Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Using "Dip" thinking to review decisions

It is always easier to be the quarterback after the plays have been run.

Still once in a while it makes sense to evaluate what has happened and the context surrounding major events.

I like to do it because it helps me learn from my mistakes and successes and the ones of others. I have never been ashamed of learning from others, either what to do or what not to do.

One of the big turning points in my life started in the summer of 2003 when I was director of federal sales for Apple. My team had been on a tear. We had grown sales massively in the very tough federal market. We had done it with very few resources and lots of hard, smart work.

Yet it had been like pulling teeth. We seemed to be taking Apple into a market which the company really did not want. It was hard to get Apple to even acknowledge that a federal team existed.

It was then that I learned once again that you should always be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

August of 2003, Apple appointed an enterprise VP. It was actually the beginning of the end of my career at Apple though I did not know it at the time.

Our efforts at selling to the federal government had flourished as a skunk works but was about to die from the company trying to help us.

I have pondered how this could have been played differently. After all I had been successful through nearly twenty years in Apple's very challenging sales environment.

The reality was that I should have left Apple at the moment that Apple half-heartedly tried to help the enterprise effort with a vice president who was not only toxic but clueless to the point of embarrassing us in front of key customers.

I recently read the post, The Big Dip: Ten Questions with Seth Godin. It provides an interesting framework for figuring out why my efforts at hanging in there at Apple during a tough time was exactly the wrong decision.
It’s time to quit when you secretly realize you’ve been settling for mediocrity all along. It’s time to quit when the things you’re measuring aren’t improving, and you can’t find anything better to measure...
I knew in the summer of 2003 that our numbers were not going to match what the company wanted. The biggest reason was the shortage of G5 systems during the critical buying season.

However, there were a number of other reasons, and most of them were related to settling for mediocre support from Apple when trying to achieve our goals.

We were promised key executives who would regularly visit Washington. It never happened. We ended up with an Oracle retread who could not have sold half priced new Mac products at MacWorld.

Apple promised us that we would be on the GSA Schedule, but ended up changing their mind and delaying it until years after I left Apple.

We were told that we would get publicity and interviews in federal trade papers. What we got was near invisibility in the world's largest IT market.

I could go down a whole list of promises made and broken by the corporation when it came to the federal market, but the truth is that Apple had no intention of really pushing their products in the federal market. We were living a pipe dream.

In my mind I knew that sales would improve in 2004 because we would have product again, but what I did not understand is that Apple's commitment to the market would never improve.

My mistake was using sales growth as a measurement. What I should have been watching was the company's delivery on its promises which turned out to be abysmal.

The "Dip" in 2003 was actually something that I should have realized as a signal to get out of Apple. I did not see it, and I wasted ten months when I could have been doing something else instead of being a target.

I encountered another "Dip" in late spring of May 2006.

I eventually got put into one of those situations where I had little to do in spite of being a VP. I could have worked at hanging around and trying to find a way to contribute, but who wants to work where their skills are not appreciated and their efforts are not acknowledged? I certainly had no interest in doing that, so I left.

The theory of the "Dip" has been a good way to understand when to continue fighting and when to move on to another set of challenges.