December 6, 2008
dell: create or die
[This cartoon I drew this morning pretty much sums it up...]
For the last six months or so, I've been trying to get my head around Dell. Trying to see what they're good at, what they're not so good at, and seeing if there's a way that maybe, just maybe, I could help them in some small way become a better company.
But it's been a somewhat arduous process. Progress has been slow. Not because anyone's done anything wrong- on their side or mine- it's just a big nut I'm trying to crack here. Rome wasn't built in a day.
Today I had a bit of an EUREKA! moment.
I like Dell. They are good friends of mine. They've been good clients to me. Big Kudos all round. They have a lot of good qualities. For example:
They're very good at being efficient.
They are very nice people, for the most part.
They have a very tenacious streak to them.
They seem to frown on what they consider to be needless extravagance. They're frugal.
They're very practically minded. They like numbers, they don't like getting too excited about all this airy-fairy, new-age marketing pixie dust.
They are driven to constantly create great products.
They are driven to constantly create a better company and culture. They figure that if they don't keep raising the bar, somebody else will do it for them.
Nothing I have seen there with my own two eyes would lead me to believe otherwise. All well and good.
But one word I'm going to keep of the list: "Creative".
Of course Dell has tons of creative people working for them. Of course they're always "creating" great stuff. Of course there's huge reservoirs of creative capital, teeming away in those large glass building of theirs.
But if I randomly asked you to make a list of the world's top ten most "Creative" companies, would Dell make it on to the list? I'm guessing, for most people reading this, they simply wouldn't.
Yes. I happen think this is a SERIOUSLY huge problem.
What needs to happen for Dell to be a more "Creative" company? What would need to change in order to get Dell onto that Top Ten List? What EXACTLY is involved?
The good news is, this is a huge opportunity. For both Dell, myself, and anybody else who actually cares about this kind of stuff.
Man, I'm excited now. Rock on.
Posted by hugh macleod at December 6, 2008 10:36 AM
This feels like an impolite thing to say but..
Create or die seems to describe my relationship to my Macs. ( I actually do have a dell though ) My main Mac is a Mac Pro with 2 24" HD displays. I'm running Adobe web Premium, Final Cut Studio, Cinema 4D, planning on a After Effects upgrade, but where most of the investment has been made is in the sound department..
Thing is I have limited resources.. My mom died, I basically got the equivalent of an inheritance.. I hadn't had a job since Bill Clinton was president.. investing in the studio means shortening my runway.. I don't know if I'm stupid or insane.. all of that artist's dream.
So it REALLY does feel like create or die.. like this is my one chance to do something amazing.. like that Eminem song..
Lol, but if I wasn't on Mac's.. I could be your poster boy!
I'm having trouble figuring out how a manufacturer who's essentially in a commodity market producing a clone product whose key components for differentiation are all owned by others gets creative, exactly. Perhaps this is at the core of the six month search you've been through with them, and why it's a word you're having trouble attributing to them, despite their many products, ability to execute, etc.
Here's the challenge: the business they are in is predicated on the conditions they experience. Someone else (e.g. Microsoft) worries about software capabilities, someone else (e.g. Intel) worries about hardware capabilities, etc. Their contribution is (hopefully) to be a perfect '10' at sourcing components, flawless assembly, quality control, longevity of their product in their buyers' hands, and managing costs and margins in a cut-throat end of the market.
Many of my clients wouldn't even consider Dell for their data centres: they don't think the quality is there. Some of my clients do use them for desktops/laptops, but it's an uneasy relationship: they think Lenovo and H-P do a better product for corporate use. The SMBs and independents who use Dell like many things about it, but are frustrated by what they perceive as frequent breakage.
Add to this Microsoft's recent blunders with Vista, and a number of these, who lived through the same blunders with XP, are bleeding off to use Macs, which are no more reliable than a Dell, but which come with software that is perceived to be significantly better than Microsoft's.
None of these people, btw, want Linux — they do not perceive it as "for them". They're all, in other words, users, not self-defined "geeks" who love to fiddle with technology.
Hope this helps you a bit in your quest.
We create for love, and to have that love received and recognised.
How might Dell acknowledge the love that they receive?
Thanks, Bruce, I wouldn't describe my problem as "Inability to execute". More like, the bigger the problem/company, the harder it is to get one's head around it.
Today felt like a real break-through day for me, for sure. All very exciting stuff :)
Sorry, but you're right, I don't think of Dell as being creative. I would continue to not think of Dell as creative, because all I remember is them cutting out their R&D department because it wasn't "core" to the company. So I think you have a bigger problem on your hands then you realize.
For example, do a Google search on Dell and R&D and things like http://blogs.zdnet.com/Berlind/?p=329 pop up.
You will also notice that Google is synonymous for search, while I will leave it up to the observer what Dell means.
Create or die... sounds pretty tough.
Personally I like to enter LOVE into the equation...
and all that which comes with it like beauty, joy...
I don't know Dell but Pcs in general are pretty boring...
I have worked on Pcs and I own a Mac - my creative work happens always on a Mac...(but I am not an absolute Apple freak!).
Your description of Dell makes me think of the stereotypical Japanese companies that out-optimized, out-efficiented, and under-priced their competition. Awesome at execution, but basically copying and improving existing products.
Thing is, creativity might require a new realm of spending and organization that they aren't familiar with, plus the will to fail and make some mistakes. Can they handle that?
I'm typing this on a Dell. I saw your post when I was midway through a letter I'm drafting to their CEO. I am so angry right now, I hope I never buy another Dell again. How is that addressed in their creativeness and marketing?
Bit of a Freudian slip, that typo, Hugh?
I like it.
Hugh, the positive qualities you've listed for Dell prove they have as fine a foundation as any company would ever need to create something truly world-changing. Those qualities alone put them steps ahead.
Seth Godin's post last week - takers vs. makers - adds fodder to your Dell ah-ha moment. Dell was born and bred of a taker mindset - to take shares from other computer companies. They chose that position themselves. No one made them choose it. The "why" of it doesn't matter. What matters now is that someone [read h.m.] has the opportunity to convince them otherwise.
Deeply hidden, or beaten down, inside of Dell are a bunch of makers - believers. Can you be sure? Yes - otherwise they would have asked some MBA hotshot business dude consultant for assistance.
They didn't. Instead they asked a maker and a believer. They asked you - the man who recognized long before most that "the market for something to believe in is infinite."
Microsoft = business
Apple = arts/entertainment/home
Dell = life, all else not home or business
The life of an edgling can be quite enlightening.
I figure it always comes down to finding out what people actually need, which is not usually what they ask for, and building it better than anyone else.
I've also been using Dells for a while but the quality has been letting me down lately.
As someone that started out at Dell just as the last little bit of the core of the company was being swallowed up by the massive influx of corporate drones, I think you're close to something. It really resonates with the reasons that I left Dell.
At the time, Dell seemed defined by their pursuit of Compaq, and when they finally reached the top of the heap, they lost direction and faltered. The early drive of the company was beating other companies at their own game. They were a clone company making clone products. When they got to the top of the heap, there just wasn't anyone to copy anymore because you can't copy creativity.
The word that comes to my mind when I think Dell is 'dull'-- Dull Dell, ouch.
Why didn't they invent the eeePC ?
I've several times been almost buying a Dell -and always ended up buying something else (today a Medion Akoya E1210).
Don't know if it helps.
"Progress has been slow."
That makes creative types everywhere shout those same words - create or die - to themselves.
That`s hitting the nail on the head for sure!
I`ve got no gripes with DELL, I`ve used their boxes - they`re okay
...there doesn`t seem to be any problem with the machines per se, but when it comes to charisma Dell are almost as exciting as watching paint dry...
Dell = boring hardware & a website with no personality: there isn`t a human in sight. Did I mention it must have been designed by a pocket calculator and their machines are about as exciting as refridgerators?
THEY AREN`T SELLING ANYTHING:
inspiration ,creativity , expression
freedom , a lifestyle, a dream, a vision, a rapport, a feeling...
HUMANS are creative, machines are not.
The nomads blog is pretty stale too, when I searched "creativity" I got 2 posts. And one of them was from Hugh.
What`s everyone doing at Dell`s Digital Nomads with all this new freedom?
Absolutely nothing that`s really worth becoming a nomad for:
...talking about telecommuting, drinking green tea whilst using a laptop, geek clothes that can fit your ipod, wifi availability, mobility....
WOW, where have I been?
I thought the whole point of being a nomad was to
spend less time in a box in front of a box and have a creative, expressive, interesting life?
It would be far more interesting to discover that these guys actually have hobbies and that they can take a sh** without their damn iPods, laptops or downloading the toilet paper.
Homogeneity - it`s killing us all....
They could buy each of their staff a book.
Seriously, have you been drinking too much Kool-Aid over there?
1998 Dell: cheap, decent products. good repair policies. decent online ordering. ability to talk to actual humans on the phone.
2008 Dell: crap, unreliable products. sucky repair where they give you bait-and-switch used parts. stupid online ordering where the path of entry and exactly what you click along the way, changes the price. ridiculously crap customer service where you're either talking to India or being put in a loop so that you'll finally go fuck yourself and cut out the middleman.
I don't do business with Dell anymore, and neither do a lot of others I know... and we used to be among their cheerleaders. Dell doesn't need to be 'creative' for f** sake - they need to be reliable and boring. They just need to sell me a decent, quality box of parts and fix it when need be. Apparently this is too complicated for them nowadays, and no wonder if their head is being filled with garbage like the above post. Sorry Hugh but you're way off the mark. Dell doesn't need more navel gazing, it needs to f***ing deliver instead of arsing off and screwing people like me, the paying customer.
It seems more of a strategic marketing problem than a creative one. Dell are in the horrible position of only being able to compete on price. That's it, their one and only avenue. They make PC's as to thousands of others, they are near the top of the tree so they are a target. To stop getting shot at that have to drop prices to stay there. To drop prices they cut corners, quality suffers.
So what's my point. They need a re-invention from the inside out. Invest in thinkers and researchers to discover what the market they are in is missing.
Simple really? No bloody hard.
Respectfully, I don't care if the guys and gals on the third, or tenth, floor at Dell or Apple are creative. In the wisdom of Kathy Sierra, the user needs to KICK ASS, not the product, or the company.
You [and Kathy Sierra] make an excellent point. But a company kicking ass and their user kicking ass all HIGHLY interconnected.
If getting the user to kick ass was easy, we'd all be doing it.
The thing is, it's EASY to write a blog post or comment about what's wrong with Dell, Microsoft, Apple, Google, General Motors or whoever.
But he stuff that interests me about Dell; the stuff I'd like to see them doing more of, this stuff is HARD. Really hard.
And so is the stuff I'm trying to do with them... but that's what makes it so damn interesting.
You are 100% correct, Dell has no synonymous product with their company - they dont have the Ipod, the ink jet printer (hp), Windows, Photoshop.
Ask anyone to name ONE, just ONE single product that is associated with Dell that THEY are viewed as creating...their ain't one. Try it - Say apple to ten people you will get Iphone, Ipod, say MSFT you will get Windows, Office or maybe even Xbox, same things with all the great tech companies people will give you a product or a brand..with dell it is just a version of what everyone else already made 6 months ago, just a little lamer, but a little cheaper, and crapped up with microsoft stuff.
Seriously, I spent 10 minutes trying to name any Dell product that just wasn't generic - PC, Printer, MP3 player - thats what they make, they make generic things, not personal things.
But you are crazy getting a company that big to change, its turning a battle ship and it is not the companies reason de etre, its not in their DNA, they are not creators, they are re-makers. You cant go from re-making to creating without a brain transplant at the top. Mr. Dell is not a creator, he is a margin, re-maker to his core. Until there is a creator in the top seat, you may make a ripple, but that is all, you will not change the battleships course.
The trouble with Dell is that they're not remarkable. There's no reason to prefer them over HP or Toshiba or any other PC producer.
I do not think the cause is hopeless, as some have suggested, because of Ideastorm which was a creative notion that has led to some good innovations.
job 1 is getting the company to agree that this is a crucial competency. You aren't changing anything if they don't think they need creativity to compete.
I'd first recommend scenario planning. Envisioning futures that are not part of the official expected future can lead to embracing of new ways of acting, as well as new direction.
Second I'd tap into the design thinking movement. They have packaged creativity in a way that CEOs who aren't steve jobs can get the value of creativity.
job 2 is to make room for it in the planning ad resourcing process. Do they have R&D? Do they have room in their release process for experiments and playing? Does their process allow for exploratory research (home visits with customers can be extremely inspiring.)
job 3 is making sure they have the right staff. It's unlikely they have completely the wrong staff since most humans are creative if given enough space, but when it comes to execution, hiring rock stars vs hiring competent designers is the difference between this lumbering 8400 I have on my desk and the powerbook.
You might check out the work of John Kao, who has written on helping companies tap into their creative potential (he's a designer and a frequent HBS contributor).
The user kicking ass, sounds good. I think it sounded like you felt like you were kicking ass using that new mini. Maybe refocus the public packaging of Dell onto that new toy. If I'm remembering correctly, Apple's way back into our hearts was the iPod, the way it was marketed, and it's new niche. It created its own need, powerful. Maybe the mini could do the same as it seems a new niche? Maybe I'm wrong, I haven't bought a new PC in years, built my own in the first place.
Build your own. The reason my uncle likes Dell is that they offer an educator's discount and that cool way to put together your own package on the website. Maybe play up that feature, the website, not the factory building the person's computer. Show the person actually building it with the help of a Dell employee, or something.
Like Kathy says soooo eloquently throughout her blog with such energy, the user does need to feel kick assery to generate loyalty, word-of-mouth, and all that stuff that makes the iPod hit the stratosphere.
Peace. Hope you're having fun in Paris. Hope you do think about my idea re: our art.
That's precisely where Hugh enters. If he can manage to create this new DNA into Dell, they might be able to continue whit the copy-cats Pc, laptops et.al, BUT at the same time, they could evolve and deliver a new product.
I would love to see a PC that handles better than a Mac the graphics and power.
Good luck, I want to see where all of this will be heading...
it's EASY to write a blog post or comment about what's wrong with Dell...
Agreed. It's easy to create that list.
But he stuff that interests me about Dell; the stuff I'd like to see them doing more of, this stuff is HARD. Really hard.
It's one mother of a puzzle! I like your connection (if I can simplify) between the employees rock - product rocks - user rocks, with the understanding that the last part is the current puzzle.
And so is the stuff I'm trying to do with them... but that's what makes it so damn interesting.
Part of what keeps me coming back is your willingness to share your thinking. Thanks for doing that.
I can't wait to see the fruits of your collaboration with Dell.
S'been bothering me so I just wanted to clarify my previous comment. I was thinking of 'break-trough' as 'rising from a trough of despair'. I did not mean trough in the sense of that in which pigs put their snouts.
Didn't want you to think I was insulting you in some ironic way.
I liked the issue that you brought up. Here is my 2 cents.
Why should Dell be creative? Does Dell really need to be creative and innovative? Does its target market demand that? Being creative requires R&D spending, which leads to higher costs and consequently higher prices. This is not a loyal Dell customer wants. A typical Dell customer wants low prices, good quality and great customer service.
Secondly, Dell has a very sophisticated supply chain system. This has enabled Dell to put the bits and pieces from vendors from over 80 countries around the world. What does that have to do with creativity? Dell doesn't have to be creative as long as its suppliers are creative enough! They simply inherit innovation by equipping their computers with products from other creative suppliers.
Nobody wants creativity from Dell. Its the opposite; non-creative, but reliable, stable, well tested and proven, rock-solid, long-supported, products, which can still be fixed after 3 years, because the parts (or similar/matching ones) are still available.
Nobody want's a creative computer. What should that be anyway?! You don't get/find a good computer-design by creativity (in terms of reliability; think of things like heat, irq-conflicts, etc.)
Now, configurability is important, but this has nothing to do with creativity. Again only things are configurable for a system, which has been proven rock solid.
`What needs to happen for Dell to be a more "Creative" company?` That's just silly. Dell doesn't need to be a "Creative" company. Please don't. Ever.
^^ funky image is for shit-companies. :D
A Dell sales associate accidently used my credit card info (which they deny every writing down or retaining) to pay for another customer's laptop. I do think that it was an accident born of a policy infraction. But they put me through 6 weeks of hell to get that charge credited back. They made me meet and confront an inner racist that I didn't know I had in me on long and unproductive calls to off-shore support centers. They never admitted their mistake or apoligized. I considered them a local company that I was happy to support, but no more.
I'd suggest that their new motto should be "Fuck the Street, Give a Shit About The Customer"
Conjuring a "buzz" around Dell as a creative powerhouse?
That is very ambitious, I wish you all the best.
I'm probably tuning in late here, however, I don't even see the things you attribute to Dell, from the outside looking in. Of course, I'm a Mac guy, and always will be. This probably colors my perception however, out of all the PC's I've seen out there, the Dell is the most impersonal of all of them. Cookie Cutter just doesn't cut it.
Maybe everyone at Dell should be given a copy of Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind!
Today, wealth comes not to the rulers of slave labor but to the liberators of human creativity, not to the conquerors of land but to the emancipators of mind.
- George Gilder
I am not a geek. And this is my first time on this site via Seth Godin. But I just wanted to offer a non geek comment on Dell.
Don't have a Dell, never used a Dell. But in the back of my mind when I recall them I think of them as building each computer based on the needs and wants of the each customer. Been thinking that for years. And it is my opinion that a push to play that up again -- make Dell you and you Dell -- on a personal level, not a technical level -- in a very creative way is not a bad idea. Go back to the core. Like Daniel E's uncle. My understanding is that the Dell customer wants a computer doing what they need it to do at a price that they can afford to pay but they could also band together as a group -- a group of individuals -- with their social object, a community of Dell users. Unique in a Dellish way. Not an underdog -- just to unique something so common as an Apple or any of the "other PCs". 2 cents non Geek thinking.
Dell should try being innovative instead of creative.
What if Dell doesn't need to be creative?
What if their approach to business and clients don't require them to be creative?
What if creativity wouldn't bring them more profit?
Last thing: The cartoon in the beginning looks similar to the "Microsoft: change the world or go home" - I can see quite a common pattern in both of them.
Liviu, well, as I'm fond of telling people, I can't tell Dell what to do, nor would I want to. All I can do is describe what the view looks like from where I'm standing. They can value it, or not.
The other thing you have to ask yourself is, when I say "Creative", what exactly do I mean by that? It's an open-ended question.
Yep. This, too is a Blue Monster, of sorts. Exactly.