Lego goes beyond marketing

What’s impressive about this Lego story is that it highlights how a company, a toy company, goes above and beyond to fulfill a wish. Does Lego score branding points, sure, but that wasn’t the purpose. They simply wanted to make a fan happy. And as a result they made the rest of us Lego fans happy too. Nice work Lego.

Why GM’s Randy Mott has it right

Ok I confess I am not a fan of GM. You know why? Because I owned a early 90’s Pontiac Grand Am – so there! That was about 20 years ago now and I still remember telling the service manager that I’ll never buy another GM. (still true)

But this post is not about old GM, it’s about today’s GM and their new CIO Randy Mott. Now I’ve never met Randy and probably never will but I will say he’s got it right. If you haven’t seen the recent news well here’s the quick jist of it. GM, under Randy’s watch, will reverse their current outsourcing strategy and bring most of the IT work back to GM staff. You can read the very long version here.

Put aside the difficulty of executing this strategy for a second and then ask yourself why the change? I believe that it fundamentally boils down to the fact that current vehicles are nothing without the software. If that sounds ridiculous or grandiose – it’s not. I stole that from Marc Andreessen who said the excate same thing about Apple and Jawbone in Wired. You can split hairs and say that Marc is mainly focusing on true tech companies and that’s clearly not GM.
Well guess what, GM IS a tech company – just like (surprise!) Caterpillar. Last week at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado, their Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman spoke about how important software is to them. He credits software for making the diesel engine more efficient, and that many of their 500 yearly patents come from software.

So is Randy Mott taking – as Chris Murphy states in the InformationWeek article – a  “high-risk strategy”? I’m sure Chris would agree that strategically this isn’t a large risk, it’s the logical conclusion of GM checking out the weather charts and having a “come to Jesus moment”.  The greater risk strategic is to do nothing at all. Innovation has lead to cars which are no longer purely mechanical creatures and with electric cars on the horizon,  it’s the software that has the ability to shift the competitive landscape.
Executing this strategy is however a maelstrom of risk. Conjuring up strategic vision is simple, anyone with a napkin and a pencil can come with a pie-in-the-sky plan. The hard, long, and tricky part is ALWAYS executing the strategy. I’m sure Randy will have a lot of 9 to 9 days in front of him and Mondays will really be a bitch, but if it works he’ll set GM up for the future.

Jawbone gets it right!

Kudos to Jawbone today! After numerous user complaints that their UP wristband suffered reliability issues, they have decided to make a wise branding move and offer refunds.  I’m sure it will hurt financially but it will benefit the integrity of the brand.

Here’s their letter to users.

The New Microsoft?

I’m keenly waiting on next week’s Build conference because I’m unsure about how excited to be about Windows 8. There’s pieces of Windows 8 that I think are total shit, like the Windows Explorer ribbon. Calling it is an “improvement” is rather generous since think the implementation results in a visual disaster. However, that fact that Explorer is being examined is a good sign- it means that maybe there’s been a serious look in the mirror.

Another positive appears to be Jupiter, though I’ll wait until more is known about it.

Today, Sinofsky explained the new boot implementation for Windows 8. To be honest, I initially thought Steven was just another out of touch and aloof management type whose sole focus was to sell, sell, sell and never actually listen. But now I’m beginning to change my opinion (maybe one day, we’ll hung it out).  I rather like this new boot/shut down approach. Personally, my only problem with boot/shut down was time. Team Sinofsky went further and took a look at the qualitative perceptive – kudos guys. First person research told them why users choose shut down and thus they were able to elicit a design constraint that I didn’t know existed/mattered. Now I can immediately can draw the parallel to the knock against plasma TV’s and their phantom power consumption and, in hindsight, it seems like a obvious concern.

So next week, I’ll be looking forward to Mary Jo’s reports and watching the videos. I don’t care to be there, but I’ll still be paying attention.

I’ve got a good feeling about next week but I don’t want to be disappointed.

The culture of Southwest at Detroit International Airport

So here’s a quick story.

I was going through Detroit International Airport last week and I happened to be down on Level 1 in the North Terminal by baggage claim 5 (I think). There’s a men’s bathroom that’s pretty of close to an escalator and that’s where I came across three offices all for lost baggage. Frontier, Southwest, and US Airways – in that order. It’s amazing how different the Southwest office looked, not because they had prettier stuff, but simply due to the effort that their staff had made. The windows where covered with fun “flare” while Frontier’s office simply had a sign that read “Only one customer at a time in the office”. And US Airways just looked like another bland grey office.

So kudos to Southwest because someone likes working there, which to me implies that if I were to lose my luggage then I would prefer to interact with the Southwest office culture and people. (Btw, I was flying Frontier).

Oh, and I expect that my MBA professor would be proud that I noted the difference.

Do I care about a Microsoft ecosystem unification?

Today, Mary Jo Foley, over at ZDNet asks (read for full context) if we, the developers, care if the future Microsoft ecosystem runs the same software core. That is, how important is it for us to develop once, run anyway in the MS ecosystem.

My first thought is that it’s not so hot right now, so anything closer to a unified core is better. Technically I guess Microsoft *could* make it worse, and that would simply frustrate developers, but mostly it would just hurt their business value.

Then I think well it also depends on how much effort is involved to adapt. Like she alludes too in the article, HTML5 is a good approach, and if the effort is small then unified or not, I don’t believe it’s a big deal either. For example, maybe Visual Studio 2012(?) could be smart enough to simply change the build target? (You can always hope right)

Also, if you are writing consumer retail apps then you probably care more about a unified core than some who is writing LOB’s for an external client. A LOB may contain only a handful of scenarios that users/corporations would care to run on every device. And at the end of the day we just do what we’ve always done and adjust the scope/cost and possibly approach, to reflect the level of difficulty in making these wishes happen.

Ultimately, I’m more concerned/curious/bothered by what Win8 will and won’t support. And how and what is happening with WPF, Silverlight, etc… and porting stuff to that new API set? Unification is a great target to shoot for but right now there’s bigger issues at hand. And who knows, maybe after the September Build conference all our developer dreams will be realized.  (Or we may all jump off a cliff)