on and on about how organizations need to innovate and reinvent themselves and make difficult decisions, and about how bigger isn’t better yada yada yada — and then turn around and blast Netflix for its recent decisions.

Isn’t Netflix doing exactly what many of these people have been advocating ever since they appointed themselves business strategy experts?

These people are nothing but Netflixocrites.

If you have canceled your Netflix subscription, I’ve good news for you: Your decision isn’t a proof point that Netflix made a bad decision.


Breaking The News On Twitter

I honestly and truly wonder what it is that motivates many of you to be the 7,657,423,012th person to tweet a news item.

Do you really think that you’re the first to tell your friends and social network that Steve Jobs resigned? Or that Google acquired a Motorola division?

Do you not scan at least a few tweets in your Twitter stream to see if anybody else tweeted the “breaking” news you’re itching to share with the world?

Does being redundant and useless not bother you?

It would be one thing if you were linking to a source that maybe not everybody read (I linked to Josh Bernoff’s blog post, so maybe I’m guilty as charged as well). But when you link to a HuffPo or TechCrunch article, you’re providing a link to the same story that 7,173,147,882 people before you did.

I have a theory that addresses the wonder I expressed above: Attention-deficit disorder.

No, not like the medical community defines it. Not “the co-existence of attentional problems and hyperactivity.”

No, I mean attention-deficit as in: Doesn’t get enough attention, and needs to call attention to oneself.

If you’ve got other theories explaining this behavior, let me know. I really do want to hear them. Because I honestly believe that if I better understand this behavior, maybe it won’t drive me as crazy as it does.

Ten Things You Need To Know So You Don't Suck When Giving A Presentation

I’ve written an eBook on how to give great presentations (or, at least, how not to suck so bad at giving one). It’s available for free for the first 1,000 people who download it. After that, the laggards who are late to the party will have to pay through the nose to be able to get their hands on this.

Right-click on the following link, and save the PDF file to disk by selecting “Save link as…”:



Well, the first 1,000 people got their free download, and so the eBook is no longer available here. However, it is available on for the measly price of $2.49.

Click on the book image to go to Lulu.

Becoming A Better Manager

A few days ago, as I was approaching the time for my scheduled mid-year performance review, I joked on Twitter that it’s a shame that my boss has to repeat himself every time we do a performance review.

I was only half-joking. Because it’s true. He does repeat himself. Every boss I’ve had has had to repeat him or herself. In an attempt to improve my “performance”, they’re always trying to get me to do something I either don’t do today, or don’t do very well.

It’s not that I can’t learn to do those things better. I don’t want to.

There are three levers a boss can pull to get me to change:

1) Plead with me. This generally doesn’t work, although I must admit I sometimes do what he asks me to for his sake, not for mine. I feel bad that I make him repeat himself, so I throw him a bone, and do something he asks.

2) Reward me. Believe it or not, this doesn’t work very well. What am I really going to see monetarily for changing my behavior? Two or three thousand dollars more a year? Not only is that not enough to motivate me to do things I don’t want to do, it misses an important point: Money simply isn’t my main motivator. (Apologies to my wife and kids).

3) Fire me. Go ahead. I’m actually delusional enough to believe that I’ll find another job in a reasonable amount of time.

In becoming a better manager, you’ve got to mentally calculate two scores regarding your subordinates: 1) their LAP score, and 2) their Freedom score.

LAP is an acronym for Look, Act, Perform. Like it or not, every boss has a mental picture of how s/he wants any particular subordinate to look, act, and perform. Sometimes these expectations are encoded in one’s performance metrics, but, in my experience, all of the mental expectations around LAP are never fully elaborated.  (There is the possibility that the boss’ LAP expectations are wrong or unrealistic, but we can’t deal with that problem here).

Now I hate to burst your coddled little bubbles, but there are precious few people (more specifically, knowledge worker types) — maybe 10% — that score really highly on the LAP dimension. Most of us are simply above average (that was a joke — if you don’t get it, look up Lake Woebegon). Seriously, though, we all tend to score higher on the formal assessments we have to go through — but many of these reviews simply don’t capture all of the boss’ expectations.

The other score to take into account is the Freedom score. This score is based on the extent to which an individual truly has and needs freedom to do what he or she wants to do, likes what s/he is doing, and is good at it. Maybe one in five of us score very highly on this. Our freedom to do exactly — and only — what we want is continually being challenged by bosses, clients, etc.

And we all have varying levels of acceptance with varying levels of freedom. I don’t think most of my bosses have really understood this: I do what I do because I need a very high level of freedom. I understand the tradeoff. I could never be one of those guys on Wall Street sitting in front of a trading screen all day — even if I could make a million dollars a year doing so.

Putting the two dimensions together yields the matrix below, with my (non-scientific) estimate of how many people fall into each box. The reality is that most of us are in the middle — decent performers with a decent level of freedom.

Show me somebody who scores really high on both dimensions, and I’ll show you a candidate to be CEO of your firm. Show me somebody who scores highly on LAP but low on Freedom, and I’ll show you someone about to find a job with another company. Show me somebody who scores really low on both dimensions and I’ll show you someone about to be shown the door at their company.

Here’s what makes managing so hard: In an attempt to raise someone’s performance (i.e., LAP score), managers are often inclined to take actions that reduce the subordinate’s Freedom score. This is where the Law of Unintended Consequence kicks in. With someone like me, reducing my Freedom score is likely to reduce my LAP score.

The hard part of managing is that managers have to figure out when to adjust their expectations, and when to reduce freedom.

An interesting thing happened in this most recent review session: My boss realized that he likes to do some of the things I really hate doing, and he suggested that if he do those things, he could then turn them over to me to see it through to completion — which I’d be more than happy to do.

I may be able to improve my LAP score, after all.

Pet Peeve #42: Bad Graphs

Disclaimer: I have a lot of respect for eMarketer. They do great work, and although I’m picking on one of their graphs, I mean them no disrespect.

OK, with that out of the way, take a look at graph below. See anything wrong?

Here’s what ticks me off about it: The 58.4% bar stretches all the way across the graph.

Think about this for a moment. This chart can be translated into words: “Talent was cited by 58.4% of marketers as a web analytics challenge. Actionability was mentioned by 47.3%. Finding insights was the third most frequently mentioned challenge…..” And so on.

What a snooze that would be. That’s why we use charts and graphs — they’re a more efficient (and perhaps effective) way to communicate something.

But when you stretch a 58.4% bar all the way across your graph you diminish the efficiency of the graph because you make viewers work harder than they have to to interpret the graph. A bar that occupied about half the space allotted to the graph would be perceived as having a value of about 50%.

But in the graph above, with the 58.4% bar taking up the whole space, it’s not only not intuitive that the value is 58.4%, but it makes it harder to interpret the other bars.

I see this kind of thing in a lot of presentations. Sometimes it’s the result of not consciously thinking about, but sometimes it is intentional. Like stretching a 20% bar across the space of a graph is going to make people think that 20% is a really big number.

Next time you construct a graph and chart for a presentation, think about how you use the space. And round the percentages down to no decimal places (exception: when the numbers are less than 10%).  When people have to work harder than they should to understand what you’re talking about, you’ve lost a little of your potential effectiveness as a presenter.

Financial Services Regulations: Intellectual Monstrosity

I spent a couple of days last week attending the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s annual payments conference. If you’re involved in the world of retail payments, you should really attend this conference next year. As with other good conferences, what really differentiates this one is the quality of attendees. Lots of really smart people in the room, and what made it even more interesting was the mix of merchants/ retailers, FIs, academics, consultants, and vendors.

For me, the highlight of the conference was the closing session titled “Where Are We Headed?” Based on the panelists remarks, I think the consensus answer to that question is “further down the toilet we’ve already been flushed down.”

The four panelists were Glenn Fodor, Vice President, Morgan Stanley;  Ronald Mann, Professor, Columbia Law School; Omri Ben-Shahar, Professor, University of Chicago Law School; and Richard Epstein, Professor, University of Chicago Law School.

Unfortunately for Mr. Fodor, the three academics really dominated the discussion. What the three professors had to say, however, was very enlightening. Their comments touched on:

1. Financial product safety commission. Mr. Mann commented that the prevailing theory underlying the prevailing approach to regulation is that people will spend and borrow more than they should — causing greater level of distress — and that we need to impose behavioral limitations through regulatory actions.

Mr. Mann explained that this theory holds that products exploit consumer behaviors, and therefore need to be regulated. He did go on to say, referring to the proposed consumer safety commission, that it’s difficult to construct a federal agency for this.  As Mann put it:

“If you don’t know what makes a product “unsafe”, how can you have an agency to protect consumer safety?”

Epstein jumped in on this point, as well, commenting that “since the Obama administration doesn’t know what’s it doing, it might as well delegate it to an agency that doesn’t know what it’s doing.”

According to Mann, “there is a need in the market for credit products, and therefore, for risky products. Credit cards are an efficient way to borrow money — and the regulations negatively impact this.”

2. Disclosures. Professor Ben-Shahar has studied the role of disclosures in the financial services world, and has concluded that, by and large, they are ineffective. They lead to a “one-size fits all approach to risk” which, in turn, leads to negative impact for everybody. According to Ben-Shahar, there has been “no indication that an increase in disclosures has had any positive benefit.”

Epstein’s comment on this topic was that the government assumes that consumers are too ignorant to do anything but read government forms. But Ben-Shahar pulled out an example of one of these disclosure forms — a four-pager — and asked if anybody in the audience read it when they applied for a credit card. No one raised their hand.

What the professor did suggest, however, was that financial firms should show people how “others like me” deal with the payment burden –- and not just the total amount over the life of the loan.

3. Durbin amendment. None of the panelists were quite as outspoken — or as colorful — as Professor Epstein. Commenting on the Durbin amendment, Epstein called it:

“A monstrosity of the worst intellectual order”

According to Epstein,  the guidelines are “all nuts  — they only include incremental costs”, and that the result of the rules will be firms that are “too big too succeed” let alone too big to fail. Epstein agreed with a lawyer in the audience who suggested that the amendment will lead to financial firms creating affiliates with less than $10 billion in assets.


I had a chance to talk with Epstein one-on-one after the session, and asked him to comment on my take on the regulations: That they represent a response to an environment (i.e., a market and economic environment) that existed in the past and is no longer valid. And a result of this changing environment, the regulations become less effective or relevant for both the current and future, and furthermore, will only help to retard economic growth moving forward.

He agreed. (Although, he might just have wanted to get out of there).

Comscore/ForeSee State Of Online Banking 2010

I always look forward to seeing Comscore’s State of Online Banking report and ForeSee Results’ annual Online Financial Services study, both of which were released this week. Lots of good stats this year, here’s what caught my eye:

Decline in debit as preferred payment type. No surprise that credit was down. But according to Comscore, the percentage of respondents who said that debit was their preferred payment was down four points, while cash increased a couple of points.  I’d love to see the generation breakdown of this. I know boomers and seniors aren’t big debit users, but Xers and Yers are. Can’t imagine them increasingly using cash in lieu of debit — unless they’ve been overdrawing on their accounts, and getting more disciplined about their spending habits.

Big bank dissatisfaction may be overstated. ForeSee found that satisfied customers total 80% at the Top 5 banks, 82% at the 6th to 10h ranked banks as well as at community banks, and 84% at credit unions. For all the noise that credit unions (and the #MoveYourMoney folks) make about the big bad banks and consumers’ mistrust of them, the differences that ForeSee found is absolutely nothing for credit unions to write home about.

Wells Fargo’s satisfaction number is up. It’s not unusual to see satisfaction numbers decline at a bank going through a merger. Customers of the acquired bank are almost always less satisfied with their new bank than their old one. I think that help explains the decline in satisfaction that Comscore reports at Chase/WaMu and PNC/Nat City. But Wells Fargo, which is in the process of integrating Wachovia, saw an increase in customer satisfaction of a few percentage points. Two possible explanations: 1) Last year’s number really sucked, or 2) They’re doing a good job with the merger. I think it’s the latter.

Online banking satisfaction is higher than e-retail satisfaction. Forbes recently picked up on a competing analyst firm’s report that “the websites of the six largest U.S. banks all failed a recent user-friendliness test.” Forbes concluded that banks “haven’t figured out the nuts and bolts of a simple website.” How about we put this in some perspective? According to ForeSee, satisfaction with online banking scored an 81 (1oo point scale, not sure if that represents percent or some calculated score). The top 100 e-retailers however, received a lower score at 78. And not that I would expect good scores from the government or non-profit sectors, but their satisfaction scores were even lower. The point: Banks ain’t doing so bad when put into some context.

Customer contact preferences. According to the ForeSee report, “only 2% of online bankers prefer that their bank not reach out to them. The vast majority (65%) prefer emails.” I can see the email marketing vendors jumping all over this number. But I think ForeSee is taking some undue liberties here. The question they posed to respondents was “What is your preferred way of receiving communications from your bank about your account?” To my mind, that does not encompass marketing communications. And in that light, it makes me wonder why there are even 2% of customers that wouldn’t want their bank to communicate with them about their account.