Not every picture tells the story

Just before the weekend there was a @WEF tweet that pointed to a post on the World Economic Forum blog. The article, which is quite interesting (at least for a tech guy like me,) explores how the internet looked like in 1973. In these early days, the entire net consisted of just 45 computers and could be mapped out on the back of a napkin.

But what struck me most when I saw this tweet passing by, was the contradicting information in the twitter message and the image attached to it. The picture shows a Macintosh, a Macintosh Plus, and a Macintosh SE. As I was working with Apple Computer during the second half of the eighties, I know for sure that the latter was only launched in 1987, and so there’s a fourteen year lag between the hardware shown and the 1973 internet of the WEF post…

Whether used in a tweet, an article, or a PowerPoint presentation, such a discrepancy between the text and the image creates a conflicting situation in the reader’s or listener’s brain. This doesn’t mean that one should systematically duplicate the content in the visual and textual or auditory messages he’s delivering. As I wrote in one of my older posts, “What you say and what you show,” an image can help you present your message simple and sweet, and make what you show complementary to what you say.

And, while writing the above, I started thinking of what alternative image I would have used instead of the Macs. Mmmmm, forty-five years ago, the internet was probably not that very visually exciting. Therefore, I was thinking of showing a more compelling picture (or even a piece of video.) And, well, a quick Google search taught me that the UK singles top-50 of 8 December 1973 was topped by Slade with “Merry Xmas Everybody.”

If that isn’t a nostalgic piece of seventies eye – and even ear – candy! And it gives a good message for this time of year too. Happy holiday season, dear readers.

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Marketing, promises, and real products

How creative can (or may) a company get with making marketing promises?

You may have read this article about how a small Chinese smartphone vendor failed in delivering on its marketing promises. The world’s smallest 4G Android smartphone was announced to have a battery life of three days, and to weigh as little as 60 grams. Unfortunately, some of the promising specs turned out to be no more than marketing talk. In a BBC interview, the company’s CEO admitted that the handset’s performance might “fall short of expectations in certain circumstances” and that “heavy use” could reduce the 950mAh (!) battery’s life to three or four hours instead of days. To be noted that the exec’s definition of heavy use includes keeping Wi-Fi and Bluetooth switched on all the time. Say no more. Who of us still bothers about turning off these functions when not in use? The phone’s declared weight was about right – the only detail that the marketing department forgot to mention is that that’s without the battery…

Of course, as I wrote in one of my older poststhere’s no single truth. When it comes to product specifications and performance numbers, however, the variation and interpretation margins are extremely small. The primary aim of any marketing professional is to make a product look attractive and useful, and persuade potential buyers. But persuasion is never about telling lies, cheating or fooling your customers!

Read the original article and the BBC interview:

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The legacy of Steve Jobs

I just finished watching Apple’s “Let us loop you in” live stream.  A near-anticlimactic event without any spectacular new product announcements – but rather new features on, and different colors and sizes of the Cupertino company’s smartphones, tablets and watches (and wristbands.)

There were also no surprises in terms of the CEO’s presentation style. Tim Cook has never been able to reach the speaking heights of Steve Jobs, even though he keeps delivering a consistently good speaking job.

Tim_Cook

As Carmine Gallo observes in one of his Forbes articles, Cook has skillfully taken over the techniques of his famous predecessor to introduce new products. His presentations are also rich on photographs and images. And, even when Cook talks more statistics, his slides only have one number on it —the number he wants his audience to remember.

What is probably more remarkable than Tim Cook giving a Steve Jobs-like talk, is that nowadays almost any device manufacturer or software developer is trying to mimic Jobs’ presentation style and templates.

In some of my presentation skills workshops, I’m showing Bill Gates’ infamous slide that he used for  introducing Microsoft Silverlight. It’s a self-explanatory example on how overcrowded visuals may blur the message and overshadow the speaker.

gates

But, in preparation of writing this blog post, I watched some recent product announcements by some of Apple’s direct competitors: Samsung, LG and Huawei. Look at the video captures below. Sometimes it’s even hard to identify their visuals as not being created by an Apple designer. All of them have rigorously adopted Steve Jobs’ principles: focus, design and simplicity.

Samsung

LG

Huawei

The only advice they all might have missed is Jobs’ “Think different” – and in this case, probably, “Use different visuals” too…

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Quotes that aren’t quotes

Sometimes a well-chosen quote may help to catch the attention of (or provoke or challenge) the people listening to your presentation. As some readers may remember from my “wise men say” post, I have repeatedly used this technique to open or broaden a conversation with a professional audience.

Lately, I was preparing a slide deck about business transformation, and the first words that came to my mind were Charles Darwin’s:

quote_Darwin

At least, I assumed that they were coming from the 19th century naturalist. Because, to my surprise ― while Googling for the exact passage ― I came across several web sites (e.g. quoteinvestigator.com) that claim there is no evidence that Mr. Darwin actually said or wrote such statement.

Incidentally, this was not the first time that I (almost) fell into the traps of fake quotes, misquotes, or misleading attributions. In my blog post about “the incredible lightness of numbers” I referred to a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, saying that:

quote_Churchill

Also here, it turned out that Sir Winston never made such statement at all. The above sentence is a product of Nazi propaganda that managed to survive the fall of the Third Reich by more than seven decades.

If you are looking for an alternative citation about the (mis)use of statistical information, I also strongly advice you not to use Mark Twain’s one either.

quote_Twain

These words are indeed often attributed to the man who created Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It’s a true fact that Twain popularized the saying, but in his autobiography he denies having invented it, and claims that British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli was the originator. But even this claim could be a misattribution too….

Let me finish today’s article with a positive and quotable note (or rather a notable quote). Instead of putting Charles’s Darwin’s (in)famous words on my business transformation slide, I Googled a Hindu proverb that says about the same about change, and I ended up my presentation in an even more memorable way…

quote_Monkey

I’m sure some of you will start including this wisdom in your future presentations too.

Sometimes graphs are not more than pretty lines

Two weeks ago I published a blog post, “Moore’s law… and beyond,” about a presentation in which I used Moore’s Law, Metcalfe’s Law and the Chasm Theory to characterize the transition from a technology driven business to a value driven business.

With a bit of creative chartsmithing, I combined the graphs of these 3 famous industry laws into one, and by visually cheating with axes, scales, and representations I came to the observation that the chasm is actually the point where the transition from a technology driven business to a value driven business needs to take place.

Besides some positive comments on LinkedIn and a bunch of likes on Facebook ― my post was even republished by the World Economic Forum ―  I also received these critical remarks:

“Combining these graphs is actually ridiculous and leads to invalid deductions. Your conclusions are unsupportable because there is no data being presented.”

and

“Graphs without meaningful units, operationalized axes, and statistical analyses are just pretty lines.”

Both commentators were of course absolutely right. But the presentation I reported on in my article had never been meant to introduce a new, mathematically correct forecasting model. Its only aim was to deliver a message about creating market growth through user orientation. The medium is the message. And this medium worked very well for me. Remember that the title on top of this blog page is “B2B storytelling”. And that’s exactly what I tried to do when I joined the three graphs into one…

One more excellent reaction to the allegations above came from another LinkedIn reader:

“Letters are also just pretty lines, but the order in which they are put gives them context and turns them into words with meaning. Quit being so literal and enjoy the graph within the context of an accompanying article and as a way to illustrate something interesting.”

The online conversation about my blog post probably reveals a more fundamental discussion: when we create and deliver a presentation, should we stick to the hard facts and figures, or is a presenter allowed to “filter”, “frame” or “massage” certain data?

Here’s my opinion. First of all, you should never, never lie to your audience or present them with facts and figures when you definitely know they are incorrect. There is nothing wrong, however, with omitting unnecessary details, or framing the content to better align with the message you’re trying to convey.

A good example of this is the use of (financial or industry) analyst data in your slides. Although most of these analyst guys are to be considered trustworthy sources, in my blog post about “the incredible lightness of numbers” I illustrated that the figures they give may sometimes vary by a large factor. Of course, as a presenter, you’re allowed to quote only the sources that ― depending on what you want to show or prove ― mention the smallest of the largest numbers.

As a presenter you can also influence the audience’s perception of objective data. The case (by Garr Reynolds) I have outlined in my post “the duck and the rabbit” shows how a table may be (mis)used as an alternative to a bar chart to display hard numbers in a less dramatic or emotional way.

And, finally, sometimes you may assume that a theory or statement is true, until somebody proves you it’s not. Take the anecdote of the 17th-century Dutch painting “View of Scheveningen Sands,” created by Hendrick van Anthonissen.

whale_painting

Until recently, the whole world assumed that the people on the painting were actually staring at a deserted seascape… until the restoration of the artwork revealed a beached whale on the beach!

Moore’s law… and beyond

Earlier this year, the world (or maybe rather a few tech-savvy geeks like me) celebrated the 50th birthday of Moore’s Law.

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted that transistor density (and thus the performance) of microprocessors would double each 2 years. Take for example today’s iPhone 6, which is 3.5 times faster than the iPhone 1 while its price is 30% less than the first generation 7 years ago. Moore’s Law has been used as a stable basis for forecasting technology evolution in the ICT industry for the past 5 decades.

Reading a few articles about this special anniversary reminded me of a conference presentation I gave (also) many years ago, in which I explored the thin line between “nice to have” and “need to have” technology.

Starting with a picture of Moore’s Law, and with the help of two other famous industry laws, a bit of visual thinking, a healthy dose of abstraction and some creative chartsmithing, I developed the following storyline…

moore_curve

Note that, although “doubling each 2 years” suggests a parabola-shaped curve, Moore’s growth function is almost always represented a straight line ― complemented by an exponential scale on the Y-axis.

Several years after Gordon Moore’s famous observation, another ICT pioneer, 3Com co-founder Bob Metcalfe, stated that the value of a network grows as the square of the number of network nodes (or devices, or applications, or users, …) while the costs follow a more or less linear function. Take for example a wireless network: if you have only 2 subscribers with a mobile phone, they’re only able to make calls to each other. If you have millions of subscribers however…

metcalfe_curve

Metcalfe’s Law is about network growth, customer acquisition, and value creation, rather than about technology evolution. The combination of Moore’s and Metcalfe’s laws explains the rise of information technology and the growth of the Internet as we know it today.

As the next step in my presentation flow, I introduced my audience to the technology adoption lifecycle, and more specifically to the “chasm theory” that was developed by another Mr Moore. In his book “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers,” management consultant Geoffrey A. Moore talks about the gap between the take up of new technology by early enthusiasts and the mainstream market.

adoption_curve

And finally, in an unprecedented apotheosis, by combining the three preceding charts and by ― I have to admit ― visually cheating with axes, scales, and representations I came to the observation that the chasm is actually the point where the transition from a technology driven business to a value driven business needs to take place ― and if this doesn’t happen, that any new product or technology introduction is doomed to fail.

combined_curve

That’s a nice conclusion, which ― just like Moore’s Law ― still holds today, isn’t it?

You may view my original presentation on SlideShare. Please note that the deck dates from 2002, and that the market, my company, and the technology and product related content obviously have evolved since then.

Mastering the mean telephone machine

In last week’s guest post, my son Robin let us discover the art of abstraction. Using the microwave oven and the smartphone as examples, he wrote about the benefits of making a clear separation between the internal mechanics and the external interface of an apparatus.

But even when appropriate abstraction is made to hide implementations detail from end-users, understanding and utilizing new machinery may be a challenging experience for many people. Technology marketers shouldn’t underestimate the intellectual capabilities of their customers, but they shouldn’t overestimate them either. While engineers and experts may consider a concept or a product simple, the average Jane or Joe may find it hard to understand or to handle. Even the fact that most of today’s articles are shipped with a (often too comprehensive) user guide, does not mean that consumers will actually read the handbook, follow the instructions, and remember them for future occasions.

Recently I stumbled upon a beginner’s guide to telephone use, dated 1917. Of course, for a 21st century digital native it’s child’s play to use a mobile phone (though I wonder if some of today’s kids would still know how to use a plain old wired black telephone set with a rotary dial…) but put yourself in the shoes of an early twentieth century low educated US citizen. Maybe for him or for her that new telephony service wasn’t that straightforward at all. I’m sure he or she has appreciated the sweet and simple stories shown on the images below.

telephone_talk

So, long live abstraction! Long live simplicity! And long live user-focused products, with easy understandable user manuals.

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The knight on the plane

Last week I was flying with Air Malta, the airline operator of the Mediterranean islands with the same name.

Air_Malta

Malta has a rich and colorful history. From 1530 to 1798, for almost three centuries, the islands were ruled by the Knights Hospitaller of St. John, a.k.a the Knights of Malta, who transformed it into a center of art and culture.

In today’s post, I want to share Air Malta’s inflight safety movie with you. The message it gives, and even the spoken narrative, is the same one that I have heard hundreds of times before. On other flights. To other destinations. With other airlines. But the way the safety instructions were presented caught my attention.

Such a great example of brand storytelling, capitalizing on the beautiful Maltese Islands’ rich history and their famous Knights!

What if?


Following yesterday’s horrific events in Paris, I dedicate this blog post to all cartoonists in the world.

charlie


How does one present a high-technical product portfolio to a non-technical audience?

The company I work for, Alcatel-Lucent,  recently organized an open day and I was asked to present my employer, our activities and our products. These were a few of the challenges I was confronted with:

  • We are an IP networking, cloud and ultrabroadband access specialist. Most of the solutions we develop and sell are complex and high-tech in nature;
  • We deliver communications technology to service providers, industries and public institutions. As such, our products (and consequently our brand) are not really visible to end-users and consumers;
  • The presentation was to be given to a broad, local audience of all ages. Most of these people are not familiar with any network gear, related jargon and acronyms;
  • With a guided tour of the venue scheduled each 10 minutes, the time budget to present our rather extensive portfolio was very limited;
  • I had given a similar talk during a past edition of the same event. As part of the audience might have attended that one, I had to craft a brand new pitch.

As reported in an old blog post of mine, “Highway 61 revisited”, this previous presentation was built upon the theme of a jamless (information) highway. At that time, I got lots of positive feedback from the management as well as from the audience: “an original and compelling corporate narrative”, “my parents understood your presentation” and “my kids thought you told a cool story.”

So, how could I be successful (again) with without retelling the same story or reusing the same highway metaphor?

What if?” is a bestselling science book by former NASA employee Randall Munroe (who is also the creator of the popular xkcd web-comic) in which serious answers are given to absurd hypothetical questions such as: “What if you tried to hit a baseball that was moving at 90% of the speed of light?, “What if I took a swim in a nuclear fuel pool?” or “What if a Richter magnitude earthquake were to hit New York City?”

There’s also a popular Emmy-awarded comedy show broadcasted on Belgian television, in which every sketch begins with a “what if?” question. What if Jesus was a politician? What if taxi drivers didn’t like driving? What if life was an R&B clip? …

This is why I proposed to build a company pitch around the theme of “What if there was no communication technology?” and illustrate the possible consequences of this unlikely assumption with a series of cartoons (created by the cartoonist about whom I already wrote in my “Mr. Watson, come here!” post).

Here are the visuals we presented (with a transcript of what was said ― sorry for the promotional tone, but it was a company presentation after all…)

What if you wouldn’t have fast internet access at work or in your home? No digital TV to watch your favorite movies? No wireless network to make calls and surf on your smartphone? No access anymore to email, FaceBook, YouTube, NetFlix, Dropbox, Skype or WhatsApp?

Slide1

As a worldwide leader in communication technology, Alcatel-Lucent provides products and innovations in IP and cloud networking, as well as ultra-broadband fixed and wireless access to service providers and their customers, that allow and enable all these applications ― and many more ― to function properly. Our people contribute to the telecom solutions for today and tomorrow.

Did you know that our company has been recognized by Thomson Reuters as a “Top 100 Global Innovator” and MIT Technology Review put us in the “Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World”?

Slide2

We can’t imagine a world without broadband internet any more. To search for information, to communicate, to shop … or just to watch a movie on digital TV, Netflix or YouTube.

Alcatel-Lucent enables service providers to offer fast internet and to bring digital video at the highest quality in your living rooms. You can browse the web or watch movies on every screen: TV, tablet or smartphone.

Did you know that ADSL (or fast Internet over telephone wire) was invented by Alcatel-Lucent in Belgium? And that we, as a technology company, received an Emmy Award for our contribution to the development of digital TV?

Slide3

Internet is everywhere. So we think it’s only normal that we can call anywhere mobile and can surf at high speed in the park, in the station, in the car …

Alcatel- Lucent’s 4G wireless networks and Small Cells offer ultra-broadband access to the mobile internet whenever and wherever you want. To find your way around town, to watch YouTube on the bus, or simply to communicate with your family and friends.

Slide4

Most of you probably own a Facebook or a Twitter account. Or maybe you are an occasional or frequent Skype, YouTube or WhatsApp user. Did you ever wonder how it’s possible that all these apps (most of the time) run smoothly on your PC, smartphone or tablet?

Obviously there is an important role for the Apples, Samsungs, Microsofts and Googles of this world to play, as well as for their respective application developers. But it’s too often forgotten that the network also plays an important role.

Without Alcatel-Lucent ‘s communication technology, your smartphone suddenly wouldn’t be that smart anymore and all these popular apps would sit idle on your devices, not able to talk with their servers or with each other.

Slide5

Increasingly often you hear colleagues and friends say that they are “in the cloud”. Do they mean that they are living with their heads in the clouds? Certainly not! Cloud simply means that your emails, music, movies, business documents or applications are stored on a server that’s attached to the network. As such, they are always accessible. You can throw away your hard disk drives and servers, because a fast Internet connection is all you need!

At Alcatel-Lucent, we know that cloud computing is an opportunity for service providers and enterprises, and that a secure and high-speed access is important for end-users. That’s why we are investing in research and development of new technologies and products ― such as Software Defined Networks, Network Function Virtualization and CloudBand ― for faster, more robust and more flexible cloud solutions.

Slide6

So, the Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. What would you do without? At school, at work and in your spare time. Imagine a day without the world wide web, no email, no Facebook, no YouTube, NetFlix, Skype, Snapchat or WhatsApp …

Did you know that 90% of the information that we use today was collected in the past 2 years? And that the traffic in that period increased by one-third?  With a PC in our living room, a tablet on your lap and/or a cell phone in your pocket, we are all travelers on the information highway.

To make your trip as comfortable as possible, Alcatel-Lucent keeps investing in the evolution  of broadband and IP networks. In transporting data over fiber, in routing and switching, in wireline and wireless internet, and in cloud platforms to offer voice, video and multimedia communications services. At high speed and with the best quality of service.

All our employees are giving the best of ourselves to invent new products, and to develop and commercialize communications solutions to make your internet faster, safer and more comfortable. Day after day.

Days after I created the presentation, I found out that Nissan is also running a “What if” advertising campaign.

Note: the cartoons above were created for and paid by my employer. If you want to reuse some of them for non-commercial purposes, you must acknowledge Alcatel-Lucent as the source and copyright owner of the image(s) ― which I am also doing by writing this sentence.

What are words worth?

Recently, I ran into the mission statement below. Do you have any idea what firm might have formulated this ambitious vision?  Which company would write (or as will become clear in the next paragraph, rather wrote) such big words?

mission_statement

It may come to you as a complete surprise, but – ironically enough – the mission statement above was owned by… Lehman Brothers. The financial services firm that collapsed in September 2008 and triggered a superior, unprecedented, global financial crisis. Their bold mission statement remains, the rest is history…

Actually, you may try any mission statement generator on the web (such as the one here) and I can assure you that its output may be as good as the text created by Lehman’s communication agency – for which they probably paid thousands of dollars.

Here’s a simple lesson. Stay away from buzz words, hollow phrases and meaningless statements. Tell the people what you really stand for. What you do. The value you deliver. Let your customers speak for you. Talk your walk. Walk your talk. And walk your walk.

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