How Long Is Your Misperception List?


Your decisions could be clouded by misguided ideas


Been thinking about Lenovo, which is helping IBM exit the PC business gracefully.

Common perception: The Chinese company that is buying the majority of IBM's venerable PC business represents the brawn of the deal, while the vaulted American company represents the brain. One designs, the other builds.

The reality may be a bit different.

Consider this: When IBM makes a prototype of a new laptop design today, it literally hand-sands wood and plastic foam to come up with just the right shape from exacting designs. The Chinese? They use an advanced form-injected molding machine. In fact, the Chinese design center in Asia is actually a larger lab than the one IBM relies on. I know this because one of the guys running the labs, Peter Hortensius, vice president of products and offerings with IBM's Personal Computing Division, told me so.

Hortensius is a Ph.D., and one of those big-brain guys who travels the world and takes note of these kinds of things--you know, the flawed perceptions that creep into our everyday thinking and, unfortunately, serve as the foundation for many of the decisions we make. He and fellow observers of the industry note, with irony and a tinge of frustration, that a hefty amount of what we believe is often wrong, misguided or foolish.

Here's a sampling of the misperceptions that customers, VARs and industry observers alike promulgate that are screwing everything up for the rest of us.

1. People are getting frustrated with the low quality of Dell laptops and notebooks. Every PC maker I meet tells me that Dell's laptops and notebooks are inferior to their own and that customers are going to give up on them. Sure, and the guys at Fortune were joking when they put Dell founder and chairman Michael Dell and CEO Kevin Rollins on the cover of their "Most Admired Companies In America" issue. Dell may have quality issues, but IBM, HP and Toshiba have not been able to communicate effectively why their products are supremely better. IBM comes close with its clever TV commercials in which notebooks are thrown off lunch counters. But I still see more Dell notebooks on first-class flights than any other make of computer. That should tell you something.

2. HP would be better broken into parts. That one makes me laugh. The guys pushing for this are all on Wall Street and want to see their investments in HP's shares increase; splitting off HP's printer business would no doubt unleash some shareholder value. But that alone doesn't justify the immediate call to break HP into parts. HP's problem hasn't been structure as much as innovation. Simply put, there are too many things "average" about HP today. Its consumer technologies? Yawner. High-end computers? Losing ground. Its exciting RISC chip strategy? Oh, that was dropped. The list goes on and on. But breaking the company into parts? Having a presence in a lot of different markets may not be a bad thing. Even some guys inside IBM think the company would gain from being involved in consumer devices.

3. Customer satisfaction is up. Bunk. I know customer-satisfaction studies show that the industry collectively is doing better, but I don't believe them. (As someone who often advises on how to write study questions, I know firsthand how a few key word changes before a study is fielded can make a big difference to resulting numbers.) What is undeniably up is customer enthusiasm for technology. But people are still frustrated about security glitches, downloading drivers to get devices to work, etc. People want Wi-Fi in their homes and at Starbucks, they want their business data to be secure and their network to keep running, and they want technology to help them better understand their businesses. Instead of asking customers if they are more satisfied with their IT investments, the industry should ask customers if they carry fewer devices when they head out for a business trip than before, if they have to remember fewer passwords than last year, if they better understand their businesses, and if they can automate things they couldn't before.

Harboring illusions at work? I suggest gathering the team and writing on a whiteboard everything your company collectively believes that, frankly, is not true. They might be as simple as, "We are making gains against our rivals," or "Our processes are better than last year," or even "Our competition is slipping." Or more specific: "Our go-to-market strategy is well-founded," or "There's no way Jim in accounting or Stan in engineering would leave if they got better offers."

Curious: How long is your misperception list? If it's longer than when you started in this business, you're going the wrong way.