Revolution – It’s The Only Way

Yes that email caused the recipient to click on the link and sign up – but how many more emails did they receive first? How many times did they abandon the shopping cart’? How many times did they visit the Facebook page? Over what period? Did they see the ad you have been running in the middle of Big Bang? Do we know if it influenced their propensity to buy – or even yet their final decision? You get the picture. You know where I am going ….

Image Credit: Eric Tiesedre

The Bigger Question Is Why Do We Care?

I don’t. ‘Channel Attribution’ is a necessary fall out from departments (silos) needing to justify their budgets and on occasions, their existence and not to understand where efficiencies in the funnel can be improved but rather for the managers to ensure that they keep growing their budget. OK – as an Ozzy friend of mine would have it ..

“Harsh. But Fair.”

But, when you think about it, for the longest time we have known how data can be manipulated, which leads to such pithy lines as

“A politician uses statistics much as a drunk uses a Lamp Post more for support than illumination.”

  1. E. Housman, 1903

… and in over 100 years that hasn’t changed. In fact it’s got worse! Particularly with the advent of the surplus of data put in the hands of people who do not understand Mathematics or Statistics. And then interpreted by an evermore ignorant audience. For example, did you know that …

‘the less chicken we consume in America – the less oil will be imported’

I kid you not

Ok, it’s a ‘satirical’ site, but like all good satire, firmly based on truth. And one of those truths is that …

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair, 1934, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

… I’m looking at you marketing people!

I Say We Want A Revolution

(with apologies to the Beatles).

Image Credit: Ernie Hancock

It’s 2017. Fifty years since the ‘Summer of Love’. We need another revolution. A revolution in thinking. Merging silos and/or better communication between silos are flawed concepts. I spent part of my life running a boutique consulting organization that serviced the Fortune 500. We had an unofficial tag line …

Helping you avoid solving the wrong problem really well.

That’s what I am here to do today. Help you avoid solving the wrong problem really well. And we will start with not merging those silos. Why?

The first step towards silo merging often involves a ‘customer facing role’ that manages the customer relationship. Their job is to be that single interface to the customer and then orchestrate the silos behind the scenes. That doesn’t fix the silo problem. It is sticking plaster. And from there it gets worse.

Silos emerge from ‘industrial complex mentality’. Think hierarchical military and governmental organizations. And, just as the ‘command and control’ structure that the military complex and government relies on to manage themselves is breaking down and can only be fixed by radical new thinking. So too is the case for commercial organizations.

A perfect example of radical new thinking would be The Millennium Challenge 2002. You can click through to read the details – but bottom line, in 2002, the US Military spent $250 million on a 14 day simulated war game that was over in 24 hours – and the ‘underdog’ won, with radical thinking. It so caught out the other team and organizers that a second game was played in the remaining thirteen days – at the end of which ‘the right team won’. But we know that’s not the case – don’t we? There is no second chance in war. Nor in business.[1] Moving back to business;

Source: American Booksellers Association
  • ‘Retail is dead’ – because we see the news that BHS in the UK, Kmart, Sears, Macys et al are – if not going totally out of business – at the very least shuttering hundreds of stores. And off course online sales are going through the roof. And yet the real winners in retail are the ones that are providing a ‘frictionless shopping experience’. (Partly what that means is focus, an online presence and physical stores.)

Perceived wisdom IS perception and IS NOT wisdom. And if you can see round that, you will thrive. As we accelerate to towards a ‘people first’ society and corporations talk ‘customer centricity’ and buy into ‘customer experience platforms’, there is massive opportunity to structure your organization (whatever the size) to actually be a ‘people first’ business. But it is going to me scary.

Nothing short of a total ‘break and rebuild’ of business will allow for a truly ‘people first’ organization. And note – by ‘break and rebuild’ – I do not mean reorganizing!

‘Reorganizing’ can lead to failure.

True Story ….

A company recognized that their web site was being visited by ‘phones’ and ‘tablets’ more than ‘desktops’. That was their phrasing. First mistake. I think we can agree that their web site is visited by people using those tools. I am not being pedantic, language shapes action. Consider …

That simple analysis lead to them implementing a ‘mobile first’ development process, meaning that there was less focus on the desktop site. Key information that was known – but ignored … while mobile visits were indeed growing, the commitment to purchase was still driven through a laptop / desktop computer. In implementing a mobile first strategy, they lost sight of where their business was done and in that transition also made it harder for customers to start on a mobile and complete their business on a desktop when they got home.

The decision didn’t deliver a fatal blow, but the time and money lost had a severe impact on both bottom line and market share.

In retrospect it’s obvious … right?

My solution? Design and build for People First.

And that doesn’t mean ‘customer centric’, since that will lead to you not thinking about staff, partners, investors, influencers ….. I mean People First.

Think I am crazy? Here is what I know. When a revolution happens …

“First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

~Arthur Schopenhauer

That’s what I’m thinking. What are you thinking?

[1] It is important to note … not breaking the rules. The underdog simply thought and acted strategically according to their understanding of how the other team was going to play the game – and then played a different game. Seriously – take a read. Fascinating stuff.

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John Philpin
John Philpinhttps://peoplefirst.business/
JOHN'S career spans 30 years, 2 continents, and organizations as diverse as Oracle, Citibank and GE. A Mathematics graduate, John moved to California in 1990. He helps technology companies create, develop and deliver their story for fund raising, market development and influencer programs. He also works with businesses to ensure they understand, and are ready, for the ever accelerating changes that technology is bringing to their industry. John is a co-founder of Expert Alumni and gleXnet and long before futurists and industry watchers were writing about the impending challenges that industries were going to be facing, they predicted a perfect storm of issues like skills gap, declining work forces, the gig economy, people trained to do work no longer needed, demographic shifts, economic and social change, market upheaval and rapidly changing ways of doing work. From the beginning they have promoted the idea that massive change was coming to how organizations should think about their workforce, with a singular focus on simplifying the interface between people and their work. Understanding the challenges ahead of the curve, the solution was built to arrive at a better understanding of the greatest restraint to business operations - competence, not capital. gleXnet provides unparalleled insights into an organizations people and operations by flipping the problem from the perspective of people, not the business.


  1. Perhaps trashing the concept of silo organization is a version of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Some types of businesses and some companies work best with that type of organization. I think the trick in those cases is to keep the silo walls somewhat porous and with a lot of glass. When those silos/departments become fortresses of brick and steel then problems result.

    The bottom line is very few types of companies can flourish or even survive without people skills. The more labor intensive the business, the more critical that becomes.

    • “Some types of businesses and some companies work best with that type of organization.”

      … no dispute here … and so I would then argue that an organisation needs to get really clear on their strategy – and what they are about, to help them get to deciding what they need and what they don’t. My experience is that too many compnaies blindly follow others that have been successful – but wrongly identify the essence of what made the original company successful to begin with.

      On that topic BTW – I can highly recommend a gentleman by name of Simon Wardely – a lnk to a video he did for google lives here … https://beyondbridges.net/2017/04/strategy-maps/

  2. A real good point. I’m always talking about that we have to cut through the rhetoric and look at the factual data. There are three kinds of data out there. Subjective, stuff we believe is true. Objective, it’s true despite what we believe. Computer, the information flowing through our wires.

    Subjective data has surpassed objective data with vast volume. It’s gone so far that people cannot even identify the data that comes from our observable and measurable reality. And if you think you’re immune to this, you have already been compromised.

    • HA – I just replied to you over on LinkedIN Chris – here again …

      Surely the ‘computer’ category is one channel for how we get to ‘subjective’ and/or objective information? The TV is another. Friends another. Etc.

      Then in the other two categories, we either believe, or we don’t. Personally, I don’t have an issue with belief in subjective information – unless there is objective information that doesn’t support that belief. I think THAT is the issue … denying facts because it doesn’t suit the narrative you believe – REGARDLESS of channel.

      i feel a BCG 2*2 coming on … how about you Chris ? :-)

  3. John, thanks for a thought-provoking article! I’ve always wondered what it would take for a company to prioritize user experience when they have been focused on silo performance and risk management. I would think you’d need an uncompromising and unpopular leader like Steve Jobs. Have you seen any companies successfully make the change?

    • It’s a tough switch Carol. And in Apple’s case, the turn around happened when essentially there was nothing left to lose. Then again – plenty of examples of companies with nothing left to lose that still don’t make the shift … RIM? Nokia?

      Also – Jobs has been gone for a while – with a very different leader in place who has managed to (more than?) double the mkt cap, revenue, profit, cash reserves since he took over and despite ‘everyone’ saying he was no Steve Jobs.

      Nevertheless the mantra of ‘delight’ and ‘customer experience’ lives ingrained in that company – and you see do others trying to emulate Apple by improving their packaging to be more ‘Apple like’ or copying ‘Apple design’, or trying to ‘get ahead of Apple’ by ‘innovating new products faster’ – completely ignoring the fact that Apple has NEVER been the first into ANY category … and it is not one thing – other than customer delight.

      I referenced this link in a comment below https://beyondbridges.net/2017/04/strategy-maps/
      …as a primer to the challenge of that approach.

  4. Interesting take on the subject. I reckon it can be controversial in some aspects as you are aware as well, but at the very least it’s has good conversation sparkles in it.

    A quick “meta” consideration:

    > “I am of the opinion that idealism is something to aim for.”

    I’ve recently evolved my thought where balance isn’t necessarily achieved in individuals, but in systems and networks. I believe that “idealists” and “pragmatists” are both necessary to evolve ideas, as one without the other would be problematic. It’s important to be aware which one of these two roles one is fitting in any given moment (because of course the same person can take different roles at different times).

    > “all the science and measures and metrics that the internet can bring us gives an illusion of knowledge”

    This is very important. Unfortunately we live in an age where on one side data and measures are used and selected purposefully to sustain a pre-conceived idea, and on the other side there’s a misunderstanding as how subjectiveness plays a role: the importance of being aware of the inevitable partiality of our own subjective perspective isn’t the same as the subjectiveness being the only thing that matters in decision making.

    > “‘Channel Attribution’ is a necessary fall out from departments (silos) needing to justify their budgets and on occasions, their existence”

    My perspective here adds two elements to the ones you raised.

    (1) Individuals — as you mention later on “people first”, it’s very important to acknowledge that it applies also to the inside of the company, and that is a concept entangled with silos and budgets. People fear losing prestige, people fear losing their job, people fear the person they don’t like gets a better deal, and so on. The criticality here is that most of the “rational” decisions are outcomes of individual fears, and justified post-factum.

    (2) System Scale — every business scales, and everything that scales reaches breaking points. Divide-et-impera, a millenia old concept that has one if its direct translation in hierarchies, is one of the systems to deal with scale, but that breaks too. The important think here is to be aware that the kind of skills and thinking necessary to scale up is *different* from the kind of skills and thinking to run the same thing at a smaller scale. That’s why business have growing pain: the same individual gets larger and larger teams and often they don’t think in terms of business restructuring or process transformation, nor in terms of “layering” (a concept similar to APIs where a small group standardize a process to make it scale for everyone else in the company, reducing overall work for everyone), but in terms of hierarchies. And that hurts.

    • Excellent point about the employees, Davide. John brings it up too, but it’s one of the great challenges of any kind of change. Most revolutions start with a large group of people sweeping in a new order. But would employees ever want that kind of change?? Can you have revolution without their pushing it?

      • It’s a good point, thanks for raising it so we can expand the discussion.

        As John points out, everything in this sense tends to start small. Great, huge movements have humble origins. While I’m also a big proponent of not focusing on individuals as the only cause of success (it’s a myth that concentrate success in individuals), individuals can still trigger systemic effects. It’s not a mathematical formula unfortunately, but a statistical one: sometimes an action does trigger change, some other time it doesn’t.

        Changes like this can happen at any level: while surely in hierarchies someone higher up can have more leverage, they still need to convert people, and that’s again has fear as one of the primary players.

        Also, “do they want change” is a VERY important question. Change can’t be forced. People must ask for it. This is something that is often missed: from the outside it might look like the same, but the same kind of “change” that is communicated and framed in a way that is beneficial for everyone and as such people see it and ask for it is very different from the same kind of change that is simply mandated top-down. Likely, the second one won’t work. That’s also why it takes time.

        The above has a secondary reason: often people don’t want to change if they have to find out alternative by themselves. But if someone shows an alternative, that is for the most beneficial, and they can choose to embrace it… it’s a process that is up to a great start! :)

    • i want to be sure that you know that I am not ignoring this comment Davide … just that there is a lot to unpack and that requires more considered thought – and maybe even a totally separate thread. I will be back.