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.