Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Be heard above the electronic din

If you've got a client who's demanding that you perform some magic to help them get noticed in today's increasingly crowded electronic marketplace, here's an article that might help.

The Fast Company blog has a short list of 5 tips to help business leaders "Be heard above the electronic din."

It's a good list. For example:
#4 - Live By the Blackberry, Die By It
If you're spending more than five minutes on an email, make it a phone call. Then follow up with a tactical email. A recent study shows that constantly checking email, voice mail, and so on temporarily lowers your IQ more than smoking marijuana does. "Email makes you dumb," Nelson says. If you want to be productive, it helps to eliminate constant distractions.

The pace of today's schedule can be nerve-wracking. But for most of us, we have to adapt. Anything that can help us "work smarter" is welcome.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The troubling truth about Afghanistan

Like a lot of Canadians, I supported Canada's role in Afghanistan over the last few years. Getting rid of the Taliban seemed like a good idea, so if our troops were able to help the citizens of that country get back on their feet, then it made sense for us to be involved.

But in recent months, the issue has become a lot more complicated, as the fact that Canada is in a war zone became more and more evident. While we might still be there for the right reasons, what is the likely outcome of our involvement in this country - where news reports indicate the Taliban are regaining their influence?

Although there has been a lot more press attention on Afghans recently, it was only this past weekend that I started to feel like I was getting the real story. In an excellent review of the history of the war (I hope it's still available there) and the current situation, the Globe and Mail's Geoffrey York sweeps away a lot of the fog of war and exposes the truth of what is facing our troops in that country.
The Taliban know they cannot beat the coalition in a head-to-head battle. But they don't need a military victory. They only need to terrorize the "soft targets" -- doctors, teachers, government officials and villagers -- and destabilize the country. By destroying the economy and killing any sense of hope, they are creating a potential army of disillusioned young men.

It's a classic guerrilla strategy, and it's working. "The conventional army loses if it does not win," former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger once said. "The guerrilla wins if he does not lose."

As I read Geoff's piece, I couldn't help but think that the writing may be on the wall for this country. It's hard to imagine a good ending.

Having my eyes opened to the truth by reading a Geoffrey York article has happened many, many times before. I worked with Geoff almost 20 years ago, when I was a reporter in Regina and he was the Globe's Prairies Bureau Chief, based in Winnipeg.

He had a tremendous ability to find "the real story" when he came to town, often making those of us working there every day look silly for missing it. As a foreign correspondent for many years with the Globe, he consistently demonstrates the same ability to get to the heart of any story.

In his most recent set of stories from Afghanistan, he has brought a freshness to the Canadian angle and a harsh view of the reality of the situation that has been missing. I continue to be amazed at just how good reporters like him are, and how much we owe to these brave men and women who risk their life to tell us a story. (For another example, see Christopher Albritton's Back to Iqaq blog.)

I'm still not sure what Canada's future is in Afghanistan. Should we stay or go? I vote for stay for now, because when we make a commitment to the world community, we have a duty to fulfill our promise. But we can't afford to overlook the disaster that the government there has become. And if it's at all possible, we need to use our position there to influence and try to make a difference. But Geoff's stark story demonstrates just what a tough job that is going to be.

Technorati Tag:

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Update on that great Microsoft does the Ipod video

Remember that hilarious video I pointed you to back in March about how Microsoft is different from Apple? Well, whoever put it up originally has taken it down from YouTube and the link doesn't work anymore.

Fortunately, you can still see it here, on John Battelle's Searchblog. It's definitely worth checking out. (I'll wait while you go back and review it. It's worth it.)

All done? Good. Isn't that great?

Well, according to Batelle, the video was actually an internal Microsoft video, which makes it even funnier! I always wondered who did it. And I suppose that explains why it's not up on YouTube anymore.

You've got to admit, they did a great job on the video, even if it only underscores the problems Microsoft has with over-doing things.

Tags: ,

More on "The other story that Judith Miller didn't write"

Last week, I pointed you to an interesting story (The other story that Judith Miller didn't write) about how New York Times reporter Judy Miller heard information about the Sept 11, 2001 attacks before the fact, but never wrote about it.

In this follow-up post from Media is a Plural, Rory O'Connor  goes a little further into the story and looks at why the story never made it to print.

It's not quite as interesting as the first item, but it's of interest to those of us who just can't get enough of the inside stuff on journalism.

Tags: , ,

Friday, May 26, 2006

The social revolution won't be stopped

You know that old saying that sometimes "you can't see the forest for the trees?"

I think those words of wisdom apply to what's happening right now with the rise of the Web and the integrated applications that are springing up that are built around it - what we are calling "social" or "Web 2.0" or whatever.

Although there is a lot going on, it doesn't seem fast enough for some of us (as Lee Hopkins talked about) and we wonder whether the things we expect are not going to happen.

But, like the hiker in the forest who is struggling to see around the trees to find the "forest," the connected future we're hoping for has already arrived.

Wired magazine has a great article about how yet another established business has had to adapt to the reality of the Web, which has forever changed its market -- in this case, it's the stock photo business. It used to be a pretty lucrative market for professional photographers, but the rise of stock photo agencies circulating images created by "amateurs" has pretty much driven the pros out of the business and forced the companies that used to "own" the business to adapt or get out of it.

The Wired story calls this the phenomenon of the "crowd:"

Welcome to the age of the crowd. Just as distributed computing projects like UC Berkeley’s SETI@home have tapped the unused processing power of millions of individual computers, so distributed labor networks are using the Internet to exploit the spare processing power of millions of human brains. The open source software movement proved that a network of passionate, geeky volunteers could write code just as well as the highly paid developers at Microsoft or Sun Microsystems. Wikipedia showed that the model could be used to create a sprawling and surprisingly comprehensive online encyclopedia. And companies like eBay and MySpace have built profitable businesses that couldn't exist without the contributions of users.
All these companies grew up in the Internet age and were designed to take advantage of the networked world. But now the productive potential of millions of plugged-in enthusiasts is attracting the attention of old-line businesses, too. For the last decade or so, companies have been looking overseas, to India or China, for cheap labor. But now it doesn't matter where the laborers are – they might be down the block, they might be in Indonesia – as long as they are connected to the network.

If I use my own experience as a template, it's remarkable how much has changed in such a short time. When I was at university, I had a nice, IBM Selectric typewriter that took care of all my essay writing. We didn't have personal computers. We laid out the campus newspaper with glue and pencils.

I started writing stories for a newspaper on an Underwood manual typewriter. And the office I worked in didn't have a single computer in the place. All of the phones had wires attached to them and the only way you could go "mobile" was to have a really long cord.

Today, of course, everything has changed. And it's happening so fast that we've come to take it for granted. If something doesn't work quite right today, don't worry. Tomorrow, there will be a new version.

When we look back at what's happened in business communications at the tail end of the 20th and the early part of the 21st century, it's going to be an interesting read. In the space of a single generation, everything has changed. The "old ways" of doing things don't even exist anymore - but we might not have noticed because we're too busy enjoying some of the new stuff.

While businesses will be a bit slower to adopt the "way out there stuff" the speed with which those ideas become mainstream is only going to continue to increase. And I like to think that's why I'm working so hard to stay ahead of the trend. Because I want to be one of the people that demonstrates how all this stuff adds real value to the business.

UPDATE - Mike at Techdirt has a good post on this story.

Tags: , , ,

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A good cheerleader also brings home the bacon

I've been writing a lot lately about Web 2.0 and social media and the whole world coming together in peace and harmony, brought about by our wholesale adoption of the ideals embodied in open and honest communications -- sorry. Got carried away there.

It's easy for me to get carried away with things I enjoy. I like thinking about possibilities and how some new thing could be used to make my life a lot better - or at least more interesting.

But not everyone shares that enthusiasm.

The morning after the Mesh Conference wrapped up, I attended a breakfast seminar put on by my local IABC chapter. I sat down next to a guy about my age, who was also in corporate communications. So, naturally, I was gushing about how much fun I'd just had and how exciting this whole social media thing was and then I looked at his face.

I might as well have been speaking in another language He wasn't interested at all. Sure, he used a computer, but only because he had to. He wasn't interested in any of the technical stuff. And he certainly had no interest in tagging, or IM, or blogging...you get the picture.

If I were trying to sell this guy on the benefits of blogging or other Web 2.0 applications, I figure it would be a tough sell. And I know that as much as I think this is the leading edge of a revolution, a lot of my colleagues don't see it the same way.

Lee Hopkins has an interesting post about this issue. Lee's feeling frustrated that despite a lot of effort on his part talking about all the benefits of this new way of communicating, few of his business clients are embracing his ideas.
But pounding the pavement and pounding the keyboard about this new technology is having little to no effect. My one client that has ‘got it’ has ‘got it’ in a major way and we’ll be rolling out stage two of several stages just as soon as they can figure out how to cope with the substantially-increased requests for their time that stage one — a blog — has generated. I’ve got another client who is about to launch into blogging because they trust me when I tell them it is the right thing for them to do (and I believe that for them it is). Another client has started a blog, but still don’t publish anywhere near as often as they should to build up momentum. Another client has put the construction of their blog on temporary hold while they cope with ‘Business As Usual’ with two of the three partners off on maternity leave.

It can be tough work to be an evangelist. And Lee is wondering whether the effort is worth it.

I think it is. I think the effort is worth it. Especially when you're trying to sell a business on the benefit of trying something new. The old saw about "the importance of the bottom line" is true. It's got to be good for business.

The growth of the Web has made it easy to deliver really cool applications to a wide audience - but often they aren't feasible for business. Businesses have a responsibility to be be, well, responsible. They can’t just try out every new idea and see how things go.

They need need to be convinced that it’s worth their while and that it will ultimately be good for shareholders, customers and employees alike.

One thing I’ve noticed is that for an idea to gain traction, it has to be proven to be a time-saver. People are too busy to implement something that means more work - either for them or their team - no matter how appealing the results might be.

So we need to come up with a way to demonstrate how implementing these Web 2.0 ideas will result in improvements across the board - time savings, costs savings, revenue generation etc. If not, they won’t fly.

One encouraging example of demonstrating how these new ideas can make a business work is a new way of delivering news releases from Shift Communications. They're using the Web, RSS, Del.icio.us tags, Flickr, Skype -- you name it. It's all packaged into a very useable template and is designed to add something tangible to the discussion about whether the press release is dead or not in today's' Web-enabled world.

For a great description of the benefits of this, read Shel Holtz's post about it. He does a far better job of breaking it down than I can.

It's just one example, but it's a good one, of how we as communicators need to come up with tools that our clients can use to improve their business. It doesn't mean we stop being cheerleaders. But if we're going to really be effective, we've got to be able to follow through and deliver "bottom line results."

Technorati Tag:

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Weekend fun - catch a video on YouTube

Since it's a holiday weekend here in Canada, here's a video from YouTube that's guaranteed to make you feel good. As the tagline says, The funniest 6 minutes you will ever see! Remember how many of these you have done!

And when you're finished watching (and smiling) catch your breath and read a great article posted on EnGadget about why YouTube needs to get serious about making money, instead of just growing like crazy.

It's the perfect holiday combination -- a really cool find from the hundreds of videos up on YouTube and then a thoughtful piece that looks at the larger picture and tries to help come up with a way to make the whole phenomenon sustainable.

Happy Victoria Day to you! (Thanks Wikipedia.)

Technorati Tag:

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Building the online community

Lee Hopkins is a blogger and podcaster from "The beautiful Adelaide hills" who has gained a measure of fame (at least in my world) through his weekly contributions to For Immediate Release, the PR podcast hosted by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson.

I've listened to his posts for awhile, but only recently subscribed to his blog. In a recent post, he talked about a new book he was reading, called The Politics of Everyday Life: Making Choices, Changing Lives, by Paul Ginsborg.

But that's just his jumping off point. From there he moves into a thoughtful discussion about why the concept of "social capital" raised by Ginsborg resonates for those of us involved in the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon.

For me, the late nights and the many extra hours I put into Web2.0 are worth it, every last second. Because I have made new acquaintances and friends I would have been highly unlikely ever to have made without it; I have contributed to a global conversation that has the potential to reshape how the organisations that rule our lives rule over us; I have put my money where my mouth is and put words out into the digital realm where they can be found 20 years from now and potentially humiliate me with their foolish naivety.

Lee's words echo a lot of what I've been thinking about lately, especially in the wake of the Mesh Conference in Toronto this week. I do think we're in "a time of flux" as Om Malik put it, and the dramatic nature of what is happening will only become apparent in the years to come as we look back and try to make sense of it all. But for me, right now, the on-line community I'm building is as real to me as the brick and mortar one around me -- perhaps even more so. Here's how I put it in my comment on Lee's blog:

Lee — You’ve hit on a lot of the reasons why the Web 2.0 promise is so alluring. I suspect that much of it is the pleasure of connecting with like-minded folks in far-flung locations. As someone who lives in one city, but has often worked in another and grew up in yet another, I find my on-line community is becoming more “real” to me than the folks who live nearby. That’s kind of sad, but exciting at the same time. In a couple of months, I’m moving from one side of Canada to the other. I’ll be relocating to Victoria (British Columbia - not the other one) at the end of the summer. While it will be difficult to leave a place I’ve been for nine years, I’m excited to be heading to a new home. And the great thing is that my on-line community will effortlessly accompany me. The Web makes us all neighbours, who can chat anytime. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Too bad you’re not going to be in Vancouver for the IABC conference. But we’ll raise a glass in your honour at the FIR dinner!

By the way, the FIR dinner I mention at the end is a great example of the social web in action. Shel and Neville are hosting a dinner at the IABC conference in Vancouver (which they are both attending.) They've invited any of their listeners who are going to be there to join them for a dinner. So far, there's about 7 or 8 of us that have signed up. It will be a neat chance for a bunch of people who share a unique community to meet in person. I can't wait.

Technorati Tag:

Friday, May 19, 2006

The other story that Judith Miller didn't write

I received this note in my inbox this morning from MEDIACHANNEL.ORG

Follow the link at the end to read a fascinating story.

EXCLUSIVE Report from Rory O'Connor and William Scott Malone

The (Other) Story Judith Miller Didn't Write
In an exclusive interview Judith Miller tells the details of how the attack on the US Cole spurred her reporting on Al Qaeda and led her, in July 2001, to a still-anonymous top-level White House source, who shared top-secret NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) concerning an even bigger impending Al Qaeda attack. Ultimately, however, Miller never wrote that story either. But two months later -- on September 11 -- Miller and her editor at the Times both remembered and regretted the story they "didn't do."
By Rory O'Connor & William Scott Malone, MediaChannel.org / NavySEALs.com


More about Mesh on a podcast

If you're looking for more insight into this whole Web 2.0 thing, you might want to check out Inside the Net (scroll down the page), a podcast by Amber McArthur and Leo Laporte.

This week's episode features an interview with Stuart MacDonald, one of the organizers of the Mesh Conference, which I attended earlier this week.

The podcast is a weekly show, which highlights new applications and people in the Web 2.0 community. It's always interesting. And it's just one of several podcasts that Leo Laporte is hosting these days. I highly recommend Security Now, with Steve Gibson and TWIT. And if you want to know what TWIT is, check out the show.

Technorati Tag:

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mesh Conference Update

For those of you who were worried by my last post, don't worry. The fire was a false alarm and everything worked out.

The Mesh conference wrapped up yesterday but I've been busy all day and didn't get around to filing an update until just now. And I see that my last post did generate some worries (although I doubt you were really worried!)

The 2-day event was a real success, in my view. But you don't have to take my word for it. You can see a lot of other blog posts on Technorati or you can check out the conference Wiki, where you'll find lots of details about what went on. I'm putting together a highlights package for the folks back at the office and I'll post that here when I'm finished.

For now, let me offer a few of my own insights.

First and foremost, this is a really happening business - this whole Web 2.0 thing. A lot of very smart people are involved and they are passionate about what they're doing. We talked a lot about how the promise of the Internet (the ability to make so much information available to so many people) which was promised, but not followed through on, with Web 1.0 is now arriving. The advent of improved broadband and more sophisticated business models (and a healthy dose of reality) all makes for an exciting business model that is working.

There are companies out there doing really exciting things and making money at it. Some more than others, of course. Blogging is one area where there is a lot of skepticism about whether there is a viable business model. But personally, I can't get too excited about monetization. Most of the bloggers I know are in it because they want to be and they're passionate about writing their blog. If they do end up finding a way to make a few bucks, so much the better, but making money is not the reason they're doing it. And I'm not sure that anyone could sustain a blog (or an audience) if they didn't have the passion we admire.

That being said, there is a difference between a business blog and a personal blog. Some blogs, like this one, are a bit of both. And that seems OK. But I suspect that as this segment matures, we're going to see a stronger separation of the two. The great thing about the Internet is the way it can support both types (and plenty of others as well) so easily. There seems to be a blog about almost everything out there and they've all got some kind of an audience.

I'll wrap this up (because that early morning train arrives early!) by noting that a common thread talked about by everyone at the conference, no matter what their role, was the necessity for transparency in this new world. As Steve Rubel noted, "The blogosphere is the greatest fact-checking machine ever developed." If you lie, or try to stretch the truth online, you will be found out and you will suffer for it.

And that is a good thing.


Powered by Qumana

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I can't resist noting this

I'm sitting in the Mesh Conference, listening to the fire alarm sounding, and everyone is just sitting here. Kind of cool. We're a bit nervous, but no one is moving. What do you do when the alarm goes off? The building security has just come on and told us to stand by for further instructions, and apparently the fire department is on the way... Strange. But I wanted to post this mostly because I thought it was kind of cool to be able to put this out in real time. Of course, by the time you read it, I'm sure everything will be back in order...or you'll never hear from me again. Either way, I'll try to keep you updated.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Mesh Conference in Toronto

Originally uploaded by Andre Charland.
I'm attending the Mesh Conference in Toronto Monday and Tuesday. It's all about this new thing we call Web 2.0 and all the cool tools that are being created to make it work.

You can read all about the background on the conference in the link above. You can also check out the Flickr pics from the conference I'm in one of them, but you'll never find me).

As most of you know, I'm very excited by this new media stuff and I had a great time today. I attended workshops on blogging, wikis and podcasts today. Unfortunately, I didn't have my computer with me, and now it's late in the evening, so I'm not going to post much. But please check out the links. There's a lot of fascinating stuff on the conference site and you'll have fun following some of them. I think the presentations will be available later on-line. I'll let you know when that happens.

More later.

Technorati Tag:

Thursday, May 11, 2006

When life bites

Robert Scoble is one of the world's best known bloggers, through his Scobleizer postings and he's famous as the Microsoft blogger.

But for the past few days his blog postings have taken a radically different turn, one which has shown just how powerful this new tool is for communications.

His mother in Montana has suffered a massive stroke and Robert has written about his hectic flight back to Montana to be by her side. Yesterday, the family received the bad news that the stroke was catastrophic and her death is only a matter of days.

It's tough news for anyone and Robert's decision to share updates with his thousands of readers demonstrate the unique relationship that builds between a blogger and his or her readers. While we may talk business, or consider ourselves to be running a "corporate" blog, it's still a labour of love, really. Without passion, a blog will whither and die.

Robert's sad, but profoundly moving posts in recent days, bring to my mind my own thoughts when my mother was in hospital a couple of years ago after a stroke. I wasn't sure whether to write about the experience or not, but I did. (Here's the link to the post.) And I was glad that I did. Things worked out for us. Today, my Mom, while not as strong or as mobile as she was, is still with us and I'm able to talk to her on the phone.

One important point Robert has made repeatedly is the importance for all of us to discuss with our family and friends what our wishes are should we suffer a massive stroke, as his mother did.
If there's some good that might come out of this, please sit down and communicate with your family about what you'd like to have happen in a similar situation. Do not leave these kinds of decisions to your next of kin.

Because his mother had signed a do not rescuscitate order and told her friends and family, they are able to honour her wishes without guilt.

There will be no happy ending for Robert Scoble. But life will go on. And his decision to bring us into this personal situation is a good thing.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Who says a weekend is only 2 days?

A long time ago, around about the time I entered the work force in a serious manner, I remember reading some wonderful predictions about the future. Things like we'd all be working about four days a week, we'd all have pension plans that secured our future, and we'd all live to ripe old ages, free of debilitating illness and diminished capacity. (I was never sure how we'd go from healthy to dead without going through that phase.)

Since then, I've come to accept that most of these predictions are not going to come to pass. Especially the part about working less.

It seems to me that people I'm working with regularly are working a whole lot more these days -- not less. For many, it's a point of pride that they are in the office early, staying late, using their Blackberries at all hours of the day and night, mixing business with pleasure (isn't a working vacation an oxymoron?) and comparing notes with each other on how to reduce stress in the least amount of time. (Is a spa worth the extra time? Do they have wireless?)

There seems to be general agreement that stress is a bad thing. But it seems impossible to keep it from building. And unfortunately, some of the stress reducers that are adopted, such as scheduling time at the gym or squeezing in a weekend getaway, often become another item to add to a too-busy schedule, and end up adding to the stress level.

Here are a couple of recent examples that I came across.

An overworked manager, realizing that staff meetings were a good thing, but not prepared to sacrifice normal work hours, decided to hold weekly staff meetings at 7:00 am. That way, they could get things out of the way without cutting into the work day. You can imagine how the staff felt about the idea.

Another company suspected that senior staff were starting to look out of control because they were meeting at all hours of the day and night. While the senior folks figured they were dedicated, the staff's perception was that nobody really knew what the heck they were doing and they were running around without a clear idea of what they were doing. (Probably the case, I suspect.) The solution? Senior staff started leaving the company on time, but came back later to finish up "important" work.

The "bum in the seat" approach
Part of the problem we're facing now is that too many people are measured not by the quality of the work they do, but by the hours they are at work.

I once worked with a Director of HR who measured people's performance by whether they were at their desk at 9 am in the morning. If they were, they were considered to have worked that day. If they weren't, they were docked pay. There was no consideration for anyone who might work at other hours. If you wanted to be paid, you were at your desk. No one was too worried whether you were working or not -- that wasn't the point.

Our relationship with work is a tricky subject, isn't it? The work week is five days long, with two others called the weekend. Whose idea was that, anyway? How come it can't be the other way around? Or at least closer to a balance?

There is an old saying that work expands to fit the time available and I think it applies to our five-day week. If we simply cut it to four (or maybe three?) days, I suspect we'd end up with as much work getting done -- or even more.

I suspect it, but over at A List Apart, Ryan Carson has taken this idea a step further. In a great post, called "The Four-Day Week Challenge," Carson recounts his personal experience with shortening his work week to four days, instead of four. Here's how he set up his decision:

And then it hit me: there will always be more to do. Working more won’t change that. In fact, working more is actually counter-productive. I was starting work everyday at 5:30 AM and working till 10:00 PM, but I still wasn’t done with everything. If I was working those extreme hours and still couldn’t keep up with my to-dos, then clearly working more wasn’t the solution.

The problem wasn’t a time issue, it was a mental issue. I knew I had a whole week to finish my work, so I spread it out over five (or seven!) days. If I knew I only had four days to finish a whole week of work, it would’ve motivated me to get things done more efficiently.

His story of how he and his wife implemented their four-day week is a great read. And along the way, he comes up with some great tips for how to be more efficient during those four days to ensure that work doesn't intrude into that nice three-day weekend you've now earned.

I think Ryan is on to something good here. And we should all think seriously about how we can build our own work situations to emulate his.

Technorati Tags:

Saturday, May 06, 2006

More ideas for coping with information

A couple of posts ago, I was talking about how I seemed to have a lot less time for reading books than I used to. Or rather, I'm using my available time for other things besides reading books.

This weekend, I've been trying to work my way through all those RSS feeds that have built up in my reader, as well as clearing out some of the unheard podcasts backed up in my Ipod. So I'm doing plenty of reading -- but not books.

It appears I'm not the only one who is struggling with this problem. I came across a couple of posts that address the issue of too many books and not enough time to get through them.

The first is The myth of "keeping up" from one of my new favourite bloggers, Kathy Sierra from the Passionate Users blog. I seem to have been sending you guys over to her posts a lot lately. But I really like her take on life and she's a great writer.

This post talks about the problem of too many books to read. But Kathy goes further than some (like me) and rather than just complaining about it, she's got some good ideas on coping. So take a look. And if you've got any other ideas, she encourages you to add to the list.

The second post comes from a blog called "An Entirely Other Day," written by Greg Knauss. In The Back-Logged Life he tells us that he's had enough of the "info-glut, which has taken over his life. For example:

My entire life has devolved into an endless, grinding slog through my back-log. Everything I do is about catching up, doing the stuff I didn't get done the day before, plowing through some other goddamned thing that needs my attention. Ending the day without actually adding to the total aggregate is a victory. There are times when it piles up faster than I can shovel it away.

His solution? Dramatic and simple:

... As of now, my fancy-pants, community-generated, emergent-behavior data-sorting heuristic is: a calendar. If I haven't gotten to something in a week, it dies. Stick that in your attention economy and smoke it. I'm re-booting. Feed list: empty. In-box: empty. TiVo: OK, OK, I still need to watch "24." But other than that: empty.

So screw you, info-glut! I'm not going to be the responsible info-citizen I'm expected to info-be anymore. If I get to it, I get to it. If I don't, well, then it couldn't have been very important in the first place. I suspect that burning children and drowning buildings will still get the attention they need. But the year-old e-mails that are stinking up the bottom of my in-box? The month-old "Daily Shows"? The three dozen Waxy Links that I've flagged and sorted and pinned to a corkboard for further study some day? Gone. And good riddance.

So, there you have it. Two approaches to dealing with all that info rolling into our lives every day. I'm still working on my information grid, to try to rate the quality of the information I get compared to the volume. But I don't have a clue where that will end up. I suspect I may be leaning towards Greg's solution.

Technorati Tag:

Friday, May 05, 2006

Handling the power of negative customers

A few posts ago, I wrote about how hanging around negative people all the time can screw up your life.

Well, here's an article about a similar idea, which I admit I hadn't thought about for a long time. But I think it's applicable in a lot of situations.

Over on Seth's Blog, written by Seth Godin, he takes on the challenge of dealing with the fact that if the customer is always right (and we know they are, right?) how do you deal with those few customers who simply are never satisfied?

You know the type, and if you don't, Seth has a few examples.

What I found so refreshing, and common-sensical, was his simple advice.

While the customer is always right, if you do come across one who is wrong, they're not your customer anymore. Fire them!

Fire them?

Fire them. Politely decline to do business with them. Refer them to your arch competitors. Take them off the mailing list. Don't make promises you can't keep, don't be rude, just move on.

If you've got something worth paying for, you gain power when you refuse to offer it to every single person who is willing to pay you.

That's along the same lines as Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble's decision to quit hanging out with negative types and spend more time with happy people. Sure, he got some negative feedback for saying it, but it makes sense.

I remember a few years back, I was working for a member-services organization. And while the vast majority of our members were decent, hard-working types who appreciated our programs (even when we screwed up badly, as long as we apologized) there were a few who were unbelievably bad to deal with.

They were among the most unpleasant people I've ever met.Nothing was ever good enough. They always knew the way that things should have been done (but only in hindsight, never in advance.) And while it seemed obvious to everyone that they could never be satisfied, they ended up taking up vast amounts of staff time dealing with their issues.

The negative emotions caused by problem cases like this are powerful. They can quickly infect an entire office, drive those dealing with them to distraction (or worse) and rarely come to a positive outcome. As always, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, even thought there's no hope of fixing it. The best you can hope for is that they get tired of bitching and go away.

Looking back on how we handled those situations, I know we were too "nice" to the worst offenders. We should have "fired" them, as Seth suggests. The damage they did to our staff and our organization far outweighed any possible benefits gained by trying to meet their impossible standards.

Ironically, many of the worst offenders are still members there, despite everything. And they continue to be as dissatisfied as ever. Meanwhile, a lot of good people have been driven out of the organization over the years.

Of course, "firing" customers, or your members, is a last resort. If you resort to such drastic action over simple complaints or disagreements, you'll pay a high price in lost business and badly damaged reputation. But its not hard to see examples in your own business where a clear-headed approach to dealing with those negative influences in your life makes sense.

Technorati Tag:

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Too bad reading takes up so much time

I used to read a lot of books. Now...not so much (as John Stewart might say.)

There was a time when I'd have several books on the go at any one time. There were usually a couple by my bed. I'd often have a non-fiction tome underway out in the living room. Something more upbeat might be in my book bag and I'd often have some kind of a thriller, or a mystery, sitting around ready to go.

But either I'm getting older (OK, I am getting older) and less able to multi-task, or I'm getting older and doing more multi-tasking. Does that make sense? Either way, I'm reading less books.

And that worries me. Reading books is exercise for the brain. Sure, I spend a lot of time on-line and I read on-line articles and research stuff on the web. I do a lot of reading but its not the same as sitting down with a book, and getting lost in it.

What I do read a lot of are book reviews. I recommend them highly, especially if you're like me and don't have (and don't expect to have) the time to read the books themselves. A well-written review goes a long way to delivering the king of intellectual pleasure that makes books so attractive.

A few weeks ago, Martin Levin, the books editor at the Globe and Mail, had an interesting column about a new book that's come out, called "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die." It seems to be part of a trend towards larger lists that are supposed to help us time-challenged people focus our attempts to improve our lives. Similar titles are aimed at albums and movies.

I haven't got a copy of this book, but I might, just to have it nearby. I know there's no way I'll ever get through all those books, but I'd like to think that I might. But even someone as well-read as Martin had only read about 450 or so of the books on the list.

An interesting tangent that flows from this conversation is wondering whether my not reading as many books as I used to equates to getting less information?

I'd say no. I'm inundated with information these days. It flows in through the Web, podcasts, phone calls, e-mail, meetings (so many meetings!) advertising, radio, television...eek!

But does more information equal "more knowledge?" (doubtful) Or more "Peace of Mind?" (ditto) Or "More clutter?" (bingo!)

What I need to create is my own "information grid." I'd like to list the various ways I get information each day, what I do with it, and how I use it, or pass it along. I struggle with the nagging feeling that the amount coming in is swamping the amount that is going out, or being used. There's too much noise in my day.

To put it another way, my inbox is getting really overloaded and I need a way to get some balance into my information flow.

I'm going to work on this idea and update you as I go along.

In the meantime, what's your information flowchart look like? Maybe you've already got a handle on this problem. If you do, please let the rest of us in on your secret.

Technorati Tag: