Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ron Paul - U.S. foreign policy

Now I may not be American and I know it will not be my choice who is or is not the next president, but I am very impressed with potential candidate Ron Paul. I love the way he is not afraid to go against the grain and talk honestly about his views without reluctance or fear. Having given the Republican debate on youtube a quick glance it seems to me that the other candidates are effectively clones who base their entire argument (and avoid some questions by hiding behind) around the war on terror.

"Right now we are building an American embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican, we're building 14 permanent bases, what would we say here if China were doing this in our country or the gulf of Mexico? we need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody did it to us"





Quick step guide

Looking through a bookshop the other day I saw they had a "quick step guide" to MS PowerPoint 2007, 300 pages does not a quick guide make...

I think the problem with things like this are that most customers will think that they are getting a raw deal unless they get a huge wad of paper for their money, despite the fact is is unnecessarily long and they wont read/understand it, and I also think that most publishers would refuse to publish a 15 page guide even if it was better for the job. Sillyness I say

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Marketing: Strategic vs Reactionary

One of the core activities of marketing is strategic brand management. The brand is the public interface between the company and the general public, who are potential customers. In terms of strategy it is your brand that will allow you to survive into the future and set long term direction, but all too often companies believe that their brand is simply a name, and changing how that brand is positioned will have little affect on customers loyalty and feelings towards it. Strategic marketing means developing the brand in a planned manner rather that altering the brand as a reactionary measure under duress of adverse conditions.

A perfect example of strategic marketing vs reactionary marketing is the example of Ryanair and Aer Lingus.
Ryanair are in the grand scheme of things a relatively new entrant to the airline industry, yet due to their excellent strategic marketing have managed to transform themselves into Europe’s biggest airline in terms of volume in quite a brief amount of time. Michael O’Leary, CEO of the Irish airline made the decision to adopt low fare airline techniques that had experienced some success in the US and converted them to fit the European market. Ryanair knew exactly what they were offering, who they were offering it too, and how they wanted to convey this message. Ryanairs strategic position and marketing methods were so successful that within a few years many copycat airlines had arisen.
Conversely we can observe Aer Lingus, who under the protection of the state and pre-Ryanair had very little to worry about. The brand enjoyed a world class reputation for both the levels of customer satisfaction and the fact that it was so closely related to Ireland a fact that was easily observed in marketing communications. Aer Lingus however were not very forward thinking and really had no future strategy at all. As more and more of Europe’s airlines went the Ryanair route and changed to low fare models a sense of panic set in at Aer Lingus HQ and they began the transformation of Aer Lingus into a low fare airline.

The Brand that had been developed for some many years was gone, abandoned for a generic low fare model that experienced moderate success, however faced with Ryanair and a more expensive look-a-like customers turned to Ryanair. Furthermore Aer Lingus' long haul and short haul services are two very different services, however under new marketing campaigns the Aer Lingus brand as a whole was tarred with the "cheap" brush.
The start of this year has seen a reversal of this knee jerk reaction with the attempted revival of the “old” Aer lingus yet while they try to cater for both customers seeking price and others quality under one brand, success will undoubtedly be limited. Aer Lingus did not and re not thinking strategically, Ryanair did.

The following videos show and older more romantic Aer Lingus ad (which is actually quite humorous), followed by the message they were trying to send at the start of their change.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Brevity is the soul of...

Two weeks ago I sat through a presentation in class by a student group on the topic of strategic marketing management. The presentation was given a time limit of “in and around 10 minutes” by the lecturer, however it seemed that most groups, and this group in particular were determined to just… ignore that piece of information. The presentation, which was on a potentially interesting topic ended up dragging on for at least thirty very long, very boring minutes.

I think this problem stems from the fact that as children in school we assume that bigger is very much better and surely the longer your essay etc is, the better the teacher will think it is, right?
The problem is we are never told otherwise, and many people just never figure it out. This is displayed by the fact that even after college exams you hear people boasting of how many pages they wrote, yes you may have managed to scribble out a 6 page essay, but could you have fitted it into a more concise, easy to understand and coherent 2 page essay?

"There is no virtue in writing too much, and no value in writing too little"

Were the expertly phrased words used by one of my lecturers this year, however I think that most people decide to ignore the first part of that sentence, and being fearful that there is too little, decide to drone on until the cows come home… and then die of old age.
One of the few lines I remember from my school days of studying Hamlet was “Brevity is the soul of wit” a very true statement and one that is ignored all too often, leading to collective groans when presentation time comes around because everyone knows that they are going to have to sit through an elongated, information sparse, lifeless “presentation” that will inevitably do no more than deprive them of 30 minutes of their life.

The one joy I have from this is watching the lecturers become more and more restless as slowly it dawns on them that the presentation is nowhere near finished AND will be eroding their lunch time, I imagine they are thinking lovely thoughts of giving D-‘s etc to the offending party.

Just remember its not that size that counts…

"Guidance"

I read the following piece in the Irish Times Education section last week and was a little surprised.


“Given that the majority of applicants selecting choices through the CAO process need not concern themselves with a specific career choice, what should be the criteria governing their choices?"

To be honest, a large part of me agrees that college courses should not be chosen solely on the basis of what jobs lead from it, but to say that students "need not concern themselves" with such issues just seems somewhat negligent, especially coming from the President of the Institute of Guidance Councillors, I thought it was the job of guidance councillors to get you thinking about stuff like this?

Getting a job after college is the reality of the situation, and although a student can have an equal or greater college experience studying for the sake of studying, it seems a bit silly to advice students to not even bare this in mind.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Test knowledge, Not penmanship

Today I had an exam, and like all other exams in UCD, and most colleges I have ever heard of, the exam was in a paper booklet.
Now I might be wrong about this but IS THERE ANY REASON why we should be writing these exams out when it would be much easier and efficient to do it by computer (especially seeing as you have to own one to do my business course)?

It serves no purpose to see if people can write 14 pages in 2 hours... like I did, because writing ability is not being tested, or at least should not be. It is the content of what is being written that counts, and as the system currently is, if you cant write fast... TOOOO BAD.

It would also make life considerably easier for those who have to mark the exam papers, I like most people have two writing modes, 1. Slow and legible, 2. Fast and total scrawl.

I think that most of the students I know can type a hell of a lot quicker than they can write, and that given the option they would most certainly choose to type out their answers as opposed to indulging in what is, to a large extent, a speed writing competition.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kettle nation

My Friend Ben Kirwan @ http://www.alrighta.blogspot.com/ 's view of the Irish and our need for a good aul cup of tea

Thursday, December 13, 2007

True Lies

One of the subjects that I did this semester was marketing research, and although my feelings for this subject are not entirely positive there were aspects that I found to be very interesting. A major part of our course was to choose a company or organisation located on campus and then undertake a marketing research project on a managerial problem that we deemed them to have.
We chose the coffee chain “Insomnia” who have an outlet in the business school, it was our opinion that the main reason for their success was not their product quality and certainly not their distinctly sub-par service but primarily their location that was the main driver behind their success in the Business school, and should a more service-centric competitor enter the marker it would adversely effect the customer levels at Insomnia.
Our project ended up being quite inconclusive and almost a giant waste of time, but I suppose we learnt a few lessons on what not to do.

The one piece of information I did find funny was the importance assigned to characteristics of a coffee shop when making a decision. According to the 102 people interviewed location was the number one factor influencing their choice, but interestingly they thought that brand and advertising were the factors that had the least amount of influence on their decision.

This however is obviously not true. If branding had little to no effect on them you could be assured that Starbucks could not charge $5 for a cup of coffee, there are undoubtedly other coffee shops out there with better quality and service, but finding that takes effort, we see the Starbucks (or whoever) sign and bingo bango we know what we are going to get. Admit it or not, brand play a huge part in out life and shape many of our decisions, in a world of endless choice and options we subconsciously look for means to make this decision easier, and once we know we like a given brand of coffee, most of us will stick with that for dear life. (the same reason most people stick with one brand of beer for life)

I know that this does not apply to everyone and that for some brands like Starbucks evoke a very different, more hostile response, however the average man on the street is heavily influenced by brands and advertising.
SOOOOO I think this was a very round about way of saying that, in marketing research, or in casual conversation, you must be cautious of what people say, because although they may believe it, in practice it may be in no way true.

Time to act?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The day the ducks came...

Landed on neighbours roof and gave me menacing looks

Gone Fishin'


Monday, December 10, 2007

"News"

I think it was when I read on the front page of the Sunday Independent that news about Katy French, the recently deceased Irish model, would be taking up page 1,2,3,24,25,26,27,36 AND 40 that I realised this week must have been VERY light on news.

This week has made me lose any respect for Irish newspapers I had left in my grumpy old brain. Earlier in the week news of the 24 year olds death took up the first three pages of the Irish Independent… THREE pages, surely something more important has happened in the world than the death of a semi famous Irish supermodel.
I understand that people are interested in the story, but surely somewhere down the line the newspaper had to decide it has a responsibility to tell stories of importance at the same time.

Today’s Sunday Indo dedicated such a large portion of its pages and contributers to this story it just shocked me, shocked me more than Sky NEWS, winning news channel of the year.
The Indo also gives generous amounts of page space to Brendan O’Connor who talks of the unfair plight of the model, and worst of all columnist Antonia Leslie who gleefully compares herself to the troubled actress informing us of times “Long after I left heroin behind me” instead opting for “weekends totally loved up on ecstasy, hovering cocaine while drinking litres of neat tequila” and how this compared to the model who is rumoured to have taken cocaine. Worst of all is the paper’s attempts to convince us of the martyrdom of Katy French and how she died for some sort of anti-drug cause

I hope to god the newspapers, in particular the Irish Independent, get their act together and start telling the news.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Lunch is for wimps?

The lunch hour used to be just that, a full 60 minutes of personal time spent having lunch or relaxing, alone or with colleagues. Rejuvenated workers would then return to their desk full of zeal, enthusiasm and energy. However in an increasingly demanding workplace the lunch hour has been the first casualty of this war against personal time.

The traditional hour long lunch is fast disappearing, in the United States research undertaken by office furniture manufacturer Steelcase showed that this “hour” currently stands at an average of 31 minutes, with 55% of workers taking less than half an hour break every day. On top of this 67% of adults named the lunch hour “the biggest myth of office life” in a recent survey by food chain KFC.

Although heavily associated with American corporate culture the erosion of the lunch hour has spread across the Atlantic with British workers take a daily average of 19 minutes break, with their Irish neighbours boasting a relatively high 35 minute “hour”.
Most would assume that employers are the sole force driving the lunch hour to extinction, and although the “unspoken rules” of a given company may dictate that a 60 minute lunch break is a workplace faux pas, it is interesting to note that as unlikely as it seems the lunch hour is also under attack from employees.

In an increasingly competitive workplace employees often engage in a “race to the bottom” of sorts, holding the belief that staying desk bound and “dining al desko” will give them an advantage over their colleagues and prove their worth to the powers that be. This belief was confirmed by UK based Hays recruitment who found 41% of workers believe that “taking less than their allocated lunch break shows increased commitment to their employer”.

Those who skip lunch tend to claim this leads to greater productivity throughout the day, however skipping lunch can have detrimental effects on both the quality of work and more importantly an individual’s wellbeing. With blood sugar levels dropping a fall in concentration is inevitable, and sitting behind a computer for a 12 hours at a time can lead to stress and burn-out, which in client-centric roles becomes very important seeing as “burned-out workers don’t treat customers the way they need to be treated.” warns workplace psychologist Bev Smallwood.

‘I joke sometimes that smokers are the healthiest people in the workplace these days, because they get outside,’ says Deborah Brown-Volkman, adding that “sunshine is good for the mind body and soul”, moreover it is beneficial for out waistlines, getting outside for a brisk walk could contribute significantly to the advised 30 minutes of daily physical activity that is so often neglected.

The assault on the traditional lunch break is set to continue and while experts might advise you that skipping lunch is detrimental to performance and health it seems some will be determined to perpetuate the mantra of Gordan Gecko in that “Lunch is for Wimps”.

Robot can play violin, is POINTLESS

I saw this robot on tv the other day and it caused me to throw a mini hissy fit. This robot can play the violin, and seemingly quite well but… who cares. Projects like this and the walking robot ASIMO, both developed by Toyota are interesting pieces that have taken decades of development, however are completely pointless.


I can understand that they want to make these robots as human-like as possible, possibly in some attempt to live up to 1930’s dreams of having robot butlers and hover cars, but in a time where running out of fuel sources in the not too distant future is a reality and carbon emissions are getting out of control, should our top scientists and engineers be focusing their efforts on robots capable of reciting the composer Elgar's “Pomp and Circumstance” ?

Rather than trying to create humanesque robots maybe they should start at the basics. I saw Trevor Baylis on tv last night, he is the inventor of the clockwork radio, a device that is powered by a crank wound by the listener, 30 seconds of winding results in about 10 mins of radio. He has also invented the electric shoe, which stores energy created by every step an individual takes and is enough to charge a fairly substantial battery. Both very simple but very effective inventions.

I think its high time for engineers to go back to basics and do things that solve our very real problems rather than waste countless millions on trying to make a robot walk on two feet.

Check out the vid of this POINTLESS creation

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"Education" a sob story

I really liked secondary school, it was great, and I think like most people who were in my class I look back now and remember how great it really was. However it still strikes me that the way we are educated during those years is for the most part FIERCLY ineffective and really not very practical in many ways. The main problem with how things are taught is there is no engagement from the class, theory remains theory and that is that.
To a large extent this remains true throughout college, I am supposedly in the best undergraduate business degree that can be obtained in this country, but I can assure you the most important lessons I have learnt about business, the workplace and myself have not been through rigid course curricula.

The other day I walked past my school and remembered something from about 6 years ago, which at the time I found kind of funny, but looking back now I feel kind of angry about. There was a boy in my class that was a trouble child, and prided himself on being so, he didn’t attend all the classes, he didn’t do his homework and wielded the power to make lecturers leave the classroom on the verge of tears (which was actually quite impressive).

One day this guy came into school with a sports bag that was weighed down with stuff inside it, what was it… sweets and coca cola and other things that teenagers like. It was basically a shop out of a bag. He charged slightly above the prices in the shops, but people were willing to pay it because they wanted it more than the overpriced stuff our school tried to pedal to us. This went on for weeks, people were happy, he was certainly happy, but this infiltration of non-school food had been noticed and soon he was hauled up in front of the headmaster, his parents notified and as far as I know his merchandise (and maybe money was also taken). School it seemed was no place for business.

A year later and the boy wasn’t in school anymore, for a number of other reasons the school had decided that he was not the sort of boy welcome in our school… and he was gone.

As I say, at the time this all seemed quite funny that the guy had gone and annoyed the teachers again, but when I thought about it now, it dawned on me that when they chastised him for what had been effectively a very intelligent business idea, they changed his life from then on. The business plan had been near perfect, he had identified a gap in the market and evaluated there was demand, knew what his target market wanted, how much they would be willing to pay, where he could sell it but more than that he took a risk. Undoubtedly the headmaster viewed this pursuit as “cheeky” and against school policy but these are skills that are not present in most people who go out and start their own businesses and skills that certainly don’t come natural to many 13 year olds.

This has really been a long winded way of saying that we need to look at how we “teach” people, and how we reward certain behaviours relative to others. The message we send is “sit, read, repeat” = good, in fact GRRREAT, “get up and go” = OHHH so your one of those are you. I hope that the person in question ends up running his own business because I know he can, but he won’t owe any of this success to his educational institution that for sure.

Recruitin' Season

Well it’s officially “recruitin’ season” in the college around the country and having worked at the career fair in UCD I noticed a fact that I find quite silly indeed.
Most of these self proclaimed “high performance” companies who profess only hiring the best brightest candidates that are a PERFECT fit for their job end up using completely unsuitable people to do the recruiting itself.
One example that shot me in the face (due to personal proximity to the industry) is that of consultancy. Nearly all of the people who do the recruitment for these companies are not consultants themselves and never have been, and this is not an exceptional circumstance. End situation is you have for example “people” people hiring “finance” people without knowing what type of person you need to be to do well in that job… therefore how can you say that you are recruiting people suitable for the job when YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THE JOB ACTUALLY REQUIRES?
Madness I tells ya…Madness.

Monday, December 3, 2007