Apple Maps and the Tall Poppy Syndrome

Ever since Apple launched iOS6 with their brand new Apple Maps, the web has been flooded with reports, posts, tweets and even special tumbler blogs dedicated to pointing out how ‘catastrophically bad’ Apple’s Maps product is.

The cacophony reached a crescendo on Friday with this post from the normally respectable Business Insider, pointing out how the portion of map used for the icon for the Apple Maps app isn’t 100% cartographically accurate. The freaking icon.

Is it just me, or is this getting stupid?

Sure, it’s the first version of a product and they have some work to do. We can all point out problems and issues with it. I work for Nokia building Nokia Maps, and I know how complex a map and navigation product is. But are these kinds of relentless and ultimately pointless attacks proving anything?

My seventh grade science teacher used to call it the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”. In a field of poppy flowers, when one poppy grows taller than all the others, the other poppies do whatever they can to pull it back down again.

That’s what’s happening here. We have all sat by in wonder, awe and respect as Apple charted their amazing course to recovery to become the most valuable company on the planet. And yet now the world that rocketed Apple to success is trying to pull that poppy down again.

The mob is fickle.

The Germans have a fantastic word in their language: Schadenfreude (n). Literally translated it means the happiness you feel at experiencing the misfortune of others. There’s even an adjective form: schadenfroh.

It seems the entire tech world is enjoying seeing Apple squirm after the barrage of negative feedback and criticism over the Maps product. A whole sea of schadenfroh tech journalists, bloggers and consumers smiling to each other and insisting that they could have done better or would have advised Apple differently.

Even after Tim Cook’s public apology people were quick to point out that “Apple apologies are actually not that infrequent”, or absurdly “That would never have happened if Steve Jobs were still alive.”

Even as the iPhone5 broke all kinds of sales records at its launch last weekend, it clearly wasn’t ‘good enough’, as Wall Street was disappointed, and that makes tech bloggers sad.

It all kind of reminds me of a track from William Shatner’s classic album, Has Been. He says:

Riding on their armchairs
They dream of wealth and fame
Fear is their companion
Nintendo is their game
Never done jack and two thumbs Don
And sidekick don’t say dick
They laugh at others failures
Though they have not done shit

The “tweet pitch”: an elevator pitch in 140 characters

What’s the one sentence that describes your product?

We all know about the Elevator Pitch – the 30 second pitch that you would deliver to your CEO or to an investor whom you meet in an elevator, where you have until the elevator doors open to pitch your great idea. I’ve written before that it’s essential for every Product Owner to not only have his or her elevator pitch always ready and prepared, but even to practice it so that every opportunity you have to deliver it is as good as it can be.

In our modern world of constant interruptions, short attention spans, skim reading and ever-faster elevators, however, you might not get 30 seconds. You certainly won’t get 300 words.

I think what we need to understand is the tweet pitch. What is the core essence of your product, in 140 characters or less?

It’s an interesting exercise because, like preparing an elevator pitch, it forces you to boil your product down to the fundamental core.

For sure, you can’t say everything about your product in 140 characters – you can’t describe your vision, your market segment, your business model and your strategy – but that’s precisely what I like so much about the tweet pitch. It forces you to get to the core.

Several other products (probably) do the same thing or something similar. So what is important about you? What makes your product different?

Every product has a market segment. But is that what is unique about yours?

If you only had 140 characters to sell your idea – which characters would you choose?

(I cannot claim that I coined the term “tweet pitch”. It’s been written about before at least here and here, and I have to give credit to Timm for putting the idea in my head this week).

Microsoft gives all its employees a new phone, tablet and PC… and I think that’s real smart

Geekwire reported on Friday that Microsoft announced at their annual employee conference that every full-time employee will receive a brand spankin’ new Windows 8 mobile device, Windows 8 computer and a new Surface Tablet – for work and private use.

With over 90,000 full-time employees, this is not an inexpensive exercise… with a generous estimate of $1000 (cost price) per head for a phone, a PC and the Surface tablet, it’s over 90 million bucks. So why would they do this? (And why do I think it’s probably one of the smartest ways to spend 90 million bucks?)

  • It shows they are committed to their product – that they believe in their product – and it will help the employees of Microsoft remain focussed and passionate about their mission. Microsoft are coming late to the party when it comes to the mobile and tablet space, and the Windows Phone ecosystem is at a critical stage where it needs to really take off, and quick – and the whole team at Microsoft will have to keep true to the mission to make it happen.
  • It’s a sign of confidence to the outside world. Microsoft is saying; “we can afford to have all our employees using these – they will be successful”.
  • It also shows commitment to their employees, and will be seen as a nice bonus gift by everyone.
  • It turns every single one of their employees into an immediate marketer and ambassador. Sure, they all are (or should be) anyway – but when they actually have the physical product in their hands to show their friends and family, it is quite something else. Every Microsoft employee will be an expert ambassador, and will spread the word and passion to the rest of the world. It’s seeding the market with 90,000 highly engaged customers.

A company’s best and most passionate ambassadors should be the employees themselves. Making sure they are up to date with the latest products is a smart way to make every employee a vigorous promoter.

Plus: $90 is small change relative to Microsoft’s 261 billion market cap.

The Law of Two Feet – every day

My feet

In open space-style workshops/sessions there’s a concept called “The Law of Two Feet”. It means that if, at any time, you feel you are not contributing to the session, or if you are not learning something, then you should use your two feet to leave the session and find one where you can contribute and where you can learn something.

It’s a beautiful rule because it gives all participants the permission to go where they think they can be the most effective.

It occurs to me that nearly all the meetings I attend in the workplace could benefit from having meeting participants understand this concept.

So often we find ourselves in meetings that are not valuable for us. Sometimes we’re invited “just for our info”, so we go along just to avoid the risk of missing out. Sometimes meetings go so off-topic that the value starts to dissipate. And sometimes the meeting probably wasn’t necessary in the first place.

In any of these situations, I propose to you that you invoke your right to use your feet. If the meeting isn’t valuable for you; if you cannot contribute or cannot learn something valuable – then leave.

You have my permission!

ALE 2012: My presentation: “The Product Owner – The Accidental Profession”

The Stork and the PO

Here you can find the slides from my presentation at the Agile Lean Europe 2012 Unconference in Barcelona this week.

Download the slides

Thank you to everyone who attended and gave feedback!