Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Ferguson can teach us.

Nobody expects more from us then we do. 

NY Times Photo
This is the tagline for a company that launched in 1953 with $150k in starting capital and two locations. Today, Ferguson is ranked by trade publications as the largest wholesale distributor of residential and commercial plumbing supplies and pipe, valves and fittings in the United States.

It is based in Newport News, Virginia. It is approximately 900 miles from the unrest going on in Ferguson, MO, yet when I searched last night for Ferguson, there they were, right next to each other.

When I clicked on their web site, I came across their tagline and it caused me to wonder --

What can it teach us in relation to the other Ferguson, the one making headlines around the world?

If we expect more from ourselves than others do of us, what would that look like?


Sunday, November 23, 2014

There's nothing wrong with profit.

Recently an article in Bloomberg Businessweek was released in which I was interviewed relating my story and opinion geared toward my time at K12 and my personal experience with the Tennessee Virtual Academy.

I won't recount the article here, nor will I revisit some of the responses provided by K12 to the areas in which I was quoted (at least not for now).

What I do want to do though is to make it clear that I have nothing against companies earning profits -- even those working in the world of education. I do this because I have had numerous people reach out to me, and in the course of our conversations this topic continues to come up.

It is my opinion that K12 placed profits ahead of educating the kids, as I was quoted in the article. However, that does not mean I have anything against K12 earning a profit off of what they do and provide.

Recently I had breakfast with an educational entrepreneur and we were discussing for-profit companies and education -- can they mix? Is it right? etc.

She said to me, "Without margins their can be no mission."

While that is such a good point, it is however, not the point. The point in earning profits and putting profits ahead of educating students has everything to do with where you place your focus, your energy, your attention.

If you focus primarily on expanding your margins, then you must make decisions and sacrifices in order to increase them. If, on the other hand, you focus primarily on fulfilling your mission, you actually have the potential to, in turn, expand your margin.

It is not about profit vs education. It is instead about priorities. A for-profit company can exist in the world of education, serve a great purpose, and be a profitable company.

Ok, now I feel better about the article. Perhaps this provides a little more context to my quote.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What should Uber do?

An Uber executive is under investigation for allegedly floating the idea of hiring opposition researchers to dig up information on journalists who are overly critical of the rideshare service.

To no one's surprise, journalists and bloggers have pounced on the story (and now I am one of them I know), CNBC (along with other media) covered the story throughout the past few days, and even Minnesota Senator Al Franken has confronted Uber and requested the company re-evaluate its privacy policy.

So, what should Uber do?

1. Stay away from Twitter when apologizing. 

For some unknown reason, Twitter has become the default venue to issue an apology to the world. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick conducted a Twitter storm in order to attempt an apology, and ended with 13 Tweets. Apologizing in 144 characters or less per Tweet just doesn't add up to a most effective way to share your remorse and take responsibility.

Most companies have web sites -- issue your apology there.

His first Tweet -- "Emil's comments at the recent dinner party were terrible and do not represent the company." 

He then went on to issue another 12 Tweets in which he made multiple efforts to distance the company from Emil yet it took the 13th Tweet to apologize directly to the reporter that Emil was speaking about at dinner. However, no where else do I see an apology. It was really more of an effort to turn the talk to the positive side of Uber.

2. Apologize.

Kalanick should have said the following instead:

"Uber wants to apologize to @sarahcuda for the recent comments made by our executive Emil. We take full responsibility for his words and actions since he is an executive with Uber. We are deeply sorry for what he said, and more importantly, we are sorry he felt it was okay to say it in the first place. It is obvious we must work harder to instill in Emil the values we hold dear here at Uber. Also, we must ensure that each one of our employees and drivers understand the Uber way of business.

We also apologize to our customers because we understand this impacts you too. We value the trust you have placed in us and we will strengthen our resolve to restore, rebuild and further that trust you have in us. We have made a mistake and hope you will give us a chance to make up for it. We believe we should do the same for Emil, and hope you understand that we believe we can do more for Emil by keeping him at Uber than by simply letting him go.

We are undertaking two immediate steps in light of this. First, all of our employees and drivers will undergo further training to ensure they understand, agree with, and exude the true values we have here at Uber. We will report out once we have finished this first step publicly. Second, we are reaching out directly to Sarah in order to properly apologize to her in addition to our public one issued here. We will allow her to decide whether or not she would like to share it publicly, however we will not.

We are doing great things at Uber, and our hope is that we can learn from this mistake in order to build an even better Uber."

3. Be humble, be authentic, be vulnerable, and be consistent.

Kalanick needs to understand that the next few days, weeks and months will define the next few years for Uber.

Be humble -- take the beating that may come and understand it was self-inflicted.

Be authentic -- allow the public relations team to edit for grammar not for messaging. The message needs to originate from Kalanick and carry his voice.

Be vulnerable -- now is the time to be open and accessible, and it is okay to not have all the answers or solutions.

Be consistent -- each time you must maintain the humility, authenticity, and vulnerability, and only then can trust have a chance to be restored.

4. Did I mention to stay away from Twitter?


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Remember Netscape Navigator?

December 15, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Netscape Navigator, due to the efforts of Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark (the one I remember most though was Jim Barksdale who came aboard as CEO in 1995).

Navigator was the flagship product of Netscape Communications Corp, and was the dominant browser in the 1990s based on usage share. By 2002, it had all but disappeared, though we still owe a debt to it every time we utilize JavaScript.

In the late 90s Netscape was purchased by AOL for close to $10 billion. Then, it was included in the acquisition of AOL by TimeWarner at the turn of the 21st Century. On July 15, 2003 TimeWarner disbanded Netscape laying off most of the programmers and even removing the Netscape logo from the building.

In 2007, Netscape Navigator was considered the "best tech product of all time" by PC World due to its impact on the Internet.

And now, twenty years later we are reminded of how forward-thinking Netscape was by simply reading what was published in MacWorld in 1995:

Netscape Communications wants you to forget all the highway metaphors you've ever heard about the Internet. Instead, think about an encyclopedia—one with unlimited, graphically rich pages, connections to E-mail and files, and access to Internet newsgroups and online shopping.
Netscape NavigatorMacworld (May 1995)[11]
             Quote source: Wikipedia

Thanks Netscape. I still recall the early days of the Internet opening the Navigator browser with fond memories.

How about you? Did you ever use Netscape?


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Moe's Southwest Grill - Pavlovian conditioning leads to greater tips.

Moe's Southwest Grill is a Mexican cuisine restaurant that allows you to walk down the buffet-style line and have them prepare your meal for you. Their food is fresh, the servings are large, and the taste is good.

What fascinates me though is the use of peer pressure in order to increase the tips they receive. You see, their servers never leave their space behind the counter, yet they work hard to prepare your meal the way you want it. So, as you make your way toward the register, you continually hear this little bell each time a customer pays -- or, at least you should if you want to be part of the tribe.

You see, each time a customer leaves a tip, the person at the register rings the bell and all the employees yell out a robust "thank you" for the tip.

Talk about peer pressure -- would you want to be the next in line and not leave a tip? It's a classic case of the Pavlovian effect of conditioning. And while I have not been able to determine the exact rate at which customers leave tips, the tip jar is always full.

Next time you eat at Moe's, pay attention to how many times the bell rings. Then, look at the tip jar in the next Subway you go into and notice the difference.

The cost of the bell? Probably $1. The return on investment? Priceless.


Monday, November 10, 2014

#iNACOL14 Recap

Palm Springs -- absolutely beautiful. Even the airport was beautiful.

Renaissance Hotel -- great service, excellent rooms, and overall well done. (do not believe that was a UFO out the window)

As for iNACOL itself, there were two comments that seemed to be prevalent from the attendees I spoke to:

"I wish there were more in-depth sessions. The ones I attended have been to surface-level."

"Too many sessions overall. It felt like session overload."

I personally would agree with the first quote - at least the ones I attended, but not sure about the second one. I can understand from the iNACOL perspective that they were probably trying to cover as many bases as possible by offering a wide array of sessions.

Several of the marketing-based sessions I attended were definitely a Marketing 101 perspective. I just happened to disagree with much of what they were saying because I believe the marketing of the virtual or blended programs leads to much of the retention issues that occur. And, these marketing sessions appeared to continue down the thread of simply looking at demographics to find new students.

Yet, when I asked about their attrition rate year-over-year, it hovered in the 50-60% range.

And, for those who happened to have attended this session, please understand: a logo is not your brand. Just having a pretty logo will not bring people to your school.

Some of the better sessions I attended were the ones where the presenters said "this is what we are trying to do" instead of "look at us and what we are doing." 

More people seem to have questions than answers.

Buzz words for the next several years: blended, adaptive, competency-based, disruptive.

Everyone is trying hard to wrap their heads around blended and develop a consistent definition of what blended learning should look like. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next several years.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014


The 2014 iNACOL Symposium here in Palm Springs has hundreds of talks and breakout sessions going on now through Friday. There are some fascinating discussions going on, and we even had Sal Khan of Khan Academy cast a big vision in regards to Khan Academy.

Blended, virtual, online, adaptive, competency-based, LMS, OLS, integrated, flipped, disruptive -- each one a thread pouring through the sessions with technology as the centerpiece.

And while I did not catch the young lady's name this morning in the opening session, it was interesting what she had to say. She was an online school teacher, on the panel with the other speakers, and the microphone was passed to her for a response to a question related to her experience, and she said:

"I realized that I was not of much value, that I was more spending my time on just guiding instead of teaching."

Hopefully, technology has an answer for that too.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Is blended learning the answer?

iNACOL Symposium 2014 begins tomorrow and the schedule appears to be heavy-laden with sessions around the concept of blended learning -- part-time classroom, part-time online (though it actually has multiple definitions and variations).

It appears to be taking the reigns from virtual with projections stating that 50% of all high school courses will be delivered online by 2019.

Is blended learning the answer?