Microsoft, Network, Product Mgmt

Breathing Your Own Exhaust

31 Mar , 2008  

Hello_kitty_exhaust_pipeOne thing that happens to everyone at one time or another is when you become so engrossed inyour own world view, you start to believe everyone else thinks the way youdo, or if they don’t, your spin will fool them. Doesn’t matter whether you’rebig like Cisco and Microsoft, or the latest startup on the block with a newmouse trap. You hear phrases like "he believes too much of his ownpress" (I’m sure that’s been said about me more than once, lol) or"they’ve been breathing their own exhaust too long."  I blogged aboutwhat could be one such case of this, Microsoft’s self makeover to be perceived as "open sourcefriendly". Another example is Microsoft claiming it supports Linux in Hyper-V, but only if it’s Novell’s SUSE Linux.

I’m a big believer in ideas like enrollment, passion and engagement, and toachieve these you have to believe in what you, your product and your company aredoing. Doesn’t matter if you are the press spokesperson or the person answeringthe customer service phone — everyone else can pretty easily tell if you areenrolled in what you are doing, or it’s more a matter of your going through themotions.

But that same passion and engagement can also create a blindness, especiallyin entrepreneurial environment where passion, ideas and commitment runs high.It’s easy to build a wall around yourself or your company, focusing just onwhat’s happening inside your product, the product development efforts, or eventhe geographical market area where you are physically located. My very goodfriend AlanShimel used to frequently tell me "you need to get out of Boulder moreoften", not because Boulder isn’t a good town (check out Brad Feld’s blogpost about Twenty-Five Square Miles Surround By Reality), but to reallyunderstand the industry, competition, customers and the market.

I recently blogged about (tangentially as it relates to partnering) the bubbleeffect that can happen in a startup company. It is very easy to become soengrossed in what you are doing, crafting your marketing messages, Belly_button_smbuilding theproduct, training the sales force in the ways you want them to sell, that youforget there are other people out there. Companies may claim to already do whatyou do, cover the same supposed differentiators, or have already beat you to thepunch but you just don’t know it yet. I call this inward looking focus, "staringat your own bellybuttons."

There are many things I’ve found helpful to me to try and avoid this. In aleadership role you probably have more opportunity to take advantage of thesebut I believe in any of our roles you can find a way, or even ask to participate inthese kinds of activities. Here are a few ideas.

1. Never turn down an opportunity to talk to a customer. Doesn’t matter ifthey are a sales prospect, an unhappy customer who wants to scream at you, orone that’s nicely tucked in and happy. If you have a chance to talk with or meetwith a customer, always, always do it.

2. Support your company’s trade shows and marketing events. I learn more about the industry atmany of the trade shows I attend than I probably do by reading about companiesand the industry online. Even if you aren’t one of the marketing dudes or dudets who normally cover these events, ask to go and help out. Stop by everyone’s booth, introduce yourself, listen totheir pitch, ask questions and learn. It’s so invaluable.

3. Be well read. Read everything you can get your hands on. I get between 30and 60 Google alerts each day. That’s in addition to all the email and blogreading I do. I don’t read them all, just the ones that really catch myinterest, are newsworthy, are something new, or are on a topic I follow. Readblogs, news sites and portals.

4. Inject what you’ve learned.  Share it in meetings, on calls, in productdiscussions, in planning discussions, with customers, etc. Bring thatinformation to everyone. Forward relevant info (but don’t spam) to others inyour company. Add your comments/insights up front so they know whether thearticle is worth the read or the value is in your insights.

5. Talk to every company, not just the ones you like. Go talk to yourcompetitors. You might find out they could actually be your partner. Or, theymay still be your competitor. But go meet them. As Alan also told me many times,"stay close to your friends, and even closer to your enemies."

These ideas are pretty basic and simple, and while they might not shake upthe world, they could redefine how you view your own business.

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