Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Book Review: Tribes, by Seth Godin

Just finished reading Seth Godin's book, Tribes.  Mr. Godin is a fantastic speaker and a wealth of ideas, so I was pretty eager to read this book.

First, what is a tribe?  "A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leaders, and connected to an idea."

Pop Business Philosophy
I get tired of the 'break all the rules' business philosophy.  It's old.  It's not helpful.  I get what the author is saying - think critically about how things are being done, think outside the box, overcome fear of change.  The guys that say this usually knew what the rules are, knew which ones to keep and which ones to break.  We don't normally read books from the cemetery, right?  You aren't going to find the book 'I Broke All the Rule: How I Crashed and Burned'.  Ah, but these pop business philosophies would say, 'that's your fear talking.'  And you see where this conversation is going: no where useful.  Take the book, Great by Choice, now there's a book with practical guidance and insight.

The book spends a lot of time dealing and challenging our fear for starting something new.  It reassures that we can start - do something.  It makes the point that we don't need to climb Mt. Everest at the first go, but we do need to act.  This is a great reminder: start something, do something.

I was surprised by how many references to religion were in the book.  The problem is that the book doesn't define it's terms, casting a very wide net as to what it means by religion to include formalized religion as well as corporate culture.  This too isn't useful.  Some of the greatest 'rule breakers' in history were from religions.  Abraham leaves rich community and goes to no where.  Jesus turns the leaders of that day, both religious and secular, on their heads.  Ditto Paul.  Martin Luther tweets his 99 thesis on the church door and starts the reformation.  The puritans, a group of counter cultural young people hire a ship and start a different kind of community in a place no one knows anything about.  Now THAT's some serious rule breaking.  Each of these people or groups had a hugely profound impact for centuries.  Godin doesn't differentiate between effective and ineffective religion - just throws them all into the same box, but even religions differentiate in their own doctrines what constitutes good vs. bad religion.  I get it: any system of rules that people blindly follow is bad, but to use 'religion' that broadly isn't accurate, isn't helpful, and subtly fosters a new racism.

Service & Leadership
The book makes a really big deal out of leadership serving - that was very refreshing to hear.  The leader of a tribe needs to think about how to give to that tribe and how to let the tribe give to each other. Very powerful.  I'm going to be giving a lecture this summer and it got me thinking: how can I give to that group of students, other than just talking at them?  Something to think about.  Godin also makes a very strong case for you being a leader.  You don't need to be a national or international rock star, but you do count, you do have something to offer, so get off your butt and show some leadership!  He really makes the case that you can lead something.

Pg 103
This is probably the best, most detailed advice the book gives - get a copy of the book and copy that page!

Bottom line?  Not a great book, worth a quick read if you can get it for cheap.  Amazon has it used for under $4.  You should seriously consider the three points in the definition, and go show some leadership.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sharepoint: My Site Profiles

When deploying sharepoint 2010, it's really important to review the profile attributes offered through My Sites especially if your organization has international users.  International privacy laws are different from those of the US.  For example, posting a picture of a team can violate UK laws, if the people in the photo haven't given permission to post that picture.  Heck, we post pictures of people all the time in Facebook in the US!  There are two options with My Sites, one is to preset profile attributes to privacy setting or simply to make My Sites inaccessible to international users.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Meetings: Background Noise

I just got off of a conference call where something was flapping and ticking in the background on someone’s phone – annoying.  Distracting. 

And distracting means ineffective.
Lots of meetings these days take place over the phone.  If you’re on one of these virtual meetings, watch your own background noise.  Dogs barking, fans blowing, wind coming in from the window over speaker phone, kids bursting in, keyboard clicking next to speaker, and on it goes.  Here’s what happens: we hear a strange noise on the conference call and our brains wonder what it is.  Our attention gets pulled off what’s going on.  Then you get annoyed, wondering if other people hear that noise.  Then finally someone says, “please put your phone on mute.”  By that time, the people in the meeting have lost focus – not in a big way, but enough.Solution?  Use a headset.  Also, if you’re not sure if your environment is quiet enough, do a test call with a friend.

Humor on the Job

Part of my job is to get requirements for systems we're deploying.  Part of that is to document those requirements and those documents can be long a boring.  So one day I thought I'd put the following requirement into the document:

The system shall create peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

One of those things you do to make yourself laugh.  I also thought I'd see who read the document. Well, my colleagues got a good chuckle, but not everyone felt that way.  One of the program managers thought that this was unprofessional, but we didn't think he was very funny either.  Get this: seven years after that incident he referred to this incident as an example of how we had to be more professional.  Seven years later?  Really?  Dude, you gotta let go of that.  But it got me thinking: what are the unofficial rules of humor in the work place?  Since our goal is to be effective, what's effective and ineffective?

We once got an email asking what the process was for retiring a corporate wide system.  I suggested that the system get a trailer and pink flamingo's in Florida.  The email had a decent size distribution list and I got some interesting feedback.  One person thanked me, saying that the  email had made their day.  Other folks bantered back and forth about out retirement destinations around the country for their systems.  One manager said I shouldn't send emails like that.  Interesting.  Do people get less funny the higher up the management food chain they get?  Again, what should we be doing or not doing?

First of all, as one person has said, 'humor is like oil in a machine' - helps to smooth things out.  Humor is part of human interaction - makes life enjoyable, smooths out rough spots.  So humor definitely has a place in our work with others.

Humor in the workplace does carry a risk of being seen as mockery of the organization and can be seen as disrespectful, so be cautious.  Part of this is that humor introduces a certain element of surprise or unpredictability, which managers and leadership don't like.

The thing about humor is that it can be interpreted in different ways.  Just because I think it's funny doesn't mean you will think it's funny - you may actually be offended.  Humor is very often culturally dependent too.

We somethings think that we're funnier than we really are - don't get too excited about something you think is funny.  I'd say be sober about your humor, but that just doesn't sound right ;-)

It's probably best to avoid humor in written communication since you don't know where it will go.  Written communication tends to loose context and expression, so it can go bad without intending too.  A document can be around for years.  Humor in customer deliverables is a bad idea - like saying the system will generate sandwiches!  That was a bad idea on my part.

Lots of humor today has a disparaging, derogatory or belittling effect - really need to avoid this kind of humor.  Self deprecation humor is almost always tolerated.

So by all means - let your funny bone come to work, but be a little careful.  Hopefully analyzing humor provides some guidelines, but it didn't take the fun out of it!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Deception: Are You Good at it?

What jobs require deception?  Military, spying, entertainers, smuggler, thief.  And what makes for good deception?  In the book, 48 Laws of Power says, "The essence of deception is distraction".  So what makes for good distraction?  Cognitive overload is one technique that involves giving someone a lot to think about, so their not thinking about this other thing over here.

Let's pause here and note something: deception is a word that carries negative connotations.  When I say "are you good at deception", that twists something in our gut.  Here's the rub:

We do this to ourselves all the time.

We allow our selves to get distracted with email, text messages, twitter, Facebook, etc...  I had to laugh, someone on Facebook said that Facebook is like the fridge: we're always opening it to see if there's something to eat.  It's true!  But is it effective?

Listen: you can't have a great thought if you're interrupted every 5 minutes.  You can't foster healthy relationships if the person you're talking with is always checking their phone.

So why do we do it?  Linda Stone, who coined the term Continuous Partial Attention, said this, "to be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter."  This flows out of our world view of who we are.  It's like when we were kids, we craved attention from those other kids around us.  In that case there may be 10-20.  On the internet, we think we're on a stage with millions watching.  If our identify comes from feeling connected, then we've got to reassess where our value comes from.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Meetings: Protect Your Calendar

Your calendar should reflect what your working on and what your goals are.  Think of your calendar as a place where time is blocked out to do things.  Too often we think of our calendars as a place just for meetings.  Then what happens is someone sees a blank spot and schedules another meeting.  Before you know it, your day is mostly meetings.  Some people have this odd feeling of accomplishment when their days ARE filled with meetings, “look at me, I’m really busy.”   Busy isn’t what we should be striving for, we should be striving for effective.  If your day is filled with meetings, then you’re ineffective.  Period.  Yeah you might have a day filled with meetings once in a while.  That happens.  But every week?  That’s just plain ineffective.

If you follow David Allen’s, Getting Things Done approach to time management, you know you have a list of projects, which cascade into tasks.  Say you need to draft a copy of a document.  You should have that time blocked off on your calendar, especially those that have a specific due date coming up.  Anything you systematically need time for should be on your calendar, like doing email, doing your weekly review, etc.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

#140cuse Social Media Conference - Part 2: Being Nice

One of the interesting things to come out of the conference is the importance of being nice. Isn't that totally interesting that we'd even have to have that conversation?  Didn't Mom mention that to us like a million times?  But there it was, the importance of kindness.  We all know why, don't we?  We've lived through years of forums and news groups where flame wars raged and I think we all got tired of it.  Here's the thing: we over estimate the reach of those who are tuned into us and we underestimate the impact that our words will have.  If it was face to face, we'd temper our words, read their face and the flow of speech and adjust our sails based on the winds of the conversation.  On the web we think we're just being honest and say what we're thinking - not always a good idea.

George Couros (@gcouros) presentation was titled, 140 Characters of Kindness, addressing the issue head on.  He shared a powerful moment when he put a video of his dog just before it died in cyberspace, and he got someone he totally didn't know asking him how he was doing, checking in - people he didn't know.  I thought about the homeless guy down near Starbucks and how his face lit up when I stopped to ask him how he was doing.  Same thing happens in cyberspace.  It was interesting that just before Couros' presentation, Michelle Tarby (@tarbyM) talked about What Happens When Real Time goes Really Wrong - what happens when someone sets up a rumor site about an organization - can we make it stop?  This happened at LeMoyne college and folks kept asking her to make it stop.  To me this speaks of the pain that's caused when we get sloppy with our words online, when untruths are shared.  This isn't totally a problem with those setting up the rumor site, it might suggest that people are trying to discover the truth or work out ideas online and that comes across as an attack.  Tarby's advice was to be patient.  Not usually a virtue that we find in great abundance!  Jeff Pulver (@jeffpulver) had a very interesting recounting of his history with social media in his talk, Being Vulnerable In the Era of the Real-Time Web.  First, the use of the word 'vulnerable' usually implies a lack of power in a negative sense, so it was refreshing to hear him speak of this as a desirable virtue.  His history as a teenager looking for friends and how it brought him to social media was a gem of an insight because his social media technology was Ham radio, since Facebook et al had appeared on the scene.  I remember my Dad using his Ham equipment and have never thought of it as a precursor to social media.  I couldn't pass the code requirement!  His simple observation in the power of someone repeating what you say was right on - how we crave to see our stuff retweeted, how good that makes us feel.  His advice: be people first, be real.  Again, our words matter and we need to be conscious that it's people out there reading our stuff.

Love and Hate: Mobilizing Social and Political Endeavors Through Social Media
Bob O'Brien (@ClevelandBob)
Okay, so given all of the above, we then had this presentation, here's the short story: O'Brien is pissed that Lebrone James didn't join the home town basketball team.  The good news is that (1) O'Brien is passionate about basketball, and (2) he was able to extend his reach through social media to help his cause.  Here's the bad news: he used social media to organize and coordinate the saying of hateful things against Lebrone at a home game.  I'm sitting there thinking that Lebrone is a person who puts on his pants like the rest of us and probably likes to be respected just as much as the next person.  I think the golden rule applies online too, right?  I'm also thinking that when we come online to initiate some cause we need some sense of perspective - it's a guy playing basketball.  Do we need to harness the masses of the internet to chant rude stuff at LeBrone?  I know that people are passionate about different things - so I respect that, but, basketball?  SOPA I can see, but LeBrone?  I'm wondering if this goes back to an earlier point that we under estimate the impact of our words.  I was really sad about this presentation and hope that O'Brien will use the 'success' of what he learned to do something kind and meaningful.  Maybe this is an age issue: a young college student is more apt to bring his unrestrained passion online than someone who's been around the block a few times.  That also brought up a question of how do we define 'success' on the internet.  

Take away:

  • We're people first
  • Our words have impact
  • We consistently under estimate the impact of our words
  • We need a sense of proportion - is our issue worth fighting over?
  • Retweet: people are really jazzed when you repeat what they say or flag your post
  • Be patient
  • People who we perceive as being super stars put on their pants like everyone else
  • Be real

Kindness matters on the web

Friday, April 20, 2012

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Re-reading the part of Malcom Gladwell's book, Tipping Point, on connectors.  Connectors are those people that (1) know tons of people and (2) know people in different 'worlds'.  He tells about the experiment where 160 people in Omaha were given a package and told to send it to some guy in Boston - they didn't know the man.  Most all the packages got to him, but the interesting this was that half the packages went through three people with no connection to the original senders.
Remember the six degrees of Kevin Bacon?  This is where the idea comes from.  In this case it's where every actor in Hollywood is 'related' to Bacon by 6 movies.  Turns out that it's actually 2.6!
People that are connectors are powerful in the flow of ideas and communications.

While there's a natural talent that connectors have, the ability to create relationships with people, the interesting thing is that I think anyone can be a connector to some degree.  The keys seem to be:

  • It takes some effort to systematically meet and reach out to people.  While this comes naturally to some folks, it's not to others, but they can still do it.  Maybe we think that it's easy for that person over there, but not us, then don't make the effort.
  • We need to connect to people in different 'worlds' or contexts.  Just connecting with people in our work environment, while important, isn't enough - we need variety.  Twitter seems to be good for this, where as Facebook seems to emphasize people we already know.
  • The connections with others don't need to be deep.  Obviously the more deep relationships we have, the more we're overloaded.  Sometimes we think we need to have these deeper relationships to be meaningful.  Granted if you don't have many of these things, that's not healthy - but that's usually not the problem.  We don't need to be able to go out to dinner with everyone we know, just need to know enough to be intelligent about the other person.

If we do this 10% better, we'll have a healthier set of relationships that we can use to more effectively help other people with and increase our ability to communicate.

#140cuse Social Media Conference - Part 1

Went to the 140cuse conference on social media and wanted to share some of my thoughts - I'll do this over several postings.

The first thing that's interesting about this conference was the format: each speaker got 10 minutes.  At first I thought that that wasn't going to work so well, but proved to be valuable since it forced people to get to the main point and got a lot more content.  It was also interesting to see what worked in presentations and what didn't.  Starting with a story was key - presenters that did this really engaged the audience quickly, like Alexis Ohanian from Reddit, who spoke on how the internet was used to protest against SOPA and George Couros who spoke on education and kindness on the web.  Slides with lots of bullets and text totally didn't work.  Maybe for a business meeting with lot's of data, but not with this crowd and 10minutes.  Maybe more business meetings should be 10 minutes!  Actually, any more than 4 slides, real simple - didn't usually work.   Another things that was interesting to was was those who were 'acting excited' and those who were really sincere.  I'm sure all the speakers sincerely believed in their projects and presentations, but some came across as fake.  Hype the idea, not me.

It was interesting to see how twitter was used during the conference.  There seemed to be three types of tweets: (1) cheer leaders, (2) repeaters, and (3) commentary.  The first seemed to be trying to get the energy level of the crowd up - for me, I got a little tired of it, but someone was excited, so let them be excited!  The second, the repeaters - a lot of traffic in this category - would repeat things that were being said in the meeting.  It was a like an online note taking.  I wonder if this was helpful to people who were only experiencing the conference via twitter.  It's a kind of reporting, so I'm sure it's helpful, if for nothing more than the public record.  Those tweets that were more commentary, were people trying to add value to what they were hearing, which I think was the most interesting.  This category didn't have a lot of traffic.  One interesting thing about the tweets was that there were all positive - which was good.  Maybe the cheer leaders had something to do with that!  I mean, who can be negative when every other tweet is 'yeah, this rocks!!'

So here's my review of two of the presentations.

How You Can Save Thousands of Dollars a Year Through The Use of Social Media
by Lauren Greutman
This was probably one of the most interesting presentations.  Greutman told her story of how her family was severely in debt - so she quit her job (!) and turned her attention full time to getting out of debt.  This involved getting really, really smart about coupons and sales.  She started to use social media to find out more info and spread the word on what she knew.  What it showed me was that the barriers to entry for social media are low and can be figured out by just jumping in and trying.  This was a super practical, positive and high impact effort that Greutman engaged in - this is what we in social media live for.

The War on Distraction 
by Matthew Koll
I was excited to hear what he said because I think this is a super big problem with social media.  I mean galactically huge.  Koll was trying to make a connection between distraction (lots of useless email, being pulled by the facebook red circle,...) and 'enemies of the enlightenment'.  He was referring to people that make false statements online and not letting that go by.  Like the number of people that don't believe in global warming and evolution.  Enemies of the enlightenment?  Huh?  No matter where you stand on these topics, the debate of science will always be with us - does he think the final word on those topics has been spoken?  It was kind of scary - like we need to shut those people down.  He seemed to be a big fan of fact checking sites.  What's funny is that the opinion columns of many papers mock those fact checking sites by showing that they are frequently not checking the facts themselves or are debating things are not intended to be facts.  If his point was that dialog and content that isn't well thought out is a distraction, I guess that could be an issue and we know there's plenty of that out on the internet - but who decides?  Koll was a huge disappointment.

More to come...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Meetings: You Should Say No More Often

You get invited to a meeting – in fact you probably get asked to attend meetings many times a day. If you’re in a virtual environment where you get electronic requests to dial in, there’s usually a simple ‘Accept’, ‘Reject’, and ‘Tentative’ button to acknowledge the request. It’s so easy to hit that ‘Accept’ request button if it says you have time on your calendar. Guess what?


In fact, you should probably say ‘no’! You should probably say no ½ the time! I’m serious! Just say no! Yeah you have to think about it: are you a key decision maker, who’s doing the ask, and do you have some key deliverable to present, but most of the time you should say no. Manager Tools business consultants, Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne in their podcast, Calendar Control – Say No, advocate this very practice – say no. Bias towards no. Say no frequently.

Listen: you won’t be evaluated at the end of the year on how many meetings you went to or how ‘busy’ you were with meetings. You’ll be assessed on what you got done. Saying no frees up time to get work done.

DO: Open your calendar right now and decline a meeting – RIGHT NOW

DO: Say NO to a meeting today.

DO: Say no to a meeting everyday this week!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Meetings: Is Your Meeting Necessary?

Is there really a need to have a meeting? I mean, REALLY need one? Can the meeting objectives (if there are any) be accomplished through a memo, email, or a phone call to someone? When you schedule a meeting, it’s like you’re going to the organization and asking them to fund a project. Your asking people to set aside time and they only have so much to give. In the book Meeting Excellence, the first chapter is titled, “Is This Meeting Necessary?”. That IS the question! In Read Before Our Next Meeting, Pittampalli says that people can read, so send them a memo! People should do work BEFORE the meeting and make decisions AT the meeting.

Making a withdrawal from the ‘time bank’ of the company is a big deal. Have too many meetings and you might get someone laid off. 30minutes doesn’t seem like much. Multiply that times hundreds of employees who think the same and go ahead and schedule that meeting and that’s some serious time/money. Your bias should be to not have the meeting. In today’s meeting culture the bias is to have the meeting. And today’s meeting culture is killing us.

DO: Pick up the phone and call someone instead of having the meeting!

DO: Can you leverage some social media in the company to have the dialog, list a discussion forum, company twitter like tool?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Meetings: End on Time

Not that this has ever happened to you...

The meeting you’re attending over runs by 10-15 minutes, which impacts your next meeting, which means you miss stuff in the next meeting so you don’t get what’s going on so you re-ask about ground already covered, that impacts, so the meeting drags out longer than intended, which… and on it goes. Think dominos. One domino crashes into the effectiveness of the next.

It’s a respect thing. Over run a meeting and you’re impact other people and it’s not just me impacting you. It’s me impacting the 5 people in my meeting that impacts the five meetings their attending, which impacts the 25 people in all those meetings, etc.

Why do we over run meetings? TONS of reasons. Lots to talk about. Knotty problem. The guy that has an opinion on everything. Okay, so there’s more stuff to do – what else is new?? Manage it, don’t let it manage you.

Ending on time is about RESPECT.

Ending on time is about forcing DECISIONS.

You can always have another meeting or discuss via email those items you don’t get to.

Things you can do:

  • Give a five minute warning before the end of the meeting, say, “Let’s do a time check, we have five minutes left. Let’s summarize the action items.”
  • Give a 1 minute warning
  • Have a parking lot for the stuff you can’t cover. More on the parking lot later.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Meetings: Start on Time

How often has this happened to you?

You’re on time for a meeting and the organizer is running 3-5 minutes late. When they finally do show up, they say, “we’ll give everyone else a few minutes to show up.” When the meeting finally does get started, it’s running 8-10 minutes late.

Those in the meeting made the effort to be there on time and they’re waiting. There’s a respect issue here: those on time made the effort to be there and their told to wait. Given the number of meetings that we have, this is also a productivity issue. Late means less time to get the work of the meeting done.

If you start late then people will think it’s okay to come in late. A 9:00am meeting can shift to 9:15. Then a 9:15 meeting gets rescheduled to 9:30 to accommodate folks. The organizer thinks that they need to change the time because people are coming late (because the organizer starts late).

DO: Be clear about the start time. Taken care of by electronic appointment systems, but if you’re emailing a group of people to meet at Panera’s resturant, it’ll be less clear.

DO: Start on time! You can start the meeting by saying, “The clock says it’s time to start, so I’d like to welcome you to the ….”.

DO: Start talking at the start time, even if people are still coming in or milling around.

DO: No one in the meeting? Start talking anyway.

DO: Are you a preacher? Start that service on time. Hundreds of reasons why: new people, kids, professionals – all kinds of implications. Just do it.