I recently finished reading the book Velocity, by Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander and found it to be a really great, quick read so I thought I’d share some of what I learned from it here.
The book lays out “seven new laws for businesses and individuals in a world that is dominated by rapid change and digital technology” and its authors bring an interesting blend of experience to the project. Ahmed is the founder of AKQA, one of the largest digital agencies in the world, and Olander is the VP of Digital Sport for Nike (which sounds like an insanely cool job by the way).
Here’s what most stuck with me in the book:
In a chapter about how technology can quickly destroy companies that previously dominated an industry by changing the game, Olander explained how companies such as Borders failed to understand what was most valuable to their business – outsourcing their digital transactions to Amazon because it seemed like a distraction back in 2001.
“In giving up the online piece they gave up the one thing that really matters: consumer connection. Every transaction on Amazon’s platform was a data point they instead analyzed, refined, and used to return more value to the consumer. The Amazon experience evolved to provide more choice and convenience than any traditional Borders’ retail experience. Ultimately Borders had no way of competing at this level of personalized service.”
Olander goes on to explain just how important technology now is – even to companies that don’t think of themselves in that way.
“Not everyone should strive to become a tech company, but every company should strive to become a technology-proficient organization, with infrastructure and competencies to manage consumer connections.”
In that same chapter, Ahmed explains why so many established organizations struggle to adapt to new technologies.
“One of the reasons why it’s a struggle for an established organization to innovate is because the existing team already has its hands full doing the current job. Big organizations are usually built for efficiency, not for innovation. There’s a core business to keep running, so every task becomes predictable and repeatable.
In many respects, innovation is seen as the opposite of efficiency because it is not routine and has unpredictable outcomes. This can create an environment in which there is no investment into future revenue streams because of the short-term impact on margins. As a result, the established business becomes resistant to innovation because it feels threatened by it, creating forces that actively discourage new thinking.”
Later in the book, the authors look at the role of data and the importance of adjusting your product or service based on how you see customers actually using it. Or, as they more succinctly stated, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.”
Along those lines, here’s how they describe what happens when gaming company Zynga releases a new game:
“At Zynga, every time a new feature is introduced, it’s like mission control when NASA was launching a shuttle. The team watches in real time exactly how people are playing, where they spend time, and then continuously tweak the experience to perfect it and make it more addictive to satisfy the users.”
The book also has a chapter titled “The Best Advertising Isn’t Advertising,” which rips the modern advertising business and the media’s reliance on it. Notably, it points out that a great line from The Social Network – “You have part of my attention. You have the minimum amount.” – perfectly sums up the voice of an entire generation when it comes to advertising.
I’m definitely skeptical (at best) of the value of traditional advertising, but even I found this statistic eye-opening: “The average person in London is exposed to over 3,500 marketing messages in a day.”
And here’s a quote from Jeff Bezos that further hammers home the point: “Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.” Ouch.
In a chapter titled “No Good Joke Survives A Committee of Six,” the authors make another compelling case for the dangers of trying to make decisions based on a consensus, pointing out that, “Achieving the goal of consensus from the team is very different from the goal of making the right decision.”
Here’s a great little story from that chapter:
“Author and branding guru Wally Olins tells a story about the time he was working for a big pharmaceuticals company. In front of the board of directors, he pulled out five corporate mission statements from five different drugs firms.
He challenged the directors to pick their own firm’s statement out of the batch. And they couldn’t do it. Firstly, the mission statements all sounded pretty much the same. Secondly, their own ‘official core values’ had simply been out of sight, out of mind, for too long to be remembered easily.”
Finally, the book wraps up with an explanation of why it’s important for individuals or companies to “have a purpose larger than yourself.” This chapter included an interesting way of looking at the relationship between a company and its customers:
“The single biggest opportunity today is that buying a product or service marks the beginning of the consumer relationship. Rather than the old ‘awareness, interest, desire, action’ model that relied on perpetual investments in marketing to draw consumers back over and over, we can now enrich almost any product or service and make it a meaningful experience.
If a consumer wishes to share their information with us we can create individually tailored experiences. The more consumers interact with a company, the more value it can return.”
Ahmed summed up this concept beautifully: “The brand becomes an operating system instead of a manufacturer.”
PS – If you’d like to see what I learned from another great book, check out Start With Why.