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Letting Go

One of the hardest decisions anyone has to face is what to do about a loved one who is terminally ill. We may have the technology to keep them alive indefinitely, but eventually it becomes a quality of life issue. Sooner or later, no matter how much you’ll miss them, you just have to let them go. It’s the only humane thing to do.

staples stockThis is the decision that Staples’ investors are facing. The stock has lost over 30% of its value this year alone, and the future doesn’t look any better.

The End of Consumables
Staples says “make more happen” and that’s exactly what we are doing, but technology has changed forever the way in which we do that. It just stands to reason that you use less office supplies when you don’t work in an office, and today one in five Americans work from home. We no longer share things by printing them out, putting them in binders and passing them around with paper clips and sticky notes attached. Everything is done electronically. Even electronic consumables like floppy disks, CDs and magnetic tapes have all but vanished as storage has moved to the cloud.

Clicks beats Bricks
When we do need to buy things like memory cards and print cartridges, it’s just so much easier to buy them online from places like Amazon where we can get great prices, enormous selection, and delivery without the time and fuel expense of running out to the store. As a result, privately held office-supply, stationery and gift retailers operated with a net loss of 1.2% of sales in 2013. That just leaves services.

Closed Staples store in Alexandria, VA

Image courtesy redbricktown.com

A Flight to Services Fails
Staples has attempted to embrace the electronic revolution by making online software investments that leverage their retail store locations. For example, they offer same-day business cards. You design them using software on their website, then pick them up in the store four hours later.

One Man’s Story
How well does this work? I only know from my personal experience. Before lunch, I ordered some business cards. Even though they were guaranteed to be ready in 4 hours, that evening they were not done.

Around lunchtime the next day, I went to the store. Still not done. I asked them to call me when they were ready. By 4:00 PM, I still had not heard from them, so I called. I waited on the phone for a while and then they hung up on me.

I called back. They transferred me and put me on hold. I held and held and finally I got into my car and drove down there. I asked for the store manager and was directed to a register. I stood in line while he rang up the customer ahead of me. The customer paid and left. Then I handed the store manager the phone, which was still on hold.

I got a bunch of apologies. “No, sorry, your cards don’t seem to be here. No, I don’t know why. Do you have the order number? I don’t seem to be able to look it up on the computer.”

I looked up the number for them from my confirmation email and gave it to them. Nope, not done. They don’t know what happened. They’ll do it now. Can I come back and pick them up later?

This morning, 48-hours after ordering, I still don’t have the cards. I could have ordered them from Moo.Com and gotten some really nice cards delivered to me by now.

So yes, Staples investors, I know it’s sad and I know you’ll miss them, but it’s time to pull the plug on Staples. It’s the only humane thing to do.

Coming soon – “Amazing Tales of Product Management”

I’ve learned a lot about product management and product development over my last 30 years in marketing, and I’m always looking for ways to share that knowledge. I consult with clients and I teach classes for the American Management Association, and now I’ve come up with another way to pass along what I’ve learned: I am creating a video comic book series called “Amazing Tales of Product Management.”

This is the trailer for the project, which sets the tone. I hope you like it!

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Google Sells Motorola for what Looks Like a Loss but Probably Isn’t

Android Figurines (Credit: Dead Zebra)Google has announced that it is selling Motorola Mobility after owning the company for only a year and a half. Chinese technology company Lenovo, the 4th largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, bought it for $2.91 billion.

Lenovo is no stranger to buying technology brands and turning them around. In 2005, Lenovo bought IBM’s personal computer business and the ThinkPad brand as well as IBM’s global sales, support and manufacturing. In 2011 (the last year for which I have numbers) Lenovo was the number one supplier of computers in mainland China and the world’s number two supplier of personal computers.

Obviously this is a good deal for Lenovo, since Google paid $12.5 billion for the company in 2011. But was it a good deal for Google? It appears so.

Google’s primary motivation in buying Motorola was most likely the thousands of patents that Motorola owned as a long-time innovator in cellular technology (they built the first one in 1973). At the time of the acquisition, Apple’s competitive strategy was to sue everyone for patent infringement, doing to them in the courts what they were unable to do in the marketplace. Motorola’s stable of patents provided a strong defense, since Google could counter sue Apple anytime Apple came after them. And, of course, if Apple had acquired Motorola first, it would likely have been “game over” for Android.

Like every sophisticated business transaction, the price tag isn’t what it seems at first glance. Google sold off Motorola’s set-top box business for almost $2.5 billion, plus Google got to keep whatever cash was in Motorola’s bank account. And, since Motorola was posting a loss in the cell phone business, Google could use those substantial tax credits to offset their own profits. Tim Worsthall of the Adam Smith Institute wrote in Forbes that the whole deal might have cost Google only $1.5 billion.

Now it’s starting to look like a pretty good deal, especially when you consider that the patents don’t go with the Lenovo sale; just a license to use them. Google now has in Lenovo a powerful ally committed to the continued success of the Android operating system and dedicated to protecting Google’s intellectual property in the world’s largest market.

Disclaimer
I’m a technologist, not an accountant, and I have access to neither Google’s internal financials nor the inclination to read their public documents in detail, so these are all rough numbers. Still…

 

Happiness Goes Mainstream: The Mindful Revolution

The Mindful RevolutionFour years ago, I realized that I had discovered the secret to happiness (quite by accident) and I sat down to write a course to teach it to others. I thought that the subject could easily be covered in an afternoon or two, but by the time I was done with my outline, it was 18 weeks of material.

Of course, happiness, like any other human endeavor, can be taught to almost any depth. An interloper can pick up the key ideas in a few minutes, but as Goethe said, “God is in the details.” Americans, raised on soundbites and 2-minute YouTube videos, don’t really have the attention span for a class on happiness. They live, as T. S. Eliot described, “distracted from distraction by distraction”. Fortunately, the media is pouring into the breech. Time Magazine’s cover story this week is “The Mindful Revolution.” Happiness is going mainstream.

Assuming that you are in need of a quick “happiness fix,” I’ve put together the following list of 7 simple things you can do to become much happier:

1. Do Stuff for Others
Study after study has confirmed that doing stuff for other people makes you happier. It’s just that simple.

In one experiment, a group of students was given $5 and told to spend it on anything they wanted. Another group was told they had to spend it on someone else (like buying a latte for a stranger at Starbucks.) At the end of the experiment, the second group was much happier.

2. Do Stuff. Period.
Human beings were designed to move, not sit around at stare at glowing screens. Research confirms that physical activity not only keeps you healthier, it also makes you smarter and reduces the cognitive decline associated with aging. So get up, go outside, and walk around, throw a ball, and play with the dog or something.

3. Only Do One Thing at a Time
The ability to multi-task is largely a myth. Research proves that doing multiple things at once introduces errors and reduces your overall performance. But much worse than that, it makes you less happy.

“Flow” is a form of joy and happiness that occurs when we become so absorbed in an activity that we lose ourselves and time seems to stand still. It’s where we do our best work (or play). But flow takes time to get into; at least half an hour. And it can be destroyed completely by even a short interruption.

“Be here now” is great advice. Don’t squeeze in lunch with a friend and spend the whole time thinking about all the work you have to do when you get back to the office. When you are out with someone, turn your phone off. When you get back to work, focus on the task at hand and turn off the distractions. And certainly don’t drive and text. Your brain tricks you into thinking that you are attending to both tasks very well. But your brain hides other things from you too, like the fact that your eyes are completely closed every 7 seconds while you blink.

4. Be Grateful
Ben Tal Shahar, who taught Harvard’s wildly successful class on happiness for 10 years, recommends keeping a gratitude journal. Everyday, at a regular time, take a moment to reflect on the five things from today for which you are most grateful, and just write them down. Big things, little things, this cup of hot coffee; it doesn’t matter.

Want to kill two birds with one stone? Skip the writing, but before you go to bed at night, spend a couple of minutes with your special loved one and just tell each other what you are grateful for. This also meets the requirements for number 1 on this list, for a double bonus happiness score.

5. More Choice Doesn’t make you Happier
Spending too much time considering choices (which shirt to buy, where to go on vacation, even which jar or jam to buy) causes anxiety. And it makes you less happy AFTER the choice because you keep wondering if you made the right one. In a simple supermarket experiment, a display with 3 types of jam far outsold a display with 12 types of jam.

Decide what your minimum requirements are for an adequate solution, then make the first choice that delivers those requirements and STOP THINKING ABOUT IT. You’ve got a lot of other things to do today. In the long run, the extra 1 or 2 percent of optimization won’t matter. Better to spend that time where it can pay off.

6. Be a Part of Something
Human beings are social animals. That’s why we crowd into cities, why we build churches and country clubs, and why we like restaurants and bars (ever see the TV show “Cheers”?).

Being a part of something, be it a church or a chess club, keeps us grounded and makes us happier. In an ever-increasing and ephemeral world, it’s important to belong somewhere.

7. Get in Touch with your Inner Child
Kids are happy because they know how to play. They appreciate the power of foolishness. Blowing bubbles, having a Nerf battle, playing make believe, singing in the shower and just plain being silly on a regular basis will make you happier. Unfortunately, as we get older, we forget how fun it is to camp out in the backyard or build a fort from discarded Christmas trees.

I think this is part of the reason for the popularity of the maker movement, where people are designing and building and decorating their own stuff, from food to clothes to personal electronics. Not only do you get to be creative, but making things also engages you in “flow” (see number 3 above).

Footnote
My research into helping people find happiness in a world that would frankly rather eat them for lunch eventually led me to getting a master’s certificate in executive coaching. So now, rather than teaching a semester-long course on the topic, I work with individuals 50 minutes at a time through my company Farsyte. Maybe some day I’ll finish writing the course, but for now, I’m happy.

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Blueberry Pancakes for Two

Hot, fluffy pancakes make a wonderful weekend breakfast, but it’s such a production for just you and your friend. You wind up trashing the kitchen and throwing out a bunch of leftover batter.

This recipe is designed for two people. It makes just 6 pancakes and uses a single bowl.

Buy a basket of blueberries next time you are in the market and stick them in the freezer. This recipe uses them frozen, so you can conveniently make these pancakes any time at all.

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