Not answering the question

Here in Australia, we’re in election mode, so I have even more reasons to avoid watching TV. On those occasions when I do watch it, I am often annoyed by what I see. This is not a novel observation, but one of the things that annoys me about many politicians is their habit of sidestepping questions when interviewed. It also annoys me when interviewers fail to follow up these non-answers and let them slide. Depending on the circumstances (e.g. limited timeframe, more important questions to ask, etc.), there may be valid reasons for journalists failing to chase after legitimate answers in a live interview situation. But I would much prefer to see a non-answering interviewee tied down and not allowed to wriggle free. Squirm, baby, squirm!

For on-line journalists and bloggers, there are few excuses for letting non-answers go unchallenged. There is virtually unlimited time, opportunity and column space in which things can be chased down. With that in mind, this post is an analysis of the response Callan Carpenter gave to the four specific questions I raised, and three points of dispute raised by others and passed on by me for a response. I have marked each response (or non-response) out of 10.

Questions

Please clarify in as much detail as possible exactly how you arrive at your figures.

Answer: none given. 0/10

A percentage is derived by dividing one number by another; what exactly are you dividing by what to come up with 1.5%?

Answer: none given. 0/10

Please explain why your statements appear to contradict Autodesk’s own published figures.

Answer: Callan explained that he did not intend to suggest what it seemed he was implying, but didn’t clearly explain exactly what it was that he actually was suggesting. 5/10

How large is Autodesk’s total installed base?

Answer: none given. 0/10

Points of dispute

Because Autodesk made Subscription cheaper than upgrading, it is no surprise that upgrading became less popular. This doesn’t indicate that customers prefer doing business in that way, merely that Autodesk made it the cheapest alternative.

Response: this statement was pretty much repeated back as if it were an answer: “the majority of customers buying over the past few years have opted to leverage the Subscription program…the most cost effective way possible”. 1/10

If the idea of Subscription is such an attractive proposition, why do you need to sweeten the deal with tools that you don’t allow upgraders to have?

Response: this statement was also pretty much repeated back as if it were an answer: “…there is much more to the program than cost savings…just some of the value-added aspects of the program”. 1/10

Your assertion that the 12-month cycle is driven by the product teams is incorrect. It was chosen for business reasons and the product cycle was forced to fit the Subscription model.

Response: none given. 0/10

Overall “answering the question” mark: 7/70 or 10%.

Callan, thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to provide some kind of a response. If you want to have another bite at the cherry and actually answer what you’ve been asked this time, you are welcome to do so. You know where to find me.

Readers, am I being too harsh here?

17 comments to Not answering the question

  • There are certain things that employees just cannot say or do when holding their position in a company. That’s pretty obvious. As press/bloggers we can ask tough questions and hope to get as frank a reply as possible. I follow up only if I think there’s even a slim chance of getting a different answer. Otherwise, I leave it at that and move on. So you beating up Callan like this in public is not really going to change anything.

    Another thing. Try asking yourself what answers you would offer if you were in his position.

  • Deelip, Callan is not some poor hapless flunky who’s not allowed to comment. He’s a Vice President, responsible for the specific area about which he was asked questions. I’m not beating him up, just pointing out that he didn’t answer the questions (as several others have already noted) and offering him another chance to put that right. I have another Autodesk VP interview to report on, but I want to get this one finalised first before moving onto another unrelated area. I considered just asking Callan privately, but didn’t fancy my chances of receiving a timely and meaningful response.

    As for your “another thing”, it’s not up to me to answer Callan’s questions for him, or second-guess what the real answers should be. I ask the questions, he answers them; that’s how interviews are supposed to work. If the interviewee doesn’t know the answer, the best answer is, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.” If an interviewee can’t answer a question for reasons of confidentiality or whatever, then they can simply say so. But whoever you are, if I interview you and ask a specific question which you just sidestep or ignore, you can expect a follow-up.

    Maybe this means Autodesk is going to gravitate toward dealing only with “friendly” bloggers who don’t criticise, ask awkward questions or expect proper answers (there are already signs of this, and it’s not a good look). Maybe it means I’m not going to interview any more Autodesk high-ups. But if they’re not going to answer the questions anyway, is that such a great loss?

  • R. Paul Waddington

    Readers, am I being too harsh here?

    Absolutly NOT Steve.

    Deelip??

  • I don’t see any reason why a politician would not clearly answer a question, I mean not a personal question of course. The kind of questions asked to Callan needed straight answers. In France, we have also great politician specialists for “langue de bois” (wooden tongue)

  • My only point is that you may very well be beating a dead horse here. Of course, you can continue to do so, if that is what you want to do.

  • From the corporate point of view, the answers are clear, to the point, and represent a successful example of open interaction with the blogger community.

  • R. Paul Waddington

    Ah! The “dead horse” defense: used by persons (mostly persons in the know or apologists) ‘suggesting’, maybe for their own good, somebody should stop what they are doing.
    The only question Steve needs to ask himself is; were the questions originally asked of Callan of importance. If NO then drop the pursuit. If, however, the answer is YES then it is reasonable to expect a VP to answer customer questions which fall within his portfolio/role.
    On the other hand, Deelip may be suggesting he actually knows Autodesk’s management to be dead horses? ‘Horses’, still harnessed to the wagon but not pulling, dead, and therefore not capable of giving answers.

  • The questions are valid, relevant, of interest to my readers, and unanswered. While they remain unanswered, the horse still has a pulse.

  • Argh. Just wrote a long response only to have the form rejected when submitted…I bet you knew I would be reading and want to comment.
    Here it goes again…take 2.

    Here is my candid comment without using a “wooden tongue”. I appreciate your opinions, but may not always agree with them but that is the beauty of bloggers they are free to do and say what they feel. I believe in grass roots and not synthetic astroturf treatment of social media.

    Your comment “gravitate toward dealing only with “friendly” bloggers who don’t criticize” paints a great group of independent bloggers as somehow suspect and unfairly. We at Autodesk try our very best and have since starting blogging back in 2003 to make sure we do not make an independent blogger feel like they are obligated to say only positive things. In fact, we were clear in communications, and I always tell people in social media and blogs to feel free to write or not write positive as you see them. Please do not consider bloggers and social media we speak with as having compromised anything. We do not expect them to feel in the slightest way obligated to do anything in our favor, but we expect them to be genuine and honest letting us know when we are doing good, or bad. We do sincerely appreciate and respect the credibility, reputations, and feedback of all the bloggers and social media who mention our products without any expectations other than to educate their readers and be part of the CAD social fabric and personalities or cutting edge. I am sure some in the blogosphere that saw you attend the AutoCAD 2010 launch thought from the outside you may even be a “friendly”. I don’t think anyone is really doing it for fortune or fame. The idea a CAD Blogger’s reputation and credibility can be bought is disingenuous or perhaps unintended and misread by me.

    The only reason I did not invite you again this year to the AutoCAD launch in San Francisco was we had only a small amount of travel funding and only US based bloggers attended. I would love nothing more to an open invitation to anyone wishing to attend any event regardless of their views or opinions, but that takes money either the bloggers or the companies to happen and not make anyone feel left out. The alternative to prevent looking at favoring some over others is to stop speaking to any bloggers or stop engaging social media but that is not going to happen. ANY bloggers who want to talk with us or write about our products are welcome to. We benefit from all sides and opinions and nobody benefits from a single polarized view, and certainly we have benefited from finding out where we can improve based on a blogger or social media members feedback. I can say that I do have a tendency personally to speak with those that reach out to me and engage me for information, shared common interest, regardless of their opinions but do my best to also seek out anyone who might be a great friend or acquaintance and do count many with opposing views as friends such as you and visited you in Perth on my vacation a few years back and would do it again in a heartbeat if I had money growing from a tree to fund traveling to all geeks around the world and evangelize great design and ideas. Certainly, I give less time commitment, energy, bandwidth, and attention to those that scream the sky
    is falling and aliens dictate a company strategy or persons actions from a remote planetary control center but still follow their RSS feeds for a good laugh.

    Just to add some perspective, management in publicly trade companies are forbidden by US laws and accounting regulations to discuss some topics and even prevented from trading stocks or publicly commenting during certain blackout periods. Being candid and doing what you want went out the door with Enron. There are also some laws from the FTC that require competitive market considerations that can tie the hands of a company or the information they provide or what they do as a business.

    Being candid is a very fine line and one that are not taken lightly. I believe Autodesk have always tried to be very transparent and candid anytime they can be. We have even communicated on future decisions with not only customers in betas or research and usability but reached out to vocal critics of certain AutoCAD features to make sure we had all the information to make the best possible informed decision. I would even go further out on the ledge to say many have even been so candid at times as to jeopardize their own jobs as they care about what they do and what people think. We take our products personally and with pride and passion otherwise many of us would not be here as we too have personal reputations, credibility, ethics, and morals that are not trumped by a paycheck or pat on the back.

    OK that was my own opinion, blast away at me for my personal comments and not my employer. I do believe I am working for a great company with some of the best products and solutions in the world, and they believe in listening to customers and doing the right thing. The day I stop feeling like I make a difference, provide value to my employer or customers, or asked to do something I strongly agree with is the day you will see my resume on social media and blogs, but I am also not naive and am always willing to listen to other possible future endeavors from people who share my passion and pride for doing something cool, geeky, and fun but that is assuming the decision to part ways with my current employer is by my choice or control. Guess I had better add updating my resume to my list of to-do items. ;-)

    I came to Autodesk as a customer having used their products and others for years in mechanical design capacity in a personal effort to make sure that I could amplify and enable greater two way communication with customers from R&D and Beta programs for 12 years. I will close this coffee fueled comment with my long published realistic personal perspective statement “I will always be an engineer or designer, I may not always be an Autodesk employee.”

    Shaan
    – One of many from Autodesk employees passionate about opinions from the entire spectrum, not a selective and filtered one.

    PS:
    Is it Sweeps week on the CAD Blogs? It seems everyone is stirring posts from this post to riling up Apple users. ;-)

  • Shaan, thank you for putting the time into writing that. Just to clear the air, “The only reason I did not invite you again this year to the AutoCAD launch in San Francisco was we had only a small amount of travel funding and only US based bloggers attended” has nothing to do with anything. As I stated privately at the time, I am cool with that, understand the financial reasons behind it, and would have been unable to attend anyway. That’s genuinely not an issue.

    Back to the issue at hand, if you think Callan’s response is transparent and candid, then we have extraordinarily different ideas of what those words mean. I was approached for this interview, not the other way round. If VPs can’t or won’t answer legitimate questions, then they shouldn’t volunteer to be interviewed.

    I would like to think that with the rise of social media, the age of spin is doomed. There are now too many people around who can and will cynically point it out and laugh at it. If I can have a small hand in helping spin to die in my little corner of influence, I’ll be happy. When it’s gone, we can all have a good drink and laugh at its wake.

  • Oh, and riling up Apple users is like shooting fish in a barrel.

  • Steve,

    My comments were only related to the insinuations unfairly aimed at the credibility of fellow independent bloggers.

    I also added some personal opinions on why being candid is not as easy as it sounds. I do not know Mr. Callum but think you were a little harsh and throwing rocks at a person who apparently was nice enough to volunteer to respond to you.

    It is a two way street and regardless if you do not get the answers you want, you should treat a person with respect as they treat you. I do not think you would find the professional CAD press or well known bloggers taking the same public flogging route.

    that’s all from me…

  • I’m not insinuating anything about other independent bloggers. If I have something to say about the ethics of particular bloggers, I will express it explicitly and not with vague, broad brushstrokes. I’ll outline exactly what I meant if you like, but I don’t want to distract from the point at hand.

    No public flogging, just pointing out a lack of meaningful answers and hoping for something better. If not this time, maybe in future interactions between Autodesk and interviewers. Yes, respect is a two way street. Do you feel my very specific and legitimate questions have been treated with respect?

    Of course, you can’t answer that one truthfully, because that would involve public criticism of a VP, which would be unhealthy. See, I do understand that employees can be restricted in what they are allowed to say. ;)

  • R. Paul Waddington

    “I believe Autodesk have always tried to be very transparent”. Shaan you know this comment is simply not true and closing the paragraph with – “We take our products personally and with pride and passion otherwise many of us would not be here as we too have personal reputations, credibility, ethics, and morals that are not trumped by a paycheck or pat on the back.” – is still more spin, incorrect and makes Callan look worse.

    Transparency is one trait no person employed by Autodesk can claim applies to Autodesk or themselves until they are prepared to engage in open an honest discussions with their customers.

    Autodesk talk about the usefulness and openness of the internet; but you guys don’t know how to engage openly and honestly with customers. As a result, while Autodesk’s staff and management continue to fail in this area, the internet will continue to be used to expose the ineptitude of individuals within the organization.

    Embrace the internet and learn to be TRULY open, honest and transparent with customers/bloggers. In the short term, sometimes, it may be uncomfortable, but in the long run it will win more customer support than it will loose.

    Callan was asked important questions and even if the lame, USA law prevents… etc. excuse did apply all he needed to do was say so and why. If accompanied with a transparently credible reason, it would have been accepted. Had he done the job properly in the first place, there would have been no need to have been asked to do it again.

  • Paul, I know for a fact that at least the “We take our products personally and with pride and passion” statement is totally true for the vast majority of the Adeskers I’ve met personally.

  • R. Paul Waddington

    Steve, there was a time when I would have agreed 100%; sadly that time has passed.

  • I think you may be mistaking “Corporate” for the people who actually do the work.

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