Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

The Secret to Effective Communication: Being Heard is not Enough

Communication is underrated and vastly misunderstood.

The larger the audience, the more cliched and tiresome our communication becomes. Worse still, we seem less wary of the impact of our words when we write for larger groups.

Corporations tend to be the worst offenders in this category especially when they get tied down in their inane press releases and top-down missives. The problem is even more acute during trying times, when a CEO needs to rally his troops behind a common cause.

I give you, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella’s recent missive around the organization’s future direction.

Rather than poke holes in Nadella’s tired cliches, I’d like to share the secret sauce on how anyone can communicate efficiently to large groups of people.

And there’s no better story to illustrate this than Steve Jobs’ trial-by-fire return to Apple at Macworld 1997 when this had happened.

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There was something dramatic, almost Shakespearean, about Steve Jobs’ return to Apple. A humbler, self-deprecating leader, whose second act was laser focused on first getting Apple out of the red. To do that Jobs would have to rally his troops, inspire them, yet give them a dose of real talk; a delicate balance he pulled off with style at Macworld 1997. Here’s the secret sauce to doing that.

1997-macworld1

1. Be Upfront

Always, be honest with your troops – both internally and externally. This doesn’t mean you have to share all but you’ve to find ways to address the elephant in the room. And once you do, the ultimate segue would be to find a way to inspire confidence and hope amidst the burning embers.

Jobs gets into it right away, highlighting the three complaints leveled against Apple and how he sees it:

“Apple’s not as relevant as it used to be everywhere, but in some incredibly important market segments, it’s extraordinarily relevant.”

“Apple’s executing wonderfully on many of the wrong things!”

“Rather than anarchy, people can’t wait to fall in line behind a good strategy. There just hasn’t been one.”

He agrees with the accusation, does not gloss over the facts, but spins it in a way that inspires confidence. It’s his own way of saying “It’s not you, it’s us” which goes down well with the audience. A lot of executives seem to forget they are talking to a bunch of rational, smart folks and try to ignore the obvious sword hanging in the air. They avoid the elephant in the room, and lose their trust. Lose their trust and you lose your audience.

Every time you write, visualize a skeptic you’re trying to persuade. Convert her and you’ve won them all. Instead I’m loathe to find myself reading press releases and corporate missives that sound like this:

We live in a mobile-first and cloud-first world. Computing is ubiquitous and experiences span devices and exhibit ambient intelligence. Billions of sensors, screens and devices – in conference rooms, living rooms, cities, cars, phones, PCs – are forming a vast network and streams of data that simply disappear into the background of our lives. This computing power will digitize nearly everything around us and will derive insights from all of the data being generated by interactions among people and between people and machines. We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.

You lost me at “mobile-first, cloud-first world.” Most people don’t know what the heck the cloud is; just ask Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz.


Nobody understands the cloud. It’s a fuckin’ mystery!

So get to the heart of the matter with simple words. Think like a blogger, not like a novelist.

2. Talk Normal, Write Simple

Corporations sure think they are people, but turn on a press release or a camera and they sure as hell sound like corporations. As Anil Dash suggests, I’m sure Nadella and team write normal when they email each other but turn on the spotlight and it turns weird; like this scene from Talladega Nights:

I’ve seen this Deer-in-Spotlight phenomenon in many an executive, but I’ve also seen some of them overcoming it over time. Writing makes it worse, since there’s no immediate feedback to your original missive. But if Nadella and his PR team are seeing the tweets or posts since, they should know this could have gone better.

Sure, most of Nadella’s speech might have avoided the obvious hard truths but worse still, there was no letting up on the esoteric:

A few months ago on a call with investors I quoted Nietzsche and said that we must have “courage in the face of reality.” Even more important, we must have courage in the face of opportunity.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s words say it best: “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.”
Even True Detective makes more sense now:

Someone once told me time is a flat circle; where everything we’ve ever done, we’ll do over and over again.

The reason I insist on simplicity, is comprehension – the ultimate goal of all communication. In our attention-deficit world, the disparity between being heard and listened to is huge. The importance of your words lies solely in its ability to drive action and that cannot happen with the incomprehensible. This ain’t about you, the writer.

It is always about the reader.

3. Be Precise

Now to the heart of the matter. Rhetoric teaches us that in order to drive action, you need to persuade. And that happens with clarity of vision. Flashback to our 97 Macworld and here’s how Jobs set the stage for the future; inspirational, and on hindsight, prescient:

“We have the makings of a really healthy company, with some really talented people that need to come together and execute on a great plan.”

“What’s the fundamental problem? Declining sales.”

He then dives straight into how they are gonna overcome that in 5 concrete steps:

  • Board of Directors (calls out people but does it in a very subtle manner)
  • Focus on relevance
  • Invest in core assets
  • Forge meaningful partnerships
  • New product paradigms

Actions speak louder than words. And to back up those words, he clearly spells out actions like installing a new board of directors, one which includes the legendary Bill Campbell (who just today retired, after 17 years on Apple’s board), Steve Jobs’ close friend, Larry Ellison, among others.

”The confidence starts with a really clear vision. Then you take that vision down to strategy. People have to look at it and say “Yes”, they can do that. The past has been failure. The new board inspires hope.” – Bill Campbell

It’s just that Jobs makes what seems impossible for any CEO to do, seem easy: calling out past mistakes honestly and focusing on what needs to change, boldly and precisely.

One more thing: Bolt of Lightning

Towards the end of the presentation Steve Jobs says something that kinda gave away the mainstay of rhetoricians:

“Sometimes points of view can really make you really look at things differently.”

“For me when I was looking at the statistic and it hit me that Apple is the largest education company in the world, that was like a bolt of lightning. That’s huge.

“What an incredible base to build off of.”

“Another bolt of lightning is that Apple and Microsoft equal 100% of the desktop market.

And so, whatever Apple and Microsoft agree to do, it’s a standard (laughter). I think you’ll see us work more with Microsoft because they’re the only player in the desktop industry. And I think you’ll see Apple work more with Microsoft more because they’re the only other player in the desktop industry.

I hope we have more cooperation in the future because the industry wants it.”

Art of Manliness points out the third rule of persuasion – Appeal to Reason:

Finally, we come to logos, or the appeal to reason. Aristotle believed logos to be the superior persuasive appeal and that all arguments should be won or lost on reason alone. However, he recognized that at times an audience would not be sophisticated enough to follow arguments based solely on scientific and logical principles and so the other appeals needed to be used as well.

In The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle states that appealing to reason means allowing “the words of the speech itself” to do the persuading. This was accomplished through making inferences using deductive reasoning, usually in the form of a formal syllogism. You’ve seen these before. You start with two premises and end with a conclusion that naturally follows the premises.

Jobs had to conclude that speech with a convincing call to arms. The troops were still skeptical but his conclusion hits at logic, while earlier in the speech, he tackled emotion:

Microsoft + Apple = 100%
What we do together = the desktop standard
The industry wants it.

The conclusion of Nadella’s letter reads:

Rainer Maria Rilke’s words say it best: “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.”

We must each have the courage to transform as individuals. We must ask ourselves, what idea can I bring to life? What insight can I illuminate? What individual life could I change? What customer can I delight? What new skill could I learn? What team could I help build? What orthodoxy should I question?

With the courage to transform individually, we will collectively transform this company and seize the great opportunity ahead.

Confusing quote, followed by rambling ideas (“What orthodoxy should I question?” Uh?) ending with more meaningless blah.

Let me clarify, this is not a dig on the writing style of one CEO over the other. It’s a reminder that most of us, myself included, sometime gets sucked into the “more is better” mentality, as a writer. And that’s just a bad place to be in, if the goal of your writing is to communicate effectively.

Conclusion

Every leader should be writing for the audience’s collective cynic, not to their internal sycophants. And I notice CEOs oftentimes do the latter. And don’t get me wrong, any decent PR effort can help broadcast this mindless jargon across the airwaves and social media, but then all you get out of that is awareness.

Communications, in my opinion, is far bigger than PR-as-Marketing and it involves converting people over to your line of thinking and this happens only with strong beliefs and convincing rhetoric. And to do that just follow the rules I outline above.

 

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs

Did Steve Jobs change the world?

In the beautiful, rarefied bubble called Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs is God. Kind of like the tech world’s Eric Clapton. As a Jobs enthusiast, I’d consider it blasphemous to think otherwise of Jobs’ enormous impact in the convergence of technology and art.

But it’s an exaggeration (most of these articles offer business pablum, not facts) to suggest he actually changed the world. Did DaVinci or Picasso change the world? No they did not. Nor did Jobs.

Particularly in the Silicon Valley, a place I call home, some folks may be missing the bigger picture. A recent Quora answer by Susan Wu kinda hits the nail on the head. Thoughts worth reproducing in most of its entirety. So here goes…

Most of Silicon Valley is focused on building products for the top 1% of the world’s population.  Most of the world needs solutions to problems we rarely talk about, in areas like health care, agricultural production, sustainable construction, citizen activism and empowerment, childhood education, affordable transportation, supply chain optimization, community solidarity and efficacy, etc. And I’m not solely referring to base of the pyramid topics (like clean water access), either.  The average “middle class” citizen outside the US doesn’t have as much luxury to indulge in existential crisis and loneliness.

Most of the world is not 16-29 year old males. There’s a whole range of perspectives that go underrepresented in Silicon Valley. There are a lot of women out there. Older folks. Also, it might be hard to imagine, but there are a lot of kids not growing up on video games.

Given the above two points, the emergent ‘morality’ of the products Silicon Valley creates can be limited and not particulalry reflective of much of the world’s compass. All products inherit the values of their creators and have a sort of corresponding ‘morality.’ When you create an algorithm, it’s optimizing for something — it might be that you think “saving time” is a value worth optimizing for. Or it could be that what you’re trying to optimize for is quantity (quantity of access, of distribution), which can often come at the cost of quality and depth of interaction. Or like most of us who are successful Americans, we automatically assume that our stance on individual rights and belief in the individualistic survival of the fittest / the elite will rise are “ideal” or “optimal.”. Another example is our cultural bias towards the “cult of the celebrity.” And we tend to measure success by economic output.

These assumptions aren’t necessarily true or as relevant or perhaps ideal for a large part of the world, yet we often imbue the products we create with these values.

I’m not saying any of this is good or bad, it’s just worth thinking about. What are the values you are imbuing your product with?  Do they fit into your vision of the future? Be thoughtful not only about all of the stuff we talk about openly (design, business model, user interaction, hiring and culture) but also be thoughtful about this stuff too.

In this context Malcolm Gladwell’s recent comments that “50 years from now Gates will be remembered for his charitable work seems to make sense. No one will even remember what Microsoft is, and all the great entrepreneurs of this era, people will have forgotten Steve Jobs.” ring true. Even in the technology space, it’s Microsoft who has put a PC (may not be pretty, but it’s affordable) on every desk world wide.

So taking pride in your work, working like an artist (this is far less common than one would like) and designing the heck out of your products with a fierce attention to detail will probably be Jobs’ legacy.

As for changing the real world, there’s no shortage of hard work that needs to be done on products and issues that impact billions of people world wide.

Coming Soon: A list of non-profit startups that are actually changing the world. Here’s just one tackling a big problem.

Filed under: Steve Jobs

Zuck & Bezos: LEAVE JOBS ALONE!

Problem with the game now, there ain’t no innovation
I see my shit all in your shit, we call that imitation
And they say that’s flattering, but I ain’t flattered at all
Matter fact y’all need to practice that more
J. Cole, Cole World

I’ve been planning to write a post ever since I watched Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote (where he launched Timeline – more on that later). But, then just last week I saw this and it creeped me out. So, Jobs, steps down as CEO and every Zuck, Bezos and Harry decide to literally rip off the presentation style of Steve Jobs. That’s just not cool.

But, I digress. Let’s catch some make-believe as CEOs try to play Steve Jobs.

Zuckerberg as Jobs

WTF! 7 minutes of Andy Samberg introducing a tech conference. You know that even in SNL segments we can’t take Samberg in more than 3 minute bytes. And, what’s with all the awful “humor” (I’m Zuckerberg, he’s Andy Samberg, and we couldn’t have Eisenberg here, so I’ll mimic Eisenberg). C’mon, guys. This ain’t high-school no more.

What’s worse is that this is a bit that Jobs introduced in his keynotes. First, in 1999 when Noah Wyle (who played Jobs in “Pirates of the Silicon Valley“) played Jobs on stage before Jobs’ adoring fans. Noah’s intro was less than a minute long. That was it. Well timed humor about the movie and a joke or two about Jobs temperament – for another minute. And, he’s gone. That’s how it’s done.

And, Jobs himself has overplayed that shtick. More recently, PC guy (played by the ever-adorable “The Daily Show” “reporter” John Hodgman) did a “I’m Steve Jobs” shtick and it was funny, short, and poked fun at Microsoft. Who doesn’t like an anti-PC ad, eh?

Bezos as Jobs

So, in short. The Samberg shtick was pure Jobs imitation. And, more importantly, it wasn’t funny and was way too long.

Things got a lil’ creepy when Bezos, whose maniacal laughter I fear, decided to jump on the “I’ll present as Jobs” world. This is him introducing the new Kindle at Amazon World or whatever it’s called. What’s with the deliberate stilted pacing that’ll make any viewer go nuts. C’mon, be yourself. Smile a little during your presentation. Don’t take yourself so seriously. And quit ripping off Jobs’ style. Trust me, it ain’t flattery.

One of the comments on the above Youtube video nailed it.

I love how dramatically he reveals things a la Steve Jobs to none of the cheers typical of an Apple presentation.

mgaums 1 day ago

This one’s even better…

and not a single fuck was given that day.

That crowd seemed so unimpressed it was almost sad.

TADA KINDLE FIRE!!!!!

yeah and?

MegatronSmurf 1 day ago

Please leave Jobs alone

As Jon Stewart would say: Zuck, meet me at Camera 3 (y’know, for a 1:1) – you’re a smart guy and developers love you. I know that for a fact cos they hate to see you embarrassed. I remember what a hard time they gave Sarah Lacy when you did a terrible job answering simple questions at SXSW.

They idolize you, the same way Mac fanatics adore Steve Jobs. There are very few folks in our tech world, who commands that adulation. You’re finally creating products that restore a sense of childlike wonder (more on Timeline later).

That doesn’t mean you can replace a black turtleneck sweater with a North Face jacket, sneakers with Adidas flip flops, Noah Wyle with Andy Samberg and turn into tech world’s great Houdini.

So, stick with creating great products, figuring out what works best for you on stage in your own unique way (it takes a while) and don’t let your handlers play you around.

And, I’ll let Jobs himself describe why a f8 or Amazon presentation will never be a Jobs presentation.

The problem with Microsoft is that they just have no taste. Absolutely no taste.
In a sense that they don’t think of original ideas.
So, I guess, I’m saddened not by their success. I’ve no problem with their success.
They’ve earned their success.
I have a problem that they make really third-rate products (replace with presentation).

There’ll never be another Jobs. You know that. So, quit trying.

Filed under: Best-of, Jeff Bezos, Leadership Communication, Mark Zuckerberg, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs, , , ,

Steve Jobs as Luke Skywalker. Circa 1987.

Rockstars are made, not born. They practice tirelessly; honing their craft at every given opportunity, and with the help of Jobs’ 1987 Playboy interview, I’d like to shed some light on the early stages of Jobs’ communication savvy and the communication consistency that he has now perfected into an art form.

Jobs In 1987. p.s. What’s up with the bow-tie.

Fine tuning the metaphors:

Nobody hits a home run on Day One. Some have an in-born talent but it’s always a work in progress. Steve Jobs’ D8 presentation, his keynotes, his Stanford commencement speech — is the culmination of years of assiduous practice. I’m gonna walk you through three examples of Steve coming up with metaphors to describe nascent technology that most people (at the time of the interview) didn’t grok.

Let’s see how his thinking and his metaphors are fine-tuned over time.

Let’s take his earliest interviews, the Playboy one in 1987 is a great example, and look at his response to what is a computer. I know. Bear with me here. The year is 1987 and people still don’t get the PC revolution that’s gonna hit them. It’s amazing how hard it is to impress upon the reporter what a game changer the Mac is gonna be.

His first attempt to describe computers is kinda rambling:

Computers are actually pretty simple. We’re sitting here on a bench in this café. Let’s assume that you understood only the most rudimentary of directions and you asked how to find the rest room. I would have to describe it to you in very specific and precise instruction. I might say, “Scoot sideways two meters off the bench. Stand erect. Lift left foot. Bend left knee until it is horizontal. Extend left foot and shift weight 300 centimeters forward…” and on and on. If you could interpret all those instructions 100 times faster than any other person in this café, you would appear to be a magician: You could run over and grab a milk shake and bring it back and set it on the table and snap your fingers, and I’d think you made the milk shake appear, because it was so fast relative to my perception. THat’s exactly what a computer does. It takes these very simple-minded instructions––”Go fetch a number, add it to this number, put the result there, perceive if it’s greater than this other number”––but executes them at a rate of , let’s say, 1,000,000 per second. At 1,000,000 per second, the results appear to be magic.

That’s a simple explanation, and the point is that people really don’t need to understand how computers work. Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. You don’t have to study physics to understand the laws of motion to drive a car. You don’t have to understand any of this stuff to use Macintosh––but you asked [laughs]

Wow! Quite verbose. It’s got the early stages of his story-telling but it’s definitely too technical for a reporter and not impressive since he asks him again the same question. Steve takes a second shot at it, which goes…

A computer is the most incredible tool we’ve ever seen. It can be a writing tool, a communications center, a supercalculator, a planner, a filer and an artistic instrument all in one, just by being given new instructions, or software, to work from. There are no other tools that have the power and versatility of a computer. We have no idea how far it’s going to go. Right now, computers make our lives easier. They do work for us in fractions of a second that would take us hours. They increase the quality of life, some of that by simply automating drudgery and some of that by broadening our possibilities. As things progress, they’ll be doing more and more for us.

Meh. Kinda there, but he’s hinting at the potential it possesses as a revolutionary, incredible utility. Still not convinced, the journalist asks him a pointed question on computers for business and Steve ends with:

There are different answers for different people. In business, that question is easy to answer: You really can prepare documents much faster and at a higher quality level, and you can do many things to increase office productivity. A computer frees people from much of the menial work. Besides that, you are giving them a tool that encourages them to be creative. Remember, computers are tools. Tools help us do our work better.

Still not there, and as you can see, reporters are always going for the pithy answers that even a 12 year old will understand. But, then in a later interview (video after quote), Jobs gives a far more succinct metaphor to evoke the possibilities of a computer.

One of the things that separates us from primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in a third of the way down the list. But, Scientific American tested the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle.

And, a man on the bicycle blew the condor away; it was completely off the top of the charts. And, that’s what a computer is to me. It is the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.

To me this is one of the early stages where you can see the power of the evocative metaphor being used by Jobs. Fast forward to 2008 where Jobs, yet again, takes a stab at explaining a new product that Apple’s betting on big – the iPad.

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks cos that’s what you needed on the farm. But, as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America started to move towards them. Cars got more popular and innovations like power steering, etc. happened.

And, now, maybe 1 in every 25 vehicles is a truck where it used to be like 100%.

PCs are gonna be like trucks.

As you can see, no technicalities on what an iPad does well, no reference to a study by Scientific American, nothing. Just a nuanced metaphor on trucks and cars that everyone in America and the world will understand.

Read the rest of the article here.

Hope you’re having a great Sunday. Say Hi on Twitter!

I’ll leave you behind with a behind the scenes video of a young 23 year old Steve Jobs prepping for a TV interview. Young Luke Skywalker.

Filed under: Best-of, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs,

Zuckerberg ain’t Jobs. 3 Ways to Try.

This post has been a long time coming. As someone who earns a living in the PR space and one who obsessively follows the unique craft of tech CEO presentations, I had to concur with CNN’s recent piece on Mark Zuckerberg’s recent product announcement and why it was a giant FAIL compared to a Jobs presentation!

C’mon. Comparing Zuckerberg to Jobs is like expecting Shia LaBeouf to act like Marlon Brando. While Transformers may sell $750 million in box-office receipts — that doesn’t a Brando make. This seems like a perfect time to finally share my thoughts on Steve Jobs’ virtuoso D8 interview – yet another instance of Jobs’ public speaking savvy.

Here are three of the Jobs’ unique speaking skills that you can glean from his presentations — seemingly simple but tough to emulate:

Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field can be emulated. 3 Simple tricks below.

If you’re telling a story, make it gripping:

There are a million boring ways to tell a story. Just ask Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer (don’t even get me started), but Jobs has a penchant for telling an elegant story that hooks you from the get go.

Juxtaposing Jobs’ d8 presentation with Zuckerberg’s presentation would be interesting, but if you ran a word cloud through Jobs’ presentation, here’s what you’d have seen. It’s all about people.

His very first anecdote about Apple’s resurgence (overtaking the market cap of Microsoft) recounts the bygone days when Apple was down in the dumps to highlight what a glorious triumph this is:

Well, Apple was about 90 days from going bankrupt… (Boom!) in the early days. It was much worse than I thought when I went back.

But there were people there (I’d expected all the good people would have left), and I found these miraculous people, great people and I asked them as tactfully as I could: Why are you still here? And, I’ll never forget. A lot of them had this phrase: because I bleed in six colors. (Note: I remember having a “Apple bleeds six colors” poster on my cubicle wall a few years back)

You know what this reminds me of:

Don Draper, Season 4, Episode 1 (Public Relations). After learning the craft of telling stories to reporters, Don is asked if he’s the definitive entity in his newly formed ad agency. Here’s the story he relates:

Last year, our agency was being swallowed whole. I realized I had two choices: I could die of boredom or holster up my guns. So, I walked into Lane Pryce’s office and I said: Fire us! (Boom!) — Cue Background Music.

Two days later we were up and running at the Pier Hotel, within a year we had taken over two floors of the Time Life Building.

Again, start with the nadir of the story to pique the viewer’s curiosity and build up to the finale. The cadence of story-telling between the two quotes is uncanny but good story-telling always remains the same.

Use evocative metaphors that ring true and wise:

Throughout history, all the great teachers have spoken in parables. More importantly, when asked questions use plain speak metaphors from every day life that each and every one of us can relate to. Before you frame your answer, ask yourself: would a 12 year old understand what I’m about to say? And, go…

Here are a couple of examples from Jobs (from just this interview):

On why they ditched Adobe: Apple is a company that doesn’t have unlimited resources (Reality Distortion Field in effect). They way we do that is by looking at technical vectors that have a future. Different pieces of technology kinda go in cycles: they have their springs and summers and autumns, then they go to the graveyard of technology.

We try to pick things that are in their springs. And, if you choose wisely you can save yourself an enormous amount of work rather than trying to do everything. (true and wise)

To a question on whether the tablet will eventually replace the laptop:

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks cos that’s what you needed on the farm. But, as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America started to move towards them. Cars got more popular and innovations like power steering, etc. happened.

And, now, maybe 1 in every 25 vehicles is a truck where it used to be like 100%.

PCs are gonna be like trucks.

Such a nuanced answer that yet again, aims to simplify and would communicate effectively to any 12 year old in the audience.

Here’s one more from the past on how computers are like a bicycle for your mind. Watch the video.

Clarity and consistency in thought and messaging

I recently read an essay on “Politics and the English language” by George Orwell, 1946, that I’d recommend to anyone with a fleeting desire to revisit their usage of the spoken and the written word. The essay culminates in 6 simple rules for clear writing and I think that can be extended to clear speaking as well.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.

I think Jobs best defines this in every single interview he’s done. I could go on. But, let me pick an example from D8’s interview for his thoughts on privacy – an area where every company from Google to Facebook have had their fair share of stumbles but I think the clarity and simplicity of Jobs’ definition of privacy is startling.

We’ve had a very different view of privacy. We take it very seriously.

Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for… in plain english, and repeatedly.

I’m an optimist and I believe people are smart. Some people want to share more data. Some people more than others do. Ask em. Ask em every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them.

Let them know precisely what you’re gonna do with their data.

And, finally speaking of consistency of values that shines through every single interview Jobs has done, was this quote:

You know (long pause). When this whole Gizmodo incident happened, I got a lot of advice, that said: you’ve got to let it slide. You shouldn’t go after a journalist because they bought stolen property and they tried to extort you.You should let it slide.

And, I thought deeply about this. And, I ended up concluding.

That the worst thing that could possibly happen as we get big and gain a little more influence in this world, is if we change our core values and if we started letting it slide.

I can’t do that. I’d rather quit.

We have the same values now as we had then.

And, that consistency is true of Jobs impeccable communication skills. Watch the entire D8 Jobs interview here.

Filed under: Best-of, Facebook, Leadership Communication, Mark Zuckerberg, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs, , ,

5 ways leaders win tough arguments in public

Being a leader is a tough job (just ask these guys).Often you are facing some really tough questions from a lot of folks — your shareholders, developers, etc. — sometimes that happens in the public limelight. Now, you’ve got three options – fight the good argument and earn respect, spin, or just evade said question.

This past week, a video of Jobs at the 1997 Worldwide Developer conference (h/t: Quora) parrying questions from a mostly receptive developer audience began circulating. Most questions were curious developers as to the direction of Apple, except for one really combative question from a developer (obviously pissed off at what happened to a business division that was likely to be closed).

Mr. Jobs. You’re bright.(Jobs: smiles – here it comes…)

It’s clear you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’d like you (for e.g.) to express in clear terms how (say) Java, in all its incarnations, addresses the ideas embodied in OpenDoc.

And, when you’re finished with that, perhaps you could tell us what you’ve personally been doing for the last 7 years.

(audible gasps from the audience. I’m almost sure I heard someone say: “ouch”)

How do you answer this? Right after the jump.

Viewers: You may wanna skip to the 50:23 mark in the video below for the tough question I’m referring to.

This has got to be one of the toughest questions a CEO could face (see how Carol Bartz handled a similar question). BTW, Jobs was an advisor to Apple when he faced the dev community here but subsequently became CEO.

Lessons from Jobs: 5 ways CEOs can win tough arguments in public

1. Have a sense of humor:

While the questioner was setting up Jobs for the tough question, Jobs senses the tension and starts off by saying: “here it comes” and holding up his chair to playfully indicate he’s deflecting the tough question. Either way, his demeanor changes after he hears the question as he composes his thoughts.

Now what…

2. Breathe. Take your time to answer:

Aight, so now you’ve been asked a really tough question. What next? Yes, a lot of people are waiting for you to answer and the press may pore over your remarks – so there is a lot riding on this – so take time to answer as you collect your thoughts.

How many times have we been in an argument with folks when we’re asked something that could potentially make us look silly. Worse still, if that’s in front of other folks. So, magnify that a thousand times in this situation. A lot of folks come right outta the gates with a quick quip or retort, and then they may try to move past it as quickly as possible. But, if you do brush it aside you don’t earn the respect of the audience.

Jobs (as always) is finely tuned into both the psychological intent of the question and is very empathetic with his answer both of which are essential when you’re responding to someone combative.

But remember to breathe. Or, like Jobs, take a swig off that bottle of water while you compose your thoughts.

3. Frame your answer before you begin:

This is a corollary to the take time to answer suggestion. While you take your time, not only do you build viewer interest, but it also gives you time to frame your answer. It’s the same with writing a blog post. I always remember Jeremiah‘s recommendation to frame your post before you start writing it (since it helps nail the key points as succinctly as possible).

4. Every answer is a story waiting to be told:

Jobs is such a master story-teller. Even with his tough questions he takes the audience on a journey. Not everyone is good at it and frankly, no one comes close to what Jobs does here, while answering (tough) questions.

For e.g. in the above clip (starts at 50:23), Jobs starts off with:

“You can please some of the people, some of the time”, right off the bat setting the stage for context, perspective and drama. But then, he pauses and continues setting the context for his answer.

[LONG PAUSE] but… [PAUSE] One of the hardest things when you’re trying to effect change is that… people like this gentleman…

[PAUSE]

… are RIGHT! [PAUSE. Bam! Storytelling, baby!]… in some areas.

5. Appeal to reason in a smart way:

Let’s not forget, the end result of this speech or any CEO or congressman or public figure is an appeal to a common sense of purpose. Everybody wants a sense of assurance minus-evading, spinning, or flat-out ignoring the questions – since it won’t earn you any respect.

I think the key to the answer was how Jobs not only tried to assuage the gentleman’s concerns (“that there are probably things that OpenDoc does that’s better than anything in the market and stuff that even I don’t get”) but he goes on to explain how critical it is to focus, think big and to realize how every product fits into a cohesive larger vision that allows you to go big ($8 Billion Big).

Also, he explains how when prioritizing a million great products – always start with the customer experience and work backward with the technology

“I’ve made this mistake more than anybody in this room, I’ve got the scar tissue to prove it and I know it’s the case… And, I think that’s the right path to take”.

The Laser printer example narration is priceless. After elaborating on it. He once again says:

“I’m sorry that OpenDoc is a casualty along the way. And, there are many things I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about…”

But, then insists, why it’s important to rally the troops, support them and support Apple in the market. He gives examples of other engineers who are working their butt off on executing around the priorities that have been set by the company.

At the end of the day, the gentleman may not have bought Jobs’ answer no matter how convincing it was, which goes back to the very first thing Jobs began with his answer.

“You can please some of the people, some of the time”.

Bam!

Coda: HOW-TO take tough questions without flinching and earn the audience’s respect.

What Jobs is a master of, is the ability to tell you (in as reasonable a manner as possible) what he think, why he thinks so, and why that’s a great idea. And, he’s been doing that consistently through his career (both when Apple was down right up to this very day). The above video is a perfect example of that mastery.

But still this is a template for answering negative questions, esp. when you’re a CEO or a leader in the spotlight to summarize the above. Here goes…

  1. Acknowledge the negativity / elephant in the room.
  2. Assuage the naysayer’s concerns
  3. Restate it in the right context (user experience first, not tech first)
  4. Be humble (accepts his own failings in that regard, humbly suggests this is just his idea, gives an example “laser printer story” of why user experience matters and show-not-tell)
  5. Straight talk: Mistakes have been made and will be fixed.

So, that’s a quick summary of how I see Jobs deal with questions: good, bad or ugly. Lot of lessons in there. Plus, the most important thing is that — throughout that interview, Jobs kept stressing on focus and this answer too fit within that overarching holistic theme.

And, in the long run Jobs was proven right as he took Apple to unprecedented hights surpassing even Microsoft.

Feel free to share this on your favorite social network. Thanks!

Filed under: Best-of, Crisis Communications, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs,

Facebook Beacon lights a firestorm in a teacup?

Summary: Beacon lights a fire storm of privacy issues — Word-of-mouth marketing or misplaced advertising? — Why Matthew Ingram and Justin Smith are wrong on the Beacon issue

Moveon.org is targeting Facebook Beacon as an invasion of privacy — Big Brother style (alright, I’m guilty of the gratuitous Apple reference, the 1984 Mac commercial)

What is Facebook Beacon?
Beacon is a way for businesses to let their customers “share the actions they take on your website with their Facebook friends.” In other words, it’s a new way for Facebook users to log and broadcast their outside-of-Facebook online activity inside Facebook.

Why is it bothering users of Facebook?
The chief privacy concern raised by MoveOn is that Beacon is opt-out, not opt-in. (via Inside Facebook)

What is Matthew Ingram saying?
Matthew Ingram, quotes Justin Smith (Inside Facebook) to make his case that Facebook Beacon’s woes are overstated by Charlene Li and that this one will also pass:

It was almost exactly a year ago that Facebook suddenly allowed everything you did on the site to be published to your news feed so that everyone could see it, and plenty of users went completely apeshit about it being a heinous invasion of privacy, etc. Facebook was excoriated for the way it handled the announcement, and for the fact that it forced people to opt out instead of allowing them to opt in and configure who saw what, and generally it was a tsunami of negative publicity.

As Justin notes, 100 times as many people got upset about the news feed as joined the Moveon protest, and that one blew over eventually.

Now, here’s why I beg to differ:

1. The furore over Newsfeed did not subside until critical adjustments were made to the newsfeed culminating in an apology by Mark Zuckerberg:

We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I’d like to try to correct those errors now.

Somehow we missed this point with News Feed and Mini-Feed and we didn’t build in the proper privacy controls right away. This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it. But apologizing isn’t enough. I wanted to make sure we did something about it, and quickly. So we have been coding nonstop for two days to get you better privacy controls. This new privacy page will allow you to choose which types of stories go into your Mini-Feed and your friends’ News Feeds, and it also lists the type of actions Facebook will never let any other person know about. If you have more comments, please send them over.

BTW, the above blog post by Mark is one of the best examples of a CEO responding to user concerns in as timely a manner as possible. Another case in point of such swift response by a CEO would be Steve Jobs apology in response to the furore over the iPhone drop. Now, this is how CEOs should blog; not every day! (Read more of my posts on corporate blogging here)

2. While the news feed, after above changes turned out to be the “magnetic and social and addictive” as Matthew states, Beacon on the other hand is about monitoring your purchases outside of Facebook and it does so in many cases without your knowledge (Anyone in the know, please correct me if I’m wrong. Dave?). I’ve a strong suspicion that this also depends on the purchase site.

I’ve to state that although it looks like Charlene didn’t notice a msg. when she purchased stuff on Overstock, two other colleagues of mine, noticed a pop-up from Fandango and Overstock respectively saying that this information was going to be passed onto Facebook. What has your experience been?

Finally, what do I think of Beacon personally?

As an avid blogger/social media type, I don’t mind it, as long as I’m aware of it. I just noticed my colleague Steve Ganz had bought tickets to a movie via Fandango and he seemed fine with others on his feed knowing about it. However, I’d agree totally with Charlene Li of Forrester who recently had close encounters of the beacon kind that users need to be aware of such transactions being passed onto Facebook:

But I need to be in control and not get blindsided as I did in the example above. I was seriously wigged out, but wouldn’t have been if Overstock had simply told me that they were inserting a Facebook Beacon and given me the opportunity at that time to opt-in to Beacon.

Having said that let me clarify that both, Steve and I are edge case users/twitterers/bloggers who may not mind such “announcements” but the majority of users may either ruin their Christmas surprise or worse still aggravate their professional relationships (if they have professional contacts on Facebook) by exposing their personal choice/purchases in books (think hot button topics like religion, politics, etc…), and the like.

What do you think of Facebook Beacon? Is it similar to the News feed issue or is it far more of a privacy concern for you? Leave comments.

If you like content you see here and want to read more of my thoughts on marketing and social networking, subscribe to marketing nirvana.

Disclosure: For those of you not aware, I work as community evangelist at LinkedIn and these are purely my personal ramblings.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, Public Relations, Steve Jobs

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