Don’t click ‘send’ and other career-saving email tips – Jason Kilgore

He really thought we should go with “A.”  He was wrong.  “B” was the only viable option and I replied to his email as such.  In his passive-aggressive tone, he emailed me back to say that we could go with “B” but we should give fair consideration to “A.”  Some people have nerve!  I stewed over it for a day and then told him our plan would go down the toilet if we didn’t choose “B”.  Now, it was all-out war.  He replied in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, “GO WITH ‘B’ THEN.”  He did NOT just send me an email in all caps. Oh, but he did.  That’s it.  My conversation was over with him – forever.  We will never speak again….

….But we did.

At church.

The next Sunday.

He said, “Yeah, Jay, I think you’re right. We just need to move ahead with ‘B’.”

I was confused. “But, your email seemed to indicate that you were sold on ‘A’,” I replied, trying to look as if I had genuinely considered his opinion.

“Not at all.  It’s a big decision.  I was bouncing ideas off of you.”

And about the ALL CAP’S EMAIL?

“I just got a new smart phone.  Still can’t figure that thing out.”

Lesson learned.

Email is a great tool for communicating, sometimes.  Here are ten simple rules I have developed for myself regarding the use of email.  Use them wisely, my friends.

  1.  There is no such thing as a confidential email.  What you put in writing lasts forever.  Always assume the entire company will have access to what you write.  Gossip is best left to potlucks and prayer meetin’s.
  2. Never read any emotion into an email, even if it is in all caps.  Writing styles vary greatly.  Some people express themselves well with the written word.  Most do not, so don’t assume they do.
  3. Do not press ‘send’ if the back of your neck feels hot.  How many times have you fired off an email when upset or angry?  How many times have you regretted doing so?  No email is so important that it can’t wait 1 or 2 or 24 hours to send.
  4. Proof-read your emails.  Spell check only ensures that you spelled a word correctly, not that you used your intended word.
  5. The “subject” line is there for a reason.  Use it.
  6. Complex concepts cannot be communicated in an email. Readers become quickly bored with long emails.  Email is a quick, “catch up with me later” tool. (If you cannot resist, use bulleted points.)
  7. Only use email to coordinate simple tasks, summarize conversations, ask questions, or communicate basic facts. Esoteric concepts are best left to other forms of communication.
  8. Large attachments are the devil.
  9. Cute backgrounds are not cute.  Backgrounds were a fad back in the 90’s.  Now, to the tech-savvy, email background screams out, “Look what my 9 year old grand kid showed me how to do.”  Not cool.
  10. If in doubt, pick up the phone or make an appointment to speak in person. (Remember that device in your pocket used to update your status?  You can also use it to talk to people.)

Communication technology is forever changing.  So are the rules in how we use that technology.  How you choose to communicate in personal emails and via social media is up to you.  However, teamwork in the professional world relies on effective, efficient collaboration.  Violating these ten email rules distract and detract from meaningful communication.  Follow these rules and you will be a more valuable member of your team.

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Selling Extended Warranties Sends a Mixed Message

I know it is the Christmas season because I am bombarded with extended warranty offers on everything I buy.  One sales person in particular asked me if I wanted to buy an extended warranty on a television.

ME:  “What does the warranty cover?”

HIM:  “It covers the cost of repair or replacement if something goes wrong.”

ME:  “Like, if I drop it or something?”

HIM:  “No, it doesn’t cover that.”

ME:  “Oh, you mean if there’s a power surge and the electronics get fried?”

HIM:  “No, it doesn’t really cover that either.”

ME:  “Then, what does it cover?”

HIM:  “The warranty covers any repairs needed as a result of an internal failure.”

ME:  “Internal failure, meaning defective?”

HIM:  “Yes.”

ME: “So, there’s a good chance this TV is defective and I will be screwed unless I buy the warranty?”

HIM:  “Ummmm….”

ME:  “I’ll pass.”

The logic behind selling extended warranties is fundamentally flawed.  (Yes, I recognize warranties are sold because consumers buy them and the retailer makes money.)  Selling extended warranties sends mixed messages to consumers.  On one hand, retailers depend on their customers believing in the quality of products offered and the reputation of the organization to deliver that expected level of quality.  On the other hand, customers are asked to pay a hefty fee in anticipation that the seller will fail to live up to the standard of excellence it is trying to portray.  This is the reality, but does it even make sense?  Carefully consider the following before offering to sell your customer an extended warranty.

  1. Extended warranties contradict the consumer’s sensibilities about the meaning of “fit-for-use.”  As consumers, we expect the products and services we buy to be fit-for-use, meaning those products and services will function as intended in the normal environment of its use.  For example, we don’t expect our pet fish to survive an afternoon of playtime with our pet kitten.  We do expect our snow boots to keep our feet warm and dry in the snow.  We expect our kids to be kept safe at school or camp.  Extended warranties contradict the consumer’ core belief in the product or service– the same core belief that drove the consumer to purchase the product or service.   Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer for a moment.  When we are offered an extended warranty, there arises a brief contradiction to what we believe about the product (the product is fit for use) and what the seller implies about the product (the product is not fit for use).  Alternately, when the seller of a product offers us a free bumper-to-bumper extended warranty, our core belief about the product is reassured.
  2. Extended warranties presume a lack of quality.  Why do consumers buy extended warranties?  Because consumers assume the product or service will fail sometime within its useful life.  As consumers, the more we are asked to pay for an extended warranty relative to the initial product price, the more we become convinced the product might be defective.  If we were to buy a computer for $1,000 and shamelessly pressured to buy an extended warranty for $250, we could assume one of two scenarios exists.  First, there is a 25% chance the PC will fail.  (Why else would the warranty be 25% of the purchase price?)  Alternatively, we could assume that there is a much lower chance of failure, the seller knows it, and is just trying to make extraneous profit on the sale.  Either scenario creates distrust between the buyer and seller based on the presumption of the lack of quality in either the initial product or the subsequent customer relationship.
  3. Extended warranties reduce the incentive to build quality products.  Extended warranties are often backed by a third party (excluding most automotive and Apple warranties).  So, if the product is defective, it is NOT the manufacturer taking the financial risk for failures.  In fact, the manufacturer may never see its lack of quality.  The third-party backer will repair or replace the product from the funds collected from the 75% of consumers whose products do not fail.  The cost of the poor quality is not transparently passed back to the entity responsible for poor quality in the first place.  The extended warranty, in effect, insulates the guilty party from fully feeling the pain of inferior products.  The producer is numb to the “improve-or-die” incentive inherent in companies that stand behind the quality of its products.  [This reasoning should encourage consumers to give preference to products and services backed by the manufacturer directly.]

As a practical matter, there is a time and place for extended warranties.  It is always wise to weigh the risks and reward of such offers before any major purchase.  The philosophical dilemma is in the message extended warranties send.  As you think about your business model, consider every single message you send to your customers, whether expressed or implied.  We know that extended warranties generate revenue, but what do they say about our product or service?   What quality statement is made by a surgeon offering to sell you life insurance just prior to performing your surgery?   – Jason Kilgore

Process Innovation – Don’t Be Afraid to Dream

Earlier in my career, I designed and developed gadgets for the automotive industry.  We sold new technology to every major car company in the world.  That was a great job.  Not only did I get to invent, I also had to test-drive many prototype vehicles – Corvettes, BMW’s, Jaguars, and Neon’s.  (OK, the Neon is not so impressive.)  This is typically what we think of when we talk about innovation.

In the business arena, innovation can take on different personas.  Sure, we still must innovate new products to remain competitive.  But, we must also innovate our processes to remain profitable.  Times have changed and our labor-intensive, paper-pushing processes have become outdated.  Today is the day to re-think and re-engineer our way of delivering value to the consumer.  [As a side note, I suspect process innovation will replace process improvement in the industrial vernacular to differentiate between revolutionary and evolutionary change.]   As I reflect back, I have noted several similarities between product innovation (inventing new stuff) and process innovation (designing efficient workflows).  Here are four that come to mind.

1.  Dream crazy dreams.  It is amazing to me that much of what we have today – iPhones, space tourism, and microwave popcorn – were considered science fiction fifty years ago.  These crazy dreams dreamt by stoned artists and writers, mad scientists, and off-center movie producers have sparked our collective creativity and opened our minds to new concepts, fantastical ideas, and larger-than life possibilities.  It reminds us that innovation begins in taking the time to dream crazy dreams.

2.  Ask dumb questions. One of the great things about what I do is that I get to ask the dumb questions – questions no one else will ask because they challenge the norm.  It takes courage to ask questions in a work environment whose answers are taken for granted. Honestly, it’s not so much that the question is dumb; more often, the answer is dumb.  “Why do we do it like that?”  “Because that is the way we do it here.”  Which of the previous familiar phrases is the dumb one – the question or the answer?  In our roles as leaders, constantly asking why incentivizes our team to re-think our assumption that the world is still flat.

3.  Think big thoughts. Dreaming crazy dreams and asking dumb questions alone do not result in innovation.  Crazy dreams create solutions-based concepts.  Asking dumb questions highlight the problems in need of a solution.  Thinking big bridges the gap between the future-state [crazy] dream and current-state [dumb question] problems.  Thinking big forces us to operationalize our dreams, applying workable solutions to the problems we uncover by asking the dumb questions.  If we can think bigger thoughts, we will begin to innovate.

4.  Act every day.  Innovation is not just a mental exercise in the world of WHAT IF.  True change (the result of innovation) comes in daily turning our big thoughts into action.  I wish innovation were as easy as giving a motivational speech to our team and challenging them to implement our ideas.  But, it is not.  True innovation requires the person with the brilliant idea to work tirelessly, and often thanklessly, to bring that crazy dream into reality.

The innovation continuum is full of irony.  If we could capture the exhilaration of innovation before we dream the crazy dream, then we would never dream.  If we don’t ask dumb questions, we will never learn.  If we don’t think big, we will remain small.  If we don’t act every day, we will not act at all.  The brilliance of innovation is only seen in the rearview mirror.

Jason Kilgore