The VP of Names

A few posts ago, I advocated along with  my friend Stefanie Lightman of iFridge & Company that the all important project/team leader role would be better served if referred to as the “bus driver”. Why?  Because the complexity and importance of the role is more easily understood when packaged in a meaningful and metaphorical name like the “bus driver”.

I now have a second role renaming proposal.  If you are the CMO or xVP of Marketing, you shall now be called the VP of Names.

Why the VP of Names?

The CMO or xVP of Marketing is senior marketing leader in the organization.  Their job is to connect, at the deepest emotional level possible (affordable), the value proposition of the company’s offering to the customer.  Those connections occur and can only be remembered using powerful language that is backed by the customer’s real-life experience.  Those experiences are strengthened or eroded at every customer touch point – using the offering and interacting with the company at their website, in their lobby, listening to a voicemail greeting, talking to an account or service rep, and many more.  Your language and words must be portable enough to work in all these contexts.

More on Naming

In technology businesses, it is challenging to describe highly complex solutions to highly complex problems.  That challenge is met by the VP of Names who must describe that complexity and and differentiation with easy to consume yet powerful words, metaphors, and visuals.  Great names provide the shorthand required for increasingly efficient and engaging conversations.  Names might be internal only project or code-names, or external for customers as well.   Great names will grow to represent initiatives and rally cries for a small team or inspire an entire global organization.

Some Examples

“Rip and replace” are three very powerful words to describe an IT scenario of one product displacing another.  Its used a lot in salesmanship, especially by incumbent vendors justifying their current deployed solutions while staking claim to an adjacent position.

Candy and Aspirin”, “Do Things Better – Do Better Things”, “Tastes Great – Less Filling” and “Top and Bottom Line” are all phrases that articulate unexpected benefits on two opposite sides.  Candy and Aspirin became such a strong internal rally cry at Open Text, it inspired colleague Cheryl McKinnon to name her blog as such.

How much quality thought do you put into project names?

A client last year launched Project Giraffe as their ongoing 3-year strategic planning initiative.  The name says it all – you really don’t need any further description.

Put quality thought into your naming, especially internal project names as those lay the foundation for your external execution.  Do that well, and maybe someday you’ll apply to be a VP of Names!

Amusing Business Expressions

Last week, my good friend Stefanie Lightman and I blogged about the expression “bus driver” to better describe the all-important project leader.  Evidently, political cartoonist Jeff Stahler agrees with us based on his political cartoon today describing Ohio’s newly elected governor.  In researching our piece on bus drivers, I stumbled upon which has some very funny but NSFW expressions.  That triggered some more thoughts about SFW metaphors and expressions that creep into our (my) business language.  Here are a few that make me smile.

Fred Brooks Move Over

mmm Fred Brooks could have titled his famous book, “Nine Women Can’t Have a Baby in a Month”, instead of the Mythical Man Month.  As much as we may be tempted to correct the zealousness of software engineers, product managers and marketers, there is this thing called a critical path whereby adding more people to a project won’t make it go any faster.  I guess there are only so many seats on that bus.

From my Canadian Friends

“The dead moose on the table.” I’ve only heard this expression in Canada.  Here in Ohio, and I think in the rest of the world, the equivalent expression for an “awkward meeting topic” is “Elephant in the room”.   I’m curious why the Canadians felt the need to localize this expression.  Just like Canada, we don’t have elephants in Ohio, but that didn’t compel us to localize this expression to “The flattened deer on the side of the road” just to work in an indigenous animal.

“Bob’s Your Uncle” is an expression I heard used as a concluding remark after a passionate speech.  My first thought was “But I don’t have an uncle named Bob.”  I didn’t admit at the time that I had no clue what this meant, so after the meeting, I looked it up and learned that this expression is used in all the commonwealth countries.  It seems the more common equivalent is “I rest my case”.


I learned “I turn in to a pumpkin in one hour” from my former colleague George Florentine.  It is a great way to tell your colleagues that they better finish their business with you in one hour because you aren’t hanging around even if they have more to discuss or say.

“I am cornfused” is an expression I recall from a high-school coach and teacher.  Most people just think you’re illiterate and cannot pronounce the word “confused”.

“Ping me” is another common expression that means contact me via any means possible – email, txting, mobile, or yelling out the window.  It has its roots both as a network test between two computers and in sonar detection in naval warfare.

Just sayin” seems to get lots of use lately.  Add this to the end of all your highly offensive or insulting remarks to take the edge off.

Feel free to share any of your favorites that I’ve missed.  SFW only please!

Who’s Driving the Bus?

By Bill Forquer and Stefanie Lightman

Co-authored with Stefanie Lightman.  Stefanie is co-founder of iFridge & Company and consults on strategic positioning.  Bill and Stefanie both have years of experience driving and riding in the bus.

Effective teams get things done. The science and skill of running effective teams is hugely important in business.  Effective team leaders run effective teams.  The team leader gets everyone involved, leverages their talents, maintains focus on the goal, manages the schedule and assignments, and is the person you should thank the most if you receive a bonus when the goal is reached.  We think such an important role deserves a stylish and metaphoric name. “Team Leader”?  “Project Manager”?  Too lame!

Commonly, we hear sports metaphors like “quarterback” or “point guard” to describe the team leader role.  In Canada, you hear “stick-handler”. And it is certainly hard to imagine a football team scoring touchdowns without a quarterback, or a basketball team executing plays without a “point guard”, or a hockey team scoring goals without a stick-handler.

The Bus Driver

We both like the term “bus driver” the best.  There is a sense of urgency about a bus going down the highway without a driver!  A bus driver is a highly responsible position.  A bus and its passengers can perish instantly.  Bus drivers can be male or female; tall or short; creative or analytical.  The only physical characteristics required are the ability to see and quick reaction time.

There is also the sense of journey with a bus, just like the mission of a team.  Everyone is traveling together and hopefully focused on that common mission.  Everyone is heading in the same direction.  Everyone relies on the bus driver to get them safely to the destination – on time and within budget.  The bus driver must continuously monitor the direction, watch for detours, and make either minor or major course corrections.

Deciding the Route

NoWhereInParticularBus Often guided by a well articulated company vision and strategy, the bus driver now must choose the route.  The bus driver should empower passengers to make the journey as effective as possible.  The bus driver is usually the first to see upcoming roadblocks that can impact success, but roadblocks might also be seen first by passengers, if they’re paying attention.   Would your bus driver call an impromptu meeting when the “Check Engine” warning light comes on, or just ignore it?  Running an effective team or driving a bus – all the analogies work.

Driving or Riding … Not Both

Another downside of the sports metaphors is that some people believe it is perfectly acceptable to have two quarterbacks, two point-guards, or two stick-handlers on a team.  While sometimes that is the case in sports, and good succession planning requires a backup, a bus can uniquely have one driver.  Riders in the bus can advise, point, shout, jump out the window, and maybe even pull an emergency brake, but cannot drive. Bad things happen when more than one person attempts to drive a bus.

Sometimes however, a bus driver change is required.  The most successful way to handle this is to determine that this change should happen early.  Recognizing who in your organization can drive the bus and realizing when someone may not be suited for that role, is important to a positive outcome.

So next time you’re planning a journey by putting together a team of folks, do yourself a favor and tell everyone they are in a bus, where they are going, the role they have while in the bus, and by all means, make sure you have a driver.  If not, be sure to stop, as we’ve each done a few times in our careers, and shout out loudly, ‘Who’s Driving This Bus?’

Forward Opaque and Backward Transparent


Forward Opaque and Backward Transparent is a term we use at Priiva that describes our methodology, and game theory methodology more generally.

“Forward Opaque” is the reason we can eliminate personal bias from decision making.  This type of bias can be lethal – McKinsey wrote a nice article guarding against this kind of bias.  Great advice, but game theory methodology actually helps avoid even having to be on guard – it avoids the bias altogether.

As you debate most topics in your organization, like budgets, role assignments, or strategic directions, the opinions expressed by those involved are likely to be biased by the eventual impact they believe the issue will have on them personally, or for a good manager, perhaps the staff they represent.

These debates are “Forward Transparent”, meaning that the opinions taken during the debate are susceptible to personal bias because those involved can speculate which side of the issue has a more favorable impact on them personally.

When you apply game theory to your strategy and decision making, the essence of the debate changes.  You don’t debate the merits of known outcomes A vs. B.  Rather, you debate what is most important to each of the stakeholders (or players) involved in that issue.  The entire debate shifts to be “Forward Opaque” because you don’t really know how importance for one specific player might impact the overall predicted outcome from the entire simulation.

Once you have settled all your debates on importance, the mathematics behind game theory determines your best possible outcomes.  Those outcomes are “Backward Transparent”! That is, the mathematics can be reverse engineered from the predicted best possible outcomes back to the importance assumptions made about each of the players.

Using this technique, you take away the ability to “game the system” – bad pun.  Intrigued?  Here are some more thoughts on my experiences applying game theory to decision making.

Priiva and iFridge Co-Developed CEO Strategy Workshop

I’m excited to be putting on the finishing touches of a new CEO workshop co-developed with Stefanie Lightman of iFridge & Company.  Stefanie is a former co-worker, world-class marketer, and passionate Red Sox fan, so the joint efforts are fun and lively.  Stefanie and I will deliver that workshop over the coming weeks to Vistage CEO groups on the east coast.  Each of us have been independently conducting CEO workshops this past year, but this is our first attempt to integrate our respective work.  You can learn more of Stefanie’s perspectives on our joint work in her blog.

We’ve developed a very nice pairing of strategy development and execution with pragmatic take-away tools for the participants.  First, is a scorecard developed by ifridge & Company for evaluating the sustainability of differentiation, and scoring an organization’s ability to articulate that differentiation in the marketplace.   This is always a continuous improvement project, reaching to all corners of the organization, and a great way to reconfirm sustainability, and then prioritize sales enablement and marketing programs.

The second take-away is the development of a Strategic Events Heat Map, a tool often recommended by Priiva to its clients.  While not a full-blown market model based on game theory, the development of this heat map forces a similar rigorous and structured codification of outside-in strategic thinking.   The heat map features a strategic lens, which includes the sustainable differentiators referenced above, to evaluate the impact of various world, market, and internal events as they occur.  Over time, the heat map provides a visual picture of the major stakeholders in your market.

Participants will leave the workshop with the ability to conduct quarterly strategic reviews using both of these tools.  We’re looking forward to the interactions and an excited set of CEO participants.

Relationships as a Source of Importance

Before Twitter.

I was an early adopter of myYahoo.  I built highly organized tabbed pages on all things that were important to me.  It didn’t bother me at the time that I had to decide what was important to me.  In fact, I felt empowered that I got to decide rather than some pre-historic layout editor deciding for me.  This was revolutionary for our industry.

My tabbed pages included included headline news, business news, technology news, news on specific companies including their stock price, score of my favorite sports teams, weather in locations that I frequent or where business friends live, and some cartoons.  My myYahooo page became habitual.  I would look at it once a day – either first thing in the morning or last thing before signing off.  It was embedded in my daily routine.   It was the tool that answered the question, “what is going on around me that I care about”?  It was the ultimate of what Yahoo wants to accomplish with their information services.

After Twitter.

Well, I just realized that myYahoo is no longer habitual.  I only go there now for Yahoo Finance where I have nicely organized portfolios of every public company in every software industry segment.  Yahoo Finance still does a great job with drill down into public company specifics.

Twitter is the new habit that has replaced myYahoo as the information service that answers the question “whats going on around me?”.  And unlike myYahoo, I don’t even have to decide the topics or sources.  I just follow people in Twitter from a variety of different disciplines whose opinions and insights I value.  That is so simple and easy.  So as they tweet on topics important to them, those same topics are likely to be important to me.  I feel better informed now using this service than I was previously using myYahoo.

Given the success of Twitter, and my own experience of willingly delegating “importance” to those that I follow, I have to conclude that relationships are a better source of importance than my own judgment.