Looking for the plus-three-sigma customer

A reference in Marion’s blog sent me off to a fascinating piece by James Governor: Why Sun Software Licensing is Like a Hermann Miller Chair. He starts with the counter-intuitive fact that some customers are reported as saying that our flat-rate pricing for JES is “confusing”. Governor makes the point that the confusion comes not the pricing model but from its unfamiliarity. He cites Malcom Gladwell, who argues in his new book, Blink, “that it’s a mistake to rely on the first impressions of customers who are inherently biased against the unfamiliar” and that “focus groups hold back, rather than encourage innovation.”

Like Governor and Gladwell, I’m skeptical about the use of focus groups in the early stages of developing radical product and business concepts; I see more use for them in refining and evolving well-defined products. Rather than focus groups, I prefer the “voice of the customer” approach: standardized, semi-scripted interviews with an opportunity for open-ended responses. In addition to supporting the usual statistical analysis, VoC encourages what I call “the plus-three-sigma customers” to speak their minds. These are the folks who are out ahead of all the other customers – and usually ahead of us too! They’re the ones who aren’t confused by the unfamiliar, and who tend to be impatient with groupthink. To return to Governor’s piece, they’re the folks who would grab that ugly Aeron chair and and see at once how to build their workspace around it. They’re our natural collaborators in exploiting innovative and contrarian technologies.

Posted in Sun

Sleeping with the enemy (metaphorically, I hasten to add)

Regular readers will know that I often pick up blog-worthy items from Andrew Sullivan. Why do I read him? I mean, he’s a pompous right-wing blow-hard… but he did turn against Bush in the recent election, he’s done the right thing on Abu Ghraib while others have ignored it, and… oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s that gay chic thing, you know? “Queer Eye for the Political Guy”…. And then Terry nails him with a directness that jerks me out of my composure.

It starts with Sully’s QUOTE FOR THE DAY: ‘I’d much rather be doing this than figthing [sic] a war,’ – helicopter pilot Lt. Cmdr. William Whitsitt, helping the survivors of the south Asian tsunami. Earth to Whitsitt: you’re a soldier.

This earns Sully a swift rebuke from Terry: “having been to a war, and having helped people, I’d rather be doing the latter than the former. If Sullivan wants to question why… I’ll be more than willing to hand him a rifle, a flack vest, and a Basic Load, and take him for a couple of long walks in Falluja.”

Apparently Sully caught a ton of flak for this piece, and he had the good grace to include a couple of responses on the front page and the feedback section. Sully bleats pitifully that his “point is that the military is primarily about fighting and winning wars” – but does that mean that a soldier has to prefer killing to helping?! Does Sully want a soldiery composed of amoral robots with no compassion or humanity?

(Why did that last point remind me of Rumsfeld? Anyway, from now on Sully has to earn my readership.)

The Return of the King

I’ve been laid low for the last 48 hours with flu, but curiously that hasn’t meant that I’ve been stuck in bed. In fact I’ve found myself sleeping for 4 hours getting up for 2 or 3, and so on. I’ve tried reading, but that doesn’t work, so I’ve mostly been watching the bonus features on the The Return of the King (Extended Edition) DVD. I’d watched the film itself on Thursday, with some friends, and now I find that dipping into the various documentaries is exactly the right speed for my fevered brain at 4 in the morning. Among the high points:

  • Home of the Horse Lords, about the horses in the film – their selection and training, and the extraordinary actor-horse relationships that developed. The dedication of the equestrian extras. The breathtaking work of the stunt rider who doubled for Gandalf on Shadowfax. Stunning.
  • In the sequence about the world-wide premieres of RotK (towards the end of The End of All Things), the Norwegian event was unexpectedly special. It was held in a sports arena, with a huge screen, and before the film was shown 200 volunteers reenacted the key scenes from the first two films.
  • The Abandoned concept material about a version of the battle at the Black Gate in which Aragorn would battle Sauron. WHAT?! How could they even think of betraying such a key element of Tolkien’s vision by rendering immaterial evil as concrete? Fortunately, sanity was restored.
  • The documentary material on Cameron Duncan, a teenage New Zealand film-maker who succumbed to cancer while LotR was being filmed. Peter Jackson introduces a tenuous connection with the film (to do with the closing song), but he didn’t need to do that. After pulling off such a stupendous achievement, he’s entitled to put anything he wants in the DVD extras.
  • Odd things, like the fact that the scene with Sam and Frodo on the stairs (when Frodo sends Sam away) was shot in two sessions a full year apart.

So that’s how I’m spending my time. Well, that and watching Tottenham’s 5-2 win over Everton.

Happier New Year

Over the last 12 hours a flu-like bug has attacked, so while Merry goes out to celebrate with some old friends (as I insisted), I’m sitting here with a temperature of 101.5F and delirium-style tremens. Oh well, mustn’t grumble…. Happy New Year, everyone.