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New Economy
(August 13, 1999) We're charter members of the Kevin Kelly fan club. Kelly, as you may know, is the roving editor at Wired Magazine. With credits ranging from pioneering participation on the Well to cofounding the original Hackers conference, Kelly's insight has had an astonishing impact on the evolution of the Web.

A global thinker at heart, Kelly is one of the least likely visionaries of our era. We tend to see his view of the world as a kind of new reporting rather than a map of the future. Living, as he does, at the edge of our emerging culture, he simply reports back from the front lines.

Lately, we've been handing out a lot of copies of his latest book: New Rules For The New Economy.

The book is based on an article (same title) Kevin wrote for Wired in 1997. In a nutshell, the rules are:

  1. Embrace Dumb Power
  2. More Gives More
  3. Success Is Nonlinear
  4. Significance Precedes Momentum
  5. Make Virtuous Circles
  6. Anticipate The Cheap
  7. Follow The Free
  8. Feed The Web First
  9. Let Go At The Top
  10. The Net Wins
  11. Seek Sustainable Disequilibrium
  12. Don't Solve Problems
Take a moment to read the article. Order the book for your next long weekend. As we recover from disappointing IPO performance and a necessary refocusing, it is likely that Kelly's "Rules" will point the way to the next successes.

Here are a couple of interesting passages.

Industries and occupations also experience this churn. Even a sequence of rapid job changes for workers - let alone lifetime employment - is on its way out. Instead, careers - if that is the word for them - will increasingly resemble networks of multiple and simultaneous commitments with a constant churn of new skills and outmoded roles.

Productivity is exactly the wrong thing to care about. The only ones who should worry about productivity are robots. And, in fact, the one area of the economy that does show a rise in productivity has been the US and Japanese manufacturing sectors, which have seen about a 3 to 5 percent annual increase throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. This is exactly where you want to find productivity. But we don't see productivity gains in the misnamed catch-all category, the service industry - and why would we? Is a Hollywood movie company that produces longer movies per dollar more productive than one that produces shorter movies?

The problem with trying to measure productivity is that it measures only how well people can do the wrong jobs. Any job that can be measured for productivity probably should be eliminated.

Peter Drucker has noted that in the industrial age, the task for each worker was to discover how to do his job better; that's productivity. But in the Network Economy, where machines do most of the inhumane work of manufacturing, the task for each worker is not "how to do this job right" but "what is the right job to do?" In the coming era, doing the exactly right next thing is far more "productive" than doing the same thing better. But how can one easily measure this vital sense of exploration and discovery? It will be invisible to productivity benchmarks.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.


(August 12, 1999) Please take the time to understand the controversy surrounding "deep linking".

CareerBuilder continues to expand its network. Recent distribution announcements include Lycos and the Wired Family of Websites (HotBot, HotWired, Suck, WebMonkey) giving CareerBuilder an amazing ability to target IT professionals.

HotJobs went public this week. The company netted about $20M from its stock sale. While the week couldn't have been worse for money raising, the price managed to stabilize near its opening level. The company moved forward in order to concentrate on serving its customers in spite of the bad market timing. It was a tough decision with immediate benefits for current customers.

We're watching the launch of iNiku very closely. Scheduled for a major door opening in September, iNiku blends project staffing and administration into a single, seamless exercise. Imagine the Monster Talent Auction plus a suite of enterprise management tools (project management, time sheets, invoicing, project coordination). The Management Team and Board of Directors are particularly impressive. The company looks like a solution to the detailed accountability problem in contract staffing.

New Java employment site: JavaLobby

New IT Source (India): SynergyIndia

Duh: Executive Search Firm Shows The Importance of Initial Failure

Good Move: CareerPath continues to expand its online seminars

Smart: JobOptions continues to showcase its demographics

The labor shortage is real (and permanent). Some key comments from the Federal Reserve's "Beige Book" (from Reuters):

  • summer camps in northern Wisconsin hired 300 students from foreign countries to fill open jobs;
  • employment agencies in Cleveland reported "difficulty finding enough bodies to fill the positions available" throughout the region;
  • Chicago employers said they had to raise starting wages "significantly " to find recent college graduates with accounting and technical skills and reported rising instances of skilled employees "lured away by higher salaries offered by competitors;"
  • in Minneapolis, builders were recruiting internationally to obtain skilled tradesmen;
  • businesses in California, Oregon, Washington state and Idaho said they were forced to set back completion dates for projects because of the scarcity of skilled workers.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Usability II

(August 11, 1999) At first pass, it seems straightforward. Usability means clarity, simplicity, authenticity and ease of use. Obviously, the more usable a website is, the more effective it is. Right?

Well maybe not.

Without going overboard, it seems to us that usability (as currently understood) includes a great deal of baggage from the military minds who first coined the term in the 1970s. Their problem was discovering a method to ensure that recruits could navigate the complexities of complex electronic military hardware and the associated technical manuals.

At that time, the US Armed Forces were undergoing a radical transition. The draft, which kept a constant flow of white college educated workers in the pipeline, was ending. The military's vision of its future included lots of new employees with only moderate literacy. They were scared and more than subtly racist.

The earliest examples of usability improvements included the operating manual for the M-1 tank. Technical complexity was reduced to four ideas per page. The comic-book style was designed to be read in pictures, not text. Everything that could be simplified was. The message: please don't think, just look at the pictures. From a 100 page handout, the manual grew to over 3,500 pages. It was very easy to understand.

From there, usability evolved into a design discipline in the software industry. You may notice a certain sameness in software design. The principles of usability and usability testing, which have grown to include focus group style testing, produce a bland and universal output. The object is to deliver to the lowest common denominator.

The Engineering mind can be somewhat predictable. One of the rules of the game is that anything is better if it can be reduced to a formula or a procedure. In that regard, engineers share a lot of common ground with MBAs. It is predictable that the global Engineering community would embrace a view of usability that was formulaic. With their decidedly 20th Century mindsets, its no surprise that the Marketing and Sales communities have widely adopted the concept. After all, conventional usability testing looks and feels a lot like focus groups. The output resembles advertising taglines.

Cynicism, predictability and familiarity have conspired to deliver a view of the Web that is decidedly backward looking. As the "great unwashed" increasingly use the net with their virtually free PCs, we can only imagine that it will get worse. We're guessing that it will take web designers as long as it took the Military to understand that their fears are mostly groundless (about 25 years).

Until then, the usability of a website will have to strike a very difficult balance. To the extent that a web page evokes passion and engages the reader's heart, it has a very limited appeal. To the extent that it is usable (in the conventional sense), it is devoid of passion. From here it looks like you have to choose one or the other. Either optimize a page for broad consumption (dumb it down) or focus on a very tiny audience.

Interestingly, Recruiting, which demands the delivery of passion and engagement, may well be at the cutting edge of the evolution of usability tools.

The web creates a very intimate communications environment. While usability design, as described in the Report we reviewed yesterday, is a necessary component, building on the mediums' inherent "heat" is a critical piece of wildly successful Recruiting. This means that Recruiters ought to be better at using the Web to accomplish both objectives.

In short, we think that the kinds of improvements suggested by conventional usability consultants are an important starting point. But, they are only a beginning. Learning to use the Web to convey just the right message to just the right person is a step beyond the conventional. It involves constant improvement and an eye towards perfection.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.


(August 10, 1999) CreativeGood is a new kind of company. Focused on developing and improving the user's experience of the web, the firm researches the factors that create memorable online impressions (and therefore, improved brand loyalty). With offices in New York and San Francisco, the company provides research reports as well as hands on development assistance. (See the Company's White Paper on Customer Experience - Requires Adobe Acrobat)

This week, CreativeGood published what we believe is the first ever analysis of the Usability / Customer Experience in Electronic Recruiting. E-recruiting: Online Strategies in the War for Talent analyzes six Recruiting Websites including: Cisco, Procter & Gamble, Baxter, Trilogy, Citibank, Granite Rock. They specifically picked sites that are widely perceived to be successful models in order to show that even the best operations can stand very deep improvement. (In a recent article, Laura Rich (of the Industry Standard) describes a top level view of the report.)

While Cisco gets high marks around our industry for their work, the team at CreativeGood found a great deal of improvement was required. Citing application completion rates that were well under 50%, the team goes to great lengths to define very specific, tiny improvements that should help any interface designer in our industry improve the effectiveness of their online Recruiting process.

The report is co-authored by Jakob Neilsen who is, mildly, the father of usability study on the web. His pioneering work is the source of much of the Web's current strength. It's remarkable that CreativeGood was able to harness his talents for a look into our industry.

Be sure to sign up for CreativeGood's newsletter by sending a piece of email to update@creativegood.com.

We covered more usability resources in yesterday's edition of 1st Steps In The Hunt

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

We're All Brilliant On This Bus

(August 09, 1999) We've gotten a number of pieces of mail from around the Management Recruiters International organization. You may know that we've been highly critical of MRI's approach to the public web. While the company has made lots of forward progress in its intranet endeavors building powerful Recruiting villages, its public offering has been tepid at best. With nothing short of survival at stake, MRI has steadfastly resisted moving its operations to the web in any meaningful way.

From branch offices around the country, we've gotten notes suggesting that we take a close look at "Brilliant People", MRI's revised public website.

Have you ever had a friend who thought he was brilliant and told you so? For the most part, people who think that way are obnoxious boors. They are particularly counterproductive in today's project oriented, team intense operating environments. Somehow, the supposedly "brilliant people" at MRI have been led to believe that by calling themselves brilliant and calling their prospective candidates the same, the market is going to forgive the fact that their attempts at competing on the web are totally lackluster.

While the rest of the world is marching aggressively towards the future, MRI is continually bedeviled by its financial structure. The acquired stepchild of CDI, MRI is stuck with an insoluble financial riddle. While successful adaptation to the new market environment will require an investment of tens of millions of dollars, MRI is pinching pennies as it slowly dies from a bad case of "too little, too late". It's basic financial structure, raking a percentage off the efforts of branch offices, requires a weak, perpetually broke headquarters operation.

BrilliantPeople copies the approach of FutureStep, LeadersOnline, WardHowell and other innovators. It introduces profiling to the far reaches of the company. While somewhat primitive, the Brilliant People profiling system does demonstrate that the MRI team is not totally asleep at the switch.

Unfortunately, the value proposition is totally preposterous: "If we tell you you're brilliant, will you fill out our profile? If we tell you we're brilliant, will you believe us?" It's the sort of crassly cynical proposal that you'd expect at last call, just before the lights go on. We're reminded of "Do you come here often?" and "If I told you that you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?".

To compete for candidates online, the value for a candidate must be explicit and upfront. The more we read the badly delivered copy on the BrilliantPeople website, the more we're convinced that the core endeavor is an internal sale. The franchise holders must be nervous. Their online suppliers tend to be their major competitors simultaneously. The website reeks of MRI's long perceived tendency to placate rather than solve problems.

Over the long haul, however, profiling requires relevant content and is a passive process. One is tempted to think that MRI's management views the web as a way of finessing those troublesome potential candidates who can't be helped anyhow. This old school view of the universe is being soundly destroyed by more innovative players (like TMP who is now as large as MRI in the search firm business).

Modest innovation aside, BrilliantPeople offers more of the same old school thinking. While MRI flounders, the rest of the market is increasingly responding with strong, candidate centric offerings. MRI says "Be Brilliant About Your Career; We Are" as if this tagline would be meaningful to a job hunter. Its so called "brilliant career tools" boil down to the tired "How to Work with an MRI Recruiter". The descriptive paragraphs are jargon laden and unfriendly. At no time is a candidate given a unique reason for visiting and using the site (unless you count the underlying idea "We're so brilliant that you'd be lucky to work with us").

With tens of thousands of competing entities in the space, you'd think that a central player in the old school method would be more adaptive. We guess, however, that what we're seeing is just another example of "The Innovator's Dilemma". There's a solid reason that the Wright Brothers never made any money from modern aviation...radically changing markets are just to hard for incumbent players to understand.

So, maybe the underlying impression is right. For MRI, it is last call and the lights are about to go on.

A quick "oh, by the way"...Monster's Talent Auction now advertises with banners on the MRI/CDI message boards on Yahoo! Go to find out what the traders are saying about MRI/CDI, you might just get an ad from the future of the business.

- John Sumser, © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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