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Archive for March 8th, 2010

Is Your Business Socially Useless?

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Dane Collins, our CEO, recently sent me a link to a thought-provoking blog by Umair Haque on the Harvard Business Review website. The headline boldly asks, “Is Your Business Useless?”

Before I read the first word, I knew I’d likely smile as I read through it. Having spent nearly my entire career in high-frequency (HF) EDA, I was already willing to admit that this industry isn’t overtly socially friendly. I mean, we are largely a group of engineers whose typical stereotype is introverted, so stepping out into the spotlight to draw attention to ourselves, and, on top of that, to make a point of being “socially useful”…. this was going to be good.

Nonetheless, I read it. Interesting points:

* Socially useless business has a cost – just in the last five years – $12 trillion in bailout packages for socially useless banks alone
* Socially useless business is what has created a global economy on life support
* Socially useless business is what has created a jobless “recovery” and is why we don’t have a better education, healthcare, finance, energy, transportation, or media industry

Okay Mr. Haque, how do you really feel?

He continues, “How is it that socially useless business is to blame for this adverse affect on our society? Socially useless business is the status quo — and the status quo says: ‘You don’t matter. Our bottom line is the only thing that matters.’ ”

This is a tough dose of his reality to swallow, but does it have merit in HF EDA–or high-tech in general for that matter? If we look at recent technology products that have succeeded, Apple’s iPhone/iPod, Nintendo Wii, and Google Search all come to my mind. Somewhere in here, these technologies and tools tapped into the value of being socially useful to the population at large. By using these appliances, we find ourselves more productive in life or enjoying our free time more, or even using them as ways to be more social?

I doubt this is a winning strategy in and of itself (build a better mousetrap) but the way a product or service can connect with a user or consumer and make the experience personal or emotional is timeless. Maybe today the “socially useless” tagline makes the HBR post seem more hip or current but the emotional appeal has worked for many years to build brand loyalty, from Walt Disney to Coke and Pepsi and hundreds more examples I’m not listing here.

In my own experiences within the world of EDA, I have to say that AWR is one of the few places I’ve worked that encourages its employees to have a sense of self and personality that isn’t constrained by the corporate logo but actually defines the brand. Starting the blog on MWJ site was a step into the e-social fabric for me and for AWR… and an experiment that I believe has been a success for the company by enabling us to connect more with our customers and with the larger community of users out there, and to open up a dialogue to figure out how our company and its tools can improve society (our society of users).

AWR has always been customer focused. It’s the reason Joe Pekarek founded the company in the first place. Since the economy began shrinking nearly two years ago now, everyone at AWR has stepped up their commitment to the corporate mission of improving the productivity of our HF customer base –if there’s one thing we understand, its that in order for AWR to be successful, our customers have to be successful. AWR’s philosophy is the polar opposite of the socially useless business. Our culture is focused on ensuring that customers know they DO matter, and that we fully understand that our bottom line depends on their success.

Haque says that socially useless business is built on shoddy, poor economics, and like most things too good to be true, it rarely lasts for long. Socially useless businesses are living on borrowed time. The new order is “constructive capitalism.” Constructive Capitalists are better businesses. They’ve learned how to create value that’s socially useful. They are doing things that matter to people, communities, and society.

So, the question big business and small start-ups alike should be asking themselves these days is, “How useless is my business?”

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