Musings on digital business

Art of Storytelling by Bilal Jaffery

The 6 Keys to Great StoryTelling

Storytelling is among the most ancient of arts. To hear a great story is to be touched in heart and mind, in body and spirit. The storyteller gives the tale; the listener receives it, responding out of his or her own being. The story comes alive. It flourishes and grows.

But when it comes to the art of business storytelling, most businesses today, in 2015, are struggling to get it right. Typical content marketing efforts are lazy, self-serving and reflective of the internal processes more so than something that captures hearts and minds of the audience.

Most marketers are just shouting. Not empathizing. 

Without further ado, here are my 6 points on the art of great storytelling.

1. Being audience-centric: Many of us fail at telling great stories because we focus on ourselves. Most marketers just discuss their products and how great they are. There is minimal focus on what the product does for the audience and why should they even care. 

Customers don’t care about you. 

They care about what your product or service does for them.

I always challenge my teams to think about a purpose — before engaging in any form of storytelling. From sales pitches to webinars to customer service to emails. 

“There is a bad way and good way to tell stories. Consumers care about themselves, so unless the story resonates with them from start and they can see themselves in it, it is not very valuable”.

In fact, based on managing marketing (basically storytelling) in various forms from startups to enterprises, I can tell you that in the age of hyper-connected social media, if you aren’t utilizing this social behavior in your story telling and not making the audience a part of your stories, then you are not achieving scale in your efforts. 

Saul Kaplan, a great friend, and the founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory stated last week,

The most successful businesses today are movements more than companies. Movements don’t market. Movements inspire and engage. – Saul Kaplan @Skap5

2. Commitment and Passion: To earn an audience, one must do it repeatedly. Some of your stories may flow very easily, while others will require work, practice, rewrites and new approaches. Invest the time, resources and passion.

3. Focus: You can’t earn a mass audience on day one and appeal to everyone. (exception being, temporarily, if you give away one Apple Watch a day for free for next 30 days, starting today)

It is hard to be everything to everyone. Decide on what you are good at and find an angle. With limited resources, we must tell stories where target audiences reside. It means focusing on a small number of storytelling opportunities.

4. Personality: Please find an authentic voice and personality that attracts the audience. It doesn’t need to be fully polished, in fact, these days, authenticity is so rare that people gravitate towards the raw, unpolished and honest.

Great stories happen when an authentic personality shines through. It is the difference between creating content, and developing stories that people find interesting, intriguing or provocative.

5. Opportunity: Sometimes, stories happen because there is a well-defined plan. Sometimes, good stories happen because a situation emerges that screams for action. Be receiptive and agile enough to leverage these opportunities. The key is to be relevant. 

6. A willingness to listen, not just tell: As much as you want to tell stories, listening is important. Often, ideas for stories emerge when you’re listening. It could be at a conference, a dinner party or out for drinks with friends. If you are not listening, good story opportunities are squandered.

“A great storyteller…helps people figure out not only what matters in the world, but also why it matters.” – Maria Popova

Linkedin buys Lynda.com

Linkedin is still underrated

Linkedin in my opinion is still the most underrated network of the big social networks.

When it comes to business of networking and real credible thought leadership, Linkedin leads the way. It is more focused. It is less shiny. It executes well without the fluff.

It also gets less PR than the other two major social networks. Which, in my opinion, adds to its credibility.

I have connected with the brightest minds in the world due to Linkedin. I’ve also been successful in attracting the brightest talent due to Linkedin.

You can’t beat the value.

Now with, with LinkedIn‘s acquisition of Lynda.com. Which cost them around $1.5 billion to buy one of the Internet’s most respected online education platforms.

Many folks in the tech community wrongly think that LinkedIn is a one-trick pony. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Linkedin: A network of networks

It has quietly been making acquisitions over the years that include Pulse (which is a major part of how they now deliver some of the best business content out there) and SlideShare, which is a runaway success as a social network for sharing presentations and building thought-leadership on the web.

With Lynda, they just established themselves as a leader in education and a socially connected foundation for the future of learning.

And for the teams involved, acquiring Lynda for $1.5 billion is amazing.

Experience Cloud

More consolidation in enterprise social: Sprinklr buys Get Satisfaction

“The conversations [in Get Satisfaction communities] are not about the weather,” CEO Rahul Sachdev. They’re about “solutions to problems, specific questions.”

I am a huge fan of the work that Get Satisfaction team does for us at Extreme Networks with our community forums. Today, Sprinklr, a hugely successful enterprise focused social management platform announced that they have acquired Get Satisfaction to boost up their ‘experience cloud’ offerings. They also needed to do this to compete with the big boys like Oracle, IBM, Salesforce etc.

More news here:

Sprinklr, whose name connotes its history of managing the rain of social postings, has taken another step toward its transformation into a more encompassing Experience Cloud.

The New York City-based company announced today it has acquired Get Satisfaction, a platform that combines a knowledge base with an online community for customer self-service. Deal terms were not made public.

This is Sprinklr’s fifth purchase in 14 months, and the second that acquires a community platform. In February, the company picked up Pluck, which offered forums, review capabilities, and image galleries.

In September, the company bought advocacy marketer Branderati, having previously snapped up social and brand analytics platform Dachis Group last winter and Facebook ad optimization platform TBG Digital last summer.

A week ago, Sprinklr announced $46 million in new funding, its new Experience Cloud initiative, and its status as a startup “unicorn” — a company valued at more than $1 billion.

via Venture Beat.


Managing for Creativity: How to scale without hindering creativity?

The beauty of a successful digital program is that it combines the creative inspiration of the artist with the analytic rigour of the scientist.

I am often asked by my peers in various groups and councils on designing methodologies that allows scale but also doesn’t kill creativity in the process. Some assume that just building the process is enough and we can just force it upon everyone in our teams.

The reality is that doing this with scale can be a very complex and complicated task but often necessary in order to build a profitable business.

From my experience as someone who’s been designing, establishing and managing the digital marketing and transformation processes within companies and units of all sizes for the past decade and more, I can name a couple of biggest challenges to keep in mind while you work on your process implementation phases:

1. Creatives (and almost everyone else, except maybe legacy HR and Finance) don’t necessarily like processes.

They may see it as a burden, as something they are forced to follow and comply with, like doing timesheets. In my experience right of the bat you need to overcome people’s negative bias. Creativity is hard to put in a box, so there is also an objective point of making sure the process does not constrain creativity, and is not perceived to be enforced “for the sake of the process”.

Use technology creatively to ease the pain of following a process. In addition, do you really need to enforce the same process for someone who has done it the 100 times? versus someone just starting out?

2. Buy-in, especially at an executive level

Process, however great, is only as good as people using it. You may be able to get a buy-in from most executives and even sell it to most staff. Then it’s the point of enforcing it, this is a delicate balance since you don’t want people to perceive it as a hurdle, yet it loses effectiveness quickly due to lack of use.

So, Socialize. Work out Loud. Tell everyone about the benefits and how it eases their pain points.

3. High staff rotation.

A creative director or an executive who was sold on the process and was helping to put it to practice it within her team jumps ship, and a new one coming in is not a big fan of your process. That sets things way back, now you need to prove it again.

Document and socialize your process with as many leaders as you can to capture their input and earn influence in order to be successful.

Few considerations for keeping business process realistic:

  1. KISS. Keep it Simple, stupid. Keep a process minimalistic, focusing on key components and leaving a fair amount of flexibility. Focus on earned rights to give up even more control to the stakeholders.
  2. Please never use a process for the sake of the process.
  3. Document things and have the documentation easily accessible.
  4. Sell executive son the process with hard facts (saved hours, prevented screw ups, ROI).
  5. Keep reminding people gently, you don’t want to become a process police.

Hope this helps our change agents in transforming their organizations for the better.

Life with Purpose

The True Joy in Life

This quote really resonated with me today. And I hope it does it with you as well.

This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw


Digital Business, Powered by Data in 2015

The modern digital enterprise is a collaborative, living and an engaged organism. It understands its market conditions and organizes itself in advance for it. It embraces change as its only constant.

Enabling Natural Human Interactions

The modern business is flatter than ever before. It makes its decisions in minutes, not months. It is bottoms-up vs top-down. The strategy is no longer a static document. It is ever evolving based on real-time interactions across the various internal and external channels.

Sounds impossible?

Global enterprise social software market (ESS) is expected to grow from $4.77 billion in 2014 to $8.14 billion in 2019!

It is already happening across the Fortune 50 to midsize firms to early stage global startups through the use of proper analytics and social software technologies. Global enterprise social software market (ESS) is expected to grow from $4.77 billion in 2014 to $8.14 billion in 2019. This represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.3% from 2014 to 2019. (Click for complete report)

The technology layer enables us to be more agile and organize for the market conditions in real-time. It also allows us access to better insights so we have meaningful, deep and informed interactions with our internal and external ecosystems.

Typically, a social enterprise infrastructure is comprised of hardware and software. The hardware network layer needs to be smart enough to allow the environment to scale and interact in real time and the software layer must be smart enough to provide the venue for accelerated knowledge driven interactions with constituents inside and outside the company. The key concept here is to enable natural human interactions. Because only a natural human interaction is genuine and authentic enough to be leveraged to drive actual business.

Businesses that are relatively experienced with social business perspectives and techniques are already seeing opportunities to improve internal business processes and techniques through better access to insights and pattern detection.

Data Analytics Inform Social Enterprises

The beauty of social networks and social media is in data analytics. Each and every interaction leaves a data point and builds upon a knowledge repository which allows for better and smarter future interactions.

For example, from an e-Commerce perspective, Amazon already incorporates user behavioural data in their sales recommendation engine in real time. The telecommunications space is utilizing social media insights to gauge network traffic and outages. From purely social media’s perspective, Twitter utilizes real time tweets to identify current trends and forecast potential trends, which are now being used by traditional media to identify potential stories.

Once a social enterprise has gained a critical mass in adoption towards social, it can utilize the real-time data streams of multiple social interactions to have an ability to:

  • Find Better Expertise — How many of us work with someone who is also an expert in another unrelated field but was never recruited nor has ever participated officially in that field? Their participation on social networks, internal and external, allow us to have an ability to detect and identify their uncataloged capabilities and interests. In some organizations, HR departments are utilizing this ability to recruit internally first for emerging areas of interest for the business.
  • Increase Knowledge Sharing — Being able to efficiently capture, analyze information and re-utilize knowledge assets has exponential benefit to sales, marketing, support and product units within the organization. Better knowledge sharing also allows quicker revenue recognition and unnecessary costs associated with inefficient tactics based on poor data. Reutilizing of assets is an immediate positive ROI benefit.
  • Gain Better Market Insights — As my colleague and my boss,  Vala Afshar, CMO Extreme Networks routinely calls out, “No matter how big you are, there are always more smarter people on the outside, than on the inside, of your business.” A common challenge faced by businesses of all sizes is an inability to understand the evolving needs of existing and potential new customers and markets. Utilizing social monitoring tools to “listen” and understand the social media space allows businesses to become smarter by identifying trends and gain deep insights into competitive, industry and customer ecosystems. Imagine launching a new product with deep insights in competitive landscape, positioning, branding, messaging and pricing.
  • Improved Risk Management — Imagine being able to identify potential customer service issues before they become a viral topic on Twitter? Real time social analytics allows businesses to mitigate potential risks and utilize the medium to amplify the positives. Immediate positive impact on speedy communications of new or revised safety policies, regulations and improved ability to address crisis scenarios are often seen by social enterprises.
  • Better Process Management — Minimize or eliminate delays through knowledge sharing, tagging and trend monitoring. If we know that a certain device or software app is causing a specific issue, then we have an ability to address it faster and efficiently. From a personal social interaction to a machine generated social interaction, the analytics allow us to identify the KPIs that matter the most to an social enterprise.

A greater need for social for business has grown out of fundamental changes in how our business operate today in the connected economy. Customer preferences and markets are evolving faster than ever. A social enterprise is smart enough to capitalize on the real time nature of the ecosystem it operates within. Use of real time analytics in social interactions, files and other digital assets in our ecosystem allow the social enterprise to identify patterns and relevant data points that provide it with an ability to organize for our real time connected economy.

That is the true agile social enterprise.


IBM Watson’s latest legal play: End of Overpaid Lawyer?

Is this the end of the overpaid lawyer?

Now that Ross exists, it may very well be. The computer system, which is based off of IBM’s Watson platform and developed by an amazing team at UofToronto can take any and all of your legal inquiries and spit out answers based on inputted data gleaned from legal documents, cases and statutes.

Ross is just one of the many ways that Watson is being used to better the world using big data. IBM, for one, is using the smart system to make better poutine, of all things.

Oh, and it also taught chefs new recipes at SXSW.

5 Critical Elements of Teams That Win By Bilal Jaffery

5 Critical Elements of Teams That Win

In a meeting yesterday, I was asked to define what a winning team looks like? What allows a team to win, over and over again?

There’s got to be a secret for a strong track record. A team that consistently over delivers. What should a leader look for?”, she asked. “It can’t be a fluke.”

I replied,

A winning team plans better, trusts each other more and works even harder.”

Crisis in a modern business — whether it be a startup or a large enterprise is inevitable. Budgets get cut, systems break, projects get delayed, legal issues arise, products don’t get shipped, customers complain, social media mishaps happen, key employees quit. To survive, executives and management teams have to respond quickly, and strategically.

There’s a great book written by two University of Michigan professors on this topic —Managing the Unexpected. It examines the key elements that dictate the behavior of great teams that survive and thrive while others fail. The professors analyzed teams of all sizes, from factory workers to aircraft operators to medical specialists to come to their conclusions.

These teams, which they referred to as, “High Reliability Organizations”, are distinguished by their extraordinary ability to handle risk, stress and steer across the unexpected turns. Their ability to plan, strategize and react is what makes them standout from the crowd to achieve a state of mindfulness.

At their core, these teams have the following 5 elements that make up their mindfulness.

  1. Preoccupation with failure – a burning desire to learn from mistakes to prevent future ones. Having processes to document and share learnings freely with each other.
  2. Reluctance to simplify interpretations – employing brutal honesty in their cultures. In the digital space, over simplification of scope and requirements is often the cause of projects failing.
  3. Sensitivity to crisis – being ready to identify and respond to a crisis. Plan in advance. Data is all here now.
  4. Commitment to resilience – building a team that is excited to handle and bounce back from crisis without tearing each other apart.
  5. Deference to expertise – respecting insights from “experts” within the business irrespective of their seniority or lack thereof. (This is highly relevant in the digital space, given its more about the mindset than the age).

429 of the original Fortune 500 companies are no longer in business today.

Business world is rapidly changing. Your past success is no longer a prove point of your future success. To survive, your businesses must be built to move fast, be agile and experiment and always be learning. Moving fast and experimentation means your teams are bound to break a thing or two. The organization must be built to address these moments of crisis. The teams must be built to absorb, react, recover and learn from these incidents.

As you build your teams, your culture and your hiring practices. Look for folks who are never satisfied with mediocre, who don’t fit your typical moulds, who care more, and who truly are passionate. Afterall,